I've discovered two new very old authors. That doesn't make sense, but it really does. I'm much more partial to the ideals and virtues of the past, and so my two new favorite authors are long passed on, having written a long time ago. One is Elizabeth Goudge, who, through her characters that feel things more deeply than others perhaps, has given me permission to do the same. I've been overly sentimental and very inwardly emotional, leaning toward the sad and melancholy, all of my life. In Elizabeth Goudge, I've found someone who understands that and whose characters are unabashedly, even proudly, very sensitive. In "The Bird in the Tree", young Ben feels an ache for the unplanted, vagrant corn that grows each year as a result of a shipwreck many years before. The ship was loaded with grain and ran aground and broke up in a marsh. Since then, every year, scraggly, stunted corn - unloved and unharvested - grows in the marsh. Ben aches for the unwanted and untended corn. I understand that and feel those things a hundred times a day. I'm sure other people do, too, but in these days of sarcasm and the deriding of all things lovely or sacred or romantic, it goes unmentioned.
I have more books by Elizabeth Goudge to read and, while waiting for those to be delivered, I found a Midwestern author of the 1920's-1950's that sounded intriguing. So to abebooks.com I went and found a few old hardbacks for about $1.00 apiece - the shipping was the expensive part at $3.99 a book. The first book was "The Rim of the Prairie", a lovely title that brings to mind the endless expanse of the prairie grasses and the big blue bowl of the sky over it all.
I have to say that I love Bess Streeter Aldrich even more than Elizabeth Goudge. Bess Streeter Aldrich is all American, the America that I love and remember from my childhood. The America of the Founding Fathers, of grit and determination, that settled the Western lands against all odds.
Both women have Christian faith undergirding their writing, and this, to me, is priceless. My faith is my strength and I will not waste my precious time with stories that denigrate or undermine Christianity. Sometimes it is difficult to find a really excellent author, a truly talented writer, that is also Christian, but it can be done. Brock and Bodie Thoene are a married couple who have collaborated on many wonderful, well written, based-on-truth, stories. To sit down with a Thoene book is to laugh and cry and nod one's head in agreement. I have two favorite series of theirs. The first is the trilogy about Bodie's ancestors in Arkansas - "The Shiloh Legacy" series. Their web site lists all their books. My second favorite is "The Zion Covenant," which carries the reader from1920's Europe through WWII to the birth of Israel in 1948. But I am only supposed to be talking about my two most recent favorite authors, so we'll leave a longer discussion of the Thoene's to another day.
Bess Streeter Aldrich has that sense of great sadness caused by change, the memories of old people looking back to their youth. She exhibits this in the elderly characters in each of the books I've read so far ("The Rim of the Prairie" and "A White Bird Flying") - the first to break the virgin sod of the Great Plains of Nebraska in the 1870's. When Bess Streeter Aldrich was writing, these people; these first settlers that lived in sod houses and stared at the endless expanse of shoulder high grass with no trees and dreamed of farms and rich soil, were the doddering elderly. By the 1920's, the ox and wagon, the way of traveling across open prairie because there were no established roads, was a thing of the past. By then there were cars speeding down paved roads followed by electricity and telephones. The trip that took an entire day and night just to get to the nearest settlement now took an hour at most. The men with their wives and children who carved out homes from the very sod itself, who conquered a land and forced crops to grow and farm animals to prosper and increase in spite of drought, blizzards and pestilential locusts, these are characters in the stories I've read so far that stand behind the main roles. The young rise up and take the reins, and the old remember their youth. In "A White Bird Flying", the central character is young Laura, a granddaughter of one of the original settlers of the Prairie. But in the background, tap tap tapping his old cane along the sidewalk, delivering vegetables to various unwilling members of the community at inconvenient times in this modern world, comes old Uncle Oscar Lutz. He visits every day with someone, settling down into a chair and regaling them with the same reminiscences that he has for the last 25 years since his wife, "Marthy" died. People try to pretend they're not home, but Laura feels sorry for old Oscar, alone and left with only his memories. Here is a sample:
"He laid a trembling hand against the bark, - one was as gnarled as the other. He had a warm friendly feeling for the old tree, as though having been planted by him, it was born of his flesh and blood; as though having come up through the years with him, it was one of the old crowd. He and the old cottonwood, - the only two old settlers left. All of the old cottonwoods had been replaced by newer trees, - all of the old settlers replaced by younger men."
Laura has to make a choice. She and her recently deceased grandmother share an affinity for the written word, the lovely sound of poetry and the ability to feel deeply. Laura could not bond with her own mother as she had with her grandmother, who had made the choice to marry and become a settler in a rough land rather than pursue her own writing. Laura determines to fulfill her grandmother's dream of writing. Laura will never marry. I won't tell any more of the story. It is obvious, though, that since I value traditional values and Bess Streeter Aldrich was a very traditional woman, Laura will make the right choice.
The writing is beautiful, the descriptions poignant, earthy and, at the same time, spiritual and lofty. Many times while I am reading, after an exceptionally powerful portion that resounds with truth, I have to stop for a few moments, look up and think about what I've just read. How it applies to my own life, how I've thought that way before, how very true it all is, how this author is speaking to me, yet her human form is long left this earth.
When I finish one of Bess Streeter Aldrich's or Elizabeth Goudge's books, I read the last page, maybe read it again more slowly, and then I slowly close the back cover, sit back and just think about the characters, the pictures I have now forever in my mind of the characters and their world. I've always said that Truth is Truth, and no matter where you find it, with God's help you'll recognize it. I find truth in these author's stories, in the souls of the characters, and they resonate with the faith and Bible truth in my own soul.