Holocaust Survivors and Osage Murders

August brought with it a host of good reading. The problem is, when I’m distracted by lots of good books to read, I don’t spend as much time as I should spend writing. The two go hand-in-hand. I’ve read from many sources that you can’t be a good writer if you don’t read a lot. Of course, you can’t be a good writer if you don’t spend time writing. Maybe this month I’ll strike a good balance.

 

Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb

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Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb

Among the Living is a novel about a 31-year-old Jewish man, Yitzhak Goldah, who survived The Holocaust and came to live with his cousin, Abe Jesler and Jesler’s wife, Pearl, in Savannah, Georgia in 1947.

The tone of the book is set early on as the author reveals Mr. Goldah’s sense of humor and ability to take life in stride. For instance, on the way home from the train station, Goldah’s cousin and his wife inform him that they are changing his name to “Ike.” Yitzhak doesn’t like the idea, but he accepts this in an effort to not cause a rift with these generous cousins.

It quickly become obvious that Pearl Jesler is going to treat “Ike” like he’s a child. As if that’s not enough, she smothers him with kindness. And she talks all the time – many times saying the wrong thing.

This is by no means a humorous book, but there are constant undertones of “Ike” knowing exactly what the Jeslers are doing but choosing not to confront them about his treatment.

Abe Jesler is in the retail shoe business and is well-connected in Jewish circles in Savannah. Much to Pearl’s chagrin, though, they are not in the uppermost crust of Jewish society. The book does a good job of depicting the social and business lives of Jews in post-World War II Savannah.

There is intrigue as Abe gets involves in some shady business dealings at Savannah’s port. Ike’s profession before the war was that of a journalist, so he gets acquainted with the local newspaper editor and starts writing for the paper. This had the two-fold benefit getting Ike into the profession he loved and out of Abe’s retail shoe business.

Ike also became involved with the newspaper editor’s daughter, which lends a bit of romance to the book. When Ike’s pre-war thought-to-be-dead fiancée suddenly appears in Savannah, Ike’s life gets quite complicated.

The book also addresses the feelings of guilt held by American Jews because they weren’t directly faced with the horrors of The Holocaust and the guilty experienced by the survivors of the concentration camps because they survived.

After reading an article by Jonathan Rabb, “Trigger Warnings in Historical Fiction,” (http://www.readitforward.com/authors/trigger-warnings/) I sought out his latest book, Among the Living. I’ll definitely read some of his other books.

One of my takeaways from Mr. Rabb’s online article about history and writing about history is the following:

“But history is offensive. The past is filled with oppression and murder, rape and slavery, torture and madness, often celebrating each within its own context. And, as painful as it might be, there is something valuable to be learned when we confront who we have been, and who we continue to be. We cannot be so arrogant or naïve as to think that we have somehow stepped beyond our baser instincts or that by avoiding them we prove they no longer exist.” ~ Jonathan Rabb

 

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

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Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

This nonfiction book was a real eye opener for me. I knew that Native Americans have always gotten the short end of the stick from the US Government, but I knew nothing about the history of the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma until I saw the author, David Grann, interviewed about his book on TV. The story was fascinating, so I immediately got on the waitlist for the book at the library.

In a nutshell, this book is the story of how the lives of the Osage were turned upside down in the early 1900s when oil was discovered on their land. They had wisely purchased land and acquired all mineral rights. Unfortunately, their wise decisions became their undoing when they became wealthy. The government deemed them incapable of handling their own finances and assigned each headright holder a white guardian to oversee their spending even for the most mundane personal hygiene items.

This had trouble written all over it from the beginning. Unscrupulous guardians not only stole their ward’s wealth, but in many cases killed them or had them murdered. Most local government authorities in Osage County were either complicit in these murders or turned a blind eye to them. Two local physicians were even involved in the poisoning of some of the Osage. Cause of death records were falsified, and most of the deaths were not investigated.

This is a sordid tale of a horrible and little-known chapter in American history. Integral to the story is the fact that the US Bureau of Indian Affairs investigations arm came in to try to get to the bottom of the matter. It became such a big deal that the Bureau of Investigation grew in stature to become the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is incredibly well researched and is written in such a flowing way that it reads more like a novel than a history book. In case you haven’t guessed it already, I highly recommend this book.

 

Dog Songs:  Poems, by Mary Oliver

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Dog Songs: Poems, by Mary Oliver

My sister found this book at the public library and recommended it to me. If you’re a dog lover, like I am, you need to look for this little book. It’s a quick read but chock-full of delightful poems and memories of dogs and how they bless our lives.

What’s next?

I will blog about the other three books I read in August in next week’s post. No one wants to read in one sitting thousands of words about the books I read, so check out my blog next Monday to find out what else I read in August.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just finished reading State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, and I’ve started If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Late July Reading

Another month has whizzed by and left me getting ever more behind in reading all the books I want to read, but July was another rewarding month of reading for me. I hope you’ll enjoy reading “my take” on the three books I read the last couple of weeks of July. On July 17 (Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels) I blogged about the two books I read earlier in the month.

The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff

I kept reading about The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff and decided I wanted to read it. It was the first book I’d read by Ms. Jenoff, who has a fascinating background in government work. I look forward to reading her other books.

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         The Orphan’s Tale,           by Pam Jenoff

The Orphan’s Tale revolves around a toddler who is rescued from the Nazis by a young woman who is no longer welcome in her parents’ home. She ends up being taken in by a circus and assigned to the trapeze, although she knows nothing about being an aerialist.

The woman assigned to train her resents her. Throughout this book of numerous twists and turns, the two women resent each other, support each other, and risk their lives for each other. It is a tale of humanity, forgiveness, trust, friendship, love, and loss set in Germany and France during World War II.

Bird-by-Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

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Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

As someone learning the art and craft of writing, I enjoyed Bird-by-Bird, by Anne Lamott. In the book’s introduction she writes about learning to love books as a child. The following quote comes from the introduction:

“The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” ~ Anne Lamott

I set out to write about the many things I liked about this book and the beautiful way Ms. Lamott writes about the many things a novelist needs to pay attention to in the writing process. It soon became obvious that today’s blog post would be longer than anyone wanted to read if I did that. Therefore, I will write about Bird-by-Bird in my August 14, 2017 blog post.

The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle

I read this book because it was set in Tennessee during World War I. I haven’t read many novels set in that era and I wanted to learn more about it. I’m participating in the Read America Book Challenge from the Mint Hill Branch of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The object of that challenge is to read novels set in as many different US states as possible in 2017. Thirteen down and 37 to go. Seven months down and five to go. Hmmm. Not good.

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      The Midnight Cool,         by Lydia Peelle

I was conflicted as I finished reading The Midnight Cool. Lydia Peelle has a way with words, but I found the book hard to follow since the dialogue was not enclosed within quotation marks. It was tedious to have to go back a couple of paragraphs at times in order to discern who was speaking.

I was interested in the subject matter, but the middle of the book did not hold my attention. I enjoyed the last 50 or so pages of the book, so I’m glad I didn’t give up on it. For all the hype of the book to be about mules for World War I and a killer horse, I found it to be more about the two men who traded in mules and the women they loved.

The book gave me some things to think about that I really hadn’t considered before, such as the massive number of mules the United States transported across the Atlantic in ships to pull artillery and do other hard labor in the Allies’ war effort in Europe.

I learned that horses have to be trained, but mules more readily reason things out. (Don’t hate me, horse lovers!) According to the book, the only thing the mules had to be trained in was being fitted with gas masks. Gas masks for mules was another thing that had never crossed my mind. This goes to show that you can learn things from reading well-researched historical novels.

The website, http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/farming/animals/father-of-the-american-mule/, confirms that George Washington was the “Father of the American Mule.” The site explains that there were advantages that mules had over horses in the Allies’ efforts in World War I in addition to their not needing much training. Mules eat one-third less than horses, they don’t need to drink as much water as horses, and mules are more surefooted than horses.

If Lydia Peelle writes another novel, I will check it out because she has a gift for turning a phrase and I believe she does her research.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I also recommend that you read Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

Janet

They’re All Uncertain Times

Events of the last week prompted me to write about uncertain times for today’s blog post. It soon occurred to me that all times are uncertain because we cannot see into the future.

We tend to think the time we’re living in is more unpredictable than any other time, but if you’ll stop and think about it, you might see that life is and always has been full of doubts, worries, and stress. The unknown can do that to you.

I think about the uncertain times my known ancestors lived through:

English-speaking Lowland Scots being taken into the Gaelic-speaking Kintyre Peninsula in the southwest of Scotland to be tenant farmers in the 1600s and being required to attend a church where only Gaelic was spoken;

Scottish immigrants crossing the Atlantic and settling in the Carolina backcountry/wilderness in the 1760s; and

Those Scottish immigrants facing the American Revolution and not knowing what the outcome would be.

On December 23, 1776, in “The Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote the following:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

My ancestors lived through those times. The deaths of my Morrison great-great-great-great-grandparents during the American Revolutionary War left my great-great-great-grandfather orphaned at the age of nine. He and his siblings were cared for thereafter by his uncles and their wives, but it must have been more than frightening.

Then came the following trying times:

War of 1812;

American Civil War;

Reconstruction Era in The American South;

My maternal great-grandmother’s death in childbirth in 1881;

My paternal great-grandfather’s accidental death while felling a tree for lumber to build a kitchen in 1886;

Spanish-American War;

World War I;

The Great Depression;

My paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather both dying as young adults;

World War II;

Korean War; and

Illnesses and epidemics.

Living in the age of modern medicine and miracle drugs, it’s difficult for most of us to empathize with our ancestors who lived with the possibility of dying or watching their children die of typhoid fever, tetanus, flux, or polio.

When the Salk polio vaccine became available in the late 1950s, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to my parents. For me, as a child, I just remember our family going to the gymnasium lobby at Harrisburg High School on three Sunday afternoon after church to get an oral vaccine on a sugar cube.

The 1960s and years since have brought the following times of uncertainty:

Vietnam War;

Civil Rights Movement in the United States;

Numerous wars in the Middle East;

Rumors of more wars;

Terrorism; and

Incompetency and recklessness in The White House. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for him!)

All of my ancestors down through my grandparents were farmers. I can’t imagine a life full of more uncertainties than one in which one’s livelihood is at the mercy of the weather.

I believe that God created the world with everything we need to not only survive but thrive. Human beings have brought on many uncertainties by not being good stewards of the world that God has entrusted to us – its animals and natural resources. Come to think of it, we have created most of the uncertainties ourselves – war, poor planning, poor agricultural practices, greed, and envy.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, and wildfires happen, but even many floods and wildfires are caused by man’s carelessness.

I attended two funerals in less than 48 hours last week. One was expected after a long battle with cancer, but the other one was quite sudden. Life is full of uncertainties.

Reviewing some of the events and hardships my ancestors faced, and the things I’ve witnessed in my 64 years has helped me put recent events and concerns in perspective.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The world keeps spinning around and revolving around the sun. What an amazing world!

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Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have lots of productive writing time.

Janet

Things I Miss and Things I Don’t

I am fortunate to once again live where I grew up. Literally. I live in the house that my parents built when I was six years old. The site is not as rural as it was in 1959, but it’s still considered “country.” I can see two other houses from my house, but I don’t exactly live in a neighborhood as most people define that today. The local landscape is rapidly changing, and there are things from my growing up years that I miss.

I invite you to come with me as I take a walk down memory lane. All the photographs in today’s blog post were taken by me.

Cars

I used to know almost everyone who passed by the house. There was less traffic then, and each make and model of car was more distinctive than today. It was easy to tell a Ford from a Chevrolet.

Bobwhites

For a good part of my life, a covey of quail (also known as Bobwhites because that was their wonderfully-distinctive call:  Bob-White!) nested on the ground near a bed of daffodils and a pale pink rose bush in the front yard. I haven’t seen or heard a quail in probably 10 years. Those daffodils still bloom around the first week in February. The climbing rose bush is no longer there, but my brain can still call up the delicious scent of those roses!

Woodpeckers and Flying Squirrels

I haven’t seen a Red-Headed Woodpecker since I was a teenager. We have Downy Woodpeckers but no Red-Headed ones. I miss them.

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Male Downy Woodpecker on a suet feeder

We’ve seen flying squirrels in the huge old red cedar tree at the south end of the house some years, but not in a long time. I’m afraid they are no longer in our area. One summer our nightly entertainment was sitting on the porch and watching the flying squirrels fly in and out of the feeder in the cedar tree where we put dried ears of corn.

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds almost became extinct due to chemicals that were being used for agricultural purposes. After the problem was figured out and stopped, the bluebirds made a comeback. They nest in bluebird boxes in our yard every spring and are a joy to see!

Crimson Clover, Daisies, and Queen Anne’s Lace

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Wild Daisy on May 9, 2015.

My uncle used to plant red clover in the field across the road from our house to enrich the soil for other crops planted other years. I loved the way a breeze would gently blow through the crimson clover blossoms in waves. That memory calls to mind “amber waves of grain” from the song, “America the Beautiful.” That field is beautiful today with wild daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace. No doubt, someday, the wild flowers will be replaced with houses.

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Queen Anne’s Lace blossom

Tractors and Cattle

There are several farmers on the road I live on who still grow crops such as winter wheat. They raise beef cattle and goats. Some of the cattle have won blue ribbons at the North Caroline State Fair. These are serious farmers. I like that their tractors pulling various farm implements pass my house daily. I dread the day that I will have to add farm tractors to the list of things I miss.

Air-Conditioning

Lest I become too nostalgic about the 1950s and 1960s, I will also admit that I do not miss the days before air-conditioning. I do not miss those nights when it was so hot, humid, and still that I just lay in bed watching the clock because it was too hot to sleep.

Hoppy Toads and Mollypops

 

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Passion Flower in our garden

I enjoyed having a vegetable garden for many years. Along with a lot of hard (and hot!) work, came brown and bumpy toads we called “hoppy toads,” box turtles, writing spiders, gossamer-winged dragonflies, and wild passion flowers that produced a fruit we call “mollypops.”

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A “Hoppy Toad”
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Eastern Box Turtle in our yard
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A writing spider in our garden
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Dragonfly in our garden

Not having a garden any more means I rarely see a toad, a box turtle, or a writing spider. I haven’t seen a passion flower since the last year I had a garden, but now we’re overrun with white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, gray squirrels, and rabbits. As their habitats get bulldozed down to make way for more and more houses, animals such as deer are being pushed into our yard.

A raccoon in our yard April 28, 2014.
Raccoon in our yard

Hungry White-Tailed Deer

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Gray Squirrel (with a slightly red tail)

 

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White-Tailed Deer Fawn

One interesting bit of information is that I never saw a deer in our area until I was an adult. Now it’s common to see several grazing in the yard. The deer were the reason we stopped planting a vegetable garden a few years ago. We planted tomatoes, green beans, summer squash, corn, bell peppers, okra, and radishes. The deer ate everything. Well, almost everything. We did get six radishes for all our hard work! Needless to say, that was the last year we tried to have a vegetable garden.

I have truly been blessed to have lived here as a child and now again as an adult. I can’t imagine growing up in a better place! A part of me bemoans the fact that this area’s population is growing so fast, but I’d rather live in a vibrant, growing area than in one that is losing people and becoming a ghost town.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle and Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.

I’m still working my way through Barbara Kyle’s “Your Path to a Page-Turner Program.” I’ve learned a lot about the art and craft of writing from the first 16 videos and look forward to the remaining seven lessons.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have lots of productive writing time.

Janet