Better Together: Coming of Age in America

Happy Memorial Day everyone! Yes, the day is about remembering who we have lost defending our country but it is also the kickoff to summer.  Thank you for brave lives, thank you for summer.  Thanks for my freedom, thanks for grilling, swimming, and cold drinks.

I chose this featured image because lilacs are out Memorial Day and signal to me the coming of June and better things.

I set up the tent this week and my son and I camped in the rain.  I am tired of waiting.

So I missed a post last week.

It actually has more to do with competition training than a thriving social life.  I completed my first half marathon last weekend and ran every step, even though the last four miles I really wanted to walk. My training partner was riding with me, and that helped, as well as visualizing what it would be like to tell people I couldn’t run the entire thing after three months of training and a bloody toenail. The end was grueling and I nearly couldn’t step up on the curb to go into Starbucks for my reward coffee.

And I just bought a wetsuit because it’s time for triathlon season and I am a grape hanging at the bottom of the Adirondacks.

I am trying to decide if I will be posting every other week this summer instead of weekly due to training and seeing people taking over my slivers of time, although this can create a backlog of read books and no posts for them.

Today I have two books that are coming of age books, but also are about two grandfathers who are living life like they want it.  Turn of the century America (turn of the twentieth, that is), and white patriarchy thrives with stories of two children admiring and orbiting their patriarchs. One is a girl and one is a boy, and one is about accepting a crappy lot and trying to get to your dreams and the other is a boy choosing his life and everyone around him letting him do it.

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jaqueline Kelly

As a woman with a doctorate in science myself, this one is a soul crusher.  A soul renderer.  I nearly had to abandon it.  A little girl finds a love of natural science, something I have always found fascinating, through her grandfather.  He takes her under his wing and they puzzle through the natural world and even discover something new and notable together.  This all makes her heart sing.  And then, as she is pre-teen, her mother starts to try to cram her into the role that upper middle class white girls are supposed to fill in 1906 Texas: housewifery.  Cooking and housekeeping and bearing children.  And of course she is not good at it, unlike her pretty and sweet friend, who all the boys have a crush on and wins the competitions at the fair of pretty lace and handcrafts that Calpurnia is also forced to humiliate herself by entering.  Calpurnia wants to enter university and read On The Origin of the Species and she gets a housekeeping book for Christmas that she hates. The book does not end in her somehow being rescued from her fate of a miserable career in a house, and I don’t know how it could and be realistic, but she continues to hang onto her dreams as she grows.

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Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns

Same period in history but narrated by a slightly older boy and in Georgia instead of Texas, Cold Sassy Tree was awesome to read right after The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate so they could be compared.  Will Tweety is allowed to do nearly anything he pleases.  He has to go to school, and he has to mind his grandfather, which usually trumps his mother or his father, but it is clear that the world is this boy’s oyster.  It can be a double edged sword in that he has some responsibilities which seem to exceed what his years and experience would justify, but he is a boy, he is the boy his grandfather never had, and the family is turned upside down by his grandfather marrying another woman three weeks after their beloved matriarch dies.  Will Tweety is introduced to a much wider world than Calpurnia, especially with him being allowed and almost expected to know about sex at a young age, and I know Calpurnia is a children’s book and Cold Sassy Tree is not, but I think that her being completely oblivious to the idea of sex would still ring true if it was not a children’s book.   Everyone is asking Will what he wants to do as a career, unlike Calpurnia, who no one really asks because they do not believe she has a choice in the matter.  Will’s grandfather makes a total scandal in a town that thrives on scandal and judging the choices of others, but like Calpurnia’s, he also does what he wants, and everyone else has to deal with it.

Neither of these books make me romanticize the past, as much as I absolutely love historical fiction. I loved them both, as they intersect the loss of innocence of a child with the world changing rapidly around them.  The magic of growing older, the magic of all the new things that the world is coming up with, wanting to hang on to childhood and the old ways as well as enjoying the modernities of the world.  Straddling of the old and the new and the world is your rich white granddaddy’s playground.

Getting it together for another post next week.

Comments/likes/shares are always appreciated.



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