Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pieces and Passing

Children are like windows; seeing clearly, simply, openly.  Their honesty is at times startling but refreshing.  They are closer to the truth of things even if it may be fearful to them. 

Days, the seasons, years, our lives all circle; beginnings connected to endings continually spinning.  Perhaps for this very reason young people seem to seek and enjoy the company of the elderly as they do them in return.  In Patricia MacLachlan's new title, Kindred Souls (Katherine Tegen Books), Jake and his grandfather, Billy, are two parts of a large whole; identical in so many ways.

The story opens:

My grandfather, Billy, hears the talk of birds.  He leans out the open bedroom window with his head tilted to listen in the warm prairie morning.

Summer has come to this prairie farm family.  Eighty-eight year old Billy has a room in the house that was his.  Daily after chores, Jake and Billy walk about the farm visiting the cows, horses and finally arrive at the place of Billy's birth.  Among a group of Russian olive bushes is the remains of a sod house. 

Billy's comment is always how he loved that sod house but on this morning he quietly adds how he misses the sod house.  In the evening of this typical day something unusual occurs, a dog appears, walking up to Billy as if they are old friends.  In a heartbeat he has given her the name of Lucy.

During the next day's stroll around the property Lucy unearths a sod brick, prompting Jake to ask how hard it might be to cut a brick from sod.  An innocent question becomes a seed, a seed growing quickly in the fertile ground of Billy's memories.  Before Jake quite knows what's happening Billy is promising to teach him everything he knows about the construction of a sod house.

Perhaps Billy knows Jake better than he knows himself.  Jake doesn't want to build a sod house but Billy says he will; kindred souls that they are.  Maybe Jake's Mama is right. ...

"When you were born, Billy loved you right away.  When I see the two of you together..." She takes a breath. "Sometimes I think you were born for him."

Jake's decision becomes secondary to Billy's sudden illness which necessitates his hospitalization.  Lida, Jake's older sister and Jesse, his older brother, reach out to him offering their help; all know now the sod house must be built.  Jake believes it will make Billy well.

Each day construction proceeds.  Each day visits are made to the hospital with Lucy, now dubbed Angel Dog, providing comfort not only to Billy but other patients in the hospital as well.  A family secret is getting ready to bloom, nearing completion with assistance now from Mama and Papa.

Newly finished, the sod house, supplies Billy with the solace necessary to enjoy the seasons of the year and his life as they change from summer to fall.  Jake, all the members of the family, have presented Billy with a priceless gift; a treasured part of his past recreated.  He, in turn, has given them a focus for their love for each other and for him.

Patrica MacLachlan reaffirms her place as an author talented in examining the human heart; how relationships are molded by life's challenges and triumphs.  Jake's voice, the first person narrative, in each of the short but significant seventeen chapters of this book, is like stitches in a finely crafted tapestry.   Each word, sentence, and paragraph has purpose.

We are quiet.  I love the feel of his hand.

"Nope.  She's not from around here. She is my dog.  She came to me," says Billy.

Kindred Souls is a beautiful, deeply moving look at family; dealing with the grief of losing a beloved member.  Patricia MacLachlan was penned one of her finest books, one I have literally held close to my heart.  Her dedication says:

In memory of my father-------
born in a sod house on the prairie he loved.

Well done, Patricia MacLachlan, very well done.

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