A Gracious Plenty

Hanging laundry this morning to riotous birdsong, I carefully secured the corner of each bath towel, and then smiled, thinking of Nana.

“You go out there, and you hang that laundry so it looks right.”

I can’t remember —  did we roll our eyes back in the seventies?  “But it will dry just fine the way it is,”  I protested.  (I’m sure that we whined back in the seventies.)  “Nobody cares what our laundry looks like on the clothesline!”

“Don’t you kid yourself . . .”

Having grown up in the home of my grandparents, I have a shared perspective with author Drema Hall Berkheimer.  Her grandma, lovingly portrayed in Running on Red Dog Road, had the same “what-will-the-neighbors-think” basis for morality, but shored up with a hearty dose of Pentecostal Holiness doctrine.

There was no question about it:  in Drema’s growing-up world, Grandma was in charge of things.

Not only did Grandma always know God’s opinion on every topic, but she also knew when it was inappropriate to draw attention to oneself,  how Grandpa should drive, and, above all, what kind of quiet dignity should characterize a preacher’s family.  Her vigilance particularly applied to little girls who should, under no circumstances, be seen running down Fourth Avenue in small town East Beckley,  West Virginia.  Fourth Avenue was a red dog road, covered with the colorful waste products of the area’s robust coal mining industry, the industry that had claimed the life of the author’s father.  When her mother took a “Rosie the Riveter” job in New York, the center of Drema’s world shifted to her grandparents’ home.

Berkheimer’s memoir comes from the perspective of a precocious nine-year-old, sharing insights, sometimes hilarious and sometimes jarring, of life in World War II era America with its proud frugality and its humble abundance.  She attests to the fact that children could and did find ways to get into trouble back then and has peopled her tales with colorful characters that stay with the reader even after the last page has been read.

History lovers who enjoy period recipes will enjoy reading about Grandma’s policy to feed everyone, thoroughly and often.  Making a feast out of the tail end of a garden or slaughtering and then boiling the carcasses of an entire flock of chickens and then canning the meat, Grandma elevated “making do” to banquet fare.

Parents and teachers will enjoy reading a child’s perspective on the Christian faith.  Drema was convinced that sanctification was somehow tied up with the absence of feathers in ones wardrobe, and, based on what she had observed in church, she defined a testimony as “when someone got up and said what a terrible person he had been until he got saved.”  She worried that playing gin rummy might possible send her straight to hell — until she developed the fall-back plan of converting to Methodism when she grew up.  (Methodists were, apparently, allowed to play cards.)  Already well-versed in theodicy, she “suspected that God wasn’t always fair [based on] dealings I’d had with him,” and her top priority in Sunday worship was nabbing the pew fan with the picture of the blue-eyed Jesus.

Humor tinged with melancholy, stories that carry a quiet moral without preaching, and an understanding that the gifts of God are all good, Drema Berkheimer shares with her readers the “gracious plenty” of her own childhood and opens our eyes to the “wild, whooping” extravagance of God all around us, waiting to be seen in our own sacred places.

//

This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

25 thoughts on “A Gracious Plenty”

  1. “…of life in World War II era America with its proud frugality and its humble abundance.”

    That’s it! I’ve been grieving of late over the loss of something I can’t name. In one well-turned clause you have clarified what I have not been able to identify. We once had gracious plenty but now we have too much. Prosperity is a two-edged sword. It cuts away want even as it cuts away gratitude. Much always wants more.

    I’m on my way to Amazon to buy this book.

    And thank you for the flashback to my childhood – white sheets billowing on the lines that stretched from one side of the backyard to the other. Mondays will always be wash day for me. 🙂

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  2. That sounds like a delightful read! I found a bit of myself in your story about your grandmother. Whenever I hang wash outside, I think to myself, “Put the nice stuff on the outside because that’s what the neighbors will see.” 🙂

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  3. This made me think of my early years when my mom would have us iron my dad’s cloth handkerchiefs, I assume for ironing lessons but also for what people would think when he pulled out an ironed handkerchief. ha. Thanks for sharing about this book, Michele.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It doesn’t take me “back” since I was born in the eighties, but being a lover of history, Laura Ingalls everything, lover of books and old ways of living – this makes me want to read it! It sort of reminds me of my best friends mom and grandma, being Pentecostal and the most giving, humble folks you ever met. Thanks for the great review, Michele!

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  5. Michele,

    We share the same Nana; a woman who taught me so much and made me the woman that I am today. Until your family moved in with my grandparents, I spent almost every weekend and every summer with them. They gave me values and morals that have made me the woman that I am today.

    We often under estimate the influence our grandparents had on us. I still remember wash day on Mondays, putting bluing in the rinse water (you probably don’t remember that), getting those clothes hung out just right with the underwear in the middle even though they lived way out in the country. They had a lot of pride back then and they demanded respect and got it. I learned to cook from Nana and I still have a lot of her recipes, which I treasure. They spoiled me, but in a good way. By the time you came along, it was time for me to move along with my life, so I left the good times for you.

    Those are memories no one can ever take away from us!

    Pam

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    1. Thank you so much, Pam, for letting me know all this. How in the world did you ever find this post?? I’d love to connect with you somehow — are you on Facebook? Nana was a strong woman. I’m so thrilled to hear about her from someone who knew her so well.

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  6. Ah, yes, the task of hanging laundry to dry! I remember it well from my childhood and early adulthood. What smells better on a bed than the smell of fresh sheets dried outdoors in the breeze? This sounds like such a good book to savor and enjoy as the author looks back on a time with such values and work ethics we seem to see less often these days. Thanks for this!

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  7. My mom is from the generation of the author. I couldn’t help but giggle at the laundry hanging and the cards playing because my mother was taught the same thing and she even taught it to us. I’ve got the book on my list to read. Thank you for such a wonderful review and linking up with Thankful Thursdays.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This sounds like a book I would dearly love. I so long for those old days! I think I yearn for them even more now that both of my precious parents are gone. God bless you for sharing about this book, Michele! You are a blessing to me. 🙂

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  9. Michele, I’m already justifying how I SHOULD be reading this rather than what I have been reading! After all I am leaving on vacation tomorrow and should be reading what I want to be reading! Or something like that! LOL Anyway, can’t wait to get started on this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Smiling over here, Donna, and SO much in support of the inalienable right to read whatever you want on your vacation! Also, so happy for you that you’re getting away for a time! Blessings and Good Rest to you!

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  10. I used to love sitting at my “Grandmother’s” table while she tell of her childhood in the 1910s and then living in New York during World War 2 with her sons. She had such a knack for describing her work at a publishing house, meeting Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember it like yesterday. Your post today brought back those memories. Thanks for sharing. 😉

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  11. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s memories – first yours in the post and then everyone’s in the comments! Thanks so much for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday this week!
    Tina

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