Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
“Life bullies us son but God don’t.” The wisdom of Grandpa Rucker Blakeslee
15 met at the home of Sandy Molander for Bookers’ bonus meeting to recreate and celebrate our first book selection – September 2004, Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns, originally recommended by Kathy Mueller and reviewed by JoDee Neathery.
Thanks to Jane Freer for bringing PWC new member, Pat Edwards, to her first taste of Bookers. We hope she enjoyed our special group and will be able to join us when we meet again in September. We’re always excited to welcome another passionate reader to the mix. Bookers member, Alison Crawford, is gradually healing from neck surgery and we all wish her a speedy recovery and, please keep Linda Hoff in your thoughts and prayers as she struggles with undiagnosed health issues.
As most of you are aware, the Stanky beach house in Dauphin Island, Alabama burned to the ground, October 2010. Our book selection the following November was Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos – a book featuring a cast of characters on a life-long journey to put “humpty dumpty back together again.” Patsy Dehn and Patty Evans brought the book to life – two wooden crosses where placed on the coffee table alongside bags of broken tiles, stones, and beads in a variety of colors identifying each character in the novel. As each one was discussed, a “piece” was placed onto the crosses. Bookers presented a mosaic cross of hope, support, love, and friendship to MN as they rebuilt and now resides in a special niche.
In honor of MN’s absence and Donna Walter’s presence, we had a short warm-up in which quotes were read from our selection and Bookers were asked to guess either who said them or whom they were about. It was a painless task and they passed with flying colors (or least the ones that read the book…HA)
Olive Ann Burns died at age 65 in Atlanta from congestive heart failure because of complications from chemotherapy. She spent her life as a professional writer, journalist, and columnist for Atlanta newspapers and magazines. Moments after being diagnosed with cancer she decided to write a novel saying “the decision surprised me more than the diagnosis.”
Her preparations for writing the novel actually began somewhat earlier as she began recording her family history relying on her father’s recollections to help her tell the story. One of his favorite stories was about Grandpa Power, a practical man who remarried three weeks after the death of his first wife, in part because he needed a housekeeper – her book was born and after eight and one-half years, Cold Sassy Tree was published in 1984 when she was sixty. She began working on a sequel, titled, Time, Dirt, and Money, later renamed Leaving Cold Sassy and published posthumously in 1992. Her chronological narrative ended on page 157 and the remainder of the sequel consists of her notes as it follows Will into adulthood. In true character the last sentence she was able to write read: “She was so vindictive that Grandpa once said if he wanted to make a raid on Hell, he would make Loma his first lieutenant.”
Cold Sassy Tree, set in a small town in Georgia in 1906, centers on a scandal that erupts when a crusty old man marries a young Yankee milliner just weeks after his first wife's death. As seen through the eyes of a teen-age boy, the May-December relationship develops from a marriage of convenience to one of deep love and trust. It was made into a movie featuring Faye Dunaway and Richard Widmark with Neil Patrick Harris as Will Tweedy.
In my words, September 14, 2004:
“I am an avid reader but have never given an "official" book review so please bear with me. I am drawn to books that tug at my heartstrings; ones that conjure up a wealth of emotions and in the end a book that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf. This book delivered the goods.
I laughed and cried and it provoked thoughts of how differently each of us look at life and death, how differently we view and define love, how seemingly un-dying relationships between fathers and daughters are tested, and how the unconditional love between this Grandpa and Grandson defined not only who they were, but who they became.
The book outlines how change affects the characters by their acceptance or rejection of that change. To me, the book is about a man (Grandpa Blakeslee) getting a chance to be the young boy he never was and a young boy (Will Tweedy) growing into a man. Will and Grandpa mirrored each other as Grandpa captured all the feelings of youth as he fell in love with "love" -both the lady and the emotion. Will Tweedy experienced what growing into manhood involved and what all the fuss was about when it came to girls. As Grandpa stepped backwards into boyhood, Will Tweedy stepped forward into manhood. Will Tweedy's character represent all that is innocent, with pure emotion and a view of life and its challenges that identifies the human spirit. Grandpa Blakeslee represents all that Will strives to be.
Grandpa Rucker Blakeslee:
He was a complex man with an opinionated gruff side and a heart of gold. He put his practical side to work in life and business. He seemed to put the proper emphasis on prejudices with a sense of what was right even if he didn't agree with it. He was oblivious to what others might think of his actions and delighted in stirring up his family and the townspeople of Cold Sassy with his devilish sense of humor. His practical side is highlighted by his explanation to his family of why he was marrying Miss Love Simpson only three weeks after burying his beloved Miss Mattie Lou. " I'm lonesome. I ain't go'n be no burden on y'all….. which means I got to hire a colored woman or git married one and tell you the truth, hit's jest cheaper to have a wife." His tribute to Miss Mattie Lou and the love they shared was evident when he made the "bed of roses" for her grave. He knew how her passing was going to change his life and he was going to fill both the physical and emotional void by marrying Miss Love Simpson. As the book unfolds you find out that Miss Mattie Lou nearly died in childbirth trying to give him a son and he made the ultimate sacrifice to never subject her to that risk again. He admitted having a yearning for Miss Love Simpson from the start, but you knew he would have never acted on this attraction as long as Miss Mattie Lou was alive. As soon as his life changed, he quickly pursued Miss Love Simpson. At the onset, it was a marriage of convenience. He needed a housekeeper; she needed a roof over her head. Their marriage affected the entire town but none more than each other. They changed each other in a positive way after he morphed into a young man in love with his "Love" and she became the proud and loving Mrs. Rucker Blakeslee.
Grandpa was the model by which Will Tweedy patterned his life. He lovingly remembered him by reciting what Grandpa had discovered-- the real meaning of what Jesus meant when he said, "ask, and ye shall receive.” He explained that Jesus meant us to ask for things of spirit not the flesh. It meant us to ask for hope and forgiveness; to help us not be scared and not to be greedy; and to give us the courage to try. Will recognized prejudices but didn't understand why they mattered. He accepted and embraced changes in his life with vigor. He explored all the adventure and emotions of a young man and recognized the importance of following the Golden Rule (with the exception of his "harmless" practical jokes of course.) He was the only one who accepted Miss Love Simpson right away. " Miss Love was a merry person like Grandpa…she never wore quiet clothes like the nice ladies were suppose to wear…. I could see how Miss Love could cheer up a man whose wife was short of breath for four years, dying for ten days and dead for three weeks."
Miss Love Simpson:
"An old maid from up north-a Yankee- who has to work for a livin." She was the person who turned the town of Cold Sassy on its ear. Grandpa was the most important person in her life, the one who gave her unconditional love, and the family she never had. He risked alienation of his own family to have her in his life. She not only changed his appearance; she changed the way he looked at life. It began as a convenience marriage for both but turned into mutual respect and love for each other. In the end, she was able to keep him alive in their baby son.
Mary Willis and Aunt Loma:
The daughters were disappointed and ashamed of their father's actions but learned to accept and even understand a man's need for companionship, even with a woman half his age. They both initially felt betrayed by him, embarrassed by his actions and thought only about how this quickie marriage would affect their relationship with their father both emotionally and financially. In the end, the family united and seemed to forge a stronger bond with each other.
The town of Cold Sassy, Georgia represented strength, stability, and comfort to all who lived there, but also in the end, was vulnerable to change in an era of advanced technologies, indoor plumbing, electricity and mostly the introduction of the automobile.
The book hit close to home as my father remarried a woman my age only two months after my mother passed away. I wish I had known Grandpa Blakeslee and Miss Love Simpson then as I might have handled this with a little more dignity and understanding. I might have realized that he had already said goodbye and grieved the loss of my mother. Instead, I reacted much like Mary Willis and Aunt Loma. It wasn’t a slap in the face to the family – it was a need for the day-to-day companionship that defined a marriage of 42 years. Without that, you are forced to face the days alone, so you reach out. As a daughter, you just hope that reach is for the right person and in the case of Grandpa and Miss Love it was.”
For those of you who were at the first meeting, thanks for listening to the review again, and for those of you who were not, I appreciate your attention and support! Because the characters were so vividly portrayed it was as if we were talking about family…Will was compared to Tom Sawyer in persona and mischief…we felt sorry for poor Uncle Camp for “being born tired and raised lazy…”and married to a spoiled Aunt Loma who the family “kept rewarding her for not dying…”witnessed how Grandpa Blakeslee felt when he saw Miss Love, “the very air she breathed was made out of sugar and spice” even though she was a Yankee and a Methodist Episcopalian to boot… and his devotion to Miss Mattie Lou when he made her a pillow sham of roses for under her head, covered her grave with red, pink, white, light pink, dusky pink, and yellow rose blankets… “a tear dropped off Grandpa’s nose and watered a red rose.” We talked about the respectable timeframe (if there is one) in which a person should carry on with life and remarry. It varied from “never” to it “would be impossible to determine the number of days, weeks, months, or years to fill the void left when someone dies.” The right match seems to be more important than a calendar telling you that companionship is acceptable.
Some felt the narrative voice in dialect distracting and hard to follow and the novel certainly could not have been written if spell-check was enabled. We discussed whether it was a simpler time to live – with the gossip mill of “concerned” neighbors holding you sway for the smallest indiscretion – or was it merely a small community looking after each other, upholding their traditions, friendships, hardships, views on living and dying and religion? We wondered and hoped that Will continued writing in his journal. We talked about how difficult it is now for men to grow up…in the early 1800’s they started businesses at age sixteen…they had father figures, civic leaders, the town drunk, and the bad guys to deal with…today their role models can be a mix of all of the above including the athletes they adore and try to emulate. This, for them, might answer the question if life was simpler in the “good ole’ days.”
On the business side:
Janet Noblitt was the lucky Bookers who found an envelope attached to her chair, which included a $25.00 Amazon gift card. These are the proceeds from book orders through bookers-online.blogspot.com and we wanted to thank each of you for participating in the program and ordering your books through the site. I still don’t know how to fix it where we can continue to do so…someone smarter than me is required!
In keeping with the “small town theme and its characters,” Pam Davis shared some information about the recently released independent movie, Bernie. This is a true story based on a 1998 Texas Monthly Magazine article entitled, “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” about the 1996 murder of 81 year-old millionaire, Marjorie Nugent, (played by Shirley MacLaine) in Carthage, Texas by her 39 year-old homosexual companion and local mortician, Bernie Tiede (played by Jack Black.) Matthew McConaughy is cast in the role of the local district attorney (where do I buy a ticket…) This crime comedy has all of East Texas cringing at the portrayal of the locals!
Leila Meacham, author of Roses, Bookers June 2010 selection, will release her new novel, Tumbleweeds on June 19th. Recently orphaned, eleven-year-old Cathy Benson feels she has been dropped into a cultural and intellectual wasteland when she is forced to move from her academically privileged life in California to the small town of Kersey in the Texas Panhandle where the sport of football reigns supreme. It takes three friends through their growing up years until high school graduation and back when they reunite at forty years of age. The cover is wonderful and we hope Ms. Meacham’s “sophomore” book is as good.
As you recall, Cherry and Beverly Dossett loaned Mr. Tucker a copy of Unbroken, which he has read and thoroughly enjoyed. His health is improving and as he says, “ I’m still alive because Satan and Jesus can’t decide who gets me.” He has offered to loan his Navy flight log to us for our September meeting…the last entry, October, 1945, documents his involvement in a search for a missing plane which was never found…a walking and talking history jewel lives right here at Pinnacle!
COLOR CODING SYSTEM:
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
Summer Read: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
September 11th: Kick-off to Bookers’ Season 9
Home of Marlene Ungarean, co-hosted by Rosemary Farmer
Reviewer: Patty Evans
October 9th: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Home of Beverly Dossett
Reviewer: Colleen Hinckley
November 13th: The Tender Bar, A Memoir by J.R. Moehringer
Home of Jane Freer, co-hosted by Cherry Fugitt
Reviewer: Kathy Mueller
December 11th Bookers Holiday Party
A Young Wife by Pam Lewis & Back When We Were Grownups
by Anne Tyler
Home of Jean Alexander
January 8, 2013 My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Home of Daryl Daniels
Reviewer: Beverly Dossett
February 12th Home of Janet Erwin
Possible Reviewer: Jean Alexander
March 12th Home of Charlotte Pechacek
Possible Reviewer: Kimberly Hand
April 9th Home of MN Stanky, co-hosted by Kimberly Hand
Possible Reviewer: Melanie Prebis
May 14th 6th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting
Home of Melanie Prebis
Have a great summer break but not from reading and we’ll see you on September 11, 2012 at Marlene’s home.