Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting Volunteer for Glory to a wonderful group of people at Tanner Springs Assisted Living. Admittedly, I was nervous as I’d only given readings, and being without a script was a challenge. Once there, however, I felt an amazing warmth and kinship with these remarkable individuals.
How do you describe such an atmosphere without resorting to clichés? You can mention the smiles and gentle responses from each person you greeted. You can refer to their polite attention. And you can report their participation, especially when I asked them to share thoughts, opinions, or memories.
One lady had spent time in the South where the Civil War still lives in a collective memory of carpetbaggers and hard times. That brought on a discussion of the bitter aftermath of Reconstruction following Lincoln’s assassination. The South had lost their greatest friend, for Lincoln’s desire had been to “bind up the nation’s wounds.” Then she told us that only about 5 percent of Confederate soldiers were slave owners. The majority of Rebel soldiers were poor farmers without an economic stake in the fortunes of the big plantations. Another resident remarked that some wives followed their men to wash, sew, and cook.
When I mentioned how different life was in the days before computers, cell phones and iPods, a woman seated in the back row shared a childhood memory from the Depression. “My father farmed using horses,” she said, “as we couldn’t afford a tractor. But when he’d come in after a day of plowing, I’d run to meet him. We had two mares, and he would pick me up and set me on the back of the gentlest, the one named Ruth. I was so proud to ride into the barn on that big horse.” I could see her in my mind’s eye; a sweet mite of a girl running to greet her daddy at day’s end. I could also imagine the man in his cotton shirt and overalls, setting his little girl on the massive draft horse to ride like a queen across the barnyard.
A dress and sunbonnet, part of the Civil War era fashions kindly lent by Roxie Matthews, sparked another story. A wonderful lady told of wearing a sunbonnet to work in the fields, day after day, enduring hot sun and backbreaking labor. Scratching out a living in the ’30s required that everyone pull his or her weight.
Several hands rose when I asked if any had seen husbands or brothers go off to World War II. They nodded, knowing what it was like to be left behind while loved ones marched into danger with no assurance of return.
As a bonus, I’ve been invited back to present Wrenn, Egypt House, and the soon-to-be published, Scattered Pieces. One lady has already spoken for a copy of Scattered Pieces as she can relate to the 1940s. But the sweetness of this afternoon was not in the selling and signing of books. It was in meeting extraordinary people and discovering the riches of friendship and wisdom they offer. I can’t wait to go back!