One of the best things about having a published book out there in the world is the way in which it connects me to strangers and their stories. Here's a few words from an e-mail I received two weeks ago about an American flight nurse that served in the Pacific in World War II.
"Charlotte McFall Mallon is 97 now....last time I visited her she showed me your book, Pure Grit, that a niece had sent her. She said she cried while reading it."
Charlotte tells of her personal connect to the POW nurses in her own words in the book, NO TIME FOR FEAR, by Dianne Burke Fessler.
One day I was in Saipan, waiting for patients to come in from various places, when the chief nurse came into the barracks and asked us to get all the fresh food, fruit or anything we could find. She told us we were going to put on a buffet, and we couldn't imagine what could be happening because our food was so awful. She wouldn't tell us why, so we guessed that some VIP was coming from Washington.
All kinds of food was brought together, because everyone had been getting it sent from home. We took it to the hangar, where the mess sergeants had made potato salad, and put out all the food. We waited for the planes, and pretty soon two of them landed and taxied up to the hangers. They were not the usual evacuation planes, either, but the "plush" ones that VIPs traveled in. When the doors the doors opened, the stairs were wheeled to the planes, and the girls who had been prisoners in the Philippines came out.
I can never tell this without crying. We knew immediately who they were. They were thin as rails. They had been given uniforms, which didn't fit, and their hats were down over their noses. The band struck up The Star Spangled Banner, and there wasn't a dry eye anywhere, everybody was crying. We all greeted them, and ushered them to the buffet. The centerpiece was a sheetcake that was decorated red, white and blue, and read Welcome Home to the Good Old USA. They were thrilled to pieces.
Charlotte, a nurse with the 828th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, arrived for duty in the Pacific in October 1944. She and other flight nurses tended patients in planes that picked up wounded near the front lines. Though her plane could have been shot down over enemy territory, her closest call came during a routine landing on a short runway on the Island of Eniwetok.
She explains, The nose wheel of the C-54 hit the pile of coral, flipped us over on one wing, spinning us around and the plane burst into flames.
Another nurse, Mary Creel, and I jumped out through the flames. I escaped burns, but sprained my ankle, while the other nurses, crew and some of the passengers were injured worse. Mary and Georgia Dixen suffered burns.
Courtesy NO TIME FOR FEAR, by Dianne Burke Fessler
I'd been asked to carry some secret papers to Tinian on that flight, which we weren't supposed to do, and had to be concerned about that, as well as helping the people who were injured.
Tinian Island was the departure point of the bombers Enola Gay and Bockscar, carrying the atomic bombs named Little Boy and Fat Man that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While driving across the state, I started listening to a book on tape, FLIGHT BEHAVIOR, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver.
I haven't finished it yet, but it is sure giving me a lot to think about.
The protagonist is Dellarobia, a young Appalachian woman who discovers some 15-million monarch butterflies have come to winter in the forest on her in-laws property. There are so many they turn the valley orange, as if it's on fire.
It's natural for North American monarchs to migrate south and hibernate on trees for the winter, (see a photo here) but in Mexico, not Tennessee.
The book has mixed reviews and it moves slowly in the beginning. It might pay to listen to the book rather than read it. While the butterflies seem like a miracle at first, this story rarely strays from “real” life.
From The York Times review of the book: “Throughout her fiction, the exigencies of work, and the classes of people who do that work, have been among Kingsolver’s great subjects. Here she deftly handles the relentless labor of sheep shearing, yarn dying, even child minding, with all those sticky fingers and sodden, sagging diapers.”
As a writer, I have to say I love FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. Kingsolver's original use of language really grabs me. Here are a couple of examples.
Dellarobia walks under a "mess of dirty white sky like a lousy drywall job."
She reflects on how she was once a rebel girl with plans to get out of this town, but now, "Her boldness had been confined to such tiny quarters, it counted for about as much as mouse turds in a cookie jar."
The church choir sings a hymn, "dragging it like a plow through heavy clay".
I also covet Kingsolver's depth of characterization. In this story of "poor backwoods hillbillies", privileged college students, fundamentalist Christians and environmentalists--you see only human beings. Once you get to know them their labels, don't fit quite so well in your mind.
She focuses her skill at characterization on the issue of climate change to make clear the need for people to talk to each other, even when they disagree.
The story makes me aware I sometimes judge that I already know what some people are going to say. I don't want to listen because I think they're misinformed, ignorant of the facts, ruled by fear or whatever. I can go off on my own little "flight behavior".
And yet, I wish people who disagree with me would listen when I talk. I want them to respect my experience and value how my experience has informed me.
One thing I know is that we learn nothing when we only listen to people who tell us what we already know.
I want to be a person who is learning. I want my life to be about growing. Growing wiser, growing more compassionate, growing more effective in the actions I take and in the choices I make.
I don't want to live motivated by fear. I want to be courageous, not threatened by someone who disagrees with me. I want to be wise and strong enough to trust that others are able to work out the way of things for themselves, just as I am.
In the current climate of division, it's difficult to believe we will lay down our swords and shields and work together to solve the world's problems. My grip is loosening on mine. And that's were it starts.
The books title calls to mind a number of different metaphors. My favorite is the idea of who we humans behave when we're afraid. What about you? I'd love to hear from you. Whether you like the book or not. :)
Today, please welcome Author Claire Rudolf Murphy. I invited her to tell you about her new book which combines her love of music with her passion for freedom and justice for all people. Claire...
When my dear friend Mary asked me to post on the Fourth of July I thought about the courage of the many Americans featured in my new book MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE: HOW ONE SONG REVEALS THE HISTORY OF CIVIL RIGHTS, illustrated by Bryan Collier.
Our moments of courage may not be as brave or big as though above, but I believe that to be a citizen means to live with courage, allowing every American the right to speak and live in safety. Fifty years ago the Freedom Summer volunteers, black and white, had courage while registering voters in Mississippi. They risked it all so “freedom could ring.”
Talking about my new book and encouraging teachers to get their students to write new verses to this famous song may not be courageous. But these new verses give me hope that the next generation will “let freedom ring.”
Spokane teacher Patty Driscoll’s 5th and 6th graders wrote this new verse with the help of their music teacher:
My country ‘tis of thee
Let us be bully-free
No teasing found.
We are not all the same
Stop causing all their pain
Differences are not to blame
Freedom all around.
Claire invites classes and individual students to write new lyrics for a cause they believe in. Check out Claire's website for contest details.
Winners will be posted on Claire's website and become eligible to win a book or poster of Aretha Franklin singing at President Obama's inauguration. The contest is open September 1 - October 30th, 2014. Enter here...
In parting, Claire says, Sing one of your favorite patriotic songs this day. Let freedom ring.
Sounds like a great way to celebrate! Thanks, Claire.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers in the blog comments, by email or social media.