Regional books of note for March:
“Birthing the West,” by Jennifer J. Hill (Bison Books)
Not much has been written about childbirth in the West. After all, “what tenure-seeking female would deign to address such an odiferously feminine topic?” asks author Jennifer J. Hill. In the male-dominated world of academia, “Reproduction did not represent a shrewd career choice.”
Pity, because childbearing had a tremendous impact on westering Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. Men’s work could be measured in terms of dollars and cents — the number of bushels of wheat produced or cattle sold. Women’s work was considered unpaid labor, although it contributed to the family larder. Women cooked and sewed and kept house, gardened, helped their husbands in the fields, and aided neighbors in distress. The death of a wife or mother in childbirth — possibly the greatest threat to any young woman — had dire economic consequences for a family. If a husband died, his wife might soldier on in supporting the family. But what man was able to take care of a household of kids in the event of their mother’s death?
In a heavily footnoted academic work, Hill writes an absorbing tale of Western childbirth and family life. Birth control was virtually unknown, since federal law made the practice illegal (up until the mid-20th century in some places). Hill writes of a 22-year-old woman with seven kids, who had hoped to stop after two. Another mother with 12 children had a daughter with seven.
In sparsely populated rural areas, women helped other women deliver children. Midwives were indispensable. They not only attended births but also cared for women and babies until they were stable. It was a shame that as the population grew, doctors worked to outlaw midwives, dubbing them dirty and superstitious. Thus, women who had birthed pioneer children for 50 years were pushed to the side and allowed to practice only as physician helpers.
“Seasons of Restorations,” by Thomas DeConna (Black Rose)
Frank Bowman is in his 90s and facing death when he persuades his son, George, a retired Denver teacher, to visit him in New Jersey. Once there, George’s son, Jack, shows up unexpectedly. The relationship among the three generations is imperfect. Secrets and lack of trust and their inability to open themselves up have kept the three from being close.
Frank’s life is at an end, but George, a recent widower, and Jack, who’s just been fired from his job in California, are both searching for purpose.
Frank persuades his son and grandson to help him restore his historic house, which suffers from neglect. They’ll get a better price for it when he dies, Frank says. Reluctantly, George and Jack agree to help. As they repair the house, they also repair their relationships.
The idea of three intertwined generations looking for meaning for themselves and with each other is appealing. Colorado author Thomas DeConna, a retired English teacher, tells an intriguing story that shows it is never too late to find trust and love.
“The Cobbler of Spanish Fort and Other Frontier Stories,” by Johnny D. Bogs (Five Star Publishing)
As winner of a record nine Western Writers of America Spur Awards, Johnny D. Boggs is the natural heir to the famous old purveyors of Westerns. “The Cobbler of Spanish Fort and Other Frontier Stories” shows why. It is a collection of tales of the West, the Southern Frontier, and even the Civil War, written with wit and imagination.
The title story is about Big Eddie, an ambitious seller of cowboy goods, who hires Emilio, a Mexican leathersmith, at a dollar a day to produce boots for Texas drovers coming up the trail on their way to Kansas. The boots make Big Eddie rich, and they provide Emilio and his family with a decent living. Emilio is buried wearing the finest pair of boots he ever made. He crafted them for pure satisfaction, because the bootmaker himself never wore anything but sandals.
There are stories about Wild Bill Hickok and baseball; about a 6-year-old boy whose brother goes off to fight in Vietnam; about a bunch of cowboys carrying a coffin to the cemetery who are waylaid in a bar; and about a husband who buys a piano for his bride. Each one illustrates why Boggs is considered a top hand.
“The Lady’s Mine,” by Francine Rivers (Tyndale House)
When Kathryn Walsh’s wealthy stepfather finds her too uncontrollable, he banishes her to Calvada, a rough mining town. Kathryn’s uncle has died and left Kathryn’s mother a newspaper and worthless mine in Calvada. There is no going back. So Kathryn hopes the paper and mine will support her.
On reaching Calvada, Kathryn discovers her uncle was murdered. She’s faced with prejudice about a woman running a newspaper. And forget about her opening the mine. A woman’s place is at home with husband and children, she is told, to her annoyance. Kathryn makes it clear she has no desire to marry and give a husband total control over her. Still, the town’s two most prominent men are determined to change her mind.
Written by Francine Rivers, whose best-seller “Redeeming Love” has just been made into a movie, “The Lady’s Mine” is an old-fashioned romance with a twist. Kathryn is today’s woman — someone who refuses to fit into a mold or to give up her independence. Good luck with that, Kathryn.
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