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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