For a variety of reasons that may very well act as a sedative for you, dear reader, I have been unable to read fiction during the autumn. I find that this phenomenon comes and goes in my life based on reasons that thus far have escaped my understanding. Yet, I am no longer panicked by these occurrences, – a small step brought on by aging – but rather appreciative of the cycles that gently force me into alternative genre. Doors open to new worlds, new writers, and new adventures.
Ghosts In the Garden, a exquisitely crafted book with both words and images, has captured by heart. No surprise, as I am a devotee of all words “Kephartian.” As a writer from and about Philadelphia, her work is close to home – literally – my roots are entrenched deep within the Pennsylvania soil. Ponderings of her life walking through the gardens at Chanticleer:
“The work I strive to do didn’t give me pleasure anymore, and I was going nowhere…Can you find your purpose on a declivitous hill?(7)” and “A gardener digging at Chanticleer one found – beneath leaf mold, in between roots – an arrowhead…The past is kept where the past has been until it is dreamed back again” (11).
I read. I am stunned to know this author feels exactly what I am feeling now. At this moment.
I want to see Chanticleer. I imagine myself walking through this landscape. I imagine moments that matter.
This personal reading is balanced only by my work. I read for children. I oftentimes try to mesh my own interests with my students – all boys. It is a challenge. I love it! How to make them care about words of others – to see through the prism of history and gender – is my work. I was raised in a reading home, but not one where books were owned. They were few and the few were cared for and loved. My beloved books were birthday gifts – always Nancy Drew stories. I still have them.
There was no resisting the school purchase of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini. First thought – I will never get them past the cover. How on earth will I get them to want to read it? With interest, but low expectations, I opened this volume of the series, “Biographies For Young Readers.” Believe me. They will be interested. Millie Benson must be the best-kept feminist secret. He authorship of Nancy Drew stories is the least of what this woman accomplished. “First recipient of the Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa, 1926.” Xylophone musician with two mallets in each hand. Student-athlete. Aviatrix. Writer. Reporter. Mother. Wife. My boys appreciate accomplishments regardless of gender or age. There will be no resistence to Millie.
But, it is Iowa. I want to go there. See the backdrop of Millie’s life. Visit Ladora. Visit the University and read her papers at the Iowa Women’s Archives. Be a Hawkeye for the day. Travel to Illinois. Chicago and the Palmer Hotel, where she was married. Margaret Wirt Benson is anyone’s muse.
This very autumn, on this very day, non-fiction is having its way with me.
Kephart, Beth. Ghosts In the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of the Self. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2005. Print.
Rubini, Julie K. Missing Millie Benson: Nancy Drew, the Secret Case of the Ghostwriter and Journalist. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015. Print.