The Gilded Age saga of the tumultuous Crenshaw and Weldon families continues!
Unwed and pregnant, Thankful Crenshaw comes home and makes a tragic and life-changing decision. She misses the close relationship she once had with her newly religious brother, Buck, who spends his days in the Arizona desert converting drunks and Indians. One drunk, William Weldon, is Buck’s special case and Thankful’s true love.
Little does Thankful know that Buck’s religious fervor is fading. A violent encounter in the sandy wilderness brings her brother and William back to Englewood, New Jersey to mourn their lost innocence and lack of personal integrity in the third book of The Tenafly Road Series.
I’m not going to lie. I hate rejection and am far too fond of the world’s approval. When a person doesn’t like something about me I’m often too thin-skinned. I’m in awe of people who let things roll off their backs.
Lately I’ve been realizing that my definition of love — what I really believe it to be deep down — is something related to people telling me I’m great in exchange for me telling them they’re great. So basically take-take relationships have been my thing.
Selfless Love …
I do occasionally have true moments of unselfishness but I have to admit they are moments when I am kind to animals or people who won’t tax me too much. Animals, in particular, aren’t able to write negative reviews of the home-cooked meals I make for them but then they don’t mind eating trash and roadkill either so …
The other night I decided to look at the book reviews that had just been posted on Amazon. A few weren’t as wonderful as I always want them to be. Here I will also admit that people who leave one star reviews on free books are very taxing to me (hey, I’m human).
I whined to my husband. He always brings me to the heart of the matter. “You want to put yourself out there, so you have to be able to take the heat. Do you think Trump spends time worrying about reviews?”
Yeah. Let’s not talk politics, but my husband of course was right. People write negative reviews on everything from pavement sealer to the Bible. Why should I expect to be liked all the time? Some of you remember that I don’t leave negative reviews online but that hasn’t stopped me from trashing movies, books, politicians and so on to friends and neighbors. I’ve also fallen out of love with people.
Anyway, since I’m reflecting on life’s purpose these days I’m reconsidering my definition of love as that happy feeling when everyone likes me and I like them. It turns out, that in general, I’m not even marginally good at selfless love.
“This is a love story from the first. So much love between two people. The story is wonderful. I want to read the whole series.”
Yet I find it harder to love this reader:
“I have never read anything so dreary, sad, depressing, and frustrating in all my life!! It took me forever, I had to force myself to finish it.”
Yet these two opposing views made me consider love even more. I get the desire for uncomplicated feel-good stories about love, but I’m incapable of writing them. I’ve never found love easy. Surface romance is fun but it ends so quickly. It ends because romance is always about drawing attention to oneself until that point when you can no longer keep up the facade of being a truly marvelous soul.
Romantic Love vs. Biblical Love …
On that day or soon after both partners have to decide if it’s better to run or stay. Staying means you have to enter into the Biblical meaning of love which can be not only difficult but also horrible in many ways. Yes, you begin to discover that your partner is so damned selfish and too hard on the kids. He’s quite possibly insane (or so you think when he disagrees with you). When this person isn’t spending all of his time reflecting you back to yourself in a positive way and begins to question your sanity, well then, it’s no rom-com.
Possibly because I have such trouble sacrificing my desires in acts of love (and also find that my passions are fleeting and that my eyes wander), I’ve always been interested in the after stories of the happily-ever-after stories. You know, when things get real.
Tortured Love …
But getting real means you have to be strong enough to deal with people who won’t like what you have to say. On second thought I have compassion for the reviewer who just couldn’t like my story about a love that endures great hardship. I couldn’t endure a similar relationship in real life and I really, really loved the guy (or thought I did).
Now that I’m older I see the promise in sacrificial love. I’ve done it once or twice and wonder in those moments why I don’t do it more often. Laying down every expectation comes with a weird peace that goes against my controlling tendencies. It usually brings about better outcomes (in the long run). For me I can only do it with God’s help in the form of daily digging into Scripture. My worldly self sees no reason to give myself to anything that doesn’t reflect back on me glowingly.
The Creator’s Love …
The gift that God has given me in writing novels is an insight as to how God loves us despite our miserable behavior and hardened hearts. I tell the truth about my characters because I’m compelled to do so in search of greater truth. This may sound pretentious but why do we tell ourselves stories anyway? I told the Tenafly Road story because one day I was asked to let surrender my romantic ideas about love and let a different kind of love flow in — a love that believes that the lowliest sinner is offered a place in the kingdom.
Redeeming Love …
I write about these lowly people because I know where I come from (and it’s pretty low). I write because I know that deep love is hard and miserable sometimes. I’d always had a hard time imagining a God who really loved people until He showed me a creator’s love for the created. God in His wisdom and with His sense of humor got my attention when I first set out to write against Christianity years ago. No matter how I tried to get around it, I kept bumping into my own desire to redeem John Weldon and the rest.
And so after a few days reflection I’m ready to admit that I still have a lot to do when it comes to loving people who leave negative reviews or critique my cooking. Deep love brings with it risks, but I want to take God at His word that loving deeply is worth it.
Finally I got this review and it kind of sums up my feelings about life which makes sense since I wrote the book. 🙂
“Not sure what I think of this book on its whole. A list of dysfunctional characters all so full with faults. But so well written I had to keep reading. Characters so frustrating one wants to slap them but so human one keeps hoping for the best for them.”
I want to know what you all think LOVE means in the comments. Have any of you survived a tortured love story? Do you like reading them?
In aftermaths of life even the best ideas on paper can leave a trail of human misery or a path to new life. Many times aftermaths are a mixture of both.
In A STRANGE AND BLIGHTED LAND Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle we travel more on the first path of misery. It didn’t surprise me when halfway through this book its author, Gregory A. Coco, mentioned that he was an atheist. Coco was a Vietnam combat veteran himself. This had a profound effect on how he viewed battle (and possibly God). As a Gettysburg guide he became frustrated and saddened by visitors who arrived with stars in their eyes and romanticized notions about glorious causes and heroic charges.
This is not to say that there weren’t heroic men — those who fought, suffered and died (or raced to the next battle) and those who raced toward the suffering to help as best they could in what became a twenty-five square mile “sea of misery.”
The numbers, no matter how often I see them, are so difficult to comprehend:
“Nearly one-third of the total forces engaged at Gettysburg became casualties. George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac lost 28 percent of the men involved; Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered over 37 percent.
Of these casualties, 7,058 were fatalities (3,155 Union, 3,903 Confederate). Another 33,264 had been wounded (14,529 Union, 18,735 Confederate) and 10,790 were missing (5,365 Union, 5,425 Confederate).” HISTORYNET.COM
Forty thousand people (just the dead and severely wounded) would look something like this:
My next book(s) are going to be fictionalized stories about my ancestors, some of them having served on the Union side in the war. A few did not come home and they haunt me — especially since I’ve discovered their pictures and letters.
While Gregory Coco describes in gruesome and troubling detail the suffering left in Gettysburg’s wake, he only briefly discusses the reasons men and boys went to fight. For whatever reasons, there are people who cling to the idea of a glorious Southern cause. And there are other people who cling to the idea that most Northern soldiers fought for every other reason but the abolition of slavery.
Losers often romanticize the past to, in some way, make peace with the loss of so many young men. But what bothers me is the segment of modern society bent on burying, along with my young relatives physical forms, the reasons they fought.
I think part of this may come from a prejudice among intellectuals who can’t imagine that nineteenth century farm boys from Upstate New York could understand and fight for equal rights under God for all people. It’s gratifying and upsetting when I discover a letter or book written in the 1860’s proving this point yet knowing that now these men and their compassion for the victims of slavery don’t receive proper honor for their sacrifices.
Judge a person by the content of their character not the color of their skin …
We do such a great injustice when we paint entire races of people as villains to our children. When we say, “Oh,yes, those young white men died but they were still very racist,” we miss the point that most freed slaves got. Read about how freed slaves stayed in Charleston to set up a cemetery for the white (and black) union soldiers who fought their cause:
“While the city may have been deserted by most of the white folks, there were over 10,000 freed slaves who gathered to greet the Union Army. The story goes that these freedmen and women dug up a mass grave containing the bodies of 257 dead Union soldiers, only to rebury them on May 1, 1865 in a cleaned up and landscaped burial ground.
Take a look at those stadiums again. 18,000 or so Union soldiers died or were severely wounded (many dying later) and another 5,000 or so missing. Just think of the missing ones. Those dying under bushes near streams that flooded and drowned them. Others waiting days on wet ground for treatment that never arrived because their bones were only found months and years later. Missing sometimes meant that these boys were buried in mass graves before dog tags were common.
Dead men at least were immune to the barbarity of Gettysburg’s aftermath.
In Coco’s book we read of maimed Southern soldiers crowded into unsanitary barns only to have to endure watching the “operators” saw limbs from friends in the middle of the room. Imagine knowing that it was your turn next.
Imagine the baby-faced soldiers (like one of my cousins who enlisted at 16) asking the doctors if he’d make it and being told no.
The Declaration of Independence as Mission Statement:
The founding fathers wrestled with the issue of slavery not because they were prejudiced (of course all people have their terrible prejudices) but because they feared what would happen to a very young nation that hardly considered itself as such. Yes, they were as flawed as we all are — we ALL are — their decision to put off dealing with slavery haunted every political, economic and social debate for years until finally it came to a head in war.
Wouldn’t it have been great to have settled things peacefully? But that didn’t happen. I refuse to make light of the sacrifices of those in my family line. They seriously didn’t have to enlist in the first few months after Fort Sumter. But they did. They fought the good fight in a war that none of us can truly imagine. Many lived with horrible wounds for years. Many lost wives who could not stand the sight of their husbands with disfigured faces. Many families lost children in their prime.
The more I read about the brutality of war the more I abhor it. Yet it boggles my mind that some men — men I am coming to know in personal ways — put their lives in danger battle after horrifying battle.
This country wasn’t built on racism exactly. Conquest by brute force and tribalism was the way of the entire world — no WWII soldiers giving out Hershey bars for the most part. Countries aren’t built on only one thing. That’s too damned simplistic. The country was built on a flawed set of people with one very unique mission statement:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Mission statements suggest that we are also works in progress and that we have not yet fully attained the noble sentiments we hold dear. Some farmer boys enlisted, were injured and re-enlisted only to die. They’re in my gene pool. Reading letters and books from the period leave little room for modern revisionism. They were proud of the part they were playing to make the mission statement a reality. I’m proud of them too.
Gregory Coco’s book is divided into five sections:
The Battlefield in the Aftermath “No tongue can depict the carnage”
The Burial of the Dead “A long black shadow”
The Care of the Wounded “A great rushing river of agony”
Prisoners of War, Stragglers, and Deserters “The woods are full of them”
From Battlefield to Hallowed Ground “The sacred sod”
Each section highlights a profoundly moving element of the battle’s aftermath. We tend to remember battles and their dates, maybe even enjoy perusing books on strategy and famous generals. It’s hard to linger in the shadow of suffering and loss. It may even be healthier not to linger too long, but for the people who fought and didn’t die the battle was there forever. In amputations by the thousands, in disfigurement of body and soul (even if outwardly healed).
A battlefield is sacred, Coco points out, not for the later generations but for the families of the men who died — so many of them buried as unknown but known to mother and father deeply — and the ones who escaped death but lived with a lifetime of pain. For those people wondering if it was their son’s bones being unearthed by plows and curiosity seekers the battlefield was something so much more than we can truly understand. Thank God.
“At this point, I have kind of grown up with this series and it is interesting how it has somewhat mirrored my life. You always think the next phase is going to provide answers and while it does often do that, it then brings a whole new set of catastrophes to worry about. I love that this series has a subtle humor to it, similar to that of a private joke you have with yourself. I’ve cared for each character almost equally, kind of the the way I would love those in my family. They each provide a different perspective that I can find myself relating to in some way, even if I completely disagree. Definitely my favorite in the series so far.” *****Amazon Review
I’m a big fan of those feature stories that circulate on writer blogs and The Huffington Post about what famous authors wore. Or the ones about where they lived. Or the ones about the superstitions they had. All the while, as I gaze at the artfully photographed author posing as if in mid-thought, I’m aware of a small jealousy. I know these things are fabricated for mass consumption. I really know it, and yet I still feel, because they had a better desk or cooler shoes, they had a leg up on the ladder of success.
The ones I remember most are the photos of great-looking authors who later went on to commit suicide. I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to studying the demise of celebrity authors–so tragic, so mesmerizing.
I think the real problem is photography. It captures just a moment–a perfect moment. The unreal moment when an author becomes famous. Even for the biggest writers the moments are only small things that happen for a few hours now and again.
It’s why reading about what authors do when not writing is so interesting. Are they really human? Are they witty all the time? Are they jerks to family? I know the answers but still need reassurance.
“*****I started this book without bothering to check the length. Had I done that, I may have changed my mind. So many of those books are full of pages that say nothing – or the same thing.
This is not one of those books. This is a piece of art – a story that flows from one page to the next, one year to the next, with absolute beauty. It was painful at times, full of raw emotion, but so beautifully, wonderfully written.
I was elated and grateful, of course.
But then we had to shoot one of our goats.
Yes, my favorite milking doe Kate who loved peanuts and affection has spent the last year barely hanging on. The vet hinted last year that she should be culled as a weak link in our herd, but I adored her and spent the winter injecting her with all sorts of remedies that didn’t work. In the thick of blizzards I was in the dark barn running my fingers over Kate’s rib cage looking for some fat to stick a needle in twice day.
When spring came on we thought we saw some hope, but then there was none. We researched the most painless, least stress inducing way to put her down: gun to the back of the head while she ate. I milked her one last time (we needed the milk for other goat kids) and brushed her–she liked that–and then I brought her into the big fenced in area to graze until my husband came home from work.
I did what everyone does in the movies–I took that one long look back at her and she at me. A little while later I heard the gunshot and that was it.
The next day my husband and I got into a two day fight about hummus–the stuff you put on crackers. When we spoke to each other again it was about the fact that one of our registered bucks turned out not to be a purebred Nubian. We had foolishly assumed he was and paid a purebred price a few years back but he was just an American Nubian (a step down in breeding circles). A customer of ours knew the breeder and pointed out our mistake after I had advertised and sold a few babies as purebreds! I had to call everyone to apologize and offer to take back the babies or keep them for the $50 deposits they had given me. Luckily everyone was fine with getting great animals for a great price, but still I was mortified.
One of the babies was born with entroption (when eyelids turn under). I spoke with the vet and she assured me it was an easy fix and I could come by the next day and she’d walk me through the procedure. Instead I sat on her porch with a knocked-out baby goat on my lap as the vet with a tiny scalpel sliced off skin. The eyelid was HUGE like the vet had never seen. BTW, both of us humans were in a weird mix of farm clothes and pajamas since we thought we would only be injecting the lid with a tiny bit of penicillin.
I could also go on about our Golden Retriever whose face blew up after having eaten a bee this week, but the goat stories and last week’s post on the trials and tribulations of adoption are enough.
It’s raining again today. I’m beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as weather manipulation. Photos of famous authors (and not so famous ones) are manipulated. The perfect turtleneck sweater, the relaxed sitting on the porch look, the deep in thought at typewriter pose . . . all fabricated, idealized versions of lives. Lives where writing is the obsession maybe but lives with a lot of mess. My life is no messier than others–it’s actually quite good despite goat shootings and bee stings.
I think for today I’ll luxuriate in a good review, knowing that for a brief few moments I took someone’s mind to another place.