Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fair and Tender Ladies

"For Daddy had loved the spring. He used to plow and hold the plowed earth to his face, he loved how it smelled, I recall him doing that when I was not but a little thing, and him saying to Babe, isnt this good now? and dont this smell just like spring? and Babe rolling his eyes and snorting like Daddy had lost his mind. Farming is pretty work, Daddy said.... Daddy loved the dogwood and the redbud and the sarvis and how they looked blooming all by themselves up there on Blue Star Mountain afore everthing else got green. He used to take us way up on the mountain in the wee early spring to tap a birch and get sap, he cut off a big piece of bark for us to licke the inside, it tasted so sweet, I recall he said to me one time, Now Ivy, this is how spring tastes. This is the taste of spring."
~Lee Smith, Fair and Tender Ladies

That's an excerpt from one of my all time favorite books. I've had it for about twenty years and I read it maybe once a year. Ivy has become an old and dear friend of mine by now, so I have to visit her every now and again. The story follows Ivy Rowe, an Appalacian mountain woman, from her early teens through her last breath - from the hard-scrabble mountain farmer's life to the coal mines and back again. It's written in letter style and the world is seen and changes for us through Ivy's eyes as she ages and writes her letters to the people in her life.

"The letters didn't mean anything.
Not to the dead girl Sylvaney, of course - nor to me.
Nor had they ever.
It was the writing of them that signified."
~Lee Smith, Fair and Tender Ladies

The book pulls me on several levels, not the least of which is my identification with Ivy and her love of the mountains. I love her free spirit, her "damn what anyone else thinks" way of moving through the world. But, ultimately, it's the writing style that always, always grabs me. It is so like my own (my perception - really, I can only hope) - the description, the flow, the laying down of words for the sake of the words themselves. I have no doubt that Lee Smith can taste words like I do. It is the writing that signifies.

It's another beautiful day here, and I'm off to wander it and find what treasures Mother Nature has revealed this time. The death of an entire year is heavy on my heart today, while at the same time I live in great hope and anticipation of... more.

"There's a big hawk circling in this blue, blue sky. Lord it is a pretty day, it reminds me of my daddy and how he gave us that birch bark to lick and said Slow down now, slow down now Ivy. This is the taste of spring. I never slowed down.... The hawk flys round and round, the sky is so blue. I think I can hear the old bell ringing like I range it to call them home oh I was young then, and I walked in my body like a Queen"
~Lee Smith, Fair and Tender Ladies

1 comment:

  1. Now there is a book I may just have to track down.
    I'm glad the weather is turning nice for you over there, over here well it's "spring" which means rain oh wait no was that a hint of sunshine, no it was just a break in the clouds, oh well we can but dream of the clear cool days ahead.


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