One of the reasons I love to read is that books offer me a momentary escape from daily life. For just a chapter or two, I can be living in 3082 on the moon, crossing the Atlantic on the Titanic, drinking high tea with Queen Anne or driving a VW beetle into Mexico’s mountains along the butterfly route.
And then as quick as a dog ear, I am back to reality deciding what is squashed on the carpet: chocolate chip, raisin or something worse?
I love to read historical fiction and my favorite time period is the settling of the West. This obsession probably started with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series, “Little House on the Prairie.” I recently read the first one to my daughter and the book’s spine is slightly hanging together. That is how many times I read them as a child.
When I read stories from this time period, I imagine myself crossing from east to west in a covered wagon, skirts and petticoats caked with dust, barefoot in order to save the boots for winter and trying to figure out how to make stew for dinner with two potatoes and the antelope my fictional-bearded-suspender-wearing-husband just shot. I wonder if I would have survived.
In a world without duct tape and penicillin, how did anyone survive?
Recently I read “True Sisters” by Sandra Dallas and was so impressed by the strength and tenacity of this specific group of pioneers. The story follows four fictional female characters that were part of the real Martin Handcart Company in 1856. These families were so poor before they even left St. Louis that they couldn’t afford covered wagons. Instead they built hand-carts which were pulled by the men, and pushed by the women and older children. The tragedies that this group of Mormon settlers endured on their way to Utah have been well documented and Dallas’ characters filled in the blanks with their hope, love, prayers and sorrow.
On a recent play date with my neighbor, I was telling her about this tragic story and while she hadn’t read Dallas’ book, she said her great-great-grandmother was part of the Martin Handcart Company. She was 83 when she began the journey and perished along the trail before arriving in Utah. “Tell them I died facing West,” she told her family with elderly foresight and faith.
I wonder if at age 83 I will have the courage and vision to undertake a rugged journey of 1300 miles to a destination of promised potential.
My second favorite time period to read about is World War II. I was intrigued from the time I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” in fifth grade.
You probably think I had a super boring childhood and just read all the time, but growing up in Alaska, the winters are long, cold and dark, so there is plenty of time to read. If I wasn’t playing basketball, ice fishing or riding snow machines, I was reading.
But, back to World War II, every time I read historical fiction from those tragic years, it makes me wonder what kind of person I would have been if I lived then. My family isn’t Jewish, so we probably would have been Christian during the time and I wonder if I would have had the courage of Miep Gies and the others in Anne Frank’s life.
Would I have been able to help hide a Jewish family? Or would I have smuggled food and ration cards to those in need? Or would I have adopted one of the children that Irena Sendler helped rescue from Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto? Or would I have blindly hunkered and taken care of my family and only my family and tried not to get involved or take any risks?
I honestly don’t know what kind of woman, wife and mother I would have been in those times. Reading historical fiction forces me to consider these questions.
Do you have a favorite period to read about for historical fiction? What do you love about it?