I was looking fondly at some old books recently when a book came to mind that I read annually for years. As the Earth Turns, Gladys Hasty Carroll’s first novel for adults was released in 1933 and became the number two top selling book, outselling books written by Lloyd C. Douglas and Sinclair Lewis, written that same year. It was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Carroll went from little-known children’s writer to national celebrity.
I didn’t know any of this when I first read the book as a teen-ager. I just knew that I loved the story of this southern Maine farm family, led by the oldest daughter Jen Shaw and her wise father Mark. I was fascinated with how this family walked through the seasons of their lives during the early depression years. Jen, at 20, has been a farm “wife” since she was 12, when her mother died. Her new stepmother is sickly. She manages to do some of the sewing and butter-making, but Jen seems to do everything else, working tirelessly to provide for the needs of her family.
I never tired of reading about this ordinary family, living out its days in measured, predictable, seasonal work. I loved the sense of time and place and the rhythms of life that made up their world. I enjoyed reading about Jen preparing for dinner while everyone else was still eating breakfast, getting the laundry out on the line early on Monday morning, discussing the planting and harvesting with her father – and canning and canning and canning so there was always food for the family. I loved watching Jen plan her days, living calmly from moment to moment, unflappable as her adolescent step- sister longs for a life in the city, her whiny stepmother complains about everything, and her adorable young brother begs to sit in her lap. I enjoyed the orderliness of her mind and the way she carried out her work, never in a hurry, but always busy.
Looking back I see several reasons why this book was so interesting to me. This family was “put together” even though there were dysfunctional moments. My family was dysfunctional and I longed for a few “put together” real moments. Like Jen, I loved order and planning and productivity. And like the Shaw family, my family spent hours planting, harvesting, canning and freezing. Most importantly, like any compulsive reader, I enjoyed reading about a life lived elsewhere – elsewhere in time, in place, and in response to what life brings.
In his book A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie speaks of the life of Jesus as he lived “under ordinary skies.” His was also a life lived elsewhere. But I have always imagined Jesus living an extraordinary life under the same ordinary skies that cover my world. And best of all, I can read his story and learn to live my own extraordinary life within the ordinary circumstances of my world.
And, now I’m going to go on-line and attempt to put on of my favorite old books “on hold” at the library.