Friday, May 30, 2008

Hallam's War

Grandma had a better night last night, but she's still on oxygen and have trouble breathing. I was hoping to visit her today, but I caught an awful cold, and I don't want to expose her to it. I can't help feeling guilty for all of the times that I have been healthy and haven't gone to see her. I fight with the guilt I still feel at the deaths of several family members: Grandpa & Grandma Trever, Grandma Valley, Uncle Don. I know how much each of them loved me, and I know that I wasn't as good to them as I could have been. When I attend a funeral, many of the tears I shed are often for myself, for all of the regrets at letting relationships fall to the side thinking that there will always be time later. Is this usual, does everyone feel this way?

My dad's parents both died when I was in my teens, and my mom's mom had a stroke when I was 20 (her dad died when she was 13), so it was difficult to have a real relationship with her. Grandma Bunn is my step-grandma, but she's filled a real hole in my life. When Mom and Jeff got married almost six years ago, she welcomed my whole family into her heart. She had three brothers, two sons, and four grandsons, so she needed some women in her life. Grandma said how grateful she was for me as a granddaughter, and Molly as a great-granddaughter. She couldn't have been more thrilled when Mia was born. The older two kids don't have any biological great-grandparents. Between Jesse's grandma and Grandma, they've been blessed.

While doing genealogy last year, I actually discovered that Grandma is related to Jesse. (His great-grandmother was Grandma's father's aunt) When her dad first came to the US, he lived in the house right across the street from where we live now. So even though she's Mia's great-grandma through me, she's related by blood to her through Jesse!

When my kids act up or make me crazy, I can go to her for advice without feeling the guilt that telling my parents incurs. She doesn't mince words and is one of the best listeners I've ever met. She is always so glad to see Mia and I.
Hallam's War by Elisabeth Payne Rosen is an almost epic story of a Southern slave-owning family trying to maintain their way of life as their world crumbles around them. Hugh Hallam gave up a promising career in the military after the Mexican-American War to farm in the wilds of Tennessee with his wife Serena and their three children: Lewis, Kitty, and Sam. He farms in an innovative way trying to bring an end to the classic plantation way of working farmland until it has nothing left to give and then purchasing more land, leaving the rest behind. This type of farming left thousands of acres worthless, and required more and more slaves to work the ever increasing crops of cotton, even when it wasn't profitable. Hallam wants to change the way Southern farmers work to save their lifestyle. He has several slaves himself, but because he houses them well, allows them to work toward their freedom, and treats them with respect, he justifies the ownership. Life starts to crumble with the purchase of an educated slave named French and a laborer named Able. Hallam has trouble continuing to turn a blind eye to the intelligence he sees in French and the love Able has for his daughter Mary Ann. Hallam and Serena live an almost ideal life on their farm, Palmyra. They are deeply in love with each other; they have little debt and terrific children. But when the War begins, Hallam is called away to fight, and Serena must keep up the farm on her own, which becomes impossible when sabotage occurs. Soon the farm is left behind, and the family completely separated by a war based on something they don't know if they believe in any more. This is a beautifully written novel. As I was reaching the end, I found myself lingering over each page, because I didn't want it to end. The characters are fully realized, and the internal conflicts in each are stark and real. Hallam not only wars against the North, but also against his vision of himself as he asks the question: is a Negro a man? Serena struggles to keep the farm afloat and her family together in the midst of heart-rending pain and suffering. Lewis wants the glory that comes with being a soldier and standing up for his countrymen, but he has to be the man of the house when his father leaves. Even young Kitty faces struggles as she watches all the young men leave, including the one who has a piece of her heart. In the end, they are all forced to acknowledge that nothing will ever be the same again. Not their family, their farm, their country, or how they see themselves.

The winners of a copy of Skid by Rene Gutteridge were Donna Christman and Susan Reindl. Congratulations you two! I'll be kicking off two new contests next week. Have a wonderful weekend!


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