The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1
Somehow, I always sensed family ties to Texas, but until fairly recently, I didn’t realize how strong that connection remains. Growing up, I knew that Grandma Reid lived in Texas with Grandpa Russell during World War II. In fact, they married in Mission, near McAllen and the border. After training at Moore Field (near Mission), Grandpa Russell served in the Army Air Corp in Fort Worth. Grandma worked as an ice box riveter, eventually telling me stories about her experiences at Plant 4. I couldn’t get enough of the stories or the era. Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply ask.
Or at least I didn’t feel I could. Grandma and I always had a great relationship, but some things didn’t require words. During their time in Fort Worth, 1943-1945, Grandpa Russell, and later, my dad’s older brother Eddie, made up Grandma’s family. My dad and aunt wouldn’t be in the picture for years yet.
Sadly, both Grandpa Russell and Eddie passed away long before I could meet either. I felt bringing up and asking questions about Grandma’s life in Texas would be unnecessarily cruel. Yet, she did tell me a few stories, and I consider myself lucky. Grandma remained a part of Grandpa Russell’s family long after she remarried. It is through her that I gained a sense of what Grandpa Russell and Eddie were like and learned about the Russell family.
During the year I lived in Houston, I finally visited Fort Worth. I drove by the factory where Grandma worked. At a mile long, it continues to impress. What struck me most was the courage it must have taken for two young adults to leave rural Arenac County, Michigan and their family farms for the unknown of wartime Texas. While it is true that Grandma lived in Hamtramck, Michigan with family prior to moving to Texas, neither she nor Grandpa Russell had family in Fort Worth or even Texas. They, of course, were far from alone. Sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation, at home and abroad, will never fail to inspire me.
One of my favorite Texas stories is the story Grandma told of meeting her manager at Plant 4 for the first time. He went on about how wonderful it was to have someone with experience riveting in Detroit. In reality, his speech left Grandma terrified. She did have experience riveting in Detroit – true – but it completely differed from what she was now being expected to do. Who knew there were so many different types of riveting? Fortunately, she learned quickly.
After the war, my grandparents eventually moved back to Michigan and the Russell farm. Still, those experiences stayed with Grandma. In June 2002, as I prepared to leave for Austin, I said goodbye to Grandma at the canoe livery. Always the joker, one of the last things she said before I left was: “They’ll call you a damn Yankee, you know.” I brushed it off. In 1943, maybe. 2002? Never.
Well, Grandma proved to be correct. The first words words I heard in Texas were: “Damn Yankee, huh?” After landing in Austin, I loaded up my rental car with all I needed for the next six months. Predictably, in the era before GPS and Google Maps, I became lost on my way to my new apartment complex. I pulled into a supermarket and asked for directions. Of course, as soon as I opened my mouth, the nice man I asked responded jokingly “Damn Yankee, huh?” We laughed as he gave me directions. Yes, my time in Texas started off well.
When I think of family history and Texas, I tend to think of Dad’s family. His parents married there. Uncle Eddie, born in 1945 in Fort Worth, truly was a Texan. Well, there is history in Texas on Mom’s side as well. It is murkier, and I wish I knew it better.
Mom’s maternal grandparents, Bion A. Hoffman and Beatrice Smith, divorced during the 1930s. While my great-grandmother regrouped and went back to school to become a teacher, Grandma B. and her sisters lived with their grandparents in Lincoln, Nebraska. While I am not exactly sure when, Bion, or as my mom knew him, Grandpa Pat, eventually moved to Houston. In fact, he died in Houston in the late 1980s. While I can’t confirm this, I believe he ranched. If it is true, it makes perfect sense. Bion came from a long line of ranchers and farmers who moved west and eventually settled in Nebraska. Hopefully one day I will be able to confirm that my great-grandfather ranched near Houston.
While I didn’t fall in love with Houston – or even like it much – one good thing did come out of it all. Even though my sister and my brother-in-law met at Michigan State, they fell in love in Houston. Spring break 2005, my sister decided to visit and bring a “friend.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was more to the story. My nephews can honestly say that their parents fell in love in Texas. My family may be firmly rooted in Michigan, but there are also deep Texas ties.
I can’t recommend The Alice Network by Kate Quinn enough, particularly if interested in historical fiction and World Wars I and II. American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant and trying to find out what happened to her cousin Rose. Set in 1947 and the aftermath of World War II, Charlie leaves her mother behind and travels to London to find Eve Gardiner, her only lead in her search for Rose. She is lost, driven by emotion, and angry that she is unable to access her own money. What happens next sets Charlie on an adventure throughout the French countryside.
Throughout the novel, we get Eve’s history during World War I and her involvement with the Alice Network, which is almost another novel. I normally don’t read afterwards in novels, but I did this time. I am glad I did. It turns out that much of Eve’s story does involve real actions taken by the Alice Network during World War I. Eve’s story intertwines with Charlie’s in unique and interesting ways, ultimately answering Charlie’s questions about Rose and helping Eve to make long awaited peace with her past.
There is romance in both stories to some extent, but it tends to move the plot along and isn’t romance for the sake of romance. The part I enjoyed most is Charlie’s determination to live her life on her terms and her terms alone. Throughout the novel, she is bombarded with familial and societal expectations. Ultimately, she leaves them behind and creates her own future. The reader is taken along for one fun ride.
In Eve’s story, much of the action is hard to take. It is difficult to realize just how much she and her fellow Alice Network members risked every minute they lived under German occupation. It is ultimately satisfying for the reader when she finally makes peace with her past. I only wish that a few of the male characters were more fully developed, but it is a minor issue considering it is not their story. I hate to admit this, but it would make a wonderful movie.
I just finished reading The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. I found it difficult to put down, and that hasn’t happened for quite some time. That isn’t to say that I didn’t find issue with some parts of the book. It simply means that I enjoyed the overall story, particularly Minka’s story of survival during World War II. I could certainly relate to Sage as well, particularly to her desire for solitude and her relationship with her grandmother. Unfortunately, I found several things about the modern story to be “off.” If you are planning to read the novel, you might want to stop here. Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions.
First, let’s start with Sage. I couldn’t quite reconcile her personality with her actions. She may be an atheist and she may harbor lots of guilt, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for her to become deeply involved with married man (Adam). Being a guilt-ridden atheist doesn’t make one lack moral judgement. In fact, I would say that her guilt demonstrates that she does indeed have a moral compass. She even grudgingly agrees with Mary that her relationship with Adam is inherently flawed. If she was so guarded in her human interactions that she chose to work alone overnight as a baker, why wouldn’t she see all the potential pitfalls in their relationship? Not only is Adam a funeral director in their shared small town, which practically guarantees that he knows most people in town, he works for his father-in-law. If Sage was so intent on punishing herself by remaining in an adulterous relationship with Adam, why wouldn’t she consider those who would be hurt by its revelation, namely Adam’s wife and children? It just doesn’t add up.
Then we get to Adam. Sage already told Adam that she wanted to break it off. He then doubles down and divorces his wife. Sage then definitively breaks it off with him. None of it makes sense to me. I can understand why Adam decided to divorce if he felt so strongly about Sage; however, wouldn’t one think that he would check with Sage before he just throws his marriage and possibly his career out the window? It is this impulsiveness in the present-day story that gets to me, which leads me to Leo.
I find Leo to be the most troubling character in the novel. Something just doesn’t sit well with me. He waltzes in and sweeps her off her feet with no real backstory. The backstory available is hardly worth mentioning, and frankly, cliched. At least it takes Sage a little while to realize that she is falling for Leo. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Leo. He fell for Sage practically the moment he met her. His old-world manners and mannerisms could be charming if they were more fully developed, but that just isn’t the case. I am all for a happy ending, but Sage and Leo’s relationship at the end appears false and forced in a way that I can’t quite decipher.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Minka’s writing and real-life story make the novel well worth reading, even if she appears to be the only well-rounded character in the novel. It is enough. I highly recommend taking the time to read this book, particularly if interested in the World War II era at all.
On a personal note, I finally realized why W.M. found his way into my subconscious lately (read here). Somehow, I connected Leo’s character with W.M. I am not sure why, but I did. I am happy I figured it out! Mysteries like that have a nasty way of staying with me. Now to figure out why.