Right now I envy single-minded people who accomplish their tasks with minimal fuss. My own default mode this spring seems to have settled into doing “many things haphazardly” versus “one thing well”. And the poor book blog has suffered for it. The longer I put off posting the harder it is to sit down and focus. It doesn’t help that I’ve reorganized my little office area to place my desk beside the windows overlooking the garden and the bird feeders, with the river rolling along most picturesquely and distractingly in the background.
My devoted dog has taken to settling himself down on the garden path where he can make maximum eye contact with me whenever I glance outside. If I turn my head his way, he perks his ears and cocks his head and looks meaningfully towards the porch door, and if I so much as change position in my office chair he leaps to his feet, plumy tail waving madly – “Marvelous! She’s coming out!!” If I turn back to the computer screen he stands there hopefully, tail wagging slower and slower, until at last he gives up (for the time being) and subsides back into his canine version of Patience-on-a-monument, head resting on paws, eyebrows furrowed just a bit, eyes patiently pleading. Needless to say, one can only disappoint the poor fellow so many times before giving in and going out, and then it’s all over for any thought of working up a book post.
This misty, moisty morning the dog in question is sprawled out blocking my office doorway, peacefully sleeping and occasionally twitching in his doggy dreams, all the while quietly emanating a faint but persistent aroma of Springtime Barnyard, reminding me why I don’t particularly hold with Big Fluffy Farm Dogs In The House, no matter how sweet their personality is.
Well, as I appear to be trapped here for a bit, perhaps I should take advantage of the temporary quiet in my world to slap up a blog entry of sorts.
First book on the stack, here we go.
Out on a Limb/Party Line by Louise Baker ~ 1945/1946 ~This edition: Peoples Book Club, circa 1946. Hardcover. 376 pages.
My rating: 8.5/10 for the 2-book compilation, for sheer nostalgic enjoyment.
A good-natured pair of days-of-my-youth memoirs by Louise Baker published in an omnibus version. The first, Party Line, centers around the personality of a small California town’s telephone switchboard operator, Miss Elmira Jordan.
It was like putting oneself in the arms of a comfortable providence to relax in Miss Elmira’s efficiency.
Telephones were something of a luxury in Mayfield and their installation was limited enough for one operator to handle the exchange. That power behind the communication system was Miss Elmira Jordan, an aging spinster who loved her work. She regarded her profession as a calling – no pun intended. Had she been so inclined, Miss Elmira could have resigned her job and, with a few threatening letters to launch the enterprise, retired to a luxurious life of blackmail. But nothing so base as avarice would have uprooted her from her stool at the Bell Telephone Company…
Miss Elmira has her finger on the pulse of Mayfield, and her story is intertwined with that of all of the other inhabitants of this microcosm of 1920s-30s American small town culture. Mostly amusing and occasionally genuinely poignant. The author pens a loving memoir of a person and a place – and, incidentally, her own young self – without lapsing into sentimentality.
And as you will see if you read on, there was a fair bit left out in this memoir concerning the writer herself, no doubt to allow the main focus to remain on Miss Elmira.
Here’s a peek at the Table of Contents. If you find this at all intriguing, this book is for you.
The second memoir comes as a bit of a shock, detailing as it does on the very first page a major life-changing event in the author’s personal history, not even hinted at in Party Line.
From Out on a Limb: (Click the highlighted link to take you to an online version.)
I became a minor celebrity in my home town at the precocious age of eight. This distinction was not bestowed on me because I was a bright little trick like Joel Kupperman, nor because I could play the piano like a velvet-pantalooned prodigy. I was, to keep the record straight, a decidedly normal and thoroughly untalented child. I wasn’t even pretty. My paternal grandmother, in fact, often pointed out that I was the plainest girl in three generations of our family, and she had a photograph album full of tintypes to prove it. She hoped that I’d at least be good, but I didn’t achieve my fame because of my virtue either. My memorable record in the annals of the town was the result of mere accident.
Completely against parental advice, I took an unauthorized spin on a neighbor boy’s bicycle. It was a shiny red vehicle that I admired inordinately but thoroughly misunderstood. I couldn’t even reach the pedals. However, I started a perilous descent of a hill, yelling with giddy excitement. At the bottom, I swung around a corner where I entangled myself and bicycle with an oncoming automobile. As part, apparently, of an ordained pattern, the car was piloted by a woman who was just learning to drive. Her ignorance and mine combined to victimize me.
A crowd gathered. Strong arms lifted me. I had a momentary horrified clarity during which I screamed “Mama!” as I got what proved to be a farewell glimpse of my right leg…
Yes indeed, Louise Baker was a child amputee due to the aforementioned 1917 accident, and her penning of this particular memoir was apparently commissioned by the US government to provide inspiration for combat-injured World War II soldiers as they began to return to “normal” life.
Kirkus in 1946 sums it up:
A debonair autobiographical account of a girl with one foot in the grave, of the particular problems of a uniped which in no way kept her from leading a round life. She was eight when she lost her leg, and acquired 17 dolls and a spoiled disposition which was spanked out of her when she returned from the hospital. Despite her handicap she managed to roller skate, swim, play tennis; she went to Europe alone, married, briefly, a professor, reported for several newspapers, taught, and eventually met the right man and went to Arizona. There she wrote Party Line (1945). This is a humorous and good humored approach to a loss which was only physically crippling. The book should have much to hearten amputees, without the more obviously inspirational quality of Betsey Barton’s And Now To Live Again.
Baker’s account of life as a “uniped” borders on just a bit too perky and positive, but she points out the negative aspects of her physical state often enough to keep it real. For example, a unique sort of pitfall in Louise’s young adult social life was the persistent appearance of men who were attracted to her because of her amputation; these “amputee devotees” are apparently not as rare as one would think, and the phenomenon is a recognized “disability fetish”. Who knew?!
Louise Baker wrote at least one more fictionalized memoir, 1953’s Snips and Snails, an account of life as a dorm matron at an exclusive Arizona boys’ school.
These memoirs were easy reading, with enough substance backing up the playful tone to justify tucking this book onto the keeper shelf, alongside similar personal accounts by Betty MacDonald and Rosemary Taylor.