Many of the best books grow with you: you can read them as a child, and again as a young woman, as a mother, in middle age and in old age, and never tire of the story. Something about the book speaks to you at every stage of your life.
Some books of this type are classics that you may have heard of and read about, such as little Women And the Anne of Green Gables.
But the book that embodies this genre the most, to me, is an unknown gem. When I ask if someone has read it, the name usually elicits blank looks.
Have you ever heard of lantern in hand?
It tells the story of a pioneer woman, Abby Dale, who builds a home and lives in Nebraska with her husband and children, often against great odds. This rare and perfect blend of “Can’t Leave It” is also poignant and profound (surprisingly a short novel by an unknown author!). It’s the kind of book you don’t forget.
I first read it at Sleepaway summer camp when I was 10, and many times since then, each time with a new and different perspective. I discovered it when a cabin mate brought the book to camp because it was a summer reading assignment (looking back, I must say, big kudos to this teacher!).
The first time I read it, I loved the thrilling and adventurous story. When I read it as a teenager, I was thrilled about the romantic love story.
But now, as a mother, my view has changed again. Simply, lantern in hand It’s the best literary depiction I’ve ever seen of motherhood. If you are a mother, I think you will really love it.
Or give her the best
I am a huge fan of the heroine, Abby Dale, and one of the things I love most about her is how well and thoughtfully she raises her children with very limited resources.
She desires that her children love literature, music, and art, so she finds ways to expose them to those beautiful things right there in their earthen-and-bone cabin:
Children’s attendance at school was constantly broken by severe snowstorms, so Abby again did a lot of teaching herself. Often in her mind she searched for new ideas, trying to think of what she could do for the children. Time flew by and conditions weren’t any better. Even if she has to face the hard truth that she can never do anything on her own, kids should enjoy some of the best things in life. [Her husband] He worked day and night, making him old before his time. You have to do more for the kids somehow. You should never let them grow up without tasting the good stuff. They should know more about music and have more reading material, and because they didn’t have it, you must somehow instill in them the desire to have it…if the desire is deep enough, they will find a way to look for it as they get older. I began to give up Shakespeare’s plays for some time every evening, and ask [her children] To learn a paragraph or two…
This is one of many examples in the book. I won’t quote all the long passages I want, but I’ll just add that describing how Abby gave her children Merry Christmas during a very depressed winter when “there wasn’t much food in the cupboard… [and] Little or no money” he cries every time.
Decades later, her great efforts are beginning to bear fruit: her children have all become incredibly successful leaders of their communities, each part as sophisticated as she had hoped.
Then, as an old woman, Abby hears someone say, “In order to have children, you must have a lot of time and money for their development.”
The idea is laughable to her. She herself raised her children well in the midst of extreme poverty. she remembers
…Bethlehem, where there is a little chalkboard drawn on the mud-covered walls … one bookshelf, a board and some ironed pieces of brown wrapping paper. The mother heard reading lessons as she kneaded the bread, she taught songs as she scrambled, she uttered spelling words as she repaired, and she instilled in childish minds the principles of honesty and clean living with every humble task.
I find this work of hers to be very beautiful, as she keeps the house while educating her children very well. As a housewife and home educator, I look up to her (though she’s fictional!) as a role model and inspiration.
Or give her everything?
However, Abby’s sacrifices for her children don’t come without a price. She is forced to give up many dreams she had for herself, including her desire to travel and her talents for drawing, singing and writing.
She lives these dreams in her children in a very touching way, and Abby ultimately accepts a lot, but it’s heart-wrenching to read about her giving up on her dreams. In fact, this part of the plot sparked quite controversy when my book club discussed it.Many of us felt that such a complete sacrifice required her too much.
At the same time, what mother does not sacrifice much for her children? We all give up so much for our children – our time, our bodies, our space, our sleep. The sacrifices, though worth it, are real.
We are fortunate in the modern world that we can often find creative ways to pursue our dreams and also raise our children well, so Abby’s story is in many ways a product of her time. However, I think any mother can sympathize with her sacrifice and feel a little of it herself. Also in this way, the book portrays motherhood well.
The story follows Abby in old age, and I really like how it helps the reader understand the perspective of an older woman. This, in particular, really affected me when I was 10 and gave me a lot of interest in talking to my grandmothers about their memories and life stories. I am curious to see how I feel about this part of the book when I read it as an old woman.
lantern in hand It deserves to be on the list with other classics, and it’s a perfect book club read. If you are a mom, I hope you get a chance to read it. And please, let me know what you think!