I’m pleased to have Carol Bodensteiner join us this month.
But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that for nearly the first year that I was active in social media, I got Carol confused with Shirley Showalter. They both wrote memoirs of growing up on a farm, both had blonde profile pictures, and both were from somewhere west of me. But I’d read Carol’s memoir, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl early on, so when Shirley announced the launch of her book, Blush, earlier this year, and I realized she’d grown up in Lancaster, PA, I figured it out.
One way I tell them apart is that Carol has a new book . Go Away Home, an historical fiction piece set in the US midwest at the turn of the century, is due out in July
“Turn of the century?” you ask. I’m talking about the century that turned long before any of us joined the party, not the one that added Y2K to our vocabulary.
I love to feature stories of negotiating borders and Going Away Home tells the story of Liddie, a young woman caught between two worlds. Maneuvering between them, Liddie finds, is not always easy.
Carol tells a similar story in this reminiscence of finding her path to a new world. And back again.
Take it away, Carol. (You’ll find her bio at the end this time).
Transportation – The path between worlds
I failed the driving portion of the exam to get my driver’s license three times. Yep. Three times. The officer who gave the driving exam was a stickler for parallel parking, a task to be accomplished between two police cars. Since I couldn’t negotiate my car into that space to his satisfaction, he failed me. Again. And again.
Since the exam was only given once a month in our county seat, failing was a big deal. After the first failure, I begged. I pleaded. Finally, Mom took me to the next county. Where I failed again. Mom was not amused since it was she who had to shuttle me from testing station to testing station.
That surely wasn’t what I wanted for her. My driver’s license was a ticket to freedom – for her and for me. Without a driver’s license, I was at the mercy of someone else to get me places. Since my parents were tethered to the farm morning and night by the dairy cows, without a license, I was equally confined.
With my driver’s license, the world of high school extracurricular activities opened up – cheerleading, class plays, track meets, speech and choral contests. There was little I didn’t want to try.
I actually do not remember consciously wanting to leave the farm. In fact, I loved the farm as anyone who’s read my memoir Growing Up Country will know. It was the opportunity that opened up with a license.
I thought about that desire to leave one place and get to another a lot as I wrote my novel Go Away Home, scheduled to be published in July. In the years encompassing World War One — when my novel is set — opportunities for women were limited.
A track that included marriage, home, and children — in that order — was both expected and honorable. Prior to marriage, a woman might teach, but even that career was abandoned once a woman tied the knot. A woman effectively went from her parents making decisions for her to her husband making decisions for her.
Even though the suffragettes were campaigning for a woman’s right to vote, it was from the safe confines of marriage, home and children. Farm women were particularly isolated, by distance from neighbors, by the demands of farm work, by the lack of mass communication, by the lack of easy transportation.
My main character, Liddie Treadway, wants a different path for herself. She wants to have a career, to make her own decisions. She is accomplished with a needle and aspires to apprentice for a seamstress in the county seat, learn the trade, and make her own future at that. Sans husband. But first she has to get off the farm.
GO AWAY HOME opens with this thought:
“A fly buzzed against her cheek, and Liddie brushed it away with the back of her hand, leaving a streak of flour in the sweat trickling down her temple. When a train whistle sounded in the distance, it triggered the dreams that were never far from her mind. She imagined standing on the platform, handing the porter her bag, stepping up into the car, and waving good-bye. Sometimes, she visualized a man traveling with her. Often, she traveled alone. The boldness of the idea thrilled her.”
Just as it was for me, transportation is both Liddie’s way off the farm and her barrier. She could live on the farm and take the train into town. Except that it is unseemly for a young woman to travel alone on the train. Her father would never approve.
She could take a buggy into town. If her brother drives her. Once she’s in town, she can only get back home if her brother picks her up. Liddie could empathize with Syrian women today.
Gradually, Liddie takes control of her life and of transportation. Once she is able to experience the world she’s dreamed of, Liddie is enthralled with her independence, a new-found passion for photography, and the man who teaches her. Yet, the family, friends, and life of her youth tug at her heart, and she must face the reality that life is not as simple, or the choices as clear-cut, as she once imagined. She learns, — as many of us do — that there’s often a conflict between dreams and reality, and getting what we want can sometimes be a two-edged sword.
Once I had my driver’s license, the borders on my world fell away. Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed traveling. Once I could go anywhere, though, I learned something else equally important. When I could freely leave, coming home was all that much sweeter.
Carol Bodensteiner – Bio
Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment at www.carolbodensteiner.com She published her memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY in 2008. She has had essays published in several anthologies. Her debut novel, GO AWAY HOME, historical fiction set during World War I, will be published in July 2014.
Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl
is available in paperback and ebook forms from:
Carol, thanks so much for giving us a brief but poignant glimpse into your new book, Go Away Home. I loved the way you anchored it with your own story of growing mobility. As I read it, I couldn’t help but remember my own impatience in getting my license.
What about you? As you look back, what memories come to mind of your transition from dependent youth to independent adult? Did transportation figure in your transition?