Sunday, August 22, 2004
With company over last night, I made my grandma's famous Hot Fudge Sunday Cake and served it with ice cream. For a klutz in the kitchen, I must say my cake was right near amazing. It's one of those dishes that looks a mess but tastes divine. We have leftovers in the fridge, but I have a feeling it won't be near so good as it did coming piping hot out of the oven.
Now that the company is gone and the kitchen is near cleaned up again (except for the sticky spots on the floor), I'm pulling out an favorite book to read again. It's Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. The book portrays downstate Illoinois during the 1930's. Now I don't want to hear complaints that this is a kids book. I've passed this book along to any number of adults, and they've all been doubled over, laughing in stitches, after reading just the first few pages.
The story is about Joey and his sister Mary Alice who spend a week each summer visiting their Grandma Dowdel in Smalltown, Illinois. The woman is a a sight to behold, six-feet tall and shaped like a pickle barrel. Everyone in town is afraid of her, and she likes it that way. Perhaps the townfolk are scared of her because she shot off a shotgun in her own living room. Perhaps it's the way she hoodwinked the banker, or the way she blackmailed the men over a pot of soup.
She's the kind of old soul that rattles around in your brain for days after you put down the book. Grandma Dowdel is at once familiar. Her stick-to-the-ribs cooking, her old-fashioned hats, and her county-fair-winning pies sound suspiciously like the grandma who inspired my weekend baking experiment. On the other hand, Grandma Dowdel's conniving hijinks are shocking--even to a modern gal like me.
Reading this book fired up my curiousity about Richard Peck and his motivation for creating such a formidable woman. Here are some of his notes on the book:
Yet writing is the quest for roots, and I draw on my earliest memories of visiting my grandmother in a little town cut by the tracks of the Wabash Railroad. It was, in fact, Cerro Gordo, Illinois. I use that town in my stories, though I never name it, wanting readers to think of small towns they know.
The house in the stories is certainly my grandma's, with the snowball bushes crowding the bay window and the fly strip heavy with corpses hanging down over the oilcloth kitchen table, and the path back to the privy.
I even borrow my grandmother's physical presence. My grandmother was six feet tall with a fine crown of thick white hair, and she wore aprons the size of Alaska. But she wasn't Grandma Dowdel. When you're a writer, you can give yourself the grandma you wished you had.
Perhaps she's popular with readers because she isn't an old lady at all. Maybe she's a teenager in disguise. After all, she believes the rules are for other people. She always wants her own way. And her best friend and worst enemy is the same person [Mrs. Wilcox]. Sounds like adolescence to me, and even more like puberty.