1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kristin Hannah's 'Winter Garden'--Breaking the Ice of Silence

In Kristin Hannah's Winter Garden, silence is as much a part of the landscape as its dormant apple trees and "whitened landscape [that] caused a kind of winter blindness." Silence threatens to split a family apart when its patriarch succumbs to heart disease early in the story. The two adult daughters and their elderly mother who are left with an orchard business and each other to care for discover that leaving things left unspoken can have lasting if not tragic consequences. Heart disease, indeed.

 Meredith, the oldest of the two sisters, discovers early on--at the age of 12--"the empty spaces that gathered between people." Family members can live together for years and not know each other. What does it take for a tragedy like that to be averted or at least mitigated? The telling of a story--one that begins as a fairy tale and ends as a family history. That fairy tale, though, must be coaxed from their widowed mother by daughters who reveal their damage in typical fashion:

Meredith is a workaholic whose love for her husband threatens to be consumed by the orchard business she's inherited. Her marriage devolves into a series of gestures and one-liners:

Jeff shook his head. It was a minute gesture, barely even a movement, but she saw it. She had always been attuned to him, and lately their mutual disappointments seemed to create sound, like a high-pitched whistle that only she could hear.

"What?" she said.
"You didn't shake your head over nothing. What's the matter?"
"I just asked you something."
"I didn't hear you. Ask me again."
"It doesn't matter."

Sister Nina travels the world as a famous photojournalist, recording the effects of famines, natural disasters, and genocide. Many of the images she captures tell of unspeakable horror, letting her--and the millions of people who will ultimately view her work--maintain a safe distance from it all:

Changing cameras, adjusting lenses, checking the light. Her adrenaline kicked in. It was the only time she ever really felt alive, when she was taking pictures. Her eye was her great gift; that and her ability to separate from what was going on around her. You couldn't have one without the other. To be a great photographer you had to see first and feel later.

Emotion delayed becomes a way of life for the three women at the center of this novel. Their only hope of sticking together as a family after the glue dissolves--patriarch dies--lies in the truth of their mother's past. It must be spoken to be understood. The daughters will hear the voice of a survivor, someone who lived through a terrible time in Russia's history. Fear of reprisal then and crushing judgment now has rendered the mother incapable of telling her daughters what happened to her and the family she left behind. The fairy tale she has always told them in the dark before bed while they were growing up becomes the vehicle that will carry them forward to reconciliation and understanding.

January 23, 2011, view from a levee, low tide, at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
When I was growing up, it didn't take much coaxing to get my dad to tell a story about his past. Trouble was, I couldn't remember details. I'm more of a visual learner. Words need to be in print for me. That way I can come back to them anytime I want and share the details exactly as they were written.

In 2001, after years of needling him to write it all down, my dad finally recorded, two-finger method on an old manual typewriter--he didn't own a computer--his story. He agreed to let me "process the words" and create a document so that all members of the family could have a copy. We had a family reunion that year, and I still recall how glad my dad was to have us all together at once, his Memories fresh in our minds. 

Great Blue Heron seen at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
My father grew up in a place that was claimed by various occupiers for periods of time: Russians, Austrians, Italians, Germans, and Hungarians. Here is a hint of what the climate was like when he was growing up:

Since that part of the world is at about the same latitude as North Dakota, the winters were quite severe, with snow covering the ground from the middle of November until the end of March. To get around in the winter, one either walked or used horse-drawn sleds; when the ground was free of snow, to get from one place to another, one used horse-drawn carriages and wagons to move freight and people. Automobiles were very scarce, so much so that children would run out to the gate of their yard to gape at passing cars.

A bygone era, certainly, but not forgotten, and family was always the center of attention in my dad's telling of it. He didn't have any siblings. His cousins were his playmates, and his tomboyish aunt Veronica became his best friend:

She taught me how to whistle on my fingers, how to construct a slingshot, how to whittle my own toy flute out of a willow branch, how to throw rocks for both distance and accuracy; in short, she taught me all that a boy needed to know. 

Anhinga drying its wings at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
Her greatest gift to me, however, was her ability to tell fairy tales. Since there were no mechanical or electronic means to amuse people--particularly children--no TV or radio or phonographs, reliance to entertain children was placed on either reading to them or telling them stories. And what stories that aunt of mine could tell! She had a never-ending supply of tales to tell; she knew all of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales; she was familiar with Russian legends and could recite them at the drop of a hat. She could easily have taken the place of Sheherezade, the girl in the tales of the One-Thousand-and-One-Nights.

Turkey vultures sharing our path at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
 Certainly, there were newspapers, even in those days. My dad walked into town each Saturday to purchase one. At one point, it began to carry news of Hitler's incursion into Poland and the French and British resistance to this threat to their existence. Nothing in the newspaper indicated any danger to my dad's way of life. Nevertheless, he noticed something strange happening:

It was a week or so into September that I saw on my way to school more and more bicyclists--by the hundreds--streaming south and just about clogging the main roads, from early morning well into the night. Most of them were young men of military age fleeing Poland and on their way west to France and eventually to England by way of Yugoslavia and Greece, to join the western powers in the fight against Germany, we later found out.

We continued to be relatively unaffected by events outside our immediate experience, at least in my point of view, through the end of the war in Poland and that country's partition between Germany and the Soviet Union, and for the first part of the following year. It was therefore a tremendous shock to us all when the Soviet armies invaded our part of Romania on June 28, 1940...The invaders' arrival brought profound changes in all of our lives, uprooting us from our homes and precipitating the breakup of our families. 

Lighthouse at St. Marks NWR
From what I gather in my dad's text, perhaps the worst part of the invasion was its element of surprise. There was no time to prepare:

For all practical purposes, we were kept in the dark by our authority figures, who--I am guessing--feared panic and civil disorder more than they objected to the loss of some territory. Perhaps they just reasoned that since they could not prevail against the Soviets, they might as well not make a fuss about it.

Prickly pear cactus with fruit at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
Like most people, I was excited, bewildered, and apprehensive experiencing all the changes brought about by the Soviets' arrival. Perhaps the deepest impression on me was the upheaval of the familiar social order. The mayor was the first victim of the ensuing "cleansing." He was an ethnic Pole, named Adolf K--, a full-time butcher and dealer in meats and part-time city official; while not exactly beloved, he was highly respected by all and did both his jobs to most people's satisfaction.

Suddenly, some individuals started calling him "an exploiter of the working class," with no clearly discernible reason for this label; he and three of the four doctors who lived and practiced in Sadagura disappeared overnight, as did all three attorneys, several teachers, and other people considered to be community leaders. Rumors were bruited about that they had all been "oppressors of the proletariat" and that they had been arrested for their own good; they were to be re-educated in some Russian camps and be made to once again recognize their duties and responsibilities to the state and to their fellow citizens.

Yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria, at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011

A pall of almost palpable fear spread among the town's people, primarily because the loudest of denouncers were formerly considered to be dregs of society: drunks, jail birds, shiftless opportunists; they suddenly became organizers of rallies in support of the invaders and were bent on what they alleged was "righting the wrongs" committed by "blood suckers," "kulaks," and "exploiters of the working classes," meaning the previous owners of businesses, farms, and other assets, regardless of their ethnic origins or religious affiliations.

The spreading of news about the arrests/disappearances of people was by word-of-mouth, not very loudly or at great detail, for fear of being considered counterrevolutionary. One never knew whom to trust, whether what one heard was the truth or another rumor...

American alligator at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
 Winter Garden, you see, made a big impression on me, even though it's fiction. Its story within a story is typical of what life is like for people everywhere. An older generation's experiences should not be dismissed or forgotten simply because we are constantly being told to "move forward." It's never good to keep silent and still about the past. Memories and stories do matter, or at least they should.

Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011

Are you doing anything to encourage people to tell their stories? Are you helping to preserve them in some way?


  1. Hi,
    Came to your blog via a comment you left on The Florida Blogger. Loved seeing the St. Marks photos since I spend a fair amount of time there myself! Also enjoyed the book notes, I love pointers to good books!


  2. It's so wonderful you have your father's history for all of your family and us to share. Such poignant memories for sure.

  3. Lovely lovely pictures and good reviw of the book too.

  4. Hey, thanks for visiting my camping blog! My bird photographs are actually on the Paddle Tales blog (listed under the camping one in the profile)--I'd love it if you would stop by that one. (It's always been listed on top, I was surprised to see your comment on the camping blog, but pleased) We are nearly neighbors, I live about an hour from Tallahassee.

    Peggy (again)

  5. I wonder if somehow these blogs we are writing can be called a contribution of sorts to history? I must be a romantic at heart because a tiny part of me wants my great grandchildren to read my blog when I am dead and find out how I lived once up a time.

    My parents visited Poland and I have yet to actually hear about their trip. Thanks for reminding me to hound them about it.

    My father is a great storyteller, and always embellishes just the perfect amount to make it interesting.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. What a fascinating post, W2W!!
    Thanks so much for your nice book review, your father's story, and beautiful photos!
    Just before my dad passed away, he also told me his story. Strangely, only to me. It looked like he wanted me to remember what his life was like. In some way I'd like to preserve it though I've forgotten some parts.
    All the birds are fantastic, especially the lonely Great Blue Heron!!

  8. Peggy, welcome to the blog! I'm glad you decided to come on over and hope you'll be back. How wonderful that we're practically neighbors! If you'd like to meet up somewhere next time you come to Tally, send me an e-mail. A couple of years ago, I met a Tennessee blogger and her family while we were living in Illinois (Tina in the comments). I count her as a good friend even though we haven't seen each other since then. Blogging does create community, no matter how far apart geographically the bloggers may be.

    Hi, Tina! I used to tell my dad he should write a book about his experiences and work on getting it published. He was a pragmatic man and thought it (the publishing attempt) would be a waste of time and money. Talk about a writer, though. He was terrific.

  9. Myne, I'm glad you liked the post. Your visit reminds me that I need to revisit your site.

    Rosey, I do think we are preserving something here on the blogs. I hope it's something meaningful! If nothing else, it's a record for me to refer to. The book review, for example, is more for my benefit than anything else. I used to read books and after a few weeks forget who the authors or titles were. Now I can quickly scan the archives and remember what I've read and what impression it made on me. Plus, it's great to hear from other readers what they think about a particular text or maybe inspire someone to read it. Don't you love a good story, well-told? It's wonderful that your dad has a knack for telling them.

  10. Hi, Angela. I'm glad you like them. Thanks for visiting.

    Hello, Sapphire. Maybe your father's story would make a good novel. Many of them do contain elements of truth or fact. I love to read ones that are "based on a true story." Your dad told you because he must have trusted you to preserve it somehow.

  11. What a great post, W2W! The book sounds fascinating, and based on the excerpts, sounds as if it is well-written. Your father's story is even more fascinating, though; how wonderful that he wrote his memories down to preserve them--that is a priceless gift.

    I've been reading "The Zookeeper's Wife" the past few weeks, which takes place in Poland during WWII. I didn't realize it was non-fiction when a friend recommended it to me, but I'm finding its story of human survival during such horrible times very inspiring.

  12. What a wonderful even remarkable post! I loved it. Unfornutately, I was too busy and unconnected to my families history until it was too late. The people who had answers to all my questions are long gone now. I so regret that....
    btw Baron stays home as we head to Sebastian and then Fort Myer then heading home along the Gulf Coast before North.

  13. I like that line about empty spaces between people. I also liked your observation about delayed emotions. Nice review! Your refuge photos are gorgeous too. How good to get your family history in your father’s words, although the red letters are hard to read against a black background.

    My WIP, NOT CRICKET, draws on my husband’s heritage in Devon, England and incorporates some family anecdotes, altered for fiction.

  14. I worked on my grandmother (who was the daughter of a circus owner from the turn of the century.) and did get a few stories. Later after she was gone I found all the cousins had bits and pieces which I'm trying to put together if for no other reason than to pass on the info to the next generation.

  15. Thanks, Rose. The book is worth reading. I did have a problem with the ending, though--a little too much fairy-tale effect. That may be just my taste in fiction. I hope your current reading turns out well and look forward to your impression of it.

    TB, I'm sorry that your family history is lost. At least you're preserving your own for your grandkids to cherish. I hope you enjoy your visit to Florida and that the weather will warm up and be sunny for you. It sounds like you have an excellent itinerary. We've been to both cities you mentioned and enjoyed them. There are quite a few places on the Gulf Coast we haven't seen yet, so I'm eager to see what you discover.

  16. Sarah, I'm glad you said something about the difficulty reading the post. I made some changes in the template and hope they help. Glad you liked the review and pics.

    CissB, wow, what an interesting bit of history! Have you read Water for Elephants? It's set in the Great Depression era and features circus life via flashbacks. Fascinating POV. I hope your relatives will appreciate your efforts to preserve their past.

  17. Hello there, first off thank you for your wonderful comments that you have left me. They meant a lot to me. I need to come over and visit you more often as your posts are very interesting, although when I don't it just means I'm not blogging so much. Love the book review and the stories your dad told. My dad was a great story teller too. I love how you have intermingled the wildlife, etc. from St. Marks NWR in between. I will have to google to find exactly where that is. Hope you have a beautiful day !

  18. Unfortunately I'm rather afraid of my past. Who wants to hear about an abusive alcoholic father/husband who forced his own children to give up their childhoods, and brought mental anguish upon his wife?

  19. Very interesting read is your narrative mixed with your dad's narrative and excerpts from 'WInter Garden'. And also the images you put along with the text were nostalgic. Your dad wrote a book, really? What was the book's name?

  20. What a thought-provoking post that caught my interest immediately and wouldn't let go. I encourage people to 'tell their stories' by giving them a journal. Except for asking them to tell me about it, it's about the only think I do. I remember many a quiet early morning with my granddad, hearing his stories over coffee, just the two of us out of bed, thinking I'd never forget them. Well, guess what!?

  21. Hey! I love all your beautiful pictures and stories. You're right we are practically neighbors... for now~ :o) <3

  22. Funny about families how close we live but far apart we can grow in some situations, although thankfully not all.

  23. You're welcome, SB. I do understand about time commitments and priorities. I'm glad when you get a chance to stop by and say hi. Take care of yourself. The NWR, by the way, is almost directly south of Tallahassee, on the Apalachee Bay.

    TC, don't you think every family closet has a few cobwebs and even some skeletons? Of course you don't trot them out when company visits. I think that's what fiction is for. Some of it. Maybe.

    Thanks, Tomz. The book is his memoir, not published.

    Karen, I'm happy that you answered the question and really do something to encourage storytelling. It's sad that you don't remember those stories your granddad told you but good that don't want that to happen to other people you know.

    LTM, I'm glad you stopped by for a visit. Good luck with your manuscript.

    Mr. S, you've hit the proverbial nail on the head. It would be scary if we were completely transparent with each other all the time. Some things are best not mentioned.

  24. A fascinating post with awesome pictures, a book review and snippets from your father's memoirs.
    Our family has a fairly mundane history, but I have put some of the more interesting treasures into short stories. My children have enjoyed reading them.

    Is the Tallahassee where you live the same one from the old song "Ode to Billy Joe" where he jumps off the Tallahassee Bridge? I've always liked the sound of that name - never thought I would get to 'meet' someone from there! You have a Dunedin in Florida don't you? I live in Dunedin, New Zealand.

  25. Thanks, JT! It's great that you've incorporated the family history into stories for the kids. They're more apt to remember certain details like that. "Ode to Billy Joe" was popular on the radio when I was a kid, and I believe it's the Tallahatchie Bridge mentioned in the song. Interesting ballad. My daughter says it's popular with the West Coast Swing crowd (she loves to dance). Yes, there is a Dunedin, FL, along the Central West Coast of Florida, west of Tampa. Never been there, but it sounds wonderful. So does your part of the world. Thank you for visiting!

  26. Yes, Tallahatchie!!! I remember it now from the misty depths of time. :)

  27. Such gorgeous photos! Love how you melded the review with your own family's memories.