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Monday, July 5, 2010

Ludie's Life, written by Cynthia Rylant. Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son, 2006. $18.00 ages 12 and up

"He slept on her bed.
In the middle of the night,
she got up to let him in or out.
Ludie could not afford
to turn animals into people.
But she knew courage when she saw it,
and when it walked in a room,
she found it a chair."

It didn't take me long to read this wonderful homage to Ludie and the life that she leads in the Appalachians. It is as simple and unassuming as Ludie herself, but it leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of this amazing woman, her family and her values. It is her lot to marry a miner and raise her family in the coal camps of West Virginia. It is a compelling read...honest and heartbreaking.

Who she is has been determined by her upbringing, her surroundings and the lessons she has gleaned from both. She is self sufficient, bold, and resilient, just as the mountains that surround her. They keep her safe and secure:

"The ocean went on too far
for Ludie,
who preferred seeing only the next ridge
out her kitchen window,
where trees grew whose names she knew
and a creek flowed,
small enough."

Her life, her marriage, her children are what Ludie knows. Because of Cynthia Rylant's incredible writing talent, we know it, too. As she reflects on relatives and neighbors we learn much about Ludie herself...often exacting, at times pensive.
Ludie lives a good life but can be self-righteous when thinking about her neighbors and family. It's all there for us to see, and often I felt like an interloper; as I listened in on her joys and heartaches. She moves purposefully through the years, caring for her husband and his needs, raising her children to the best of her ability, helping with the grandchildren and trying to make sense of the state of the world.

She passes quietly one day “in a small narrow bed in a nursing home” at the age of ninety-five, having led a good life, and set an example for her children and grandchildren.

"Was it any wonder, then, that Ludie
chose to die just before dawn?
How else would she have
caught the morning in this,
her final moment on the earth?
She would have wanted to take one last look
at the small white house in the mountains,
at the dirt road which had always led her home."

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