I have been working my way through a reading list on Buzzfeed called, 35 Books You Need to Read in Your Twenties. Many of them were books that I had never read, by authors I’d never heard of. Most people get this kind of forced exposure in school, but since the only English class I took in college was a short story class, I haven’t been made to read much since the 12th grade.
One of the many treasures I found was a book called “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls.
It’s about the life of Lily Casey Smith, Jeanette’s grandmother. It’s really nonfiction, but Jeanette calls it “a true life novel,” reason being that many of the facts were word of mouth and unverifiable, along with the added dialogue. It did not read like historical fiction. To me it was a mix of novel and memoir. I loved it. Lily was an amazing woman. She was born in 1901, in a time when women were mostly wives and mothers. Watching her look squarely in the eye of society’s expectations and spending her life fighting to find out what she was meant to be, was intensely inspirational. She broke stereotypes and learned to fly planes, break horses, and even sold moonshine during the Prohibition to help keep her family fed.
Here’s one of favorite quotes from the book, hopefully to whet your appetite. It takes place after she and her husband lose everything and end up becoming caretakers of a backwoods ranch. This is her first trip to the outhouse.
A distinctly malodorous aroma arose from the hole, and for a moment I missed my snazzy mail-order toilet with the shiny white porcelain bowl, the mahogany lid, and the nifty pull-chain flush. As I sat down, though, I realized that you can get so used to certain luxuries that you start to think they’re necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don’t need them after all. There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things — though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart — and at the ranch, I could see we’d have pretty much everything we’d need but precious little else.”
Pick it up and give it a look, if for no other reason than to learn a little more about life on a pre WWI ranch in the American Southwest.
© Rachel Svendsen 2015
Quote from “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls – Simon and Schuster Inc. 2009