Tuesday, November 12, 2013

At Home in Dogwood Mudhole Volume One: Nothing that Eats (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

At Home in Dogwood Mudhole Volume One: Nothing that Eats  is part of a three-volume series complied by Franklin Sanders.  The "Letter-from-the-Editor" entries Sanders wrote to anchored his  monthly newsletter, The Moneychanger, become the base for this book.  These letters, written over a the seven years that span from 1995 through 2002,  chronicle the journey of the Sanders family from city folk to homesteaders.  Though the author and his family live in Tennessee, the subtitle for this volume takes its title from Mrs. Sanders' oft-ignored plea to not return from the Rippley, Mississippi "First Monday" Flea market with "anything that eats."

As I began reading, I was pulled right in to the story.  However, as it went on,  I felt like I was reading two different books.  The first quarter of the book was written in a humorous, light-hearted manner.  I loved it.   It then turned heavy and political over Sanders' issues with the IRS.  I thought maybe the book was a purposeful dichotomy; the initial near banter was going to turn more introspective.   However, it then turns back to the light memoir within two more chapters, then some more political opinion, and then back to the memoir style.  While each chapter was well-written, the book lacked transitions and cohesiveness for me, and I began to wonder which book I was going to get when a new chapter started.  While the narrative of memoir was expository yet lighthearted, the political content felt snarky and rant-like, like the author found a soapbox and was determined to use it, rather than just a continuation of the story from before.   I understand how these experiences affected the family's decisions, but the almost belligerent tone made it difficult for me to want to continue reading. I also was frustrated by the Sanders' obsession with Y2K and the feared "implosion of the universe."   Back in the late 1990s when everyone was starting to panic, I admit that the only "preparing" I did was a few extra groceries because I had a 2 year old and I wasn't leaving the house over Christmas week unless the world really did end.  I often found myself skimming through to read more of his farming stories, which were hysterical.  

 photo Franklin_Deal-300x451_zpsb3f59745.jpgSanders' description of the "Southern Gentleman" personality is clear and  extensive.  While editorially and grammatically proper, you can hear his dialect a-tryin' ta bust on through in the conversational tone of the letters.  During the lighter portions, Sanders is verbose, yet not boring; the writing successfully paints a picture of what is going on and recounts his experiences so matter-of-factly that you just have to laugh.  One of my favorite quotes was:

"Christmastime shredded my schedule. Can you imagine how a knot in a shoelace feels when you pull it through the eyelet? That’s how I felt over Christmas, but I survived, and even remembered once again to buy my wife a present."
I never thought of a shoelace knot as a metaphor for the time around Christmas, but with little kids -- yep, it fits!

I have two friends who are from central Tennessee, and I could hear their voices narrating the story in my head.  Sanders writes like they talk - like he talks.  At times, I almost felt like I needed to take notes, because there were so many players and goings-on; hearing the voices of my friends in my head made it all seem so rapid fire.  These ladies know may have southern accents, but they don't "drawl."  They talk so fast that it takes a careful ear not to miss the second half of a sentence becuase you're still trying to decode the first.  However,  rather than making me want skim ahead because the pace was almost dizzying,  Sanders' bantering descriptions of the people and places make me want to go to Tennessee. 

Being a city girl transplanted to farm country, I can identify with the steep learning curve.  I admit I was only trying to grow a kitchen garden, but if you saw how I had my cucumbers strung up for support that first year, it screamed "Rank Amateur!" I swear I saw the farmer that rents our field laughing at me and wondering who let the City Girl loose at the garden center as he threshed and baled the alfalfa hay. I loved reading about how the Sanders family attempted to outwit the dogs, save the chickens, and wrangle the livestock.  You can read sample chapter "Pig Persuader" to read about one of their wrangling attempts. I can totally agree with the "This seemed like a good idea at the time..." thinking, and the determination they had not to be outsmarted by a critter.  As for me -- one of these years I'll get more than four tomatoes out of six plants, I'm definitely not going to raise chickens, and after reading the chapter "No Green Acres," I am mighty glad we rent that 10 acre hay field for somebody else to farm!

At Home in Dogwood Mudhole Volume One: Nothing that Eats is a satisfactory introduction to the series.  It is available through www.dogwoodmudhole.com.  A paperback copy can be purchased for $22.95; readers with US addresses are eligible for free shipping if they enter the code TOSFREE at checkout.  (Kindle/ePub/PDF versions are available as well; list price is $16.95.  For this review, I read the Kindle version and was happy to see there were no blatant errors in layout, punctuation, etc.) This tome ends as the last of the Y2K supplies - two rolls of toilet paper fished from the bottom of the empty stockpiling barrel - are retrieved for use in September 2002.   Volume 2: Best Thing We Ever Did (scheduled to begin shipping 11/15/2013) is available for preorder as well, and will pick up the next part of the story as human and critter Sanders families expand.


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