Radio Readers BookByte: The Comfort of a Mythic Place

Jan 31, 2020

This brick house in winter may be in Utah, but a similar one in Kansas provides warm memories for Radio Reader Valerie Mendoza
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Hi. I’m Valerie Mendoza talking to you today from one of my favorite places—my public library in Topeka. I just finished reading Stormy Weather by Paulette Giles and wanted to share some thoughts with my fellow HPPR Radio Readers.

Our theme this go around is Radio Waves and Giles uses the radio throughout her book set in Central Texas during the 1930s Great Depression. In this book, the radio offers information on far flung, even exotic places as a diversion from the dreariness and despair of everyday life, but it also provides a sense of stability. It’s a grounding force in the characters’ turbulent lives. For no matter how many times they move from shack to shack following their gambling father from one oil job to the next, Jeanine, her 2 sisters and their mother always have their radio. They listen to the news and music and dramatized serial shows.

Because their lives are so tumultuous, the sisters and their mother long for the stability of the Tolliver family farm. When they seemingly have lost everything that’s where they head—home. It’s a 160-acre farmstead with a peach orchard and fields for cotton that have been overgrown with cedar saplings. It has sat empty for nearly a decade since her grandparents’ deaths. I related to this part of the story—a longing for a sense of home and, even mythic quality, of a place.

A few years ago, my son and I moved back to northeast Kansas from the tree-covered hills of Appalachian Ohio and into my grandparents’ home. My grandpa was a bricklayer and he built a red brick ranch in the late 50s and early 60s when he had time after work and in between jobs. Anything he couldn’t do himself, like the electricity, he bartered for, trading his labor for the work needed. My very first memory takes place in that house: I’m a toddler and sitting on my grandma’s lap and I made her laugh (truth be told, I embarrassed her) in front of her friends.

The main character of the novel, Jeanine has similar memories of her grandparents’ home. When she and her sisters walked into the parlor, she remembered playing on the floor with thread spools (74).

I can still see myself opening Christmas presents in my grandparents’ living room—a room that was rarely used. The year I remember my sister and I received Fisher Price toys. I think that memory stands out for two reasons. First, because we played with those Little People toys for years and second because we almost never went into that room otherwise.

Like Jeanine and her sisters who came home after a major life event, so too did I. Like them, I longed for comfort and familiarity.

One of the things the author does so well is describing the house and making you see and even taste the space: “They had travelled all those miles to arrive at a place of dust. Dust moved through the atmosphere and the house and hushed the evening to a powdery October darkness. It was hot during the day and hot all night long. All they had was the wood burning cookstove and when it was fired up it drove them out to the front veranda. . .their furniture seemed lost in the spaces of the 2-story house” (72).

Jeanine’s love for her grandparents’ home and Central Texas spoke to me. Do you have a place that holds memories? A landscape that feeds your soul? A place you go to when in need of comfort and stability? Tell me about it on our Facebook page, HPPR Radio Readers.

Thanks for letting me share. I’m radio reader Valerie Mendoza