Jeffersonville Township Public Library — Reading September 21
Now and then I have the privilege of reading to an audience I can only describe as dear. That was the case with the group at the Jeffersonville Township Public Library this evening: twenty or so people who hung on every word of my story, “Selling The Farm,” as though the two sisters in the story were their own friends, or even their own sisters.
This small town on the banks of the Ohio River is struggling to hold on; the farms that once surrounded it are nearly all gone, and many of the people listening to me remembered when the family farm was split up, sold, “developed.” Their flat corn fields offered no resistance to sprawl, and as cropping became less and less lucrative, the urge to sell and make some money must have seemed overwhelming.
Now, linked by only one overburdened fifty year old bridge across the Ohio to the bigger city of Louisville—the second bridge was just discovered to have cracked and will be closed indefinitely—they are seldom visited by their close neighbors in Kentucky. This means the town preserves some of its vanished feeling—cars still park at angles to the curve on the main street—along with striving new stores like “Petunias” (the owners buy the clothes they sell in Las Vegas) and a nice coffee shop that serves delicious pumpkin pie.
All this is the setting for a really magnificent library, one of the largest buildings on Court Avenue. I was pleased to note that the fiction shelves hold seven or eight of my books and will now hold “Mending.” The library provides a focus and a meeting place for people who still love books; one woman told me she hoped she would no longer be alive when the day comes—if it does!—when print books and newspapers disappear.
It’s a town of long memories; I ran into women who remembered meeting me thirty or more years ago. Like Miriam, the successful operatic singer in “Selling the Farm,” I moved on long since, while they, like Shirley, the sister who wants to hold on to the family farm, have stayed put.
There is no right or wrong in my story, and the issue of fairness Shirley raises—according to their parents’ will, 495 acres of the farm are going to Miriam while Shirley inherits the old house that will be in the middle of a brand new “village”—is too complicated to be easily resolved, either in my story or in so-called real life.
What matters to me is not resolution but the ability of this little group to listen closely and to identify with my characters. One woman, who lived until she was thirteen on her grandparents’ farm nearby, commented on the rail fence that surrounds the old house in my story.
“I was so sorry when the wire fences came in. You could find places to hide in the old rail fences,” she said.
I hope “Selling the Farm” provides a few minutes of shelter for those who now live with barbed wire.