The Fields of Home by Ralph Moody has been our primary read-aloud for much, if not all, of the summer. Like all of Moody‘s books we’ve read thus far, this is a dense story of a world largely unfamiliar to us. This story picks up more or less where Man of the Family leaves off, only Ralph doesn’t stay with his family in the city of Medford, Massachusetts, for long. Ralph is not a city boy, and he finds himself on the wrong side of the law a few too many times. His mother sends him to live with his grandfather on the family farm in Maine. What he finds there is a cantankerous old man and a farm that has seen its better day. What’s more, Grandfather doesn’t care to even entertain the idea that a new way of doing something might be better. He’s sort of the last man standing on the farm–everyone else–his brother, his children–has left the farm for better opportunities elsewhere. When Ralph comes, he is Grandfather’s hope for the future, only Grandfather has a really funny way of showing it. Grandfather even manages to run off their household help due to his refusal to accept anything new. Things slowly, slowly, slowly turn around for for Grandfather and Ralph, but not before Ralph almost leaves Grandfather to his farm several times.
Honestly, I considered giving up on this one a few times. I don’t think I really would’ve quit, but the thought did cross my mind. Each time, though, my girls showed enough interest in it to cause me to persevere, and of course, I’m glad I did. This book isn’t terribly easy to read aloud because it contains so much dialect and so many idioms. Some of Grandfather’s favorite sayings are
- “Time and tarnation!”
- “I cal’late” (meaning “I calculate” or I think)
- “Gorry sakes! Gorry sakes alive!”
He also does interesting things to grammar constructions, like consistently reversing the order of the noun and pronoun when he refers to himself and Ralph: “Ralphie, I and you’ll. . . .” Of course, all of these things certainly make the story richer and more real, but I cringed a bit while I was reading them to my girls who are in the thick of learning proper usage. Ah, well–it made for good discussion.
Moody’s stories definitely have the feel of being written for adults instead of children. There’s a bit of a romance between Ralph and a neighbor, Annie Littlehale. I usually steer clear of reading books with much of a romantic element to my children, but I carried on with this one because it is treated very naturally and respectfully. In fact, some of the story between Ralph and Annie is told between the lines, so it takes an astute reader or listener to even pick up on it. I like that.
One thing that makes this book so dense is the amount of farming knowledge and terminology it presumes the reader has. Since we have next to none, the fine details of what happens in the barn or in the fields was lost on us. I did learn a few things, the most interesting of which is how a story pole works. Who knew? Still, even with all the farming terminology, we got the gist of the story.
When the last sentence was read, I was very glad that I stuck with this one. I didn’t like Grandfather one bit at first–I found his harshness with Ralph almost abusive at first, and I understood Ralph’s desperation and desire to leave completely. However, as more and more of Grandfather’s story is revealed, I saw him in a different light. His brother Levi reveals bits and pieces of his story, the story of a man who refused to be brought low when circumstances went against him. While this certainly doesn’t excuse his behavior, it does explain it. People can be difficult, and this story shows the benefit of loving people even though they’re difficult. It also shows the benefit of sticking with a job until it’s done. Ralph working for Grandfather is sort of like Jem reading to Mrs. DuBose (only without the morphine, though Grandfather does occasionally take a bit of alcohol for his malarial tendencies). I’m realizing more and more how influential what we share with our children is. I want them to grow up knowing that life isn’t just all sunshine and rainbows, but that loving people is worthwhile. Cindy writes often about the ordering of affections, and books like The Fields of Home, though they may be difficult, certainly help bring this about. I’m pretty sure my children didn’t get all of that from this one the first time through, but then again, they pick up on more than we realize.
Oh–one more thing about this story: I distinctly remember learning the word victuals in ninth grade. It was a vocabulary word, and I remember so clearly being bemused by the fact that my very proper English teacher pronounced the word vittles. Every time I read victuals in this story, I thought of her. Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it?
Other books by Ralph Moody we’ve enjoyed: