An Invisible Thread – by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski (2011)

An Invisible Thread

When we think of life-long friends, what comes to mind are: kids we went to school with, neighbors we hung out with, and college roommates we kept kept in touch with after graduation. Our friends tend to be about the same age as us, and have shared interests.

That is what makes the story of Laurie and Maurice so different. They weren’t the same age, race, or socio-economic status. They met by chance – or was it chance? Maurice was an 11-year-old black kid panhandling to feed himself, since his mother was a drug addict incapable of providing for him. Laurie was an advertising executive walking down a busy city street in Manhattan when Maurice asked her for money. She shook her head no, kept going, then stopped and went back. Instead of giving him money, Laurie took him to the nearest McDonalds and fed him. And that was the beginning of their life-long friendship.

Maurice and Laurie met every Monday to talk and eat together. The other days of the week, Laurie would pack her young friend a huge brown-bag lunch, and leave it with the doorman of her apartment building for Maurice to pick up while she was at work. An invisible thread drew them together, and became stronger as time went by.

This true story is incredible. Even though it seemed that Laurie and Maurice had absolutely nothing in common, they did. Both had fathers that had failed them, one being a violent alcoholic and the other being an absent drug addict. What I took away from this book was: 1, God brings people into our lives at just the right moment, even if it seems random, and 2, keep your eyes open because you might be the “Laurie” or the “Maurice” in someone’s life.

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Where The Red Fern Grows – by Wilson Rawls (1961)

Where The Red Fern Grows

This children’s novel was written nearly sixty years ago, but has been reprinted many times, and is still read in schools across the country. Billy, the main character in the story, is a child, but is so far from what today’s kids are like. Would today’s children even be able to relate to him? Billy lives in the Ozark Mountains, doesn’t go to school, does heavy labor with his father, and regularly goes out at night to hunt raccoons (“coons”) in the dark.

Near the beginning of the book, he walks miles to a neighboring town to collect the dogs he ordered, but doesn’t bother to tell his family. When he arrives back home several days later, his family said they figured that was where he went. In present-time, the police would have been alerted, freeway signs would be flashing amber alerts, and everyone would be hysterically looking for a missing child. But not in this book!

Billy’s dream has always been to own two coon dogs. It takes him several years to earn the money, but he perseveres and gets his hunting dogs. He patiently trains them, and they become one of the best coon-dog teams in the area. The boy and his dogs – Big Dan and Little Ann – are inseparable. Although the storyline moves slowly at first, it gradually picks up steam. By the end of the story, I was totally engrossed in it.

Although the book seems like it’s not relevant, the themes running through it – the longing for a pet, the love of a family, and dealing with death – will never be outdated.

Welcome To The World, Baby Girl! – by Fannie Flagg (1998)

Welcome To The World Baby Girl

Dena Nordstrom thinks she knows what will make her happy – to become a tv newscaster. So she spends her life trying to climb the ladder of fame and success. Eventually she makes it big, but finds that life at the top without any close friends or family is empty.

The story toggles between Dena in the big city, and her distant cousins, Macky and Norma Warren, in the little town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri. The Warrens have tried to get Dena to visit them, but she always comes up with excuses to not visit them. Dena has been alone for so long that she doesn’t know how to make or enjoy any close relationships. She backs away from everyone who tries to get to know her.

I have to say that Dena was not a very likable character at the beginning of the book. But the farther I got into the story, the more sorry I felt for her. She was missing out of so much of life, and didn’t even know it. The townsfolk of Elmwood Springs were funny and lovable, and kept the story from being too negative. All in all, this was an enjoyable read.

Hope Was Here – by Joan Bauer (2000)

Hope Was Here

Hope may not know who her father is, or where her mother is, but at the age of 16, she is plunging ahead with life. It’s summertime, and she and Aunt Addy leave Brooklyn to take jobs at a diner in a small Wisconsin town. Addy does the cooking, while Hope is a waitress. She loves being a waitress, and throws her whole heart into the job. The owner, G.T., is struggling with leukemia, but decides to run for the office of mayor. It isn’t long before the townsfolk become like family to Addy and Hope.

What I enjoyed most in the story was the strong character of Hope. She started life with some serious disadvantages, but didn’t consider herself a victim, or expect anyone to pity her. She just accepted life, worked incredibly hard, and kept a positive attitude. I also liked the way the author made a humble job like waitressing sound like the most satisfying job in the world. Perhaps she waitressed as a young woman and had good memories of her work. Whatever motivated her to write “Hope Was Here”, this book reminded me that life is what we make of it.

 

Excerpt from chapter 15:

But when you’re in food service, you understand that sometimes you’re making up for people in your customers’ lives who haven’t been too nice. A lonely old woman at the counter just lights up when I smile at her; a tired mother with a screaming baby squeezes my hand when I clean up the mess her other child spilled.

You know what I like most about waitressing? When’s I’m doing it, I’m not thinking that much about myself. I’m thinking about other people. I’m learning again and again what it takes to make a difference in people’s lives.

 

Other books by Joan Bauer:

“Best Foot Forward”
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/best-foot-forward-by-joan-bauer-2005-re-printed-2006/

“Rules Of The Road”
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/rules-of-the-road-by-joan-bauer-2005/

Are You Hungry Dear? – by Doris Roberts (2003)

Are You Hungry Dear

One of our family’s all-time favorite television shows is “Everybody Loves Raymond”. The ABC comedy kicked off in September of 1996, and finished in May of 2005. Like “All In The Family”, “I Love Lucy”, “Friends”, and “Taxi”, the show was recorded before a live audience, so the laughing you hear is real. The show featured the Barone family – Ray the sports writer, his stay-at-home wife Debra, their three kids, Ray’s melancholy brother Robert, his sarcastic father and nosy mother Marie, who live across the street. It’s all about family dynamics, how people clash with the ones closest to them and how they straighten things out. No matter how much your family drives you crazy, they are still family, and love wins. The stories are told in such a hilarious way that the viewer cannot help but laugh.

About the time that the show wrapped up, Doris Roberts, the actress that played the part of Marie, published her autobiography. In real life, Doris was just as passionate about watching over her family and trying to protect them from dangers as her tv character, Marie. That is why she was able to play the part so perfectly. But unlike Marie, she didn’t stay home much. She was a working mom with an astonishing amount of accomplishments in the acting world  before joining the cast of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the real life of Doris Roberts. Now, when I watch an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond”, I will appreciate her acting ability even more.

By the way, if you have never seen this tv show, you can still watch it on the TV Land or TBS channels. It doesn’t seem to be available for streaming through Netflix or Hulu. You can buy seasons of the show on DVD, or individual episodes to download. Many public libraries have it available to check out. Whatever way you find it, this is a show that you really should at least sample. And Doris Roberts is a huge reason that it is worth your time.

Noah’s Compass – by Anne Tyler (2009)

Noah's Compass

Liam Pennywell is a quiet, pleasant man who passively accepts whatever life shovels out. And indeed he has been dealt a bad hand. His first wife dies of an overdose, leaving him to care for an infant daughter while trying to keep up with his teaching job. He remarries and has two more daughters, only to have the second wife ask for a divorce while the children are still young. He loses his good-paying teaching job, takes a lesser job teaching 5th graders for a few years, then loses that job to down-sizing. Liam gives up and moves into a tiny apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood, resigned to living in poverty.

On the first night in his apartment, someone breaks in and beats him up, leaving him in the hospital with a concussion and no memory of the incident. Liam becomes obsessed with regaining his memory and the details of his assault. When he meets Eunice, who cares for an Altzheimer patient, he thinks she may be able to help. As he struggles to regain his memory, his estranged family members – the ex-wife, his daughters, and his preschool grandson Noah – slowly rebuild their relationships with him.

The book starts out well, then seems to loose steam and drift into inertia toward the end. It’s almost as if the author didn’t quite know how to finish the story. The matter of Liam’s memory is never resolved, and we don’t find out if his assailant is punished for his crime. But maybe that was the author’s point – even if you can’t remember everything and every injustice is not addressed, you have to continue on with life.

Three Weeks With My Brother – by Nicholas Sparks (2004)

three weeks with my brother

The older I get, the more I appreciate a well-written memoir. While author Nicholas Sparks can write great novels, this book, which tells the story of his family, is far superior to any fiction he has written. I do have to say that “A Walk To Remember” was wonderful, but it was fiction inspired by the loss of his sister.

But back to our featured book. In 2003, Nicholas Sparks was exhausted, averaging three hours of sleep a night, and on the verge of a collapse. At the urging of his wife and brother, he took a vacation. And what a vacation it was! Nicholas and his brother Micah went on a three-week guided tour of the world. The descriptions of the famous places they saw were amazing, and left me wanting to see a few of them myself. Wedged between vacation stories, Nicholas writes about his childhood, parents, and siblings, and the journey to adulthood and a family of his own.

This book is really about two journeys – one journey of three weeks with his brother, and the journey of his family over the years. The relationship Nicholas shares with his brother Micah is truly a remarkable one. Even though there were a lot of things that went wrong, their devotion to each other carried them through it all.