After today there are only four Sundays left in the year. (Don't you appreciate me reminding you every week just how little of the year there is left?). You may be hearing a lot about WWII stories in the upcoming weeks as I try and work my way through the last stories in this collection, Wave Me goodbye: Stories of the Second World War edited by Anne Boston. It's really an excellent collection, though I like some stories better than others--no surprise there I suspect. I'm at the halfway point and to finish by the end of the year I will need to read about four stories a week. At the moment I'd like to settle down with just one collection rather than picking randomly (that has it's good points as well, but it's a mood thing at the moment). I hope to continue reading short stories next year, but I think I'll be approaching them in a different way.
The collection contains stories mostly by British authors (all women by the way), but there are five stories by American authors as well. This week was my first exposure to Edna Ferber, who has quite a list of works to her name, though I'd never come across her until I read the story, "Grandma Isn't Playing" in this collection. She's most famously known for her novels Cimarron, Showboat and Giant, all of which were made into successful movies. She was the daughter of a Hungarian shopkeeper and began her career as a journalist before turning to fiction. She won the Pulitzer prize in 1925.
"Her central characters are strong pioneer women, dedicated to their families and the land; there is often a theme of racial tolerance"
The story begins by telling of the life of Anna Krupek, an immigrant from Central Europe who followed her fiancé to America, specifically Connecticut, in the 1920s. Coming from good, peasant stock, she spent her life working hard and not being afraid of hard work. She raised four sons on her own after the early death of her husband. At first I was wondering what this story was doing in a collection of WWII stories, but it's a long story and it's only later in life and thanks to the war efforts that Anna finds a sort of reprieve in her life. Three of her four sons had moved west, and she eventually moved in with her remaining son and his wife. Mae was a modern woman and had always thought she 'married down'. She constantly tried to better herself and the prospects of her two children. That meant having a washerwoman as a mother-in-law was something to be embarrassed about. Mae does everything she can to keep Anna at home, where even her children consider their grandmother a slavey. Somehow Anna gets stuck with the cooking and cleaning while Mae goes out social climbing when she would like nothing more but to be in control of her own life. It's a bit of a shock to her family, when sexagenarian Anna goes to work on an airplane assembly line--to make planes for her aviator grandson, she proudly states.
This was an interesting story, particularly as it was written for propaganda purposes. Ferber wrote:
"Only during World War I and World War II have I ever written according to plan or theme ordered or suggested by someone else...In 'Grandma Isn't Playing', one can detect...that somewhat heavy tool of propaganda. A necessary and important wartime weapon, but often unwieldy in unaccustumed hands."
I didn't feel that the story was terribly unwieldy at all, but I can see where the propaganda aspect came in. I must say, though, the title does stump me a little. I'm not quite sure what she meant by it--grandma isn't messing around as there's a war on? I did enjoy reading a story from a different/American perspective. A perspective from an author who is purely American and hadn't lived (as far as I know) in Europe, as opposed to some of the other authors. The themes and concerns are different. I tend to read more British authors these days than American authors, so I enjoyed this. Another author I will have to investigate further I think.