Thursday, April 19, 2012
by Joe Moreland
Writing this review has a challenging new twist to it compared to any other review I've ever written. That is the fact that it will most likely be read by the author of the book. Yikes! Never had that happen to me before!
A Place to Lay my Head is Joe's memoir of life in rural Oregon in a very poor family. He's just a few years older than me and his story brought back the days when our best "toys" were our imaginations and our playgrounds were simply undeveloped outdoor landscape. Computer games and fancy playground equipment didn't exist and consequently we explored and used our imaginations and created worlds so much larger than reality. We also took a lot more risks and no one got sued by our parents if we were dumb.
But I digress. This is Joe's story.
The story revolves around the "homes" and jobs his family found. Their longest residence described in the book was at the dump. They started with a broken down school bus and developed it into a maze of rooms consisting of structures built from items salvaged from the dump. Crude and elementary even by the standards of that time, it was fascinating to read how this family thrived in conditions that are unimaginable to me.
The story spans from Joe's earliest memories to his latter years in high school and the family grows from five to seven. This family was poor but in no way lazy or dumb. The book is filled with stories of Joe's father designing, building and/or fixing things to use in their home or on their "farm." He was rarely without a paying job as well. I suspect their financial situation was more due to the way these parents viewed the world than anything else.
Although their home was at the dump, they were also on the edge of Forest Service land. The family worked hard discreetly scraping a little farm out of that land and raised chickens, cows, and vegetables at one time or another. Their playground was a swimming hole and an entire forest.
The children were also hard workers. They were expected to go to school as well as come home to chores. In the summer they cut, hauled & piled wood for the coming winter and found an assortment of jobs to earn cash. I suspect their mother was a victim of some severe post partum depression and this family of boys also hand washed much of their clothing and cooked many of the meals. Indeed, living their life was much harder than most of their contemporaries.
I was struck by some of the seeming lack of respect by the parents. I don't like my choice of words in this case... maybe lack of concern? The incident I am thinking of involves a time they were living in one of the nicest homes they'd had. Yet Mom was unconcerned when her young boys chose the walls as a canvas for their art work. In fact she may have even encouraged them to use the cowboy wallpaper for such. And when Dad brings an entire engine into the house so he can avoid the rain while he works on it, the oil spilling from it causes no reaction. None of this is malicious, it just doesn't seem to concern or bother them.
While I found the story very interesting and such a contrast to my own childhood, I also felt the book was in need of some serious editing. Along with a very nice narrative and occasional photos of the family, there was dialog tossed into the mix. I felt the dialog was unnecessary and dumbed down the text by being too contrived. The story could have been told equally as well without it. I'm not sure if the dialog actually got better as I went along or if I just got used to it, but it wasn't as detracting by the end of the book as at the beginning.
My other complaint was that the book seemed to just stop. The family eventually builds a real home (although the county deemed it not fit to live in) and at that point the story ends.
We are told that the house was home to several families over the years and remains standing to this day, but what about the family? I became vested in the lives of these five children and their parents and suddenly they were just gone, with a little hint that the parents and youngest child eventually moved to Washington.
This book needs an epilogue. I know that Joe went on to college, obviously winning a scholarship, but I have no idea about his siblings. Did Ed find his career in fishing? What about the younger children? Why did Mom & Dad leave Oregon?
I need a tidy little bow to wrap up the story. I give this book three of five shots. It's an easy read and quite enjoyable.