Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shepherd of the Hills

When I was in junior college, I worked a few hours a week in a bakery that was owned by two brothers. They had to start their work at 3:00 a.m. each day. They baked a variety of breads, hamburger buns, and sweet rolls. They were usually almost finished when I arrived at 2:30, unless it was a heavy day, and then I would help slice buns or clean pans. Otherwise, my job was to sell out the front cases, take orders for the next day, and close up shop about 5:30 in the evening.

The brothers were middle-aged and married. They worked long, hard hours and dropped into bed early so they could arise in the middle of the night for the next day baking, of earning their dough so to speak. Charlie talked the most, and still that was only a few words a day. He could not understand why I had dreams of being an English teacher. He said they were cranky old women, buns on their necks, and wore glasses on a string that bounced on their bosoms. He said I was too sweet and fun to be one of those women.

Charlie had little appreciation or interest in reading. He said he had read only one decent book in his life, and that was a required reading novel in high school. The book was Harold Bell Wright’s Shepherd of the Hills about a man learning about forgiveness and living a moral life in the Ozark hills of Missouri. Charlie said it was a wonderful story, later made into a movie with John Wayne, and he wanted me to read it. He loaned me his copy and I tried. However, I never could warm up to the story, thought it hokey and had a great deal of trouble reading the twangy dialect of the characters.

But last winter, my book club decided to read this novel as their classic. We all live near towns like Pittsburg, Kansas and Pierce City, Missouri where the author was a minister during his lifetime. Age has allowed me the patience to read the dialect and an appreciation for the hill history included in the story. Written over a hundred years ago, the story of romance and redemption is still timely. Although Branson is a mecca of country music now, the novel names places and characters like Mutton Hollow, the White River, the ball knobbers, and Sammy Lane that are still recognizable in the Branson area today.

1 comment:

glilygirl said...

Dear Claudia,

I both read the book and saw the play when my family vacationed in the Ozarks when I was a kid.
Thank you for reminding me of it.

I've been in contact with JoAnn Woodward who owns the Yankee Peddler Tearoom in Osage Beach. She must first present the idea to her board but there is a chance I'll be talking there - as Octavia most likely either on Halloween weekend or the next.

And thank you so much for sending your poem along. I plan on printing it when the next issue of Sweet Willa goes up.

And lastly, thank you for your interest and your comments!