The trip to see Grandmother and Grandfather on their family farm on the semi-arid, windy, and lonely edge of west Texas delighted this little girl. As we drove up the dirt road in our old gray Chevrolet, I bounced all over my side of the back seat knowing I was going to have so much fun—gathering eggs, watching Grandmother milk the cow, walking down to Greenbriar Creek to gather dewberries, not to mention gobbling up the dewberry cobbler that came out of the woodstove just a little later. All of this played out to the background serenade of the whirring windmill. It was lots of fun for a city girl, but not so much for the couple who wrestled their living from these 287 acres for most of their adult lives. It remains a memory I treasure: not only for the fun but, now, for the character and good natures of these two strong people.
All these memories and many more, came rushing back as I read Jackie Woolley's multigenerational saga of the Taylor family. Myra and Joel Taylor live with their daughters, Marilyn and Rugene on a working farm, much like my grandparents', near the fictional town of Langor, Texas. It's a hard life, and Woolley has an excellent eye and ear for it. I do not know exactly how much of this story is autobiographical; I suspect, quite a bit.
The difficulty of farm life is made even more challenging for the Taylor family because as the story opens, Joel, a polio victim, is dying. Myra, who has done most of the farming and managing for years, expects to carry on with the help of her daughters and a trusted hand, but within days of Joel's death, their long-time landlord (they are sharecroppers) mercilessly tosses them out. Stricken, Myra lands on her feet, and begins to form a new life for the three. This is the true beginning of the long story.
The focus is primarily on the younger daughter Rugene, a strong spirit and sometimes lonely bookworm. She is determined to go college and find a life for herself but not in Langor. At the same time she is determined that "I'll be back someday. I'm going back to buy the old farm." Rugene manages to live much of her dream. Meanwhile, Marilyn and Myra also struggle with their own lives and as well as with holding the three of them together as a family.
Because the novel spans several decades, it might have been confusing to a reader. What is happening to whom and when? Woolley handles this problem skillfully by working historic happenings into her story without being obtrusive. The book is no one-night read. It is a rather daunting 545 pages, and is full of twists and turns; however, the main story moves nicely along, holding the reader's interest. By the time it comes to a close most of its issues are resolved and three strong women are at peace with themselves and with each other.
Jackie Woolley taught literature and writing for community colleges in Oregon and Texas. A biographical account of her childhood on a Texas farm appeared in What wildness is this, Women Write about the Southwest. An early version of The Sound of Windmills was a semi-finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing competition in 2002. Woolley lives in Georgetown, Texas where she holds writing workshops. Visit her website.
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