Nothing to Do but Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young, and: We Just Toughed It Out: Women in the Llano Estacado by Georgellen Burnett (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 1992
- pp. 72-73
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72 Western American Literature Nothing to Do tut Stay: My Pioneer Mother. By Carrie Young. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. 117 pages, $22.50/$8.50.) WeJust Toughed It Out: Women in the Llano Estacado. By Georgellen Burnett. (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1990. 55 pages, $12.00/$7.50.) Although both Young and Burnett choose titles that focus on the qualities of women who endure hardships and obstacles to live in the Great Plains, they approach their topics in very different ways. Young chooses to describe these women through a collection of essays that describe the household of her childhood in the early part of the twentieth century in North Dakota. On the other hand, Burnett writes of eight women who become widows, yet choose to remain in the Llano Estacado of West Texas during the closing years of the nineteenth century. Neither author dwells on the destructive elements of either the physical environment or frontier society; instead, they describe women who move beyond mere survival to the creation of joyful, successful homes for themselves and their families. Nothing toDo but Stay is the superior work of the two in Young’s creation of a vivid picture of a pioneering farm family. Carrie Young selects details that invest her narrative of even simple occurrences in her family’s life, such as a commu nity gathering to eat ice cream on the Fourth ofJuly, with a sense of freshness and adventure. The essays revolve around memories of holidays, Norwegian pioneering traditions, food, education, and family relationships. Thus, she remembers stories of huddling in a schoolhouse with her teacher-sister one cold winter night while frightening wild horses stamp outside. Or, she tells of an uncle and his friend who secretly buy a Christmas tree for the Lutheran church and decorate it by the dim light of a lantern so no one will know of their surprise. Some of the most delightful memories for this author revolve around descriptions of Norwegian foods. Her mother spends hours making lefse, the huge Norwegian potato pancakes, and her chicken soup is known for its restorative qualities during a flu epidemic. An apple salad becomes “chopped apples and whole marshmallows . . . folded into mountains of whipped cream,” “the most beautiful sight I had ever seen,”and “the way I imagined manna from heaven.” Nothing to Do but Stay is a delightful narrative of pioneer women who celebrate their immigrant background and are completely at home in a land that may intimidate “lesser”women. The book may be contrasted in its portrayal of the adjustments and comforts of second- and third-generation pioneer women with the experiences of first-generation Norwegian pioneers who were so emotionally and physically intimidated by the Dakota environment in Ole R0lvaag’s Giants in theEarth. In WeJust Toughed It Out, Georgellen Burnett uses the stories of eight women to consider the role of women in such areas as religion, courtship and Reviews 73 marriage, childbirth and childrearing, daily work, recreation, business, and social organizations. She describes these widows as having the ability to move beyond narrow nineteenth-century expectations of a woman’s “place”to create new roles that combine the masculine and feminine worlds of their day. As an introductory summary of the roles and activities of women in the Llano Estacado of the day, the work is successful, but none of the women become unique personalities, largely because they are described solely in the context of their various roles. The reader searches for a deeper sense of their determination, stamina, and self-sufficiency and for a more complete under standing of the significance of their trailblazing efforts. Both books describe pioneer women, Young’s mother in a fairly traditional role of wife and mother, even though she successfully buys her own homestead, and Burnett’s women in roles that extend into nontraditional fields of business and management, even though they are also successful in domestic roles as well. However, Burnett’s work tends to tread familiar territory, while Young’s book creates a place for itself by the freshness and vigor of the narrative. DONNA MAPLES Howard Payne University Black Cats, Hoot Owls & Water Witches. By Kenneth W. Davis...