Fair and Tender Ladies

Fair and Tender Ladies

by Lee Smith

From Ivy Rowe's birth on Blue Star Mountain, her life is full of passion and longing as she writes letters to family and friends.

Through her trials Ivy holds firm, knowing that her life will hold happiness one day.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 4.16
  • Pages: 316
  • Publish Date: June 17th 1993 by Ballantine Books
  • Isbn10: 0345383990
  • Isbn13: 9780345383990

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This is my life." In the words of Ivy Rowe, one of the most spirited, wisest, and most memorable literary characters EVER, I am ruint after reading this incredible novel! Well, its so many things its about the hopes and dreams of a young girl, love for family, courage, standing up for what you believe in, facing the consequences of your choices, middle age, great sorrow and abundant joy, love for the land, the passion for reading and writing, and about growing old with dignity. "I have made my bed and I wish everybody would let me lie in it." We follow the life of Ivy Rowe from adolescence to old age through a series of letters written to various persons a childhood pen pal, siblings, parents, friends, teachers, and children. In fact, it added to the authenticity, as if I were reading real letters recovered from a young womans hope chest. She dreams of becoming an author someday, and her letters are a testament to the fact that even if she never publishes a novel, she truly is a gifted writer. Other times, well you see what can happen." Oh Ivy, you made me laugh, you made me cry, and you made me think and think some more.

I thought I could see Sugar Fork but I couldnt be sure, there were lots and lots of hollers, and I saw them all, valley after valley, ridge after ridge, Bethel Mountain beyond but now for the first time I could see over the top of Bethel Mountain to another mountain, blue, purple, then mountain after mountain, rolling like the sea. A devoted pen pal, a forever devoted pen pal, a I will remane forever I hope your devoted Pen friend, a I do not know wether you will recive this letter or not thogh I remane forever your devoted, your devoted granddaughter, I will not send this letter as I remane your hateful, sharing ...we are fine thogh and I remane your devoted, forever always, your devoted Ivy Rowe, I remane your exited and grateful, forever best friend, devoted sister,..... Oh Daddy I miss you so much do not think I am crazy because I feel they is something terible starting to happen and you know it is dog days so whatever it is will go on happening, but I remane your loving devoted daughter, yor devoted friend, But I miss Momma. But I remain your devoted although ruint sister, I remane yor truthful, forever your devoted best friend, I remane your grateful, I remane your loving sister, .... There was one letter where I wanted to stand up and cheer, HALLELUJAH, AMEN, YOU GO GIRL: Dear Miss Mabel Maynard, I know you will be interested to hear from me because you acted so mean to me always and then you felt at my stomach the day I left, and ran off crying. She had a zest for love - for inner understanding- accepting the way that things turn out - not always as we dreamed - seeing reality and people - and herself - the way they/ she really were/was. But mostly Ivy was a grateful human being. I cant ever remember reading a portrait of life spanning 70 years of an Appalachian woman. Ivy used it several times!

She followed her heart and her passions, never doing the sensible thing, though she was as smart as they came. Born in 1900, we follow Ivy's life through the letters she wrote to friends and family. From a childhood with 8 brothers and siblings, on a farm way up high on Sugar Fork, through youth and marriage and motherhood and old age, we hear her opinions on everything she cares most about.

Apparently, Ivy Rowes life had a soundtrack as well. Ivy dreams of a bigger life, one filled with purpose and travel and adventure, but she finds hers is destined to be a rather simple life, lived primarily at Sugar Fork and circling around a small community and a limited number of people. Like the creek that leads to Sugar Fork, her life meanders and turns and changes, and it is the memory of all that moving water that matters the most. "But night comes in slow over Bethel Mountain and we watch it come, like it is sneaking in I reckon, stealing across the mountains ridge by ridge, they go blue and purple before your very eyes, and then the mist will rise." I could not be happier to have climbed this mountain with Ivy. She is so refreshingly open-minded, so kind, feeling, accepting and imperfect. If, at the end of my life, I could look back and see a life as full of love and meaning as Ivys, I think I could be satisfied.

Years ago I saw a movie called Songcatcher about a woman named Lily who "ventures into the most isolated areas of the mountains to collect songs and finds herself increasingly enchantednot only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the raw courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harshest conditions (quote from film review).

Baby when I get down I turn to you And you make sense of what I do I know it isn't hard to say But baby just when this world seems mean and cold Our love comes shining red and gold And all the rest is by the way Why worry, there should be laughter after pain There should be sunshine after rain These things have always been the same So why worry now -- Why Worry, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler, Songwriters: Mark Knopfler Oh Ivy, sing ivory, rosebud and thorn An epistolary novel, this story is told through letters from young Ivy, beginning around her 12th year, to pen pals, family and friends. Along with the struggles of this life, young Ivy struggles with spelling, as her early letters show, but that takes away none of the charm, especially as lovely as her letters can be. The first of her Letters from Sugar Fork she writes to another young girl of the story of how her parents first came to live on Blue Star Mountain, and her mothers thoughts when she first saw the land of their future home. They call it that because of how blue it looks from down below, along Home Creek and Daves Branch, why you can see Blue Star Mountain clear from Majestic on a pretty daynow you can see all them neghbor peoples houses fine but you cant see ourn, nor get to it nether, without wanting to. Ivy loves her family, especially her sister Silvaney, who is so pretty, she is the sweetest, all silverhaired like she was fotched up on the moon.

But Ivy has a zest for life, an unceasing curiosity, a drive for education, an outsized love of nature and a passion for writing. We meet her in 1915 when she is twelve and we get to know about her life through the letters she writes over the years to a handful of family and friends. Ivy doesnt just live life, she sees life and from this seeing comes a deep knowing. I felt as if I were sitting on the front porch up there on the mountain with Ivy as she told me the story of her life.

This is Ivy Rowe's story. As simple as the words of Ecclesiastes are, contained in them is the question just when is it time to do those things in our lives. The life of Ivy Rowe teaches the answers to the hard questions. Ivy's story is that of a life well lived.

Lee Smiths beautiful prose in this story told through the letters of Ivy Rowe made my heart and mind sing with nostalgia. Having come from a family of strong midwestern pioneers, and having lived in the mountains of rural Tennessee and North Carolina that mimic the setting of this story I appreciated how on target Smith was in her descriptions of the people, the traditions, the lore of this generation. Having also received a weekly letter from home for the last 35 years of my life (since I left home) I could appreciate Ivy's letters as her way to stay connected to those who held a place in her heart. We learned about not only Ivy's life but that of her family as well through these letters.

Ivy thought she would become a writer, but she never did. Yet she did, in her own way, because what we are reading are her letters to friends and those in her family. Her whole life is told through these letters. I would never have trusted only letters to friends and family, because dont we hide stuff from each other?! What is so special about this book is - the writing. Ivy expresses herself simply and honestly and beautifully. Gorgeous writing about rural places - mountains and creeks and hollers. You hear as Ivy ages, scarcely noting that her voice has changed!

Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards. "I didn't know any writers," Smith says, "but I grew up in the midst of people just talking and talking and talking and telling these stories. I mean, my mother could make a story out of anything; she'd go to the grocery store and come home with a story." Smith describes herself as a "deeply weird" child.