Civil War Medicine

Ten years ago I did a series of posts on my blog about the Civil War. I came across them in a folder while I was looking for something else. I decided to share them with you. This one is kind of gruesome, but I have many more that aren’t. Periodically I think I’ll share some of them with you. So, here goes.

If you think medical procedures are unpleasant today, you’d better thank your lucky stars you weren’t born in the Civil War Era.  And you’d really better be grateful that you weren’t a Civil War soldier.

During the 1860’s doctors didn’t know about germs or what caused diseases, and they had very little medical training.  Harvard Medical School didn’t even own a stethoscope or microscope until after the war.  Most Civil War surgeons had never treated a gunshot wound, and many had never performed surgery.  Still, they did the best they could with what they had to work with.  

The Union Army had about 10,000 doctors and the Confederate army had about 4,000.  The doctors used bloody fingers as probes.  Bloody knives were used over and over without washing or sterilizing.  Doctors operated in pus stained clothes or sometimes shirtless.  Blood poisoning, sepsis or Pyemia-pus in the blood-was quite common and often deadly.  Surgical fever and gangrene were constant threats.  This is the way one witness described amputation, the most common surgery:

“Tables about breast high had been erected upon which the screaming victims were having legs and arms cut off.  The surgeons and assistants, stripped to the waist and bespattered with blood, stood around, some holding the poor fellows while others, armed with long bloody knives and saws, cut and sawed away with frightful rapidity, throwing the mangled limbs on a pile nearby as soon as removed.”

A good surgeon could remove a limb in ten minutes or less.  If it took much longer the man would probably go into shock and die.  Most of the time the doctors used chloroform as an anesthetic.  They soaked a cloth in the chloroform and held it across the man’s face until he fell unconscious.  Surprisingly enough, 75% of amputees did survive.  Have you heard the term “sawbones?”  The surgeons bone saw is where the term came from.

Why was amputation the most common surgical procedure?  Because so many people were wounded or killed!  More men were killed in the Civil War than in all previous American Wars combined! More men died at the Battle of Antietam than any other day in American History.  The casualties at Antietam were twice the casualties suffered at D-Day.  

Why were so many people wounded or killed?  It was because the armies still were using Napoleonic tactics.  They were still using frontal assaults where the men would run across open ground to engage the enemy, but during the Civil War the soldiers used guns with rifled barrels.  This meant they were more accurate at longer distances.  As men raced across the field it was easier to pick them off.  

When the wounded were brought to the field hospital a triage system sent only those wounded in the extremities to the surgeon.  A torso or head wound was considered a fatal wound, and the doctor didn’t have time to spend on men whom he couldn’t save.  He didn’t have time to try to save splintered arms and legs either-too many men to see to.  Therefore, amputation was the only real treatment.

Surprisingly, though, for every soldier who died in battle, two died of disease.  Diarrhea and dysentery alone claimed more men than battlefield wounds.  Measles, smallpox, malaria, pneumonia, or camp itch claimed many more.  You’d have thought the camps were safe, so what was the problem?  A heck of a lot!  

First, new recruits weren’t given thorough physical exams.  Men went to fight who weren’t healthy enough to do it, and of course they were more susceptible to disease than healthy men.  Second, troops from rural areas were in the same units as men from cities.  Often the rural men had never been exposed to come of the germs carried by the men from the cities, so they got sick.

Third, camp hygiene was dreadful.  One federal army inspector who visited a camp said the camps were: “littered with refuse, food, and other rubbish, sometimes in an offensive state of decomposition; slops deposited in pits within the camp limits or thrown out with heaps of manure and offal close to the camp.”

Fourth, soldiers suffered from exposure and the lack of protective clothing.  Colds often turned into pneumonia, the third leading killer disease after typhoid and dysentery.  And fifth, poor food and water often weakened a soldier and made him susceptible to disease.  

Sometimes the cures the doctors offered sound almost as bad as the disease itself.  For open bowels the patient was treated with a plug of opium.  For closed bowels the doctor prescribed a mixture of mercury and chalk.  Respiratory problems were treated with opium or sometimes quinine and muster plasters.  Bleeding was also used.  That’s when doctors nick a vein and let blood flow from the patient.

It was easier for the Union army to get medicines than it was the Confederate army.  A large percentage of the medicine used by the Confederates was captured from Union supplies.

The picture below is of an original Civil War amputation kit.   

Information for this post came from the following sources:

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war-medicine.htm

http://ehistory.osu.edu/uscw/features/medicine/cwsurgeon/

Posted in Miscellaneous | 6 Comments

Ancestral Update

Nearly two years ago I received several family heirlooms, which started my journey of becoming a family historian. I was thrilled to save them from being discarded. My dining room is filled with furniture that came from my great, great grandma, and great grandma. The buffet now has dishes in it from my grandmother, which I am saving for my children. The china cabinet is now filled with books from my great grandpa as well as a stamp collection that belonged to my great uncle. We have silver dollars that my grandfather had saved from when he was little. Fishing lures that my great grandpa had made. A secretary that now holds all of my important documents and is also filled with books (we have books everywhere you look in this house). The old sewing machine is tucked away in the corner waiting for me to find a new needle for it so that I can teach Wyatt how to sew on it, it is the same sewing machine that my mother and grandmother had learned to sew on when they were both very young, it had belonged to my great grandma. Recently, I have become the owner of stacks and stacks of old letters! Letters that date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. My aunt had them, along with a copy of the family tree. I had asked if I could read them and I honestly fell in love with them. She later said I could keep them and if anyone in my family wanted copies then they could borrow them from me (I think she is trying to downsize). Many of them are so old that they look like they might crumble. They are now in protective plastic sleeves. My hope is to be able to get these scanned in to a computer but the words are so faded that once you do scan them you can no longer read them. I haven’t yet been able to figure out how to darken it.

Many old photograph’s are in the process of finding frames so they can be displayed around the house. There are so many that I can’t possibly display them all but I do hate to see so many photographs being put away and forgotten about. There are several family portraits that I want to have up on my walls. I told my mom that I would love to have a room filled with pictures, just four walls in that room being a giant photo gallery. I’m doing what I can to collect stories about the people in them. Sometimes, the stories are not the most pleasant but it is part of our family history and that needs to be recorded as well as the good. I’ve also been able to discover where some of my family has come from, Derry (at the time that they came over from Ireland it was called Londonderry). I am certain that is where my love of all things Irish comes from.

In January of 2020 I had posted this picture. All we knew at the time was that this movie star was my great-grandpa’s first cousin, his stage name was Richard Dix. We didn’t know any more about him.

I had written a post about how I wished we could find his real name. I wanted to know what movies he had been in. I wanted to know everything. In the latest stack of documents and photographs that I received from my aunt I found more!

Richard Dix was born Ernest Brimmer on July 18, 1893 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He died from a heart attack in 1949. I love these two photographs of him, which he had signed for his cousin. With his real name and birthdate, I was able to confirm who I had suspected that he was. We now have a long list of movies that I’m trying to track down so we can watch them together as a family. He was in a lot of westerns and mystery films. His first starring role was in Paramount’s Warming Up in 1928. In 1929 he was signed by RKO Radio Pictures. In Seven Keys to Baldpate he starred as a writer who was searching for some peace and quiet in order to finish his work. He checked into a hotel but peace and quiet were far from what he found there. In 1939 he was nominated for an Oscar for best actor in the film Cimarron. He has 100 credits to his name under his filmography. I know the names of his children. I am hoping I can track down his grand children or great-grandchildren as I would love to know even more about him!

Do family stories intrigue you as well? Was there something about your family that you learned and couldn’t wait to share with others?

Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments

Reading Challenge 2021, Part Nine

Things are still crazy busy around here, but I managed to read some awesome mysteries and a romance. It’s amazing to see the variety of stories out there!

Temporarily Employed by Vicki Batman
Hattie Cooks Mystery, Book 1
Vicki Batman is a very supportive fellow member of the Marketing for Romance Writers group, and I decided to check out her cozy mystery series. When Hattie loses her job due to company downsizing, she takes a temporary job in an insurance company. The job is easy enough, but her coworkers are a bit zany. She puts up with it so that she can pay her rent and eat. She’s more concerned about her high school friend’s older brother Allan. In high school, he was a nerd. Now he’s improved – a lot. And he happens to be a detective. The mystery begins when it’s brought to light that the woman Hattie is replacing didn’t die of suicide, as everyone thought. But unlike other cozies I’ve read, Hattie isn’t involved in solving the mystery. Still, it was a cute story, and I hope to read Book 2 soon, because although the mystery was solved, the romance was very much left in limbo. 

Buried Evidence by Kellie VanHorn

Kellie was my guest author a few weeks ago, sharing her connection to the heroine of this book. Forensic anthropologist Laney Hamilton reluctantly returns to her hometown in Indiana when the police chief asks her to help identify remains found in the area. The bones could be those of her childhood friend who went missing just after they graduated from high school. It happens that the missing girl was the twin sister of her first love, who also happens to be be the police sergeant. Laney has to do her job while trying to keep her personal feelings at bay. This story is much grittier than the cozies I normally read, and parts of it were difficult for me. But it’s well worth the time. 

An Ex in the Puzzle by Louise Foster
Crossword Puzzle Cozy Mystery Book 1

Tracy Belden has all she can do to provide for herself and her foster son Marcus. She’s employed as a part-time private investigator, tailing deadbeat husbands. When she’s not doing that, she packages and ships items sold somewhere. And she creates crossword puzzles. When she’s hired to watch her ex-husband, things get dicey when his second wife is murdered. Tracy is a suspect, but she and her rag-tag team including her eleven-year-old foster son, her British landlady, a handsome younger man who wants to be more than friends, and a few others are determined to find the true villain. This was a well-written mystery with lots of action. I read the entire book in three days, and I can’t wait to read Book 2!

The Brightest Light by Melissa Storm
Alaskan Hearts, Book 2
Librarian Scarlett Cole moves from Texas to Alaska to be near the excitement of the Iditarod. She befriends a musher and makes the decision to train for the grueling race. She’ll need to beat another new musher, the wealthy and well-connected Henry Mitchell III, and she’ll need to do it while fighting her attraction to him. Though others see him as the cocky and overbearing, she starts to learn there’s more to him than meets the eye. This was a nice, sweet romance and adventure story, though I found it a bit of a stretch that a person could go from being totally inexperienced to racing in the most famous dog sled race in just one year.

Posted in book review, book series, Books, cozy mystery, Goodreads Challenge, Patricia Kiyono, romantic suspense | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Modern Little Women

I’m so sorry that this post is late.

“If you were asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel which one would you choose?”

It seems that adapting classic stories is wildly popular right now. I’m sure it has been popular before now and I just had not noticed. I am a reader who loves to read my favorite stories over and over again. In fact, in March of 2020 when things started to go sideways, I started reading my childhood favorites to my youngest. I found it soothing, it was like being with an old friend. Wyatt loved every story I read to him, except for one. There is such a comfort in being able to go to the classics and lose yourself in them. A few years ago, there was a modern movie version of Little Women which I was sorely disappointed in.

I absolutely adore Little Women. It is one of my all time favorite books. I own two or three copies of the books. One contains both Little Women and Good Wives printed together. Then I have paperback and hardback copies of Little Women and Good Wives. I had never really thought about modernizing a classic. To me a classic does not need to be updated, these novels stand the test of time. It doesn’t matter if they are set in the late 1800s or if it is set in 2020, that story, those characters still resonate with readers. That is what makes them so special.

If I were ever to try my hand at modernizing a classic, I think I would want to try Little Women. The characters are all so well developed and so very complex. I have never really viewed anyone in that story as a secondary character who was just filling up space and I find that fascinating. The complex emotions of each person in the story, the layers to their persona are what makes them all so relatable. I find I can often see myself in many of them and understand why they feel the way that they do or why they did what they did. I would love to be able to bring something that well done to the modern world. However, I don’t think it is necessary. Little Women still speaks to it’s readers as much today as it did when it first was published.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 6 Comments

Panning Pan

“If you were asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel, which one would you want to adapt?”

There’s a very good question.

I have tried hard to read or listen to classics.  I read a great deal all of my life and tried even when a teen to catch up with ‘classics’, which I kept up for a long time, well, until I had kids, and then it slowed down,(but never stopped). As I have mentioned, I have discovered that well-read audiobooks are a Godsend to me  and I have knocked off quite a number of  good, and also great, books, contemporary and classic.

One of my most recent audio ‘reads’ and one that surprised me the most was  “Peter Pan”.

I have seen many renditions of the story, the first was a televised black and white version with Mary Martin. Some of you may not be old enough to know that she was the first to play Peter as a musical version onstage. It was revamped in the 70s big-time with whatever small, slim female star was making the rounds of fame back then, (including a gold medal Olympic gymnast).

I can’t say that I was wild about it, but we all know the Disney cartoon and several other live-action movies, so out of curiosity, I listened to it a month ago.

I was amazed that the Disney and other movies were pretty faithful to the book, with a few exceptions.
I found that the story was humorous and well-written. Although J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were younger, their times overlapped with Peter Pan’s author J.M. Barrie, (along with his contemporary Jerome K Jerome and others). They  had the same type of humor, which I enjoy very much.

Like Mary Poppins, (which I have reviewed here), a major part of the story is the redemption of  the children’s father. It is a very good message that every father should hear and, or at least, every child should so they realize that his original behavior should not be the norm.

The problems of Peter Pan need to be addressed and updated. I truly enjoyed the book, and it was about time that I experienced it, but there were quite a number of  “YIKES” that came to mind.

For one, the father wasn’t just self-adsorbed and put everything before his children, he got a dog to be a nanny because he was a cheapskate. He forced the dog to take his own, terrible  human medication, which made her sick, then he beat her. Repentance or not, this was not acceptable, (even though him taking to staying in her cage in penance was more than amusing.)

The mother was portrayed as a total ninny. She  hardly had thought of her own and if she did, she dismissed it. All she had was a mother’s steadfast heart, which is good, but not enough.

In Neverland, well, where to start? The racism is uncontrolled.  The Indians are written as ignorant and bloodthirsty, and referred to by a terribly racist word formerly used for the children of slaves.

The Irish don’t fare well there, either.

The battles are bloody. The Lost Boys are written sympathetically, but even they are deadly and not shy about waging gruesome battle.

I found it all very unsettling.

Another thing that didn’t sit well with me was Wendy’s overt advances to Peter for a romantic relationship. I had wondered why Tinkerbell was as scantily clad and had a shifted hour-glass figure in the Disney cartoon film, but that is exactly how Barrie described her in his story. The rivalry and jealousy  she showed in the movie for Wendy was close to the book, but Wendy’s behavior was toned-down by Disney. She took her role of ‘mother’ and Peter’s as ‘father’ to the boys way too far. She wanted to have a true marriage with Peter, but he rebuked her advances.

Good for him, but Peter was no saint. He not only cut Hook’s hand off, he purposely fed it to the crocodile! He killed many pirates and Indians, which he scalped.  He was hard on The Lost Boys and even killed them when he felt it was necessary, like when they started to grow up or just to “thin the herd”,  (I kid you not). He never provided for those he kept, except for each tailored ‘tree-hole’ for them to make their escapes.

The whole movie is totally sexist, between there being only the dog, the mom, Wendy, Tinkerbell and the Indian princess, Tiger Lily as females in the entire story.  Peter and Tiger Lily have a ‘thing’ for each other, too, but Peter never wants to grow up, so it doesn’t go on his part, but the Princess definitely had feelings for him.

So yes, we need to update by cleaning up Peter’s act, making him more human and putting Wendy in her place, of which Disney did a good job. Disney, though, left a lot of the Lewis-like humor out which often happens when such works are translated to the screen.

The loss of nuances happened with the Narnia series as well as the Hobbit/LOTR movies and many more, like the Harry Potters. (I enjoy all of those movie series to no end, but so much is missing from the books.)

To show the redemption of Mr. Darling, he still needs to start out as self-absorbed and less then involved with his children, but I would certainly not let him be a dog beater/poisoner.

And where do I start with the children’s mother? She knew that her husband was a jerk and let him get away with it, even coddled him. She ignored all of her instincts to stay in and some of the redemption at the end was for her, when she becomes a real, hands-on mother to her children and the few remaining Lost Boys who went back to England with the Darling children. However, she still had few thoughts in her pretty little head. Her only claim was being constantly cheerful and a loving mother.

“Loving mother” is good; being “constantly cheerful” seemed empty-headed.

Barrie obviously thought very little of women in general.

Without losing any of the redemption, I think that Mother and Father Darling could easily be updated to today’s parents. In dealing with my grandkids’ schoolmates, I see how few children have parents who spend a lot of time and attention at home with their kids, well-to-do, middle-class and poor alike.

You could keep Mr. Darling climbing to a high-powered job and give Mrs. Darling one, with her still worrying about that and her social position. You could easily see Nanny as not a dog, but perhaps an immigrant that they treat as less than human with the Darlings’ own sense of entitlement.

The kids could easily fall in with a group of runaways, with a non-murderous but older leader who has no designs on them. This Peter could be a protector, but make the kids learn self-reliance on the streets.

The Indians could be a simply wild, dangerous street gang, with one lovely girl who shares a mutual respect and a flirtation with Peter.

Hook and the pirates could be group of older men bent on exploiting the kids, one way or another, (if even just for cheap labor, to keep it clean).

Tinkerbell could be a troubled street person who thinks that she has magical powers, but comes through with clarity when needed.

I can see this working, and now am frankly surprised that no one has thought of this, what with so many classic works being modernized on stage.

I wish I had the time or wherewithal to pursue this now!

What do you think?  Can you see my take on Peter Pan working?

Posted in audiobooks, authors, Books, characters, childhood, Children's books, classics, Clean Writing, decisions, editing, Family, fantasy, Friendship, imagination, inspiration, memories, movies, novels, plots, reading, subplots, Tonette Joyce, villains, writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Classic, Classic

Who Wants to Rewrite a Classic?

By Jeff Salter

Topic: If asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel, which one would I want to adapt?

This week’s topic was a real struggle for me. While I have, indeed, read and studied MANY classic novels over the course of my K-12 school years – and as a “Lit” major in college – I’ve arrived at several conclusions that interfere with a cogent response to this topic.

1. I find I’ve forgotten most of the fiction titles / authors I read — whether as class assignments or for my own enjoyment / enlightenment.

2. of the titles I do remember, I realize I cannot recall enough of their plots or characters to make a stab at how I might alter them now.

3. of the titles I do remember, have retained a bit of detail from, AND enjoyed at the time… I guess I can say I wouldn’t want to change much of anything. [A good example: “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Loved the book, read it twice… but wouldn’t change a thing.]

So, as I sometimes do on Hound Day, I’m gonna fudge a little… and approach this topic NOT by the front porch entrance… but by sneaking through the garage door, so to speak.

What if I took a story like William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” and switched the characters from British boys to a group of American GIRLS? And instead of an uninhabited island… shifted the setting to a vast forest in the northwest U.S. Then I’d slide the timeframe from the early 1950s to, say, the early 1980s (before cell phones). [We could keep the scene with the wild pig.]

What if I took one of William Faulkner’s titles and EDITED those ponderous, convoluted, 200-word sentences… into intelligible dialog or simple declarative sentences? Instead of the reader having to struggle to comprehend what the heck Faulker’s narrator / character is trying to express, the reader could focus on the POINT / substance of their exchange!

What if I took one of Shakespeare’s plays and updated all that courtly Elizabethan English into modern conversational wording? Sure, we’d lose some of the beauty of the best speeches… but we’d also be able to hurry along those lengthy stretches where characters can’t quite decide what they’re going to do or what might happen when they do it. Imagine, for example, if I condensed Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy into a simple sentence or two. Instead of all that irresolute hand-wringing, maybe it could read like this: “Hmm. Life really stinks, but death probably stinks as bad or worse. I don’t know which is nobler and I can’t quite make up my mind. Maybe I’ll just muddle along and see what havoc and misery I can cause.” My approach could transform a six-hour production into a 90-minute made-for-TV movie!

What if I took “The Beast in the Jungle” (by Henry James) and stripped away all the agonizing doom and doubt… and cut all the dreary anguish of that period’s societal mores? What if John Marcher simply accepted the possibility of a future catastrophic “end” to his life… and decided, “what the heck? I’m still alive and healthy NOW. Maybe I should hook up with May Bartram and we can enjoy at least a few years together.” What if John and May had simply “opened up” to each other, in plain language, and expressed their fears and doubts… and feelings for each other? At least that would’ve cleared the air and perhaps alleviated some of their oppressive guilt and regret.

Obviously, most of the above is tongue-in-cheek. Although I did fall out of grace with a college lit professor who ADORED Henry James… when I basically said to her what I wrote here about “The Beast in the Jungle.” She was so aghast at my heresy that she was momentarily speechless. And my grade that semester clearly reflected my heretical views on her literary idol (James).

Question:

What about YOU? Which classic book would you like to overhaul? What would you change?

[JLS # 555]

Posted in authors, Books, editing, favorite books, Jeff Salter, writers | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Jane Eyre

“If you were asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel, which one would you want to adapt?” 

To begin, i don’t really want to rewrite a classic novel. The ones I’ve read wouldn’t sound right to me if they were changed in any way. Imagine Gone With The Wind without the loyal slaves that worked at Tara, especially Mammy. Of course, slavery is wrong, but in the time period addressed by the book, slavery was a way of life in the South. Imagine Little Women set in the modern world. The norms of the nineteenth century are far different than those of today that I doubt the girls would make some of the choices they made in the book. Oh, and don’t forget A Christmas Carol. Would it be the same set in the modern world? They made a movie set in the modern world, and to me it wasn’t the same without the Dickens Victorian setting. Anyway, you get the idea.

I did however recently read an updated version of Jane Eyre. I didn’t want to read it, but it was a free book so I thought I’d give it a try. Honestly, I’m glad I did. I enjoyed the book very much. The name of it is Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost, and it’s written by Lindsay Marcott. Here’s the Amazon blurb for the book.

In a modern and twisty retelling of Jane Eyre, a young woman must question everything she thinks she knows about love, loyalty, and murder.

Jane has lost everything: job, mother, relationship, even her home. A friend calls to offer an unusual deal—a cottage above the crashing surf of Big Sur on the estate of his employer, Evan Rochester. In return, Jane will tutor his teenage daughter. She accepts.

But nothing is quite as it seems at the Rochester estate. Though he’s been accused of murdering his glamorous and troubled wife, Evan Rochester insists she drowned herself. Jane is skeptical, but she still finds herself falling for the brilliant and secretive entrepreneur and growing close to his daughter.

And yet her deepening feelings for Evan can’t disguise dark suspicions aroused when a ghostly presence repeatedly appears in the night’s mist and fog. Jane embarks on an intense search for answers and uncovers evidence that soon puts Evan’s innocence into question. She’s determined to discover what really happened that fateful night, but what will the truth cost her?

Okay, let’s see what’s the same. One, Jane is poor. Two, she gets a job taking care of a child, Three, Rochester is mysterious, and there are questions about his conduct. Four, Jane falls for him anyway. Five, evidence comes to light that makes Jane doubt Rochester. And six, Jane flees the Rochester estate. And don’t forget the ghostly apparition that haunts Jane.

Okay, what’s different. Well in the 1800s Jane was a different social class from Edward Rochester so society condemned a marriage between them. That doesn’t seem true in this book except from a woman that wants Evan for herself. Two, modern police procedures make it harder for Rochester to hide a secret, if indeed he has one. He may be totally innocent. Three, Evan isn’t as into her as she is him. Not at first at least. Four, the ending is the same, yet different. My husband can’t stand it when someone says that, but I can perfectly see how it’s true.

I’d like to give you some real details about the book, but I hate to give too much away. I was intending to review it here anyway, and since I don’t like rewriting classics, this seemed like a good time to talk about the book. If you’re interested in reading it, it’s available at

Who knows? I may become a fan of rewritten classics.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments

From the Mighty Mississippi to the Grand River

Image from depositphotos.com

Our Tuesday Fox asked, “If you were asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel, which one would you want to adapt?” 

As I’ve mentioned before, I really haven’t read many classic novels. I read a few in high school (mainly the ones that were required), but since then I’ve avoided novels that feature a lot of pain and suffering, and gravitated toward those that have a feel-good ending. In preparing for this post, I consulted a list of Classic novels and finally settled on one that I had read and actually enjoyed – Tom Sawyer. Yes, there were some dark moments, but overall, it’s a book about an enterprising and clever young man.

So, how would I rewrite or modernize this classic tale? The setting would be different. I’d make it a contemporary young adult or middle grade story. Since I’ve never lived near the Mississippi River, I’d have to relocate Tom to West Michigan, so he and his friend Huck would have to have their adventures along the Grand River, which runs east-west through most of Michigan’s lower peninsula. There are several small towns along the river, and during the summertime I could envision a couple of boys taking a paddle boat from Grand Rapids toward the state’s western shore. There’s even a gypsum mine near the river, just southwest of Grand Rapids, where the climactic ending of the story could take place.

I’d have to make a few changes with the characters. The character known as Injun Joe would definitely have to be renamed. Perhaps I could name him Joe Shark and make him a real estate mogul who kills Dr. Robinson because he wanted to buy the clinic in order to build a big apartment complex. Aunt Polly wouldn’t have any slaves, of course, but she’d probably pay local kids to do things like mow the grass in the summertime and shovel the driveway in the wintertime. So young Jim, the slave in Twain’s story, would be the son of a neighbor. The rest of the characters would be pretty much the same as in the original. 

As for the plot itself, I couldn’t think of much that I would change, except for the part when Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper skip school and run away. In today’s world, the police would become involved quite soon. There would be television coverage and search parties. I could envision the boys seeing the coverage somehow – perhaps they happen to hear their names on the news while stealing food from a restaurant dumpster. I also think I’d change Tom’s argument for convincing Huck to go back to the Widow Douglas at the end, but I’m not sure what that would be. Perhaps he could persuade Huck that if he stuck it out with the widow, eventually some of her wealth would be left to him.

With apologies to Samuel Clemens, here’s my contemporary version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Posted in characters, Children's books, favorite books, Patricia Kiyono, What if | Tagged , | 11 Comments

WW2 Memoir That’s a Modern Military Classic

Review of Company Commander by Charles B. MacDonald

By Jeff Salter

Though I purchased this volume when I was enrolled in a military book club many years ago, it didn’t reach the top of my TBR stack until recently when I found a bit more reading time in my schedule.

Wow! A powerful reporting of this infantry captain’s experiences in combat during the final eight months of hostilities in the European theater. As a 21-year-old captain with no previous combat experience, MacDonald took the helm of a 2nd Infantry division company in September 1944. [I confess surprise that he did not “start” combat as a lieutenant leading a platoon… but that jump – from stateside training to combat company commander – is never explained.] Later wounded, after recovery MacDonald was assigned command of a different company in that same division. Each of his companies received numerous dangerous assignments by an aggressive battalion commander of the 23rd Infantry Regiment (of that division).

Hailed – when first published in 1947 – by reviewers and veterans alike as a “classic,” this volume has been termed “the definitive military memoir of an Allied infantry commander fighting from the Battle of the Bulge to the Crossing of the Rhine.”

In his own 1947 preface, MacDonald explains:

“The characters in this story are not pretty characters. They are not even heroic, if lack of fear is a requisite for heroism. They are cold, dirty, rough, frightened, miserable characters…”

And later:

“This is a personal story, an authentic story. And to make a story of a war authentic you must see a war — not a hasty taste of war but the dread, gnawing daily diet of war, the horrors and the fears that are at first blunt testimony that you are a novice and then later become so much a part of you…”

At least four aspects really set this volume apart from other military unit histories I’ve read.

One is the artistic / poetic “soul” of MacDonald as he describes – almost in portrait detail at times – the setting of each of his company’s assignments. Normally the reader would learn only the name of a village or its approximate location within that country / region and the direction of the enemy. But MacDonald gives us the lay of the terrain, the look of the village… and which buildings and/or landscape features represent the potential threats of enemy fire.

Another is MacDonald’s unashamed admission of his own fears, anxieties, and self-doubts. This is a far cry from the typical Hollywood version of a combat leader. Yet, through it all, this youthful captain never shirked his duty and never “hid” back at HQ. He knew his decisions must be formed based on first-hand observation, so he was frequently at the very front of his troops.

A third feature is MacDonald’s mention of his men, by name and hometown. These are not merely anonymous soldiers assigned to Company I or Company G — they are individuals MacDonald lived with, fought with (against the enemy), and suffered with.

The fourth feature is the absence of much information about MacDonald’s earlier life or post-war life. Nearly every other military memoir I’ve read – which is quite a few – has followed a standard formula: we learn about the individual as he grew up, what led him to the military, and other personal details. Then we read about his military training, assignments, and what he experienced during the war. Finally, we learn about his post-war education, career, family life, etc. Not so with this title. It basically begins with MacDonald’s assignment to command Company I, and ends with his Company G in Czechoslovakia on Victory in Europe (VE) Day eight months later.

We learn from the book’s dust jacket that “after the war, Captain MacDonald left the Army. He received the Silver Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge. He turned to a career in writing about World War II and retired as the Deputy Chief Historian for the Army Center for Military History. He died in Arlington, Virginia in 1990.”

The deprivations of rifle companies “I” and “G” are too numerous to list, but I was most struck by the many lengthy periods MacDonald and his men went without sleep, without food, without adequate clothing in a brutal winter environment, without bathing facilities of any type, and even without needed ammo and other needed supplies.

The edition I read featured an introduction by noted historian Dennis Showalter… plus a section of photos and maps collected by Earl McElfresh. Company Commander is must-read for anyone interested in WW2 history in the European Theater. In particular, I recommend it as a complement to some of the more famous “small” unit histories, such as Band of Brothers or Pegasus Bridge.

[JLS # 554]

Posted in Miscellaneous | 10 Comments

Please Welcome Charlotte Hubbard

1n 1983, Charlotte Hubbard sold her first story to True Story. She wrote around 70 of those confession stories, and she’s sold more than 50 books to traditional or online publishers. A longtime resident of Missouri, she’s currently writing Amish romances set in imaginary Missouri towns for Kensington. She now lives in Omaha, NE with her husband of 40+ years and their Border collie, Vera.

Charlotte, thanks for joining us today. Readers, you’re welcome to leave questions and comments for Charlotte, but she’s on the road traveling today so she probably won’t get to them right away.

Charlotte, did you always want to be an author?

No! When I was young, I wanted to compose music and become a concert pianist. Good thing my priorities changed, because my hands are too small/fingers way too short to handle major compositions written by mostly male composers who had a lot more reach (and talent) than I do. My dad was also a factor, because he informed me early on that he wouldn’t be supporting any starving artists. I came out of college with a teaching/school library degree, and I followed that career path for 10 years.

Could you tell us about the publication of your first book?

            My very first book, COLORADO CAPTIVE, came out in January of 1991 and was one of those racy Western “bodice-rippers” with a couple in a “clinch” on the cover that were so popular at that time. This was by no means the first book I wrote—but it was the first one a publisher was willing to pay me for.

Besides yourself, who is your favorite author in the genre you write in?

Confession: I don’t have a favorite Amish romance author because—except when I was first researching this genre to write these books—I don’t read them. I don’t want to inadvertently copy ideas from other authors’ books. I also want my plots and characters to be totally fresh and different from what any other authors are writing (and these days, a gazillion authors are writing some form of Amish fiction.)

What’s the best part of being an author? The worst?

I’ve come to love the freedom and schedule flexibility of writing in a home office, and now writing two full books a year instead of three. I cut down when my husband retired—one of the smartest decisions I’ve made—because we love to travel. Having my two deadlines each year, and knowing those ahead of time, means we can schedule our trips at times when I won’t have to work.

            The worst part of being an author is that you can’t predict when your checks will arrive, and you certainly can’t predict how much your royalty checks will be (unless you self-publish, which I don’t). Frankly, I can afford to be a writer because I have a husband who gets regular paychecks and who pays our other major household expenses. Contrary to what you might believe, many, many writers can’t live on their earnings!

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed a really fun Christmas novella called “Star of Wonder” for a Christmas anthology (AN AMISH CHRISTMAS STAR) that comes out in the fall of 2022. Next up is the 7th book in my Promise Lodge series, entitled HIDDEN AWAY AT PROMISE LODGE—first I’ll write up the complete synopsis my publisher requires, and then I’ll start in on the book. That book’s due February 1, 2022 and after that it’s time for a new contract. Maybe a whole new series…which I’m already conjuring on the back burner of my imagination.

Let’s read a blurb and excerpt from Christmas Comes To Morning Star.

Blurb:

Founded by five unmarried and enterprising Amish maidels, the new Morning Star Marketplace in small-town Missouri is preparing for a joyous Christmas season. But will the holiday also bring unexpected tidings of love?

Twin sisters Molly and Marietta Helfing are eagerly anticipating Christmas, with Marietta fully recovered from cancer and their noodle making business thriving. But Molly clearly misses having former tenant Pete Shetler and his rambunctious dog, Riley, around. Marietta can’t ignore Molly’s feelings for Pete—or the anxiety it stirs within her. Convinced her illness has made her unmarriageable, Marietta wonders what kind of life she’ll have if her sister marries—despite Molly’s promise never to leave her behind. . .

Then a fire destroys the home of Amish neighbors and Molly and Marietta graciously make room for widower Glenn Detweiler, his dat, and his two young boys. When Pete returns to help the family rebuild, Molly relishes her reunion with the handsome carpenter, while Marietta delights in mothering Glenn’s boys—and is surprised by her poignant bond with their quiet, brooding father. Soon everyone is wondering if this season will bring the blessing of a merry double wedding to Morning Star . . .

Excerpt:

When she glanced at her sister, who was placing a strip of noodle dough into the roller, Marietta noticed a rare frown on Molly’s face. “Penny for your thoughts, sister.”

Molly shrugged. “Sure is quiet without Riley and Pete around.”

Marietta’s eyes widened at her sister’s wistful remark. For several months, Pete Shetler and his golden retriever, Riley, had rented one of their two dawdi hauses. Pete had done some much-needed maintenance around their farm—while his active young dog had mostly dug up Mamm’s flower beds, chewed the belts on their noodle making equipment, and found other trouble to get into.

Pete had moved into his uncle’s house, however. Although Marietta appreciated the return to a quieter routine without their renter, she sensed Molly had secretly adored the muscular blond carpenter and his rambunctious dog.

“Maybe you should pay Pete a visit,” she suggested. “I bet he’d be tickled if you took over a pan of noodle pudding—”

“Why would I do that?” Molly blurted. “It’s not as though anything would come of a relationship—even if Pete took the hint and asked me out.”

“Why not?” Marietta paused, hoping to express her concerns carefully. “Just because I’ll never marry doesn’t mean you should forfeit a potential romance. Sure, Pete’s clueless most of the time but he seems trainable. And he’s awfully cute.”

“Let’s not forget that Pete refuses to join the Amish church, so a romance would be pointless—even if he knew the meaning of the word,” Molly shot back. “Truth be told, I like Riley better than Pete, anyway. I intend to remain here on the farm with you, sister, like we’ve always agreed upon. We’re turning thirty-five next month, so why would I want to change my life—and my attitude—to accommodate a husband?”

Zebra Books •• ISBN-13: 9781420151831 •• ISBN-10: 1420151835

Charlotte, thanks again for coming. Your new book sounds great, and I love the cover.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments