My last TOS Crew review for this fall is for a remarkable book that I might never have run across, were it not for the Crew! Franklin Sanders’ At Home In Dogwood Mudhole (Volume One: Nothing that Eats) is a fascinating, readable and enjoyable account of his family’s farm life in middle Tennessee, and the trials, tribulations and joys they experienced living the kind of life that is fast disappearing from America. Dogwood Mudhole, despite any suspicions you might have to the contrary, is an actual place in a state that still remains steadfastly Southern in its outlook, its devotion to regional foods (red-eye gravy, anyone?) and a way of life that celebrates hard work, family and faith. Of course we all know about Memphis (best BBQ ever) and Nashville (home of country music), but what do you know about life in the rural areas of Tennessee? If you are like me, probably not very much….at least until we pick up Sanders’ book!
We have several dear friends whose ultimate hope and dream (in this life, anyway) is homesteading; that is, as Wikipedia and other Internet sites describe it:
“Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homesteading)
Several years ago, before I began gardening or canning (or even wanting to garden or can), homesteading just sounded like a LOT of work to me. And don’t get me wrong….as you read At Home In Dogwood Mudhole, you discover that it IS a lot of work…..a WHOLE lot! And that work is often exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking. Yet it is also something that builds life and character; not only among the animals or in the land lived on, but inside each family member involved, along with deep bonds of relationship. And this life is apparently an attractive one, despite the amount of work it must involve; this is evidenced as Sanders’ children begin to grow up and get married. Where do these married children settle? On the family farm, after they build their own homes there on the land!
At Home In Dogwood Mudhole reads like a book; however, it’s really a collection of letters written over the course of seven years, from 1995 to 2002 for a newsletter called The Moneychanger. Franklin Sanders, in addition to his all-consuming farm life, has a side business of exchanging gold and silver for cash (and there are several adventures recounted in the book on this topic) and each month penned a sort of family update for his subscribers. Over time, however, these letters paint a beautiful picture of what was happening with the farm and the family, both in the natural realm and the spiritual. Franklin Sanders and his family are Christians of the Presbyterian stripe, and his faith underpins everything that happens, a sure and solid foundation. So you may be reading about a pig or a dog or gathering hay, and in passing or in conclusion Sanders will share something of the nature of work as God created it for men, or God’s faithfulness, or the joy that He takes in the sons of men. This faith is clear, firm and unwavering, even in the face of sorrow.
You can’t imagine the variety of adventures and misadventures the Sanders family experiences….pretty much on every topic connected to life and farming! Such as:
- chicken-eating dogs
- pigs getting out of their fenced-in areas and running rampant
- the joys of Belgian plowhorses
- home building
- prison (yep, you read that right!)
- marriage and children
I used little pink flags to stick on pages that had quotes that were especially meaningful to me, or that I wanted to share with you in my review. If you looked at my book you’d notice a veritable sea of pink on the side and top of the book! It would be a VERY long review if I shared all of them with you….so I’ll just include a few here.
- “Unmerited, faithful, unconditional l love: that’s what Jack, Scruffy and Sparky have shown me. God revealed himself in these three dogs. These lowly creatures–dogs–had shamed and surprised me with a devotion so pure, so intense, so unchanging, and so forgetful that I had no choice but to love them back. I loved them because they first loved me.” (p. 15)
- “We called our longsuffering veterinarian, Dr. Bell, and made an appointment for what promised to be several hours’ work. Now remember, you can’t work cows until you herd up cows. At which we are not very good.
Admit it. We are almost as good at herding cows as we are at building and launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.” (p. 253)
- “John Calvin once wrote, “Ignorance of the providence of God is the cause of all impatience.” Planting clover or doing any other work, we depend utterly on the providence of God. You might plant eight pounds of clover seed to the acre, at exactly the right time, and it might come up that year, and it might not. It might never come up. Under the sky with your feet on the ground, it is harder to avoid that dependence than it is sitting in the air conditioning in front of the computer. Oh, this is true both places, but in front of a computer you can hide from it for awhile.” (p. 258)
- “Then comes the honeysuckle. It’s great, but it’s like a friend with a very powerful personality. You love him, but you can only take a little of his voltage at a time. Otherwise he overamps your system.” (p. 263)
- “Yes, why didn’t I bring him in the truck? After a brief inward examination of the circumstances and my action, cosmic stupidity was the only plausible reason I could name.” (p. 298)
I have to share some of my favorite Southernisms with you, used by Sanders in his wonderful book. Sanders is a college-educated man, with a wonderful turn of phrase….and while he speaks as beautifully as an English professor every now and then a charming Southern vernacular is used. I’ve lived happily in the western U.S. for 16+ years now, but my heart, my appetites and my mind are still very Southern. So it was with great delight that I read the following phrases that I never hear unless I’m visiting family or friends back home or reading a book about the South. They just flow over my spirit like honey!
- “They like to fainted” (after Susan’s strength and ability after natural childbirth, p. 89)
- “Talk about bossy” (another delivery story, p. 93)
- “He has a shrill scream just like his daddy, paying Justin back for his raising” (about new grandson Elijah, p. 158)
- and my personal favorite, “They were bad to climb the fence when dinner time drew near” (the pigs, p. 289)
Sanders writes this book as if he is writing to his good friends, and you feel as though you know him and his family as you page through this book. I am normally more of a fiction-lover than a nonfiction reader…but this book has as much excitement, humor and unusual happenings to satisfy anyone looking for a great story! It’s the first of a three-book set, the second of which will be available later this month, with the third to come in the future. (Check Sander’s website for more information on those.) I read this book off and on over the course of several weeks; there is so much wonderful content that I found that taking my time over the book enabled me to really absorb more than I might have if I read it as I normally read fiction. In the end, the family’s life and experiences over the course of the book can be summoned up by Psalm 77:10-11, which Sanders also quotes in his book, from the Book of Common Prayer:
I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most Highest. I will remember the works of the Lord, and call to mind thy wonders of old times.
And if that’s not a wonderful reason to read a book, I don’t know what is!
Why would a family choose homesteading, now in America in 2013, when so many of us live and work in the city? What kinds of rewards come from this life of labor? How will value, character, love and affection be built in people who love one another and work together for a common, chosen purpose? Read Franklin Sanders’ book and you’ll discover the answer…even if you’re NOT a Southerner! You can purchase At Home In Dogwood Mudhole for $22.95 (paperback) or $16.95 (Kindle/ePub/PDF) on Sanders’ website here. I would think that this would make excellent reading for anyone in the late teen years, or any adult…whether you have an interest in homesteading or not!
Click to read more reviews from other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew!