Sisters and Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J Taylor

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My girls at ages 2 and 1. They’re 11 and nearly 10 now.

My girls are only 15 months apart. That wasn’t the plan, but that’s what happened. It made for a hard first four years or so, but now I’m glad. They are great friends and keep each busy much of the time. Because my younger has Down syndrome, having them so close is good. She’s worked hard to keep up with her sister: she walked on pace with ‘normal’ children, she was slow to potty train, but not that slow. Once she started talking (at about 4), she was talking in nearly complete sentences. She’s been trying hard to be just like her sister since the day she realized she had a sister.

Of course, they fight. Just like normal little sisters, Katy wants to do what her sister is doing. Just like big sisters the world over, Libby wants to be alone sometimes. Just like mothers the world over, I spend way too much time attempting to stop, or at least stall, the bickering.

The week Libby went to camp, Katy missed her like crazy. I filled in: we went to the zoo, to the movie, and to the pool. We went shopping. But I still had to work and write, and Katy had time on her own. And it was hard.

Today, Katy began her favorite summer activity — camp. We are blessed to live near a special needs camp, Recreation Unlimited in Ashley, Ohio, that is set up for just about anything. This place has hiking trails, a fishing pond, a stream, a zipline, beautiful swimming pools, a splash pad, and a perfect adaptive playground. They do tons of art projects, play soccer and softball, have campfires and scavenger hunts. It’s her summer fun and provides structure at a time of the year that is inherently structureless, which isn’t necessarily great for Katy.

Katy does the day camp portion of the camp (they also have overnight camps, and maybe in a couple of years we’ll try that). And she will be there for FIVE GLORIOUS WEEKS. Which is great for the bickering part of sisterhood, and great my nerves, but not so great for the bonding part of sisterhood. Libby is already missing her sister.

Dropping her off was a wonderfully happy time for all: kids were happy to be back at camp, parents, happy to just have time. Hugs and excited cries all around for the kids, winks and smiles for the parents. The campers’ excitement was infectious and awesome. Some were familiar to Katy from school, some from Special Olympics, some from camp last summer. One young man she has gone to camp with since they were three or four; Katy decided long ago that this was the boy she was going to marry. Katy was thrilled to see them all. I can’t wait for the end of the day and her re-telling of the day’s events.

Back at home, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this is the time for Libby to realize how much she actually likes her little sister.

At least until we take our summer vacation — a road trip from Ohio to Colorado. That will make up for all the absence. I’m sure they’ll be back to bickering in no time.

 


 

Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J Taylor is a beautiful, haunting book. The story takes place in the hardscrabble mining town of Scranton, Pennsylvania in the early 1900’s. It’s the story of the Morgan family and the tragic death of the oldest child, Daisy. It’s how a family deals with grief, depression, death and life in such a hard time.

Daisy Morgan is THAT child. She’s beautiful, personable, smart, musical, and nice. She’s the light of her family’s eye, including her little sister, Violet. But it’s only natural that Violet is a little jealous of her sister, especially on her baptism day, when she gets to wear a beautiful new dress and gets to be the star of the day. The girls are only 11 months apart, so there aren’t many things they don’t do together.

When the two girls begin bickering and cause a mess in the kitchen, Grace, their mother sends them outside. Their father, a miner, scolds them, sending them away from him because he wants some time to relax. In their shame and boredom, the girls find Fourth of July sparklers, and somehow Daisy’s dress is lit on fire. Three days later, she dies of the burns.

This is the story of the three left behind. The gossipy church ladies blame Violet, assuming she was so jealous that she threw the sparkler at her sister and did nothing. And, because she was a little jealous and so young, she believes them.

Grace, her mother, was born into wealth, but her family fell from grace after her father hung himself following scandal. Her mother retreated into madness, so Grace’s flirtatious relationship with depression is probably hereditary as well as circumstantial.

Owen Morgan also blames himself for Daisy’s death. His solace is the mine and drink. He leaves his family because he feels like he isn’t worthy of protecting them or caring for them, working for the moments after work when he can bury himself in drink.

The main story belongs to Violet, of her coming to terms with her sister’s death and her parents’ abandonment into their own grief. Through her tragedy, she learns what friendship is and the difference between fault and blame, and how sometimes things happen for no reason. But it is also the story of the family and the town, and of Welsh miners attempting to make a place in the new world.

This whole book really hit home for me. First off, there is the whole sister thing. And then there’s the whole heritage of the book. At the time, many miners were immigrating from Wales, where mining was the way of the world. My mom’s dad’s is Welsh. All the names are vaguely familiar, although we didn’t live in Pennsylvania. My great-grandpa left Wales and served in the Navy, and then made his way across America and settled in Colorado. He wanted nothing to do with the sea, nothing to do with the mines. Because of his ambition, my family did okay in the world.

Barbara Taylor grew up in Scranton. In Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, she combines historical facts and a local tragedy, creating a fictionalized version of the story. Taylor uses her brilliance to bring the early 1900’s to life, using bleak descriptors to highlight a time where anthracite was king, where death by illness or in the mines was common, where any other death was unexplainable by their heavy-handed religion.

This book is grim and dark, heartbreaking and moving, and ultimately beautiful. This is a perfect read for a rainy day. I give it four stars.

 

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