Nostalgic reflections on a Depression-era childhood in western Pennsylvania.
Ward spent her first years in New Kensington, Pa., living across the street from her paternal grandparents, whom she visited often for jam-filled cookies, long walks and tales of the past. Times were tough in the 1930s, and even as a preschooler, the author felt this tension. At home, her mother would disapprove of almost every suggestion she made, and her father would slam his fist on the table to quiet idle dinner-table chatter. “Nobody could stay in my house and live,” Ward writes. With her grandparents, however, she learned to celebrate life’s ups and downs and its full palette of sights, sounds and smells. In this debut memoir, Ward excels at creating atmosphere with sensory detail; her own home, for example, smelled of Nair hair remover, “terrible stinky stuff...that gasped the oxygen out of the air,” but her Grampa’s garage smelled of earth and leather: “One whiff set my brain tingling with visions of adventure.” Her grandfather was a fighter, undaunted by bank foreclosures, a tornado that swept up his vaudeville road show or his narrow escape from a mine explosion. He also taught Ward that she could accomplish anything. At one point, she writes skillfully about a time, in 1936, that the Allegheny River burst its banks and flooded the entire Pittsburgh area, relating historical facts yet maintaining a childlike perspective: “ ‘Will the river get us?’ I screamed. ‘Is it coming?’ ” Indeed, the river got the whole town, but young Ward soon forgot the devastation during a “long, happy visit” to her maternal grandmother’s high-and-dry home. After the flood, her grandparents moved to Lake Erie to start a fishing business; Ward visited them often and learned to maneuver boats, gut fish and catch night crawlers. Overall, the book reads more like a series of memories than a cohesive story, but it works well, as each chapter is like a single bite of a warm, jam-filled cookie.
Delightful vignettes of childhood and a heartfelt tribute to a devoted grandfather.