Nebraska housewife tells the story of her life with the lucidity of a Plains State Stendhal.
The idea that the Midwest is a reserve of puritanical cornshuckers disguises a more complicated truth, one compounded of many lonely acts of will. Born in 1914, Spence spent her childhood in Franklin County, Nebraska, where her father, Karl, ran the newspaper. He was a stubborn, optimistic man who once tried to drive the KKK out of Franklin County with his fists. Spence’s mother was the traditional middle-class pillar of midwestern rectitude. While she despised her mother, Spence acknowledges that she nevertheless absorbed many of her ways—much to her regret. Her family eventually moved to the wilder, ranching part of Nebraska near the Wyoming and South Dakota border. During the Depression, Spence, married to the love of her life, a small rancher named Levi Anderson, had three sons, one of whom died in childhood. Bit by bit she let her life fall into the classic cycle of childrearing. She realized how far things had decayed between her and her husband when Levi and she were building a new house: “Levi did most of the work himself, between May 31st and Christmas Day, 1949, when we moved in. He did the regular work of tending crops and cattle too, and he fell in love with Eleanor Avery.” The author managed to separate Levi from Eleanor, a married neighbor, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Eventually, she separated from Levi, moved to LA, and became a secretary. Her son, editing this manuscript after his mother’s death, justifies its publication, in his afterword, as a “picture of rural America.”
It’s also a small work of art from the plains.