Even as The Directors – my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends – have begun carefully venturing out into our Covid plagued environment, we continue our online book discussions. Our most recent title was Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.
Our intrepid discussion leader prepared 26 questions, each with such perceptive depth that responding to any one of them could easily have filled a college exam blue book. With our limited time, we focused on the millenia of challenges women have endured and those specifically presented by the author through the lens of the protagonist Elsa Martinelli.
We wondered how so much strife could affect one person but coalesced around the knowledge that there are those whose lives seemed blighted by every bad thing that can happen – whether as a result of misguided decisions or circumstances beyond their control or an unlucky combination. And, indeed, we each realized that there was someone we knew who could be identified as Elsa-like.
Of all of Hannah’s descriptions of her charcter’s hard life, (Dust-Bowl storms which my mother remembers, a deadly flash flood, and hours of bloody, back-breaking labor picking cotton which my father did for only one day) I connected most closely with the unending debt created at the company store. When I was small, maybe around five while visiting Alabama, I walked to the store with my Granddaddy. I had a nickel (a large amount to a child in the 1950s) to buy whatever I wanted. But I could not spend my precious five cents. I remember being both elated and disappointed. Excited that the penny candy was free (or so I thought) and deflated that I could not make the cash transaction like a big girl. Years later, long after the company store had became just a corner grocery did I realize that even a child’s treat went “on account” against Granddaddy’s next payday. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic song, I Owe My Soul to the Company Store was a truism for thousands of workers including the tragic heroine of Four Winds.