From All Anybody Ever Wanted of Me Was to Work...
"Starting around 1950, people stopped raising chickens, milking cows, and raising hogs. They just buy it at the store, ready to eat. A lot buy a steer and have it processed in Dongola and put it in their freezer. What a difference! Girls have got it so easy now. They don't even know what it was like to start out. And I guess my mother's life, when she started out, was as hard again as mine, because they had to make everything by hand. I don't know if it could get any easier for these girls. But they don't know what it was like, and they never will. Everything is packaged. All you do is go to the store and buy you a package and cook it. Automatic washers and dryers. I'm glad they don't have to work like I did. Very glad."
Edith Bradley Rendleman's story of her life in southern Illinois is remarkable in many ways. Recalling the first half of the twentieth century in great detail, she vividly cites vignettes from her childhood as her family moved from farm to farm until settling in 1909 in the Mississippi bottoms of Wolf Lake. She recounts the lives and times of her family and neighbors during an era gone forever.
Remarkable for the vivid details that evoke the past, Rendleman's account is rare in another respect: memoirs of the time—usually written by people from elite or urban families—often reek of nostalgia. But Rendleman's memoir differs from the norm. Born poor in rural southern Illinois, she tells an unvarnished tale of what it was really like growing up on a tenant farm early this century.
Edgar Allen Imhoff renders a series of touching, colorful vignettes about growing up in southern Illinois during the Great Depression. He writes poignantly of his family and their struggles (including his father’s exhausting but successful effort at self-education) as he revisits his early childhood years in the country and his eventual move to the town of Murphysboro, where he encountered school bullies, outstanding teachers, first love, World War II, and adolescence.
Imhoff contrasts these memories of his youth with events, incidents, and thoughts from his more recent past. While writing a government check with six figures to the left of the decimal, he remembers how his mother once scrounged together thirty cents so Imhoff and his brother and sister could go to the circus with their classmates. Listening to President Carter give a speech in the Rose Garden reminds him of the contrasting elocutionary style of the Reverend William Boatman, the pastor at his country church, which was built by Imhoff’s great-great-grandfather and others.
Through such contrasts, Imhoff not only paints a loving picture of his past, he also comments on the alienation and emptiness that mark many lives in the United States, especially those of modern nomads. Imhoff has himself become a nomad, living far from the land of his birth, enjoying a successful and rewarding career. Yet he is drawn repeatedly to his past, his family, his childhood home, and the intricate combination of events, attitudes, values, and loyalties that influenced and molded him.
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