My Papaw

My grandparents are both in the hospital at the moment. My grandmother had a bad fall, and my grandfather has pneumonia and congestive heart failure. They have tried to be independent up until now.

Some of my first recallable memories are of them and their house. When I was little, Papaw, or Paw, used to sit me up on their picnic table and hand me a piece of watermelon. I would make a huge sticky mess. He would say, “It’s not good unless you get it all over you.” Afterward, he would hose me down to help with the sticky.

Mamaw always made the best grilled cheese sandwiches. They were a staple of my childhood. On Saturday mornings, my cousins and I would eat grilled cheeses with jelly with Papaw and watch cartoons. Sunday mornings Mamaw made a big breakfast with bacon, sausage, eggs, grits, and homemade biscuits. Papaw taught us kids how to mix soft butter with syrup and dip our biscuits in it. Once a month, we’d have pizza night. Mamaw would call in our pepperoni pizza, and Papaw would load me up and take me to Mr. Tom’s store. He’d get me a Dr. Pepper, put peanuts in it, and get a Mickey Mouse ice cream. Leaving there, we would go pick up the pizza. Papaw would tell me not to tell Mamaw about the ice cream before hand. It was our secret. I’m sure she figured it out.

Papaw was always singing, and still would if he could. His voice projects and is full of old Southern sound. I learned songs by Kittie Wells, Hank Williams, and Charlie Pride at his knee. We’d sit out on the swing, sing, and watch the sunset until the bushes sparkled with lightning bugs. There was always music, and maybe a little dancing. He’d take us for walks around the neighborhood and let us play in the churchyard up the street. We’d go fishing and talk more than fish. He has always had a sweettooth and been keeper of the candy.  I only heard my name from Papaw when I was in trouble. Otherwise, he called me Baby My Baby, gal, or just girl. We’d eat breakfast, and then he’d say, “C’mon girl, let’s go work in the garden.” I think that’s why I love plants. I would hold the bottom of my t-shirt out and walk back to the house with fresh vegetables or plums from the tree in the front yard.

A few days ago, when he went into the hospital, he told me that he wouldn’t come out of this. I told him that he would have to get some rest and eat some protein so he could build up his strength and get better. He took my hand. He said, “Whatever happens will happen. I’m ready.” This is not what I was ready to hear, but I know he is tired. He’s ready, but my heart is not. 

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Stephen King is known for horror and suspense. However, for me, The Gunslinger is more a mystery of sorts or maybe the building up to a grand mystery. It is a different creature than the King books I’ve read in the past. It has a lot to offer the reader; like a really great gun fight scene that your imagination can run wild with. It still has the powerful descriptions, a bit of gore, and the wonderful macabre things we expect from the mind of Stephen King. For me, it is his rabbit hole.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Roland Deschain is not a hero. He is not a good guy, but he’s not a bad guy. He is a determined guy and a very complicated guy. He is everything I could ask for out of a character. He is the last Gunslinger. In a world that seems to be an alternate or dystopian future of ours, he is on a journey to seek out the man in black and kill him. The Gunslinger’s world is not so different from our own. You have those on drugs or devil grass as it is in The Gunslinger. You have a religious leader that makes me think of Westboro Baptist Church. You have crazies who follow the insane religious leader, and you have those who are possessed by something unknown. Sometimes, in our world as well as Roland’s, those last two intersect.

“My name is John Chambers. You can call me Jake.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

On his journey, Roland meets many people. He finds a town, he finds a lover, he finds a hippie farmer, and after all this, he finds Jake. I swear if I could pull a character from a book and into reality, it would be Jake. I would adopt him. He is a young boy who got mixed into something he can’t understand, and all he has in the world at this point in his story is Roland, the rough gunslinger who will not be deterred from his mission. Jake was in his own world, in his own time, minding his own business when he is shoved into Roland’s path.

Roland became a gunslinger at a very young age. He did so in a fit of rage that led him to the challenge to receive his guns. Roland relives stories about his childhood while traveling with Jake and gives us a glimpse at how he became who he is.

“I am the furthest minion of the Dark Tower. Earth has been given into my hand.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

The man in black is part of the mystery. He is always just out of the gunslinger’s reach. When you read of the actions of the man in black, you realize how truly evil his character is. He brings a drug addict back to life just so that he can prolong his suffering. Being a seer, he gives a barren woman a child that he knows will face an end. He does both of these things without a second thought and only to bring destruction. Roland seeks to end this and end him.

“Go then, there are other worlds than these.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

I hope after this review that you are standing at the rabbit hole. I hope you are intrigued enough to take the plunge. Make no mistake that this book is only the rabbit hole, though. This is only the beginning of the journey to rid the worlds of the man in black and finally see The Dark Tower. I am not half done with this series of books, but it has been a fantastical and suspenseful journey thus far. Be ready if you intend to venture into the rabbit hole. I recommend that you do, and if you do, then go, for there are other worlds than these.

***The remainder of this post contains SPOILERS. Plot and otherwise. If you intend to read this book, please stop at this point.

The Gunslinger begins with Roland trailing the man in black across the desert. He and his donkey are worn to the bone and suffering from dehydration and heat. Stephen King uses some of the descriptive writing here that I am so fond of. They come across a small house where a dweller lives. He offers shelter and food. Roland accepts and sleeps. The dweller, Brown, wakes Roland to let him know that the donkey has died. The man has a raven named Zoltan that mostly spews nonsense and silly things.

While visiting, Roland tells Brown the story of himself and the town called Tull. Entering town, he finds that it is not much more than a few buildings and a saloon. He goes into the saloon and meets the local druggie who is on the wasting drug they call devil weed. He takes the barmaid as a lover, and she fills him in on some of the locals. She tells him how the man in black came in on the same day the druggie, Nort, died. She explains that the man in black brought the dead man back to life.

Roland’s lover, Allie, tells of the local crazy religious leader whom she says preaches poison religion. The woman, Sylvia, calls Roland an interloper and turns the town’s people against him. She has been touched by the man in black. Between the living dead druggie and the crazy religious lady, the trap set for Roland is set into motion and ends with the one of the best written gunfights I’ve read to date.

Roland moves on and comes to a way station where he finds the boy, Jake. He goes down into a cellar and faces a demon. He leaves with Jake and travels through mountains and tunnels. They come across slow mutants and other issues. Roland tells Jake the story of his youth and how he earned his guns and became a gunslinger at an unheard of age. Jake comes to realize that if he continues on with Roland that he will die. Roland knows this as well.

In the end, Jake is lost and Roland faces the man in black, but this is far from the end of the saga. Read on, my friends. 

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

“When things are simple, fewer mistakes are made. The most expensive part of a building is the mistakes.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors. Mainly because he writes books made up of many stories of many people and shows how they merge and intersect. They are well researched and usually have a healthy dose of historical accuracy. He writes on the edge as well. He touches on stories that would be taboo in their time, but writes them in a way that is both knowledgeable and considerate.

You never know,” Jack said speculatively. “There may come a time when savages like William Hamleigh aren’t in power; when the laws protect the ordinary people instead of enslaving them; when the king makes peace instead of war. Think of that – a time when towns in England don’t need walls!” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

He writes a good bad guy. Some are just outright horrible and his descriptions make you love to hate them while others are bad but likeable. Most of what I have read has had more than one bad guy which also is how our world works. Sometimes the bad guy is just the world itself. His characters tend to go through things that your everyday person might go through.

I picked up The Pillars of the Earth as a preteen. It was my very first historical fiction. Being over 900 pages, it seemed a daunting task to someone who had previously read nothing thicker than Goosebumps  and Animorphs. I’d already cut my teeth on romances from Danielle Steel and Katherine Stone. This book was a whole other creature.

The first few chapters gave me a more detailed look into the time in which it was set. There are just some things that schools and textbooks cannot include even as important as they may be to history.

“He wondered if he really was capable of it. Then he thought what a thrill it would be to create something from nothing; to see, one day in the future, a new church here where now there was nothing but rubble, and to say: I made this.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

The book begins with the family of Tom Builder. He’s a man with big dreams, but the wrong circumstances to achieve them. He wants more than anything to build a cathedral. He wants to build high glorious ceilings and long open windows that will shed light into the grace of a house of God. To him, it was much more than a building. In his eyes, a cathedral is its own entity.

He has a wife he loves, two children, and another baby on the way. We meet him as he is building a house for the son of a wealthy man who is set to marry. When the wedding is called off and the son decides not to finish the house, Tom and his family are left destitute. Their luck steadily falters. As they are travelling by foot in search of work for Tom, tragedy strikes. I won’t go into detail for those that want to read the book, but Tom’s life will never be the same.

“She had resolved not to let people make her a victim, and she had proved she could keep her resolution.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

Next we are introduced to Aliena. Her jilted betrothed ruins not just her life, but that of her family as well. She has to fight to survive and to live her life on her own terms. She is a bit of a flawed character which is why she is one of my favorites. She is proud and haughty and has to learn her lessons the hard way.

“How terrible, Jack thought, to be old and know that your life has been wasted.”― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

One of the most important characters, and my personal favorite, is Jack. Jack is intelligent but quiet. He is unfortunate looking and has been dealt a difficult hand. However, no matter what happens to him, he knows exactly what he wants and nothing deters him from it. His life is fraught with unfortunate incidents and circumstances. I can’t explain much more about Jack without giving away anything.

“The first casualty of a civil war was justice, Philip had realized.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

Around the stories, there are political and religious issues, raids, and something similar to a civil war. The Catholic church and monarchs are working both for and against one another in true political form. Lies are told, lives are disrupted, and people are used for political and monetary gain. It follows the seesaw exchange of power.

The book at its heart is about cathedrals and the building of them. It compares the building to life and the lives that are going on around it.

If I had to say a book was my favorite, this would be it. It may be because it was one of my first serious reads, but I am quite partial to it. I was able to read it while on summer break and finished it within a few days. At first, I looked at the book and  wondered if I could finish it, and yet when it ended, I thought 900+ pages were not enough. It’s no secret that I highly recommend it.