It is a curse in this family that the women bear only daughters, if anything at all.
“Let her nap,” said a voice. “She needs her nap.”
Cora does not need a nap, but she welcomes silence. Is the past a story we are persuaded to believe, in the teeth of the life we endure in the present? Even Cora Atkins, whose life is over? Her mind is sealed, like a tomb,, but her eyes are open. The humiliations of age have won from her one concession: the nightcap she wears to conceal her baldness. Silken wisps of hair loop over the pulleys of her ears, the parts of her body that have never stopped growing, but the dome of her head is smooth as a gourd. Chairs have been brought in for the visitors to sit on, but none resemble the woman propped up in the bed. Age has eliminated the frills of individual distinction. She looks old as her grandchildren look young. She was never spry, comforting, or twinkling, and the young are reluctant to call her Grandma to her face. Nor do they raise their faces to her to be kissed. Not that she is cold, unloving, or insensible. She is implacable. Her talon-like hands lie before her, the right placed on the left, a scar blue as gun metal between the first and second knuckle, a seam on the flesh. How did she acquire it? It is said a horse bit her. For a farmer’s wife that is not unusual. She had stood in the doctor’s office, near the glare at the window where he took her hand with the torn flesh, the knuckle bone exposed. “What happened?” he had asked. She had been speechless. Tobacco juice oozing at the corner of his mouth, her husband, Emerson, had said, “Horse bit her.” She had been both relieved and appalled. But she preferred it to admitting she had bitten herself.
From Plains Song: For Women's Voices
I reread this book over the weekend. If you love Willa Cather, this book will give you a slightly di8fferent, but equally powerful vission of our grandparents and great grandparents. One of the finest historical novels of the midwestern experience.