"A positive element of this Shaw family with all the siblings and their spouses… is that they all accepted one another as true siblings."
Howe has compiled an impressive array of her family heritage, beginning with forebearers Douglas and Amanda Shaw. She offers engaging contributions from some of their 103 descendants still living. Born in Illinois, Douglas settled in Nebraska in 1877. Amanda was the daughter of homesteaders who established their new dwelling after traveling from Missouri in a covered wagon. The two were married in 1890 and moved to Iowa, where Doug worked as a plumber. Returning to Nebraska, he became a builder, with many houses and barns in the region still showing his handiwork. The couple had ten children, all of whom, along with their own progeny, are noted in Howe’s work, either through her own memories or by those of others in the lineage.
Recollections include the military service of some of the young men, one of whom trained horses for use in World War I. Family member Ted speaks proudly of his father’s military achievements involving complex mechanical work with military helicopters and missiles. Other men’s professions have ranged from locomotive engineer to dentist to farmer to maintaining structures and land. The women’s accomplishments are also extolled, offering praise for their musical talents, homemaking and parenting skills, and their courage in the face of life’s hardships, including home-based childbirth. For example, the author’s mother excelled in hospitality, so as a child, Howe could anticipate nights-long car trips at the slightest excuse for a family gathering. Childhood adventures heralded by contributors include catching frogs and grasshoppers, trapping coyotes, and isolation during massive snowstorms. Sudden, tragic deaths provided lessons in handling deep grief, one of which, emphasized in this saga, is the realization that most people not involved in a heartbreaking loss will be polite when told about it but rarely know how to truly empathize. One female in the clan felt the frustration of being “a 1950s housewife with the heart of a novelist.”
Howe, who has taken on a dynamic role as a missionary who counsels unwed expectant mothers, shares in her writing a laudable gift for assembling and conveying simple truths that invite readers to connect to her family and relate to their own. Her underlying beliefs are steeped in Christianity, with all segments of this wide-ranging work opening with brief quotations from the Holy Bible. The cohesion within the Shaw relations speaks strongly to Howe’s religious conviction, as does her determination to provide outreach and practical advice for others in her mission work. Humor also infuses her chronicle, with one chapter devoted to the progression of the telephone from a landline with an operator to something held in the hand that is “beeping every three minutes.” The wide variety of experiences the author relates will surely bring smiles and tears as they offer a vibrant view of American family life in both rural and urban settings, both in the present and in a bygone but still remembered era. Howe’s goal—to revive her current kinfolks’ connection to their shared heritage—is well met in this collection. It is certain to evoke sentimentality within and beyond the Shaw clan, perhaps encouraging others to create their own family chronicles.
- Barbara Bamberger Scott, US Review of Books