Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review -- These is My Words:The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

After negotiating my first year of retirement and reentry into a more social life, last fall I decided to rejoin the local branch of the American Association of University Women, a group to which I had belonged about 20 years ago. The group offers a number of interest groups, including two different book clubs, both of which soon will be selecting reading lists for the summer and 2014-2015 membership year. As I was searching my shelves for books I might recommend, I came across this gem of a book, These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, written by Nancy E. Parker, a book representing Arizona on my Fifty States in Fiction Challenge.

Written in epistolary form, These Is My Words is a fictionalized accounting of the life of Ms Parker's great-grandmother, Sarah Agnes Prine, the sole surviving daughter of foot-loose parents who as children had traveled along the Oregon Trail and then as adults migrated to the New Mexico Territories and began horse ranching. We meet Sarah at age 17 as she and her family are driving their herd of horses across the New Mexico desert to settle in the greener pastures of San Angelo, Texas. The trail ride is arduous; Sarah's younger brother Clover is snake-bit and dies, the wagon train is attacked by Apaches, villainous outlaws appear, and just as the party is nearing journey's end, a band of marauding Comanches steals their herd of horses. Sarah's father has a heart attack and dies, her mother has a nervous breakdown,  and Sarah and her brothers must make a plan to care for themselves and their mama for the rest of her days.

What does the Prine family do? They fill their wagons  with fruit and nut trees and make their way back across the New Mexico Territory to Arizona, this time as part of a wagon train escorted by Army troops under the leadership of Captain Jack Elliot, a fictional character loosely based on the author's own husband. The family eventually settles on the banks of Cienega Creek near the Army fort at Tucson where Sarah marries a man she has known from childhood. It is not a marriage of deep love or passion; and when her husband Jimmy dies, she is filled not so much with grief at his death, but with guilt that she cannot mourn his passing.  

Sarah Prine's father once taught her, "A nice girl never goes anywhere without a loaded gun and a big knife."  Had she not followed these paternal words of wisdom, we may never have been given the opportunity to read about this larger than life heroine of These Is My Words. She faced the travails of pioneer life with spunk and determination, saying "Well, honey, you might live over it, but you won't look like much."

Ah, but don't feel too sorry for Sarah.  These Is My Words is, after all is said and done, a love story, worthy of being passed from friend to friend to friend because, in the words of Sarah Prine, "Why any woman does that. A girl has got to get along."

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