Unswerving Fidelity

~ from the archives – and especially for my friend Hope at Worthwhile Books ~

This morning I grabbed a book to read while I worked out on the elliptical machine.  The biggest requirement was that it would lay flat on the little stand.  A hardback would do better, especially one with a loose binding.  A quick check of the stacks of books waiting to be read made Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather my choice.  It is set in Quebec in 1697.  The main characters so far are the widowed apothecary and his daughter.

Many of you know that I lost my mom suddenly when I was 10 years old.  I read this passage with tender emotion.  I’ve abridged it here and there.

After she began to feel sure that she would never be well enough to return to France, her chief care was to train her little daughter so that she would be able to carry on this life and this order after she was gone.

Madame Auclair never spoke of her approaching death, but would say something like this:

      “After a while, when I am too ill to help you, you will perhaps find it fatiguing to do all these things alone, over and over.  But in time you will come to love your duties, as I do.  You will see that your father’s whole happiness depends on order and regularity, and you will come to feel a pride in it.  Without order our lives would be disgusting.”

She would think fearfully of how much she was entrusting to that little head; something so precious, so intangible; a feeling about life that had come down to her through so many centuries and that she had brought with her across the ocean. The sense of “our way,” –that was what she longed to leave with her daughter.

The individuality, the character, of M.Auclair’s house, though it appeared to be made up of wood and cloth and glass and a little silver, was really made up of very fine moral qualities in two women: the mother’s unswerving fidelity to certain traditions, and the daughter’s loyalty to her mother’s wish.

Isn’t that wonderful?  The last paragraph is so lovely.  Have any of you read Willa Cather?  My Antonia is my favorite, but this is perhaps the fifth book of hers that I’ve read.

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11 thoughts on “Unswerving Fidelity

  1. That is lovely, Carol. I’ve read My Antonia, but it has been so long (probably at least 15 years) that I don’t really even remember it. That time setting sounds interesting to me, also. So you don’t have any trouble reading while using the elliptical?  I have trouble reading while on the treadmill because of having to constantly readjust my line of vision to accomodate the motion. Are ellipticals different?  I’ve not been able to use my treadmill in almost two years because of plantar faciitis; and although it’s much better, it still is there and I’m afraid to reaggravate it and set the healing back.  I used to be pretty faithful about using the treadmill, and am now starting to wonder about getting some alternative form of exercise.  Do you recommend a particular brand and model?

  2. @Hobbits8 – Hi Patti!  I have access to the gym at the hospital where my husband works.  I didn’t have a problem reading on the elliptical, but I didn’t have a problem reading on the treadmill either.  The book has to lay relatively flat, the print can’t be to small, and subject matter not too deep.  I think ellipticals are easier than treadmills because your feet are gliding instead of lifting up and down.  And reading (an activity I love) helps the medicine of exercise go down. Sorry to hear of the plantar faciitis; I wonder if a rowing machine would be a better way to get exercise. 

  3. Hi Carol, I got a lump in my throat from reading that passage.  It expresses the sense of loss I feel sometimes because I have only sons.  My boys are an amazing gift from God and I haven’t questioned His sovereignty for a minute in giving them to me, but sometimes my heart longs for someone to whom I can pass on the traditions of “our ways”.   The passage also shows what a tremendous influence a woman has over the atmosphere of a home.Thanks for giving me another view of Cather! 

  4. I actually have a number of WC’s books in my collection, since she is a Nebraskan and that is where I live.  Like you, my favorite was My Antonia.  I did like the one mentioned in your post very much, as well.  The only one I didn’t like was Song of the Lark~~ I thought she painted the main character (herself, really) as elitist.Great quote!

  5. @hopeinbrazil – Wow.  I have three boys, myself.  I know of which you speak.  @PoiemaPortfolio – Poiema, I didn’t like The Lost Lady and I think I started a more obscure work and stopped shortly after starting.  The Song of the Lark is my brother’s favorite, but he is a singer and likes the way Cather writes about music.  I see your point about the elitist, but I really liked some of the passages in it.  Two years later, I still think about Cather’s image of art as a sheath to capture a shining moment.  Quote is here:

  6. Isn’t it interesting how we all have that small bit of sorrow/longing for what we never had? I have four daughters, you have three sons, and we wonder what each other’s world was like. Now I have two grandsons and I think, yikes! Could I have dealt with this? Even now, my girls are just beginning to understand/appreciate homemaking and handwork and such, and they’re in their twenties. I mentioned passing on some of my grandma’s recipes to one daughter and she was excited about it. So sometimes it just takes time.

  7. That is lovely.  I’ve read My Antonia and O, Pioneers and really like Willa Cather.  I’ll look for this one.  Great quotes.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we leave behind when our physical selves are gone.  Thanks for sharing this, my freiend.Sandy

  8. The sense of “our way,” –that was what she longed to leave with her daughter.”Our way” (which is, in reality, “Christ’s/therefore our family’s” way) is the anchor I hope will prevent us losing our children to “the world’s way”.

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