It has been six months since I’ve read Jon Hassler’s charming book, A Green Journey. I had never heard of Jon Hassler, nor of his Staggerford books, before I read the review my friend Hope wrote. I’m so thankful she placed A Green Journey in my view. I gulped it down in one sitting, but the people in the book lived with me long after I finished the last page.
Agatha McGee is 64, a sixth grade teacher at a Catholic school in Minnesota, an intelligent woman with drive and resourcefulness. Ah, yes: and she is a spinster. She has high standards, strong opinions, and a good heart. What she cares about the most are the holy traditions of her faith. It was not too much to say that Agatha loved the Church of her girlhood above everything else in the world. The Church had been her primary conveyance through life.
Agatha’s neighbor Lillian Kite was honest, simplehearted and enviably placid. Nevertheless, it was a mind spongy with sentiment and empty of logic…. Agatha’s young friend, Janet Raft, a single mom, makes bad choices in men. It saddened [Agatha] to think of all the daughters of weak fathers she had known who hadn’t been satisfied until they became the wives of weak husbands. [Sidenote: it wasn’t until this morning that the significance of Lillian’s and Janet’s last names struck me.] Dick Baker is Agatha’s bishop, a progressive churchman who values Agatha McGee even though they often land on opposing sides.
You should have seen our cathedral before [the bishop] went in with his wrecking tools. Granted, it was overdecorated, but now it looks like a warehouse. Without the wares. Absolutely unadorned. A Puritan meetinghouse. We’re witnessing the successful completion of the Reformation, James, five hundred years after Luther.
James, mentioned above, is a teacher in Ireland and Agatha’s correspondent. Agatha “met” James in the Letters column of The Fortress, a magazine for like-minded Catholics. The letters between James and Agatha are the jewels of the book. An ocean apart but kindred in heart, the two lonely friends expose their deepest feelings and thoughts. They write about their lives, the people around them, their loves, their fears. It is not often that you can read a love story between two older people who have never before known love.
An opportunity to travel to Ireland comes; Agatha goes, wanting to meet James. Although she flies with a local tour group, once in Ireland she makes her way on her own. To be honest, Lillian, I’ve always wanted more out of life than is given to groups. James is a real person, and the time they share together is precious. Will they get married?
Staggerford—like Mitford, Lake Wobegon, and Port William—is a place worth exploring. In A Green Journey you get a bit of County Kildare as a bonus.