Saturday, April 16, 2011
LIKE THE WILLOW TREE: THE DIARY OF LYDIA AMELIA PIERCE by Lois Lowry
No one knows the actual statistics on deaths due to the Spanish influenza in 1918, but estimates range from 50-100 million worldwide. When the sickness hit Portland, Maine, Lydia Pierce lost her mother, her father, and her baby sister. Uncle Henry came to collect Lydia and her brother Daniel. They went to live in a house crowded with their many cousins.
Uncle Henry and his wife just couldn't handle two more children so Lydia and Daniel were packed up and taken to the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake. Life there was very different from their life in Portland.
The Shakers are a religious community that believes in hard work, clean living, and the separation of men and women. There are no marriages and no romantic involvement in a Shaker community. Everyone shares all material goods and everyone works to support the community. It may sound harsh and impersonal, but that is not the case. Love and respect are present in abundance.
Lydia desperately missed her parents and her baby sister, but life with the Shakers kept her busy. She and Daniel attended school and each were given jobs around the complex. Lydia helped in the kitchens, the laundry, and with basket making, although she never seemed to be given the chore she wanted most - helping with the candy making. Daniel lived and worked with the men. When he wasn't in the classroom, he helped with the animals and other chores on the farm.
LIKE THE WILLOW TREE is part of the Dear America series focusing on historical fiction. Lydia's story greatly enhanced my understanding of the Shaker way of life. Since the community never produced children, young people like Lydia and her brother were welcomed with open arms. Lydia tells of the diminishing numbers in her Shaker family and how unless adults learned of this wholesome way of life, the communities would eventually cease to exist.
Author Lois Lowry captures Lydia's experience beautifully. Although her diary simply recounts humble daily activities, I found it a fascinating read.