“In the days before laws mandated kindergarten, school started with first grade. I climbed the narrow wooden step and entered South First Creek School as a student at age five, proud of the new dress sewn for this day, mercifully unconcerned about the high-water bangs sheared into the front of my Dutch-boy haircut. I carried pencils, a gum eraser, a box of twenty-four crayons, a tub of paste with a brush built into the lid, a tiny bottle of Jergens hand lotion and a small packet of tissues – but my most prized possessions were a handkerchief with red and blue flowers and a Gunsmoke lunch box with little thermos bottle that fit inside.
I started school every autumn for eight years with much the same collection of objects, but I would remember that day as the first time such possessions belonged to me alone – I did not have to share them with a sibling.”
This passage comes from third-generation homesteader Judy Blunt's story of her life on the prairies of Montana. Breaking Clean is a dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking memoir of growing up with cattle and snakes, outhouses and isolation, epic blizzards and devastating prairie fires. It's a tale of the American West told from a woman's point of view, the story of a woman needing more than the rules and roles prescribed to her gender long before she was born.
“At age thirty, John had been eager to start a family. Having been raised with a twin sister and no other siblings, he began our marriage with rosy visions of a large family – four children, maybe five. Having the experience of the large family to draw on, I was less enthusiastic but willing to go along. When Jeanette arrived two years after our wedding, he became a papa in the deepest sense of the word, a man enchanted by this tiny, marvelous creature who ran to meet him and saved her best smiles for him alone. He remained distanced in the areas of diaper changing and discipline. When Jason followed seventeen months later, my struggle to manage two babies along with the ranch wife's workload caused him to rethink the large family. Two seemed quite a lot of worry and work, and he found it difficult to get used to the chaos and mess that went with babies. And then our little surprise, James, arrived a week before by twenty-fourth birthday, and I headed into that next long winter with a newborn, a two-and-a-half-year-old and a four-year-old to tend, in addition to cooking and washing for a husband, a father-in-law and a hired hand.
As my family grew larger, my activities outside the house shrank in equal measure, a natural result, though I struggled against it.”
The author eventually left her husband and the ranching life behind, moving with her three children to Missoula, where she attended the University of Montana. Working full-time to support her children, helping with their homework while doing her own, Blunt gradually found her voice again, and began to write. Breaking Clean tells the story of a life that will stay with the reader long after the last page has been turned, and tells it masterfully. Be sure to read all about it.
Copyright © 2004, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.