Jigs and Ashes

Who is disciplined enough to read one book at a time? Rarely have I ever, but then I normally have a dozen partially finished projects going on at any one time in my house. Perhaps it is just me.

I am currently reading O Ye Jigs and Juleps by Virginia Cary Hudson, Call The Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary J. MacLeod, and re-reading Middlemarch by George Elliot (pen name for Mary Ann Evans) and Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. I enjoy working through Julia Cameron‘s books during my morning journaling/quiet times, and right now have her book, co-authored with Emma Lively, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning of Middle Life and Beyond. I’ve written about Cameron before and highly recommend her works.

Though O Ye Jigs and Juleps and Angela’s Ashes are both historical narratives, they were each published with clearly different intent. O Ye Jigs was was taken to press by Hudson’s daughter who saw innocence, beauty, humor and even genius in her mother’s writing and was compelled to share it. As a little girl in the early 1900s, Hudson stuttered and was too embarrassed to speak in front of the class. Her schoolteacher encouraged her to write essays. Angela’s Ashes is a biography written by McCourt about his mother and his family’s life during the Depression. Hudson’s parents were wealthy and lived in Kentucky, while McCourt’s parents were poor, on the dole, in Limerick.

There are unexpected similarities in the writing styles of McCourt and Hudson. Both write in an energetic, run-on style heaped with detail, conversation and deeper meaning. The stories are simple in delivery, and the humor raw. McCourt delves into the more tragic aspects of life, and so alternating between the two provides me with a respite from the harsh reality of poverty, racism, and prejudice–these clearly know no boundary of country or time period. Hudson’s work is a glimpse into history through child-sized, rose-colored glasses, yet it does not try to hide inequities.

Hudson rides her pony and plays for hours on end. Her friends organize a game of “Baptizing” one day and accidentally drop their volunteer two-year-old convert into a rain barrel–he is unharmed, thankfully. Hudson is mentored by an older woman who appears in a few of her stories. She throws a garden party for the little girl and her friends who include young boys who work near the railroad. To an adult, the injustice in the boys’ lives is clear, yet the innocence of their friendship without care of class or money is sweet. The children dance and eat cake and enjoy the adults whom they pull in to join the fun.

I remembered that my mother owned copies of Hudson’s works in the mid-60s. They were best-sellers at the time and Hudson’s family was from Louisville, where we lived. I am sure that is why my mother read them. I had not thought of them until recently, when in the book by Cameron I was encouraged to write about different time periods in my life. Hudson’s book resonates deeply to the generation raised before Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, streaming, and even DVDs, BluRays, VCRs and Cable TV. We had seemingly endless hours which made school breaks not boring but adventurous. Only rain would force us indoors, and sometimes not even that. We created our fun, and that is probably why the storytelling of Hudson and McCourt are so entertaining and even familiar.

Hudson is an Episcopalian and McCourt a Roman Catholic, and both poke fun at their churches. Having been a member of each of these churches at some point in my life, neither strike me as offensive. Hudson muses about the differences in the next-door Baptist church, while McCourt’s relatives from Northern Ireland during tumultuous times, heave insults about Protestants. Hudson remained Episcopalian and spoke at churches as an adult, while McCourt clearly lost his faith in later life. His family lived on the dole, some tragically unable to survive hunger and illness. The unfairness in life and the hypocritical nature of society wore his family down. McCourt wrote more about this in his sequel ‘Tis.

Both authors offer glimpses into history and lives unlike our own. As with any historical narrative they are best understood in context. This was their lived experience. By understanding diverse perspectives, even those imperfect or in error, even those which marginalized and allowed for human suffering, we can learn and understand and strive to improve the world by working together. We can be more forgiving and less reactive; more creative in solutions and therefore effective in reformation.

From Jigs to Ashes, and on to a truly better world.


Yes, Mom of ten, plus. Ten of our own, host-Mom of foreign exchange students and au pairs, and other wonderful young men and women. The latter were the direct influence of our special needs daughter, Mary Pat, and they have blessed us in innumerable ways. Past prime is okay; so many life experiences cause one to reflect on things learned and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.