Here is a summary of Charms for the Easy Life by Kay Gibbons from the HarperCollins website:
A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeat lives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina. Radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy, brilliant daughter, Margaret, possess powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door. And they are protected by the eccentric wisdom and muscular love of the remarkable matriarch Charlie Kate, a solid, uncompromising, self-taught healer who treats everything from boils to broken bones to broken hearts.
Sophia, Margaret, and Charlie Kate find strength in a time when women almost always depended on men, and their bond deepens as each one experiences love and loss during World War II. Charms for the Easy Life is a passionate, luminous, and exhilarating story about embracing what life has to offer ... even if it means finding it in unconventional ways.
What an interesting novel this was that brought us into the lives of three generations of women that are living in North Carolina during World War II. The book is narrated by Margaret, the youngest woman in the family. Margaret starts out the story by giving us a little background information about her grandmother, Charlie Kate.
Charlie Kate came to be known as the best midwife in the county and was soon requested for various medical problems that people were coming down with. She is a very strong woman and finds herself taking on and winning many battles within the community. It seemed to me that she actually became a martyr for all of the progress that she helped develop within the little town that she lived. Unfortunately, her husband grows tired of her company and leaves Charlie Kate to raise their daughter on her own.
Sophia is Charlie Kate's daughter, and although I don't think the novel really focused too much on her, she was a very important character. Sophia marries a man that her mother does not approve of and they end up having a daughter of their own-Margaret. Margaret and Sophia eventually spend most of their waking hours at Charlie Kate's home. The next thing you know, Sophia's husband leaves her and it only seems reasonable that the three women share a home together.
As they find themselves spending more time together they learn a lot more about each others dreams and goals. The grandmother is often called upon to go on housecalls for the sick, and Sophia and Margaret usually find themselves accompanying her. It seems that while the grandmother is tending to the sick individual that there is always something important for the others to do, whether it be washing dishes, preparing a meal, or consoling a family member, no job is too little at the time. Through these acts I think they learn the importance of charity, kindness, and compassion.
As World War II is in full swing, these ladies find themselves working as volunteers as they are needed. Sophia finds herself leading a local Red Cross chapter, as Margaret and Charlie Kate are asked to help out at a hospital that cares for wounded soldiers that are returning from combat. Charlie Kate helps at the hospital on a medical basis, but Margaret finds herself connecting with the patients on a more emotional level. She spends time with the soldiers by reading letters from home and writing letters for the soldiers that can't complete this task on their own. I found myself looking forward to these letters and it was probably my favorite part of this book.
With Sophia busying herself with the Red Cross efforts, Charlie Kate and Margaret form a special bond as they spend more time together. This part was especially sweet to me as I have always been very close to my own grandmother. There was one special moment shared between all of the women in this book when they decided to get out of the house for awhile after being cooped up because of a snowstorm and go play around on a frozen pond. The following excerpt was from page 162:
The frozen pond did support them, and the exhilaration my mother felt came to me, it seemed, in a correspondent breeze of the sort Wordsworth wrote about. It filled my chest, all my mother's happiness blown directly into me. This was also happening to my grandmother. I could tell by the way she stared at them. I imagined her memories of watching my mother as a child, sitting at the kitchen table with her Blueback Speller, learning hard words with such joyous ease. I imagined my grandmother's memories of all the times my mother had pleased her, supremely. This was one of those times.
This book was a short, quick read and it appeared to be simple writing to me, but there was so much beauty and intimacy in the simpleness of it. I found myself enjoying this book more as it progressed and by the time I finished it I really did love it. I know that I wouldn't have chosen this book on my own, so I am grateful that this was a book club selection. I think it will make a great discussion!
My Rating: 4/5