All In The Family

The cover art did its job again!  I came home with this book because those bathing suits on the clothes line attracted me.  Sometimes the tale between the pages supports the images that first caught my eye.  Other times it is more like “What were they thinking!”  With They Left Us Everything (2014) by Plum Johnson, those bathing suits are part of the story.

You will learn in the very first chapter that Plum and her mother did not have an easy relationship.  Now that does not mean it was not loving, because it was.  Her mother just had a very strong personality as opposed to Plum’s gentler nature.  From that point on the story of Plum’s family begins to unfold.

Plum is the eldest of the five siblings and the only girl.  Her British born father, retired Naval officer, often referred to her First Daughter, based on the idea he would one day have more than one girl.  Sandy, Robin, Chris, and Victor follow.  You will also find out their roles while growing up in the 23 room “cottage” known as Point O’ View‘ located in the town Oakdale, not far from Toronto on Lake Ontario.

Plum’s parents purchased the home in 1952 from the original owners who had lived in it since 1917.  Not one thing had been changed since her parents moved into it, not even the wallpaper.  Purchase price?  $12,000.

Since Plum is the eldest, lives within an hour of Point O’ View, and has the most flexible working hours of the siblings, it was naturally felt she was the best for the job.  Each of her brothers took on tasks that worked with their talents, jobs, and travel.

Plum closed up her home for six weeks, packed only what she felt was necessary, and headed to Point O’ View.  Her mast plan had four simple steps:  lock up valuables, empty closets and dressers upstairs, empty cupboards and drawers downstairs, and sort documents.  Optimism was the word of the day. She is thinking 6 weeks was more than time to complete the task before her.

What she discovered was that clearing a house that had been lived by “savers of everything” made her wonder why her parents had left it for the kids to do.  By the time the job was completed, nearly 2 years later, she realized just how much she had learned about her parents.  That in and of itself turned out to be was most valuable.

Her parents had lived very interesting lives before they married and started a family.  Their story is woven nicely into what is happening present day.  I enjoyed how the kids managed to determine what each of them would take from the house without any fussing and fighting.  Their “auction” idea and after bargaining was perfect.

It is all told in an entertaining and touching manner.  I can guarantee you will laugh as you get to know Plum’s family.  Memories of your own childhood, parents, and family times may surface as she shares their love, their craziness, and their history.

You have gotten to know Plum’s family, now meet the Turners.  When you begin reading The Turner House (2015) by Angela Flournoy, you are going to learn very quickly that the Turners are one big loving family…at least most of the time.  Their story is told through narrations by the different members of the family.  You will meet Frances and Viola and learn their back story of how they came to leave the fields of Arkansas and headed up north. In this case up north was Detroit, Michigan where they raised their 13 children in the big house on Yarrow Street.

For the reader, their story begins in 2008.  It begins with the tale of Cha-Cha, the eldest of the Turner kids, being pulled out of his second story bedroom by a haint one summer night in 1958.  That story lives on through the years but seemed to fade with each new child that entered the family.

This novel covers about five weeks in the lives of the Turners.  Besides the parents and the 13 children, the House is definitely a character in this story.  It is central to the Turner’s lives.  Over 50 years’ time the house has watched the kids grow and eventually leave to begin their lives.   They too eventually began to experience the similar ups and downs of life just as the parents had.

And just like the children have grown up and changed, Detroit has faced major issues. Yarrow Street began to experience changes.  The Turner House also began to show the results of those changes in the area.  Thriving neighborhoods, which were once places to raise children, were being abandoned.  Slowly folks began leaving Yarrow Street as the trouble began creeping into the neighborhood.

Little by little the homes in the area began to lose their worth.  It was not long before the houses were worth less that the payments being made on them.  With aging parents the Turner kids are trying to determine which solution is the best path to take:  Let the bank have the house, tear their loving home down since it is falling into disrepair, or refinance.

You will meet and get to know all 13 of the Turner children, either as a youngster and/or as an adult.  Their personal stories are as different as their personalities.  (A family tree of the turners is printed in the front pages of the book.  I found it helpful.)

I enjoyed meeting the Turner Family.  The history of the times was reflected in this family saga.  Also, the issues the family faced were authentic.  Their family gatherings with laughter, tears, decisions made are the very same as happened in your family and mine over the years.

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