Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A New And Different Summer (1966)

Lenora Mattingly Weber, il. Jo Polseno (jacket)
1966, Thomas Y. Crowell Company

She got up and glanced in the McHarg's refrigerator. Beautiful! Butter in neat cubes, bacon in flat packages, clean white eggs in their own niches. Neat stacks of brown'n serve rolls and coffee cakes ready for the oven. That's the way the Belford refrigerator was going to look, once Mother took flight to Ireland and Katie Rose was at the helm.

16-year-old Katie Rose Belford is secretly thrilled when her mother is called away to tend an ailing relative in Ireland for the summer. Finally, a chance to run the chaotic Belford household in her own way. Katie, sick to death of contributions from their rural family and slightly off produce from a friendly grocer, has her eye set on the gracious middle-class lifestyle of her favorite babysitting client, Mrs. McHarg. And who can blame her? The Belfords are respectable people but with lots of kids, second-hand food, slapdash housekeeping, etc., they veer too close to an appearance of disreputable for Katie Rose's comfort. She knows that to some people, her family could look like the slatternly Flood family, whose calculatingly crass daughter Rita is in her grade at school.

"I don't dodge Rita because of her messy folks or that messy house or the way she dresses - or even because her brothers are always in and out of the Regorm School. I feel sorry for her - "
"You can feel sorry for someone without liking them," Jeanie had said in understanding. "She's the kind that if you gave her an inch, she'd take three miles."

This old-fashioned practicality has a dark side - as when Katie's adopted pal Jeanie worries that she might not come from 'good stock' - but on the whole, it's refreshing to see poor people portrayed as something more complex than a simple morality task for a family which is poor but stable (Mr. Rose is a journalist, not a criminal, etc.)

Katie learns inexorable lessons during the course of the summer, mostly having to do with the costs of feeding a large and voracious family while coping with a handsome college student/boarder whose cluelessness verges on autism most of the time (he obsessively harasses her about the costs of her project, despite the obvious attempts she's making to seduce him) But most of her financial problems arise not from her attempts to feed the hogs at her trough with food other than potatoes, but in impulse decorative purchases. If there had been a Mikasa nearby, the poor girl would have been sunk on the first day, she shows so little resistance to placemats and glassware.

Vastly out-dated, with Katie's old-fashioned take on the disadvantaged asshole, the admittedly creepy view of 'good stock' from the adopted friend, the family's obsession with tomboy Jill's refusal to wear a dress, and college boy Perry's obnoxiousness. But the best anachronism is Katie's agony over the horrible old-fashioned food - the 'thick Irish bread', 'rich Jersey cream' and thick slabs of farm-fresh bacon and ham - all ingredients modern cooks salivate over while glaring at the plastic-wrapped mass-produced articles that Katie Rose swoons over. Whatever you have, you want the opposite. I spent some envy time as a child wishing we had central air and a finished basement while my friends were wishing they lived in a rickety old house filled with neat old stuff.

This is part of Weber's very extensive series of books about the Malones and Belfords, all set in Denver. Beany Malone, now a grownup with a baby, makes a brief appearance. The first in this series was published in 1963; the last was published in 1972. They necessarily reflect the enormous social change. As I mentioned above, in this 1966 novel Katie and her friend Jeanie hold a common-sense attitude toward their low-class neighbors the Floods. By the 1968 sequel Angel In Heavy Shoes, Katie's little sister Stacy has been pulled into helping Rita Flood and her brother, reflecting the new, more sympathetic view of poor white trash. And by 1971's Hello My Love, Goodbye, Stacy experiences a rape attempt.

About the Author

The Beany Malone books
Meet The Malones
Beany Malone
Leave It To Beany
Beany and the Beckoning Road
Beany Has a Secret Life
Make a Wish for Me
Happy Birthday, Dear Beany
The More the Merrier
A Bright Star Falls
Welcome Stranger
Pick a New Dream
Tarry Awhile
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Come Back, Wherever You Are

The Belford books
Don't Call Me Katie Rose
The Winds of March
A New and Different Summer
I Met a Boy I Used to Know
Angel in Heavy Shoes
How Long Is Always
Hello My Love, Goodbye
Sometimes a Stranger

My True Love Waits
Happy Landing
Sing For Your Supper
Nonie: An Autobiography
Wind On The Prairie
The Gypsy Bridle
Podgy And Sally: Co-eds
A Wish In The Dark
Mr. Gold And Her Neighborhood House
Rocking Chair Ranch
Riding High
My True Love Waits
For Goodness Sake! - cookbook
Beany Malone Cookbook - cookbook

New editionsAvailable through Image Cascade