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Friday, August 26, 2016

Non-fiction Review: Elsie's Mountain

Elsie’s Mountain: Memories of Palomar and Southern California 1897-1987, by Barbara Anne Waite is the second of her Elsie books based on the true story about her grandmother. This book is closely compiled from Elsie’s diaries and letters and decorated with wonderful period family photos. Elsie was a poet and free-lance writer, and some of her poems are featured throughout the book.

This story begins with Elsie’s parents and her siblings and quickly moves to her marriage and married life, which occupies much of the book. Elsie’s childhood was wonderful and privileged. She especially loved the times her family went camping on Palomar Mountain, today the site of an important space observatory and telescope, as well as a National Park. It was wonderful to be out in nature and to enjoy the beauty of the scenery.

After Elsie’s marriage to Jack, a successful businessman, they undertook several ventures up on Palomar Mountain—a prosperous apple orchard, and a hotel for wealthy guests. Elsie managed the hotel. As in every life, there were some terrible disappointments. Jack and Elsie lost their first child to miscarriage. There were ups and downs in the businesses, too, and they grew and learned through them. They welcomed a little daughter, Caroline. Their circumstances began to change.

Elsie shares happy times and hints at the sad ones. Jack seems to have had emotional issues, which worsened with time. Instead of complaining, Elsie gets on with life, becomes postmistress, and happily dedicates herself to rearing Caroline and serving others. Elsie obviously had a genuine Christian faith, though she doesn’t express it in the same words we might use.

This is a rare, completely authentic glimpse into the times of World Wars 1 and 2, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression. It’s also a delightful history of that part of California.

I enjoyed both of Barbara Waite’s books about her grandmother. The first, Elsie: Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916, tells about her life as a teacher and her romance with a young man there.

Elsie’s Mountain gives the reader an overall picture of her life, much of it quoted from actual diaries and letters. If you enjoy history with a touch of romance and a little bit of real-life sadness, you’ll enjoy these books. It’s probably the most authentic book I have ever read. My own grandmother lived during this epoch, and for me, it was an especially interesting glimpse into the way things were—the customs, entertainments, transportation, and everyday life. I know you’ll enjoy it, too.

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