June 10, 2008 at 5:19 pm #220
Jack’s Farm is a testament to one special man’s “desire of the heart” – and the fulfillment of his dream on a long-abandoned property. In an old farmhouse with no power or running water, Jack and Joan Earle entered into “pioneer” life, just as the world was meeting the new millennium.
Interwoven with heart-warming descriptions of the challenges and blessings of old ways meeting new, Jack’s Farm is the story of a quiet, methodical technician and a spontaneous, impulsive artist who could have been separated by their differences, but who chose instead to find the value in them.
In her gentle recounting of husband Jack Earle’s life, so intrinsically entwined with her own, Joan presents her readers with compelling lessons of powerful faith and evolving love, of incomparable loss and the journey toward healing.June 10, 2008 at 5:24 pm #302
I will review this book.July 17, 2008 at 6:18 pm #303
Promoted as a biography of a man fulfilling his dream, Jack's Farm is actually an autobiography of a marriage. Jack and his dream inspired the book. But author Joan Levey Earle's central focus is her marriage with Jack. Earle explores what is needed for a marriage to work, mainly communication and perseverance.
In the process of describing her thirty years of marriage, she uses the dream to step the readers through the growth and development of a marriage. The marriage is the main character. The dream of possessing an old farm is the plot. The marriage partners must work to owning the acreage, and then developing the old house to acceptable standards of full-time cohabitation.
Could this be a self-help book on how to make a marriage work? It has all the elements. The first element of self-help comes through when Joan complains to a priest about her difficult husband Jack. In this particular case, Catholicism envelops the self-help. The priest tells Joan to pray for what is best for her husband. Praying for what is best is thinking positive in the latest self-help books. In the earliest self-help books, praying would be daily envisioning and focusing on one's goals.
Daily prayer, positive thinking or a vision instills a burning desire, another self-help element. When a person keeps hammering on a point, hopefully a positive one and not those negative comments running through one's mind, then this point turns into belief or faith.
Joan's constant, daily burning desire for her husband to have what is best for him created a faith. This faith directed her actions, another self-help element. Her faith enabled her reluctantly to agree to owning and managing a bookstore, working on her prayer for her husband.
Joan uses self-help or her Catholic faith to help her through most of her married life. She believed tithing to their church resulted in the family never being without. From an objective point of view, I think Jack's work as a labourer during that time resulted in the family never being without. But it really does not matter what I think. For Joan, her faith that her family would be fine through tithing lead to acts and behaviour on her part and her husband that ensured the family's basics.
The author says it take years to learn how to communicate in a marriage? I disagree. I think it depends on the generation and on the personality types. In a marriage, how do the partners speak? Does one partner speak in a plain tongue with thought and care given? Or does one speak in two tongues, with two meanings? On the other hand, before speaking, does one know what the inside soul wants and how to communicate that desire? Quite how, people do not know what they want, or argue over small issues that mask an unresolved principle.
Joan tells us that we learn to appreciate the differences in a marriage when we mature. This would indicate that Joan got married before she even knew herself. She acknowledged her maturing process. If she had met Jack before her mid-twenties before she matured, she would not even have looked at this handsome "techie" guy, she recounts. In Joan's case, her faith did pull her through the first twenty years of marriage until she felt she had married the right guy.
I found the lack of discussion in Joan and Jack's marriage frustrating, especially with a major change in the relationship. When Jack moved full-time to the acreage, Joan would come for the weekends. Distance can make the heart grow fonder which happened in their marriage. Joan said, "We never discussed this new change in our relationship. It always seemed more mysterious and romantic to Jack not to talk about these things." My first thought was how did Joan know Jack thought it was more mysterious and romantic. I think it was really Joan's desire for mystery and romance. These feelings would be more in character with Joan's artistic and spontaneous nature than with Jack's methodological approach to life.
When Jack moved to the acreage to work full-time on renovations, Joan missed him. "Even the frowns that might come over his face when I said the wrong thing or started to whine about my long day in the store." Why did Jack frown when she said something? I wanted to dig into this more because I think Jack felt some obligation. Joan said Jack considered it wrong. How can it be wrong? What was wrong about it? Moreover, what was wrong about complaining about a long day at the store? Did he frown because he felt guilt, or wondered if the bookstore was the right idea. In one example, she said she had a critical heart for not knowing the importance of re-using water in the home without amenities. In this case, ignorance is an excuse for not understanding the culture of "roughing it". Joan was too hard on herself.
When Joan felt the need to burn negative writings from earlier years, she asked Jack to start a fire to burn some papers. However, she never told him what she was burning. I can just imagine Joan and Jack silently standing around a burning barrel, Jack with a long stick in his hand probing and stirring the papers that Joan had occasionally threw into the barrel. What kind of discussion would have flowed if Joan had told Jack what she was burning? What would Jack have said? Maybe uplifting words for Joan? Most importantly, what would he have shared about himself, about how he had changed too?
These missed opportunities into Jack's thinking made him one-dimensional. I wanted to get to know Jack better but I could not find much depth to his character. Other events that happened in Jack's life I wanted more fully developed. Why did it take Jack four years to renovate an apartment? Why did Jack not insist that Joan get her driver's license. Why did Jack tell his mother-in-law about her son's death? What was his relationship with Joan's brother? Why did Jack avoid eating his favourite food bread during the summer and winter solstice? In the Christian faith, fasting from favourite foods happens usually during Lent in March, not in the fall and early winter.
Another tantalizing line about Jack, "Purchasing the old bookstore had been Jack's idea and I had reluctantly agreed to that decision." Instead of expanding on this major turning point in their life, Joan described the trials of running the store. I still had questions that were never answered like WHY did Jack want to purchase an old bookstore, why a bookstore, and not a sporting goods store, or some other business? I felt Jack's replies would have spoke volumes about his character.
Was it part of the book's mandate to explore Jack's character? At first, this book seemed to be an idolization of Jack. The marriage comes into focus when Jack worked at the stationary store, where they "hung out" together. Joan discovered something about her husband that she had not known for close to thirty years. That story amazed me with its simple ability to portray the marriage.
I find it fascinating that Jack liked many lone occupations: in his youth duck hunting, then later marathon running, cross-country skiing, hunting, working as telephone lineman, and renovating an old farm house on his own. I heard about physical aspects of Jack and the physical changes to the acreage. This acreage symbolized Jack.
The lack of amenities is a definite plus with less cleaning, and no worries about the water and power systems along with all the equipment that should function properly. When Jack informed Joan that the Christmas Day visit with the kids had to be shorten in order to stoke the woodstove every few hours, I was confused. With no plumbing, the house could have "frozed down" without ill effects. Perhaps, Jack used the stoking the heater as an excuse to leave the sometimes-overwhelming family celebrations of a Christmas Day. This would be in keeping with Jack's character.
I wanted to know more about Jack and Joan's birth order, their siblings, and their own children. In recounting the grieving process, Joan answered some of these questions briefly. At the end, I discovered neither Jack nor Joan had travelled far from their birthplace when I had thought the opposite.
Jack's Farm leads me to wonder whether marriage forces us into roles that stunt growth? There were clearly defined roles within the marriage. Joan was the spiritual and emotional personality. Jack was the physical, and practical one. The marriage symbolized Joan with her development and growth throughout the thirty-years of marriage. After Jack's death, Joan's character reached a new level in multi-dimension. Joan's blossoming could only have occurred by living in Jack's renovated farmhouse, a minor character. Joan Levy Earle's autobiography of her marriage details an understandable sequence of events for moving beyond life's hardships into life's blessings.
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