"Sometimes there are people you must forget because of the damage--blood ties or not." Theresa Weir describes her mother here, but could just as easily be referring to her vicious mother-in-law or one of the many men in the parade of her mother's unreliable, dishonest boyfriends. A luminous, tender memoir, The Orchard unfolds gradually, revealing a harsh, sometimes harrowing, childhood and an unlikely marriage between a stoic Iowa farm boy and a rudderless, rootless girl.
Weir's upbringing made her an unlikely candidate for the role of farm wife. Raised by an impulsive and self-absorbed single mother, she spent much of her early life wandering from place to place. In a typical move, Weir's mother follows a man across the country to Albuquerque, borrowing gas money from her six-year-old daughter. Upon arrival, she places a phone call to the man's home from a public telephone and dissolves into hysterics while the children watch from the car. The man is not divorcing, after all. She should have called ahead.
The turning point in Weir's life appears in black slacks and white shirt, walking into her uncle's bar for a beer. Youthful and handsome, Adrian Curtis immediately attracts the barmaid's attention. Much to her surprise, he returns her interest, and begins their brief courtship with a late-night horse ride. The young couple spends every spare moment together. Everyone around them disapproves. Propelled by youth, stubborn will, and infatuation, they are quickly married. At first, it's disastrous, and early on it appears the marriage won't last.
Woven throughout Weir's personal story, there is another, larger story of the backbreaking work, and the sacrifice of body and soul that go into maintaining a family farm across generations. In subtle ways, the original intent of the farm serving the family can be distorted with the passage and changing of times. The orchard is oblivious to its caretakers. Inside the farm, there are relentless chores morning and night, erratic weather, and the menacing specter of increasingly dangerous chemical wars against nature. Outside the farm, life marches on relentless and transient. "The passage of time is ephemeral. You wrap it up and put it in that place where memories go. And when you pull it out it doesn't matter if it's one year or eighteen. It feels the same."
While telling Weir's particular story, The Orchard illustrates the inherent importance of women directing their own lives, not only for themselves, but for the sake of their loved ones. When tragedy highlights the dangers posed to her children if they remain on the farm, Weir seizes control and embarks upon a path that changes her family's future entirely. "Fear makes you brave," Weir says in explanation. Perhaps. Or perhaps that fearlessness and strength lie within each of us, waiting until need coaxes it to the surface. It is a touching bit of truth: mothers often find strength for their children they could never uncover only for themselves. Sometimes there are people and places you must leave behind rather than suffer the inevitable damage.
by Kim Cox
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women