My Antonia

     A lovely thing sat around at home for years, quaint in a rustic bookcase, looking cozy on the cover, but probably difficult in its language of days passed. Unfortunately, as an impetuous young reader, it wasn’t to my liking to halt at the dictionary’s entry long enough, letting the novel words breathe.

Back when twenty-something, mom bought me a batch of classics to read up. She saw me consume the dainty hardcovers from her Jane Austen collection. Bronte’s Jane Eyre found me a new heroine in mom’s pocket paperback. The yellowish pages from her Wuthering Heights copy revealed a type of romance unbeknownst.

We moved a few since mom’s purchase. Later, I married, got my own place, and had three daughters. Her gift kept to itself, stowed in a sturdy cardboard box. My Antonia stayed put, neat, together with Tess of the D’urbervilles, Saki’s collection of works, and Jude the Obscure. Somehow not gathering too much dust, loyal to the classic sheen of friendly paperbacks.

But how naughty is this life that she forced my sight away from modern fool’s entertainment for killing time, the kind that burns away cellular data packages, and fossilizes the brain. It was for the best, my Facebook wall insisted on reminding me of my precarious financial situation, with loads of images. Acquaintances exhibited their trips abroad, discovering the world, so satisfied with destiny, prancing at the beach. Nothing was there for me, for sure.

While my youngest spent hours in college, we had to drive 30 miles each morning to another district. Gas wasn’t cheap. My backside didn’t take kindly to hours of sitting in the car either. I saw no point in driving back home each time, so I grabbed My Antonia from the legendary box and set myself up to read all about her, on the unfolded seat of my cherry red hatchback, propped up on a couple of old pillows from bed, to contain these older loins decreased in mass.

I took breakfast in stages, and the morning coffee remained hot in a metal thermos. Cookies crumbled discreetly on the upholstery, gathering in the furrow of the driver’s seat. Time passed, the day slid lazily.

I read like before, when I had no commitments. Willa Carter’s book went back and forth from one city district to another, Monday to Friday, as Jim told the wonderful story of Antonia Shimerdas’ untamed spirit. The realistic storytelling, tidy descriptions, the earnest portrayal of the native natural surroundings didn’t need additions. All was perfect, all was Antonia, Jim, their part in the building of a nation, carved out of its earth, begun at the dugouts, moved upward with ambition, and spirit.

I wept when Jim went back to the countryside towards the end, to visit Antonia, after many years. I used to worry one of them might die before that day, but bodies weren’t frail like that, they could take quite a bit of the harsh wilderness of the agrestic country, before giving in to pain and disease.

What he met was even grander. Abundant in children, she’d borne the fruits of her incessant labor. A love of the land, the physicality of work, and the memories of her father’s own life story had cultivated her soul. Naturally proud of what she built, she seemed to know that her mission had been fulfilled. To tame Nebraska’s undomesticated scapes.

Antonia’s sturdy spirit spoke to me, amidst the electronic commute of chatty cellular notifications. They subdued under the rugged will that shaped her body, that lost almost all her teeth to pregnancy, but shone through her eyes, even in the haggard face of struggle. The climb out of scarcity, the accomplished garden pagoda, where they sat, and saw all her children play.

My Antonia lived inside.