Book review: Huachuca Woman by Arletta Dawdy

Early in the 1950s, Josephine, or Granny Jo as the kids call her, begins telling her two grandchildren, Russell and Dina her life story. She’s about 75 years old and has a phenomenal memory. Russell listens, but also records her stories on tape.

It was a pleasant experience for me, reading this telling of a life. I can imagine sitting with my own grandmother and asking her about her life and times. Jo’s story is one of perseverance and courage through three marriages and life in the United States’ Southwest territory. It’s a story of growing up in the late 19th century, of life on a ranch, miles from civilization, of births and deaths, of hard times and good times. Most importantly, it’s a glimpse into the past.

Granny Jo lived from 1877 to 1961, 84-years. She tells the story in chapters that alternate between her time and her grandchildren’s time. The writing is lyrical, even poetic at times. Granny Jo’s voice is remarkably consistent and was for me, authentic, i.e. I could easily believe this was a real person telling the story of her real life. The telling progresses in a calm, easy-going style of someone who has done it all and seen it all. Stories of the routine and the outrageous roll along with the same cadence.

The periods of time chosen were of course deliberate, but successfully opportunistic. I can’t imagine today’s teen or pre-teen sitting quietly for an hour or more listening to the life history of an elder, much less giving it such value that it should be recorded. Her life bridged the turn of the century and saw incredible advances in industrial technology, transportation and population. It included inventions we consider so ordinary we’ve forgotten there was a time when they didn’t exist: the automobile, the airplane, the telephone.

I can recommend this book as an easy way to learn history, experience the past and get to know the quintessential grandmother, Josephine.

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