Friday, November 27, 2020

Highly Recommended: THE RANGE ETERNAL by Louise Erdrich

The Range Eternal
Written by Louise Erdrich
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Published by University of Minnesota Press
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended

When I was a little girl on our reservation (Nambé Owingeh), I sat by my grandmother's wood stove and watched her cook and tend the fire in her stove. In The Range Eternal we see a mother and daughter standing at their stove, making soup. 

Here's a photo of that page. Look at the bottom right corner. See that dark rectangle next to that circle? That rectangle is a slot for a tool that lets you lift that circular cut-out of the stovetop so you can put wood right underneath that spot, to make the spot extra hot for your cooking. My grandmother would put a slice of bread just over that rectangle. As the bread toasted, a rectangular shape would emerge on my bread. I don't have a memory of talking about that rectangle. It is just something my grandmother did to my toast. In another spot on the stove, she used a copper bottom one-cup measuring cup to make my oatmeal. It is such a warm memory! 

But--there's also some scary memories, too. The ceiling of my grandmother's house was boards supported by beams. Those beams had once been trees. My grandfather cut the trees down, then cut the branches off, and then peeled the bark away, leaving a rough beam. In my childhood imagination, some of the spots where the branches had been cut away formed scary-looking faces. The nearness of my grandparents chased those frights away. 

Childhood imagination and the warmth of memory permeates The Range Eternal. The little girl standing with her mother by the stove imagines a Windigo, and deer, and bear, and horses, and the buffalo you see on the book cover. Time passes and the arrival of electrical wires means the stove is moved out of the house and an electric one takes its place. But--it is missed. More time passes and the little girl grows up and still, as an adult, feels like something is missing. One day she sees a Range Eternal in an antique store and knows what was missing. It is the stove. So, she gets it. The closing pages show us the woman and her children by their Range Eternal. 

It is a marvelous story that I absolutely adore! The Author's Note gives us something, too. The Range Eternal of this story was her grandmother's stove. Her mother talked about that stove, with affection. The illustration with the note is by Dr. Angela Erdrich--Louise Erdrich's sister. It is of their mother, standing in front of a Range Eternal. Dr. Erdrich's art adds layers of warmth to the story told in The Range Eternal. 

I've clearly made a personal connection to The Range Eternal. For me, it evokes a lot of memories. We had electricity in my grandmother's house but we did not have running water or gas, yet. Both would come before I was ten years old. Though they made life easier in some ways, other things are lost. Those things hold powerful feelings. On a low table, my grandparents had buckets of water that they'd get from the river each morning. I'd go with them, sometimes. In the wintertime, we'd have to chip away at the ice. Next to the buckets was a dipper to scoop water for cooking and cleaning. Sometimes, though, I'd drink right from that dipper.  Where is that dipper, now? 

I'd best bring this reminiscing to a close and say -- get a copy of The Range Eternal. First published in 2002, I'm thrilled that the University of Minnesota Press brought it out again. It is part history, part family story, and very Native. Spend time with it and your own memories!

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