The Southwest Corner, by Mildred Walker, is a re-read for me. I read it first about 15 years ago and really liked it. Over spring break, while at my Oregon home, I found it sitting on the shelf and decided I needed to read it again at this age and stage of my life. It’s a beautifully written little book.
The southwest corner of an old New England home was often a one-story, small addition on the house where the elderly of the family spent their last years. The southwest corner gets the most sun so the space is warm and comfortable, and an elderly member of the family can retain the dignity of independence while still having help and family close by. It’s a lovely idea…
In this story, Marcia Elder is 83 years young. She is a quiet, sensitive introvert living in her family home, the home in which she was born and raised, where she lived as a young married woman, and where her husband had tragically died early in their marriage. The house was the only one on the mountainside outside of town. She’s been fiercely independent all her life, and she loves the isolation and natural beauty surrounding her hillside home. She watches the storms, the wildlife, the changing of the seasons, and she cherishes the quiet moments of her daily life with her tea, her piano, her books, and her home. She is not lonely, and cherishes her solitude, but after a particularly difficult winter, she realizes that she is reaching an age where she needs more help, so she advertises for someone to share her home so that she won’t be alone.
A woman from town answers her ad and comes to live in the house, and the complications begin. Bea Cannon is almost the polar opposite of Marcia Elder and has no understanding or appreciation of the sensitive nature of Mrs. Elder, nor of her deep connection to the house and environs. She has an overbearing personality, and Marcia begins to wither under her strong opinions and ways.
This story touched me in a number of different ways. We all wonder what will happen to us as we get older, and those of us that are ‘getting on‘, as my Grandma used to say, wonder and worry and try to plan for that inevitable day when we can no longer be as fiercely independent as we are today. We don’t want to lose our independence and the things that bring us the most joy in life, but we especially don’t want to lose our identity, our sense of self . We don’t want to be subsumed by someone else, and we don’t want to become a burden.
Of course, I thought a lot about my 93-year-old mother as I read this book. Those of you who have followed my blog over the years know that my mother is an amazing, independent woman…my inspiration. The view of life from The Southwest Corner gave me a new perspective of her and made me appreciate all over again the difficult decisions she has made about the changes she has faced over the last 18 years since my father passed.
This was a book that really made me think. I identified closely with the character of Marcia Elder, liked her very much, and enjoyed the time spent with her as she found her way into her years beyond 83.