We were recently blessed with an Amazon.com book and resource shower by some very caring supporters of the college who have had their eye on us for the last few years and shown incredible support in time, talent, and resources. The faculty have been giddy with delight waiting for all the materials to be catalogued and available for check out, but I have a confession. I cheated – just a little. Because I am the one assigned to catalogue and shelve all the materials, I already took one book home and read it cover to cover. Small perk of my job! And it was a pager turner!
Because I can be so verbose, I sometimes challenge myself to summarize a book, movie, or character in one word. For Eustacia Cutler’s biography, A Thorn in My Pocket, Temple Grandin’s family story as told by her mother, I can think of one word; one word to summarize her life as matriarch of the Grandin family and mother to an autistic child before autism had a viable definition: Gutsy. Or how about “Courageous?” “Intelligent” also works, as does “Spent” or finally “Rewarding,” although in all honesty that is not the overall thread weaving it’s way through this book.
Gutsy. I’m not sure what I was expecting when the appeal of learning more about Temple Grandin tempted me to pick out a book written about her family from her mother’s perspective. Perhaps I was thinking of humorous family anecdotes, neat happily-ever-after vignettes peppered with scientific research that helped solve Temple’s peculiarities. By contrast, it was more of a “shock and awe” telling. Cutler (her name by a 2nd marriage) chose raw honesty in portraying the demeaning habits of her first husband and the fear he struck in all of them as he practiced physical and emotional abuse, journalling for years a twist of lies to acuse his wife of insanity. It’s a page turner as the reader wonders if and how Mrs. Grandin will live through that relationsip in addition to raising four girls, including Temple who regularly battles her undiagnosed autism. Bullying, screaming, meltdowns, constant care, finding nannies, divorce, and advocacy wear on the mother and the reader. Is there hope this could possibly turn out well?
Courageous. How does a mother keep her sanity in such exhausting circumstances? Temple’s mother sought the fine arts, and found respite from abuse and renewed energy successfully auditioning for theatrical poetry readings, Class B jazz bar singing gigs, and acting, until shredded vocal cords forced her voice into silence for at least six weeks for speaking and seven years for singing. Minus a physical voice, her writing and constant research to figure out her daughter who would not accept a mother’s hug or touch pushed her toward constant and progressive goals. Not losing her sanity or herself so she could be there for her children and as an example for Temple kept her strong.
Intelligent. Woven throughout is an intelligent script about the history of medical and psychological thought and practices from the “Leave it to Beaver” era through modern breakthroughs. As a Harvard graduate, her advanced vocabulary and parallel examples from classic literature create a literary banquet for the mind. I had to defer to a dictionary numerous times to understand her vocabulary in targeted explanations of philosphy and thought as she tried to understand her husband, herself, and Temple and the family dynamic woven between all of them.
Spent. I appreciated her raw, gutsy honesty in spelling out this excruciating journey without giving it a syrupy sweet ending with rainbows swathed across the background. Her transparency about her difficulties offer a bond of understanding to others plodding a similar rocky path of unknowns with their children. Parents might come away from this book feeling more grateful to God that their journey is easy compared to hers, thankful for a support system unlike anything Cutler had, especially in the era in which Temple was born.
Finally, Cutler types a curious bibliography that includes: history, psychology, science, ethics, biographies, Temple’s works, public television programs, research and education, plays and fiction, and a few organizational references. All of these add to the credibility of her writing, research, and the journey of her thought processes through her nightmare years, but what an ending.
Her daughter went on to create such a successful system of herding cattle that 1/3 of the ranches in the US today use her system. She writes for magazines and books; she tours, speaks, and is quite an amazing overcomer in a man’s world of husbandry and ranching.
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