Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Interview with Chris Baker: part 2

Chris Baker is the editor of Others Had It Worse: Sour Dock, Moonshine, and Hard Times in Davis County, Iowa, with text written by his grandmother, Vetra Covert. The book was released in September and is available now. University of Iowa Press acquisitions editor Holly Carver asked him a few questions about the book.

HC: Given their hardscrabble upbringing, it’s amazing to me that Vetra and her brothers and sisters all survived childhood. I mean, really, cow manure poultices? Were Vetra and her siblings unusually tough or unusually lucky?
CB: Well, I always though they were a tough lot compared to me. But in conversations with family members, it's apparent that they approached their lives with acceptance, not necessarily resignation. If the only available remedy is a cow manure poultice and it works, well, so be it. Of course, a little luck never hurts.

HC: After her impoverished childhood, do you know how Vetra reacted to the telephones, radios, automobiles—to the miracle of electricity and indoor plumbing—of her adult years?
CB: I really don’t have a lot of insight into that. She does write about her excitement the first time she listened to a radio. The neighbors would invite the family over to listen to boxing matches and country music from Nashville. I can say that I never saw her behind the wheel of a car, and I don’t believe that she had the slightest interest in learning how to drive.

HC: Cinnamon rolls are one of the treasures of Iowa baking. What other culinary treats did your grandmother produce?
CB: Oh, beef and noodles, dinner rolls, soup beans and corn bread, fried morel mushrooms. Those were my favorites. She could also make quick work of any wild game brought to her house and fry up a tasty dinner with just a little lard, flour, and salt and pepper. Of course, her cinnamon rolls were the undeniable favorite.

HC: You’ve honored your grandmother’s life; indeed, you’ve extended it into the future. What do you wish you could ask her now?
CB: Of course, the first time I interviewed her, I was around nineteen years old and, frankly, more concerned with all that comes with being twenty. I certainly missed a rare opportunity. After reading and absorbing her journal over the last few years, I do wish I had the opportunity to interview her one last time. At first glance, it is easy to miss the stories hidden between the lines in her journal. I certainly would like to know more about her relationship with her parents, especially her mother. I would also like to ask her about the early years of her marriage and how they managed to get by. At my own peril, I might even ask her to share any thoughts about me. 

Others Had It Worse: Sour Dock, Moonshine, and Hard Times in Davis County, Iowa by Vetra Covert and Chris Baker

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