‘White Sandals in the Snow’ tells the story of exceptional women at exceptional times | Local News

When Billie-Fae author Gerard Gill tells you the story of mother Ruth Leonard in his book “White Sandals in the Snow,” remember that much of it is true.

At the start of the novel, readers meet Ruth in Battle Creek, Michigan, where she is diagnosed by the famous John Harvey Kellogg with arterial sclerosis, who said she would not live long, especially if she continued in school, married and had children. To this, Gill said his mother told him “Well, if I have to die, I might as well do what I do.” That’s exactly what she did with her life.

“If you have the ‘I can survive this’ attitude, you can survive a lot,” Gill said. “She smiled through it all.”

The events of the book are often seen through Gill’s mother, an exceptional and independent woman who didn’t always play by the rules of the times, but stayed true to herself.

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Whether it was her life as a gym teacher, going against her mother’s wishes to marry her husband, an immigrant and Lutheran, which was too much for the Methodist family, or simply choosing to live as freely and independently as she chooses, the stories blend together to tell the story of America’s change in the world in the 20th century. Gill, now 81, plays a small role in the book, she said, but the women in the family before her are the main characters.

And she did. Gill’s mother is central to the story in which her 108 years of life spanned the 20th century. Through the eyes of Ruth, her mother Hattie-Becky and her grandmother Lucinda, they move from life as a grandmother as a twice-widowed Civil War veteran to life before and after the Great Depression, World War II and all other changes. over the century.

“Someone told me that he felt like he was living in the 20th century after reading the book, there are a lot of details about life,” Gill said.

Gill, now 89, could then answer some of the questions about life, but between her own library, the public library or her adult children with smartphones, she said she checked and rechecked to try to keep the story as accurate as possible. .

Much of the narrative comes from oral history passed down through the family, but in some cases for the novel Gill had to fill in gaps and add narrative flair in places. One of the times the historical novel takes on a little license is when Ruth embarks on sulky racing, a kind of harness racing with horses. While Ruth was certainly that, some of the details of the race and the people she met needed embellishment for the story to continue.

These stories intertwine, Gill said, to tell the larger story of women in a changing world, but not always in a positive way. While Ruth was able to attend college, Hattie-Becky and Lucinda, who was blind, had to guide the family through a number of events, including the Great Depression. Hard times had the family living in tents at one point, another time Ruth had to walk in sandals in the snow to get to the store, where the title of the book comes from, but through it all, the resilience of Ruth and her family shone through.

“You know the saying about life and lemons? My mom made a lot of lemonade,” Gill said. It was this vision of not taking a day for granted and taking care of herself with diet and exercise that Gill says has kept her mother alive for over a century.

Gill said she wanted to document a lot of her mother’s life, but she also thinks readers can learn from the book while being entertained by the evolving relationships between the characters.

In 2017, Gill previously wrote “The Sergeant Major’s Wife”, which observes family life in post-World War II Europe. She is already working on her next book “Zebra in the Hall”.

Follow Ben Gibson on Facebook and Twitter at @BenGibsonSRL

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