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I lay in my jail cell on a squeaky iron bunk, gazing at the stained mattress above me, and I remembered the day I first understood the meaning of the word ironic. I couldn't help smiling at ... well, at the irony of it. The meaning had become clear to me ten years ago on the day my grandmother, Beatrice Monroe Garner, was arrested.
That day had also been a Saturday-just like today. Mother had been distressed because Grandma Bebe, as we called her, would miss church services tomorrow if Father didn't go down to the jailhouse and bail her out.
"She can't spend the Sabbath in prison!" Mother had wailed. "Please, John. We have to get her out of there!"
I was going to miss church services tomorrow, too, come to think of it. Who would teach my Sunday school class of ten-year-old girls? As my father undoubtedly would have pointed out: "Perhaps you should have considered their welfare before getting yourself arrested in the first place, Harriet."
I had been the same age as my Sunday school girls when Grandma Bebe landed in jail that day. My sister, Alice, and I had been eating breakfast with our parents when the telephone rang. The device was brand-spanking-new back then in 1910, and we all stopped eating, listening to see if itwould chime our party line exchange of three short rings. When it did, Mother unhooked the earphone and cupped it to her ear, standing on tiptoes to speak into the little cone-shaped mouthpiece. She burst into tears the moment she replaced the receiver.
"That ... that was ... the police!" she managed to tell us through her sobs. "They arrested my mother last night and ... and ... she's in jail!"
My older sister gasped. She was the feminine, fluttery type of girl who did a great deal of gasping. "Arrested! But why? What did Grandma do?"
"Oh, how could they do such a thing to her?" Mother cried. "She isn't a criminal!"
"Is there any more coffee?" my father asked calmly. "I would like another cup, if you don't mind."
"Oh, John! How can you drink coffee at a time like this? Don't you care?"
"Beatrice Garner cares nothing at all for her family's reputation, so why should I care what happens to her? She knew the consequences when she and that temperance gang of hers started running around smashing whiskey barrels. She made her bed when she decided to become another Carrie Nation, and now she'll have to lie in it."
This brought another cloudburst of weeping from Mother. Alice rose from the table to comfort her. Father sighed and handed me his empty cup. "Fill this for me, would you, Harriet? That's a good girl." Our hired girl had the morning off, so I obediently took his cup to the kitchen to refill it, then sat down and waited for act two of this drama.
"Please, John. I'm begging you," Mother said. "Please get her out of that terrible place."
"And that's another thing," Father said. "What kind of an example is she setting for our daughters?" He poured cream into the coffee I'd brought him and slowly stirred it as if not expecting a reply.
Aside from begging and weeping, my mother could do nothing to help Grandma Bebe-which was ironic, since Grandma was working hard to give women more power in this world. And Grandma Bebe despised tears. "Women should never use them as weapons," she always insisted, "especially to prevail upon a man to change his mind." Yet, ironically, my mother had resorted to tears in order to persuade my father. Grandma Bebe would not have approved.
But Grandma was in jail.
And tears were ultimately what convinced Father to go downtown and bail her out. Alice had joined the deluge of weeping, and Father wasn't strong enough to stop the flood or stand firm against it. No man was. My sister's heart was as soft and gooey as oatmeal. She could turn her tears on and off like a modern-day plumbing faucet and was capable of unleashing buckets of them.
Alice was sixteen and so beautiful that brilliant men became stupid whenever they were around her. The moment her wide, blue eyes welled up, every man in sight would pull out a white handkerchief and offer it to her as if waving in surrender. Grandma Bebe had no patience with her.
"Your sister could do a great deal of good for the cause," she once told me. "Alice is the kind of woman who men go to war over-like Helen of Troy. But she'll squander it all, I'm sorry to say. She'll surrender to the first humbug who dishes her a little sweet-talk. Women like her always do. It's too bad," Grandma said with a sigh. "Your sister believes the lie that women are the weaker sex. Her prodigious use of tears perpetuates that myth.... But there's hope for you, Harriet," Grandma Bebe added. Whenever the subject of Alice's amazing beauty arose, Grandma would pat my unruly brown hair and say, "Thank goodness you're such a plain child. You'll have to rely on your wits."
The fact that Alice came to Grandma's rescue with tears is ironic, isn't it? I didn't join the torrent of weeping that morning. I didn't want to let Grandma down.
I loved my grandmother, and I greatly admired her ferocity and passion. Mind you, these weren't qualities that polite society admired in women, but they fascinated me. Even so, I didn't want to be like my fiery grandmother and end up in jail, any more than I wanted to be a dutiful wife like Mother or a virtuous siren like Alice. But how was I supposed to live as a modern woman, born just before the dawn of the twentieth century? What other choices did I have? That's the question I was endeavoring to answer when I ended up in jail.
But I was only ten that fateful day when Grandma got arrested and still young enough to be ignored most of the time unless Father needed more coffee. I was a keen observer, however, absorbing everything that went on around me as I began drawing a map for my life. Grandma Bebe told me that everyone's life led somewhere, and so I needed to have a plan.
"Grip the rudder and steer, Harriet. Don't just drift gently down the stream. If you don't have a map, you might run aground somewhere or end up crushed against the rocks. Always know where you're headed."
She had given up on coaching Mother and Alice-her current saviors, Ironically-and had begun putting all of her effort into shaping me. She made that decision after she saw me kick Tommy O'Reilly in the shin one day when he tried to bully me into giving him my candy. Tommy was the constable's son, and he bullied all the kids in town. But that day I took a step toward him as if about to give him a cinnamon stick and kicked his bony shin, instead.
"You, my dear, have potential!" Grandma said as Tommy hopped around on one leg, howling. "You'll never float downstream, Harriet. You know how to paddle!"
My map was still just a pencil sketch, to be sure. In later years I would embellish it as each new experience added details to the picture. In time, I would carefully identify all of the dangers to avoid, all of the pitfalls to be wary of. I was trying to heed Grandma's advice, you see, but had she heeded her own? Had she deliberately steered her way into the town jail, or had she let go of the rudder? Or misplaced her map? If she ever got out of jail again, I intended to ask her.
"Please, Father, please!" Alice begged, kneeling at his feet like someone out of the Bible. "Please don't leave Grandma there forever!" Alice had worked herself into such a frenzy that she was about to faint. She was a champion at swooning-another womanly trait Grandma loathed. All Alice had to do was lift her dainty hand to her brow and flutter her eyelashes, and every man in sight would race to catch her before she fell.
Father set down his coffee cup and turned to me. "Get the smelling salts, Harriet. That's a good girl."
Alice was still kneeling, so at least she didn't have too far to fall this time. As I sprinted upstairs to retrieve the vial of ammonia salts, I heard Father say, "Oh, very well. You can stop all the caterwauling. I'll go down and bail Beatrice out of jail."
I didn't blame Father for wanting to flee from the rising floodwaters. I raced back to the kitchen and pulled the cork on the smelling salts, then shoved them under Alice's dainty nose. When order was restored, I followed my father out to the front hallway.
"May I go with you to rescue Grandma?"
"Certainly not! Jail is no place for a delicate young lady."
Back then I didn't believe him, but the truth of his statement was now quite clear to me as I lay in my own jail cell.
Father plucked his duster and driving gloves from the hallstand and stuffed his hat on his balding head, muttering darkly about Grandma Bebe as he headed out the door. I skipped along beside him, nodding in support. Together we started up the Model-T Ford, and I jumped into the passenger seat. The car rattled and coughed all the way to the end of the block before he realized I was still there.
"Wait! Harriet ... what ... you can't come along!"
I didn't argue or weep. I simply looked up at him, eye to eye, jutting out my chin a little. That's how I faced Tommy O'Reilly whenever he tried to bully me at school-I would stare silently back at him, arms crossed, my foot aimed at his shin. The stare I gave Father wasn't quite as defiant as the one I used on Tommy, but it had the same effect.
"Oh, bother it all, Harriet! I suppose you're already here ..." Father turned his attention back to the car as it sputtered and nearly died.
"It needs more throttle," I said, pulling out the lever. "Advance the spark a little."
"But you aren't coming inside, Harriet. I mean it. Jail isn't the sort of place ... and your grandmother has no business ..."
I nodded dutifully-and followed him inside the police station just the same. Father went straight in to see the constable, Thomas O'Reilly, Sr. He told us that Grandma Bebe had been arrested after trying to close down a saloon last night. Most of the other members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union had gone home peacefully once the police arrived to break up the protest, but not Grandma. She had refused to give up the fight against the evils of Demon Rum.
"And I'm afraid we had to confiscate her axe," he finished.
Father nodded and paid her fine. In no time at all, Grandma Bebe was liberated from jail. We heard her shouting all the way down the hall as a policeman tried to lead her out of the cell.
"No, wait! Unhand me this instant! I'm not ready to leave! This jail is filled with drunkards-the very people I'm trying to rescue."
Constable O'Reilly rolled his eyes. "It's been a very long night, John. Get her out of here. Please."
"Did you know," Grandma continued as the police handed back her purse and coat, "that there is one saloon for every three hundred people in this country? There are more saloons than there are schools, libraries, hospitals, theaters, or parks-and certainly more saloons than churches."
We drove Grandma home.
Like the brave soldiers who had gone to war forty-five years earlier to battle the evils of slavery, my grandmother was willing to sacrifice her own liberty, if necessary, to set men free from slavery to alcohol. And that was the ultimate irony, I thought, as I lay on the lumpy jail cot pondering my own arrest and imprisonment. You see, Grandma Bebe had recently won the war against Demon Rum. The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States' Constitution had become law a few months ago on January 29, 1920, making the manufacture, sale, and transportation of all alcoholic beverages strictly prohibited.
And I was in jail for defying it.
Yes, I found my situation very ironic. There would be no tears of sympathy for me from Mother or Alice-much less Grandma Bebe. And Father would undoubtedly say, "You made your bed, Harriet, and now you'll have to lie in it."
So how did I end up becoming a criminal? I've been pondering that question all night. Perhaps the best way to search for an answer is to start at the very beginning.
She was born in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania on her parents' farm, nestled in a valley in the Pocono Mountains. Beatrice Aurelia Monroe arrived on the same day, month, and year that the first Women's Rights Convention was held: July 19, 1848. Of course she was too young on the day of her birth to realize what a portentous coincidence this was, but she would later declare her birthday a sign from Providence.
While Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and the rest of that august group of women were signing "The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions" in Seneca Falls, New York, and firing the first shot in the battle for women's rights, Great Grandma Hannah Monroe was also doing battle as she labored to give birth to Grandma Bebe-who had the audacity to come out backward. Bebe was destined to do everything in life unconventionally, so arriving feet-first was only the beginning. She also had the audacity to be a girl. Her father, Henry Monroe, had directed his wife to produce a boy-which seems a bit selfish to me, seeing as he already had four sons: James, age nine, William, seven, Joseph, five, and Franklin, who was three.
"What do you mean he's a girl?" an indignant Henry asked the midwife when she told him the news. He stomped into the bedroom in his work boots and peeked into the baby's diaper, convinced that the midwife had missed an important detail. When it was obvious that she hadn't, he handed the howling bundle back to his wife. "This was supposed to be a boy, Hannah. A man can never have too many sons to help him out."
"I know, my dear," she said gently, "but the Good Lord has seen fit to bless us with a girl this time."
Perhaps the Good Lord realized that Hannah also could use some help around the farm, feeding and clothing her strapping husband and four growing sons. That's how Hannah chose to view her little daughter-as God's good gift. She gazed down at the baby and smiled as Henry tromped out of the room. "Don't mind him, my little one. He always gets testy when his dinner is late."
Dinner was late that day on account of Beatrice coming out backward and taking more time to arrive than she should have. But Hannah was a devout Christian woman, and as soon as the midwife spread the news of the baby's arrival throughout the little farming community of New Canaan, Pennsylvania, the other church women quickly drove out to share portions of their own dinners with Hannah's disgruntled husband and four hungry sons. Of course the pantry was filled with the provisions that Hannah had prepared for her time of confinement, but Henry and the boys were incapable of crossing into such feminine territory as the pantry to forage for their own food. They were even less capable of reheating any of it on the stove.
Once Henry's belly was filled, his attitude toward his new daughter did seem to soften, slightly. "I suppose we can learn to make the best of it," he grumbled as he removed his boots at the end of the day and climbed into bed beside his wife. "There's always next time."
Hannah swallowed a rash reply at the mention of "next time," the memory of her harrowing breech labor still fresh in her mind. She whispered a swift, silent prayer to the Almighty, instead. Then she rested her hand on her husband's arm and said, "She's a beautiful, healthy baby-thanks be to God. I would like to christen her Beatrice, if it's all the same to you. Beatrice Aurelia Monroe." Henry didn't reply to Hannah's request until after she'd finished cooking his breakfast the next morning and had set it on the table in front of him. He crunched into a piece of bacon and said, "That name would be acceptable, I suppose."
Hannah had learned patience during her ten years of marriage. She hadn't expected a reply any sooner than noon. Henry required a sufficient amount of time to pray about such matters and didn't like to be rushed. Three-year-old Franklin, who couldn't pronounce "Beatrice," shortened the baby's name to Bebe. The name stuck, and my sister and I still call her Grandma Bebe seventy-two years later.
The first few years of Grandma's life passed uneventfully, by her account. She grew to be a quiet, nervous child, which was understandable since everyone else on the farm was bigger and louder and stronger than she was. With four older brothers to dodge-along with a team of horses, a pair of oxen, and a herd of milk cows-at times it felt as though there were a conspiracy to trample poor Bebe underfoot. The first useful phrase she comprehended as a toddler was, "Get out of the way, Bebe!"
Excerpted from Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin Copyright © 2009 by Lynn Austin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 24, 2011
This book was chosen by my women's Christian book club as the feature read a few months ago. WOW! The group dialogue that this story generated laid the foundation for an incredible and touching sharing session. It was enlightening to hear how many women (of various generations) had experiences in their own lives that mirrored those of the characters in this book. Lynn brought these characters to life and the story home, in a very powerful way. There were ten women who read this book together, and on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best you've ever read) gave this book either a 9 or a 10. I think that says it all.
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Posted January 2, 2010
The book Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin is written as if it is told by the main character Harriet, but it also travels back in time with remembrances of her Grandma's bravery during the "Great Flood of 1876." Harriet's character develops through her own experiences, but she is able to learn from the experiences her Grandma shares with her. This is a story of helping others, right and wrong, and consequences.
Bethany House publishers provided me with a copy of Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin. In return for this book, I get to blog about it and share my opinion.
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Posted January 14, 2011
had only read one Lynn Austin book prior to this one and have to say this has been on my back burner for awhile, even though it did sound interesting. What a great story to show where we as women and our country have came from. Slavery, prohibition, loss, womens rights, etc. This book has a little of it all. Women who start out weak and end up showing their true colors. This was one that I actually marked a lot in and I feel will be a great discussion book. I am so excited about sharing it with the great women in my book club. Keep up the good work Ms Austin, your writing on this book was great. And thank you for bringing a highlight to women and the courage that we too can possess if we add God to the mix.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 14, 2010
Love the historical context of Austin's novels, and I love her women - strong and opinionated, going against the grain of society at the time. Grandmother Bebe is priceless. I like the way this story is told through multi-generations.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 25, 2010
Posted May 1, 2010
Another great Austin book from the first page and gets better! She gives us so much "meat" in a novel and not a lot of fluff like some Christian fiction -- extremely well written! GREAT JOB Lynne!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 11, 2010
This book I loved because it pulled all my favorite American history eras into one - and one lovable family too. I love the women in this book. They are strong Christian women who know who they are truly dependent on. Harriet is feisty and intelligent, Lucy is determined and inventive, Bebe is strong and smart, and Hannah is wise and brave. They are all so different but have so much in common at the same time. Hannah, Bebe, and Lucy have all backed causes that were and should still be important to women; holding their homes together, saving others, and the right to vote. I think the other reviews cover the rest suffieciently, so I won't waste time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 31, 2009
I really enjoyed this book, which tells the stories of four generations of women working to make the world a better place. Hannah fought for abolition, her daughter Beatrice (Bebe) worked to get Prohibition passed, Bebe's daughter, Lucy, was a suffragette and Harriet...well, Harriet has a smaller way to make things better. And while the book is mostly about Bebe, we learn a lot about Hannah, Lucy and Harriet, too. And Harriet's path is mostly what keeps the book moving. It opens with her (Harriet) in jail, and most of the book serves to answer the question of exactly why she's there.
We learn about the crime she committed early on, but we don't learn why until the last few pages.
If you're a fan of historical fiction or strong women, you'll like this. (Note: it's also Christian fiction.)
I will definitely be seeking out more of Ms. Austin's books; I love her writing style and her characters.
Posted December 26, 2009
In Though Waters Roar, you will hear of the tale involving three generations of females. Each one swimming against the current in their own way in their circumstances. Through the reminiscing of Harriet as she spends a night in jail after being arrested during Prohibition, we follow the lives of her grandmother Bebe and mother Lucy.
Bebe moves from farm life to high society with her marriage. Day by day struggling to stay afloat in their new surrounding she finds her niche in helping the less fortunate much to the chagrin of her hoity toity mother-in-law.
Lynn Austin weaves a compelling historical story, focusing on change and the never changing God. While the circumstances in life may bend like a river and "though waters roar" only true change of attitude and contentment can be found with Him.
Posted December 5, 2009
"As I said before, Grandma Bebe never did tell a story in a straight line like the chapters in a book. Following the thread of her sagas was like chasing a startled rabbit through the woods -- you never knew when it was going to turn and head in a new direction."
This novel's main character, Harriet, spends the majority of the story reflecting from a jail cell on conversations she's had throughout her life with her mother and grandmother (whom she feels will be particularly disappointed in her reasons for being incarcerated). As she states later in the book, Harriet comes from a long line of heroines that have fought for various causes. She harbors the desire to be a heroine herself, but feels like all the battles have been won by the generations before her.
Covering the topics of slavery, the underground railroad, the civil war, alcoholism, depression, prohibition, women's suffrage ... and more, this book spans four generations of women and the struggles they faced in their society and in their marriages. Masterfully woven into their lives is the analogy of water. The beauty of a waterfall reflects the "swept away" feeling of a young couple from two very different lives caught up in love. Unfortunately, the destructive force of water breaking apart a dam - long been beaten against by too much rain ... seems to greatly match the turmoil within the civil war veteran husband. Beautifully done!
Along the way, the three generations of women before her have found peace with their circumstances by trusting God to lead them in the right way to help others, and to face their own fears whenever bucking the system became necessary. Harriet has the desire to follow in their footsteps, but does she have the right motivation? And will Tommy O'Reilly help to change her mind about men? (I won't spoil the fun of finding out on your own.)
This is a wonderfully written book, and one I would highly recommend to others!
Harriet Sherwood has a problem. She was arrested for transporting liquor in her grandmother's car. Grandma Bebe, or Beatrice Monroe Garner, just happens to be Roseton, PA's leading champion for Prohibition.
Harriet's story unfolds as she reminisces about the irony of her current state. The female side of Harriet's family tree includes strong, determined, and Godly women, and Harriet longs to make the same impact that these ladies did. But how can she, if she is in jail? Harriet knows that Grandma Bebe and the rest of the family will be less than pleased about her situation. Arresting Officer Tommy O'Reilly puts an interesting spin on things too. Turns out Tommy is the bully that a young Harriet stood up to in grade school. Whatever will Harriet do? Can she extricate herself from her situation without causing too much shame for her family? Will she live up to the legacy Grandma Bebe and the others left for her?
I love Lynn Austin's books! She tells a wonderful tale, leading the reader through history and the complexities of life, while keeping Biblical principles and priorities in line. I highly recommend this entertaining and stirring story of a young woman who wants to make a difference doing something right.
Posted November 23, 2009
Lynn Austin's, Depression based book, Hidden Places is one of my favorite Christian fiction books ever. Though Waters Roar very much reminded me of that book. It was very touching and it was told in a similar fashion with flashbacks to the pasts of strong and determined women. The last book I've read by Ms. Austin, A Proper Pursuit, was okay but this book is going on my keeper shelf right beside Candle in the Darkness, Fire by Night, and Hidden Places!
It is very seldom that a book makes me cry but this one certainly did. The struggles that all of the women faced, especially Bebe's really pull at your heart. Throughout the book the women struggle with relationships, fighting for equal rights, and most importantly their relationship with God. This is not a short story by any means (430 pages) but I finished it in two sittings. I stayed up well past my bedtime reading 3/4 of it and woke up today eager to read what happened next.
If you like history, romance, drama, a great faith message etc. you should read this book. Ms. Austin best works are the ones that span generations like Hidden Places and now this book! I can't wait to see what she comes out with next! She is definitely one of my favorite Christian fiction authors!
*Many thanks to Jim @ Bethany House for providing this book for me to review!*
Posted October 7, 2009
Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin is a powerful novel of three generations of women fighting to find their place in the world. When Harriet finds herself in jail, she can't help but remember her Grandma Bebe's own time in jail as she fought for various causes during her lifetime. Harriet reflects on her grandmother's life story to try and make sense of how she ended up here. I don't think it's possible for Austin to write a bad story. Every novel she writes sings with history and beauty. You can tell that she has labored to carefully craft every phrase and description. Harriet's wry story-telling keeps the humor in a often devastating tale, and because she refuses to feel sorry for herself, the reader can't help but offer admiration. It's Grandma Bebe's story that carries the day, from fighting her husband's alcoholism to running the family business to helping a city fight cholera, she was on the frontlines of every battle that came her way. Every word, every phrase works to build an unforgettable story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 7, 2009
Lynn Austin can write! I completed this 428 page book and sighed with satisfaction. Her characters are well-rounded, flawed people; I make connections to each one and anxiously turn the page to find out what will happen next. The plot is a series of jigsaw pieces, carefully put into place until a satisfactory picture emerges.
The theme is one of relationships between mothers and daughters as well as husbands and wives, while the setting spans four generations of U.S. history. Read this one. You won't be disappointed.
Posted September 2, 2012
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Posted July 15, 2014
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Posted October 26, 2011
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