Charms for the Easy Life

Charms for the Easy Life

by Kaye Gibbons


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060760250
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/05/2005
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 178,084
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Kaye Gibbons is the author of four previous novels: Ellen Foster, A Virtuous Woman, A Cure for Dreams, and Charms for the Easy Life. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and five children.


Raleigh, North Carolina, and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

May 5, 1960

Place of Birth:

Nash County, North Carolina


Attended North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1978-1983

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Already by her twentieth birthday, my grandmother was an excellent midwife, in great demand. Her black bag bulged with mysteries in vials. This occupation led her to my grandfather, whose job was operating a rope-and-barge ferry that traveled across the Pasquotank River. A heavy cable ran from shore to shore, and he pulled the cable and thus the barge carrying people, animals, everything in the world, across the river. My grandmother was a frequent passenger, going back and forth over the river to catch babies, nurse the sick, and care for the dead as well. I hear him singing as he pulls her barge. At first it may have annoyed her, but soon it was a sound she couldn't live without. She may have made up reasons to cross the river so she could hear him and see him. Think of a man content enough with quiet nights to work a river alone. Think of a man content to bathe in a river and drink from it, too. As for what he saw when he looked at my grandmother, if she looked anything like my mother's high school graduation photograph, she was dazzling, her green eyes glancing from his to the water to the shore. Between my grandmother, her green eyes and mound of black hair, and the big-cookie moon low over the Pasquotank, it must have been all my grandfather could do to deposit her on the other side of the river. Imagine what he felt when she told him her name was Clarissa Kate but she insisted on being called Charlie Kate. She probably told him that Clarissa was a spineless name.

Now, some facts of her life I have not had to half invent by dream. She and my grandfather were married by a circuit rider in 1902 and lived in a tiny cabin on thePasquotank, completely cut off from everybody but each other. My grandmother continued to nurse people who lived across the river, and soon Indian women in the vicinity came to prefer her root cures to their own. My mother was born here in 1904. She was delivered by an old Indian woman named Sophia Snow, thus her name, Sophia Snow Birch. My grandmother became hung in one of those long, deadly labors common to women of the last century. After thirty-six hours of work with little result, my grandmother decided she would labor standing, holding on to the bedpost for support, letting gravity do what it would. Sophia, however, persuaded her to be quilled, and so a measure of red pepper was blown up my grandmother's nose through the end of a feather freshly plucked from one of her many peacocks. My grandmother fell into a sneezing frenzy, and when she recovered enough to slap Sophia, she did. Sophia slapped her back, earning both my grandmother's respect and an extra dollar. Within the hour, my mother was born.

She told me she had a wild-animal sort of babyhood. She remembered the infant bliss of sunning on a pallet while her mother tended her herbs. Her parents kept sheep on free range in the yard, and my mother told me how she had stood by a caldron and soaked the wool down into indigo with a boat paddle twice as tall as she was. She said to me, "We were like Pilgrim settlers. Everything had to be done, and we did everything."

They left Pasquotank County in 1910. The suicide of Camelia, my grandmother's twin sister, made it impossible for her to stay there. They were so bound together that as small children, when they slept in the same crib, they awakened every morning each sucking the other's thumb. Grief for Camelia hounded my grandmother from the place where her family had lived for five generations. Within days after Camelia's hydrocephalic son died, his wildly sorrowful father wandered out and lay like one already dead across the railroad tracks, to be run over by the afternoon train. Camelia lost her mind immediately. My grandmother implored her sister to come stay with her, but she would not. She stayed alone in her house and handled baby clothes and wrung her hands in the clothes of her husband and baby until these clothes and she herself were shredded and unrecognizable. My grandmother would go each day and change Camelia's soiled dresses and linens while she walked all through the house naked, moaning, "Oh, my big-headed baby! Oh, the man I adored!"

Just when my grandmother was wondering how much worse things would become, Camelia developed a fixation on Teddy Roosevelt, writing love letters to the White House which were opened at the local post office and made available to anyone who wanted a good snicker. The Roosevelt fixation continued a long time, too long, as told by the fact that when Camelia's body was found, with great razor gashes at her neck, wrists, and elbows, there was a note from her idea of Mr. Roosevelt on her kitchen table. It said:

Dere Camelia,

go an git yor belovet husbendzs razer and take it to bed wit yu. it wuz a mistak the babi bean born. go be Wit him and yor belovet in paridiz.

Luv Sinserle,Theodor

Among her other personal effects, my grandmother found more than a hundred notes Camelia had written to herself from Mr. Roosevelt.

My grandfather did not want to leave Pasquotank County, but the government's decision to scrap the ferry for a modem steel bridge satisfied my grandmother's urgent need to leave. She was so relieved that her sighs all but created wind. The only decision they needed to make was where to go. Theychose Wake County because my grandfather was convinced that this was a place overflowing with gorgeous opportunities even for an illiterate barge operator. He had never been to Wake County himself, but he had ferried agreat many of what he took to be highly respectable gentlemen from there. I bet they were not. I bet he simply had no basis for comparison, and that these men were just farmers in clean clothes.

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Charms for the Easy Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is only one novel I recommend more often and with more enthusiasm --although not MUCH more! This is one of the few novels I've read as many times over. Without being loud or flashy, and with no event-inspired beginning/middle/end, it's a can't-put-it-down book. A young woman, Margaret, simply writes her life, largely by telling you about the life of her Grandmother. Through that account, her audience gets to experience the fascinatingly peculiar (thanks to Grandmother) growing up experience of both Margaret, and her mother, Sophie. (Sophie gets around to growing up a bit late in life!) I love a book that makes the reader think and feel, but rather than being tiring, is energizing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I adored this book ! I live in Raleigh, North Carolina and this book is so lovingly true to the 'southern way'. It was just too short. Fell in love.
jettstream on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Hands down, one of my all-time favorites.
CatieN on LibraryThing 3 months ago
The book is set in North Carolina in the early 1900s through World War II. The grandma, Charlie Kate Birch, is a no-nonsense, frugal woman whose husband has abandoned her (she gets her revenge eventually!) who practices medicine without a license but is almost famous for how well she does it. Her daughter Sophia is headstrong and beautiful, marries in haste and has lots of regrets. Her daughter Margaret is the star of the book, and this is really the story of her coming of age. She is also strong and no-nonsense just like her grandmother. Quirky and wonderful book.
quirkylibrarian on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Wonderfully character-driven novel. Charlie Kate's character is amusing and admirable even as she overshadows shy Margaret. The relatively sedate pacing sped up to a tidy, if predictable, end.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Thus is a truly stunning novel. Gibbons gives us the story of three generations of women living together in semi-rural North Carolina. The time line goes from just before the Great Depression until the middle of WWII. There are three women: Charlie Kate - the grandmother and 'healing woman'; Sophia -her stubborn daughter who reluctantly assists her mother, and Margaret, the shy, book-loving granddaughter who adores Charlie Kate and tries to learn as much as she can from her. Each brings a unique persona to the whole. Their lives are intertwined, but each very different. The respect and love they have for each other sometimes erupts into 'differences,' but together they are able to muddle through abandonment by husbands, malpractice on the part of doctors, storms, ignorance, and the war. Margaret could so easily have been scarred by all of the tragedies she witnesses both in her grandmother's patients,and in the romantic relationships of her grandparents and parents. Instead, she emerges unscarred and ready to carry on the legacy of this unusual, loving family.I'm certainly going to check out Kaye Gibbons' other books. This was such an extraordinary read. If her others are half as well written as this, with characters that have even half the charm, they will still be well worth reading.
RobinDawson on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Fantastic! I¿d previously read and enjoyed 'Ellen Foster' by Gibbons so I was hopeful about this and it delivered in spades. Must seek out more of her books. Tells the story of three generations of women, and the coming of age of the youngest. The grandmother is such a tough, feisty,wise old bird - very endearing.
rachellek on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This is one of my favorite books. I love Kaye Gibbons! She has 2 books on Oprah's list - but not this one. This is a good read for anyone - and makes a great gift...not too sad, weird, depressing....just a feel good book.
jo-jo on LibraryThing 3 months ago
What an interesting novel this was that brought us into the lives of three generations of women that are living in North Carolina during World War II. The book is narrated by Margaret, the youngest woman in the family. Margaret starts out the story by giving us a little background information about her grandmother, Charlie Kate.Charlie Kate came to be known as the best midwife in the county and was soon requested for various medical problems that people were coming down with. She is a very strong woman and finds herself taking on and winning many battles within the community. It seemed to me that she actually became a martyr for all of the progress that she helped develop within the little town that she lived. Unfortunately, her husband grows tired of her company and leaves Charlie Kate to raise their daughter on her own.Sophia is Charlie Kate's daughter, and although I don't think the novel really focused too much on her, she was a very important character. Sophia marries a man that her mother does not approve of and they end up having a daughter of their own-Margaret. Margaret and Sophia eventually spend most of their waking hours at Charlie Kate's home. The next thing you know, Sophia's husband leaves her and it only seems reasonable that the three women share a home together.As they find themselves spending more time together they learn a lot more about each others dreams and goals. The grandmother is often called upon to go on housecalls for the sick, and Sophia and Margaret usually find themselves accompanying her. It seems that while the grandmother is tending to the sick individual that there is always something important for the others to do, whether it be washing dishes, preparing a meal, or consoling a family member, no job is too little at the time. Through these acts I think they learn the importance of charity, kindness, and compassion.As World War II is in full swing, these ladies find themselves working as volunteers as they are needed. Sophia finds herself leading a local Red Cross chapter, as Margaret and Charlie Kate are asked to help out at a hospital that cares for wounded soldiers that are returning from combat. Charlie Kate helps at the hospital on a medical basis, but Margaret finds herself connecting with the patients on a more emotional level. She spends time with the soldiers by reading letters from home and writing letters for the soldiers that can't complete this task on their own. I found myself looking forward to these letters and it was probably my favorite part of this book.With Sophia busying herself with the Red Cross efforts, Charlie Kate and Margaret form a special bond as they spend more time together. This part was especially sweet to me as I have always been very close to my own grandmother. This book was a short, quick read and it appeared to be simple writing to me, but there was so much beauty and intimacy in the simpleness of it. I found myself enjoying this book more as it progressed and by the time I finished it I really did love it. I know that I wouldn't have chosen this book on my own, so I am grateful that this was a book club selection. I think it will make a great discussion!
LesaHolstine on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Three generations of women. Fabulous book for book discussions.
meerka on LibraryThing 5 months ago
So hard to remember that this isn't an autobiography, but a intimate look at the lives of three pioneering feminist women who see the details and the impact of the small things in life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book highly recommend foryoung adult and up. Great story of multiple generations of a matriarchal family.
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LucyTS More than 1 year ago
This book was intelligent and well written. I loved the women characters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like books about strong women, this one included. I didn't absolutely love it though.
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Dana Graham More than 1 year ago
slow start but fell in love with everyone. upset by the ending.
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