For the Word Chasers Book Club meeting this month, Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas was chosen. Unfortunately I did not make it to the meeting; however, I did finish this rich setting of a book. And honestly, I cannot believe I have never read one of Dallas’s books before! Prayers for Sale has been published twice – the first in 1997 and second in 2009…
In Prayers for Sale we have Hennie Comfort, age 86, and Nit Spindle, age 17, living in Middle Swan, Colorado during the mining era of 1936. The gold rush and silver rush have torn the majestic mountains apart….including some of the inhabitants of Middle Swan. We meet both Hennie and Nit when a very cautious Nit is standing in front of Hennie’s gate reading her sign “Prayers for Sale.” Hennie has never actually sold her prayers…gives them away freely. The newcomer to Middle Swan begs Hennie for her prayers and something about Nit draws Ms. Comfort to her plight. Over the course of a year, Hennie teaches Nit how to be a strong mountain woman – the kind necessary to survive the dredge digging and underground mining of the men…while the women take care of everything else in the camp. The infant mortality rate is high, as is the rate of death among the miners and the pregnant women. Life on top of the Colorado mountains was hard for all inhabitants during the late 1800′s and early 1900′s.
Hennie does her best teaching/influencing as she shares the stories of her life, from leaving the hills of Tennessee at age 16 (a tragedy in itself!) to the story behind the “Prayers for Sale” sign to her life with Mr. Comfort and Mae, their daughter. The two men Hennie has loved her life, the tragedies that have befallen her and through it all Hennie has continued to quilt, to love others and to offer her prayers.
The Colorado setting became a character for me. According to Ms. Dallas, Middle Swan is patterned after a modern-day Breckenridge. Having visited Breckenridge in the winter months, I honestly cannot begin to fathom living there without modern comforts. Hennie Comfort is so enamored with her life in Middle Swan that she does not want to leave and live with her daughter Mae in Iowa, even though she has come up in age and her daughter worries. Reading the descriptions of the first bloom of flowers, the overflowing branches of raspberries, even the snow that reaches to your waist were all so finely drawn as if by a master painter – pulling the reader into the scenery, smack dab in the middle of Middle Swan. I could hear the dredge boat with its continual clanging that only stopped if an accident occurred. Thus bringing the women to their doors anxious for the news of who had been maimed, hurt or killed by the blasted dredging.
Hennie and Nit bond over quilting, babies and a shared love of stories. The women who are a part of the Tenmile quilting bee that Hennie introduces Nit are as diverse and unique as they come. And the men? well the men of that Colorado camp were also unique. I found the superstitions that some of the women held onto were just as prevalent among the men. For example, Zepha is frantic one morning because she has broken her sewing needle. According to superstition, her husband would now stray to another woman. When Hennie saves the day by telling Zepha what to do to counteract the “superstition” Zepha begs the women not to tell her husband because he would worry so much about it coming true!
Prayers for Sale is as much about forgiveness as it is about the hard life of the gold miners, and their wives in the early 1900′s. This is a feel-good story that will break your heart and at the same time carry you into gladness and relief for the very-real characters. I loved this book.
In a Word: Resiliency
To learn more about Sandra Dallas and her writing, quilts and life, please visit “A Quintessential American Voice”
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin | Published: (reprint) February 10, 2010
352 pages | Genre: Reading Group Fiction
Source: Purchased on my Kindle…and paperback version to give to my mom