Insights from Morton High
One of the last books I read aloud to my mother before she died was Graveyard Peaches by Celeste De Blasis. It was a special delight, not only because Celeste is s fine wordsmith, but because the book is about people we knew and places that were home. Celeste was four or five years ahead of me in school, and her family were pillars of the community where I grew up.
They owned, "Campbell Ranch" a sort of 'dude ranch' near the 'Narrows.' It was called the Narrows for the fact that the rock formation towering above the Mojave River bed narrowed there providing a logical place for a bridge between Apple valley and Victorville.
The town's graveyard, served as a barrier between the Narrows, the community, and the ranch. Someone had planted peach trees there, which, when they survived the unpredictable frosts of the high desert, would produce an abundant harvest. Celeste's tale began with her Mother offering her some of these magnificent peaches. When Celeste realized that they were from the graveyard she promptly refused them saying, "there are lots of ways to divide people in the world (more seem to divide them to unite)...I believe I've discovered the ultimate and least prejudicial division, It is between those who will eat graveyard fruit and those who won't."
The book, a deeply honest, wrenchingly sad, intensely joyful account of her family, is peopled by a cast of characters ranging from drunks to curmudgeons; from the strong, brilliant women, to weak and angry ones, from those that will eat graveyard fruit to those that won't. In a sense it is the story of your family and mine, and you don't need to have grown up in Victorville to experience its depth or truth. It helps us reflect on our lives and the lifeline that others provide for us. Good literature is like that. In it we connect with people and their dilemmas. We see that we are not so alone or strange, but that there are others like us who have solved similar problems.
Over the past week many new books have arrived at the library. As I unwrap and catalog each one my prayer is that a student will find the spark of that recognition between the pages of a book; that the literature I shelve will be for these students as it was for me--a means of making meaning of my own existence.
Celeste concludes her book "When I was a child, moonless nights spilled darkness as far as I could see. Only one light glowed across the river, and it was on the house of friends. The stars were bright, distinct, sparkling against black velvet. Now it is never dark. The glow of "civilization" bleaches the night; the stars are pallid. Children born here now do not know that it was ever different. But I mourn for them. I mourn their loss of black nights and bright stars. I will live backwards for them telling the tale so that they will know how it was once upon a time."
In many ways, Morton is like Victorville when Celeste and I were growing up. Smaller, of course, but with a sky that is very much like that found on the high desert, and with many of the same kinds of marvelously diverse characters. Characters whose stories can help the young make sense of their lives. Some who will even eat graveyard peaches.