By Parks Lanier, Jr. © 1984
Issue: November, 1984
What My Heart Wants To Tell by Verna Mae Slone. Harper & Row Perennial Library, $1.95 paper; $10.95 cloth. Available from George Brosi, Appalachian Bookseller, 123 Walnut Street, Berea, KY 40403. Catalog for 37 cents postage and large envelope.
Written for her grandchildren and to honor her late father, and to "dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings of these people soon to be forgotten, "What My Heart Wants To Tell" is a vivid excursion into the past. The setting is an area of Kentucky best described as "on Caney Creek at the mouth of Trace," with some side trips to Hazard, Pippa Passes, and Dwarf. Verna Mae, like her mother, never strays far from home. The time is mostly between 1914, the year of Verna Mae's birth, and 1947, shortly after her father's death.
First and foremost, the book is a family document. It is difficult sometimes to keep relatives straight, but exactness of that sort doesn't impede the reader's enjoyment of the story. The chapters are short, on the average six pages, and pithy. Verna Mae's style is anecdotal, as if always she has in mind a circle of attentive grandchildren sitting at her feet. Most of the book is warm and good humored. There are some dark times, but tragedy touches all families. One can sense the bonds of love growing stronger, the circle tighter, after such moments.
The recollections, as one would expect, are exercises in selective nostalgia. It is easier to recall the good times than the bad. So long as the reader remembers this book is what "my heart" wants to tell, and not something else, all will be well. If Verna Mae had written this book with an eye to big-time publication (which it has received), she might have gone out of her way to recollect everything but the kitchen sink. I'm as grateful for what she didn't do as for what she did. If I am going to be served nostalgia, I want it uncluttered. Too much bric-a-brac is cloying, like reading footnotes.
For her sparseness and honest simplicity, Verna Mae's book deserves close and lengthy study by anyone who would try to write as she does of days gone by. One of the greatest virtues of Verna Mae's work is that she never tries to top herself, and she is never repetitious. She knows the difference between sentiment and sentimentality. This book has lots of the former and none of the latter.
I would like to think that any reader could feel he or she is spiritually kin to Verna Mae Slone. This book is for her grandchildren. This book is for us all.