Friday, August 7, 2009

A Life That Spanned a Century and a Continent

Have you ever thought about all the changes that took place in the twentieth century? Now imagine living through them. Nearly one hundred years old, Rina Litz had indeed seen and experienced incredible things that she would have never dreamed possible when she was young. In her childhood, she lived without electricity, cars, or even a phone to call her mother when her brother fell out of a tree and broke his leg. Along the way she met and married the love of her life, experienced numerous home births, felt the grief of losing her husband and the joy of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In Not Far from the Tree, Ruth Smith Meyer takes readers down memory lane with Rina, an 99-year-old Canadian lady with a sharp mind and quick sense of humor, still active and involved in life. Although this is a work of fiction, it is heavily based on the true story of Freda Litt and her family who Ruth came to know quite well through the accounts of family members. She was also able to draw from the stories of the people she interacted with in her job at a senior day care. As Ruth discovered, there is a wealth of wisdom and experience to learn from our elders if we will only listen.

The tale bounces back and forth between Rina in the present, maneuvering her "Cadillac" walker and riding with Mack, her volunteer driver, and Rina's memories of times gone by. The memories mostly come in chronological order. This may not be customary for memories in real life, but it makes it a lot easier for readers to follow. The first memory is back when she was four and brother George fell from the tree imitating the squirrels. No 911 back then--not even a phone to call their mother, so little Rina had to trot way down the street to fetch Mother from work. The doctor actually came to the house then to set George's broken leg! Another childhood memory had to do with school bullies--a problem that still plagues children today. We get a peek at the things teenagers did for fun in the early part of the century, Rina's "courting" days, and a bit of teenage rebelliousness (and we thought we invented it). When the Big War starts, there is a glimpse of it as Rina's first love goes off to fight. A summer train trip takes her and some friends across country for an Alberta-bound adventure, a trip that changes her life forever as she falls in love with David Litz. With an unconventional wedding far from home, she enters the next chapter of her life. As the family grows to include ten children, Rina rolls with the punches, celebrating the joys and enduring the hardships as they come. Like many of us today, she faces poverty, pain, sickness, mother-in-law trouble, losses and frequent moves. Her husband is a mama's boy and a dreamer who keeps changing jobs, a dad who misses a great deal of quality time with his children, yet he is always the great love of Rina's life. It seems to me that Rina puts up with a lot that most women today wouldn't take, but this is part of her character: divorce is never an option; marriage and family land at the top of her priority list. She puts up with living with her in-laws for a time and in another season living in little more than a barn. It was never easy, yet she was maintained a constant force in her family, a great example for the children as she turned things over to God in prayer and did her best to persevere. Her memories of life with David are not romanticized or fuzzy with the passing of time, yet she doesn't seem to feel resentment or anger. Instead, she thinks again and again of how she misses him.

While the story never preaches, in giving an account of the woman's life it demonstrates true Christianity at work. The lessons she learned from life and from her parents play in the background of this quiet life. She taught her children to "let the Lord look after" things, saying, "if there's nothing we can do, then it's not ours to do." The constant lessons of prayer and handing the situation over to God impressed upon me as I read this book. The nebulous "family values" were also evident as a theme. With ten children and the necessity of living with various extended family members, the need for maintaining good (or as good as possible) relationships was overwhelming.

This is not an action-adventure type story, but it is a historical near-biography that may hit close to home for many of us, may inspire at times, and may elicit thoughtfulness at other times. I recommend it for all, whether Christian or not.

Not Far from the Tree by Ruth Smith Meyer
Publisher: Word Alive (October 14, 2008)
260 pages, softcover

About the Author:

Ruth Smith Meyer is an Inspirational/Motivational speaker, a regular contributor for Rejoice Magazine, a daily devotional resource, the editor of Marriage Encounter Newsletter and has had her poetry published in Purpose and Christian Living Magazine.

You can learn more about Ruth Smith Meyer and her books at her website,

Purchase Not Far from the Tree at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

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