You've got to love a slightly crazy Southern woman. Look at Dolly Parton or Paula Deen. Kinda nutty, questionable decisions (whether it's multiple plastic surgeries or multiple sticks of butter in one recipe), annoying accents, but completely lovable. That's what this book is all about, and that's what a "Cracker Queen" is all about.
The author of The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life, Lauretta Hannon, describes in the first few pages exactly what her term "Cracker Queen" means to her:
"The Cracker Queen is a strong, authentic Southern woman. She is the anti-Southern Belle. She has a raucous sense of humor and can open a can of whup-ass as needed. [...] The Cracker Queen knows loss and hurt; these things have made her beautiful, resourceful, and, above all, real."
I think my maternal grandmother may have been a Cracker Queen. Actually, I'm sure she was. Lauretta Hannon believes that she herself is a Cracker Queen, and this is her memoir of growing up in the South in a family full of fellow Queens. The introduction to the book goes into great detail about this honorable title and why it's important. The rest of the book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Hannon describes her childhood, including her parents' strained and violent marriage, her mother's alcoholism, and the death of her father. The second part is about Hannon in adulthood and how she carried the ways of the Cracker Queen into her professional and personal life. The third (and very short) part reads like a self-help book -- how to become a Cracker Queen yourself, including the attitudes and traits you need to accomplish it.
This book reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, just because it shares Jeanette's story of growing up poor in a not-so-great home. The tone behind The Cracker Queen is humor, but there's a lot of sadness in this book. Some of the events that Lauretta describes are heart-breaking, but her attitude helps her persevere. It's overall a very positive book, because her purpose is to show the reader that no matter what's going on in your life, your attitude can change your situation. You can either wallow in self-pity, or truck on through life and try to have fun while you're at it.
Other than the fact that we share a Southern heritage, Hannon and I also share a career in education. She's not a teacher, but she works with students in universities. Hannon is now a writer, humorist, and contributor to National Public Radio, but from what I understand, she still works in marketing at a small technical college in Atlanta. There's a lot to be said for working with students (even college students), especially at a school where your students may not come from the best situations. I've been there, and it really does change how you look at things. There's a quote in Part II of this book that stuck out for me:
"The truth is that the bad days at work are the best, too, because they remind me of the urgency of our mission. It goes far deeper than education: We are soul warriors."
There's a lot of truth in that. Kids all over the world could stand to take a tip or two from a Cracker Queen. They may have grown up poor, in bad homes, and gone through far too much for a child to have to go through, but your life can turn around. I think that's what's at the heart of this book. I'd recommend it to anyone, Southern or not.
Read from July 25, 2010 to July 26, 2010