Some time ago I posted a blog about my friend Connie’s book, Wild hay, Wild Hairs and Shell Shock. She wrote the piece as a part of a series I was running about research for historical writing. The book intrigued me and I wanted to return one day to give it a read. I’m very glad I did.
One of the things that history books cannot give us a real feel for is what it was like to be an every day, ordinary citizen, traveling this life at any particular point in time. Most of our history is written after the fact by scholars or during the event by journalists, reporters, kings and leaders, the folks that get attention. Every now and then, stored in an attic, left in some forgotten storage unit we stumble upon a gem. Some small window into the past told in the words of the “every day guy” that lived it. Charles Henry Craigie is probably NOT what some people would consider an “every day guy” but he is an excellent guide into a world now gone.
Craigie was born at a time when America really was wide open for opportunity. His father was the type of person that wanted his children educated, but if they could find a job where they could learn a new skill or learn to live and work with different people, then school could wait. Craigie took that opportunity and ran with it. As he tells us his story he invites us on his mental journey as well. Talking to his future reader in a conversational tone about the things he sees and what he thinks should be done about it all.
Craigie travels to the Philippines during the Spanish American War. This is a time before an organized military and things were a bit “every man for himself.” Having had quite a bit of experience in the National Guard and in management before entering the war, Craigie soon gets involved in all sorts of special activities. The US government didn’t always deliver on promises to get fellows home in a hurry, so Craigie took a leisurely route through Japan. Rather than pursuing the usual shore leave pastimes, he took the opportunity to learn about a people and a culture much different from his own.
Timing puts him in Europe during the WWI, as well. He keeps us by his side as he maneuvers through a military that still isn’t all that organized. This time he was told he couldn’t go home because he might be needed; so he organized an education program for any service man that wanted it in English and Scottish universities. By now you know him well enough that you know he has plan in mind. He spends the remainder of his overseas service attending university and absorbing all he can of the culture of the British Isles. By now he is becoming quite a connoisseur of foreign cultures.
The book is a delightful rendition of Craigie’s own words, carefully edited to keep his spirit and his times and to bring the period alive for the reader. There are notes about historical events that fit within the story (duly researched by Mrs. Pierce). The best part, though, is the flavor of Craigie’s opinions on life, economics, war, production, the way of the world and the love of his country. It is a quick read that, for a moment, transports you to a parlor in a sprawling farm house sometime in the late 30s early 40s to hear your favorite Grandpa tell you stories. He was a perceptive fellow and I think you will enjoy getting to know him. In his own words:
“It’s been a good life, an extremely interesting one. This is the life story of an American working man; not fiction, but the facts of life as ay honest man can find, if he is interested enough in his own affairs to run his life as a free man. As the old recipe for cooking a rabbit says: First, catch your rabbit!”