"After reading Hillary Clinton's, It Takes a Village, Cate Bailey began thinking about the village that contributed to her growth as a person. In telling the story, her keyboard became an artist's brush, which enabled her to paint vivid word pictures of life in Lakeville, an imaginary community on the shores of Kentucky Lake.
The pictures describe people with names like Daddy Tom, Molly Ruth, Earl Roy, Banty, and Aint Lina. Of course these weren't the real names of the people who left their mark on Cate. She has assigned them new names, and sometimes two or three personalities may be merged into one. Events have also been altered, but these people are not the invention of an author with a vivid imagination. Everything in the book is real. She's altered names, places, and stories in order to preserve the privacy and dignity of the people she described.
Cate wants us to understand how these people contributed to her values, scruples, ideals, and sense of honor that she has carried with her throughout life. Most of her characters are flawed in one way or another. Daddy Tom is racist. Banty is a bootlegger. Miss Bessie is a piano teacher, whose musical talents were not as well developed as Miss Jonny, the other piano teacher who exposed the students to the music of Rachmaninoff and Mozart. Miss Bessie launches a successful campaign to get rid of Miss Jonny. It's pretty obvious that young Cate learns quite a lot about the kind of person she wants to be from Miss Jonny and the kind of person she does not want to be from Miss Bessie.
These are the people who contributed to the development of Cate's values, judgment, attitudes, and maturity. Twig Benders is not "preachy," but it does offer insights into the religious flavor of the Lakeview community. Cate grows up around Baptists and Methodists, with a few Presbyterians in the mix, although her own family allegiance is to the Church of Christ.
From the beginning, it's clear that the author sees the early experiences of her life from a Christian perspective. Each chapter begins with a scripture text and a one sentence theme statement, so that the reader is not left to wonder about the application of the stories.
She makes her stories come alive by constructing her narrative in the language of the growing child. I had some difficulty trying to guess the age of the child in each story. Sometimes, I thought she was probably about nine, but I also concluded that she had to be in her early teens in some other stories. She brilliantly recaptures the vernacular of a child living in that period of time. Occasionally she breaks the rules of grammar so the reader can clearly see what was going in the mind of the younger Cate.
She's not hesitant to take on difficult subjects. Clearly, the prevailing attitudes of racial prejudice disturbed Cate in her years of growing up. In the opening chapter, Daddy Tom, who is presented as her grandfather, was a man who believed you could never trust black people, but then he would make an exception for a black man named Clint, who was actually a friend. Clint probably saved Daddy Tom's life when he nearly cut his foot off with an axe, but there was one thing Clint would not do. He would not disagree with any of Daddy Tom's strong opinions, at least not to Daddy Tom's face. Cate's takeaway from that relationship was, "True friendship overcomes everything, even prejudice." Later she tells the story of Aint Lena, a black matriarch, who overcomes prejudice to who make a home for about thirty babies that no one else wanted. In her, Cate recognized a remarkable measure of inward strength and creativity.
Sometimes people think that a church going girl, with Christian parents, growing up in a small Bible-Belt town would be sheltered from the seamier side of life, but it didn't work that way for Cate. Some of her life lessons came from tragedies. There was a young girl named, Margaret, who gives birth to a baby out of wedlock, and rumor has it that she has been raped. Willie Wainwright is an alcoholic, who abuses his children. Mr. Ed was the school principal. He was greatly admired in his community, and seemed to have everything going for him until he retires. After that he finds a part time job that doesn't work out well. He ends up dealing with serious depression and is ultimately committed to a state hospital where "...one day he felt so bad he walked right out of the hospital window, fifth floor." His wife, Molly Ruth, "...could hardly stand the last fourteen years of her life." From him Cate learned, "Sometimes happy lives don't make happy endings."
When I got to the end of Twig Benders, I wanted to hear more stories. I grew up in a community that was pretty much like Lakeville, and I was exposed to people like Daddy Tom, the two piano teachers, Margaret, Mr. Ed and most of Cate Bailey's characters. Like Cate, I grew up in the Church of Christ, and spent much of my life around people in Baptist and Methodist churches, with a few Roman Catholics in the mix. I also had a Jewish friend, and I sometimes reflect on the impact he had on my life. Most of us probably had twig benders around us when we were growing up. Cate Bailey's book reminds us of the debt we owe to those who touch our lives, even those whose flaws reminded us that we did not want to be like them.
As for Cate, she's handled some pretty rough stuff in her adult life. Her first husband died in a car accident following a struggle with mental illness. Her second husband died of cancer after 26 years of marriage. She now lives in Mississippi, with her husband Danny and they seem to be handling life rather well. She writes books, raises a garden, and travels. All that twig bending probably led her to where she is today."
- Norman Bales