Sunday, February 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Good Morning, Miss Dove by Frances Gray Patton

semicolon blog
I love discovering an old stand-the-test-of-time novel that is sweet and uncomplicated and just pleasant to read. Not very long ago, I read a review praising Good Morning, Miss Dove by Frances Gray Patton. I could have sworn I found the review by jumping through some of the list at Semicolon blog’s Saturday Review of Books, which I highly recommend for book browsing. Unfortunately, I went back to find the link to that review, and for some reason I’m not finding it.


So here is mine. The book was written in 1954 and I read a library book with a plain brown cover embossed with the Louisville Free Public Library logo. So there isn’t much in the way of cover art to attract.

The story is that of the Terrible Miss Dove, world geography teacher to the elementary school students in the little town of Liberty Hill. This is small-town America like that of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, where generations grow up and stay, marry amongst themselves, and know each other’s business. For two generations, every child in Liberty Hill has learned geography from and, more importantly, had his or her character molded by Miss Dove.

Miss Dove possesses a very strict sense of right and wrong and an innate sense of the proper way to deal with children. They are terrified of her–or maybe the better word is awed. They learn to sit up straight, to speak only after raising their hands, not to chew their hair, to keep their hands folded, not to request drinks from the water fountain, etc.. She runs a regimented, polite classroom.

And then, one day, in the middle of class, she feels a sharp pain in her back and her leg goes numb. She has to sit down. A boy is sent for the doctor (one of Miss Dove’s own former students.) She must be carried to the hospital. The nurse is another of her students, as is her fiancĂ©, one of the town’s policemen. The pastor who comes to call is another. The brash young intern who performs the preliminary examination is not, but his mother, now living in another town, was. As Miss Dove waits in the hospital for a series of tests to determine her fate, she relives, through memory, her own life through the encounters she had with the students whose lives she touched and influenced.

At last, aware of the critical nature of her diagnosis, she elects to put her fate in the hands of one of those students. He now has the authority over her that she once had over him. She trusts him.

This is quite an old-fashioned book. It’s lovely to read for the sincerity of its admiration for Miss Dove and Dr. Baker and the good-old fashioned virtues. At the same time, it’s hard not to be glad that times have changed. While it might be great for kids (or myself as a kid) to have a teacher like Miss Dove, it would be awful to have had ONLY a Miss Dove for a teacher. And the paternalistic treatment she received once she went into the hospital would be completely unacceptable today. The nurse would not even tell her what her temperature was–


"That’s confidential information for the doctors," said Billie Jean. Apologetically she patted Miss Dove’s hand. "Even if I told you, you wouldn’t know what it meant. It’s in centigrade."

Miss Dove did not defend herself against the girl’s bland assumption of her ignorance. "My question was indiscreet," she said.

"Oh, no! Not indiscreet!" Billie Jean protested. "All patients ask. But you know rules."

Yikes!

Times change. But good people will always be good people and they do have the ability to influence the lives of those around them. Although books that point that out can sometimes be schmaltzy, they can also sometimes be sweet and inspiring reminders to look for the good and hope for the best.