Mardi Jo Link’s world was in tumult. Her husband had just moved out of their home on an acreage near Traverse City, Mich. Their three sons, Owen, Luke and Will remained with her. The author guides us through these events in her memoir “Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm.” She refers to her soon to be ex-husband as “Mr. Wonderful.”
As this suddenly single mom envisions the challenges confronting her she declares that: “I have recently named my place the Big Valley, in homage to the television ranch of my youth.” “Bootstrapper” documents this family’s journey through experiences that range from harrowing to hilarious.
Link’s primary income from freelance writing was sporadic and unpredictable. As she tallied up the bills that must be paid she could see a looming shortfall just around the bend. It was time to economize, and fast.
Her three sons are the heroes of this story. They rarely complain and took most things in stride as their mother tries to figure out how to keep them afloat. Their wardrobes are procured in thrift stores. Food is in short supply. The boys bundle up to stay warm inside their chilly house.
She falls behind on the gas bill. They need to find another way to stay warm. On the cover of the book there is a picture of an axe. This image is emblematic of their resilience and determination. They begin harvesting dead wood on their property to burn in the fireplace for heat.
They run out of firewood. Mardi Jo loads the boys into the mini-van.
They drive along and search for firewood on the road shoulders. When they spot a log that has fallen from another vehicle they stop to gather it up.
They plant large vegetable gardens and try raising their own food in the form of chickens. They have one group of hens that provides eggs.
Another flock is destined to become chicken dinners. These poultry plots run ridiculously awry.
Mardi Jo’s upcoming divorce looms like some dark iceberg on the horizon. When the divorce is ultimately enacted she will be forced to try to obtain another mortgage on the Big Valley. This seems to be an insurmountable obstacle.
There’s one certain thing about Mardi Jo Link; don’t ever count her out. When the well pump fails the driller suggests that “maybe you’d like to talk it over with your husband.” She realizes that “my circumstances are so unsalvageable that even my I-am-woman-hear-me-roar self doesn’t think to be offended by this.”
In an interview Link revealed that six years ago she submitted an essay to the Antioch Writer’s Workshop in Yellow Springs. Her submission earned her a scholarship to that year’s workshop. It took time for her essay to flourish and grow. It became the seed for this book.
“Bootstrapper” demonstrates how a stubborn mother and her three brave boys pulled themselves right up by their own boot straps. “Mr. Wonderful” probably won’t be reading it.
This week’s book
“Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm” by Mardi Jo Link (Knopf, 264 pages, $24.95)
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