Review: Many Hands Make Light Work: A Memoir

Many who came of age in the Midwest during the ’60s and ’70s will immediately understand the allure of seasonal family routines, avocado green appliances and Pontiac station wagons celebrated in Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy’s Many Hands Make Light Work: A Memoir. But more than just nostalgia justifies revisiting the era.

Younger generations, of course, won’t immediately appreciate the period’s nuances. But thanks to the new memoir, lessons are available demonstrating how hard work and respect often work together to pay great dividends regardless of the era. The book presents fundamental lessons demonstrating how challenges can become opportunities and how children can become more independent and better prepared for modern challenges, without proving dependent upon their parents’ intervention at each step, if engaged early and consistently.

McCarthy, who grew up in Ames, Iowa, as one of nine siblings, expertly weaves stories of her family’s routines and relationships. Read the book and, if you’re like me, you’ll be left wondering why the same strategies are so often abandoned in today’s frenetic microwave society. Certainly, the experiences recounted within the book and the subsequent erosion of the corresponding values help explain intense divisions so apparent today.

Discipline, structure and routine are almost always regarded as admirable traits. Yet,  those elements alone are insufficient for sustaining success. Special binding ingredients are also necessary, and it’s those ingredients that McCarthy captures: respect and unity of purpose. As McCarthy demonstrates, there was no lack of work or responsibilities, even for the youngest siblings. Whether collecting and pitting cherries for preserving, preparing and serving meals or assisting with the remodeling and maintenance of the family’s many rental properties, everyone pulled their weight. More notably, everyone acted not only with purpose, but with respect. Courtesy was a hallmark. It’s no secret the importance of courtesy and civility have waned, and that’s unfortunate.

A true-to-the-Midwest memoir, Many Hands Make Light Work: A Memoir is immediately reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s works, but with numerous contemporary twists. Think of the book as a homespun Sting-Ray Afternoons (sports columnist Steve Rushin’s  wonderful nonfiction title).

If you grew up in the ’60s or ’70s, or if you seek a slower-paced book confirming faith-based lives can be lived according to foundational principals that also prove inclusive and welcoming of diversity, check out McCarthy’s new memoir. Immersing yourself in the Stritzel family’s history is a pleasant way to pass a summer day, and you might just learn something.

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