'Cleo's Oak' begins with the rantings of a sixteen year old girl, Willow, who by her own account, is beautiful and privileged. From her writing we quickly learn she is vain and self-centered. While playing Frisbee with her brother, Willow takes a fall, strikes her head and is rendered unconscious. Prescribed rest by her physician, Willow slips into a deep sleep and dreams of ather era, of women dressed in clothing of the 1800s. This accident triggers a flurry of get well tes. As she begins to respond with thank you cards, she is confounded to discover her words are t her own. She finds herself describing things that are t of her experience, .. .about canning peaches, back porches, cows, pigs and then something about baseball. Willow has discovered her pen is transcribing the life and experiences of a woman named Cleo, who's insistence to be heard demands that Willow spend her sixteenth summer at her computer writing down the details of a life which began over a hundred before Willow was born. Thus we enter the mystical world of Cleopatra Lamb, daughter of Scottish immigrant, Alexander Lamb. In 1844, at the age of 16, Alexander works his way across the Atlantic in search of a better life. He is working in a stable in New York when he meets and falls in love with Rosa McRay, who boards her horse at the stable. Against the wishes of her father, an angry Irish policeman, the two are married. Seven months later, Cleo is born. Rosa dies in childbirth two years later, along with the child. Alexander must flee with Cleo to escape the reach of Rosa's father, who wants to take Cleo and raise her himself. They live an itinerant life, never staying in one place for long. Wherever they lived, they sought out the largest and most perfect oak tree in a neighboring forest, which became their place of prayer. They arranged thirteen stones near the tree which formed a circle. They believed if they ever needed guidance they could step within the circle and the god of the oak would provide it. Cleo discovered early in life she had the gift of kwing when and how someone was going to die. She inherited this gift from her grandmother, who also had second sight. This is as much a curse as a blessing as Cleo's visions come unbidden and she has ability to control them r can she conjure them at will. Therefore, the tragedies of her own life, such as the sudden death of her father a few years later, come crashing down upon her with all the emotional force the loss of a beloved parent can have on a child. We follow Cleo's life from birth to death, as told through Willow. We experience her loves and losses steeped in the details of life during the mid-1800s. We struggle with Cleo as she is confronted with the timeless issues we must all face; birth, sex, religion, love, forgiveness and, finally, death. Cleo also deals with issues we hope to never face; adultery, betrayal, rape and even murder during a time in our country's history when the rules were much different than they are today. As we conclude our reading, we are curious to kw why Willow was chosen to relate these tales. Will the telling have an impact on her impressionable young life? Cleo's Oak is a coming of age tale which will make you laugh, cry and cringe. It is a story of the indefatigable will of a young woman determined to make her way in the world on her own terms and in her own time. Dannielle Bussone, All About Women Magazine Everyone that every had a grandmother should read this. You will agree that across time, human values have t changed.
Pearle Munn Bishop lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and is a member of High Country Writers