by Judith Wright Favor (2013)
The Edgefielders tells of a vibrant community of individuals from different cultures and faiths who were forced to live at Oregon’s state-run poor farm during the Great Depression.
Judith Wright Favor, a retired pastor and Portland native,
was in mid-life before she came upon a document that shed light upon the dark secret: in 1935 her great grandmother, Margaret Mary Wright, was sent to the poor farm and erased from the family lore. Judith was outraged to learn that her great grandmother died among paupers at Edgefield.
She felt compelled to unravel the mystery. Why did her grandfather commit his mother to a public institution? What were the circumstances that led to this decision? What was Edgefield like during the Depression? Who did Margaret Mary live with in her final home? How did she get along with strangers of different races and religions?
With little to go on but a death certificate, Judith set out to discover the truth. Through the process of contemplative writing, she constructed a fictional story of her lost ancestor intertwined with strands of family memoir. Judith listened for lost experiences, explored layers of inherited guilt and gave voice to women and men whose livelihoods and homes disappeared during the Great Depression.
As the Greatest Generation passes on, stories of the Depression go with them. The Edgefielders: Poor Farm Tales of a Great-Grandmother keeps these stories alive for future generations.
The times were incredibly difficult, but their fates are not as desperate as you might think. Margaret Mary and her new friends adjusted. Tales of friendship, romance, marriage and even redemption arise from these times of hardship. The Edgefielders bridges this gap, conveying the love of ancestors as it crosses the threshold of time.
“Sitting on the porch in the spring of 1936, Margaret Mary notices she feels free. Simply free, like seeing the sun after a wild winter storm.”
Such a sense of “freedom” in a “poor house”
strikes me as an oxymoron. Can one be really free under such dire conditions? This story is poignant, yet realistic. It takes sturdy yet delicate writing to capture the challenges of making new friends in old age while wondering about one’s absent family. This author does a wonderful job describing both!
Joanne Hummel, Local elementary teacher; observer of Edgefield Poor Farm for over forty years
This book will be especially compelling for those who know the importance of shedding light on family secrets, for readers interested in Oregon’s history, and for those who are drawn to Edgefield.
Dale Stitt, co-founder/director
A Journey Into Freedom – “When I listen, my whole life becomes the voice of God,” says Nurse Rachel. Judith composed these stories by listening to her great-grandmother and other inmates as they knitted new lives from tangled ends. Margaret Mary’s healing begins when a physician honors her goodness and godliness by first sitting with her in stillness, then querying her into self-understanding, strength, and forgiveness.
Charleen Krueger, Registered Nurse; Knitter
The author depicts a beautiful, practical vision of collective healing energy. Margaret Mary found strength and gift for weaving community through the care of wise, kind healers, inner visitations from magi, inner dialogues, consultation with new friends and old-fashioned Catholic prayers. The Edgefielders learn to abide with pain through creative presence, stories, challenges, singing, harmonizing, moaning, laughing, harmonica playing, ritual and purring. I’ll bet the gathering at the end will elicit from many readers, “That’s how I want to die!”
Penelope Mann, UCC Minister; InterPlayer
I see these tales akin to Ignatian contemplation, an imaginative entry into life at the Poor Farm. Those were hard times but these are not hard people. The Edgefielders shows a lovely generosity and a communal commitment to not let hardship beat them down. This book leaves me with hope, and a sense of triumph.
Frank Rogers, Professor of Spiritual Formation, Claremont School of Theology
Care and conversation between Judith and Margaret Mary flow across decades and continue today. The author gives voice to Great Grandmother’s journey through the raw edges of mental and physical exhaustion at the Poor Farm as well as the healing that came through the friendships she forged with medical staff and inmates. The Edgefielders helps us become more aware of our ancestors’ love, which crosses the threshold of time.
Jacqueline Chase, Grandmother
Within a decade or two the Great Depression will no longer be a conscious memory in our country. We will know it only through the history books. The personal experiences will disappear, except for novels like The Edgefielders. This is a rich and earthy tale of those who came before us. The author describes the challenges they faced and how they survived that trying time. This book is reminiscent in time, location, and even style of Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams.
Tim Sunderland, Writer
The characters are very engaging. Vivid descriptions brought them to life; each one has such a gripping story. I can see how this book could be adapted into a screenplay. With more development of the characters, it could make an interesting television series. It probably wouldn’t sell on the regular networks but would appeal to a public television audience.
Judy Leshefka, Meditation Instructor
Who would have known that a progressive government in Oregon created this “poor farm” to provide housing and work for people like Judith Favor’s great-grandmother during the Depression after her husband walked out and her children could no longer care for her?
The author paints a vivid picture of friendship, romance, creativity, resilience and the mostly-harmonious blending of religions, races and worldviews in this lovely story of Margaret Mary and the Edgefielders.
Claire Gorfinkel, Activist, Writer
These stories gave me a chance to vicariously experience living in the Poor House, touching into the hardships, newfound friendships and down-to-earth spirituality of the Edgefielders. This book is a treasure, offering a glimpse into how freedom is discovered in the most unlikely places.
Barbara P. Anderson, Presbyterian pastor
This beautifully written book, with fully developed characters, is a personal story of life beyond economic loss. How many of us wonder where today’s poor, unemployed people go when they “vanish”?
The wondrous building of relationship between fragile economic survivors described in this book leads me to wonder about today’s homeless shelters. Unlike Edgefield, shelter placements – when available today – are usually transient. Thus, in our time, relationships between economically disadvantaged people are sadly transient as well.
In describing a hidden, even shameful, secret about residents at a poor farm from the past, I wonder if the author causes us to reflect on the possibility of the community formed at Edgefield. This possibility of community is mostly absent in our treatment of the homeless today.
An incredibly good read.
Karen Vance, Kindergarten Master Teacher