August 7, 2016

Glory Be by Janet Lambert (1943)

In Glory Be! Penny and her friend Carrol encounter more serious grown-up problems, but they never lose any of their charm, wit, and sense of excitement with life. The story opens with Penny's eighteenth birthday party, which is followed by a shopping trip into New York with Carrol. The carefree time of the girls is interrupted, however, by the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. From that fateful day, events move fast for the Parrish and Houghton families. The lives of the girls are suddenly transformed and they need all the character and courage they have built up to face the uncertainties and heartbreaks that war brings. With unique understanding of a young girl's heart, Janet Lambert shows how the girls meet tragedy and come through with a deeper maturity.

The book leaves Penny still certain that the theater will offer her the life she wants, and one feels that she is probably headed for stardom in spite of other interests involving orange blossoms and many yards of tulle. (from the inside flap)

In Glory Be! We jump forward about three years and we open on Penny Parrish's eighteenth birthday, even though, as loyal and devoted cook Trudy says, "Miss Penny jes' nachelly don't want to grow up." 
"'Why Penny.' Carrol Houghton bent over, her pale curls brushing against Penny's brown mane. Her blue eyes that held the magic of a violet bed seen through a dark encircling hedge, were filled with tender sympathy. Her beauty, breath-taking in its clear-cut perfection, was warmed by a loving smile. 'Silly little Penny Parrish,' she said gently, 'afraid of growing up.'"
Why does Penny not want to grow up? Because now that she's eighteen she is determined that she must start her career on the stage and she is overwhelmed by the task ahead of her. Carrol's career, on the other hand, is swiftly resolved in a few words with David.
"'Have you had any regrets about not going to Vassar this fall?'
'Not a one. My staying with Daddy this year means so much to him, and to me too, that college doesn't even tempt me. Perhaps next year . . .' 
'Would you mind skipping it then if someone else, say if I, asked you to?' David's head was bent to hers and she answered softly:
'I'd skip it forever, David.' 
'Then let's consider it skipped.' He took her hand in his."
Done and done! The handsome Lieutenant Terry Hayes shows up and the foursome goes dancing in New York, where Penny gets "all mixed up in my mind" by Terry's flirtation. But big brother David is there to help out (in a way which is so beautifully Lambert):
"David hugged her and laughed. He laughed so heartily that couples dancing near him smiled with him, thinking what a stunning pair the tall cadet and the slender, vivid girl made. A few even yearned for youth and the gay romance these two seemed to have. None of them heard David say: 'Listen, dope. You're the kind who draws problems like water draws lightning. You stumble along with your eyes on a goal that's mile ahead of you. You'll probably have a career, I don't know; but there's no use missing all the scenery as you go along.'"
The next morning, in the Houghton family penthouse, the girls plan to go shopping, and invite Carrol's father Langdon to their evening plans with David and Terry. He jokes about how he can compete with two handsome young men, and Carrol responds:
"'Why, Daddy darling, by being handsomer than either one of them.' Carrol's arms slid around his neck and she brushed her cheek against his. 'By being handsomer, much more dashing, and I hate to sound mercenary, pet, by being much, much richer.'"
I love this book! To paraphrase the jacket copy above, this book is filled with "charm, wit, and sense of excitement with life." Even David's entrance is charming:
"David came into the breakfast room wearing a dressing gown of Mr. Houghton's above his cadet trousers, a white scarf knotted about his throat." 
That's his breakfast outfit! Dang! All is fun and shenanigans on David and Terry's leave until a voice on the radio announces that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor. As David says to Carrol, "'It's war, honey. The Japs have jumped the gun and I may have a job to do right now.'" Penny's thoughts:
"The sunshine filtered through the windows just as brightly as it had a moment ago but now it held no warmth. The roses on the table were just as beautiful, just as red ... Penny turned her head to look at them. Terry would go, too. Poor Terry, who was so cocky and so gay, would become grim and commanding. She looked again at the blond heads bent over the radio, her heart tightening into a hard cold know. David. David would fight with real guns and real planes. Tears sprang to her eyes."
What I love about this book, and this series, is that Janet Lambert has built this group of family and friends, who all are brought together by, work for, and live with the U.S. Army. She's built a strong foundation of patriotism and honor that runs through everything they do. So when war breaks out, and affects the families in every way, it's especially heart-wrenching. Penny again:
"Up to now, war had failed to touch her life. West Point, for all its training of young cadets, was perhaps the most peaceful spot in the United States. It had its dances, its athletics, its gay crowd in the Boodlers, and its officers who led the daily life of professors in a college. If this year had brought more talk of bomb sights, the Armored Force or the Air Corps, Penny had thought of it only as a first classman's interest in his career. So she looked at Landon Houghton, at the grim set of his mouth, at the anger in his eyes, and her words were stopped. 'It is war, Uncle Lang,' she whispered. 'I'm beginning to understand.'"
Colonel Parrish is sent off to England, and the family (who need to move out of their Army housing to make room for the instructor that will replace him) goes to stay at Gladstone Farms, Carrol's posh home. As for the youngest Parrishes, Bobby will go to military school (which will hopefully "knock some of the cockiness out of him") and Tippy will go with the family to Gladstone Farms. They say good-bye to their friends at West Point, including goofy red-haired Dick Ford and handsome Michael Drayton. Before they leave, Penny and Michael have a serious chat, as they talk about their long friendship.
"'I remember it too. That was when I first began to notice you. And I've noticed you ever since.' Michael met her eyes but there was no answering smile on his lips. 'Have you felt that way about me, Penny?'
'Oh, Mike.' She looked across the room into the cold gray ashes of the fireplace, wondering, honestly, how much she had thought of Michael in these four years. He had made so many of her week ends gay. He had been so loyal, so devoted--so always there. At last she turned back to him. 'I love you almost as much as I do David,' she told him.
'That's a hard answer to give a guy.' And she could see the muscles tighten along his jaw."
But they part friends. Another of the reasons that I adore the Janet Lambert books is that it's not all about love. If it was, Penny would have leapt at the romance of Michael's unasked question, particularly in wartime. But even though she loses her way occasionally, she's a sensible young woman who knows what really matters. And that means not dangling boys on a string when she's really focused on her family and on her career. As for the career ... Penny goes to the theater!
"Penny sat in the darkened theatre, her eyes on the curtain. Any moment now its great folds would part. Slowly at first, just a crack, a teasing glimpse. Perhaps a room; perhaps a garden. And then, faster than the eye could behold the wonders it disclosed, it would sweep open, unveiling fairyland. What would it be? And when would a burst of applause herald the entrance of Janice Ware? Penny leaned forward clutching her purse in cold hands. The footlights glowed, the curtain began to sway . . . She thought she couldn't bear it."
She sends a note backstage to Miss Ware, who you'll remember she met in Dreams of Glory. and meets her after the show. All is going well until Terry Hayes shows up and is his usual troublesome and charming self. Penny gets resentful, Trudy tells her what's what (as usual), Penny snaps out of it, and is soon excited to announce that she will be Miss Ware's protege. She'll study in New York with an acting teacher and attend a stock company in Connecticut over the summer.

While things are progressing well for Penny, Carrol is worried about her father's health as he looks drawn and tired. Despite her worry, the family goes forward with a house party, and none other than the devastating Louise Frazier will be in attendance, as well as Terry Hayes. Since Penny is all about her career, she decides to "give" Terry to Louise. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work at all. Mr. Houghton's health is declining rapidly and he has only a few weeks to live. Carrol is constantly by his side, and he calls David to come see him where he lets him know that he's made David's father Carrol's legal guardian, for there is such a lot of money to handle and asks if David loves her.
"'I love her more than life itself.' David looked deep into Carrol's eyes. 'I pledge you, Carrol,' he said solemnly, 'that nothing--not war, or separation, or anything that life may hold, can ever come between us.'
'Thank you ... son ... That's such a beautiful gift for me to take her mother.' Langdon Houghton's eyes turned to Carrol, rested there for a moment as he smiled at her, then with a tired sigh, they closed, and his hand lay lifelessly in hers."
Carrol grieves and the family does everything they can to help. Even Tippy gives Carrol her best doll, and Bobby gives her his best whittling knife. Eventually, life goes on, and on a beautiful spring day, she and David return to Flirtation Walk, where David proposes and asks Carrol to marry him, the day after he graduates.
"'It's because of the war that I want you to. You see,' he put his arm around her and pressed her head against his shoulder, keeping it there with his cheek, 'when you had Uncle Lang it was different. I didn't have the right to bring extra suffering into your life. Now--now you can't be more unhappy than you are, even when I have to go. and we can be together. At least, for a little while.'"
Wedding plans ensue, as well as more shenanigans with Terry Hayes and Louise. Finally, it's graduation day and soon Carrol and David's wedding (held at Gladstone Farms) approaches. All preparations are in place--dresses and wedding cake and presents--and finally it's time for the wedding. Carrol goes to her father's study to spend some time alone and to open her father's wedding present--her mother's pearls. Although the Parrishes are giving her away, she plans to walk down the stairs to David alone, as she had planned to walk down them with her father.

Mrs. Parrish can't watch Carrol come down the stairs, but as usual, Trudy holds everything together. Trudy describes the action to her in one of the loveliest passages ever:
"'She's on the landin' now,' Trudy's voice went on. 'The sunlight's shinin' behind her till you almost think it's an angel standin' there. An' Mr. David's lookin' at her with his heart in his eyes.'
Mrs. Parrish gave a stifled sob and Trudy's voice was tender. 'Don't cry,' she said gently. 'I know you's thinking that little Miss Carrol ought to have her father with her. But it's all right. Mr. David jes' can't wait--he's gone to meet her.' 
'He has? Oh, bless him, Trudy.' She tried to stop the tears that came too fast.
'Look up, Miz Parrish,' Trudy begged. 'They's comin' on together. An' the sun's shinin' on 'em, an' . . . Oh, honey, it would make your heart so glad to see 'em . . . cause they's awalkin' in glory.'"
Excuse me a moment. I seem to have something in my eye. And those are the final lines. I just love it.

It's so lovely. There's so much at stake for these young lovers, so much love and history and grief behind and surrounding them. And to have Trudy sum up the events makes is so much more compelling. A word about Trudy: Despite the dialect and the language, Trudy is a strong, compelling, well-written character who is every bit a part of this family. There's very little reference to her color, and it's all about her character, as it is with all of the characters in this series. Sigh.

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