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Never Gonna Cease My Wanderin': Letters Between Friends Paperback – September 12, 2012
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in RKR's memoir, so the Philippines part had a particular relevance..But I also found
the part about Afghanistan revealing and well written. Anyone interested in serving the
cause of peace, human nature and/or in depth overseas experiences would most likely
find these letters of interest.
unfolded for them. It's a truly amazing record of a friendship and the way letters
capture the moment. How did they manage to save all of them?!
Beryl Brinkman is such an interesting character! Were she still alive, I would hurry off to meet her. Born and raised on a farm in northern Wisconsin, she became a peripatetic, spontaneous adventurer. Disorganized, clumsy, and accident-prone, Beryl seems at times to survive in spite of herself. She was always breaking things, losing things, forgetting things. When she describes her experiences, often in great detail, I sometimes found myself thinking as in watching a scary movie, "No, don't open that door!" Nevertheless, Beryl survives, and the list of countries and places she explored in her life reads like the travel itinerary of a secretary of state or foreign minister.
Except for her service in the Peace Corps, Beryl's travels were self-generated, motivated mostly by wanderlust, curiosity, and occasionally by situations of I've-nothing-better-to-do. She reveals periods of introspection, but inevitably, some event or crisis shoulders such internal concerns aside.
If Beryl found most of her adventures in the external world, Ruth's letters, journal and poems reveal the life of a seeker. Indeed, her introspective musings, self-doubts and uncertainties (What is love?) are at times almost painful to read. ("Is what I dream and attempt, but I cannot do, the most important, or is the spontaneous life I lead the real one? I don't know.")
Yet, Ruth also had experiences unusual to an American female in the 1960s. After spending her childhood in Malaysia with her sisters and missionary parents, she attended a small, Illinois college where she met Beryl and several other liberal arts students who appear in Never Gonna. After college Ruth became a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, where she lived a mostly solitary life while working in local schools. Ruth's letters and journal are especially introspective during this period.
After returning to the States, Ruth and her new husband, also a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked in the tension-filled "inner-city" of Milwaukee when racial violence there was always imminent. Never Gonna casts a welcome light again on that dark time in America. In one exchange, Beryl, then in Afghanistan, wrote to Ruth asking why Radio Moscow said Milwaukee civil rights workers were being put in concentration camps. Ruth replied:
You asked how Moscow could get the idea we were throwing civil rights workers in concentration camps. Maybe because police arrested 150 marchers one night at the now burned-down Freedom House, private property. Or because with no warning, police with drawn pistols or swinging billy clubs have approached marchers. Last night was the 100th night of marching for open housing. Seven more were arrested. I don't know what for. It's not hard to figure out Moscow's ideas.
Ruth's sensitivity to such examples of "man's inhumanity to man" stoked her inner fire to try to understand, "Why?"
After relocating from the Midwest to California and after the birth of her two children, Ruth's life became more ordinary as the expectations and demands of motherhood shaped her years, and left her with less time for introspection: "Though I loved being home with the children, at the same time I missed connecting with other parts of myself." Beryl also married eventually, but had no children.
Over time, Ruth's and Beryl's letters were replaced by phone calls and emails, as they continued to share news of family illnesses, deaths, transitions - life.
Ruth and Beryl had often talked about "doing something" with their letters, but after Beryl's unexpected death in 2007, Ruth began working with the letters that would become the heart of Never Gonna Cease My Wanderin'. When she finally put it all together, Ruth produced an insightful, entertaining, and admirable work. I highly recommend it.