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Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace Paperback – January 15, 2015
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And Andra Watkins isn't a devoted hiker. She walked the remnants of the old footpath to publicize her book: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis. The quirky premise of that book, published in March, 2014, involves the ghost of Meriwether Lewis trying to redeem himself for his own unresolved death. Lewis, best known for his participation in the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, died in 1809 at the age of 35 while traveling on the Natchez Trace. Whether his death was suicide or murder continues to be debated by historians.
The title for Watkins' book comes from the fact that she was accompanied on the walk by her father. Each day he dropped her off where she had finished the day before and picked her up at the end of her daily 15-mile tormented walk, which never got easier. While readers of this book will learn something of the Trace's historic past, they will learn more about a troubled relationship between a daughter and her father—and where this journey takes them. Not Without my Father is more about relationships and coming to know one's self than it is a travelogue. It's a story that is real, with all the grit of growing up in a household that had little resemblance to the Beaver's world of June and Ward Cleaver.
This is a book without traditional heroes, but one in which you'll find yourself rooting for the non-heroes who struggle to give meaning to their lives, the daughter by walking and the father by selling his daughter's books along the way. Both finally have the time to explore and try to overcome memories of bad times in their relationship, and both realize the time remaining to mend their ways is short.
Did Andra really walk beside a highway the entire Natchez Trace? Did she and her father come to better understand each other? I'm not going to answer those questions. You'll have to read the book and find out for yourself. I'll just say that it won't be a waste of your time.
by Pat Bean
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
This book isn't a tour book about the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Trace serves as the backdrop for what the story is really about, and that is about finding yourself and what you can accomplish even though you have doubts. It's about the relationships we have with those we love and how we can take them for granted. It's about understanding that if we never fully flesh out the full potential of those relationships before we finally lose that ability because of death or otherwise, we end up living the remainder of our lives regretting all the what if's? Finally, it's about understanding that we don't need wild adventures to do these things either. In fact, I plan to call my grandmother and take her for lunch because I've been putting it off forever. Little things done together add up to big memories and a fulfilled life. This book will help you understand that.
Andra and her father, Roy, have what I would say is a fairly typical father/daughter relationship. Neither completely understands the other and there is a lot of tension from both ends. Her father's character reminds me of myself, and probably a lot of family men. At some point, we all question whether or not we're living our lives to the fullest. Are we living to our fullest potential? Will we be remembered when we're gone? A younger Roy questioned whether he was cut out to be a family man, and his "resignation" about living a lesser life than he'd imagined probably is part of why he and Andra didn't get each other. Roy, like many men, didn't give out praise and I love you's as freely as many of us wish we could, but showed his love in his own way. Every book he sold for Andra was an "I love you." Every warning that something was dangerous was his way of hugging her. Five weeks together allowed Andra to see that her father wasn't going to be there forever, and that making memories of their time together was a way for him to live forever, after he's gone. He'd be famous to her and she'd have those memories. It's a win win. READ THIS BOOK!
If someone is interested in reading a book about an adult daughter and her elderly father, they may enjoy this book very much. It just wasn't what I was expecting.