Beauty Before Comfort
“The first lesson (my grandmother) ever taught me was that dancing matters……When she did come across men she fancied who didn’t dance she sent them away until they did. They always learned, because my grandmother was bitingly beautiful, and that is the second lesson she taught me-----that beauty inspires, all of God’s beauty, but especially hers.”
So writes Allison Glock at the start of her irresistible memoir of her maternal grandmother. Aneita Jean Blair, a woman who came of age during the Depression in a West Virginia factory town yet refused to succumb to the desperation that surrounded her. Instead, Aneita Jean rouged her cheeks and kicked up her heels and did her best to forget the realities of life in an insular community where your neighbors could be as unforgiving as the Appalachian landscape. Before it was all over, Aneita Jean would have seven marriage proposals and her share of tragedies that befall small-town girls with bushels of suitors and bodies like Miss America, girls “who dare to see past the dusty perimeters of their lives.”
In lyrical and often breathtaking language, Glock travels back through time, assisted by a fistful of old photos and the piercing childhood memories of her grandmother, “a skinny, eager child with disobedient hair and bottomless longing.” Together they guide us through the cramped dankness of the pottery plants, the dense sweetness of the holler, and into the surging promise of the Ohio River, capturing not only the irrepressible vitality of Aneita Jean Blair, but also the rich ambiance of working-class West Virginia during the twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II. Expertly written, lovingly told, Beauty Before Comfort is stirring testimony to the vanished dreams, and powerful spirit, of an extraordinary person and place.