Lila & Theron: The Herald Review
BY M. D. DRYSDALE for The Herald August 6, 2017
Anyone who wonders what it was like—what it was REALLY like—to grow up on a farm in rural Vermont 100 years ago doesn’t need to spend hours of research. All she or he has to do is to pick up a copy of “Lila & Theron,” the latest novel by writer/entrepreneur Bill Schubart of Shelburne.
Schubart, an occasional contributor to these editorial pages, grew up in Morrisville, a center for a half-dozen small towns with a history of dairy farming. He’s obviously immersed himself in both the geographic area and its residents and he brings them fully alive in his book.
In just under 200 pages, “Lila & Theron:” traces the title characters’ lifetimes of almost 100 years, from their early lives to their meeting at People’s Academy. That meeting leads eventually to a marriage of 70 years, during which they manage a 26-cow dairy farm at the very end of a rural road.
The book starts in a shocking way, as Theron’s father loses the only love of his life in the birthing of Theron; he can’t help but taking his despair out on his son. This induces an ongoing depression and withdrawal in his young son as he goes to a rural school. Things get better for him, however, after he graduates to People’s Academy. It is there that he discovers that he is smart and capable—and meets Lila.
Things also get better through the involvement of caring people who populate the rural valleys and who step in when a crisis is likely. Indeed, Schubart’s remembrance of the good-heartedness of the neighbors he knew or heard of around the county is perhaps the strongest take-away at the end of these pages.
Central to the book is the hardscrabble farm life that Theron shares for decades with his father. The two live together but separate, as Theron learns the ins and outs of dairy work and proves to be good at it. His father no longer mentions the death of his wife, Theron’s mother, but still her death hangs over the relationship.
Theron comes to respect his father, even as his father turns to liquor to sooth his always-present pain. The reader does not imagine much in the way of conversation in the old house; Theron’s only real companion is his cat, Mags.
The death of his father, slumped against the side of a milk cow in the barn, ends one section of the book. Then it turns to Theron and Lila as they combine to keep the farm going. The reader learns a lot about just what that takes.
The farm is always borderline, but the two work together without complaint for years, secure in each other’s love and bolstered from time to time by the kindness of their neighbors. The account concludes with a moving acknowledgement of Lila’s decline, death, and burial on the farm.
Schubart doesn’t press the point, but this reader, at least, was left with the words of Corinthians 13: “Faith, hope and love, these three, endure, but the greatest of these is love.” – M. D, Drysdale