As a child what I looked forward to most when I spent the night at Grandma D’s weren’t the vanilla chews, coffee nips, and foil-wrapped chocolate balls in the covered pink pedestal candy dish on the dining room buffet, but her collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Each volume contained at least three books, often four, and sometimes five. The stories were sturdy and straightforward and populated by heroic men and women who got things done and generally knew how to save your bacon. They left me feeling wholesome and edified.
A White Wind Blew by James Markert reminded me very much of my Reader’s Digest Condensed reading experiences.
White Wind is set in the late 1920s at a large tuberculosis hospital in Waverly, Kentucky. Dr. Wolfgang Pike, White Wind’s protagonist, toils long hours administering to the quarantined patients. Along with his stethoscope, he carries about a bag bursting with flutes, violin, and harmonicas. He always has just the right tune and the right instrument to bring a patient joy or succor. Also he administers spiritual medicine in the form of Masses, prayers, and confessions. (Wolfgang is a priest-in-training whose seminary studies were interrupted after he fell in love with Rose, his now deceased wife, on the steps of a Louisville cathedral. Now his return to seminary is being delayed because so many highly contagious tuberculosis patients need him.) Recently Wolfgang has begun efforts to befriend an embittered and wily new arrival to Waverly. The new arrival is missing three fingers, but seems to know a thing or three about piano playing.
Wolfgang’s day concludes with a limp home to his cottage (Wolfgang is also a polio survivor and the polio left him with a club foot). There he settles down at his piano to work on a Requiem Mass to honor Rose. Sometimes he is menaced by KKK hoodlums throwing bricks through his window. The KKK dislike Wolfgang’s papist ways and the mixed race choir and orchestral group Wolfgang is forming amongst Waverly’s white and colored patients (housed separately and definitely not equally halfway down the hill in the colored hospital). The KKK is a nuisance keeping Wolfgang from finishing the Requiem. He needs to finish it soon. Preferably before he falls completely for the capable and selfless Nurse Susannah. Cuddle time with her could cut into composition time.
So, Wolfgang needs to 1. complete the Requiem, 2. prepare the choir for their debut, 3. stop the menacing KKK, 4. learn what embittered the former concert pianist, 5. decide whether or not to get the love thing going with Nurse Suzannah before he (cough) or she (cough, wheeze, excuse me) is infected with the white wind of Waverly, and 6. make it to work in the morning.
Sound doable? Infinitely and more so if you’re a literary superhero like Wolfgang Pike.