Too much of the world figures those with special needs and challenges are of no earthly good to humanity. If we simply ignore them, they will go away. That's how it was with Jess Best; everybody in town had written him off as simple.
My best friend's parents have adopted two Down's Syndrome children who are the light of their lives. My husband and I have watched these "old souls" grow into adulthood and it has been a wonderful experience. I always call them "old souls" because they taught us a lot about wisdom. Those that insist special needs children be institutionalized miss a very great gift and that is unfortunate.
My best friend teaches emotionally disturbed children and we have shared many stories of her students, their problems, their sorrows and joys. It has been an eye opening experience for me.
Now I'll get down from my soap box and tell you why I fell in love with Jess and his story. I felt for this man, written off by the members of his home town, believed to be of no earthly good to society. His father understood him, taught him what he could in order to make a living, and taught him to be a man. His brother-in-law knew that there was more to Jess than what the outside world saw and tried to help Jess as much as he could. .
The heroine of Simple Jess is widow Althea Winslow, whose mother-in-law insisted she re-marry. Althea needed help on the farm after her husband's death. She also wanted to sell her husband's hunting dogs. Jess wanted the dogs and made her an offer. While the money he offered was not near enough to see her through the winter, she struck a bargain with him: if he helped her prepare for winter, she would give him the dogs.
How touching it was that Jess was so excited about working the farm that he showed up at Althea's place before dawn! Althea had to re-think her preconceived notions about Jess because, as time passed, she noticed that, given some time to think, he had valuable ideas. For instance, she got angry with him for clearing the corn stalks out on the corn fields when she thought he should be hunting game or gathering firewood. She had her say, but knew Jess was right when he said, "But what, Miss Althea, are you going to feed the cow, if I don't harvest the corn stalks?"
Jess was not stupid, he was just slow. Nobody ever wanted to give him the time to express himself. Everybody was in such a hurry that they would always overlook him. I felt so badly for him when he went to the local general store with a list of items. He would memorize his list during his walk to the store, determined to tell the shopkeeper what he wanted rather than hand over his sister's list like he was a child. Like everybody else, the shopkeeper would impatiently shout at him to hurry up and would finally demand the "hated" list.
I never felt for one moment in this book that Jess was anything other than a man. Pamela Morsi created a hero and kept him a man. He was humiliated by everybody else but his own family and Althea. He had ideas but problems expressing himself. Sometimes, he "knew" something was wrong but did not know why or did not have the time to think about the whys. Such was the case when one of Althea's suitors gave her son, Baby Paisley, a deer tail and had Althea sew it onto Baby Paisley's cap. Jess said "no", it was wrong but could not give them a definite reason why it should not be done; it was just wrong. They just chalked it up to silliness from Jess.
Then Jess went hunting with Althea's two suitors. It took just a moment for one of them to see a flash of a deer tail in the woods and to aim to shoot. In that split second, Jess realized the tail is on Baby Paisley's cap; he shouted,"No!" to get the hunter's attention and saved the little boy's life.
There was so much in this book that was special. Almost every page hit me in the heart with something that made me think about this very special man. He was a man, with a man's heart, a man's feelings and almost everybody in the community except his brother-in-law, would never have believed that there was more to him than his simplicity.
This story was so different from the norm for me; Jess was a special person, a very special man and it took a very special woman to understand him and know that although he was slow, it did not mean that he was only half a man.
This book is one of those keepers you never let go of. It is one of those books that I know I will re-read many times just because of the attention and care spent in creating Jess as a viable member of the community; somebody to be trusted, somebody who knows how to care and how to love.
He was the best thing to walk into Althea's life and he is a character that I shall never, never forget.
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