3 out of 4 stars
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The only shortcut we have in life is teachability. We can learn from people’s lives as we observe them, noting pitfalls to avoid or examples to follow. We can even learn from people we will never have opportunity to meet in person by reading biographies. This was Amy Mathis’ intent when she wrote Like Saving Summer in a Jar: The Story of James “Jimmy” Mathis A Strawbridge Boy. Amy makes no boast that this is the greatest story ever told and acknowledges that it is not the only story of a man from humble beginnings who chose to do good things with his life. Her desire in writing this memoir was to give honor and respect to her father’s life and to document it so that others may follow his example.
The book is divided into three sections—The Boy, The Man, and The Legacy. Amy narrates the entire story, relating what she learned during interviews with others for the times outside of her experience. Her style is conversational, making the reader feel like he/she is sitting at the kitchen table listening to a story and looking through old scrapbooks. She has included photographs throughout the book, which I enjoyed. I would love to see the printed version of this book as the photos were harder to appreciate on the Kindle.
Jimmy was born in 1937, the oldest of six children. His family was poor, yet happy. An unfortunate accident took his mother’s life when he was only twelve years old. His father was grief-stricken and struggled to care for the children in his wife’s absence. In a selfless decision to do what was in the children’s best interest, he opted to send Jimmy and his brother to the Strawbridge Home for Boys. This home proved to be life-changing for Jimmy. It was like a second family with a house mother and house father and forty brothers. It was a farm where all the boys worked hard and attended church and school and felt loved. The boys were able to visit with their families often, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas and a few weeks during summer. In this way, their family relationships were preserved.
Jimmy was a bright student who loved learning. He graduated high school and went on to study engineering at both the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. In fact, he was a lifelong learner, continually seeking opportunities to learn and grow. As a working man, he was steadily promoted and given increasing responsibility. Beyond his paying job, Jimmy devoted much of himself to church and community. He taught Sunday school, mentored youth in the Methodist Youth Fellowship, and held leadership positions on the Board of Child Care and the Strawbridge Alumni Association. He started a scholarship fund to help others like himself--those with broken, damaged pasts who needed help and healing and hope.
I enjoyed reading about Jimmy Mathis’ life. Being a city girl, I wonder what it was like to be raised in a rural area in a different time. I got a taste of that here with Jimmy’s story as a child and then as a husband and father. My favorite part of this book was the chapter about the vacations that Amy took with her family. Among the anecdotes were the infamous camping trip to Frontier Town; the failed attempt at crabbing; and the giant family reunion in Bethany Beach in a house built for six. Despite the gaps between expectation and reality, they made lasting memories and had lots of laughs during these treasured family times.
The lessons woven into the narrative are not rocket science (although he was a rocket scientist!). But they are wise. Some examples include: value of a dollar earned and hard work; respect for family and traditions; importance of gratitude and generosity; formation of discipline and good habits; priority of family over work; importance of creating memories and forming traditions; and importance of seeking counsel from others (including your spouse) when making significant decisions. Jimmy’s life is not something unattainable. He came from ordinary (though difficult) circumstances and applied a philosophy of hard work combined with faith and family values. With wisdom and hard work, an impactful life such as Jimmy’s is within reach for the average person.
Like Saving Summer in a Jar is an easy-to-read, heartwarming, and inspiring memoir. Amy Mathis takes you alongside her on an emotional review of her father’s life and legacy. She traces a theme of good things happening in her father’s life through the church or its connections, yet without it being overly religious or preachy. I found only a handful of minor errors, such as missing words or typos. However, the conversational style of writing led to fragmented sentences throughout, seemingly as a stylistic choice to come across as a natural conversation. Because of the fragmented sentences, I am forced to downgrade the rating to 3 out of 4 stars, though I would not hesitate to bump it up to 4 stars with another round of editing. If you enjoy stories of overcoming adversity, living out faith, and giving back to others, you won’t be disappointed. However, if you are looking for action and adventure, this is not the book for you.
Like Saving Summer in a Jar
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