Most boomer gals loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. In fact, many of us have watched it several times since its original release in theatres in 1991 (Yikes—nearly thirty years ago!). With stars that included Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field and the wonderful Kathy Bates, the movie was a screen adaptation of an original book by Fannie Flagg. It was based on a real-life railroad whistle stop restaurant owned by her late aunt. Until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t realize Ms. Flagg had written several other books and when I downloaded The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion I was delighted to find another author worth reading.
The story begins with the main character, modern-day Sarah Poole, a.k.a. Sookie, a typical southern homemaker as she marries off the last of her three daughters. Interestingly, as I was reading this book, I could so easily picture Kathy Bates playing this character in a movie version. When she shockingly learns at the age of sixty that she was adopted as a baby by her eccentric, domineering southern mother, her entire world pivots off its axis. She’s no longer the custodian of her southern heritage and is somewhat appalled that her birth mother was of Polish stock, not a Daughter of the American Revolution.
Set mainly in Alabama, Wisconsin and California, the story is a fictional account of real women who were heroes on the homefront during World War II and their descendents. The Jurdabralinksi family lived in a community of Polish immigrants who settled in Pulaski, Wisconsin early in the twentieth century. They capitalized on the economic growth of automobiles by opening a filling station to support the family. When the family’s only son, Wink, left to go overseas at the start of the Second World War, the four daughters in the family took over the filling station and even managed to increase business during difficult times of gas rationing. The oldest sister, Fritzie, who is a bit of non-conformist rebel befriends a civilian stunt pilot who hires her as his wing walker. She soon learns to fly the plane and becomes an accomplished aviator who eventually also teaches her younger sisters how to fly. This is the family that Sookie learns she was born into. We learn about the circumstances of Sookie’s birth to one of the amazing Jurdabralinski sisters and what happened to her birth mother.
Each of the four sisters became part of the WASPs, an unacknowledged female branch of the military charged with transporting airplanes from the manufacturing plant to and between military bases in the southern United States during the war when women weren’t allowed to join active duty. These highly skilled women were not recognized at the time for their heroic work. When Sookie learns this is the stock from which she descended, she’s considerably assuaged and decides to try and arrange a meeting with her birth mother. The story straddles two time periods, World War II and the present, and the dialogue is representative of each period in time. It’s educational, poignant and at times humourous. I really enjoyed it and rate it 8 out of 10.