Last week, I spoke at an adult forum at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Elmhurst, Illinois. I had led a discussion at the church when Plank Road Summer was published; in that book the moral dilemma of whether or not to break the law to help runaway slaves provided a natural link to a discussion about how we make ethical decisions.
Until I sat down to prepare for this new presentation, I did not see any such obvious connection to faith issues in Plank Road Winter. I began by considering the scenes involving disaster relief, since that is a familiar topic to many churches. But as I delved further into the book, I discovered that the entire story is about stewardship, or managing one’s life with respect and regard for the needs of others. Though Hilda and I certainly instilled our own values into the characters and plot, only now do I understand how tightly the idea of serving others is woven into the fabric of the story.
From Papa going back to help the Kreuschers, to the community-wide disaster relief efforts, to a Pullman porter “loaning” money for train tickets home, Plank Road Winter is about using one’s time, resources, and abilities to serve the greater good of society. According to that Pullman porter, this is “Just friends helping friends. It’s the way of the road.” Summer readers will recognize “the way of the road” as the words of Gran Mather, first spoken when she instructed Florence to pull their light wagon off the planks onto the dirt lane to let a heavily-laden wagon go by. According to Gran Mather, “We are to ease the journey of those who are burdened.”
If your reading group or class would like to use “The Way of the Road: Lessons in Serving” or explore other aspects of the Plank Road books, take a look at our page of Resources for Teachers. The free, downloadable materials include a discussion guide on The Way of the Road and an eight-page Teacher’s Guide with discussion questions, classroom activities, and historical notes. Other curriculum materials include spelling and vocabulary lists for both books and links to websites providing historical background and additional educational activities.
We would love to hear about how readers use these resources to dig deeper into our Plank Road Stories.