Just Another Day
Author: Bobbie Dumas Panek, Central New York Branch
Review by: Ruthy Wexler, Denver Branch, CO
Bobbi Panek, a farmer’s wife, describes a tradition she and her family have established: they vie to see who can spot the first robin of the year. Whoever calls out “I see a robin!”—be they parent or child—wins the contest. Strangely enough, Bobbi says, the winner often “resembles a robin… [their]chest inflated, head cocked a little to one side … walk a bit more like a strut.”
Panek goes on, to tell us about the year that she, mother of four, really wanted to win the contest—and then her two-year-old son pointed out a red-breasted bird in the driveway. “Scott’s the winner,” her husband declared. “But that doesn’t count,” Bobbi complained, “because he doesn’t even KNOW it’s a robin.”
We laugh at and with Panek, and recognize the truth: no matter how old we grow, we still like to win contests. We recognize as well, her truth at the end of this piece, that she was so busy looking out one particular window that she had developed “narrow vision”—which can keep a person from seeing new sights, and ideas. And this is what all the pieces are like in Panek’s book, Just Another Day. They’re all short—some just two pages—and deceptively simple, but decidedly observant of both outdoor and human nature. All 48 of the stories are, in different ways, smile-inducing, interesting, and wise; their impact, like that of a good poem, lingers. In 8th grade, Panek’s teacher told her she was a good writer, but she didn’t start writing for publication until after her fourth child was born. At that point, inspired, she asked the editor of her local newspaper, the Auburn Citizen, if she could write a column. Another Day is a collection of those columns. Panek’s light-hearted writing style belies seriously observed messages underneath everyday events. Panek has such a fresh way with language: her metaphors and similes are the opposite of hackneyed. She uses all five senses to make us see what she sees—what something sounds like, feels like, looks like.
Panek’s language causes us to open our eyes. She applies those same skills when it comes to the subjects of animals and nature, about which so many writers wax sentimental. Panek tells about cuddly, fluffy baby chicks which seem, overnight, to turn into less appealing creatures with sharp beaks—and we get it. She describes the cicada’s life cycle with wonder and then, attending a neighbor’s funeral, understands that our leaving our bodies behind is much the same.
Panek doesn’t just speak about nature. It’s everything she sees and experiences as she and her husband farm their land and raise their children. There’s great variety and life in each piece and each is really a treasure, to be picked up, read, pondered and perhaps read aloud. They’re that enjoyable.
2015, Downtown Books Publishing, $15.00