NOTE: This review was originally published by the Southern Literary Review and is republished here for our readers with their permission.
Reviewed by Donna Meredith
Life Through These Eyes is a collection of over a hundred thoughtful, short personal essays by West Virginia native Michael S. Lambiotte. A few of these essays, first published as columns for a local newspaper, are specific to life in Clarksburg, but most would strike a chord of familiarity with people anywhere.
The essays are divided into sixteen sections with titles like “Business and Leadership,” “People You Want To Stay Away From,” “How To Be a Man: Sports and Other Man Things,” “Keeping the Faith with Kindness,” and “Communities and Individuals with and without Vision.” While topics range widely from childhood memories like slurping down the sugary liquid in those pinky-finger-sized wax bottles to the kindness of strangers and holiday traditions, many of the essays encourage civic responsibility and the building of community.
Like most men who grew up in small towns or in the country, Lambiotte fondly recalls “bonding with bugs and worms” as a child. He expresses concern that fireflies seem to be disappearing through destruction of their habitat, light pollution, and overuse of fertilizer and pesticide: “It makes me very sad to think that soon a whole generation of children may miss the magic and mystery of fireflies lighting up the night. Or the excitement of hunting crawlers with their dad.”
Since Lambiotte was a political science teacher, coach and high school administrator for three decades, it’s no surprise that one section of essays bears the title “Learning Comes in Many Forms.” These essays address the roles schools play in producing good citizens. Topics include simple things like catching kids when they are doing something right, encouraging everyone to vote, insisting on literacy for all, and figuring out how to keep kids excited about learning.
The influence of Michael’s wife Sandra on his life and thoughts is evident throughout the collection, but never more so than when he discusses gardening. He takes note of “how easily beauty and color elevate our lives—the sweet purple of spring lilacs, the perfume of a summer rose, the splendor of a violet dahlia.” Or when he sees the benefit of creating a “view that is pleasing from any window” of your house, not only for you and your family to enjoy, but also for your neighbors, “for what pleases the eye pleases the soul.”
He also finds humor in married life, and I must confess I found way too much of myself and my husband in his descriptions of their journeys in automobiles. I suspect you will too. The vehicle’s human warning system—”That’s fast enough,” and “It’s green” (or red or yellow)—sound all too familiar. Maybe we wives can’t help ourselves from trying to help our husbands “live longer,” as the title to one essay suggests.
A full range of creativity is evident in Lambiotte’s approach to essay writing. “The Raising and Care of Humans” is told from the viewpoint of his Labrador retriever, Merry, in collaboration with the family cats. One lesson we humans can learn from our dogs is forgiveness: “that tail wag is for real, even though you’ve been a real jerk.” Pets can teach us the meaning of “unconditional love.”
One essay, “Coach I Will Always Remember You,” takes a hard look at coaching sports, from both sides of the bench. Lambiotte notes that “[c]oaching is more than a whistle and a loud voice. It’s character.” He recalls the men who coached him forty years ago, “men of respect, toughness, fairness,” and yet they made football fun. He also recalls serving as offensive coordinator for a coach who was a “cusser” and “clipboard thrower,” a man avoided even by his own dog. The team captain once confessed that this hot-tempered man took the fun out of football.
On the whole, these essays encourage us to nurture our better selves—and who among us doesn’t need an occasional nudge toward greater kindness, tolerance, and appreciation of the things that really matter in life?
After thirty-two years with Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Michael and Sandra returned to their childhood home of Clarksburg where they are getting reacquainted with old friends and making new ones.
Editor’s Note: A special thank you to the Southern Literary Review for allowing us to republish this book review on The Clarksburg Post.