13 Buttonholes by Joann C. Odenwelder was created from stories that her mother told her about her time working in a Navy uniform mill and being in love during World War II. It was also formed by her love of adventure, the state of Texas and her love of learning.
Odenwelder's main character is Annie Capelli. The story begins when she is 17 in 1942, living in Pennsylvania with her parents, older sister and younger brother. She works in a Navy uniform factory as a buttonholer. She believes she's in love and has the dream of being a wife and mother in her heart. Problem is, she has chosen the wrong person to share the dream with and it takes her quite a number of years to find it out.
Annie marries the love of her life-Kenneth. Just as if she's living the fairytale in her mind, they have two children. Her husband leaves his family's farm to open his own successful retail business. Just when she thinks life is about as perfect as can possibly be the couple takes a vacation with her sister and brother-in-law that changes their lives forever.
It's 1952 and Annie's sister Josie and brother-in-law Earl and her husband decide to move to Texas, buy a hotel and café in the middle of nowhere and instill themselves into the booming economy. Annie is in disbelief, but as is her personality at the time, she follows along and fulfills all that is asked of her and more. She's working the nightshifts, raising her kids, taking care of the advertising and making all the "regulars" very happy.
Then in an awful moment of realization, Annie sees her husband for the cad he is and opts for divorce-not something done in the early 1950's by a woman with two small children. Then she has another blow-her sister and brother-in-law no longer want to keep running the now very successful hotel and café.
Annie shows what she's made of-she stands up for the rights of the various minorities by serving everyone concerned in the same dining room, keeping her customers, buying out her family and owning the business outright.
Does she do it all on her own? No, her sister and brother-in-law do not leave Annie in the lurch-the re-arrange their plan and change jobs, leaving Annie as sole owner, but remaining in Texas. She also finds Blair Metcalfe, the attorney who helps her attain her divorce and preserve as much of her dignity as possible. He also falls in love with Annie and her children.
He helps her find her way through the 1950's culture that does everything to challenge and destroy any woman who tries to make it in a man's world.
As with any novel that relates the life of a particular character, Annie starts out very idealistic and young. Her transformation was needed, but happened just a bit too quickly and a might too easily. Yes, there was the divorce, her sibling wanting out of the business and her transformation from a doting wife and mother to independent businesswoman, but it didn't happen until the last couple of chapters.
And while Annie vowed to never rely on a man again and tried to stay "free", I notice that the author just couldn't help but let us see that in Blair Metcalfe, Annie had found her true soul mate.
As for the 13 Buttonholes-it was only mentioned as the position Annie worked as in the first couple of chapters and then near the end to explain to Blair about the rumored notes that the seamstresses put into some of the uniforms at the end. It wrapped up the story, but didn't really serve as much of a purpose as it should have given the point that it was the title of the book.
Carine Nadel is on The Reader's Advisory Panel of Woman's Day magazine and has had numerous articles and recipes published both on various websites and print publications. To read more of her work, log onto: http://www.Carine-whatscooking.blogspot.com
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