Thursday, March 31, 2011

Borrowed Finery

Paula Fox's memoir, Borrowed Finery, began in the early 1920s and followed Fox's unusual upbringing by numerous people, but rarely her own parents.

Fox's first memories were of the Congregational minister in upstate New York who agreed to take her when the home where she was dumped seemed uninterested. Known to her as Uncle Elwood, the minister's kind nature and devotion to literature made a huge impression on Fox as well as his loving care of an invalid mother. His home, built by his ancestors a hundred years before, sat on the banks of the Hudson River, and this vista, the cold winters, and the crazy visits by Elwood's sister resonated deeply with Fox; however, it was this first home with him that shaped Fox's life and outlook.

Even though her parents abandoned her as a child, for some reason, they made occasional visits in her life -- sometimes it seemed to have no purpose other than to just uproot her. Her father imagined himself as a writer [he did sell one screen play], and her mother just imagined herself "not a mother." At one point, Fox heard her mother tell her father: "Either she [Paula] goes or I go." Finally taken permanently from Uncle Elwood when she was six, Fox's parents transported her from place to place and were only a part of her life in short stints.

Paula's travels included being taken to Cuba by her maternal grandmother, dumped in Florida with a housekeeper she hardly knew, and yet another time in California on the outskirts of Hollywood. Fox adapted to wherever she was. When her parents are eventually divorced, Fox spent time with her father's girlfriend in Nantucket, and even the girlfriend had huge gaps of time where Fox's father was just absent.

After one brief weekend together, she remembered a time that she and her father take a walk, and he proceeded to tell her a story about a giant rattlesnake that chased him from his cot. Fox listened but concluded that "I didn't believe him, but I didn't think he was lying. Or rather, I believed in the power of stories. Perhaps he didn't tell them all to me that day on the beach. Perhaps the stories were told over several days and evenings of that visit, and in later meetings with my father. They struck me as a way of thinking, of finding out the weaknesses of given attitudes and so-called truths inherited by the generations. There was no final truth."

For Fox, there was no truth from her father, a man who passed her around from place to place so that he could "write," drink, and do as he pleased. Fox's resilient nature, perhaps a survival skill that she learned young, allowed her to accept the oddness of her upbringing and the distance that her parents chose to place themselves from her. In no way did Fox present herself as having an unhappy childhood -- she just presented her story for what it was -- her story.

The memoir is fascinating. Her style and approach to her own material is one of disconnect, detachment, and a strange unfamiliarity with what having a "normal" childhood is -- she just had recollections of people and places, some with names, some not, and the real strangers -- her own parents.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Today when I tried to boil some water for tea, my stove began to beep at me in a repetitive manner and flash the message “F-2, F-2, F-2.”

Me: Argh.

*hits Clear button on time display*

It began to do it again – over and over and over…. “F-2, F-2, F-2.” No matter how many times I hit “Clear,” it continued that incessant beeping.

Tallulah ran under the bed {cats are such problem solvers}, and I went to the filing cabinet to search out the instructions for the stove filed under “Warranties.”

“Seriously?” I can hear my nephew Chapman say to me: “Why would you look something up on a hard copy when you can just Google it?”

Because …. Because….. well, because I have this file…. and in this file are papers that I have religiously saved for equipment or appliances that I have purchased with their warranties, receipts, and instructions – you know, in case, well, in case I have my stove go off on me with some kind of cryptic code.

I found the paperwork for the stove, and the instructions on page 13 reads as the following: If the time display beeps continuously and flashes an “F” followed by a number, you have a function error code.

Me: Duh.

Note the number after the “F.” Press Clear/Off. Allow oven to cool for 1 hour.

Me: Argh, the oven is so not turned on.

If problem repeats, disconnect all power to the range and call for service. Advise your service technician of the number following the “F” in the display.

*flips page*

That’s it. That’s all this little hard copy of 25 pages of a Sears Kenmore Stove and Oven Use – Care- Safety- Manual for 229C4020P019-2 that I have kept in a file drawer for 10 years, in case I needed it, gave me? Are you kidding me? I have six pages of instructions about not leaving children alone to play in the oven, or climb on the stove, or make sure that I don’t store flammable objects in the oven, or wear loose clothing, or let my pot handles stick out over the edge, or leave the stove on while doing Zumba, but it doesn’t tell me what the code means?

For all I know, “F-2” means “Stand by for blast off.”

So, I called David.

David: Have you pressed Clear?

Me: Oh, press Clear? Hmm. I never thought of that.


Me: Of course, I pressed Clear! Hello. I’m the main stove operator around here, of course, I pressed Clear!

David: Well, I’m coming home before you hyperventilate. Then we’ll call a service techinican if we need to.

Me: Hyperventilate? Perhaps, you mean explode?

So, while David comes home from work to assist me, and the stove continues to beep like a truck in reverse, I pull up Google and type “Kenmore stove F-2” into the browser.

With two clicks, I am at a page that gives me this: F2: Oven temperature too hot. Replace relay board, if present, or oven temperature sensor (RTD). Check sensor harness.

Me: *rubs chin* Check sensor harness? Yeah, thanks Google, I get the same message as I did from the instruction booklet except with even more “what the hecks” over a sensor harness and the relay board.

Sensor harness? Relay board? Where I am? The Enterprise?


I just wrote all that to tell you this: my file of all this paperwork – totally overloaded and outdated. I had instruction booklets, receipts, and warranties for more appliances and such that we no longer owned than we currently own..


Good thing my nephews aren’t in charge of my estate and cleaning out my files and finding this type of stuff to have fits and giggles over after I am dead.

Phews: Aunt Harriett has instructions for a VCR, two analog television sets, a Oskar chopper, two portable phones, and … what’s this? Three answering machines? Lawd. That woman was ancient.

*shakes puny, and aged, fist at them from my grave*

BTW: David fixed the stove by flipping the breaker in the basement for the kitchen, and I cleaned out that file and laughed, but I did keep the booklets for what I still own.

You know, just in case.

Just in case, what, you ask?

Well, the Internet goes down.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ashley and Sam Get Married!

As I stood in line to sign the book at the wedding reception at the
Brookstone Country Club for Ashley and Sam, two former students who graduated from Kennesaw Mountain in 2006, familiar faces swirled around me.

Argh. Is that a parent? Did her kid flunk?

Is that Boyd? Where did all his hair go?

Dang. That face looks familiar… is that Mark, a student I knew by association, but not in my classroom?

WINGATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I need you.

For nine months since Wingate and I found out that Ashley and Sam had set a wedding date and invited the both of us to attend, we accepted the invitation and planned to go together. We looked forward to March 26, 2011, and talked about how fun it would be to see all of these former students, now graduated from college, some with jobs, others with fiancées, even others in graduate school.

We couldn’t wait to see them and celebrate not only the wedding but the fine young people they had become. As teachers of students in the Magnet program at Kennesaw Mountain, our experience with these smart young people had been such a blessing, regardless of the huge responsibility of teaching the best of the best.

Imagine how sad Wingate and I were to find out that with the death of her husband’s uncle, she would be unable to attend.

Me: Weddings and funerals… always together.
Wingate: I can’t believe it; I was looking so forward to it.
Me: I’ll have to be a loser, attending the wedding all by myself.
Wingate: Give them my love, will you?
Me; Of course, but they will all be disappointed.

I picked up my table assignment and proceeded to waltz my way past the long line at the bar and those congregated in an anteroom for appetizers.

As I arrived at the table, I clapped with glee. Faces I know! People I know! Yay!!!!!

Fortunately, Ashley and Sam made sure I was seated with the delightful and entertaining parents of Audrey and Lindsay, two former students who were like teaching the brain trust. Always appreciative and complimentary of Wingate and my efforts as teachers, it was like being welcome home.

Hugs all around.

Also seated at the table were Leslie [forgive me Leslie if your name is spelled differently --it‘s been a freakin‘ long time], Lindsay and her current squeeze John, whom I proceeded to interrogate like he was an assassin, and the effervescent Boyd, a former student who could make pickin’ lint entertaining. I had hit jackpot gold at this table, and the evening turned out to be incredibly fun.

Hardly able to drink my first sips of Diet Coke before I was accosted by some of Kennesaw Mountain‘s finest, I heard gasps of “Mrs. Gillham!!!!! And Where‘s Wingate?“ till I felt like celebrity du jour.

I had no idea, until I stepped back into the loving arms of those guys, how much I missed these young people and their wit, their intelligence, and their bright eyes and enthusiasm.

Aww. For a moment I was like “I miss teaching.”

*slaps self in head*

Snap out of it!

As Ashley and Sam’s bridal party was introduced, I went down the line and saw that I knew them all -- at one time, all but one of them had been held hostage in my classroom.


What a special night this was indeed --- for Ashley and Sam beginning their married life together -- and for me, a valued teacher to them, to be part of it.

BTW: I had no intention of dancing -- thank you Boyd, my date, and Leslie and Lindsay, who used to be so quiet but turned into “wild girls” when the primitive beat of The Black Eyed Peas began.

What was that song? "Boom, Boom, Pow"? "Boom, Boom, Wow?" "Boom, Boom, How?'

Eh. Where's Foreigner's "Hot Bloodied" when I needed it?

What’s always hilarious about seeing all these former students again is what they remember about my classroom.

1. Robert: the fact that [he] was enrolled in a advanced English class, but that I insisted on beginning each class period by saying: “Okay, Mo Rons, let’s play school.”


2. Adzi - that I, at one point during her class, had taken up a Snappy Hand Toy Sticky Fingers [totally Googled that] from a student but became so entertained by it that I couldn’t manage to control myself. I stood in front of the classroom and practiced its supposed eight foot range by slapping the desk and stealing test papers from unsuspecting students. Adzi noted, “It was quite frightening, and you did it to Sam [the groom] repeatedly.”

*ponders how wise this must have been for classroom management*

3. Daniel -- that he had interpreted a poem by John Crowe Ransom titled “Janet’s Waking” one way, and that I had just looked at him like he was from Mars and said, “Uh. Nope. You’re wrong. Next, “ unlike other teachers who would have softened the blow. Daniel said, “Even though, I still contest that I was right.”

Me: Trust me. He was wrong.

4. Scott -- that he is still traumatized by the way my red pen bled on his papers. I think he wiped tears from his eyes.

*rolls eyes*

Eh. They all survived, and to me, they looked better for it.

Thank you! Thank you! Ashley and Sam for inviting me to your beautiful wedding.

It was beyond special. Really.

So, who’s next of my former students to get married?

I’ve practiced my dance moves.

Hums, "Play that funky music, white boy..."


Saturday, March 26, 2011

March in Lakemont

Dusk in Lakemont, March 19 and 20, 2011

Each year as we have the privilege and blessing of being in our home in Lakemont, we discover new aspects of nature. This past weekend -- it was the wood violet.

Oh, I thank God for the gift of having the time to slow down and appreciate.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Hawkes Hall

Quarterly, I get a magazine, Columns, from the old hallowed halls of my alumni with mostly articles and information of which I am uninterested: “Professors’ Work Selected by Education Council,” “Storytelling Event Garners Honor,” or “Students Learn by Serving.”


This Spring Issue, however, had a two page article on the freshman dorm, Hawkes Hall, which turned 100 years old.

“Happy Birthday, Hawkes” reads the headline and then an unnamed author proceeds to give a short history of a very old building with interviews and comments from former occupants.

Aww. Hawkes Hall. I did some time there. Nine months -- got out on good behavior and moved to the New Dorm; yes, we called it the new dorm because it was NEW and had freakin’ air conditioning.

I’m sure the New Dorm had a name. Maybe.

Some old rich alumni?

Manget? Turner?

I dunno. Long time ago.

I attended LaGrange College from 1972 to 1976. In those days, the college years averaged four -- or maybe that’s just how much my parents budgeted. I was told I had four years to get it done.


LaGrange College is a four-year liberal arts and sciences college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Located in the booming town [except not “booming” when I was there] of LaGrange, Georgia, the college is the oldest private institution of higher learning in Georgia and averages an enrollment of about a 1,000.

That includes Townies, but that’s for another blog.

When I moved in to Hawkes Hall Room 214 as a member of the freshman class in the fall of 1972, I looked around in amazement. The place practically wreaked of a by-gone time.

Really? No air conditioning? Toilets that far down the hall? Roaches? Maybe mice? Ghosts? Argh.

Where am I? I stepped out of Atlanta into this?

But. There was room.

After having seen the door rooms of my siblings at University of Virginia and Mercer, these seemed like, well, rooms -- not sleeping cocoons from 2001 Space Odyssey.

Two tall windows flanked the south end of the room I was assigned, and by those windows was a functioning sink and mirror. Since the room was on the east end and an end room, right outside my room was a metal fire escape.

* fires? *

Looming hugely in that room on that east end was a glass blocked window with wavy patterns, its insert leaving a small ledge, for right outside hung those metal steps of the fire escape. Many a night, I would hear its light clanging as a girl sneaked stealthily up those stairs after curfew.

Not me, of course.


Two single beds, with flat mattresses, Army issue, lay end to end under the glass blocked window, and two built in closets without doors were on either side of the entrance door from the hallway.

On the west wall -- two metal desks and two rickety chest of drawers set ready to be filled with the nonsense of two, giggly freshman girls. [Gosh, I'm writing like Hemingway with all those twos.]The floors, hardwood, were noisy as our wedge heels and platform shoes, so fashionable at the time, clomped back and forth.

Regardless, our assigned dorm room, seemed humongous with its ten foot ceilings and floor space --- enough room in 214 to do the Virginia Reel with Rhett Butler. The hallways, painted a light yellow, boasted crown molding and wide pine plank flooring, and its girth --- wide enough to drive a Volkswagen Beetle. In the middle of each hallway was a single pay phone and a bathroom with three showers and four stalls.

Hawkes Hall is an edifice -- the appropriate word for a building of this size and stature. Its brick façade, like a fading film star, sat on a top of a hill and showed wear and tear around its edges.

Its front entrance, with its wide veranda, led to a foyer which housed on the left the apartment of our kind, but vigilante, Mrs. Glynn, the house mother. On the right, the parlor, a worn out room with seedy sofas and ratty, overstuffed chairs worked as a combination common room as well as an appropriate place for freshman girls to entertain “gentleman callers.” Circular stains from the popular Coke bottle marked the occasional tables and showed a less than kind treatment by a girl who had absent-mindly left her drink there as she gossiped or pretended to study in its cool environs….

but the suggestion of decorum and behavior, with its heavily draped windows, reigned in that old parlor. If a freshman girl was to meet her date for the first time, that was the room. When the young man arrived, announced and greeted by the house mother, another freshman girl or even our house mother would use the in house phone to call up to the lucky girl‘s floor: "Your date is here."

*holds moment of silence*

In respect for this ancient ritual, those of us, with no date sitting in the common room and commiserating with other dateless gals, would gather up our books, the detritus of us, and scamper out -- dare we be seen gaping or spying on that desired event.

Hawkes Hall belonged to a by-gone era, but its historical presence on campus with its airy rooms, its metal fire escapes, its outdated parlor, and grand entrance made it a memorable place to begin my life as a college student.

Happy Birthday, indeed, Hawkes, you old girl.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


The title of Mary Karr's third memoir misled me. I thought "Lit" as in Literature -- but I was so wrong.

Karr uses Lit as in "lit" up on alcohol.

I haven't read Karr's first two memoirs, but there are so many books out there -- so many memoirs-- that to read three by the same author seems limiting. Now that I have completed Lit though, I may change my mind.

Karr is hilarious. As I told a friend today, if Karr wasn't such a potty mouth, I would recommend this book to everyone I know.

Her self-deprecating humor, her observations about herself and others, and her ability to describe effectively almost any situation, light or heavy, is a true gift.

The real treat, however, is her wit [rhymes with lit -- I know, lame] -- but there were times when I found myself laughing out loud.



At a memoir about alcohol addiction?

Yes, I did -- because Karr tells stories about herself with an irreverent, yet incisive humor, and that keeps this work from being just another tell all story about addiction.

Karr does hit rock bottom. She does put herself and her son in danger. She does mess up her marriage. Alienate her family, her in-laws. Make horrible decisions -- but she is so honest, so forthright in these situations, that when she turns a very "dark" moment into something lighter, I laugh.

She has already made me cry, worry, go "oh no," and "no you didn't," so that when she makes her wisecracks, I laugh with her because she can laugh now too.

Karr's journey is a rewarding one -- she survives, her kid lives, she's a successful writer, and believe or not, through her ordeal becomes a woman of faith: "If you'd told me even a year before I start taking my son to church regular that I'd wind up whispering my sins in the confessional or on my knees saying the rosary, I would have laughed myself cockeyed. More likely pastime? Pole dancer. International spy. Drug mule. Assassin."



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let the Great World Spin

A man towers above Manhattan on a tight wire sprung between the World Trade Center's north and south buildings. Pedestrians pause in the street, taxi cab drivers pull over, and office workers lean out their windows, gazing at the man who dared such a feat.

So begins Colum McCann's National Book Award Winner, Let the Great World Spin.

It's August 1974, and in the environs of New York other tales unwind, mostly tales of woe --- loneliness, sadness, fear and pain.

Irish monk Corrigan finds himself living deep in the projects of the Bronx, befriending prostitutes, entertaining the elderly at a nearby hospital, and welcoming his brother, fresh from Ireland.

In a Park Avenue apartment, five mothers from distinctly different backgrounds gather together to mourn the losses of their sons in Vietnam.

An artist, on her way home from an unsuccessful exhibition, clips the bumper of a van, causes a horrific auto accident, and flees the scene.

And so it goes. [My apologies to Kurt Vonnegut.]

In this novel about New York in the mid 1970s, McCann manages to give his reader quite the story of those whose lives have "spun" out of their control and into others -- all on the same day as the "artistic crime of the century." McMann delivers his story from the different voices of his characters --- all with the absence of the good, old fashioned quotation marks.

In one powerful narration by Corrigan's brother, the images of one brother obliviously driving a car while the other brother lies critically injured in the hospital came across chilling in its force:
"They cleared the room while they took X-rays. I pulled in under the bridge where I had spent most of the summer. A few girls were scattered around that night --the ones who had missed the raid. Some swallows scissored our from under the rafters. Seeding the sky. They didn't call out to me. My brother, in Metropolitan Hospital, still breathing. I was supposed to work in Queens, but I crossed the road instead. I had no idea what was happening. The blood swelling in his lungs. Towards the tiny bar. The jukebox blared. The Four Tops. Intravenous lines. Martha and the Vandellas. Oxygen masks. Jimi Hendrix. The doctors did not wear gloves. They stabilized him. Gave him a shot of morphine. Shot it right into his muscle. .. They found a religious medal in his pocket of his pants. I left the bar and crossed the late-night boulevard..."

Something about the staccato style of this passage -- the stacking up of images --- one brother alive and doing his life while the other fights for his --- was so original and effective in this setting before cell phones and other means of technology bring "us" quickly to the scene of emergency or tragedy.

As one critic calls McCann's narrative ability, "gritty and lyrical," the novel, in my humble, opinion, is a not miss for the serious reader of literature.

Let the Great World Spin
is a fine work of fiction -- perhaps schools of literature on the collegiate level shall discover it and put it in their courses on the American post-modern novel to be analyzed, admired, and examined.

I'd like to do it. I'd love to teach this book to a class of English majors.

Except not really.

Been there. Done that.

But I might like to take a class that offered it.

Except not really.

I'd rather you take the class or read the book and tell me about it. :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Western Auto and bikes...

The first job I remember my Daddy having was managing a Western Auto on the south side of Atlanta. For those of you who do not know that store -- it mostly sold automobile parts and accessories.

My dad worked for that store in the 1950s, but when corporate wished to move him from Atlanta to another city, he decided that he didn’t wish to uproot his wife and four children [they had moved from Jacksonville, Fla., and before that from St. Louis, MO.]. He quit the job with Western Auto, and he and my mother opened their own business, an employment agency called The Job Hunter.

I always liked the name of their business since my brother’s name was “Hunter,” and I somehow associated that name with the business. I was young; I knew just enough information to be mostly wrong.

Since that business never operated in the black, my father and mother closed their office and went back into fields they had been educated for --- my mom in nutrition and my dad in math education. Those stories, however, are for another blog. :)

I loved it when Daddy worked at Western Auto. On the weekends, I walked to his store, which was located in the Stewart-Lakewood shopping center and less than 1/4 miles from where we lived, and I strolled the aisles. I admired the shiny chrome of car parts, the cans of oil, the big car batteries, and the long, black smelly hoses. Whether it was a Pontiac or Buick or Oldsmobile or Rambler, Western Auto carried what they needed.

The store also had all kinds of automobile tires -- hanging ominously from a rack attached to the ceiling and making the store have this pungent rubber smell.

Cars in those days were not the purring motors with the computer hook up to diagnose problems that we have today, but were relatively uncomplicated machines that ran less than perfectly and had little annoying repairs. Flat tires, thrown rods, carburetors, or broken belts seemed the fare of these cars.

Actually, I have no idea what exactly were the most common repairs, but people worked on their cars in their garages and driveways -- and sometimes fixed 'em.


In retrospect, I find it kind of humorous now that my dad worked in that store since he didn’t care a fig for cars or working on them, but he was in management, and his work was less about auto parts and more about managing people and taking the money from the till to the bank.

I also loved Western Auto for their bike selection. In the front of the store were three or four rows of numerous new bikes, all colors of the rainbow -- red, blue, green, and yellow -- I loved touching and smelling their shiny newness , as they stood in orderly rows like soldiers with their kickstands holding them still.

When in the store, I would take it upon myself to straighten the bikes, and in doing so, I took the opportunity to sit on each of them and imagined myself owning one and coasting down the hill on my street, streamers waving, with all the envious eyes of my by-standing friends trained on me.

The problem was --- I never had a new bike. I had bike leftovers.

My parents were frugal because they had to be. Four children, a house payment, keeping a car running [we bought used mainly then], tithing, and of course, college funds, my parents were not ones to be buying me a new bike just because I wanted one.

I shared a bike with my sister, or I could ride one of my brothers’ bikes with the nerdy, huge, newspaper basket on the front, that looked, frankly, dumb to me if there were no papers to carry. Plus, a boy’s bike was a whole different “horse” to ride -- since it has two straight bars instead of the sloping bar of a girl’s bike. I had to turn the bike on its side, get it rolling, and then jump on the seat. There was no way for me to mount if from its kickstand position as they were tall, wieldy things, and I was small.

*imagines self as small*

This didn’t keep me from riding their bikes though, and I remember that I could only touch the pedals with the tips of my toes, which made pedaling a challenge. I also can’t tell you how many times I hit the curb riding one of my brother’s bikes and came slamming down on that center bar.

Yowser. No wonder I never had children.

My best friend, Marcie, however, always had not only the best toys, but she had tons of them.

She was the spoiled oldest child and the only girl in her family. She had several Barbies with all the special accessories -- Barbie houses and cars -- fabulous evening gowns and furs --- Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, her best friend Midge, Skipper and Scooter -- while I had one or two Barbies with clothes hand made by my doting aunts. No sparkles on my doll’s clothing, just regular dresses that looked like miniatures of my own clothes since the material usually came from a remnant of something made for me.

Marcie also had a beautiful, pink bike that I coveted, and because Marcie loved me, she let me ride it.

It was a baby pink Sting Ray --- it sat low and had a long, white banana seat and the wonderful sissy bar. [No bar to come flying down on when you hit a curb or came to a halting stop]. The butterfly handlebars came up to the hands, no bending down for them, and the sparkly silver streamers flowed out from the handle grips.

Now this was a bike, and Western Auto had many of them ---- but I never had one, even though I begged for one Christmas after Christmas -- even invoked Santa, whom by then I didn’t believe in, to please give me one.

Nope. Instead I had bike leftovers: my sister’s rickety, rusty, old grandma bicycle with sissy bar and antiquated hand bell thingy. Her bike had a crushed front, tire fin that sent it limping to the right, and a broken kickstand, that when I tried to park it somewhere, it fell over like a felled steer. The chain came off every few feet [it seemed], and the bike made this whistling noise [everybody knew when you were coming] when it got up to speed, which was rare.

It was lame and ugly, and so not a Sting Ray.

I only rode my sister's bike if I had to --- and sometimes I had to.

The one bonus to my sister's bike was, if I was in a hurry and what kid isn't, I didn’t take the time to bother, like other kids, with the kickstand - I would just lay it on its side sometimes with me on a dead run, leaving the bike abandoned and forlorn on the playground on in a friend's driveway or yard and never worrying about scratching its already lovely finish.


But Marcie was good to me, and we learned to ride her bike together ---- I was taller, and I would pedal with her behind me on that long, banana seat. We thought we were something as we rode around the neighborhood or to the shopping center for éclairs and cherry Cokes --- on her fashionable Sting Ray... as we thought, the envy of all .....

but we also had some pretty awesome, bike “wrecks” --- and that’s for another blog.


Friday, March 4, 2011

The Story of My Father

In her attempt to come to grips with her father's death from the complications of Alzheimer's, Sue Miller's The Story of My Father examines closely those last years and months that she spent at her father's side.

Her father, James Nichols, retired from his professorship at Princeton Theological Seminary, and his quiet demeanor was quite the contrast to Miller's overly dramatic mother. When Miller's mother died suddenly of a heart attack at 60, her father found himself adrift and unable to focus on moving on with his life.

Gradually, Nichols began to show symptoms of forgetfulness, and as each of Miller's siblings seem to be in denial of their father's disease, Miller noted more and more her father's troubling behavior.

When the diagnosis was confirmed, her father smiled "ruefully and said, 'Doggone, I never thought I'd lose my mind.'"

As we age, we all think of how we will die. Cancer? Heart disease? Falling down the basement stairs?

Miller reacts to her father's comment: "I was startled at the time to realize this -- that he had thought about it. But now that he is dead, and several others of his generation and the one before it in my family are dead also, it's my turn to think of it -- of death -- and I do. I wonder how it will come to me. Unlike Dad, though - but largely because of him - I think often of the possibility that I may lose my mind. And when I do, I remember this moment; when my father seemed to be getting the news about his fate, about how it would be for him; when he took it in and accepted it and was somehow interested in it, all at the same time, before my eyes. It was a moment as characteristic of him as any I can think of in his life, and as brave. Noble, really, I've come to feel."

This is the beauty to me of Miller's memoir of her father and the telling of his story. As sad as it is, it is also a gift for others of us -- to have a first person narrative of a child watching a parent succumb to the ravages of this disease, and through that process come to know and understand not only her father better, but herself: "The drama that brought me to this memoir was my father's illness and what it meant in my life."

In simpler terms, Miller shows how much death teaches us about life.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ellison, Jenkins, and Littlefield

Crime Fiction?

Totally not my genre, but writers are -- and three crime fiction writers came to the Book Exchange on Tuesday night and kick started this season's author's receptions.

A very pleasant evening to be out and about with the temperatures around 60 and a feel of spring in the air, I arrived at The Book Exchange in time to eat the goodies always offered in the back of the business -- this time -- fruit, brownies, pound cake, ham sandwiches spread with cream cheese mixed with pineapple and pecans--- and then I took a seat saved by my friend Marilyn about four rows back, whipped out my Georgia Credit Union ballpoint and Mead college ruled spiral notebook for note taking, and took a listen.

The first author, JT Ellison, a tall blond with cute, trendy glasses, introduced herself by telling of how she arrived at writing crime fiction about serial killers in Nashville. After the brief biography, she told how, in an attempt to research her novels, she coerced her way into "ride alongs with police" and recently attended her first autopsy. Fairly successful as a crime writer, Ellison was openly transparent about the difficulties of writing and dealing with editors and noted that only once has one of the titles for her book actually been the title. She also said that she made a huge mistake once by leaving "a cliffhanger so big you can't wrap it up in the next novel." Her sixth novel in the Taylor Jackson series, So Close the Hand of Death, is the one touted on this book tour.

The second writer, the soft spoken Grant Jerkins, a rookie with only one published book, actually lives in Cobb County. Funny and self-deprecating, he cracked me up several times with his stories. He told how this is is first author tour and that he had one before in Athens, Georgia, where only one "crooked lipstick wearing matron" attended. She apparently kept calling him "Carl," but he didn't care since "she bought a book." At one point he attempted to summarize his work for the audience, but couldn't think about how to do it without going on too long, so his colleague Sophia Littlefield began reading the blurb reviews from the back of his book to prompt him. He grinned like a kid and commented "Sounds good" and "I'd totally read that." Unfortunately based on his calling his own work "dark, " I know that I won't read it even though I enjoyed his sense of humor immensely. He sold the movie rights to his first work, A Very Simple Crime, and his second novel At The End of the Road has its setting locally.

The third author, Sophia Littlefield, according to her peers, has nominations for every single award that "our" community offers, but I don't know that I heard that she won any. The most accomplished of the three, Littlefield exuded confidence in what she does. Her latest crime fiction drama, A Bad Day for Scandal, is apparently already "old news" since her current venture is a young adult novel titled Urban Fantasy. Its dystopian theme a shoe in for what's popular with that age, the novel is "The Stand" [Stephen King's 1978 novel] as one reviewer put it "in bras and panties." From what I could tell from Littlefield's commenting on her own work, it had zombies in it "well done."

*scratches head*

During the question and answer at the end of their talk, one serious reader of JT Ellison stood up and told her that "we needed to talk." Ellison, taken aback a little by her aggressiveness, said "you can ask me now" and even Jerkins noted, "I think you need to get it off your chest," and the audience member said, "in your work [I can't remember the name] you had John [one of the characters] keep a secret from Taylor." Ellison attempted to tell why, but the reader kept huffing and puffing about how "John wouldn't do that! John wouldn't do that!"

I love the passion that readers have for the characters they read about, and I imagine in a series especially, the readers feel they have a certain ownership of knowledge about the characters portrayed, but this woman was about to come out of her jeans over "John wouldn't do that!"

A humorous moment came later when someone asked Grant Jerkins about whom he would like to star in the movie for his book. A woman from the audience quipped, "I hear Charlie Sheen's available. " We all cracked up, but Jerkins got her one better by adding, "I heard that the top ten quotes today were half from Gaddafi and the other half from Charlie Sheen."


As always, I love listening to writers talk about their work whether I read them or not.

Coming up in April -- Terry Kay.

Him? I know.