- Published on Sunday, 29 September 2013 20:10
Whenever my mother drove us from coastal Mississippi to New Orleans to visit my father on the weekend, she would say, “Lock the doors.” After my mother and father split for the last time before they divorced, my father moved to New Orleans, while we remained in DeLisle, Mississippi. My father’s first house in the Crescent City was a modest one-bedroom, painted yellow, with bars on the window. It was in Shrewsbury, a small Black neighborhood that spread under and to the north of the causeway overpass. The house was bounded by a fenced industrial yard to the north and by the rushing, plunking sound of the cars on the elevated interstate to the south. I was the oldest of four, and since I was the oldest, I was the one who bossed my one brother, Joshua, and my two sisters, Neissa and Charine, and my cousin Aldon, who lived with us for years, to arrange my father’s extra sheets and sofa cushion into pallets on the living room floor so we all had enough room to sleep. My parents, who were attempting to reconcile and would fail, slept in the only bedroom. Joshua insisted that there was a ghost in the house, and at night we’d lie on our backs in the TV-less living room, watch the barred shadows slink across the walls, and wait for something to change, for something that wasn’t supposed to be there, to move.
--Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped: A Memoir (Bloomsbury, 2013) 9781608195213
- Published on Friday, 23 March 2012 13:58
My mentor in that English Department, the late C. Hugh Holman, told me about taking Katherine Anne Porter to Andalusia. After they had seen peacocks and other poultry and were resting with cool drinks indoors, Porter asked if there were never any problems with marauding dogs. O'Connor drew a drapery aside and from behind it lifted a leaning--rifle or shotgun. She sighted down the barrel through the window glass. "Not any more," she allegedly said, and then replaced the gun. Later Hugh drove a silent Porter quite a long way from the farmhouse while she stared blankly through the windshield, at last turning to say to him with a sigh, "That woman scares me to death."
Was this story true? Apocryphal? In The Habit of Being I find only that in March of 1958 Porter came with the Gossets and "two professors from North Carolina."
Perhaps he told me because he sensed that in some ways Flannery O'Connor scared me to death as well.
--Doris Betts, "Talking to Flannery O'Connor" in Flannery O'Connor: In Celebration of Genius edited by Sarah Gordon(University of South Carolina Press, 2010)
- Published on Monday, 19 March 2012 15:37
As I sat in my darkened house and listened to the wind, it was difficult not to think of those dire predictions. Yet realistically I could conjure up no cause for great alarm. Despite the draftiness of my house, it has withstood enough storms to acquire an atmosphere of assorted personal histories; it is the kind of old, musty dwelling that would serve as a good home for ghosts. Its very longevity was testimony to its sturdiness, I decided, as the squeak of the damper again sent prickles up my spine. I briefly considered walking out to the beach to peek over the dunes at the surf, but settled instead on passing the hours before bedtime by baking a cake.
In the amber light thrown off by two kerosene lamps, I leaded through a dog-eared cooked to a pecan upside-down cake that could easily be mixed by hand. Grabbing some unshelled pecans from a plastic bag under the sink, I began cracking them open, feeling cozy and snug. A particularly strong gust shook the house, and I thought of the shorebirds I had seen feeding on the beach a few days before, the earliest of the flocks that would soon come migrating through. In this kind of weather they would be huddled back in the marsh. The ghost crabs that had only begun to dig out of their winter burrows would have ducked back underground. Some animals were bound to die tonight, and if the ocean jumped the primary dune, most of the shrubs to the east of the highway would no doubt be choked by salk. I turned on the gas oven--for warmth as much as for the cake--an poured a yellow batter into a pan on top of a frothing mixture of butter, brown sugar, and nuts.
- Published on Sunday, 19 February 2012 00:00
Even in the winter, green. It's why
we call you live.
That or the way
gray mosses stay,
amidst your leaves, their own demise.
What human cries,
old man, have you
been witness to?
You're not talking, though. Just silence
and through your dense
knotted limbs, a
-Cathy Smith Bowers, from A Book of Minutes (Iris Press, 2004)
- Published on Sunday, 12 February 2012 00:00
Being the firstborn child in our household and the first grandson in Mama's entire extended family, I experienced early confusion about exactly what my name was supposed to be. When you are a child, you do not learn your name by reading it on your birth certificate. No, you infer your intended label by the repeated observation of what you happen to be called by those adults (or available children) whom you happen to trust.
According to this process, I soon determined that my given name was Baby! After all, that was the constant oral label placed upon me by Mama, Daddy, and even my trustworthy grandmother. After all, I was the first (in our family) baby.
In case anyone without this experience wonders, it is important to know that Baby is not a bad name. No, it is in fact a very good name. When your name is Baby, you get to do exactly whatever you want to do! It was spoiling and wonderful!
I got along very well being the singular family Baby for nearly three years. But when the unanticipated arrival of my little brother interfered with the established order of things, even my name changed. Suddenly, everyone started calling me Donald. And my old, dear name, Baby, went to my uninvited (by me) little brother.
People came to see him in droves. Their assessment was always the same: "Look at that beautiful baby! He is so gorgeous!" My disgust was profound.
--Donald Davis, Tales from a Free-Range Childhood (John F. Blair, 2011)
- Published on Sunday, 05 February 2012 00:00
"Hooch always eats and drinks whatever I do," he looks at me, pauses, then adds, "including beer. If I'm having a hot dog, he has to have a hot dog. If I'm eating some Doritos, he has to have some, too. He just whines and hops around aggravating me until I have to give in.
"So one day I was sitting on my porch sipping some whiskey. Now, have you ever had Merry Berry?" he asks me.
"You mean moonshine with canned fruit in it?"
"I've heard of it but never tried. Sounds potent."
"Well this was liquor poured into a jar full of peaches. Let them peaches steep for a month and nothing better. One peach probably equals three shots of whiskey."
Bear takes a berry out of his bucket and eat it, slow and easy.
"So old Hooch sees me eating a peach from this jar, and he starts his whining and begging, jumping from side to side, tugging on my pants. I tell him, 'You don't really want this. I know you don't.' But he don't listen. So I give him a peach and just like that, he gulps it down.
"That don't slow him down. He wants another and starts pulling my pants again, so I give him another." Pause as he pretends to sling a peach to his dog. "And then another, and another, and another." Each time, he says, "another," Bear flicks his wrist, the imaginary fork throwing the imaginary peach. "I give that mutt five of them peaches. Pretty soon, ol' Hooch, he starts wobbling across the porch. He's looking a little green, you know, a little frothy at the mouth. I says to him, "I told you, Hooch, but you wouldn't listen.' The he leans out over the porch and vomits all five of those peaches into the yard.
"Now if I ever offer a peach to the old dog, he absolutely refuses."
And then Bear gets on his hands and knees and becomes his dog Hooch. he snarls and shakes his head, red hair flying, loose jowls trembling as he imitates the mutt's emphatic, growling "No" to any peach, liquored or plain.
Jim Minick, from The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family (Thomas Dunne 2010)
- Published on Sunday, 29 January 2012 00:00
In August the revival tent went up about half a mile from Aunt Ruth's house on the other side of White Horse Road. Some evenings while Travis and Ruth sat and talked quietly, I would walk up there on my own to site outside and listen. The preacher was a shouter. He'd rave and threaten, and it didn't seem he was ever going to get to the invocation. I sat in the dark, trying not to think about anything, especially not about Daddy Glen or Mama or how much of an exile I was beginning to feel. I kept thinking I saw my uncle Earle in the men who stood near the highway sharing a bottle in a paper sack, black-headed men with blasted, rough-hewn faces. Was it hatred or sorrow that made them look like that? their necks so stiff and their eyes so cold?
Did I look like that?
Would I look like that when I grew up?
I remembered Aunt Alma putting her big hands over my ears and turning my face to catch the light, saying, "Just as well you smart; you ain't never gonna be a beauty."
--Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina, 20th Anniversary Edition (Plume, 2012)