The Word That Punched Me in the Stomach

I was grown before I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

It was eighteen months ago in fact.  I think Daddy had suggested that Aub read it, so I had gotten it and had it around the house.  After Daddy passed in November 2011, I found it hard to concentrate and read any book.  But I pulled it out in the summer of 2012 and I opened the pages of a book that I will forever and always treasure.

So many lines that touched my heart.  If I put them all down here for you, then well, I’d practically have the whole book written out for you to read.  If you haven’t read it or you only read it as a young person for a school requirement, I highly recommend your making time to read it now.

Because it’s important.  It is an important story whose lessons we must never forget.  We cannot afford to forget them, for to do so would send us back in time to a place that was hard and ugly and broken.  More so than things are today.

Several weeks ago Aub found out that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was coming to one of the local theaters in Macon. She could attend with fellow students as part of a community enrichment program.  She was thrilled and so was I.  I was excited when she made the list to attend.  The performance was set this past Friday.  All of the tickets were sold out, so I was satisfied to enjoy it vicariously through her.  However, she called me in the middle of the day and said the program had an extra ticket and I was going.  What a wonderful gift!  To see one of my favorite books performed in live theater, and that my oldest wanted me to join her.

The playbill from the performance we attended Friday night.  It was phenomenal!

The playbill from the performance we attended Friday night. It was phenomenal!

When we arrived in downtown Macon, it was already dark and the town had a festive feel to it.  The theater was full by the time the lights went down and the play started.  Oh how I do love live theater!  Before the play began, we looked through the playbill to see that we recognized a couple of names.  We knew that one of Aub’s high school classmates was playing Mayella Ewell.  I knit with the stage director, and I had taken a directing class from the director back when I was in college.  What a small world.

I was immediately taken in with the story and the way it was presented.  The choir added a spiritual feel that set the whole story in motion.  The adult Scout as narrator was a talented actress whose voice carried you back in time as young Scout came onto the stage.

It was absolutely wonderful, and I loved every minute of it.  Except.  I’ve read the book.  I know the word is in there.  Much of the book deals with prejudices and the idea of fairness and justice and the goings-on surrounding a trial for a young black man who was accused of behaving inappropriately toward with a young white girl.  So I knew to expect it.

Only I didn’t.

The first time the “n” word echoed across the theater, I sucked in my breath.  I felt as though I’d been kicked in the stomach.  I haven’t heard that word for at least fifteen years.  In my previous life I heard it all too often.  What the use of the word represented is one of the reasons that is my previous life.  I could not and would not raise a child in such prejudice.  And so I didn’t.

Each time during the play the word was said, and it was never whispered, I nervously looked around.  I was surrounded by Wesleyannes, students from Wesleyan College, many of whom were international students.  What must they be thinking, I worried.  Are they offended?  Upset?  Growing up, I knew we weren’t allowed to “cuss.”  But I also knew we were NOT allowed to say that word.  Cussing reflected poorly on you and might could offend someone, but saying that word only served to hurt people.  And we were not ever to do that knowingly.

Such a beautiful and thought-provoking performance.  I mean, it was fantastic.  At the end when the young man belted out a solo of “I’ll Fly Away” and was then joined by the choir and then the entire cast–TEARS.  Streaming down my face.  I really was trying not to embarrass my oldest in front of her fellow classmates, but there was no helping it.  I love that song.  And I thought of Mama and Daddy and so many others.  That song.  Beautiful.

On the way home we were talking about the play, and I shared how hearing that word had impacted me.  “Oh Mama,” Aub said. “Folks say it all the time now.  Like instead of brother or sister or dude.  It’s just what they say.”

That made me sad.  And mad.  “I better not hear you saying it.  Ever.”  And I meant it.

In the past couple of months, I’ve read Ann Hite’s three books, but Low Country Spirit dealt with what happened during the Civil War in the south from the perspective of different slave women.  I know she researched it thoroughly, and there were no exaggerations.  I went from there to reading Whistling Past the Graveyard, which is about nine-year old Starla, a young white girl in Mississippi who winds up travelling from there to Nashville with Eula, a black woman, and a white baby she found on the church steps in 1963.  After finishing that book (an excellent story by the way), I started “Silver Sparrow” by Tayari Jones, which is the story of two young African-American girls living in Georgia in the 1970s and 1980s.  I was nearly finished with that book when I saw the play Friday night.

So much hurt has happened in our country, especially this part of the country, in the name of race and judging others about their outward appearance.

Weighs heavy on my heart.

I believe, as it was said in To Kill a Mockingbird:

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The adult Scout kept talking about something that Atticus wanted her to do.  And that was it.  To stand in someone else’s shoes and walk around a bit.  It’s not an easy thing to do by any means, but it is where grace comes from, and it can make us better people and the world a better place to live.  I now realize this is what my Mama lived by.  Daddy too.

There are so many beautiful words arranged in thought that beg to be heard and lived out.  Like this one:

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The hard truth.  Live it now in this world.  Try bringing a little of the next world into the here and now.  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

As I heard the closing lines of the play, I thought of another line which brought to mind a song sung by Miranda Lambert and written by Phillip Coleman and Don Henry:

Ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.

Indeed it does.  Or, in the words of Harper Lee…..

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The final lines of the play were Atticus and Scout talking after the night when Scout finally figured out about standing in someone’s skin.

“Atticus, he was real nice.”

“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  It takes all kinds of kinds, but in the end, there’s only one kind.  Us.  More alike than different.  If only we could make it a habit of stepping in the other’s skin for a few minutes, I bet we’d be surprised.  To really see the other person.  No it won’t be easy, and yes, my whole being is bucking me on this.  I don’t want to know what they’re like on the inside, I’d rather just keep on not liking them. I’ve seen enough from the outside looking in.  If I take a minute to think about what it’s like to be them, then I might change my mind and my hard heart might soften and I might have to change my thoughts about who they are…..and oh, yeah, we might actually get along.  And my children, who are always watching, will see it too.  What I do counts four times–once for me, and then once for each time it imprints on my children who see my actions and hear my words.  I have to remember that.  It touched me when Atticus Finch talked about how what he did he had to do or he couldn’t raise his children, couldn’t have them watching him do the easy thing, it had to be the right thing.  It’s true.  They’re watching.

And so I re-commit myself to the idea of acceptance and tolerance and most likely I will get my copy of this book back from my oldest and settle in to re-read it for a spell.  It’s one of those timely stories full of good wisdom and I expect I’ll likely find something new every time I revisit Maycomb, Alabama.  In the meantime, if you haven’t already read it, join me.  If you have, I’d love to hear your favorite parts.  And if you are local, good news–the play has been held over and there will be shows on November 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. each night.  You can find out more and order tickets here.

Love to all.

Whom Do You Need to Kick Out?

Y’all.  Yesterday was a moment in time I will replay over and over in my mind.

Those fingers were flying y'all.  And what they made that banjo do was nigh unto amazing!

Those fingers were flying y’all. And what they made that banjo do was nigh unto amazing!

Banjo music.

I was done for.  I sat with my toe tapping and my heart singing.  I once heard someone call good stuff for the soul “soul tanning.”  Too true.  I didn’t even recognize the songs but it didn’t matter.  It resonated with me and I was home. Sitting there in one of my favorite places surrounded by friends and family.   I could have sworn my Granny was there too.   The banjo player is a friend of Aub’s from college.  This young woman is going to go places.  She is not even a college graduate and yet she already recognizes the value in preserving, sharing, and celebrating things from the past.  Like this toe-tapping, ear-pleasing music.  I could have listened for days.

As if that weren’t enough, two of my favorite authors took the stage to share about their newest books.  Karen Spears Zacharias (“Mother of Rain”) and Ann Hite (“The Storycatcher).  They shared stories from their pasts and stories from their books.  It was entertaining, informing, and just downright fun.  I love hearing the stories of others about as much as my Daddy did.  What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Ann Hite and Karen Spears Zacharias sharing "Conversations with Mountain Women." Too much fun.

Ann Hite and Karen Spears Zacharias sharing “Conversations with Mountain Women.” Too much fun.

This morning we were back at our favorite coffeehouse, which hosted the writers’ events.  Ann led a Writer’s Workshop and Karen wrote along with us and shared her thoughts as well.  It was the most encouraging, challenging, and exhausting two and half hours I have had in a long time. (With this crew I live with here, that’s really saying something.)  And did I mention exhilarating?  Yes, that too.  Definitely.

I haven’t written fiction in a long, long time.  There are things you give up and then you look back and think–when?  why?  And I have my suspicions but no definite answer so let’s just say I gave it up.  But today we were writing and sharing fiction based on writing prompts Ann shared with us.  Pen to paper, and lose that editorial voice.

Lose who?  You mean that voice in my head that constantly quirks its eyebrow over word placement, comma usage, and for goodness’ sake, have you completely forgotten how to spell everything?

Yes.  That one.

Perhaps that wasn’t the hardest thing.  Not to nibble on the end of my pen and wonder what this character’s name should be.  What room in the house are they in?  Ooops, I should really rewrite that.  None of this is worth reading anyway.  Might as well just start over.

Hush up.

And just write.

It doesn’t matter if it’s good.  Ann Hite said that too.  It doesn’t matter.  We will write junk on the way to the good stuff, and it’s okay.  Karen said that the reason people get published is that they don’t give up.  Well that would do it, wouldn’t it?

I’ve thought a lot about that voice today.  It used to sound a lot like the voice from my previous life.  And I’ve thought a lot about the voices we let in our heads in general.  Whom do we have to kick out of our heads to allow us to TRY for that full potential?  And what will it take for us to finally do it?

I had a sweet, precious, and tenacious lady who was a patient of mine when I worked with Hospice.  We became fast friends.  She was younger than most of our patients, too early for retirement anyway.  She had a degenerative disease, so her husband had placed her in this nursing facility.  I got the impression that he wasn’t a kind husband to begin with and suspected that she actually might have been better off in the facility than at home.  But she didn’t talk a lot about that.  I soon figured out that she still heard his voice and that it was a negative one.  One day we were visiting and she shared that her husband was on a hunting trip.  We shared stories, and  I complimented her about something.  She pretty much waved it off.  I was being sincere and I said it again.  She said, “No no no.”  I knew she was dealing with all the negativity she’d been handed very possibly for years.  I touched my temple with my pointer and said, “Is that what he says? Is he in there saying all of that?”  My sassy friend cocked her head as best she could, smiled, and pronounced carefully and deliberately, “No.  He’s in the woods.”  She laughed, and I did too.  At least she could keep her sense of humor about her.  But I’m not sure she ever could completely silence his voice.

I am thankful for the voices that are much, much louder than all of the others, especially that negative one from the past.  I hear my Mama saying, “You can do anything you want to do.  Just try.”  Or my Daddy asking me, “Did you not have the time or did you not make the time?”  Believe it or not, that is a positive one.  He reminds me to be intentional with that one.  They both told us girls that we could do the same things that boys could do, not to let that limit us.  I always felt encouraged by them and I still do even though their voices are only echoes of things said in the past.  They said them enough and with so much conviction that I believe their words will always be with me.

I do wonder what voices my children will carry with them and hear in the future.  Will it be the “hurry up we have to go now” or will it be the times I’ve told them what a good job they have done, or how I’ve told them people trump everything–relationships are what is most important in our lives?  I know what I hope it will be, but I really don’t know.  It reminds me of a Brian Andreas quote:  “There has never been a day when I have not been proud of you, I said, though some days I’m louder about other stuff so it’s easy to miss that.”

I need to learn to be louder about the stuff I want them to remember and hear from now on, long after I can’t say it to them myself.  And I need to work on kicking out my own negative voices and dreaming of what I will try if those voices aren’t telling me I can’t.  Scary but exciting, all rolled into one.   Oh, and I definitely need to listen to more banjo music.

Whom do you need to kick out of your head?  Go ahead.  Try it, and dream big.

Why I Love My Kindle But Not an E-Book

I love my Kindle.  I do.

I appreciate that I was given this really generous gift by my family.  I love having the fun and educational “apps” that my children enjoy when we have long waiting times.  (Like today at the Pediatrician’s…..and then again at the Pharmacy.  Long waits.) One of my favorite features, that I was not aware of initially, is that I can email files and e-books downloaded on my computer to my Kindle and read them there.  Excellent.  I have purchased educational workbooks from websites and sent them to my Kindle, which is so much easier to use with my children than reading them on the computer.  I have even sent my own word documents to it for later use.

A luxury.  That’s for sure.

For a while after I first got the Kindle, I checked a website or two for the free book downloads of the day.  Mama and I enjoyed comparing notes and talking about our “finds.”  Then I realized I was cluttering my Kindle up with books that I might or might not read.  So I stopped.

But one thing I do love is being able to download the first chapter of a book free as a sample–to take the book out for a spin so to speak.  Download, check it out, then delete if I don’t care for it.  If I do, I usually put it on my wishlist.  But things were different when I downloaded the sample chapter of this one:

pic of kindle book

And I loved it.

It was the first book I could really get into since Mama died in February.  If you don’t love books, “get into” probably sounds a little odd, but if you do, you know what I mean.  I was turning e-page after e-page and it was really, really good.  Then I came to that dreaded message that told me I was at the end of my free sample, but I could purchase it for immediate download by clicking {here}.  After a brief pause and comparing prices (it was cheaper as a Kindle download), I clicked that magic box: “Buy It Now.”

It was not without guilt.  I felt guilty getting the book, and I sure felt guilty over that instant gratification that I was giving in to.  Getting something on a whim like that?  I wasn’t raised that way.  We were taught to think through things and sleep on it before we did just about anything.  So yeah, this was a little out of my comfort zone.  By the time I continued into the next chapter two minutes later, I had pretty much chastised myself sufficiently.  And moved on.  Ahem.

It was a brilliant read.  I loved it.  It was like old times, flying through the pages, trying to sneak time to read–if only for a few minutes, even reading under the covers after lights were out.  I loved this book.

Uh oh.

That’s when I realized what I’d done.

I bought a book.  On the Kindle.

That I couldn’t share.

I hate it when that happens.

One of my great joys in life is sharing a book with friends and family.  I love thinking of just who would love the book, and I offer it with the caveat that it is okay if they don’t like it.  I learned that a long time ago from one of my aunts.  She and her very young grandson were talking about a movie that he loved.  She said she really didn’t care for it, and he was shocked and confused.  She told him that it was okay for folks who loved each other to like different things.  I like that, and it’s true.  So I pass along books I love, but it’s okay if my friends and family don’t love it too.

But this one?  I knew of at least four family members who would LOVE it.  And a couple of friends.  But there it sits, locked up tight inside this electronic rectangle, never to be shared or sit on my shelf reminding me of the great story inside. Very, very sad.  How’s that instant gratification feelin’ now? *sigh*

pic of book

Today my Aunt returned this book, “Ghost on Black Mountain,” that I’d shared with her a very short time ago.  (She’s a quick reader, that one!) I was overjoyed to hear that she had loved it as much as I had.  It’s a haunting tale, no pun intended, and now I get to share with her my excitement over the author’s next book coming out in September. Shared joys are the absolute best.  I can’t wait, and we can share that book too.  (And I’ve already put this one in a pile to take to MessCat’s house tomorrow.  I think she will also love it.)

Maybe I’m just too old-fashioned for all of this.  I think I’ll go back to my old ways.  Download sample, read it, and if it’s good, check with our locally-owned bookstore and then on-line.  And wait.  There’s something to be said about the good in things you have to wait for.  As the old song goes, “Anticipation…..”

On my Bedside Table

pic of bedside table books

I was inspired by the book I was given yesterday to get my reading act together.  As we wind down our “official learning” school year, and shift into mostly reading, I thought I’d get my “wish list of reading” put together for summer.

Before I get started on my rather lengthy and somewhat intimidating list (focus is a little hard these days), I thought I’d look back at what I have been able to read lately.  Just to remind myself I can.  *sigh*  I used to be able to read all the time.

Last book read:

Tornado by Betsy Byars–I read this one aloud yesterday morning to the littles.  We got all comfy and listened to the timely story of Pete, the farmhand, who gathered in the storm cellar with the family and told stories of his dog Tornado to keep their minds off the storm.  I really liked this one.  A lot.  So did the littles.

Before that:

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney–I love this one.  But then I’ve already told y’all that.

And before that:

The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge–Another excellent read.  The story will change how you look at people as you go through your day.  And how you can change your world.

I really haven’t read much in completion before those three.  At least not since last year.  In looking around here at my plethora of books, I was thinking.  People sometimes will ask you who your favorite author is.  That is hard to say depending on the mood I am in or what genre I’m reading at the time.  But if someone were to ask me, what author has affected you the most?  Easy.

Karen Spears Zacharias–I’ve read all of her books except one. (She also writes over here.)  She is the author of Hero Mama, also published as After the Flag Has Been Folded, Where’s Your Jesus Now?, Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? (‘Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV),  and A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder.  She has also written Benched: Judge Rufe McCombs, which is in my to be read stack of books.  Each one of her books has affected me, challenging how I think, what I do about what I think, and how bringing justice in this world requires each and every one of us taking a stand.  She’s a strong woman whom I was delighted to meet over a year ago.  I love her as a person and a writer.  If you want to have your world turned upside down and a fire lit under you, go find one of these books and set aside a few hours of uninterrupted time.  Each one of these was hard to put down.  I read Silence in its entirety in less than 24 hours after I got it.  And everyone was fed and clothed as required.  Even though you know the ending, you find yourself not believing that it’s actually going to end like that.  And then she puts making a difference in the reader’s lap.  GREAT BOOK.  If you’d like to know a little more about these books and their amazing author, watch this interview.  It was done when she visited us last May.

So on to my stack of to be reads–these do not include the ones on my wish list that I have yet to find at our local used bookstore or at the library.

Sitting on my bedside table:

Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling by Becca Stevens–I love Thistle Farms and the Magdalene project.  Rev. Stevens is doing some amazing things, and these women are healing and getting stronger.  You can check them out here or find them on Facebook.   Here are the words I read that made me HAVE TO HAVE this book.

From Rev. Becca Stevens' facebook page

From Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh–This book was recommended by Karen Spears Zacharias.  More than once.  Yes ma’am.  It’s getting read in the very near future.  The plight of young people aging out of the foster care system has been weighing on my heart and moving me to take action.  This book tells the story of Victoria, an eighteen-year-old who has been emancipated from the system and tries to find her way.  I look forward to reading this and seeing where this will lead me on my journey.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans–Our Wednesday book group started this book back in January.  I was so excited about it.  Unfortunately the HospitalStay and life’s circumstances intervened, and I haven’t been able to get back to it.  Our group had a blast reading this, and I know I will too.

Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite–Another recommended by Karen Spears Zacharias.  She and Ms. Hite are going on tour together this fall with new releases for each of them.  I want to read this one in preparation for the tour.  I am hopeful we can host them in our area, just as we had Karen down last year for her Silence tour.  I’ve already learned that if Ms. Zacharias says it’s a good read, it’s a GOOD read.

Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain–A collection of stories and essays written after the death of his wife and one of their daughters.  This was recommended by a good friend, and I was able to acquire it through the old bookstore I love so much.  In the title story, Satan writes a letter to his fellow archangels about the inconsistencies of human religious faith.  Oh yes, this is going to be good.

The Saddlemaker’s Wife by Earlene Fowler–I was at the library last week, picking up a book on reserve from our princess’ reading list, when I wandered over to the new release section.  Because, you know, I don’t already have enough books here to read.  As I looked around, I saw the name–Earlene Fowler.  My chest tightened, and I took a deep breath to calm my spirit.  She was one of Mama’s favorites, and old habits are hard to kick–my first thought was, has Mama read this one?  Does she know about it? When I came around, I decided to check it out.  I used to read Ms. Fowler’s Benni Harper mysteries years ago, and I really enjoyed them.  When I read the blurb, I realized this was not in that series, but the sequel to The Saddlemaker’s Wife, which they did not have.  Nor could I request it at the time.  My favorite bookstore to the rescue again–I have a much loved copy here to read.  And remember Mama.  I do wonder if she read this one.  She wasn’t able to focus much on books and stories the past couple of years, so I really can’t be sure.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings–My Aunt tells the story of my Daddy taking her to a bookstore in downtown Macon and getting this book for her.  She fell in love with reading.  So of course I had to find a copy.  And I will read it one day too.  It will remind me of Daddy, and his little sister.  He used to tell me about them piling up in his bed and him reading to her when she was little.  Precious.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly–When we were doing a major cleaning to prepare for our out of town company a couple of weeks ago, we went through Aub’s books.  We found some to give away, and I found some that I want to read.  This is one of them.  The cover is gorgeous.  I know, I know.  So I read the blurb–the story of an 11 year old girl in 1899, growing close to her grandfather and managing in a household with six brothers.  Sold.  I just know it will be delightful.  (Total sidenote–but the author has the same name as my eighth grade history teacher, whom I adored–what do you suppose…..?)

pic of calpurnia tate 2

The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason–Another one of my “cleaning up” finds.  I don’t know anything about it, except that one reviewer compared it to the works of Madeleine L’Engle.  Stop right there.  No further recommendation needed.  We’ll see.

Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters–this was my surprise treat that I got yesterday from my cousin.  I’m already 1/3 of the way into it.  Not too shabby for someone who hasn’t been able to get her reading groove back very easily.  I’ve heard grief will do that.  But with this book, the book is hard but the reading is easy.  If that even makes sense.  It is really eye-opening and heart-breaking and hope-filling.  A good book, one that I have a feeling will be another life-changer.

Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey by Margaret Feinberg–My Wednesday book group started this one several weeks ago.  I have missed being with them the past few months, so I grabbed a copy, read some on Wednesday morning and joined them after lunch.  Ms. Feinberg sets out to close the gap between the ancient world and our own.  She visits with a shepherdess, farmer, beekeeper, and vintner, seeking to find the connections.  Really, really interesting.  I’m still working on it, but I highly recommend this one.

So that’s the stack.  I have a couple on reserve at the library, waiting on those to come in.  And there are two that I am most looking forward to getting soon–

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman–newly released by the author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.  That book was so wonderful, I cannot wait to read her next one.  (So yeah, if you haven’t read that one, you might want to.)  I guess it will always be special because it’s one Mama and I both loved and talked about together.

Mother of Rain by Karen Spears Zacharias–This won’t be released until this fall and I CANNOT.  WAIT.  A work of fiction about folks in the Appalachia area.  I am so looking forward to this one.  I will also read Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field in preparation.  She said that was a good idea, and she hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

So, on this beautiful summer Sunday, after we visit with our friends at Daybreak this evening and pour a little coffee and a lot of sweet tea, I will come home and grab a book off the stack and get started.  Today I am thankful I don’t have to set the alarm for tomorrow morning.  I have a feeling it might be a late night…..and a whole summer of them.  Lots of books, so little time.