A few years ago, I sat at lunch with Leda Schubert at the Kaigler Book Festival and listened to her dream of a book about Pete Seeger. She had bravely faced her fear of flying to come down for the occasion. We Hattiesburgers (no joke, that’s officially what we are called) claim a close relationship with Pete. He was one of the movers and shakers of the Hattiesburg Freedom School during Freedom Summer. I’ve been waiting impatiently for Leda’s book ever since. It’s here and appropriately named LISTEN.

Leda emphasizes two themes in the book – LISTEN and SING.

There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
new words to old songs,
and songs he made up.

The singing comes up as she strews those songs he sang throughout her narrative of his fight against social injustice. She recounts his popular concerts as well as his difficulties with the McCarthy era witch hunts. The beautiful illustrations by Raul Colon match her gift of story-telling.

Since I wanted my book signed for two special little boys and since I love supporting local independent book stores, I ordered it from her local Bear Pond Books. After it arrived, I suggested to those boys that I would read it to them after lunch. Benjamin said, “Oh, you can read it to us while we eat.” He didn’t want to wait to LISTEN. And I found myself wanting to SING when I came to a list of Pete’s song selections,

“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning . . . ”

Don’t miss it – not the listening, not the nostalgic illustrations, not the reading, and not the singing.


Enjoy the Journey

Ideally, one starts with anticipation, but the To-Do List left me little time for that before our trip to visit our son’s family in Phoenix followed by a tour of the western national parks. The list did serve as a carrot, encouraging me to stay on task so I could enjoy the vacation without the guilt of uncompleted tasks. (I finished. Yes, I did!)

I can’t say I was overjoyed when the alarm went off at 2:30 AM on Thursday morning – at least half an hour earlier than necessary – but my travel agent is Al and that’s his schedule. With a good book already started on Kindle, pleasure began in the hour drive to the airport. (Al is also the chauffeur, giving me reading time.)

Al and I settled in to seats on the plane with leg room, pillows, and blankets. He was now forgiven for the early start since he had arranged for expedited check-in and a bargain upgrade to first class. Delta personnel from the first person who checked our ID’s through the cabin attendants all appeared to be morning people like me with their cheerfulness and helpful attitudes.

The hour to Atlanta included a gorgeous sunrise and my newest issue of Thema Magazine, enjoyed with offerings of roasted California almonds lightly dusted with sea salt and fresh hot coffee. Rising higher as day broke, we rode in the clear blue sky looking down on clouds reminiscent of discarded lumps of stuffing from an old couch. I even liked the view when we got to the Atlanta airport with the all-important words on the sign for our next leg – “On Time.”

In a cozy niche for the lengthy leg to Phoenix, I varied my activities. There was lunch before a nap. (Remember I got up at 2:30 AM.) Playing with words, I wrote a couple of blogs – including this one – before I began amusing myself with a new poem form – putting words in, taking them out, rearranging them. These will all be here for your reading pleasure in days to come.

Landing in Phoenix right on time seemed to complete a perfect trip until the announcement came over the intercom, “Phoenix temperature is 108.” As they say, nothing is perfect.


Almost Paradise

The first clue that Almost Paradise would qualify for a good Southern yarn came when I saw the author’s name, Corabel Shofner, on the Net Galley offering for an advance reading copy. She did, indeed, grow up in the Mississippi Delta with a long line of Southern ancestors. The second clue came in Corabel’s workshop at the Faye B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival when she recounted growing up among eccentric relatives. By this time, I had her book downloaded on my Kindle ready to read when it came up in the queue.

It’s a good thing I didn’t know just how entertaining it would be or my queue would have been completely messed up. There are problems aplenty for protagonist Ruby Clyde (also a Southern name) – a father who died before she was born, a mean grandmother, an estranged aunt. And these are before her mother’s boyfriend takes her and her mother on a trip where they steal/rescue a pig from a show and the boyfriend commits armed robbery. When her mother is falsely accused of abetting the crime and is put in jail, Ruby Clyde must rely on others to help her find the estranged aunt who turns out to have secrets of her own.

Spunk and humor lace into Ruby Clyde’s search for home and vindication for her mother. Those who do her harm are balanced by others who genuinely care for her. Even as the author brings rescuers into Ruby Clyde’s life, she pokes fun at the icons of Southern culture. “Mr. Gaylord Lewis had gone to court and told the judge he would watch after my mother until trial. And since Mr. Lewis was so big and important with football and money and God, the judge couldn’t say no.”

I’ll miss Ruby Clyde now that I’ve closed the last page of the book. It’s available for purchase on July 25.

I would suggest pairing this book written by a descendant of Delta landowners with Midnight Without a Moon, written by a descendant of sharecroppers, that I reviewed on June 16. The authors met in a coincidence as their books came out and have become friends.


Sermon in a Stone

A friend gave me an unusual gift – an agate geode with quartz crystals. I’ll give the short version of what it is with the little trick I played on my four-year-old grandson. You can find more detail and other pictures on an Internet search.

I held it like the picture that begins this blog and asked Benjamin what he saw. He looked at me like I was a befuddled grandmother and said, “A rock.” Then I turned it over so that it’s inner crystals caught the sunlight. His matter-of-fact answer quickly turned into an “Ooooh!”

Perhaps it’s the preacher’s daughter in me that saw a sermon in the stone. I thought of a story Daddy loved to tell about one of his rural church members that I will call Mr. Smith. When he came to church, he wore his dress overalls and shoes. That was the peak of his style. It wasn’t that this successful farmer could not afford better, just that he dressed to please himself.

One day, Mr. Smith decided he needed a new car and took himself to the dealership in town. A young salesman came out to talk to him and condescendingly began to talk about a used car and payment plans. Fortunately, the dealer who knew Mr. Smith saw him come onto the lot and intervened quickly.

When their business was finished, the dealer took the young man aside and admonished him about going with his first impression.  “Mr. Smith,” he said, “could have written you a check for any car on this lot.”

I keep the geode next to my computer where it catches the light from the lamp and keeps the sermon in sight that what looks like a rock might hide quartz crystals, and one does not know what wealth of either money or character hides beneath a person’s outward appearance. 


Lost and Found Cat

There are two issues at work in this book that make it a bit ironic that I’m reviewing it. First, the star is a cat. Now, I have very good friends who are cat people and have brought me to an understanding of how important these animals can be. They have not convinced me to be a cat person. Second, the book was shared with me by another friend who knows I already own more books than I can read in a lifetime even though I’ve read fast since my youth – not to mention that I continue to acquire more books on a regular basis and visit the library often.

That said, I must recommend Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, both volunteers with refugees who were involved in this true story. It follows a family of a mother and four children being smuggled out of Mosul in Iraq who are intent on keeping their cat named Kunkush hidden from the smugglers. They safely pass from one place to another through a Kurdish village and Istanbul. After a treacherous boat ride to the Greek Island of Lesbos, Kunkush escapes though a break in its carrier. No amount of searching finds the cat, and the brokenhearted family must move on without him.

The rest of the story has volunteers and the modern wonder of Facebook bringing a happy ending. The beautiful illustrations of Sue Cornelison enhance the story, particularly her ability to express the many different feelings of the family and their fellow travelers in their facial expressions. I recommend sharing this read and a discussion afterwards with a child in your life.