Friday
Oct312014

How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?

A lucky toddler on Halloween might have a copy of Wendell Minor’s book How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow? A really lucky toddler might also have a teenaged brother who is good for repeated readings and who knows you like your books where you can see the pictures without all that silly cuddling or sitting still. Of course, the teenager will be happier with multiple readings if there is something in the book for him. Rest at ease, this book fits the bill.

Starting in a rather normal pumpkin patch, the pumpkins quickly begin to grow larger and more absurd with each page turn. The sense that things will not be normal picks up as kids paddle their carved out pumpkins in a regatta. Multiple synonyms for “big” follow the pumpkins though national landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and Mt. Rushmore and folklore like Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe with the final pumpkin towering over the Grand Canyon. My personal favorite is the one spewing out the water for a waterfall in Yosemite.

The toddler will enjoy the pumpkins, the bright colors, and the story line. The teenager will get the jokes and see the art. Those needing an educational element will find a good one in the back matter with a two-page spread giving information about the fourteen sites pictured in the book.

Lacking a teenaged brother? – A parent, grandparent, or babysitter will do.

Too late to get the book by Halloween? – No problem, pumpkin season lasts at least through Thanksgiving.

Neither toddler nor teenager around? – Not to worry, locate your inner child and buy the book for yourself.  If anybody asks, tell them you bought it to enjoy the art. You will not be lying.

Monday
Oct272014

The Grammar of Y'all

I just finished yet another book with a colorful Southern character added for interest by an author who didn’t learn the proper use of “y’all.” The book lost its chance to be reviewed here.

Even the seventh grade boys in my class in Zion Elementary School in Pontotoc County, Mississippi knew that “y’all” is the plural of “you.” I remember their protests when Mrs. Rogers tried to inform us that “you” is both singular and plural. I had already been enlightened about this ambivalent use of “you” and had been given permission by my grammar police parents to use “y’all” in friendly conversation as long as I used “you” properly in writing and for formal occasions.

I sat back and enjoyed the boys’ rejoinders with our teacher. I felt like the guys had a couple of valid points. “How in the world will people know if you mean one or more than one?” and “Why don’t we just share ‘y’all’ with the rest of the world and give them an easy way to make it clear whether they are talking to one person or several?”

I’ve been on this soapbox before with people who are “not from here” and have assured me they have heard Southerners use “y’all” for just one, perhaps at a door when only one person was leaving. Maybe the hostess said, “Now, y’all come.” The interpretation remains the same. The hostess was really saying, “You come back to see us with your mama, your daddy, your grandparents, your six children, your weird uncle, your cousin-twice-removed . . .” In the South, we are nothing if not hospitable.

Now as long as I am on this kick, let’s take care of that apostrophe. This is not rocket science. An apostrophe goes where the letters are missing. My eleventh edition Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary lists the definition of “y’all” as “you all.” (I hope you noticed the plural connotation here.) Therefore, the letters missing are “ou” which means the apostrophe goes between the “y” and the “all.” If you don’t get this punctuation right, let me warn you that my parents have a grammar police granddaughter with a radar gun for this one.

Now that I have cleared all this up, let me say to my blog readers, and I certainly hope there are more than one, “Y’all come back. Y’hear?”  

[If I were Aesop, I would add a moral: If one is writing outside one’s region or culture, it pays to be super careful to get it right and not offend those who belong to it.]

Friday
Oct242014

Just Mercy

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson traces his journey as a young idealistic lawyer establishing a legal practice dedicated to defending the most underrepresented and his path through the judicial system with one of his first cases. That client, Walter McMillan, insists that he’s innocent. Bryan quickly finds convincing evidence that he is telling the truth. Getting that evidence through the courts, runs into one boondoggle after another.

The book reads like a long episode of Law and Order with side issues along with the main story. The tension builds as almost, nearly, and not quite run a thread throughout. I found myself wanting to shout encouragement to hang in there and hoping for that forty-five minute mark reprieve.

Some favorite quotes from the book:
•    On capital punishment: “I couldn’t stop thinking that we don’t spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually does.”
•    “Jackie’s name was always followed by ‘She’s in college.’ I had begun to think of her as Jackie ‘She’s in College’ McMillan.”
•     “I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.”

The trouble is this is not fiction where one is confident that the good guys will win in the last fifteen minutes and all will be well. While the writer gives signs of hope in his last pages for our justice system, much still hangs in the balance. Striking to me was how often those with criminal tendencies had experienced horrific abuse as children. Perhaps our interventions need to begin much sooner.

This was not a comfortable read but a compelling one. The meaning of the title becomes clear toward the end in a paragraph that brings closure and includes another favorite quote, “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving.”

Just Mercy is a book for those who care and are willing to hear what Bryan Stevenson ultimately learned from that early client over their long association, “Walter made me understand why we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.”

Monday
Oct202014

Out of Season

In the old nursery rhyme,
    Christmas is coming,
    The geese are getting fat.
Few of us rely on fat geese any more as Christmas signals. Our indicators seem to come earlier and earlier and are already all around us. According to my calendar, there are still eleven days to Halloween and more than two months until Christmas.

I find it disconcerting to walk into stores with competing Halloween and Christmas displays and interesting that Hancock’s flyer in the Sunday paper had the Christmas fabric sales right below those for Halloween. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, gets squeezed into grocery ads or ignored altogether.

I’ll admit I’ve given up on this and have adopted an attitude of, “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em,” and am learning to juggle the holidays. I went to our church’s Fall Festival as a farmer Saturday afternoon and attended the first extra choir rehearsal for Christmas music on Sunday afternoon. I’ll probably even check out Hancock’s to see if I need to replenish my stash of Halloween and/or Christmas fabric.

Getting ready for Halloween, I need to stockpile for trick-or-treaters. For Christmas, I think I’ll also follow the rest of the rhyme’s suggestion and make charitable plans with hopes of doing better than a penny.
    Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat;
    If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
    If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!

Friday
Oct172014

Ode to Autumn (Okay, just a jingle to fall)

An overnight sight appeals to my eyes,
September’s lilies bring morning surprise –

Signaling that the time has come
For feet to spring and spirits hum.

Fall foggy haze follows early showers
While morning glories meet night’s moonflowers.

Black-eyed Susans with faces showing
Join with yellow goldenrods’ glowing.

Anoles sneak up to peek over flowers.
Armadillos root beneath rose bowers.

Hot cocoa sports a marshmallow top.
Homemade autumn soup simmers, “Pop, pop.”

I grab parched peanuts to shell on the fly,
But sit to relish sweet potato pie.

On the field, comes the call,
“All right folks, let’s play ball.”

Backers cheer.
Rude ones jeer.

Up from seats with heavy hefts,
Angry fans call, “Can the refs.”

An interception comes all the way back,
The stadium responds “yakkity-yak.”

If there’s a time we have it all,
I've got to say it must be fall.