Monday
Aug282017

Appetizer

Searching the guide on my TV remote on the last Saturday morning in August, I knew I could find one. Some school or the other jumps the gun every year to play the first football game of the season. Turns out this year it's Oregon State vs Colorado State at 1:30 PM. I consider it an appetizer for what is to come.

Good memories surround my obsession with college football. Beginning way back when I turned thirteen, Daddy welcomed a companion to listen to the radio as Ole Miss played every Saturday afternoon. As pastor of Abbeville Baptist Church, ten miles north of Oxford and the Ole Miss campus, becoming a Rebel supporter was a given. Although he was an avid sports fan, a visual impairment kept him from playing any game well – unless you count dominoes.

He taught me the rules and how to follow the game as we listened. Little did he know he was laying groundwork for my good relationship with a future brother-in-law who was the alumni director for Ole Miss for many years. I became an avid college football fan.

High school football is fine enough that Al and I kept our season tickets for Leesville High School long after our children had graduated. Some of those players went on to star at LSU and then in the NFL. I’ll watch pro football if it’s a Saints game or if a Manning is playing, but there is nothing like a college game.

One beautiful Saturday afternoon when the three kids were growing up, they were outside with their dad. With our windows open at Fort Sam Houston, the next-door neighbor could hear whichever college game was on, and asked who was watching. He was a bit surprised when they answered nonchalantly, “Mom.”

So here we are at the beginning of another football season. My favorite college teams (Ole Miss and Baylor) have a challenge before them, but it’s okay. When it comes to college football, I’ll watch anybody who’s playing and just hope it’s a good game. The season begins in earnest Saturday, September 2. I’ll sort out the opportunities when I get up early that morning, knowing I can begin at 11 AM and watch well past my bedtime. Work that can be done while watching the game will be scheduled. I might even catch up on the ironing!

My year divides neatly into two parts – Football Season and The Rest of the Year. Thanks, Daddy, it’s been a lot of fun! 

Friday
Aug252017

Solo

The answer is “Yes.” Kwame Alexander told the crowd at the Kaigler Book Festival to say “yes” to life. In his new young adult book Solo with Mary Rand Hess, he tells his protagonist Blade Morrison the same thing.

It seems that life has thrown Blade more curves than anyone deserves. His mother died. His father is working to reclaim his status as a musician. His girlfriend’s father has forbidden their relationship because of his father’s reputation for abusing drugs and alcohol. He has a chance to make a positive name for himself when the valedictorian of his high school class has to bow out, and he stands in for her as the salutatorian. His father ruins the evening by roaring onto the football field and into the front of the stage on a red Harley with a scantily dressed woman.

Twisting through the relationships with his father who bounces in and out of rehab, his girlfriend who must be kept secret, and his sister who mediates makes one think life can’t get any worse. But that is before the big family secret sends him on a trek to Ghana. Blade’s own music and that of his favorites woven into the verse novel keep him anchored for a while until he even loses faith in his music.

I saw a quote from Kwame Alexander before I read this young adult novel which could lend itself to some pretty salty language as Blade copes with his challenges. He said he told kids they didn’t need to curse so he took his own advice. Since that language pervades today’s YA literature, I wondered if he could pull off a heartrending story without it. I’ll go back to my beginning and repeat my first sentence. The answer is “Yes.”

Monday
Aug212017

Home Is Where the . . .

Acknowledging the cliché “Home is where the heart is,” the middle grade writers on two panels at the recent Mississippi Book Festival discussed how home anchored their writing. On the first panel, Kimberly Willis Holt sang a tune familiar to me in her account of not really having a place to call home. As a military brat, she lived in multiple places. Like our children, she had a hard time answering the question of where she was from. Home became the place she went to visit her grandparents in Forest Hill, Louisiana. That area and Texas, where she has lived most of her adult life, came to be home to her and to the characters in her books, including her latest Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Hotel. Her fellow panelists from Mississippi, Arkansas, and Minnesota agreed that home defined the settings in their books.

In the second panel, Linda Williams Jackson (Midnight Without a Moon), Augusta Scattergood (Making Friends with Billy Wong), and Corabel Shofner (Almost Paradise) all had roots in the Mississippi delta and each of their historical fiction books grew like trees from those roots. Linda regaled the audience with her answer to the question often posed to her, “Why would an African American return to live in Mississippi?” All three authors had lived many years in other areas of the country or overseas, yet their stories came back to homes where their hearts were in Mississippi. Linda said she tried when she was living in Kansas to set a story there, but it just wouldn’t come from anywhere except Mississippi.

I wondered after this what Barry Wolverton, the only male member of the panel, would say – especially since his writing is in a fantasy world instead of historical fiction. Oddly enough, he agreed. While his world is unreal, he said the father-son relationship in the book comes from his own experience.

As a follow-up, someone asked if the characters in their books were real people in their lives. They confessed to modeling characters, especially villains, after people they knew. But that is another story for another time. 

Friday
Aug182017

Wicked Bugs

Besides wicked, other words that come to mind describing this book are gross, candid, entrancing, vile – I could go on. For those who like a bit of horror in their lives, for those fed up with fluff, for those who want the real scoop on what tiny varmints do, this is the book. Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth by Amy Stewart is a young readers adaptation of her bestselling book for adult readers. 

Each entry has pictures, entomology, habitat, size, distribution, and bug relatives, making it a good resource for looking at the science of these beasties. Other information ranges from serious to just for fun: a glossary, a list of phobias by bug title, a range of pain created by entomologist Justin Schmidt who did personal research with more than 150 insect stings. In addition, a cautionary tale winds through the book on the dangers of importing nonnative species.

Some bugs are weird as well as wicked. Monkeys in Venezuela search for millipedes whose secretions they rub into their fur to keep the mosquitoes away. There are zombie bugs that inhabit other bugs and force them to do harm. Others have strange life cycles dependent on striking it right with the life cycles of the animals they inhabit. Some provide solutions to big problems like the phorid fly that injects its eggs into the fire ant with the larvae eating the ant’s brains until its head falls off.

A nod to literature is the quote from Poe’s story of “The Tell-Tale Heart” with “a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton” as he describes the death-watch beetle – a bug the author describes as an omen of death. In a different relationship with death, there are insects used in forensics to pinpoint  death’s time and place.

The book is entertaining, intriguing, and informative. It is also as engrossing as a scab that calls you back to pick a little more – just the thing for a reluctant reader.

Monday
Aug142017

Hope Deferred

When I took the surprise out of the package, I thought of a two-part proverb. The first part had been my experience for a number of years, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” Well, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but this all started many years ago when our oldest son turned out beautiful calligraphy that won praise in his high school art class. When he completed an impressive rendition of Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice,” I requested that he make a similar one for my favorite quote. He quickly and easily agreed – as soon as he “got around to it.”

Since you’ve read the first half of the proverb, you can probably guess the gist of what happened next. There was college, early career, marriage to a good wife who came with a bonus of three-year-old twin daughters, and a son a few years later. Work and family occupied his time. Off and on, I reminded him of his promise. “Yeah, yeah,” he would say. But his interest in calligraphy faded and the hope deferred eventually made me give up the art as a lost cause.

This spring the now middle-aged son hinted that a surprise package was on its way. When it came, I tore into it and experienced the second half of the proverb, “but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” (Also, a bit dramatic) Not in calligraphy, but in a new art form that he has mastered, there was my favorite quote. Etched into a piece of wood, polished and finished in a painstaking process that he explained to me in our recent visit – he had completed it now when he has a son the age he was when he first made the promise.  

My desire fulfilled, I found it a special place. Centered on a shelf above my writing place, I look up and see Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words from Aurora Leigh,

“Earth’s crammed with heaven

and every common bush afire with God,

but only those who see take off their shoes.

The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.”

Added to my love of the quote is my satisfaction in a promise kept and the enduring desire fulfilled.