I was introduced to the work of Fredrik Backman by a surprise delivery of A Man Called Ove from our daughter who had seen a strong resemblance between Ove and her father and thought her parents should read the book. That touched off one of those word-of-mouth promotions that soon had a number of people in my church entranced with Ove, a showing of the movie in fellowship hall, and an ongoing watch among these friendly bookreaders for the next Backman work. Imagine my delight when Net Galley offered his newest novel called Beartown as an ARC and my even greater delight when the publisher accepted my request to read!

My first revelation involved gaining understanding that in some communities ice hockey can rule the public psyche as much as football does here in the South. The beginning of chapter 16 reflects the theme of the book, “Pride in a team can come from a variety of causes. Pride in a place, or a community, or just a single person. We devote ourselves to sports because they remind us of how small we are just as much as they make us bigger.”

To be up front, since I can’t leave out things that bother me, I almost stopped reading about a third of the way through in chapter 17 when there is a series of pointless lesbian jokes. I am offended when any group of people is held up to ridicule since I live with an understanding that people who are in some way different from me are still my fellow travelers on the road of life. I have some understanding that Backman was characterizing the people who were making the offensive jokes, but still.

The real challenge for Beartown arises when the star hockey player rapes a young girl in a drunken after-party. Personal reactions of community members follow – the coaches and fans, the girl’s parents, the perpetrator and victim, their friends, and the outside onlookers. Like A Man Called Ove, the book gets more riveting as it goes along with the reader wondering if anything good can come of this dreadful situation.

I’ll not spoil the ending except to say, I’m glad I didn’t stop at chapter seventeen.


Look Again

There’s a line from The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett about “life looking different depending on where you were standing” that seems to apply at my parents’ first meeting. Appropriately enough considering their future together, my parents met on a Sunday at Sturgis Baptist Church. (Not the famous Sturgis in South Dakota where they have the motorcycle races – the village in Mississippi that few people have ever heard of) 

Daddy had come to church with pseudo-cousins and was immediately smitten. Whether it was love at first sight, he never said, but he told his cousins over Sunday dinner that he had just met the girl he was going to marry. 

Mama must have been standing in a different place. She also had a comment at Sunday dinner around the long table with her parents and five brothers and sisters. “I just met the ugliest man I’ve ever seen.” Before you get disturbed at what this did to Daddy’s ego, he is the one who told this story the most often and laughed the loudest at the punch line. I think he took it as a personal triumph that he won her over. 

In the unbiased view of his oldest daughter, I would say he was neither handsome nor ugly but had a distinctive look. His abundant hair, that never grayed or turned loose in his seventy years, had a deep reverse “V” on either side like an extended widow’s peak, his tie was crooked in every picture he ever took even after he and Mama married, and his eyeglasses were ever-present. Mama evidently took a second look from a better angle and changed her mind.

Eighty years ago, on this date, they “slipped off” to get married at their pastor’s home. They were twenty-six and twenty-four years old, doing a quiet wedding in consideration for my grandmother who was already dealing with health concerns that would take her life the next year. They returned immediately after the wedding to my grandfather’s place to announce the good news. Mama’s eight-year-old sister ran into the house to tell my grandfather. “Daddy, you’ve got a new son-in-law and a preacher, too!”

Their marriage, like all the other marriages I know much about, was not perfect, but it lasted until Daddy’s death forty-five years later. In many ways, they were complementary opposites. In one of the most important ways for the longevity of the marriage and the life they needed to live, Mama’s steadying influence on Daddy was balanced by the humor he uncovered in whatever life handed out. 

I’m pretty sure my three sisters and my parents’ eight grandchildren join me in being glad that Daddy had a clear view through his glasses and that Mama took another look. Maybe even the thirteen great-grandchildren who didn’t know them are grateful. They have heard the family stories!



Liver and Onions

There are only two ways to look at this dish, I think, beginning with the family into which I was born. You love it or you hate it. Daddy and I loved it. Mama and the other three girls hated it. Mama’s prejudice was so strong she could barely stand to be in the room where it was cooked.

Country church members knew how much Daddy liked the dish and saved him a share of the liver when they killed hogs. Naturally, it was one of the first dishes I learned to cook when I was about nine years old. Daddy and I savored the deliciousness while Mama and the girls were stuck with a piece of ham or some sausage to go with their mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Moving forward to the days when I was grown and stayed with my parents while Al finished basic training, we came to a day when Mama had an all-day meeting. Daddy had seen fresh liver in the grocery store and planned a treat. He answered a knock at the door in the living room as I sliced the onions in the kitchen. I heard his fellow pastor say, “I can’t stay long. I have some errands to run.”

Thinking Daddy would be through in plenty of time for lunch, I went right ahead braising the liver and paring potatoes. I enjoyed the preparation and the aroma, anticipating sharing the dish with a fellow liver aficionado with no disparaging remarks from Mama or my sisters. Daddy’s visitor lingered and lingered.

Finally, not wanting my treat spoiled, I went into the living room and said, “Brother Benefield, we’re having liver and onions for lunch. Would you like to join us?”

 He said, “I smelled them. I was waiting, hoping you were going to ask.”

When Mama’s Alzheimer’s Disease required her to move into a care facility, we passed along what she had always told us – she would eat anything but liver. When it was on the menu, they carefully prepared something else for her. We knew the disease had taken her memory when one of the caregivers apologized one day that she had been given liver by mistake. She had eaten it without comment.

The picture for this blog comes from the public domain and, unfortunately, is not mine since I no longer cook it but looks much like mine. We’ve given it up. Shortly after I convinced husband Al that liver and onions was a treat, somebody discovered that it also raised cholesterol significantly. And just when we thought it was good for us!


The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas seemed a bit in awe as she told her own publication story to the attendees of the Louisiana/Mississippi SCBWI JambalayaKidLit Conference. Being proactive with coincidence took her to a “right place – right time” cliché. She asked a question on an agent’s twitter query site about a book she had begun as a college writing project. “Would there be an interest in a book about a girl caught in a community where she had personal relationships with both the police and the Black Lives Matter neighborhood?" The agent invited her to send the manuscript which he then sold at auction. Two years later, The Hate U Give has spent weeks on the New York Times young adult best seller list.

Our Louisiana/Mississippi group had already booked Angie for our conference in March before she became quite so famous. Our regional advisor interviewed her for the afternoon general session. She began, “I’m not sure what to do here. I’ve never interviewed a New York Times best seller before.”

Angie had a quick comeback. “That’s okay. I’ve never been a New York Times best seller before.”

Having set the tone for the interview, the writers and wannabe writers were drawn into the conversation that told of Angie’s own struggles, much like her protagonist, living in the community with her black neighbors and attending school in an elite, predominantly white, college. She emphasized that her novel did not make either the police or the Black Lives Matter proponents into the bad guys or good guys. As you might imagine, she signed a number of books bought after her presentation – including mine.

Angie obviously doesn’t need my help in promoting this debut novel. I found it to be all she had said with a protagonist torn between people in her two worlds that she genuinely cares about. The book is a hard read both from the language and the situations, but they are necessary to the story rather than gratuitous. I found myself using context for some of the authentic street language much like I used to do as a child when the books I chose contained vocabulary over my head.

The book will appeal to young adult readers – just ask the New York Times. It will also give insight to those who are looking for a just solution to the problems between the police and the Black community.     


Treasure Hunting on Earth Day

If the old saying, “You never have to go to work if you love your job,” is true, USM Associate Professor of Biology Mac Alford hasn’t worked in a while. In addition to the job for which he is paid, he took a group of retired members of an OLLI class on a field trip to look for wildflowers this week. Every few steps through the woodland trail, he would exclaim, “Oh, and look at this!” Becoming the girl who walked the trails at Papaw’s farm, I joined his enthusiasm.

We saw things I recognized like honeysuckle, wild phlox, and violets. Milkweed blossomed, waiting for visits from the Monarch butterflies. A young native longleaf pine stuck its bristles up, looking for all the world like a green feather duster, the beginnings of a trunk forming its handle. Then there was the carnivorous sundew. It’s pretty flower with a nice aroma attracts insects who come too close to the sticky leaves and give up their lives for the cause. In the wonder of second childhoods, the group of seniors followed the professor from discovery to discovery.

He answered questions as we went along including why that ubiquitous vine that I hate in my yard grows everywhere. I have puzzled over how it proliferates hither and yon beyond the huge tuber that must be dug to get rid of it. He said it has clusters of berries that birds love to eat which means they spread the seeds far and wide. He was only stumped by why my pyracantha bush will bloom but not produce berries. (No, it doesn’t have male and female bushes. Try another answer.)

This trip seemed just right to prepare for Earth Day tomorrow. I’m going to follow up in my yard by finding small wonders to celebrate. I invite you to join me in a virtual search and tell me what you discover.