As You Wish

In Madison, a small town lost in the Mojave Desert, Eldon counts down the last twenty-five days to his eighteenth birthday in As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, published on January 1. Lest they learn the secret perk of living in Madison, outsiders who stop for gas are sent on through as quickly as possible when they travel to Rachel where the UFO hunters congregate. Citizens get to make a wish on their eighteenth birthday that will come true with few restrictions (nothing that will affect the world outside Madison, for instance). Eldon faces the secret blessing – or curse – of being able to make his wish. After Chapter One sets up the situation and the idea that the seventeenth year is besieged with brooding about the contemplation that becomes more intense as the day nears, the book moves to “Chapter Two Countdown: 25 Days” and builds tension as each chapter continues the next daily count.

Not only his own happiness but relationships around him depend on Eldon’s choice and, having already seen enough results of other people’s wishes to know that not everybody has chosen one that brought happiness, he follows a suggestion to research past experiences. A telling comment comes from Othello, the artist who seems to be the only one to forego his wish. “Accomplishment comes from toil,” he says and ends with, “But it’s also the journey. A finished piece is nothing without the labor and emotion of the artist behind it.”

The feel of the book reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” with an air of unreality even while keeping the reader engaged and wondering how any decision Eldon makes  will not bring disaster somewhere. I would have been happy if they had followed the advice of Penelope, one of the characters, and stayed with cleaner language but the book raises questions worth considering.

Early in 2017, I reviewed Chelsea Sedoti’s book The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett. The only connection I make between the two books is Chelsea’s grasp of the workings of young minds and emotions. Both books in different ways lend themselves to thought-provoking discussion of issues that don’t always have clear-cut answers.

Since I could not keep from considering what I would have wished for when I was turning eighteen, I will follow up with a blog about those thoughts on Friday.


Letter to My Tenant

Dear Unknown Mama Bird,

Wherever you are now, if you are characterizing me as a cruel landlord for razing your fine home, I don’t think you have a leg to stand on. (I know, you have two. It’s a figure of speech.) We had no contract. Indeed, I did not know you had built your home in the front door wreath until I got ready to replace it. You may have noticed that door is frequented only by solicitors and dim-witted delivery people. The wreath, having seen better days, really has to go.

I admit it was clever of you to hide your nest behind the once bright red bow, blending into the natural burlap of the body of the wreath. I have to wonder how many babies you raised and why I never noticed your comings and goings.

Now, back to that nonexistent contract, residents like you have sometimes been labelled “squatters,” a term with derogatory overtones. Considering your contribution to my life, since I am a person with a generous nature, I’m giving you some credit. I’ve loved your birdsong, especially when its wakeup call supplanted the raucous alarm clock.  I’m also assuming you have rid my yard of numerous mosquitos, so I’m willing to call it an even deal for the present.

In the future, we can continue without a contract and work from a friendly mutual understanding. Help yourself to the materials you seem to love and which I have in abundance – pine straw, oak leaves, and dryer lint. I would suggest that you find a safer place to rebuild in one of the many trees surrounding the house or under the eaves of one of the buildings out back. Your wakeup song will do nicely for rent, and I hope you enjoy your feast on those mosquitos.

Best regards,

Virginia McGee Butler

Landlord, Corner of Greenwood Drive and Oak Grove Road



A Sky Full of Stars

I ended my review of Midnight Without a Moon, “With any luck, I may get the sequel ahead of time. If I do, I’ll be sure to share another review.” Well, there’s luck and there’s just plain old begging. Linda Williams Jackson responded to my review of Midnight, and I responded to her by saying the book made me want to sit and talk to the author. First thing you know we are Facebook friends and then real face-to-face friends, connecting when she came to Hattiesburg for a book event. I happened to mention that I was having a hard time waiting for the sequel. Maybe I mentioned it at length. I knew trouble had to come from Rose Lee Carter’s decision to stay in Mississippi after the Civil Rights Movement began to pick up steam. Linda brought me an advance copy of the new book (which will come out tomorrow on January 2) when she came to pick up her daughter at the University of Southern Mississippi for the holidays. We did talk and have coffee.

I saved the book for a car trip the next week, knowing I would not want to be interrupted after Chapter One; Monday, November 1. Rose Lee begins “My grandpa, Papa, used to say that gratitude was the key to happiness. If that was true, I would never be happy.” When Thanksgiving dinner comes, and Rose Lee goes blank and can’t recall a thankful scripture even though the younger children at the table are able to rattle one off, her grandpa’s prediction appears to be correct.

Listening to the news of violence, overheard coffee klatch conversations touting separate but equal schools, and arguments among friends who can’t agree whether violence or nonviolence is the answer to their problems leave Rosa, the name her mother gave her that she now prefers, in a quandary. A reason for gratitude will come eventually from an unusual corner. The titles, Midnight Without a Moon followed by A Sky Full of Stars, bring satisfaction but with a hankering to know where Rose will go from here. Now, I’m waiting for book number three!

In my review of Midnight, I compared Linda’s work with Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, a longtime favorite. As I read A Sky Full of Stars, I realized a difference in perspective that gives even greater authenticity to these two books. Mildred Taylor used her father’s detailed account of growing up in Mississippi to bring reality to her books while Linda’s experience is first hand.

My recommendation, even though each book stands alone, is to read both of them in order, and don’t let it bother you that they are labelled for middle grade. Those kids shouldn’t have all the fun


If You Don't Have a Dream . . .

A surprise worth sharing came in a piece of Christmas mail, but first I need to give a bit of background. Back in the day when I married the youngest of the four Butler boys (Allen), my sister-in-law who had married the oldest (James) commuted from Pontotoc, MS about thirty miles north to take a class or two at Blue Mountain College. Married her senior year in high school to the young high school assistant coach, Bettye’s college aspirations would continue by fits and starts, interrupted by three children and eventually by her hostess duties when James moved on to become the Alumni Secretary and then Alumni Director at Ole Miss. She continued to take classes now and then at Ole Miss.

Years of Butler dinners, common family stories, and shared joys and sorrows including one long night standing watch with her, keeping an eye on her infant daughter in the hospital, and just the kaleidoscope of life have brought the “Sister” of this relationship into prominence and forgetfulness to its “-in-law” ending.

Often, Bettye has paid more attention to encouraging others to finish degrees than to working on her own. As I commuted to Ole Miss to finish my last two years, we had a standing arrangement for a once-a-week lunch. I picked up their oldest daughter at elementary school, and we hurried to the good meal we knew Bettye had prepared – often including my favorite asparagus casserole. She also provided a haven when I got stranded one night by my carpool.

One morning this fall, after a 38-year hiatus from classes, Bettye decided to pick up the phone and see just how much she lacked having her own degree, thinking she was about six hours short. “I’m not a quitter,” she told the development officer. Within a few days, she received word that analysis of her records with current requirements for graduation made her eligible for graduation with no further classes, even with a few hours to spare – hence my Christmas surprise, a clipping from The Oxford Eagle with the headline, “Oxonian Bettye Butler Receives UM Diploma at 87” with pictures of her receiving the degree she earned supported by her three proud children, also Ole Miss graduates.

My first thought was the line from the old song, “If you don’t have a dream, how’re you gonna have a dream come true?” To say that I am proud of her is grossly understating the case.


The Flawed Manger Scene

Joseph has lost his staff. The moss on the manger roof is splotchy. The donkey has no ears and the cow only one of her horns. Since the nativity scene came from Sears and was inexpensive in the first place, why don’t we just replace it?

The answer is, “Too many memories.” Our children were small when we got it. They stood and gazed at the Baby Jesus, often rearranging the animals or the Magi. As they grew older, they found a prominent place to display it each Christmas. They loved setting it up and remembering in Texas, Germany, Louisiana – wherever the Army designated as home.

One memorable Christmas we lived in Germany atop a hill overlooking a snow-covered village centered by the church steeple. Right after Thanksgiving, we decorated our Christmas tree. The children chose the wide ledge in front of the picture window for the nativity. Since our German neighbors waited to trim their trees until Christmas Eve, we invited the community kindergarten children to come up to see our tree and have cookies and punch.

Their faces lit as they “Oohed” and “Aahed,” in wonder at the Christmas tree. They examined each ornament, but soon they moved to the window and our Sears manger scene – a poor match in my mind for the beautifully hand-carved nativity scenes found in their Christkindlmarkts. They drew us into their awe as they sat quietly on the floor around the crèche watching as though they waited for the baby to cry.

We have new nativities, nicer and in better shape including one from Bethlehem. Still, this defective one always takes the place of honor. Maybe it is appropriate after all. For didn’t the Christ Child come into humble surroundings for that which was imperfect – to heal the brokenhearted, to bind the wounds of the injured, to bring sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are captive?