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“Hi Clark! Welcome home! Was the beach fun?” I called as I pulled into my driveway and stopped. Hurrying toward me was my seven-year-old neighbor, with what looked like a new toy under his tanned arm.

“Can I play for you, Ms. Liz?” A breeze tossed his blond curls like swooping gulls as he waited for my response. No one was around. It was quiet.

“Why, of course. That would be special!”

“Something I made up—would you like to hear all of it?—half of it?—or one-fourth?” His words plied the rain-washed afternoon with urgency, his freckled nose twitching in anticipation.

“All of it, please. That would be nice.” So now he’s exploring the world of music, I mused, settling into my seat.

He smiled, then lowered his gaze upon the four-string guitar propped against his T-shirt. Intense was his concentration as a melodic line flowed through tanned fingers working the frets, his bare foot keeping time. Then it was over.

“That was great!” I was touched.

“Thanks for listening!” he said, then reached over and kissed my cheek, warmly, not without my gazing into his sapphire eyes: pools of tranquil light bathed me. I had been visited.

I gulped as he trotted home.

 

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“Words have power,” so says Toni Morrison, author, teacher, and Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winner of Literature, now in her late eighties and featured in Greenville-Sanders’s new documentary. As a toddler her imagination was seeded with stories of slavery and the preternatural, drawn from memories of her parents and maternal grandparents. Once she learned to read, she found her own way into multiple worlds. In time, she would chronicle the Black experience in America, especially the plight of the hurt child.

Despite her ailing body, tastefully dressed and accessorized with one-of-kind jewelry, she remains the storyteller. Humor, lightsome eyes, and strong hands bespeak an innate wisdom—of having passed through life’s crucible, intact.

And what was in that crucible but impoverished beginnings, racism, degrees from Howard and Cornell Universities, single-parenting two sons while underpaid as a Random House editor, and the critics’ narrow view of her writing. In 1983, tired of promoting the work of other Black writers not that well received, she quit her job and became a full time writer. She was fifty-two years old. And for decades, words rushed from her psyche, her unique voice imprinting its legacy upon generations of readers.

What intrigues me about this documentary, though, is its title: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019). Indeed, there are many pieces in the life of Toni Morrison. What unifies them is her obedience to the I Am within her psyche, from which well words that attest to her wholeness, the ultimate purpose of life.

She remains an absolute teacher …

 

 

 

Most families have one significant story that would hearten many if it were known. Happily for us, the American author Olivia Hawker picked up one around her husband’s dining room table and enfleshed Anton Starzmann within the pages of her historical novel, The Ragged Edge of Night (2018). A humble man, Anton lays bare his conflicted soul, enters fully into the challenges that beset him, laughs and cries from the core of his being: overtures that endear him to the reader.

And yes, this is another story oozing from the wound of World War II, from 1942 to 1945, set in a backwater hamlet, 40 kilometers from bomb-strafed Stuttgart, Germany. From the opening paragraphs, tensions chilled this reader: Anton’s selflessness as former Franciscan friar, husband to Elisabeth, stepfather to her children, and the scrutiny of Herr Franke, the hamlet’s collaborator; the innocence of developmentally challenged children and their killers; the “normalcy” of the hamlet’s lifestyle within bombing range of nearby Stuttgart; Anton and the pastor’s covert resistance with the Red Orchestra that plots the death of Hitler.

Within these tensions, Anton and Elisabeth skirt the edges of their marital and parental responsibilities within their deepening relationship.

Offsetting these tensions, however, are the bronze bells ringing from the belfry of St. Kolumban’s Church—hope infusing the evil that gags them.

Two salient points emerge from this reading: the farmers’ frequent laments of not having resisted Hitler’s menace, rendering them passive and horrified. And through bartering homegrown produce and livestock at their weekly market, no one starved.

Should hard times befall us, I shudder.

 

Available on Amazon

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