You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘humor’ tag.

Poverty with its multi-faceted violence scours psyches of survivors eking out a living—but not all are left in dust-pommeled gangways—throughways for rats—as recounted in Vivian Gibson’s memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek (2020).

As a pre-teen, she witnessed the 1959 demolition of the historic four-hundred-square-foot neighborhood of twenty thousand underpaid African American workers in St. Louis, Missouri; its benign neglect, for decades, had contributed to the Mill Creek’s “blightedness” that green-lighted government funding for another Interstate for suburban workers, needing faster access to their city jobs. After the quick work of the medicine balls and tractors, Mill Creek’s bombed-out landscape became known as “Hiroshima Flats.”

What could have been a scorching account of disrupted families, churches, and businesses—a viable through invisible community to the world around it—it was told with honesty, humor, replete with wisdom. Life inside those cold-water flats, heated by coal and wood-burning stoves, many with no indoor plumbing, was not without its rules and consequences. Unique patterns of communication developed among families, bonding them for life.

Such experiences had unfolded within the Ross’s 800-square-foot flat in the 2600 block of Bernard Avenue where lived the author’s seven siblings and her parents, their teachers of positive self-regard, resourcefulness, and the value of education and hard work. All moved through daunting hardships—at times—with ease. Detailed accounts jumped off the pages: their Saturday morning “shopping” at Soulard Market, returning home on the streetcar with bags of bruised fruits and vegetables, left on the ground by the farmers. No one was ever hungry in the Ross household.

Vivian Gibson’s unflinching acceptance of her hardscrabble beginnings contributed to the accomplished woman she has become: author, fashion designer, cook, wife, and mother. She has much to teach us in her memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek.

Imagining and then composing sequels to award-winning books is a stiff challenge for any writer, but Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again (2019) pulled it off. Her readers first met the disconcertingly honest Olive Kitteridge (2008) that created a firestorm of interest: Here‘s a woman creeping over the edge of middle age whose honesty dances atop the knife-edges of sarcasm and humor. She’s either loved or hated in her coastal town of Maine, and thrives on the resulting tension. The first Olive Kitteridge (2008) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and numerous accolades; in 2014 HBO put out a four-part miniseries.

Strout’s format for each novel merits comment: thirteen stand-alone segments, each containing short story components of setting, characters, plot and structure, conflict, climax, and resolution. Within each segment, the author weaves a significant piece of the plot from another character and thus carries the whole novel forward. Because this format necessitates the readers’ attending for these pieces, the emotional wallop is deep. 

Olive, Again picks up our protagonist in her seventies and eighties, still carrying her “big black handbag.” She has much to learn as she rear-ends the sensibilities of others, her barnacle-encrusted perceptions spewing anger, her shrinking world no longer working for her. Yet, she skates through on old age’s thin ice that sustains her and lands her ashore, with one true friend.

My experience with loss speaks of the authenticity of Olive’s: if accepted with grace, new life emerges from the old. We do change.

This afternoon, the ducks are more than one mile from their pond-home, surrounded on three sides by the ranch homes of an extended family in my neighborhood. Everyone knows these ducks, evidently tamed for decades by the loving-kindness that surrounds them. Toddlers with their moms often stop and feed them. Opposite their fenced-enclosure, a faded yellow and black sign, “Duck Crossing,” alerts pedestrians and motorists, alike, to their presence.

Perhaps wearied by their trek, the ducks squat upon mounds of fresh grass moistened by misty rains; their two speckled companions, not photographed, are nearby, still exploring a puddle. The white duck, like a Joan of Arc, appears to lead the others on their jaunts. Then as abruptly as they began, they stop as other ducks swell the pond and mating takes off in earnest. And so it has been for the last fifteen years.

But yesterday, I heard the ducks outdid themselves, venturing onto a major thoroughfare, stopping traffic in four lanes until they waddled across, drawing quizzical smiles from most motorists.

Would that all peoples could be as free-spirited, as instinct-directed, as open-minded as our neighborhood ducks; even the black one with the limp participates fully with the others. Would that we could practice heart-acceptance, despite our differences and stop throwing around terms like, cancel culture that only feed the glaring divide among us.  

Perhaps learn to lighten up when spring waddles of ducks begin. Creator God would have it so.

Available on Amazon

%d bloggers like this: