Blossoms of Evil

The Memory

Everyone has memories they don’t like but can’t shake.  This is one of mine.
I was small and my parents were driving back through a desert in the southwestern states.  We hadn’t seen a town for hours, and I’d gotten used to seeing the endless miles of saguaro, yucca, and empty skies. So, when we started to pass a row of shacks that lined the empty road, I was surprised.  These structures didn’t seem to be part of any town or village, and it would be generous to describe them as houses.  With concave walls, covered with tarpaper and tin, they were the worst excuses for houses I’d ever seen but, judging from the faint light coming from the windows, someone seemed to be living in them.  Even odder, each shack’s sway-backed porch seemed to hold at least one shiny, white, refrigerator or washer and dryer. My mom made a noise of disgust.
 “It’s terrible the way they are treated,” she said.  I asked what she was talking about.

 

Then, with a soft, but angry voice, Mom related this country’s history concerning Native Americans as if she was telling me an unhappy bedtime story.  Attacked, betrayed, segregated and undermined for years by the white colonists and their government, the indigenous Native-Americans had been systematically corralled onto ever-smaller and poorer tracts of land and relegated to a marginalized existence.  Mom said the row of shacks we were passing was part of one reservation.  She added, “And see how the government treats them? Some official probably thought these folks would be fine if they just had modern appliances. Did you notice they don’t have electricity?”

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The Book

In a way, Killers of the Flower Moon is just another chapter in Mom’s sad tale about how white men treat American Indians.  But, instead of a misunderstanding and callous government making mistakes, this story’s a lot more personal.
Imagine a tribe actually choosing the land where they will build a reservation.  In the 1870’s, as they were being relocated, the Osage Indians did exactly that. They sought and purchased a tract of Oklahoma they believed was too rocky and poor for any white man to ever desire it. Unfortunately, neither the Osage or the U. S. Government realized the land in question covered a deep, rich, oil reserve.
Killers of the Flower Moon details what happened to the Osage tribe once the drillers struck oil. A host of schemes and deals to separate the Osage from their dividends were put into play, including price-gouging, theft, and outright murder.  This fast-paced history reads like a suspense thriller, detailing not only the conspiracy that exterminated almost an entire family, until the FBI intervened but an even wider number of Osage victims whose murders were never addressed.
It’s a fascinating story, but one that can make you rethink old ideas.  Where I grew up, everyone thought striking oil and becoming rich would be a wonderful thing.  The Osage could argue that striking it rich is the surest way to shorten your life.

The Stories We Hide

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The Story

Everyone has secrets they want to keep.
Keeping secrets is harder when you live in a small town.
Small towns are the original spots where everyone knows your name.  They also know your parents, your siblings, and whether you went to reform school or college.  But they have secrets they want to keep too. Sometimes, this can make small-town society seem like an insulated conspiracy of silence.
Until curiosity or a stranger shows up, that is.
This is the premise of Annie Barrows’s 2015 novel, The Truth According to Us. Set in the fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia in 1938, The Truth According to Us is almost an experiment in human psychology.  What happens when a couple of curious souls look at decades of mythology and lies?
One mind belongs to Layla Beck, the WPA writer commissioned to transcribe Macedonia’s history; the other to twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn. Presented with conflicting reports, Layla has to decide what deserves to see print, the truth or a glossed over fiction. Was the town’s founder a hero or tyrant? Was their legendary preacher a charismatic saint or sexual predator?  Layla’s present and future become tied up with Macedonia’s history.  To Willa, it’s the way to demystify her family’s past.
Where does Father go when he vanishes for weeks at a time? Why does he leave his kids with Aunt Jottie?  Why doesn’t Aunt Jottie have a family and kids of her own?  At the age of twelve, Willa’s beginning to notice how the people she loves the most avoid certain topics of conversation.  In fact, sometimes they lie.  With the Macedonian virtue of ferocious devotion, Willa decides to unearth the facts and learns that truth can come at a terrible cost, even while it sets you free.

The Truth Behind the Story

On a side-note, The Truth According to Us highlights an obscure bit of history, The Federal Writers Project. I know the notion of a federal program subsidizing writers may give some people indigestion, but it was a good idea at the time.  For meager wages, writers documented histories of places and individuals that usually wouldn’t get covered: guides were written about every state in the union, and the oral histories of former slaves were transcribed. Valuable information that would have been lost altogether was saved by this work, and it trained more than a few writers that went on to literary glory including Conrad Aiken, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston and John Steinbeck. Today, our culture still enjoys the benefits of what that agency did more than eighty years ago. Not bad for a short-term, New-Deal program.
But this is background.  The Truth According to Us is what happens when a fresh light is shed on a mythology created by resentment and shame. Passions heat up faster than the dog days of summer. It’s perfect for an August read.

Assaulting a Boston Fern: Confessions of a Broke H&Ger (Part 1)

It’s time to come clean

First Confession: I’m a lifestyle/Home & Garden nut. Even though I nearly flunked Home Ec (twice!) growing up, I really love a pretty house. Ditto, lawn, and garden.  Set me inside a home-improvement store and I will happily spend us into the poorhouse. 
Second Confession: We’re already too close to the poorhouse for me to do much home-improvement.
Hey, that’s how it goes.  When my husband and I both worked, we had the cash for decorating but no time. Now I have the time and energy needed but insufficient valuta for the home-improvement store.  What’s an H&G addict to do?
Answer: Find a cheaper choice.
For example, I’ve always loved the look of potted ferns. They say “summer” when I see them  on a front porch. But have you priced those suckers lately? Anywhere between $10-$50 bucks each.  And I wanted at least four ferns, two to hang and two to stand.  Given that price tag, I figured my house would stay fernless this summer.

What’s a porch without hanging ferns? A sad thing indded
Then, Sunday before last, I noticed my local hardware store was having a garden sale. Big racks of season ending plants were displayed in the parking lot, going including ferns for $5 bucks apiece.  I picked out the biggest, handed over five bucks and the salesman popped it into my jeep. I had a stack of old planters in the garage and an idea in my little head. If I could sub-divide this baby, I might have enough to fill two or three planters for the front porch. 
I didn’t realize just how big the fernster was until I tried to wrestle it out of the jeep.  This was a Jolly Green Giant of a fern, a botanical monster, and wider at the top than me.  Still, I reasoned, as I searched for plant dividing instructions on the ‘net, a plant this big should suit my purpose, provided I could sub-divide it.
The last of the 45 lb. ferns
The internet said all I had to do was draw Jolly out of his pot and saw his root ball into manageable portions with a serrated knife. Sounds easy? It wasn’t! For the next 40 minutes, I hacked away at his foliage, while the roots stubbornly clung together. None of my serrated knives were long enough to cleanly divide that monster or sharp enough to slice through the roots. I eventually managed to divide and conquer but afterward, the cutting table looked like a gardening disaster and I wanted to wash my hands for an hour and repeat the Act of Contrition.
A cat sleeps by the scene of the crime!
Even subdivided, the JGG was still too big for the planters. Still, once I got his quartered remains replanted into the new pots, (complete with new soil, plant food, and water) and cleaned up the scene of the crime, things looked a bit better.  I called my sister, a real garden guru, and asked for her advice.
Bern, Verne, Sterne & LuCerne: The Four Big Greens
“Mist them,” she said promptly. “Every day for a month. Ferns need to be misted.”
I was this close to saying, “Are you saying I need a mister, sister, to spritz the dad-burn fern?” but I didn’t. I was too tired. 
Eleven days have passed and the first shock is over for me and the fern, now known collectively as Bern, Verne, Sterne and Lucerne, the four Big Greens.  They require lots of misting and so much attention I’m beginning to wish I’d kept my money in my pocket. Still, they are behaving and starting to unfurl new fiddleheads which means, I suppose, they are happy.  And the porch looks pretty nice for five bucks.
What are your penny-conscious decorating stories?

Redeemed by the South

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Today, Cee Cee would be called an abandoned child, but they didn’t talk like that in the 60’s, when she was young.  If her father is rarely home, well, he travels for his job.  And CeeCee’s mom is…well, let’s say a bit odd. To CeeCee’s schoolmates and the citizens of their Ohio town, Camille Honeycutt is a bona fide loony, with her flamboyant behavior and fashion sense. To CeeCee, she’s mom, by turns loving and frightening, the grown-up Cee Cee looks after. Still, no one steps in to help until the Happy Cow Ice Cream truck accidentally runs over CeeCee’s mom. The funeral brings Tallulah Caldwell, a stranger who says she’s a great-aunt and invites CeeCee to move in with her in Savannah, Georgia.
These days, Savannah is probably best known as the setting of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a hothouse for eccentrics and oddballs in the 1980’s.  The Savannah of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is 20 years younger, still quirky but suitable for its younger audience. Here is a world of lush gardens, storied houses, garrulous neighbors, and sweet tea; a place where living is an art to be appreciated and savored.  Burdened by conflicted memories and thoughts of her parents, CeeCee begins her childhood over again at 12 and learns about life and friendship from the women of Savannah, white and black.  CeeCee’s Savannah is neither heaven nor hell, but a place redolent, flavorsome and alive.
Like the South, CeeCee has a conflicted past that sometimes threatens to overwhelm a good heart. But the love and acceptance of friends can move mountains, they say.  They can save an old house, or a child’s future, or even a life. That’s redemption, wherever you are in the world, folks. And on summer mornings as beautiful as this, redemption is a miracle that seems possible.