Wednesday, September 10, 2014

SEPTEMBER 2014 BOOKERS' MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”
Professor Julius Lester

24 Bookers ambled along the winding road leading up to the Grimke plantation. In the shade of her spirit tree wrapped in scarlet red, Charlotte rocked and quilted together brightly colored squares of her life beginning with the night her mauma was sold to the final square, with her daughters, Handful and Sky “their arms woven together like a loop stitch.”

We stepped across BABY BOY BLUE BLOW YOUR HORN HETTY written in chalk before entering the home of MN Stanky, the door draped with a sewing hoop and a throw covered with blackbirds. Inside, the details of the book unfolded in hand-sewn quilts draping the couches and chairs, a framed photograph of the “real” Grimke sisters, and Sarah’s Certificate of Manumission freeing her personal slave, Hetty. A brass thimble, sitting atop a bed of rice, denoted when the “doves moaned and the wind bent down to lift Charlotte to the sky,” sending her spirit to Africa. A wooden box filled with scrapes, various needles and threads, a bolt of green material, a silver brooch in a special box, and marbles spelling out Sarah and Boy contributed to the setting.  A framed photograph of the Three Fates of Greek mythology, the personification of destiny like the one that hung at the top of the Grimke’s stairs, showed the spinners of the thread of life determining the span of human life of every mortal from birth to death.

Welcome to Bookers’ 11th year and to our special guest, MN’s sister, Pam Beedy, visiting from Alabama. We were delighted to see Lois and Melba back with us, but almost fainted at the sight of Gayle Brummett, our phantom member, who agreed under some duress, to see for herself what all the hoopla was about.
                                      In JoDee’s voice:
“Hey ya’ll, welcome to Chaahs-tun and home to the Grimkes all decked out in plantation dress. It’s muggy today. There’s not a breath blowing in off the Ashley River. This belle is glowing.

Imagination sprouts wings of those eager to dream even if the path is fanciful and improbable. There will always be hurdles to leap; there will always be a gloomy Gus to rain on your quest, and often circumstances will force you to reinvent yourself and your calling. The Invention of Wings, described as a masterpiece of hope, incorporates a central metaphor throughout the story, flight, and freedom. Wings depicted on mythological creatures, angels, birds, dragonflies and fairies represent everything from power and mobility to spiritual truths and protection to the elements of magic allowing access to a previously unattainable state.

Although sweeping social issues toward freedom such as abolition, and women’s rights erupted within this historical timeline, Ms. Kidd challenged the reader to appreciate how each character “invented their wings,” by finding a way to break the chain of bondage without lowering their expectations or compromising their goals. Sarah moved from dreaming of being the first female jurist to tolerating the limitations of her gender before emerging as a voice of freedom. Her younger sister, Nina, followed suit relishing her role in the emancipation of those fleeing from subjugation to sovereignty. Hetty, dealt the cards of oppression, broke the law by learning to read, but that simple act of defiance saved her life, and her mother, Charlotte, hatched a plan to fly away like a blackbird in search of a better life, leaving her legacy in a story quilt in case she failed. 

Oscar Wilde said, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Sue Monk Kidd invited us to behold first light and the entertainment didn’t disappoint.”
                                         In MN’s voice:
“This book embraces slavery, sisterhood, freedom, flight, inhumanity, women’s rights, equality, and inequality, all written in a beautiful language. Oh My. We feel inadequate, so we thought what could do this book justice and came to only one conclusion, so we contacted Sarah, and she graciously agreed to join us today. Please welcome Ms. Sarah Grimke. She is moving a little slow, you know she’s over two hundred years old now, so I’m going to help her get settled.”

MN’s sister, Pam, dressed in a black and white Quaker style dress sewn with her fleur de lis silver button at the throat and wearing a white bonnet, warmly greeted Charlotte before taking her seat to address our group, a Bible on one side of her chair, a gold-tipped cane propped up on the other.
                                          Pam as Sarah:
What we heard today was a voice both soft and musical in a southern drawl mixed with strength of conviction and passion for the causes defining her life. If you attended this special presentation, you witnessed a character telling us her story as if it was her own. Pam’s attention to detail, highlighting each of the issues that carried Ms. Kidd’s novel, was masterful, insightful, humorous, and just down right full of charm. The room grew silent, the group hung on every word, applauding her efforts with a standing ovation. We think if Angelina Jolie is looking to direct another movie, her casting department should be ringing Ms. Beedy in her sweet home in Alabama. Bernie hoped she might move to this area and join the acting ranks of the Henderson County Performing Arts. The script of Pam’s presentation is attached to this e-mail for all of you to enjoy. Read it slow and in a whisper to feel the power of the words.

Sue Monk Kidd said she wanted the story quilt to “speak about the deep need we have to make meaning out of what befalls us…how important it is to take the broken, painful, and discarded fragments of our lives and piece them into something whole.” We should all think about what our story quilt might say. 

               The following is Sarah's story told in the voice of Pam Beedy:
“Thank you all for having me.  It was so kind of Ms. Mary Nell and Ms. JoDee to invite me.  At first I declined, thinking I’m much too old to travel across the country and wondered were there still people out there that wanted to hear what I had to say.  They were very persistent and I’m so glad they were.  I feel as if I’m back in New York in the early days, speaking to small groups of women in the parlors of their homes.  I’m so pleased to be here.   

When I first heard of Ms. Kidd’s book, The Invention of Wings and what it was about, again I thought who would want to read any more about my life and how I came to be so outspoken.  Upon reading the book I realized it was not about me, but all the things that were important in my life years ago that are still so important today.  What does it mean to be a sister, a friend, a woman, an outcast, a slave?  Ms. Kidd manages to raise our consciences and our consciousness.  How do we use our talents to better ourselves and our world?  How do we give voice to our power, or learn to empower our voice?  With these questions in mind I reflect upon my life and would like to share with you my thoughts.

There were ten of us children; I was the middle child, the one mother called DIFFERENT and father called REMARKABLE.  Everybody said I was father’s favorite; Father was a Judge on South Carolina’s highest court, he owned a plantation, numerous slaves and was a member of Charleston’s ELITE.  Mother was descended from the first family of Charleston.  She governed a host of children, fourteen slaves and was a slave herself to social and religious duties.  When I was being forgiving, I said my mother was exhausted, I suspected she was simply MEAN.  She carried a gold tip cane that was used often on the house slaves.       

The slave’s quarters were behind the house.  There were house slaves, yard slaves, barn slaves and a slave to drive the carriage. Charlotte was our seamstress; mother said the best in the county.  Charlotte had a daughter named Hetty or Handful as her mother called her.  Hetty’s father was left at the plantation when Charlotte and Hetty were brought to Charleston.  She shared a bed with her mother and at night Charlotte told Hetty stories of Africa.  One night when Hetty was 10 years old she told her that THERE WAS A TIME IN AFRICA THE PEOPLE COULD FLY; but Hetty WAS SHREWD LIKE MAUMA.  EVEN AT TEN she KNEW THIS STORY ABOUT PEOPLE FLYING WAS PURE MALARKEY.  People COULD FLY ALL RIGHT, BUT IT WASN’T ANY MAGIC TO IT.  Everybody has wings, you have to find them. 

At an early age I struggled with the inhumanity of slavery and the inequality of women but did not know what to do about either.  When I was four years old I witnessed the brutality of slave punishment that left me with emotional and physical scars. I developed a stutter that I still struggle with when not sure what to do, so I often remained silent.  For my eleventh birthday my mother gave me Hetty as a personal slave.  I was horrified at being a slave owner but mother insisted and over time Hetty and I shared a bond and friendship much like sisters.  One day while fitting me for a dress, Charlotte managed to make me promise to help Hetty obtain her freedom.  I didn’t know what to do.?  My stutter continued and I remained silent.

Charlotte said I should help Hetty get free any way I could, so I taught her to read.  Reading was my escape; I was given entry to father’s library and allowed to read most anything I chose.  My brother Thomas and I would sit and discuss ideas and theories, Latin, History and Literature.  I had ambitions of becoming an attorney like my father. Reading gave me wings, and perhaps it could help set Hetty free.  At the time teaching slaves to read was illegal and we did keep our lessons a secret, but Hetty like her mother, courted danger and we were found out.  I thought father would surely understand. I thought he felt the same about slavery as I did, that it was wrong.  When father found out he was furious and when I explained I meant no harm my father replied “SLAVES WHO READ ARE A THREAT, THEY WOULD BE ABREAST OF NEWS THAT WOULD INCITE THEM IN WAYS WE COULD NOT CONTROL. IT MAY BE UNFAIR BUT THERE IS A GREATER GOOD HERE THAT MUST BE PROTECTED.  I WILL PROTECT OUR WAY OF LIFE.”  For punishment I was denied access to father’s library and books saying I had no need for books.  My wings had been clipped.  Hetty’s punishment was worst than my own, one lash.  My world as I knew it changed.  Mother said it was time for me to enter society, meaning find a husband.  I wish not to spend much time on my love life, my one prospect turned out to be a scoundrel and my association with him an embarrassment to my family.  I vowed not to marry and turned to religion as a refuge.  I hoped God not my mother would show me the way. My older sister, Mary grew up under Mother’s tutelage and led her life in mother’s image, married and mean.   When mother gave birth to her final child Angelina I begged to be her godmother and care giver.  I did not want Nina growing up solely under mother’s influence. 

Hetty’s troubles were worse than my own, her mother had disappeared.  Charlotte kept
company with a free slave named Denmark Vesey, visiting him on her marketing days.  Denmark had bought his freedom after traveling the world with his former master, now Denmark, an advocate of freedom for all slaves, tried to gather followers for a revolt.  I imagine Charlotte found in Denmark the vision of freedom she was always seeking.  On one of her marketing days Charlotte refused to step aside for a white lady. She was apprehended but escaped and did not return home.  Hetty hoped Denmark had helped Charlotte get away; but still Hetty missed her mother terribly and was devastated; SHE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO BE IN THE WORLD WITHOUT HER.  Denmark Vesey often spoke at an African church for coloreds, slaves and free blacks all together.    Hetty started frequenting the services to hear Denmark speak.  One evening while Denmark led the members in a loud rendition of Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho the City Guard raided the church. The neighbors had complained of the noise and Denmark and Hetty along with several others were arrested for disorderly conduct and sent to the Work House as punishment.  Mother could have paid for her release but she did not.  Before the end of her punishment, Hetty’s foot was mangled while trying to help another slave who had a child on her back. Denmark was later convicted of in citing a slave revolt and was hanged.   This hardened Hetty and she vowed to pursuit her efforts of freedom.

Our own family was also suffering its own share of problems. Impeachment charges were brought against my father. They charged incompetence and although father was acquitted he felt he was a dirtied man.  At 59 he was suddenly old, and had a tremor in his right hand.  Following months of care the Dr. recommended a treatment offered in Philadelphia and mother informed me I was to accompany father on the voyage.  After a harrowing trip I found lodging in a Quaker boardinghouse.  The doctor could find no cause for father’s tremor or deterioration and recommended the sea air.  I secured a room at the only Hotel in Long Branch, New Jersey where I was invited to the nightly prayer meetings. I felt God had sent me here. Although father did not recover I was set free. Before he died father asked for my forgiveness and admitted his silent opposition to slavery. Most days I sat by father’s bed while he slept.  When he seemed to be resting comfortably I would on occasion walk down to the sea.   I would never tell mother that at the hour of father’s death I was floating free in the ocean; in solitude I would remember all of my life.  I was swimming with some of the other women staying at the Inn.  I had let go of the safety rope, dropped onto my back and floated, I had never felt so free. 

I notified the family that I had arranged a small quiet funeral for father in Philadelphia and that I would not be returning immediately to Charleston. The Quaker Religion had become more and more interesting to me and I wanted to contemplate what to with the rest of my life.  A letter from Nina brought me back to Charleston.  In fathers will he left the house to my brother with a life estate for mother and she could only keep a few slaves.  Mother resented this and was becoming more violent, taking her frustrations out on her slaves.  Hetty had learned from her mother how to sew so she remained as mother’s seamstress.  Mother ordered Hetty to make an elaborate mourning dress and mother continued to wear the dress everyday months after father’s death.  The situation was becoming intolerable.   No one was spared the wrath of mother’s cane.  On the voyage returning to Charleston I met a Quaker and his family, Israel Morris and I had many conversations regarding the Quaker anti slavery views and the equality of women.  When I explained to Mr. Morris that my family owned slaves but I did not condone it; with kindness is his voice he replied “TO REMAIN SILENT IN THE FACE OF EVIL IS ITSELF A FORM OF EVIL”.  I still did not know how to make my voice heard.  It was from Mr. Morris, that I first learned that in the Quaker religion women could be ministers.  Could this be my answer?                                                                                                                                                        

My stay in Charleston was short.  Angelina had also become outspoken with her anti-slavery views.  Mother thought I was a bad influence on Nina.  We both were practicing the Quaker Religion and the atmosphere was becoming more heated, with new orders being established to control and restrict slaves.  My defiance on the street became common knowledge.  Mother was outraged, only Nina stood by me.  I was called a slave lover, nigger lover, abolitionist and northern whore.  It probably was all true except that last part. I could no longer remain silent so I returned north to make what life I could.  I felt like an outcast.

I was offered a room with a fellow Quaker where I studied and practiced the Quaker religion hoping one day to become a minister.  I had maintained a friendship with Israel Morris even staying in his home after his wife died, helping his sister with the eight children.  Friendship grew into love and he proposed marriage but he wanted a wife and mother for his children not a Quaker Minister.  I was again devastated but continued in my pursuit of fulfilling my life ambition, to make a difference.  Within a few years, my sister Angelina joined me. She could no longer tolerate the south’s views on slavery. Together we pursued our efforts towards freedom and equality for all.  But even the Quakers could not abide with our outspoken views on slavery and women rights. We were ostracized and had nowhere to go.  We were secretly given living quarters in the home of Sarah Mapps Douglass who had founded a school for black children.  We were among friends but still did not how to make our voices known.  We started writing pamphlets and distributed them to the CLERGY OF THE SOUTHERN STATES and to the CHRISTIAN WOMEN OF THE SOUTH.  Our voices were heard; we were invited to join the AMERICAN ANTI SLAVERY SOCIETY as speakers to women in private parlors in New York.  Following two months of training we would begin a four month lecture tour.  I thought of FATHER, MOTHER, THOMAS, ISRAEL, THE CHURCH IN CHARLESTON, and THE QUAKERS IN PHILADELPHIA all who had tried to keep us quiet.   Finally my voices would be heard!

Theodore Weld was our trainer and most outspoken advocate, He supported us through some harrowing months of lectures on abolition and women rights.  Our audiences grew and we went from parlors to large halls where men and women came to hear what we had to say.    Theodore was our dearest friend but he and Angelina formed a bond stronger then friendship soon marrying and moving to a small farm in New Jersey where they asked me to join them.  While we were well received across the northeast there were churches that urged a boycott of our lectures and a number of halls were closed to us. We received word from mother that our pamphlets were banned in South Carolina and we could no longer set foot in Charleston without fear of imprisonment. We may not have been welcome but at least we were heard, we were no longer silent. 

I had a lingering regret, Hetty.  Hetty’s mother Charlotte had found her way back to Charleston after being held as a slave in another state for years.  She arrived with a girl who was about Hetty’s age when her mother first disappeared.  Skye was the image of Denmark Vesey. Hetty had suspected her mother was pregnant when she disappeared. Charlotte died leaving Skye in Hetty’s care.  A letter arrived from Hetty informing us she and Skye were leaving Charleston and looking for a place to run to.  I could not let her try this escape alone.  I had long ago given Hetty back to mother, a mistake I now regretted.  Risking my own life I returned to Charleston and offered to buy back both Hetty and Skye, mother refused but promised to free them upon her death.  Hetty said no she was going now with or without my help.  This time I knew what to do.  Three days later we boarded a steamer.  We were dressed in black from head to toe, hats, veils, dresses, gloves, stockings, and shoes - Hetty in the very dress she had made for mother when father died.  We hoped no one would question three women who were mourning the loss of their mother.  The steamer lurched forward. Standing on the bow we had found our wings and watched Charleston recede as we flew north.  Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last." Sarah Moore Grimke

                                          On the business side:
We conducted a short business meeting by picking two more books for the upcoming months as listed below. Both are must reads (in our opinions). The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is an easy read, only 260 pages in which you get a dab of The Cookbook Collector and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with the charm of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew. The other selection, also under 300 pages, is The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene. Arthur Winthrop, the headmaster of an elite New England boarding school, is found walking naked in Central Park. The novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family.

MN has also read and recommended two selections by Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Don’t Let Me Go. Where We Belong is about fourteen-year old Angie and her Mom who are on the verge of homelessness again. Her sister, Sophie, has an autism-like disorder with a tendency to shriek and the only thing that calms her is a neighbor’s black Great Dane. Also, Take Me With You, her latest, is about a burned-out teacher who has been sober since his nineteen-year old son died. He’s spent the summer on the road and had planned a trip to Yellowstone with his son, but now he’s carrying his ashes instead. It has camping, a Jack-Russell terrier, a broken-down RV and two extra passengers for his journey, two boys, twelve and seven. We’ll decide on this next month. Sandy is reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, set in Germany and France during World War II and thinks it might be a good one for us. We’ll check it out and let you know.

The drama continues on The Goldfinch – Patsy- long book full of deviant behavior, hopelessness, and few redeeming qualities – a waste of time. Jean Mc: wonderful writing, could have been 300 pages shorter and still gotten the point across – to Theo, suck it up dude, grow up…don’t understand the Pulitzer. Beverly – another love/hate relationship with the book, long and depressing but laughed out loud on occasion and loved one of the characters…glad I read it. Leslie – powerful novel, drugs and excessive drinking play a major role and needed to be in the book and without Boris getting Theo into drugs, there would not be a storyline…so the debate continues but Leslie has loaned me her book and I’ve agreed to give it an unbiased try.
                                                COLOR CODING SYSTEM

PINK:             MODERATELY

RED:              CHALLENGING
October 14th :              The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
                                    Home of Joanna Linder                                 
Reviewer: Joanna Linder
November 11th:           Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlanta
                                    Home: Daryl Daniels
                                    Reviewer: Bernie Crudden
December 9th:              Evening Holiday Party & Meeting
                                    The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
                                    Home: TBD
                                    Reviewer: TBD                                  
January 13th, 2015       The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
                                    Home: TBD
                                    Reviewer: TBD
February 10th:              TBD
March 10th:                  TBD
April 14th:                    TBD
May 12th:                     Book TBD
                                    Home of Beverly Dossett
                                    Request change of date to May 19th due to travel conflict
Summer Break:           June, July & August
September 8th:             Bookers 12th year

While I read this book the violence in Ferguson Missouri plastered the news…thoughts returned to a hooded teenager gunned down in Florida – the divide is still deep…someone asked the rioting and unrest be controlled in reverence to what Martin Luther King, Jr. died for.

“Abolition is different from the desire for racial equality. Color prejudice is at the bottom of everything. If it’s not fixed, the plight of the Negro will continue long after abolition.” Fast forward to today…

Happy Reading,

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