May Book Release: Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

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My wish, along with the wishes of other lovers of historical fiction, has come true. New York Times best-selling author, Dolen Perkins-Valdez has penned her second novel. Just in time for a summer read, Balm is scheduled for release this month. After I reluctantly and gingerly closed the back cover of her 2010 Wench, I ended my review (revived on this blog) with an observation and a hope:

I did not want this story to end. One critique I have is that the expanse of time between major events began to decrease toward the end — as if the author were trying to “hit all the bases” before heading home. But my “critique” is hardly a negative one. It’s an indication that I’m waiting for more from Perkins-Valdez.

Now, only a few days remain before the May 26 release of the New York Times best-selling author’s second historical novel, Balm. When I learned at the beginning of the year that Perkins-Valdez had completed her second novel, I wondered if she would continue the Ohio resort saga told in Wench.

Overview

The overviews I’ve read introduce new characters into the author’s creatively-woven tale of life after slavery. The setting of this novel is also in the Midwest. However, the author exchanges a summer at the Tawawa House Resort of Ohio for a post-Civil War Chicago saga of a suddenly-wealthy widow who discovers she can communicate with the dead, a gifted healer who becomes the widow’s servant, and a freed slave who is seeking his wife who was sold away during slavery.

On the dawn of Reconstruction, Sadie, Madge, and Hemp have “come to Chicago in search of a new life.” Being a Midwesterner who worked and socialized in Chicago, I’m looking forward to seeing if I can identify with the locales the author chooses as settings for their experiences. In addition to accurate weather descriptions, I’m also looking forward to picking up some background on various landmarks. No doubt my Hoosier roots will bring this story closer to the heart of my family research origins.

I encourage any genealogist with ties to slavery to read Wench. After doing so, you will, no doubt, want to add Balm to your TBR.

Book Cover for Balm by Dolen Perkins--Valdez

Balm by Dolen Perkins–Valdez

Publishers Weekly Overview of Balm

Copyright © 2015 Donna Palmer Haines

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Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

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My weekend visit to Barnes & Noble reminded me of the upcoming release of Balm, a historical novel about the meshing of three lives in the Midwest after the Civil War. While I was drafting my post about the release, it dawned on me that I should probably revive a 2011 review of her first novel, Wench. . .

Introduction

The slave/husband-figure arrangements mentioned in the description of Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez instantly captured my interest. In all my reading about slavery and genealogy, Lizzie’s and Nathan’s arrangement is the first of its type I’ve encountered. While it’s certainly conceivable from a physical standpoint, it’s most definitely inconceivable from both a historical and an emotional one.

Opening Line

“Six slaves sat in a triangle, three women, three men, the men half nestled in the sticky heat of thighs, straining their heads away from the pain of the tightly woven ropes.”

Seated Hair Braiding

Outdoor hair braiding session

This author “can turn a phrase,” as the saying goes; and comes out full throttle in her debut novel. The activity being described above is that of the traditional positions assumed for hair braiding. The men were getting their hair braided by the women. Just imagine them seated on the ground rather than on stools as shown in the picture. Readers can look forward to more of this type of brilliant narrative in Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. She subtly and cleverly sparks the imagination by leaving things unsaid. Her implied word engages the reader to conform the idea to his understanding — an excellent example of “reading between the lines.” The author can express an idea in a manner which allows each reader to arrive at the same thought on his own terms. Dialect was natural and not forced, as I’ve seen in some attempts at fictionalizing the concept of slavery.

Review

Cover of Wench by Dolen Pekins-Valdez

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

The story covers three summers during the middle of the 19th century at a resort then known as the Tawawa House — which later became Ohio Africa University — which was ultimately named Wilberforce University — near Xenia, Ohio. The story opens in media res during the summer of 1852 — the slaves’ second summer at the resort. The storyline consists of two sub-plots and vacillates between activities at the Ohio resort and the Drayle plantation in Tennessee. The first sub-plot centers around Lizzie and her summer friends from other plantations, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu. Phillip, another slave from the Drayle plantation, accompanies his master on the annual vacations as well. He and Lizzie share a sibling-type bond. Henry and George round out the group of male slaves — with the dimensions of Phillip’s character being the most developed. The second sub-plot includes Lizzie’s interactions with Nathan Drayle, her master/husband-figure — whom she simply calls, “Drayle.” I was leery of the confidence Lizzie had in him; and felt her misplaced trust would come back to bite her. It was one thing to trust him with her own life and the lives of her children. But given the confidence she placed in him, I was concerned — and rightly so — about the other slaves who became part of her “resort family.” The one good thing that came from this arrangement was that they all invested in the “kinship”; and the bonds of their sisterhood remained with, and sustained, each of them. Simply stated, Drayle was a jerk — who was led around by a certain part of his anatomy. Love Lizzie? Never could, never did. Yes, he taught her how to read; but he would not consider or discuss the idea of freeing her or their two children — a son called Nate and a daughter nicknamed, “Rabbit.” I always detected insincerity in his dealings with her. His base motives always overshadowed anything said by or about him. The following observation regarding his absence during Lizzie’s delivery of one of their children (keep it real — his pickaninnies), however, sealed it for me: “He was far from being a worried father. His celebration would be less over a newborn child and more over a newly acquired piece of property.”

Lizzie committed what I consider “the unpardonable sin of slavery” when she confided to Drayle about a slave who was planning to escape. I knew she wasn’t snitching though; and could only shake my head in astonishment at her naieveté. She actually thought his “love” for her extended to her friends; and that he would make an effort to soften the effects of the consequences since he knew her friend’s “man.” Silly girl — tricks are for kids! A mere whim of Fran Drayle, (Nathan’s wife) could bring any plans or provisions he had made for Lizzie crashing against the harsh wall of reality. An example is Fran’s decision to move her visiting nephew, Billy, into the room Drayle had set up for Lizzie; and Drayle did nothing and went along with it. While it appears that both Fran and Lizzie are weak when it comes to “King Drayle, in all actuality, both women know how to manipulate him. He is being pulled in two directions; but, interestingly, he’s never in the position of having to squirm out of the fixes he creates for himself. He’s lackadaisical and doesn’t seem to care. I suffered with Lizzie in her embarrassment as she was moved from the room Drayle had designated for her back to the slave quarters. But Lizzie is smart enough to fend for herself. When vacation time comes, she doesn’t check her plantation train of thought at the gate of the resort. She never really lets her guard down — not even when escorted to a luxurious dinner in the main dining room. She knows what time it is. We all know. While, at times, she feels like “Mrs. Drayle,” deep inside, she knows her role and usually manages to get something out of the deal.

And there was one more thing she had managed to escape with: . . . the pamphlet. She needed to find a safe place for it, somewhere it could sit for a few years. She planned to give it to Nate once he was a man, so that he too could feel the heat of the words and channel his young anger into the righteous fury of this Wendell Phillips.”

I did not want this story to end. One critique I have is that the expanse of time between major events began to decrease toward the end — as if the author were trying to “hit all the bases” before heading home. But my “critique” is hardly a negative one. It’s an indication that I’m waiting for more from Perkins-Valdez. The Author’s Note explains the true existence, and background, of Tawawa Resort. The publisher offers a Reading Guide at on the Harper Collins website.

Copyright © 2015 Donna Palmer Haines

My Mother’s Day Tribute – 2015

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Mother's Day 1969

Mother’s Day 1969

Wishing all in my blogoshere a Happy Mother’s Day!

This photo was taken on Mother’s Day 1969. I know the year so well because . . . there’s a reason I’m wearing that empire dress. Yes, that’s my firstborn hidden yet in plain view. Oooh and he loved my Momma! My “Baby Boy” did, too. I have memories of her (at age 70) down on the floor playing with him.

Momma was so sweet, gentle, and kind. She loved us so; and her dimunitive frame did not stop her from protecting those she loved. I loved to hear the story of how she and her sisters were ready to jump into the ring to gang up on the baby boy’s opponent during a Golden Gloves boxing match. Smh. Those MABLE girls were a force to be reckoned with.

I had the fortune of spending a lot of one-on-one time with her throughout the day because I attended the elementary school where she was head secretary. My first grade class was right next door to her office. But that was cool; because I loved learning “readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic.” Then, I got to be Secretary’s Assistant at the end of the day.

Even in adulthood, she didn’t hesitate to correct me. I remember during her first visit to Houston, as soon as we returned from a shopping trip I pointed to the set of dishes we had selected and said to my husband, “Look what Momma bought me.” As quick as a flash, she said,; “No. Look what Momma bought us I was just used to being “the Baby.” I think it will always be a part of my persona. But I do my best to abide by these types of motherly influence.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. I couldn’t forget this woman if I tried — for she looks back at me from every mirror. I’ve been deprived of her physical presence for 25 years; but her spirit and memories remain. This year marks the 100th anniversary of her birth.

Here are some of my posts that either focus on her or talk about the many ways she influenced my life. I love you, Momma.

The featured image for this Mother's Day 2015 post is a composite that represents two influences Momma made on my life: creativity and the love of reading.  The background photo of the yarn represents the spirit of creativity that was birthed in both my Mother and me.  Around the house, if she was sitting, she was doing some type of needlework.  The inset photo represents the love of reading my mother shared with me.  In addition to a bookcase filled with reference books and literature, there were always plenty of current issues of various magazines at our house.  Both creativity and reading have proven to be constants throughout my life.

The featured image for this Mother’s Day 2015 post is a composite that represents two influences Momma made on my life: creativity and the love of reading. The background photo of the yarn represents the spirit of creativity that was birthed in both my Mother and me. Around the house, if she was sitting, she was doing some type of needlework. The inset photo represents the love of reading my mother shared with me. In addition to a bookcase filled with reference books and literature, there were always plenty of current issues of various magazines at our house. Both creativity and reading have proven to be constants throughout my life.

Sepia Saturday 278: Photos in Need of Care and Attention

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The focus for this week’s project is on images that are past their best or in need of a little care and attention.

It’s so good to be back at Sepia Saturday. I’ve missed not only sharing — but also viewing — the images of times past that are the heart and soul of this blog. I’ve been learning more about blogging, brushing up on my documentation techniques, learning new software, viewing webinars, general housekeeping that comes with blogging. But I simply must make time to participate in this venture. Most of the entries (mine included) are genealogy-related. But I really enjoy viewing and sharing images that are “outside of the box” so to speak. They’re the images that afford genealogists a break from the mundane pedigrees, family group sheets, biologies, etc. It’s just a welcome end to a week that may have included intense research, reading, studying, etc.

I see I missed a good one last week. But, true to the Sepia Saturday scheme of things, being the opportunist that I am, I think I can segue what could’ve been an SS 277 entry into SS 278. Watch and learn. Yes, I had to strike that as well because I know y’all do it too. I think I’ll limit my images to two portraits and two snapshots.

This is a faded portrait of my Daddy, William Emmet PALMER, in his high school lettermen's (football) sweater. Circa 1930, Gary, Indiana.  Original in possession of author.

This is a faded portrait of my Daddy, William Emmet PALMER, in his high school lettermen’s (football) sweater. Circa 1930, Gary, Indiana. Original in possession of author.

I’ll go ahead and lead off with the aforementioned missed entry. It’s a faded portrait of my Daddy, William Emmet PALMER, in his high school lettermen’s (football) sweater. Because I graduated from his alma mater (Roosevelt High School &
Indiana) , I know the “R” on the front of the sweater was gold. So, even though the photograph is sepia, in my mind’s eye, it’s grey and gold. Long live the black and gold. Panther Pride!!

This is a composite of my mother's and my graduation photos.  We both graduated from Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana in 1931 and 1967 respectively.

This is a composite of my mother’s and my graduation photos. We both graduated from Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana in 1931 and 1967 respectively.

My second portrait is actually a two-fer because I’ve created a collage of my Mom’s and my graduation photos. Three corners of hers are missing. I think they got folded and ultimately became separated from the photo. The fading of my portrait began lonnnnng ago. In fact I recall being disappointed when I opened the envelope from the photographer. It was developed much lighter than I was expecting. I was looking for a full-color photo. Despite his development process, it has stood the test of time for the most part.

For the snapshots — wow there are so many in need of a little care and attention. Okay, I’ll go with this snapshot of my Mom, Floretta Violet MABLE, and all her siblings circa 1970 (based on my uncles’ afro hairstyles). The composition was the eight of them in the same positions they were in for a photo they took as children (circa 1935). I came up with that year because my mother (the oldest, born in 1915) was a teen or young adult in the photo and my youngest uncle (born circa 1933) was a toddler in knee pants. It’s so cute. I’ll have to get it from Jay. No doubt you’ll recognize that it’s a Polaroid. We all have more than a fair share of specimens from this genre of photography.

This is a snapshot of my Mom, Floretta Violet MABLE, and all her siblings circa 1970.    The composition was the eight of them in the same positions they were in for a photo they took as children (circa 1935)  The ninth person is a grandchild that raised with them as a sibling.  The original is in possession of my cousin, Jay Evans of Gary.

This is a snapshot of my Mom, Floretta Violet MABLE, and all her siblings circa 1960. The composition was the eight of them in the same positions they were in for a photo they took as children (circa 1935) The ninth person is a grandchild that raised with them as a sibling. The original is in possession of my cousin, Jay Evans of Gary.

Oh, and I also wanted to mention that there are some generous members of facebook groups who share their talents by offering to restore photos for other members. One randomly calls for photos in need of restoration then posts before and after images of his work. It’s really quite remarkable. I haven’t availed myself of his generosity yet; but I have a few potential projects for him.

Welp! That’s my offering for this week’s theme. Any genealogist worth his salt is bound to have similar misfortunes among his photo archives. I’ll be watching for yours. And don’t be surprised if some of your older posts get revived by my comments. I have no shame; and will take some time to go back and see what I’ve missed. Have a great week!

See other Sepians’ worse-for-wear photos.

Sep_Sat_2015_0509

In Remembrance of Violet Marie PALMER

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Created in loving memory of my older sister, Violet Marie PALMER.  (1937 - 1938)

Created in loving memory of my older sister, Violet Marie PALMER. (1937 – 1938)

On Wednesday, I utilized the “Ask a Librarian” link on the Lake County Public Library website to inquire about locating my older sister’s obituary. Violet Marie PALMER was the first-born of my siblings. We always knew that she died at the age of 11 months from pneumonia — two years before the 1940 birth of my second oldest sibling, Billy.  So none of us had the privilege of knowing her. 

During those days doctors made house calls; and her doctor delayed his visit to Violet because he had tickets to a Golden Gloves event. I never asked if he came afterwards.  I remember his name and I share it when recounting the event to my family members; but I will not disclose it here. The important thing is that I have also remembered his name in prayer.

It’s unfortunate that the only evidence of Violet’s existence is encapsulated in the 3″ x 3″ patch of text displayed below and the only known portrait of her. But I am truly grateful to now have at least this obituary to add to: (1) a copy of the portrait, that I’m waiting to lay eyes on again when my relative scans it and sends it to me; (2) an increasingly foggy memory of her headstone, at Fern Oaks Cemetery, which includes a small photo of the portrait embedded under glass in the upper-right corner. No. (3) is just something somebody said that’s stuck in my head. I think this was an extended relative or family friend: “People said that baby was just too pretty to live.” She was a pretty baby; but I’ve always regarded this statement as someone’s honest attempt at sharing a sentiment. There are just some things I remember from childhood. I was truly astonished with how quickly my issue was resolved. After my futile searches of newspaper indexes for Violet’s obituary, the LCPL responded to my inquiry within a matter of a few hours with a scan of it. I immediately thanked Sharon for her awesome detective work and for responding to my inquiry so quickly. Even though the text is clearly legible now, I’ve transcribed it for all posterity.

Violet Marie PALMER obituary, Gary Post Tribune, Gary, Indiana, 21 September 1938, page 6, column 2.  Courtesy of Lake County Public Library.

Violet Marie PALMER obituary, Gary Post Tribune, Gary, Indiana, 21 September 1938, page 6, column 2. Courtesy of Lake County Public Library.

Violet Marie Palmer, age 11 months, died last night in her home at 1933 Adams as a result of pneumonia. She is survived by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Palmer. Funeral services will be held in St. Paul’s Baptist church at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning with Rev. W. F. Lovelace officiating. Burial will be in Fern Oaks cemetery. The body was taken to Cresswell’s funeral home.

My first reaction to reading the obituary was that I distinctly remember living at the address listed as my family’s residence: 1933 Adams — especially from the age of about 3 years. So, from 1936 (the year they were married) until about 1953 (my last memory of living in this building) 1933 Adams was my family’s home. This was an apartment building that housed three families. I remember there was a basement with an exterior entrance. I don’t recall who lived there. Our family lived on the main floor; and Mrs. Lila Allen (my Godmother, affectionately called “IE”) lived on the second floor. I plan to include “IE” in the family history aspect of my genealogy because she played an integral part in my early upbringing.

  • I even have photos of my parents standing in front of 1933 and one of my second sister (Patricia Anne PALMER) and me playing (I was riding my tricycle) on the sidewalk outside.
  • I remember IE standing on the sidewalk with me and coaxing me to run and meet my mother one day as she returned home from work.
  • I have a photo of my paternal grandfather (Will E. PALMER) sitting outside of 1933.  The copy in my possession needs to be cleaned up.
  • I remember one of my Dad’s co-workers threatening to cut my ears off if I was nursing a bottle the next time he came over. (I ran and hid behind one of my parents — don’t remember if it was Momma or Daddy.)

So, you see, I do know the building.

The next thing I focused on was the church where the funeral was held. It was directly across the street. This dark brick structure looms in the backdrop of my memories of 19th & Adams. My only memories of St. Paul are attending Vacation Bible School in the summers. Rev. L.K. Jackson was the pastor; but I also remember there was a blind preacher named Rev. Russell who presided over the VBS. During our late adult years, my brother, Rev. Charles PALMER, told me we once belonged to St. Paul. That explains why Violet’s funeral was held there.  That building has been demolished. 1933 was one of the last buildings on that block to meet that fate. St. Paul is now located on 23rd & Grant.

Find A Grave, image (Fern Oaks Cemetery : accessed 2 May 2015), entrance gate post, Griffith, Lake County, Indiana; the accompanying photograph by  Warrick L. Barnett  is materially informative, and does not reference a specific headstone.

Find A Grave, image (Fern Oaks Cemetery : accessed 2 May 2015), entrance gate post, Griffith, Lake County, Indiana; the accompanying photograph by Warrick L. Barnett is materially informative, and does not reference a specific headstone.

The mortician, Cresswell’s Funeral Home, closed its doors about 30 years ago. I did make a few phone calls in an effort to locate the records. Despite learning that funeral homes are only required by law to maintain records for seven (7) years, I’m still going to make a concentrated effort to find out what happened to Cresswell’s records. Now that I have a date of death, my death certificate inquiry will be mailed on Monday; and I’ll also draft a follow-up letter to Fern Oaks to back up the phone message I left for them on Thursday.

With the genealogical tasks underway, and after I got over the excitement of finally seeing the details of my parents’ accounts in print, I began to notice the articles surrounding the obituary. They were not all obituaries. There were two others. But directly above Violet’s was a short write-up about a matinee dance. To the direct left was an article about a club’s activities. To the right was an ad for a pimple ointment and another ad below it that turned out to be an earlier location of the butcher that Momma purchased meats from. What was this? I didn’t think a whole lot about it. But I did return to the LCPL site to ask the Librarian if I could get a scan of the entire page — first, so I could document the obituary for my blog post; and secondly, because I just love nostalgia.

At this juncture, I have to thank Kathy Wienrank and all the other members of the Indiana Genealogy! Just Ask! facebook group. Were it not for their experience and willingness to help, I would not have found Violet. What an awesome group. Thanks guys!

As in all genealogy research, from every new development three additional questions will emerge. The librarian’s reply included a brief description of the page where Violet’s obituary was located. It was on Page 6 of the Wednesday, September 21, 1938 edition of The Gary Post Tribune. My first observation was that it was not in the Obituary section. It was in column 2 of the page and the section entitled, “News of Gary’s Negro Citizens.” Was there an obituary section on this date? If yes, why were Negroes excluded from it? If no, when was the first run of an obituary column? And was it always a part of the Classified section as it is today? Just below the header and byline, there’s a phone number to call in items to be included. I’m thankful to whoever called Violet’s obituary in.

There’s all kinds of stuff on Page 6. To be continued . . .