Letters

Letters 12-14-2014

Come Together There is a time-honored war strategy known as “divide and conquer,” and never has it been more effective than now. The enemy is using it against us through television, internet and other social media. I opened a Facebook account a couple of years back to gain more entries in local contests. Since then I had fallen under its spell; I rushed into judgment on several social issues based on information found on those pages

Quiet The Phones! This weekend we attended two beautiful Christmas musical events and the enjoyment of both were significantly diminished by self-absorbed boors holding their stupid iPhones high overhead to capture extremely crucial and highly needed photos. We too own iPhones, but during a public concert we possess the decency and manners to leave them turned off and/or at home. Today’s performance, the annual Messiah Sing at Traverse City’s Central Methodist Church, was a new low: we watched as Mr. Self-Absorbed not only took several photos but then afterwards immediately posted them to his Facebook page. We were dumbfounded.

A Torturous Defense In defense of the C.I.A.’s use of torture in a mostly fruitless search for vital information, some suggest that the dire situation facing us after 9-11, justified the use of torture even at the expense of the potential loss of much of our nation’s moral authority.

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The Glory of Getting Mother‘s Body

Nancy Sundstrom - July 17th, 2003
If the title alone isn’t enough to intrigue you, scan through the first few paragraphs of “Getting Mother’s Body“ by Suzan-Lori Parks. Parks is a wonderful writer whose has accomplished something quite special with this, her fiction debut, and the reader knows it almost immediately by the way her musical prose comes swinging out of the corner.
A novelist, playwright, songwriter, and screenwriter, Parks is perhaps best known for crafting “Topdog/Underdog,“ the play that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Gifted and versatile, her other plays are “F------ A,“ “In the Blood,“ “The America Play,“ “Venus“ and “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.“ Her first feature film, “Girl 6,“ and she has a staggering range of exciting projects on the horizon now, including writing an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel “Paradise“ for Oprah Winfrey, and the musical “Hoopz“ for Disney.
But to clear the way for those endeavors, she had to complete her first novel, and late this spring, “Getting Mother’s Body“ was released to considerable acclaim, with critics likening it to the classic works of Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker. While there is strong basis for comparison, this book has a singular, infectious style and a remarkably unforgettable group of characters that distinguish it from anything else that has come before and, once again, Parks as a literary force to be reckoned with.
It is the story of Billy Beede, the dirt-poor teenage daughter of the “fast-running, no-account, and six-years-dead Willa Mae.“ One day, Billy receives a letter saying that Willa Mae’s burial spot in Arizona is about to become a grocery store, and as her only daughter, she has to take possession of the body, but in doing so, may also become the caretaker of a cache of jewels believe to be buried with her.
Nearly everyone around Billy or who knew Willa Mae has a stake in finding out if the gems really exist, and that list includes Snipes, Billy’s lover. In the opening we meet the twosome as they spar about possible marriage after a quickie make-out session in the back seat of a car on a dusty road outside a small Texas town in the early 1960‘s:

“You gonna marry me or what?“ I says.
The words come out too loud. He don’t speak. He cuts on the radio but it don’t work when the car ain’t running. He gets out, closing the back two doors, leaving mines open and getting back behind the wheel.
“Sure I’’m gonna marry you,“ he says at last. “You my treasure. You think I don’t wanna marry my treasure?“
“People are talking,“ I says..“I’m five months gone,“ I says. Too loud again. He wraps his fingers tight around the wheel. I want him to look at me but he don’’t...
“Today’s Wednesday, ain’t it?““ Snipes says. He looks down the road, seeing his upcoming appointments in his head. “I’’m free towards the end of the week. Let’s get married on Friday.“
“Really?“
“Friday’’s the day,“ he says, taking out his billfold. He peeks the money part open with his pointer and thumb, then he feathers the bills, counting. His one eyebrow lifts up, surprised. “That’s what you call significant,“ he says.
“Significant?“
“What year is it?“
“’Sixty-three.““
“And here I got sixty-three dollars in my billfold,“ he says smiling. He pinches the bills out, folding them single-handed. He reaches over to me, lifting my housedress away from my brassiere and tucking the sixty-three dollars down between my breasts. “Get yourself a wedding dress and some shoes and a one-way bus ticket.““
“I’ma go to Jackson’s Formal.“
“Get something pretty. Come up to Texhoma tomorrow. We can do it Friday.“
“You gonna get down on yr knee and ask me?“
“You come up tomorrow and I’ll get down on my knee in front of my sister and her kids and ask you to marry me.“
“Hell, I’ll get down on both knees. Then we can do it Friday.“
“How bout today you meet Aunt June and Uncle Teddy?“ I says.
“Today I gotta go to Midland,“ he says.
“It’ll only take a minute.“
“I don’t got a minute,“ he says. He looks at me. He got lips like pillows. “Have em come to Texhoma Friday. They can watch us get married. I’ll meet em then.“
“When they come up you gotta ask me to marry you on yr knees in front of them too,“ I says. “They’’d feel left out if they didn’t see it since you’’ll be asking me in front of yr sister and her kids and yr mother and dad——“
“My mother and dad won’t be making it,“ Snipes says.
“How come?“
“They’s passed,“ he says. He starts up the car, turning it around neatly and pulling it into the road, heading back towards Lincoln. On Friday my new name will be Mrs. Clifton Snipes.
“I was ten when Willa Mae passed,“ I says.
“Willa Mae who?“
“Willa Mae Beede. My mother,“ I says.
Snipes takes his hand off the wheel to scratch his crotch. His foot is light on the gas pedal. There’s a story about my mother. All these months I been seeing Snipes, I didn’t know whether or not he’d heard it. Now I can tell he has.“

As her only daughter, Billy is heiress to Willa Mae’s fortune, which her lover, Dill Smiles, is said to have buried with her. Finding the cache could mean all the difference in the world to Billy, especially since she is pregnant and unmarried, so she decides to enlist her aunt and uncle in the process of uncovering it. From the onset, she makes a number of questionable decisions, such as stealing Dill‘s pickup, which puts him in hot pursuit, and the subsequent turn of events all seem as if they’ll also have disaster stamped all over them, right up to the end.
In Parks’ capable hands, the characters and the action are riotously funny and never predictable. The creation of Billy is particularly wonderful accomplishment, though to be fair, nearly every role is something of a minor miracle. At least a dozen challenging themes, from love and family to redemption and self-esteem are tackled in the book and emerge with new sheens of insight and discovery. This work is nothing short of glorious, and its author a revelation.

 
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