Friday, March 28, 2008

The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963

The book this past month was The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963.

It reminded me of my family. My Grandma Katherine (who Kateka, my sister, was named after) was from Toxey, Alabama. We drove out there one summer after she had passed away it was about three weeks of hot sticky sibling love in the mini-van, in short a dream vacation.

I remember when Grandma Katherine used to cry when we would get to her house and when we would leave. She lived pretty far out in the country, and pretty far from most people, but especially the people she loved. It reminded me of this, "Grandma Sands squeezed me hard and cried all over me. She wiped a bunch of tears aways with a twisted-up hand and blinked a couple of times before she looked at me. She was so short she didn't even have to look down!

"She tried to say something but she couldn't talk, she just stuck her bottom lip out some and nodded her head up and down a couple of time, then pulled me back to her and squeezed me like crazy."

The book reminded me of my slightly wacky family, but mostly it made me think about the relationships we have with each other. Our relationships are never perfect and mostly we are dancing around each other trying to figure out the correct footing of living together.

"Some of the time it was hard to figure Byron out. He was very right about some things and he was very wrong about some things...

"He was also very wrong about there not being anything like magic powers or genies or angels. Maybe those weren't the things that could make a run-over dog walk without wobbling but they were out there.

"Maybe they were in the way your father smile at you even after you'd messed something up real bad. Maybe they were in the way you understood that your mother wasn't trying to make you the laughing "sock" of the whole school when she'd call you over in front of a bunch of your friends and use spit on her finger to wipe the sleep out of your eyes. Maybe it was magic powers that let you know she was just being Momma. Maybe they were the reason that you really didn't care when the kids would say, "Yuck! You let your momma slob on you?" and you had to say, "Shut up. That's my momma, we got the same germs."

"Maybe there were genies in the way your sister would throw a stupid tea party for you and you had fun even though it was kind of embarrassing to sit at a little table and sup water out of plastic teacups.

"Maybe there were magic powers hiding in the way your older brother made all the worst thugs in the neighborhood play basketball with you even though you double-dribbled every time they threw you the ball..

"And I am sure there was an angel in Birmingham when Grandma Sands wrapped little arms around all the Weird Watsons and said, "My fambly, my beautiful, beautiful fambly."

But aren't we all angels to each other. Didn't a neighbor call and tell you how great you are? Did your baby tell you he loved because you played with his markers with him today? Didn't your sister help everyday when you felt so completely trapped in your life? Isn't there always someone there to lift and help you? I love finding these people. I love when you meet someone and you feel they have been your friend forever even though you have only known them for 7 minutes. Some are lucky enough to have this in their families, some find and make their families as they go.

I appreciate these people, the true and constant people. Honesty. Loyalty. Strength.

"These people are the true American heroes. They are the boys and girls, the women and men who have seen that thing are wrong and have not been afraid to ask that things are wrong and have not been afraid to ask "Why can't we change this?" They are the people who believe that as long as one person is being treated unfairly, we all are. These are our heroes, and they still walk among us today. One of them may be sitting next to you as you read this, or standing in the next room making your dinner, or waiting for you to come outside and play.

"One of them may be you."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

March Book

They're called Weird Watsons, and sometimes Kenny, Joetta, and delinquent big brother Byron, deserve the name, like when Byron gets his lips frozen to a car mirror while he's practicing kissing. But when they visit Grandma Sands in Birmingham, they head into a nightmare. At first hilarious, but by the end devastatingly powerful, Curtis's first novel packs a terrific punch.

Ten-year-old Kenny introduces readers to his family; his parents, little sister Joetta, and tough, cool, delinquent-wannabe Byron. When Byron's antics escalate, though they are mild by today's standards, his parents decide he needs a dose of the iron hand of Grandma Sands. So they load up the car and head off to Birmingham for the summer.

Humorous incidents abound, but when the Watsons arrive in Alabama, they find themselves caught up in something far more serious than dealing with a mildly delinquent adolescent. Racists bomb Grandma Sands's church, and Kenny's little sister is feared dead. Kenny, who witnessed what happened, sinks into depression and believes that only magic can heal him. But when his parents don't know how to help him, he finds comfort in the words of the person he least expected.

(Plot review courtesy of Matt Berman @