Kittie Howard

Monday, November 21, 2011

An African Moment; Taking a Few Days Off

Some years ago, my husband's job took us to Nairobi, Kenya, for three years.

Then, as now, Kenya possess gorgeous scenery, amazing wildlife, and probably some of the politest people in the world.  While walking down one of Nairobi's sleek street's, the slightest bump elicits an immediate poll (sorry).  Relatives and close friends do not enter a home without first asking, "Hodi"?  (May I enter?)

A few years after our return to the States, we lived in Honolulu, Hawaii.  After the Honolulu Marathon, I crossed a patch of Kapiolani Park to get something from the car my husband requested.  He'd completed the Marathon in a pleasing time and, along with other ripped marathoners, rested beneath a nearby tree.

En route, I heard Kiswahili being spoken near a bus.  I'd learned a smattering in Kenya and understood them. I dipped my head so the Kenyans wouldn't think I was eavesdropping. As I did so, another Kenyan rounded the bus and bumped into me.  When he apologized (poll), I automatically said, "Hakuna matata."  (There's no problem.)

Surprised, but delighted, the Kenyans and I talked for about 10 minutes, in Kiswahili and English.  (Most Kenyans speak four languages.)  I then went to the car, and, when I passed the bus, exchanged waves and smiles with the Kenyans, as I walked toward my husband's group.  Jaws littered the ground.  I had been talking with some of the rock stars in the world of marathons.  One marathoner had broken a record that day.

Now, like the U.S. and other countries, Kenya possess social and economic problems.  The story I'm going to share could have taken place anywhere in the world.  But it transpired in Kenya and became a forever memory.

When the time came to pack-out for our return to the United States, I couldn't find a matching green sandal, not an extraordinary event, as a shoe goes missing now and then.  When an African friend saw the lone survivor on a shelf of ad hoc items, she asked, "What are you going to do with this shoe?"

"I don't know."

She removed the shoe from the shelf and held it.  "May I have it?"

"Yes, of course."

She squished her ten toes in her flip flops and said, "I know a mama (woman) with one leg who would be happy with this shoe.  Green is her favorite color."  When my friend's eyes met mine, she said, "There is always one who is worse off."

 * * * * *

This - and every Thanksgiving - I'm grateful for all that I have, from ten toes to ten fingers.  I'd like to whine about some bug going around that knocked me for a loop, but I am grateful it's not worse.  I'd like to whine that my hub returns very late Thanksgiving Day, and not the day before, from a six-week business trip and two long-haul flights, but I'm grateful he will be here.  I'm grateful the Boy Scouts held a food drive to which I was able to contribute (and hear from the Scoutmaster that, unlike last year, an enormous number of people were contributing.)

In my heart of hearts, I'm sad so many will go without this Thanksgiving Day (or any day, for that matter) and wish I had a magic wand for so much.  But, like rock star athletes who weren't too important to talk with a passer-by, I hope and pray those in positions of power everywhere will take the time to talk and to listen to those around them.  I am grateful I live in a world where communication is possible.  I'd like to be grateful communication actually worked.

From our house to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

(When I realized this bug wouldn't let me get around to visit you, I decided I needed to turn off the computer and rest up a few days.  Hope you are well. See ya next week! XOXO Kittie)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting Back into Gear - A Brighter Tomorrow

Life was a bit hectic for awhile.  (Courtesy of Photobucket)

But now that Remy Broussard's left home. . .  (Photo source unknown.)

No more of this stuff  - fav is Whopper, no mayo, no catsup, no cheese . . . as for fries, let's not go there *sighs* but back to the healthy stuff - most of the tine . . . (Photo courtesy of Photobucket)

And a bit of relaxation . . .  (if you want to think that's me, I don't mind) and getting organized for the holidays.  I'm always on the go and have a high metabolism, a good thing  or I'd look like . . . 

the Thanksgiving turkey . . . (Wikipedia)

After our national day of grace, hub and I are kicking into Christmas gear - going to New Orleans December 21st  ... (Montage courtesy of Wikipedia)

Friends are taking us to K-Paul's restaurant.   In 1979, Chef Paul Prudhomme, left, and his wife,  K, opened a small restaurant in New Orleans that rocked the culinary world.  (Executive Chef Miller is to the right.)  I'm soooo looking forward to this night.  Food is a major Big Deal in New Orleans.  Chefs are like rock stars.  Restaurants are rated by beans.  K-Paul's has so many beans, you could serve red beans and rice, a South Louisiana staple.  Yum!

We have tickets for Pat O'Brien's New Year's Eve party in the old Jackson Brewery - went last year, loved it!  After the ticket gets you inside (overlooking the Mississippi River), food islands await - I never made it past the gumbo - loooove that Creole goodie - and a waitperson brings your choice(s) of beverage - and the dancing goes on and on - a Louisiana party rocks like you wouldn't believe!  

And this is a dress-up party with lots of slinky dresses and bling and men in tuxedos.  Bet you're thinking 'old?'  HA! The average age is maybe 30. Age doesn't matter at a Louisiana party! Laissez les bons temps rouler!  (Let the good times roll!)

Now, see that cool looking drink above?  That's a Hurricane, a nice blend of sweet and thirst-quencher - a Hurricane can go down real easy - and explode in your head! (As I learned midway thru my second one during college days.)  So, I'll take a pass and take the souvenir glass home for a friend whose son is in college.  College kids collect the distinct Pat O'Brien's glass, a New Orleans trophy.

But - WHOA! Time out! - back to kicking into holiday gear!  Saturday, November 26th, is  Small Business Day throughout the United States.  October's statistics said the economy is turning around in many areas. Let's get out there and give our Mom and Pop stores a push. (Or order from an online Mom and Pop.  They need love, too!)  

Stay away from that (Boo! Hiss!) Made in China crap and buy some home-grown tomatoes. I'm going to a shop in my village that has the most gorgeous candles - made right up the road, in Maryland.  

If you've got the cash for a burger and fries, drop the calories and drop by a Mom and Pop instead.  American jobs depend upon Americans buying Made in the USA products.  Every candle purchased helps light the way toward a brighter tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2011

More Sharecropper Photos - Remy's a Story about Real Lives

(For those of you who have visited before, I thank you! If you're in a hurry, please scroll down to the added info above the new photos.  Er, en route, you'll see Rachel's blog highlighted.  She's the artistic genius who designed Remy's cover.  If you have a sec, please stop by and say Hi before moving on.  Thanks!)

When a classmate physically and mentally bullies Remy, the third-grader withdraws from friends and family and imagines the worst about his parents.  Starring at the Christmas tree is the classroom enables the sharecropper's son to escape his poverty-stricken life and dream about opening a present on Christmas morning and having turkey for Christmas dinner, neither of which has ever occurred.

Friends blame the changes in Remy's behavior on Leonard's bullying and encourage Remy to talk to his parents, his teacher or his priest.  Remy refuses, often with open hostility.  As Christmas Day approaches, Remy's struggle to understand why he has so little and others have so much deepens.  He concludes that Jesus is punishing him for hating Leonard and his bullying.

A bayou-laced, South Louisiana comes together in 1952 to stop Leonard's bullying in a compassionate manner and open Remy's heart to the meaning of Christmas through love and forgiveness.

Remy Broussard's Christmas is available on Kindle.  The cover design is by Rachel Morgan.   Thank you, Rachel for Remy's gorgeous cover.  The candle is Rachel's.  She focused to highlight and photographed the candle on her table in South Africa. Rachel blogs at Rachel Morgan Writes.  Please stop by and say Hi.  If you're not a follower, tsk! tsk!

* * * * *
Through December 25, 2011, 10% of sales will be donated to the United States Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Foundation.  No tax deduction will be claimed for the donation.  Thank you for your support!  Sales are steady, and I'm greatly encouraged.  Out of 750,000 books on Kindle, Remy has broken through the 21,000 position.  It would be beyond a dream come true if Remy broke through the 1,000 position!

* * * * *

I've been digging into the Memorial Room's archives at the U.S. Library of Congress and have included more photos.  These will be at the top of the previous photos.  I want to write a story that involves Remy with the kids of American-American sharecroppers.  Black and white sharecroppers lived in segregated housing in the Old South.  Their living conditions were usually far worse than those of white sharecroppers.  Jim Crow laws prevented blacks from voting.  In many instances, the inability to own land prevented whites from voting.

Sharecroppers occupied the bottom rung of the ladder and were usually ostracized, as if they didn't exist. In a way they didn't - since landowners didn't pay into the Social Security System and since sharecroppers lacked the means to do so and since most didn't vote and since health care or benefits didn't exist, thousands of people lived apart from mainstream society, like ghosts who lived and worked and died.

Conflicts between the races occurred.  The KKK (KuKluxKlan) easily preyed on black sharecroppers.  And, yes, some white sharecroppers belonged to the KKK.  As I mention in a caption below, the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act dismantled the sharecropper system.  However, the KKK remained active for some years afterward.

* * * * *

Remy's story will reflect much of what you see in the photos.  However, the story does have a happy ending I think will warm your heart.  Amid the heartache, some goodness did exist. The new photographs:

Sharecropper children in Plaquemine Parish, Louisiana.  Photo courtesy of Ben Shahn.                                              

The son of a sharecropper hooks up for field work.  Although most landowners owned tractors and many kids did drive tractors, kids learned young how to work a horse- or mule-pulled plough.  Landowners could - and often did - loan out sharecroppers to other landowners, especially when hay was baled or the crops came in.  Landowners worked together to maximize weather conditions.  It was not uncommon to see sharecroppers walking down a road to get to another landowner's property.  Or a landowner provided a horse- or mule-pulled wagon to transport field hands.  Photo courtesy of Russel Lee.                                                       

Daughter of tenant farmer in kitchen. Note the skirt's split seam.  Many churches had a donation box for used clothing.  Some landowner families provided used clothing.  Without the financial access to toilet/hygiene products, sanitation was a problem.  It wasn't unusual for infants to die shortly after birth, for mothers to die in childbirth.  Toothaches claimed lives. Since sharecropper shacks (so called then by all) lacked in-door plumbing, out-houses existed, sometimes close to the shack.  During the winter, especially, each shack usually had what was called 'a slop bucket' for human waste during the night, emptied into the out-house in the morning.  Little or no maintenance of these out-houses existed.  They were nasty, smelly places, constantly buzzing with flies.  Photo courtesy of Russel Lee.
Same daughter.  Photo courtesy of Russel Lee.
Sharecropper clothes drying on the ground.  Containers like you see above were often used to wash clothes, often without detergent. Human dignity prevailed as much as possible. Photo courtesy of Russel Lee.

Tenant farmer wife slices hard tack, basically fat with a sliver of meat.  Tenant farmers saved fat from cooking or purchased lard in the landowner's store for lard sandwiches, a common staple.  Photo courtesy of Russel Lee.

Two tenant farmers. Note the boarded window.  Winters were cold.  Photo courtesy of Dorothea Lang.                                                                                                                                     

A sharecropper's wife.  Photo courtesy of Arthur Rothstein.

A sharecropper's child suffering from rickets and malnutrition.  Photo courtesy of Arthur Rothstein.

Evicted sharecroppers.  They received a small salary for work in the fields six days a week, but most landowners charged exorbitant  rents and inflated prices for subsistence goods in the farm's store.  This was a sharecropper's greatest fear and fueled the system.  There was no place to go.  Many huddled near roads until police made them move.  Photo courtesy of John Vachon.

Patched window on sharecropper's house.    Few landowners made repairs.  Shacks (as they were called) lacked in-door plumbing; most didn't have electricity.  Sharecropper families tended to be large.  Shacks usually had one or two rooms and a kitchen, often a galley kitchen.  Kids slept on discarded mattress on the floor, as many as possible to a mattress.  Each field hand received a small salary, so the drop-out rate from school was alarming.  Illiteracy and poverty prevailed.  The Federal government made numerous attempts to dismantle the system, but nothing cracked the unified Old South until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Photo courtesy of Arthur Rothstein.
Interior of sharecropper shack.  Photo courtesy of Ben Shahn.
Sharecroppers weighing cotton.  Photo courtesy of Ben Shaln.  Post's header courtesy of Carl Mydens.  All photos are in a collection of donated photos in the Memory Room in the United States Library of Congress.  Go here if you wish to see more.  Type "tenant farmer" in the search box, at the top right.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Remy Broussard's Classroom

My Christmas story, "Remy Broussard's Christmas," now available on Kindle, evolved from my formative years on my grandparents' farm in South Louisiana in the 1950s.  Last year, I blogged about how my grandfather left to work on the Panama Canal the day after his marriage to my grandmother.  For a year, he lived in a primitive barrack, somehow avoided malaria, ate the slop the company served for food, saved every penny earned, and returned to Louisiana to pay cash for a farm that prospered.

My younger sister and I lived with our parents for awhile, in campus housing (Quonset huts) for married students (demolished years ago) while my father attended Louisiana State University's School of Law in Baton Rouge.  About a year prior to graduation, my mother, sister, and I moved to my grandparents' farm, into a lovely new house across the pasture from my grandparents' Big House.  (In the South, the owners of the land, with family for neighbors, lived in the Big House, so-called, regardless of how big or small.)

The Louisiana stories I've blogged are from this period, when I ran barefoot, as free as the wind that tousled my hair and as happy as the sun that tickled my freckles.  "Remy Broussard's Christmas" fast-forwards, to a three-room schoolhouse, with two elementary grades in each room.  I attended this schoolhouse.  Each year, when schools re-open though out the country, my eyes tear up.  I can see myself standing in the first-grade line.  What makes the tears fall is that I see Daddy, when I take a last look backwards, as the line begins to move inside, and he's waving a little wave.  Tears are streaming down his face.  (I'm tearing up now, writing the memory.  Will take a little break.)

After a friend read a draft of "Remy Broussard's Christmas," he said he loved the story but suggested I exaggerated the Spartan classroom.  He paled when I said I sat in Remy's chair in that classroom.

The positioning of blackboards, doors, windows, and workstations are accurate, as are George Washington's portrait-like image and clock above the blackboard at the front of the room.  There is no positioning of maps or educational toys because they weren't there to position.  However, in order to move my fictitious characters, I did shorten class rows, removing two students from each row.

In my story, the classroom is a combined third- and fourth-grade classroom.  Remy is in the third-grade and sits next to the row that begins the fourth-grade.

Because my parents and grandparents had spent time with me, when I entered first-grade, I could read, knew my numbers, and then, as now, possessed an inquisitive mind.  When I completed first-grade assignments, I'd listen to what the teacher taught the second-grade.  I knew not to raise my hand during second-grade lessons (as that was forbidden in the combined classrooms), but the teacher began putting their worksheets on my desk.

At the end of the school year, I passed a special test with flying colors and skipped the second year of formal education.  This enabled me to enter university at the age of 16.

But, whoa!  I had family who spent time with me.  I had food.  I lived in a lovely home.  This home had electricity, running water, and in-door plumbing.  This home had heat in winter and fans in summer.  I didn't pick cotton or milk cows or help bale hay or chop wood for a wood-burning stove.  I had chores, of course, but a kid's chores.  I had to keep my room neat (and keep a neat house to this day), help set the dinner table, and contribute what a kid could to the family unit. I had a doll (Betsy) I loved, the extent of my toys.  I didn't think to ask for toys, didn't dream about toys, didn't know a toy shop existed in Baton Rouge.  

Many of my classmates, however, didn't live a kid's life.  It wasn't unusual for a third-grade boy to drive a tractor or handle a mule-pulled wagon.  Many of my classmates wore their parents' clothes to school.  When the school day ended, they stopped being kids and entered an adult's world.  Their parents were sharecroppers.

In my next post, I'll write about the sharecropper system, the world that imprisoned Remy.

Since my grandparents and parents didn't approve of the sharecropper system, sharecroppers didn't live on the farm.  When my grandfather needed help, he paid a fair wage for honest work.  Unlike many other landowners, my grandparents and parents allowed me to visit sharecropper kids who were friends from school (and vice versa) when time opened up.  Decent, hard-working people shouldn't live like what I saw.  And therein lies my passion:  Their lives can't be forgotten.

Nor can the lives of decent, hard-working African-American sharecroppers be forgotten.  In the segregated Old South, they lived apart from white sharecroppers.  The KKK (Ku Klux Klan) knew where they lived.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Birth Announcement

On Friday, November 5, 2011, at 11:32 PM, Eastern Standard Time (U.S.), Remy Broussard entered the world!  A few hours ago, Remy left Kindle's nursery (draft) and is walking and talking on his own and is available for purchase on Kindle.

Click HERE and you'll meet Remy.

OMG, I'm published.  Wheeeeee!

Rachel Morgan designed the outfit (cover)  Remy would wear as he couldn't walk around in his birthday suit. She also prepared the delivery room (format) with such meticulous care and dedication my little push at the end was easy.

Rachel blogged about formatting elements a bit earlier.  Please drop by (click link above) for e-pub details that could help you. Rachel's very kind and generous and only said she 'helped a friend'!  I'm here to shout it from the roof tops that without Rachel's extraordinary talents, Remy would still be in the womb.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Rachel!

At about 14,000 words, Remy's short.

"Remy Broussard's Christmas" will be $3.99. (I hear you gasp!)

Although I've been under a rock (at the computer non-stop) for a few weeks, I'm fully aware of discussions in Blogville about how much an e-pub should cost.  I didn't weigh in because I had to give the matter some thought, not only because I knew Remy was in the chute, but because I'm new at this and lacked a point of reference. (Hope this makes sense.)

Well, a quick break for a hamburger did the trick.  (Didn't have time to cook, so slipped into fast foods.  I'm pretty much a health nut, but something had to give so time could open up.)

I paid $5.99 for a Whopper, fries, and a drink.  The burger line at a nearby food court was long.  I could have gone to the much, much line for a huge slice of pizza for less than $2.00 and free water, but, no, I waited because I wanted a Whopper.

Okay, I enjoyed the burger, am blessed with good cholesterol numbers (and rarely eat burgers, actually) and left the food court quite happy.

On the way home, I got to thinking, hmmm, why should fast food cost more than an e-pub that required a zillion HOURS to write???  Something's not right here, I thought.

I knew, from a link Rachel had sent, that pricing at $2.99 pushed the envelope.  So, hmmm, a decision loomed:  Did I want to push the envelope or open the envelope?

Me being me, I decided to open the envelope and priced Remy at $3.99.  I fully realize this affects number sales but am willing to take the hit to touch a larger issue.  I think indie books are priced waaaaaay too low but think pricing should be fair.  As far as I'm concerned, people who can afford to purchase fast food can afford to purchase an e-pub.

Kindle allows sharing for 14 days, i.e,  a reader who purchases Remy can share with countless friends during that period.  That's a pretty good deal.  Imagine sharing a burger with friends for 14 days!

More about the lessons Remy taught me another day.  Right now, I've got household stuff to do *groans* and Remy's dad will call soon. *smiles at the thought*  Dad's in the Middle East on a business trip, not anywhere near harm's way, and is popping buttons on his shirt he's so proud.