Hate, Hurt And Healing

Anne Hull: CHARLESTON, S.C. — The glow of their phones lighted up their faces in the night. Terrell White and his friends kept looking down at the updates, trying to separate rumor from conspiracy theory from actual fact. It was 9 o’clock — 24 hours after a suspected white gunman had killed nine black people at church two miles to the south — and here on King Street, the struggle to understand was underway.

“People at Bible study, hearing God’s word?” White said, shaking his head. “That’s no heart. That’s no fear.”

“That’s white America,” said Abdul Denmark, a barber at Fresh Cuts No. 2.

“Man, I wish we had some answers,” White said.

A Flower for the Graves

Eugene Patterson, Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 16, 1963:

A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.

Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.

It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.

Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.

We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.

We — who go on electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.

We — who raise no hand to silence the mean and little men who have their nigger jokes.

We — who stand aside in imagined rectitude and let the mad dogs that run in every society slide their leashes from our hand, and spring.

We — the heirs of a proud South, who protest its worth and demand it recognition — we are the ones who have ducked the difficult, skirted the uncomfortable, caviled at the challenge, resented the necessary, rationalized the unacceptable, and created the day surely when these children would die.

This is no time to load our anguish onto the murderous scapegoat who set the cap in dynamite of our own manufacture.

He didn’t know any better.

Somewhere in the dim and fevered recess of an evil mind he feels right now that he has been a hero. He is only guilty of murder. He thinks he has pleased us.

We of the white South who know better are the ones who must take a harsher judgment.

We, who know better, created a climate for child-killing by those who don’t.

We hold that shoe in our hand, Southerner. Let us see it straight, and look at the blood on it. Let us compare it with the unworthy speeches of Southern public men who have traduced the Negro; match it with the spectacle of shrilling children whose parents and teachers turned them free to spit epithets at small huddles of Negro school children for a week before this Sunday in Birmingham; hold up the shoe and look beyond it to the state house in Montgomery where the official attitudes of Alabama have been spoken in heat and anger.

Let us not lay the blame on some brutal fool who didn’t know any better.

We know better. We created the day. We bear the judgment. May God have mercy on the poor South that has so been led. May what has happened hasten the day when the good South, which does live and has great being, will rise to this challenge of racial understanding and common humanity, and in the full power of its unasserted courage, assert itself.

The Sunday school play at Birmingham is ended. With a weeping Negro mother, we stand in the bitter smoke and hold a shoe. If our South is ever to be what we wish it to be, we will plant a flower of nobler resolve for the South now upon these four small graves that we dug.

‘Always A Rotten Apple’

Thomas Lake: BB King always slept with the light on, even as an old man, because he’d never shaken his fear of the dark. One summer night when he was a boy, a tornado howled across the Delta and deposited small fish in the cotton fields and left him in his mother’s arms in a cabin without a roof.

This Friday, with another storm drenching Mississippi, King lay in his coffin between two of his guitars. The lights were on and his eyes were closed as admirers walked past for a final glimpse. Nearby, in an auxiliary building at the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, board member Allan Hammons was telling a story. He’d been with King at a funeral a few years earlier, and he said King had told him: “I want you to pay special attention to the lyrics of the lead song on my new album.”

The Things They Still Carry

I thought this, from the young man who lives in my shed, was very well done for the amount of restraint.

Do read Zack Peterson: RIVERVIEW

Christopher Marquis is not quite 6.

He loves lizards and letters and flashcards and trains. To strangers, he offers garden stakes, which he pretends are hot dogs.

He graduates from kindergarten this week, and one day his mother thinks he’ll become an engineer or a physics professor.

But his father will never see it.

Army Spc. Christophe J. Marquis died Sept. 4, 2010, from injuries he sustained during a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, days before his son’s second birthday.

Father and son, one letter apart but a thousand worlds away.

“I wish now that I actually would have named him after his father,” said Brittany Jackson-Marquis, Christophe’s widow.

To this day the pain never stops, but Jackson-Marquis, 26, finds the questions to be the hardest part.

They stem from mundane things like movies. When they watched Frozen together, Christopher was intrigued by a sinking ship.

Did the passengers die like my papa?

Down & Away

Tony Rehagen:

It’s the top of the first inning, and Leo Mazzone is already rocking.

Each croak of the springs in Mazzone’s brown leather recliner is punctuated by a knock in the wooden frame, like an old screen door blowing open and shut.

Creeeak-clack. Creeeak-clack.

Watching the Braves play the Marlins on the 60-inch flat-screen in the den of his home on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, Mazzone isn’t conscious of the nervous back-and-forth tick that became his accidental trademark during four decades in the dugout. He is focused instead on the mound and Miami right-hander Tom Koehler, who leans in against Atlanta leadoff man Jace Peterson.

First pitch: Fastball down and away. Called strike one.

“Perfect pitch,” says Mazzone. “Aimed for the catcher’s crotch, and he got it there.”

Creeeak-clack. Creeeak-clack.

Fastball at the knees. Strike two.

Creeeak-clack. Creeeak-clack.

Curveball inside. Ball one.

The pace of the rocking quickens. Creak-clack-creak-clack-creak-clack. The old pitching coach has spotted something. “Changed his arm slot,” he says. “Tried to overpower him.”

If there is one thing about the game today that will wear out Mazzone’s lounger, it’s the increased emphasis on power in pitching. He’s worked with 12-year-olds, who compete against the radar gun as much as the batter, and tried to get through to high school and college hurlers who’ve been taught that a scholarship or professional contract depends more on M-P-H than E-R-A. In the pros, speed is fetishized by teams and fans alike, the reading on each pitch displayed right alongside the score in the corner of the TV, a CG flame occasionally flaring up when a fastball reaches the high-90s or low-100s.

It makes for great entertainment, sure, but Mazzone says it also leads to pitchers becoming erratic and missing location. More importantly, their release is not as smooth, increasing the risk of arm injury. Mazzone believes the modern game’s infatuation with velocity is one of, if not the primary reason for the recent plague of Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgeries. “Now everybody seems to be getting a pass on all the sore arms,” he says. “I don’t get it. If we’d have had all the breakdowns that are happening now, there would have been a lot of pitching coaches fired.”

Lives On

Wright Thompson: CLAUDIA WILLIAMS FOUND comfort wearing her dad’s favorite red flannel shirt. It smelled like him. Time frayed the threads, pulled apart seams, and years ago the shirt went into a safe. She keeps many things locked away. In a closet next to her garage, her father’s Orvis 8.3-foot, 7-weight graphite fly rod leans on a wall. His flies are safe too, and she can see his hands in the bend of the knots. She feels closest to him fishing but has been only once or twice since he died. Nearby, pocketknives rust at their hinges. His old leather suitcase is there too, in its final resting place after years of trains, ballparks and hotel rooms.

Her husband, Eric Abel, comes home from running errands. He’d been through the safes and the storage unit they keep filled to its 10-foot ceiling, hunting for the flannel shirt. She is laughing in the kitchen, a lazy Sunday morning. Eric takes a breath and enters the room. “First of all, Claudia,” he says slowly, “let me apologize; I don’t know what we’ve done with that shirt.”

Suddenly quiet and hiding now, she says, “I don’t wanna think about it,” as one more piece of her father slips away.

Derailed

Mitch Ryals: Chuck Lawrence is breaking Rule No. 1: Don’t get too drunk.

You can’t really blame him. He’s been sleeping under a bridge in Missoula, a second coat wrapped around him like a blanket. Under his head is a backpack with all his worldly possessions: ramen noodles, a pocket knife, an old watch, a weed pipe, a can opener, bottled water and copies of his birth certificate and Social Security card. He’s come to Montana looking for work, hoping to earn a quick buck to buy a proper bus ticket home to Minnesota. At 39, he’s tired of this life, hitchhiking and hopping trains, town to town, circling the country counterclockwise for the past 20 years.

“The hell with this,” he tells himself. “I’m goin’ home.”

He buys a bottle of Skol vodka at a corner store. Vodka’s not usually his drink — he prefers beer — but it’s going to be a long haul home, and vodka lasts longer. He takes a pull from the bottle and waits in the shadows of the Missoula train yard. He scans the tracks for rail cops, known by train hoppers simply as “bulls.” Gusts of wind whip at his scruffy face as the sun dips below the horizon. When his train finally pulls in hours later, it’s already too late: He’s half shitfaced.

Chuck staggers toward the hulking steel box, as he’s done countless times before, and hoists himself onto a grain car near the front of the train — his second mistake. He settles in for the ride with the twang of country music beating through his earbuds. The train kicks to life with a jerk, and he’s on his way. Or so he thinks. Unbeknownst to Chuck, this particular train is headed west to Spokane.

He finishes the last of the vodka and shoves the empty bottle into his pack. Propped against an inside wall, he snuggles into his Carhartt jacket and pulls his stocking cap low. He drifts off to the train’s hypnotic rumble. Things will be better in the morning.

Suddenly, he’s jolted awake.

Braking hard just east of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe yard in Spokane Valley, the train flings Chuck, face first, toward the tracks below. His backpack explodes against the ground as he lands with a thud. His left leg doesn’t clear the track.

Like a dull table saw, the train rips off his leg just above the knee. It’s quick, but it isn’t clean. Blood spurts from his mangled stump as Chuck writhes on the ground, screaming. Rolling on rock and in his own blood, Chuck’s mind flutters in and out of darkness as he peers down at his nub, the wrong train continuing west without him.

Contest: Best Newspaper Narratives

From George Getschow at UNT:

Have you submitted your narrative to Mayborn’s third annual The Best American Newspaper Narrative writing contest?

In an effort to foster narrative nonfiction storytelling, The Dallas Morning News and The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference are inviting submissions of the best narrative nonfiction published in a daily U.S. newspaper or a U.S. newspaper website in 2014. I hope you’ll be submitting what you consider your best narrative to this year’s contest. Deadline is June 1.

Writers and editors can submit one to five narratives, including narratives that are part of a series. The Best American Newspaper Writing Contest jurors will select three winners and three runners-up. Jurors will weigh everything from the originality of the idea to the strength of the storytelling to the quality of the research.

Our first place winner will receive $5,000 and free registration to attend the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference July 17-19, 2015 in Grapevine, Texas; our second place winner will receive $2,000; and our third place winner will receive $1,000

For information and to register, to go:  http://www.themayborn.com/best-american-newspaper-narrative-writing-contest

The three winning narratives, along with the runners-up and notable narratives, will be published by the University of North Texas Press/Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism in both a print and e-book called The Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 3  

 UNT Press will release Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2, June 2015.  https://untpress.unt.edu/catalog/3645