Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One Foot in Another World

November 26, 2009

I've been back in Fairhope for just over a week and the dust of Hoboken is still on my shoes. My work is cut out for me, with the help of friends and family cleaning out the old family homestead and getting it rented or sold. I leave Tuesday morning and will probably return to Fairhope for the month of February. After a Thanksgiving holiday I'll have to hustle to get the last things done.

It isn't easy going back into a former life and facing the emotions of loss and regret. The house I grew up in has become, after our mother's death, a sore point for my brother, my sister, and I. There is the question hanging over us as to what we do with the property. We three have considerable difficulty looking at the historic house as a property instead of "home," with all its positive and negative connotations. The three children are at odds and it feels like the rift may not ever heal.

This has caused a stalemate at the house, which has been on the market since early February. Not that it isn't clearly a beauty of a home, but it was left abandoned and does not show well. I came here to take care of that and to come up with a plan to do right by the house itself. With the help of my brother and his wife, we have begun the painful process of setting the house to rights and working out a plan to move forward. Our sister lived in the house for several years, and announced without consulting us that she was selling it when she moved out, leaving considerable junk in every room and moving to Portland, Oregon. Walking into the place, deprived of the talk, laughter and love that had warmed it for so many years, my brother and I experience emotions that could only be described as equal parts of sorrow and anger. For my brother, who lives so near, this heart-tug has been almost unbearable.

I saw my job in coming here as taking charge of the project (being the middle child, always the negotiator) and keeping the lines of communication open between the brother and sister. This sounds fine and commendable, but there is the matter of my own response to the dear old house, the space that seems to put its arms around you when you step inside. So far four truckloads have been carried off to the dump and to local charities. The brother has taken charge of cutting through the jungle of overgrown weeds and plants put in place by our mother so many years ago. It's hard to think of that backyard without picturing her out there, digging, pulling up, and planting--her constant occupation and the source of comfort and pride for her lifetime. She collected driftwood and fashioned it into lamps and tables, hung some of it on walls "as is." It took on a significance for her that is not always easy to understand, but with her eye for the decorative, she was able to show the beauty of driftwood objects to all. Now the whole property is littered here and there with elegant pieces of driftwood. We have found a local artist who loves to work with driftwood and given him free rein to take what he wants. Mama would be pleased with that.

My sister was always a bookworm, preferring mysteries and the work of English writers like P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. She took her best books, of course, but in bookcases there were still yellowing paperbacks of Dickens and Agatha Christie, and many many more. It was hard to heap them into the cartons to take them away, but, knowing that she left them we could assume she didn't want them any more, and certainly condition problems would have kept them from being attractive to anyone else.

With all the work we are doing it is impossible to exclude the element of emotion. I shall take this day of Thanksgiving off from thinking much about it, and just be thankful that I once had this house to live in, that I now have the life I do, and that we'll soon reach a solution for the house itself. It seems to be asking me to take care of it, and I know that, with the support I have, I'm up to the job.

That's all we all can be thankful for, at the heart of it--the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to accept the curves life gives us. Today I'll be able to recharge the batteries among friends and loved ones, and tomorrow I'll do what must be done about the house.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Tour Information

I'll leave Hoboken Tuesday (November 17) for the launch of my book The Fair Hope of Heaven in paperback. Enterprising readers may have already ordered it from in that format, but I held back its general release to the Fairhope reading public until now. It was first published in hard cover in January, and I went to Fairhope at that time to get it into the local indie bookstore. It will retail for a mere $16.95 in paperback, as against $26.95 for the hard cover.

I've written a lot about the book on this blog, and on my other blog "Finding Myself in Hoboken," and on my website. It seems much of my life is devoted--when not finding myself in Hoboken--to finding Fairhope.

Even though the book has the words "fair" and "hope" in the title, I never thought of it as a book about the town of Fairhope until market forces--read that to mean publishers--informed me that it was. I thought it was about the way history and events transform people and places, reflecting on this through my memories of a unique childhood in the kind of nonconformist environment that Fairhope, Alabama, offered in the middle of the 20th Century. I included character sketches of people I knew, thinking for all the world that I had created a new Lake Wobegon Days, and, although knowing it would appeal to others who shared the memories, I felt that my book was universal in scope. Part of me would still like to believe that--but the reaction from publishers was that it was charming but limited to readers in Fairhope. I hope sales of the soft cover may still prove me right.

So I'll get on the plane Tuesday and plan to visit old friends and see the new construction in the town where I spent much of my life. I'll investigate the possibility of taking control of the old family homestead.

My schedule of public appearances include book talks at the Fairhope Museum of History, 2 P.M. Thursday, November 19 and the Marietta Johnson Museum, 2 P.M. Friday November 20, and signing the book at Page & Palette Sunday November 22 (at 2 P.M. also). I'll have Thanksgiving with a couple I've known for at least 60 years, with their friends and relations. I'll see family and classmates and people I worked closely with before I moved to Hoboken in December 2007. I'm no longer distraught at how many of the old building and funky cottages have been destroyed and replaced. Like a newcomer, I'll be refreshed by balmy weather and sunsets on Mobile Bay.

From The Fair Hope of Heaven: "The coastline of Mobile Bay with sunset views is just one part of the equation. Its calming effect cannot be denied, and the transcendent, everlasting quality of that particular body of water and its constant gentle motion is a source of comfort and serenity to all who live anywhere near it."

I look forward to this trip. Indeed I do. I hope I see you there.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ready Or Not, Fairhope: Here I Come!

In two weeks I'll be cooling my heels in the very town about which I've written two books and innumerable blog posts: Fairhope, Alabama. I've released The Fair Hope of Heaven/A Hundred Years After Utopia in paperback, and will be signing copies at the beloved indie bookstore Page and Palette November 22 from 2-4 P.M.

If you've followed this blog at all, you know about The Fair Hope of Heaven. My original title was When We Had the Sky, and much of the material was contained in the first books, Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree, but this book really came to life after I had lived in Hoboken for several months and read a delightful little book called Utopia, New Jersey. It inspired me to take a more positive look at Fairhope's utopian origins and compare them to the Fairhope of today. There is much history of the real Fairhope in The Fair Hope of Heaven, and some conjecture about its present and future.

In addition to chapters about Upton Sinclair's brief life in Fairhope, and that of E.B. Gaston, the founder of the village, there are chapters about the eccentric Communist Willard Edwards (who left Fairhope for what he expected to be greener pastures in Soviet Russia under Stalin) and Dian Stitt Arnold, who built her own utopian life around horses, dogs, and children. I'll be discussing Fairhope history and the earlier chapters of the book at the Fairhope Museum of History at a tea (made from Fairhope-grown tea leaves) on November 19 at 2 P.M. and reading the chapter on Dian Arnold and her mentor Blanche Brown at 2 P.M. November 20 at the Marietta Johnson Museum.

If you are in the Fairhope area, I hope you'll come to one of the events. If you don't live anywhere nearby, the book is available at and at Barnes & I'd love to meet you and talk with you about the Fairhope I remember and the Fairhope you want to get to know.