Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Leaving Gee’s Bend (copy)

Outside of Camden, Alabama is a small community called Gee’s Bend. It is isolated from the rest of the world by the Alabama River that snakes south then strikes west only to head back north to its origin. From the sky, the tear drop looks like the state of Alabama is crying.

Ludelphia Bennett has no time to cry. She must get Doc Nelson in Camden to come to her home and save her mother. Ever since little Rose’s birth, her mother has been unresponsive. She has fits of coughing and powerful sweats and chills, but when she gibbers it is to her own dead mother. Ludelphia knows she is out of her mind.

Everyday has the promise of a better momma. Aunt Doshie gives her a steam treatment that clears her throat, but once it is taken away the rattle comes back. The house is getting stale with the smell of sickness, too. No matter what Ludelphia hopes, she still sees her mother’s eyes sinking.

Her last bout of coughing sets Ludelphia into motion. Her mother sprays something on the quilt and her dad identifies it as blood. Aunt Doshie whispers the word pneumonia and Ludelphia runs outside. She cannot stand the sound of her father crying.

Ludelphia is leaving Gee’s Bend for the first time in her life. She will have to cross a river and walk through a town she has never seen to find a doctor she does not know. She is scared but she has her patches of material and needle with thread to comfort her. This will be the best quilt her mother has ever seen – if she lives.

Set in 1932, young adult readers will love the cliff hangers associated with Irene Latham’s first book, Leaving Gee’s Bend. At a library conference in Vicksburg, Latham explained her idea for the book. She was intrigued by the areas rich history of African American Quilting. Once she started researching the material she ran across photographs from the area of that period.

One photograph in particular displays a girl, approximately 10-years-of-age, gazing out a tenant house window. Latham claims she could almost read the newspaper pages used to insulate the open window. Not made of glass but a large piece of ply wood, the window swings in and out like a barn door.

This girl, leaning in profile on the window sill, is dreaming or that is what Latham begans to imagine. It also occurrs to Latham that she can only see the child’s left eye. What might be this child’s life growing up in rural Alabama with one eye? You will have to read Ludelphia’s story to find out.

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