LEATHA J. PATTON
His new friends were the rough boys; some had long records of truancy, and others frequently had run-ins with the law. He felt like his mother watched him from the shadows of his mind, so he cautioned himself not to follow suit with that skipping school business and therefore kept his bad behavior to a minimum. Although the forged notes would work periodically, he knew he couldn’t make a habit of it. Pangs of anger were sharp whenever he thought about Mason’s outburst. He had repeatedly tried to force it from his thoughts, yet it remained lodged rigidly in place. Sometimes he lingered in the dark places of his mind to picture himself as a blank, totally nonexistent. It was at these times he allowed himself to ask: What if I had never been? If there were only Clare, would his mother have stayed with Mason?…
ABOUT THE BOOK
Because their lives have always been overshadowed by the residual effects of a horrific ordeal from the post-Civil War era, life for the Beckfords consistently remains somewhat tentative. But then, in relatively modern times, a specifically horrendous event occurs on their sprawling thousand acres which will cause cleavage within the family to persistently linger for years.
The plot then thickens as the youngest Beckford siblings, Ned and Estelle, are confronted with an exacerbating family situation, which influences their decision to seek new beginnings. Chicago provides the backdrop for many circumstances that introduce both, especially Estelle, to numerous challenges. Through them all she courageously manages to retain resilience, tenaciously searching for the best that life can offer her. She instills the same optimism and resourcefulness in her children, Clare and Jeffrey. Clare encounters all obstacles with stubborn persistence to eventually become the main focus of this novel. Because of her marriage to Grady Mayfield, that family also becomes woven into the widening narrative that extends into the 21st century.
Ned had asked the question point-blank. There was no money left for education, an ongoing problem over the past several years. During summer break those in college now had a new arrangement, working outside the farm to afford extra money for the next semester. Previously there had always been extra money from cotton grown for the mill. Nathan and the others had had held several private discussions regarding what was to be done about Estelle and Ned and their education. The end result was always the same: the family couldn’t afford it. Therefore, the topic was on permanent lockdown.
“Go to the apartment and stay there until I get home.” She was crying again. “Don’t you dare leave until I…” Her voice trailed off as she reached inside her purse for something to wipe her eyes. “Oh damn!” she said quietly as tears impaired her vision.
“Don’t cry, Sis.”
“Jeffrey…” She didn’t finish and instead heaved a weary sigh, miserably shaking her head.
Clare got off at Washington without saying another word, but she briefly glanced back as she exited the train. She was still crying.
It was no longer rush hour, and the Seventy-Ninth Street bus was a long wait. His lightweight jacket was no match for the pitiless Chicago winter.
Finally, the bus pulled up and feeling like breaking glass, he rode the blocks to her street, got off, and hurriedly walked the few blocks to her apartment. Once inside, he found it just as homey, clean, and attractive as his last brief visit. Since earning her degree, she had been living on her own for the last year.
It was Estelle who broke the awkward silence with a partial truth. We want to get away from separate water fountains. We want to sit on the main floor when we go to the movies. We want to be able to shop in the stores like everyone else. To fit in somewhere! It was a sentiment that Ned and Estelle had discussed in private. “Everyone else” meant their white counterparts who were free to try on clothes before purchasing them. (It was rumored, although not documented, that similar incidents had occurred in one of Chicago’s prominent stores.)