Whiplash Tuesday in Aurora County

Just look at these photos from Tuesday and tell me if you don't have a bit of whiplash.

Yvonne Rogers, children's buyer at Lemuria Books in Jackson; Toni Wall, owner of Pentimento Books in Clinton, Mississippi, me, Hannah, at dinner Tuesday evening (Marilyn is to Yvonne's right and exercised her right to just show some arm in this photo). Scroll down for our conversation about books and book selling.

Here's what Etta told me: "On July 23rd, I'll be 90 years old and I don't have one ache or pain in the world! I've spent my life taking care of white folks and black folks and old folks and young folks, and on July 23rd I'll be 90 years old and I feel fine!"

Signing at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi.

In the cemetery in Louin, Mississippi.

Mr. Breland Green packing my new banjo in its new case, in Louin, Mississippi.

Miss Annie Moss showing Hannah the glass doors that separate the living room from the dining room in my Aunt Mitt's house, which Annie now owns. Annie saw Hannah and I driving sloooowly down the narrow road in front of her house, came to the screen door, asked us a few questions, and then said, "Well, come on in!" So we did. Etta is Annie's mother. I had not been in my Aunt Mitt's house for thirty years. Aunt Mitt becomes Miss Mattie in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, and also in the new book that is published next year.

Breland Green and Hannah at the banjo shop in Louin.

Rich. These days are so rich. Who knew that the concept of the Shoestring Tour would be so well received (well, we were betting it would be), and turn up such amazing stories. I'm counting on the photos to help me convey the depth this meaningful time, and I'm hoping this many photos won't crash your computer if you are one of the hundreds who receive this blog on email... so I'm going to break up the posts about the past three days.

I've been without reliable email for a few days, and I've been on the road, but here I sit this morning in a luxurious breakfast room on top of the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, Mississippi (more on this in a future post -- talk about whiplash), where the wireless works and the coffee is good. So here we go.

When Hannah and I left Southern and waved goodbye to my boxes of papers, leaving them in the capable hands of the de Grummond Collection folks at USM, we wended our way through the piney woods of Mississippi, to the real Aurora County I write about -- Jasper County, Mississippi.

My father was born in Jasper County, in Louin, and I spent my growing up summers here, so Louin becomes Halleluia, Snapfinger, and Mabel, in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, and THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. It's also the town I write about in FREEDOM SUMMER. It's a bit the worse for wear, as you can see here, and here, but it holds powerful memories for me, and still draws me back, like a magnet, to what felt elemental in my young life.

In FREEDOM SUMMER, two boys, best friends, want to go swimming together the day the town pool opens to everyone under the sun, no matter what color. It's 1964. John Henry is black. Joe is white. Joe narrates the story. I never found out what happened to the pool in real life -- all I knew was that, as an 11-year-old child in Mississippi in 1964, I could no longer swim at the town pool -- it had closed. I couldn't roller skate at the roller skating rink. It had closed. The Cool Dip closed. The movie theatre in the next town over, closed. No one could explain to me what had happened.

FREEDOM SUMMER is my fictional account of that summer, and what I remember, what I felt, and what I imagined. It's the most powerful story I tell in schools, when I'm talking about where my stories come from.

I show the only photo I have of the roller skating rink out in the rural Mississippi countryside, and then I show what it looked like two years ago, when my husband Jim and I found it again. Here's what it looks like today -- Hannah and I spent some time wandering and taking photos.

And the pool? What really happened to my pool? I have told this story to literally thousands upon thousands of students and teachers.

I'll continue to tell this story and show these photos of a troubled time, and a confusing time in my young life -- and I'll continue to ask students to tell their stories of what scares them, confuses them, makes them joyful, or sad or silly -- I want them to find ways of expression to tell their stories. That's the most important thing.

Here's another story: see that banjo near the top of this post? Here's the man who made it, Breland Green. I've wanted to buy a banjo from Mr. Breland for years. The last time I saw him, six years ago, my mother and father were still living, and we went to see Mr. Breland at his banjo shop -- he had gone to school with my father's sister, and Dad had recently read about Mr. Breland's banjos in Southern Living. So we met again (the first time we met had been in 1971, when I was in Louin for the summer and dated Mr. Breland's son, Mike -- small world, I know).

I came back to the banjo shop on Tuesday and bought my hand-made banjo. I gave him the Aurora County trilogy. Thank you, thank you, Mr. Breland. Next year, we'll play together!

Here's my version of the Snapfinger Cemetery. I wandered here for years and years... and still do.

The real Miss Eula, my grandmother.

And the real Shoestring Tour: so many opinions about books and publishing and book selling. Yvonne's questions to me: "Will you publish your Sixties trilogy yearly or have a gap between books?"

Me: "I honestly don't know."

Yvonne: "I can't tell you how many sequels I've read that aren't good enough. Take your time and make it the best you can, and we'll wait for it."

Yvonne doesn't depend on big-ticketing-lines and author stars for Lemuria's health. She depends on her good story sense. "I won't hand sell anything I don't believe in and love. I don't even want to buy it." I believe her.

We had a wonderful dinner full of book talk, into the night. Then Hannah and I wended our way to cousin Carol's house, near Jackson, where we collapsed into bed, full of the richness of the day, and didn't move until the next morning, when Carol and I went to her elementary school for a morning with Deborah Wiles -- that's next up.

I love the Uncle Edisto nature of my old home town, Louin, Mississippi. "Open your arms to life!" says Uncle Edisto in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. "Let it strut into your heart in all its messy glory!"