Authors: Tuscaloosa Writers and Illustrators Guild
Publisher: Borgo Publishing
This collection of 16 stories, each about six pages long, and each illustrated with pleasing watercolors by Sharron Stough Rudowski, is described as “historical fiction” written for young people, I would guess from 8-12 years old.
I enjoyed them anyway.
Most of the entries are dramatized scenes from Tuscaloosa’s past, allowing for a good deal of creative license.
For example, the story “The Legacy of Saint John the Baptist of Tuscaloosa,” opens: “I am a small Catholic Church nestled among trees,” and that first-person voice tells the story of the origins and growth of that church.
Mary Jean Sellers has a short piece explaining the meaning of the displays at Tuscaloosa Veterans Memorial Park.
Several pieces involve Native Americans.
Angel Carter has a character called Grandpa explain to young Charlie the etymology of Hurricane Creek. It is “Hair Cane Creek,” corrupted over time.
Patt Devitt creates a scene in which big brother, Steven, tells his little sister the story of the meeting of Chief Tuskaloosa and De Soto and how our town got its name.
Devitt also has pieces about the haunted Drish House, and how Louisa Frances Garland saved the President’s Mansion from burning by the Yankees.
In “The Man Who Made Lightning,” Beth Yourick Sherrill dramatizes the hair-raising experiments conducted in classrooms everywhere using the Van de Graaff generator.
Margaret Madison Clevenger provides the little-known story of “The Mysterious Wild Women,” three women, possibly sisters, who lived in East Tuscaloosa in 1860 in a neighborhood called Mink Hollow. These women kept to themselves and were the subject, of course, of much gossip and speculation.
Clevenger also contributes a brief history of Alabama football, “The Rise of the Tide.”
Kenneth Melvin contributes the only poem, “The Beasts of Football,” which begins conventionally enough with lines like:
“In the swamp, the Gators romp,
While at Bama, elephants stomp.
We see Tigers at Auburn and LSU
While Auburn has War Eagles, too.”
But ends with some very funny bits:
“Team names do not include the ticks and moths
And no one cheers the raging sloths.”
Carolyn Ezell has a story about actual Tuscaloosa wildlife, “Creatures of the Past and Present,” discussing extinct animals like the passenger pigeon and lesser known animals like the gray wolf.
Jim Ezell contributes a story on carp fishing in the Black Warrior and opens the volume with “The Little Boat That Could,” setting the action on the freezing morning of January 27, 1940. Young Paul is roused from his warm bed by his father to see Captain Tim Parker weigh anchor in the “Robert Gordon,” a makeshift paddlewheel icebreaker, to go save the crew of the “Gold Bug,” caught in the ice near Cordova. They are successful, and in the author’s note we learn Captain Parker founded Parker Towing, a company still in operation.
It was no surprise that the rescue was accomplished; readers would expect that in children’s literature.
In Aileen Kilgore Henderson’s piece “Magic at the New Bama Theatre, May 1938,” young Aileen, 16, finally wheedles permission from her mama to see a film at the new Bama, with its Spanish Garden main floor and its ceiling of sparkling stars.
She sees “Test Pilot” with Myrna Loy, Clark Gable and Spenser Tracy, and is entranced.
Aileen finally persuades her parents to go as well, thinking “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” will be a sure winner. Afterwards Mama says “The music was too loud—it deafened me.” Daddy says he forgot to look up to see the indoor sky. The story ends: “We never mentioned the theater again.” I was surprised and amused by this unexpected ending.
And, in “The Flying Machine” by Carolyn W. Ezell, young Abraham, the son of a successful local African-American barber, is taken to the Tuscaloosa Fairgrounds to see the first flying demonstration in Tuscaloosa. Abraham’s mom is skeptical. Men “have feet that walk on the ground for a reason.”
I had expected it would be a glorious day and the reader would be told young Abraham became a pilot, but, at the field, the bi-plane taxis, then roars down the makeshift runway, gains altitude and—surprise!—crashes into “a crumpled mess,” with the pilot badly injured.
I think kids may like these less predictable stories even more than the standard ones.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.