Monday, January 29, 2018

My Answer for the Homeless through my novels in the Mint Julep Mysteries Trilogy

  In the Mint Julep Mysteries Trilogy I address the problem with Homelessness. Here are excerpts from several Chapters: 

Book I
Creme de Cassis and Murder 
Suddenly famous, talented people called Ruby wanting to join Sadie Summer in performing at that charity event. The more that called the more Ruby and Reverend Ledbetter realized that Ruby T’s Roadhouse would simply not be big enough. So they moved it to the field across from Miss Ruby’s Roadhouse. They got generators and borrowed sound equipment and a flatbed trailer from the group that put on Birmingham’s City Stages. 
The list of stars wanting to participate expanded beyond our state borders. The event grew and grew to be our generation’s version of Woodstock there in the fields of Cox County, Alabama, because Miss Ruby of Ruby T’s had the vision to ask her relative if he would ask his friend -- herself a survivor to come and lend a hand to raise some money to help those who had got down and needed a hand to get up.
Adam said there would be a worldwide audience for that show. The networks bid against one another for the privilege of televising this production that Miss Ruby’s relative decided to take a hand in. People trickled in at first and then came the flood that made donations at the gate. The news stations reported the phenomena and there came a deluge. Volunteers brought cookers and the smell of barbecue filled the air. Alf’s was the most popular. Porta-potties were brought in from Selma and Montgomery and the party began
I was found and alive though it took me a while to recover from whatever Freddie had doped me up with. But, I survived. Freddie and Willie were in jail. They would not rob me of my joy. I would not allow them to hold onto any piece of me. 
There was no way I was missing my chance to dance and sing with Sadie Summer. Julio opened the show and from that point forward the world was his oyster. He and Estrellita joined forces for a couple of duets and I knew from the glassy eyed looks, the gasps, hoots and whistles that the world had its new Donny and Marie … Latin Country … go figure. And then Julio went classical and the audience cheered his Spanish guitar. They rocked the house with a medley of familiar hits recorded by Hispanic recording artists. Estrellita was already everyone’s darling and tonight Julio joined her as a star in his own right and not just the sidekick of a show on the Dishing It Network.  
One star after another sang and danced. You just couldn’t think it could possibly get any better and then they called Sadie Summer to the stage.  
Patsy and Joy joined Sister, Faye Lynne, Florence, Bernice and me as we sat together with the other performers on a flatbed surrounded by the security those big stars needed. They held tambourines in their hands and would pretend to participate while we sang and danced. We had not filmed their segment yet. They promised not to leave until we taped the show. I really thought Joy had a thing for Elvis if you want to know the truth.
I was too nervous to be much affected by the big names with whom we sat. What truly impressed me was their kindness to me and their generosity to Ruby T’s vision I wore my Sadie Summer-like fringed shift and was getting cold feet. Who was I to think I could sing with Sadie Summer?  She was a super star and I was a pretender, a fraud, a Dishing It Network star that couldn’t cook!
Miss Ruby motioned her girls to the stage.  
“Miss Ruby, I don’t know if I can do this,” I whispered shaking like a leaf.  
“This ain’t about you, Dabney,” Miss Ruby said. “Some of these folks are here just to see you, believe it or not. They ain’t no explainin’ it, I know, but they are.”
Well, that was encouraging. Not!
“Besides. You don’t go out there and do the best you can do those bitches have won.”
No way in hell I’d back down now! With Ruby T, conniving was a fine art. 
I looked at the ladies standing there with me. I had made a commitment to myself and to this wonderful group of women.  
I hurried with them behind the flatbed to come out to back up the amazing survivor. Suddenly the crowd stood and cheered. Sadie called me forward. I stepped back thinking the cheers were for her. She just smiled and extended her hand as if passing the adulation to me. The applause continued, but I knew whom the crowd had come to see. 
She sang “Secret Dancing” with our group dancing along behind her, Faye Lynne shining. The crowd cheered. She sang “Cross the Deep River” and they raved. And then she turned and handed me a microphone and together we sang “Commotion.” In spite of all of my bruises I shimmied and I shook and I had enough air to make it through the song. Faye Lynne could dance, but I could sing, and I gave it all I had. 
But Sadie Summer was the Star, the Master. She did not just sing. She flirted, she pranced, she shimmied, and she sweated like crazy. The standing ovation went on and on and on. She called out all who had sung before.
Julio calmed things down with “God Bless America” and everyone sang along reading the words off the screen behind the stage. 
The periwinkle blue sky darkened as the brilliant pink of the setting sun crept up on it. Miss Ruby took center stage. Glittering like a strobe light with the lights shining on her silver sequined dress Ruby T commandeered the stage and requested silence. 
She stood there for a moment. Then she said, “I want to thank my cousin S. TEE for helping me to organize this event and for calling on his friends.” Ruby T wasn’t much on public speaking. So she urged me forward. “And now, my friend, herself a survivor has a few words.” 
I walked to the front of the stage overwhelmed by the cheers and applause, the total outpouring of love. I was humbled. 
I had been reluctant to speak, but Ruby was insistent. Why she wanted me, I’ll never know. But, she had asked me to say a few words there at the end. I hoped I could do justice to Miss Ruby’s faith. 
 I hesitated a moment clasping my hands before me and bowing to their kindness. I took in the crowd and accepted their wonderful welcome. I took the microphone and, though I looked out into the sea of faces before me, I thought of those I had seen on the streets. 
“They are homeless, hopeless, helpless, and hungry,” I said, picturing them as I had seen them. “They are mothers, sisters, daughters. Sometimes they hold their little ones by the hand and walk with small steps because the little ones have very short legs. On their backs they wear the knapsacks that tell that some kind soul, or perhaps a Rescue Mission, provided a few toiletries and maybe a few clothes. They are fathers, brothers, sons who have perhaps just lost their jobs and everything with it. Or just lost their way. One day, some way, they could be you. They could be me. They could be our sister, brother or child.”
“I knew a woman once. A Black woman. Hattie Bea helped my parents raise me.”
“Her parents abandoned her and her mentally challenged sister and left them with grandparents who abused her sister. One day she had enough. Her sister had been abused one too many times. She took her sister by the hand that day and led her down the red clay dirt road of South Alabama and never looked back.” 
“She was homeless, hopeless, helpless and hungry with a sister who trusted her. Perhaps not a child, but childlike. A Jewish lady happened to be on the sidewalk sweeping in front of her store and saw the girl walk toward her, her chin up and her eyes determined, but anxious, her sister shuffling along behind her holding her hand. That woman smiled at her, offered her food and something to drink. Some shade to rest in. She recommended her for a job cleaning at the hotel across the street.” 
“She never had much, but she never forgot the Jewish lady who helped her that day. She was as honest as the day was long. The little she had she shared and made a difference in many other lives. Including mine.”
“She told me about her early life. And then she said, ‘Chile, sometimes ya gotta get down to git up.’”
“I lost my husband and the world fell in around me. I’ve been thrown in a well and thought there was no way out. I have been kidnapped and terrorized. Always I remembered Hattie Bea’s words, ‘Chile, sometimes ya gotta git down to git up.’”
“Bernice here lost her husband. She’d tell you…’Chile…’” Reverend Ledbetter recognized a time to jump in and said, “‘Ya gotta git down to git up’.”
                  “Sadie Summer hit rock bottom with a husband that abused her and children that depended on her and she would tell you”… the sea of people chimed in saying “Ya gotta git down to git up.”
“So, while I thank you all tonight for looking into your hearts and finding compassion for the homeless, the hopeless, the helpless, and the hungry, I want each one of you who might at this moment be homeless, feeling hopeless and helpless and being hungry -- in Hattie Bea’s words -- ’Chile, sometimes ya gotta git down to git up.’”
I looked at Gavin sitting with Harvey and Senator Hartwell Banks. Turns out Harvey and Hartwell are identical twins. But I would always be able to tell them apart.  
“Love could be waiting one aisle away at Home Depot.”
I looked at Sister. “Reconciliation with a loved one could be a phone call away.”  
I looked at Ruby T. “A life changing friendship may be sitting on a piano bench at a church you’ve been invited to attend.”
I looked at Bob the CEO of the Dishing It Network. “A new career could be one room over in a restaurant.”
Fabio winked at me. “A book you have written might actually get published.”
“Today I can no longer say that I am ‘almost sixty.’ When this fabulous journey started and I was ‘almost sixty’ I could never have imagined the surprises life still had for me.” I looked at the sea of faces before me. The children I adored looked up at me.  
“Today I am sixty.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd before me. After all I’d been through, making it to sixty needed to be cheered, I figured.  
“My children ask me ‘What color is the sky in your world, Mom’?  And I can truthfully say ‘Blue skies, Baby. With white puffy clouds because no life is without a little rain.’ Thank you all for joining me on this wonderful ride.”
I lifted my hands to the skies above … a universally understood “thank you.”
 Then I threw a kiss to the reluctant angel I knew watched from a cloud. 
I stepped back.  
There was nothing more for me to say.(Mint Juleps Trilogy, p. 389-393, Sharman Jean Burson)

Everybody laughed. The world famous gardens around Waverly, the plantation house that inspired Partying on the Plantation, our Dishing It Network Show, started with just such an observation. 
“I remember the allotment gardens I saw throughout Europe. If we divide the land around the central facility into small garden plots, our tent city residents could grow fruits and vegetables to cook in the soup kitchen at the community center, give to the schools, and sell at a farmer’s market to make a little money.” (p. 419 Mint Julep Mysteries Trilogy (Sharman Jean Burson)
The result of that big event to raise money for the homeless, hopeless, hungry and helpless was the Garden:
Book II, Mint Juleps and Murder
Chapter Two

I got up early and turned on the Weather Channel praying for the rains from the predicted very early in the season hurricane to hold off. Fortunately, the welcome sun now shone through in a break in the weather bands for the long planned Victory Garden dedication. I prayed it would last long enough for the judges’ decision and my surprise announcement, but from the look of the dark clouds rolling in over the needled pines, I had my doubts. 
We considered cancelling, but decided that wouldn’t be fair to the gardeners who had worked so hard. The winds and rain of the approaching hurricane would beat the vegetation down and spoil the effects they had worked so hard to achieve. Julio drove the limousine under the arched sign where my eyes lingered above the pillared entrance. I was as excited about the announcement of the name of the gardens that sign would proclaim to the world as I was about any of the prizes we would award. 
As I walked, with Elvis and Ralph escorting me, to the stage from the limousine where Julio would wait for me, I heard many foreign languages mingled with the distinctive Cox County drawl of the locals. A large Hispanic population now lived in Cox County to plant trees on the pine plantations, so the many Spanish conversations didn’t surprise me. The now familiar media with cameras and microphones arranged themselves about the stage, once again a flatbed trailer, from which Ruby and I would speak. They were eager to find out who would win the one thousand dollar first prize for the best garden and another for the best garden shed. 
I blinked with the barrage of flashes from the media lights wishing the photographers would focus on the people to whom these gardens were dedicated rather than me. 
“The sin of pride was upon me,” I mouthed to myself before standing to take my place on the stage the morning after taping those shows. I recalled the opening words by Atlanta Constitution writer Celestine Sibley in her book A Place Called Sweet Apple as I stepped forward to the podium on the stage. 
I wore sunglasses today. The effects of those strawberries still pounded behind my eyes. My heart filled. I stood alone, dressed in a royal blue A-line fighting the sporadic gusts of wind to keep my huge white brimmed hat, on my head. I looked out at the lush allotment garden before me and the crowd that had gathered for the awards ceremony. Ruby and the event planners had decided against rows of metal chairs that would just have sunk down in the soft dirt since they could not predict the size of the crowd.
These individual allotment gardens brought pride not just to me, but to the many veterans who originally formed a large part of the tent city of homeless who once camped in this field needing help to find their way home. Now those who had accepted the challenge stood proudly in their gardens awaiting the awards announcements. We called these Victory Gardens to honor them and their service. Today I represented the major sponsor of the Victory Gardens, the Dishing It Network and Sister’s and my award winning cooking show Partying on the Plantation. Only Sister wasn’t there. 
I glanced over at the sheet covered sign above the pillared entrance and immediately looked down at the Soul Sisters -- Bernice, Florence, Betty Lee, and Faye Lynne, also wearing sunglasses to cover her bloodshot eyes-- standing in the crowd before me. Ruby sat on the stage behind me prepared to present awards. For the moment, in spite of the expected storm, it was a beautiful day. A glorious day. A perfect day.

 Book III, Mayans, Muscadine and Murder

Six Weeks Later
Today was one of those days you wanted to capture like a lightning bug in a bottle so you could enjoy the glow over and over. It began with the dedication of the Victory Garden, a garden ravaged by a storm, but still standing with beauty continuing to burst forth. Instead of honoring a dead soldier, we honored a live hero. We uncovered the sign that said Kendrick Newkirk Victory Garden
Bernice hasn’t let go of her man since she got out of the hospital. He’s joined Bernice down at Soul Sisters as pastry chef, a job no one ever knew was his second choice for a profession ever since was five years old and helped his grandmother bake a chocolate layer cake. Having a background job suits him for the moment, but he spends lots of time at the Victory Garden and in the tent city. Kendrick has been where they’ve been and talks their language. He’s good at getting them to the services they need so they can get better and go home. Like he did. (p. 572, Mint Julep Trilogy, Sharman Jean Burson

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