Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Deed So by Katharine A. Russell - Blog Tour

Deed So by Katharine A. Russell
Published: November 2010

Welcome to 1962, one year before the world would witness President John F. Kennedy assassinated, and a time before civil rights, women’s rights, and the Vietnam War changed everything. Deed So by Katharine Russell chronicles the coming-of-age of brainy twelve-year-old Haddie Bashford, a sensitive young girl who wants nothing more than to leave the close-minded world of her home in Wicomico Corners. When Haddie witnesses the killing of a black teen by a down-on-his-luck white farmer, her family becomes embroiled in a web of hatred that threatens to engulf the whole town. Tempers flare and prejudice heats to a boiling point, even as Haddie struggles to fully comprehend what is going on, especially the dark consequences within her own family. When the murder case goes to trial, neighbor is pitted against neighbor, and the violence escalates to a dangerous level. As the case drags on, arson erupts, paralyzing the community. Can the town—and Haddie—survive?

My thoughts:
Deed So is a novel about Haddie, who is growing up in a time of turbulence. Gideon, who she secretly loves, has come back from the Vietnam War. However, the war has greatly affected him. Haddie tries to be there for him, but she cannot begin to understand how the war has changed him or what he is led to do. On top of everything else, Haddie witnesses a white farmer shoot an African American young man who is beating his mentally challenged son. She then sees, first hand, the racial tensions and the demonstrations during the trial. Of course, the shooting and its aftermath affects just about everyone in town. Family secrets begin to be revealed. Everyone in the town begins to take sides. An arsonist emerges, which leads to more heartache for the town and for Haddie.

My biggest complaint about this novel is that Haddie's friend goes back and forth from "Elise" to "Elsie." There are a few other typos in the book that make you stop and think about what is truly meant since it changes the context of the sentence. Otherwise, I enjoyed reading this. Katharine Russell has done an excellent job of describing life during this time and what it was like living in a small town during all of the turmoil and tension. While reading this, I was reminded of To Kill a Mockingbird. Russell has taken a controversial part of our history and put her own spin on it. Deed So forces you to think about the social issues during that time and what it would have been like for a young girl coming of age in the middle of it.

Chapter 1
I was a waitress for Christ. Recruited into the legions of church supper servers, who answered the call across the South every fall, I reported to our parish hall and delivered platter upon steaming platter of artery-choking victuals to appreciative suspender-slapping locals and city folk who came down in sleek motor coaches. I started when I was six. Child labor laws could not stand up to the will of Dixie’s God.
We were Episcopalians and our specialties, offered for generations at our fall festival, were old ham, fried oysters and beaten biscuits. The Methodists did fried chicken and double-crust peach pie. The Catholics were famous for fried perch, new potato salad and deviled eggs. I do not know what the Baptists served because I was a white girl not allowed to go to their church suppers.
In Wicomico Corners, everybody knew everybody. Heck, you only needed to go up three rungs on your family tree to claim relation to half the county. People attended the same church their great-grandfathers had and dealt at the same general store. The county boasted two stoplights, one near the courthouse across from the war memorial and one at the main gate of the navy base. Doors were left unlocked. Chickens, dogs, children and the occasional escaped milk cow ran free.
This is the story of the year I graduated from Calvert Elementary, entered Chesapeake High, and nearly died. Chesapeake was a grade seven through twelve institution. In those days, Boards of Education approached schooling as one big swimming lesson: when you completed grade school, they threw you directly into high school, the social and sexual deep end, and you sank or swam under the predatory eye of upper classmen.
My name is Agnes Hayden Bashford, but since my great aunt Agnes was very much alive and using her moniker back then, everybody called me Haddie. I was twelve and a half and the brightest girl in my class. It was 1962 and the high school opened a new wing to accommodate the spit-polished offspring of the WWII victors. We were not yet called boomers, nor were we aware of our economic power or any other peculiar qualities apart from our ability to duck and cover. My father, a naval aviator during the war, instructed me in leadership, ham radio operation and ramrod posture, although my erect stature was impaired at the time by an ill-fitting training bra handed down from a cousin.
That summer I took catechism in the kitchen of the parish hall. Our class consisted of four of my cousins, the daughter of the head of the Altar Guild (to whom I was distantly related) and one black kid, Tiny Barber. Parishioners called Tiny the diocesan guinea pig, because he was the first in our parish to participate in an integrated catechism class. Chances are, I was related to Tiny too, but this was a subject discussed rarely by adults and only in whispers.
A precocious child, I fired questions at Reverend Harrison during those catechism lessons. For example, when Eve bit that apple and discovered Adam’s nakedness and a bunch of other skinny she was not supposed to know, God considered her act so disobedient she deserved banishment. My beef was this: If the incident was so terrible wasn’t Eden changed by her behavior? How could the place be the same with the principal residents shamed and in exile?
As far as I could see, the garden of perfection was as tainted as our vegetable patch the year of the blight. Paradise with a crack, a damaged porcelain plate pushed to the back of the china cabinet. Because I was an Eve apologist, I pointed out that flaws might make Eden more fun and a heck of a lot more exciting than Wicomico Corners. It was the only time I ever recall Reverend Harrison reduced to speechlessness. Despite my heretical postulations, I passed ecclesiastical muster and earned the right to sip wine every Sunday. I was almost an adult.
Our rural county slumbered on through that last peaceable summer, its population still just a hair over the headcount it boasted during the American Revolution, but change was coming. Not just the building of new schools for the science project generation. Not just the clamour for the new stoplight at Helena to slow down the big rigs from up north. Change was disturbing the stately trees and chasing the ebbing tide. We sensed it stalking us, all sinew and ferocity poised on big cat’s paws, and believed it would saunter down our claustrophobic peninsula from the grand national beyond, trapping us between our two salty, unforgiving rivers. We did not see it crouching, claws sheathed, eyes slanted, waiting for its moment, in our own hearts.

Chapter 2
Our church supper was well underway when I saw Gideon Albright for the first time in over a year. We had filled the tables in the parish hall basement twice over by the time he arrived. I paused with a platter of fried oysters in one hand and bowl of fatback-flavored green beans in the other as I drank in the sight of him. Gideon’s olive army slacks and khaki shirt set off his tanned skin and shoe-black hair, grown out slightly from its martial buzz cut. My old chess-playing pal was a man now.
Sarah Jane elbowed me in the spine as she sidled by juggling three baskets of biscuits. “What are ya waiting for? Hades to freeze over? You drop those oysters, you’ll get what for.”
I walked forward and placed the food on one of my assigned tables.
“Haddie, we’re outta ham down here.” Delbert Parsons pointed at the empty platter with a half-eaten biscuit that dripped melted butter on his double-wide fingers.
“Yes, sir. Right away.” I leaned over Mrs. Parsons and retrieved the plate.
The All Saints parish hall would not be air-conditioned until 1975. The scent of perspiration mingled with talc wafted up from Mrs. Parson’s person, but could not cover the smell of her husband’s musty, sweat-stained and ancient Sunday-go-to-meeting suit.
Sailing back to the pickup window where platters of steaming food were lined up neater than our high school marching band, I passed close to my father, who was pouring boiling water from one part of the coffee and tea machine to the other. Because he was an engineer, Dad was steward of the ancient, temperamental contraption. He was the only person able to keep the thing functioning.
“Dad, Gideon’s home.”
“Glad to hear it. Don’t get too close; the tea canister is threatening to boil over.”
I grabbed a plate of old ham and a heaping dish of fried oysters, twirled on my sneakers and headed for the aisle, hoping Mr. Maxwell, our official seater, would place Gideon in my section.
As I handed Mr. Parsons the ham, Mr. Maxwell gestured to Gideon, indicating an empty seat at one of Jessie Mae Bell’s tables. I waved, but neither Gideon nor our majordomo acknowledged me. How could Gideon even see me with the crush of people slapping the hero come home on the back? A determined patron yanked the oysters away from me.
Gideon was six years older than I was, but we had spent plenty of time together growing up. His home was one farm over, and he liked to take advantage of my parents’ prodigious book collection. Besides, he enjoyed playing chess, and I was the only kid for miles who knew how to play. Unless it was the weekend and a grownup was free, he was stuck with me. He didn’t complain too much. I was good, even beat him on occasion.
I longed to welcome him home and hear about the places he had been. As soon as I was able, I intended to leave Wicomico Corners, our impossibly boring, backward village, just as Gideon had done. He had been to Vietnam, a place I looked up on our atlas. I had a time finding it because people in the Corners called it “Veetnomb rhymes with bomb.”
“Missy, we sure could use some more of them oysters.” I turned to the stranger tugging at my apron. He was as round as a rain barrel with a neck the diameter of a basketball.
“Be right back, sir.” Walking toward the kitchen, I stole a glance at Gideon over my shoulder. He rose to shake another hand, his napkin balled in his left fist. My throat caught and my cheeks great warm. I was conscious of my ill-fitting hand-me-down black skirt and frayed white blouse, a drab contrast with the festive clothing of the diners.
“Watch out, clumsy!”
I turned and was nose to chin number three of Miss Thelma Bridges’ abundant prow.
“Sorry, Miss Thelma.” I danced around her, brushing the large handbag dangling from her arm. Everybody knew she shoveled ham into her purse. Such behavior was strictly forbidden by the all-you-can-eat rules of Southern church supper protocol, but Reverend Harrison never stopped her. I guess he figured, the good Lord would put a halt to it soon enough, her being eighty-eight and all.
Sarah Jane Jarboe and I arrived at the pass-through counter at the same time.
“He sent me a postcard from Saigon.” I blushed the minute I said it.
“What?” Sarah Jane pushed golden bangs away from her perspiring forehead. “Oh, you mean Gideon.”
“It’s the capital of South Vietnam. That’s where they sent him.”
“Good thing, since he’s a Southerner.” Sarah Jane turned and wedged her way through a crush of waitresses muscling toward the counter.
Sarah Jane did not care a hoot for geography; if it wasn’t on a 45-rpm record, my friend didn’t pay it much mind. I grasped two plates, edged out of the way and swung toward the dining area. After depositing the food, I popped out the screen door onto the landing for a little fresh air.
On the crest of the rise, I spotted Uncle Hayden directing cars into wavy columns on the parish hall lawn with the assurance of a catapult officer on a carrier deck. Hayden Kent was not my uncle but rather my double first cousin, what you get when a sister and brother marry a brother and sister. Since he was my father’s age and possessed the same heredity as an uncle, it was easier to call him that.
The lot was almost full, tour buses blocked my view of the rectory, but I could see the line of waiting diners snaking along the shady side of the hall. In reaction to the unseasonable warmth of this October day, the men shed their jackets, and someone had brought fans from our ample supply donated by local funeral homes and distributed them to the ladies. I hoped Dad’s tea-brewing apparatus was holding up, because the iced beverage was going to be much in demand. We had our work cut out for us.
I returned to the interior and peeped through the back entrance to the kitchen. Cleo, the Maddox’s Negro housekeeper, sat under a ceiling fan patting oysters, her bosom undulating as she tossed the encrusted bivalves from palm to expert palm. My mother, auburn hair pulled back in a net, hovered behind her, waiting for Cleo to place one more oyster on her wax-papered pan before returning to the deep fryer.
Farther down the table Aunt Olivia, Uncle Hayden’s war bride from London, arranged thin slices of the rich, salty smoke-cured ham known locally as old ham. The natives were impressed at how quickly Olivia had mastered the traditional Maryland recipes. She was a bastion of the parish kitchen, the Sunday school and the Altar Guild. I thought, not for the first time, what a letdown it must have been to come here for a magical place like London, but despite my urgings, she rarely spoke of her home.
I scanned my tables to see what was needed. The nearest was being cleared by my pimply cousin Lawrence. Beyond Lawrence’s Icabod frame, I saw Gideon stand and squeeze his way toward the exit. I gasped a bucket of air. I wanted to sprint to his side, but I knew I could not reach him before he gained the stairs, and I could not leave my post. Shoulders drooping, I loaded a tray of glasses and silverware from the idle table.
Balancing the teetering stack, I waltzed toward the dishwashing alcove. As I deposited my burden, I glanced out the window to the parking area. Gideon was advancing up the slope toward Uncle Hayden in a determined fashion.
My uncle held another man by the arm, a stern expression marring his usually cheerful countenance. One look at the Camels rolled in the T-shirt sleeve, and I knew it was Farley Dalton. Farley was a classmate of Gideon’s but had dropped out in tenth grade. He and Gideon had been friends from childhood, but something happened to Farley when he entered his teens. My mother said Farley had a difficult home life. His father worked at odd jobs in construction, and his mother took in laundry. We saw Mrs. Dalton at Wathen’s General Store from time to time and, when I was younger, I used to wonder how a woman could get so many bruises from washing clothes.
Farley turned, staggered, and responded to my uncle. I could not hear his words, but his sneer and burning eyes told the story. Gideon reached the two men and took Farley’s other arm. As he removed the beer bottle from his friend’s hand, he spoke to my uncle. Hayden nodded, relinquished Farley, and Gideon led his inebriated companion away. Everybody knew liquor was not allowed, but rules of any kind angered Farley, as did most things society threw at him. I could just barely picture the gentle boy whom this surly, glaring apparition had replaced, the boy who loved fishing and marbles.
“I cleared your front table again,” Lawrence said as he passed me juggling an overloaded tray.
I looked at Mr. Maxwell’s station. The pressing crowd of impatient diners was as dense as ever. Our parish would do well this year, but my hope of talking to Gideon today was as dashed as an egg yolk in a bowl of biscuit batter.

About the author:
Katharine Russell is a former executive in the healthcare industry. She has a bachelor's degree in history from Northwestern University, a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, and a certificate in creative writing from UCLA's Writers Program. A descendant of Maryland colonists, who grew up in Southern Maryland, Russell divides her time between Baltimore, MD, and Palm Desert, CA. Under the pen name Kath Russell, the author writes the Pointer Mystery Series. The author also wrote Buddy's Tail under the pen name of K. Anne Russell.

This book was provided by the author for review.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely LOVED this book!!! Katherine Russell is an awesome story teller!! I don't know why I had such a connection with the main character! This is a GREAT read! Excellent story telling during the crazy 1960's for a young girl growing up. She had virtually NO knowledge of ANY racial tension, and when she was subjected to it, she was just shocked! She learned a LOT of things during her 'growing up years' that most young girls would run into during this time, but I think more so than the average teen as she lived in the South. She knew things were not fair, and had to learn how to deal with them.
    GREAT read! GREAT story! It's NOT TO MISS!!!
    There is a HUGE surprise at the end!!! Put this on your TBR pile!!!
    Laurie Carlson
    laurieisreading at gmail dot com



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