>A dear friend recently asked to borrow some books for a trip to Mexico with her husband, who is battling cancer. I gathered a few paperbacks (easier for travel) from my shelves and took them to our regular meeting at Starbucks. That was about a month ago. So, last week when we got together, she told me all about their trip, and showed me the beautiful memories she had captured in her watercolor journal. As she was returning some of the paperbacks, she commented briefly on one of them, The Last of the Southern Girls by Willie Morris.
“Really? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to send anything with you that might bring you down.”
My mind struggled to recall the plot of this book that I had read several years ago. I had remembered it as a romantic tale of an Ole Miss sorority girl taking on Washington society in the sixties and seventies… the same years that this Ole Miss sorority girl was still stuck in Mississippi. I was on a spiritual and cultural journey of a completely different kind. Some of the difficult parts of that journey are being recorded in the pages of my memoir-in-progress. And yeah, there’s lots of sadness there, but it’s a memoir, not a romantic comedy.
So yesterday when some of the folks in my writers critique group gave me their gentle but wise feedback on the pages I had just penned—the pages about some difficult and dark things that happened during those same years that Morris chronicled in The Last of the Southern Girls—I listened to their suggestions because I respect their journeys and their own personal endeavors to capture their memories, and our collective Southern history, in the short stories and novels they are drafting.
Morris told an interviewer in 1979 that “if there is anything that makes southerners distinctive from the main body of Americans, it is a certain burden of memory and a burden of history…. I think sensitive southerners have this in their bones, this profound awareness of the past.”
Doug, Patti and Herman (and Tom, who couldn’t join us yesterday because, well, because his loyalties were torn—he was at the Ole Miss-Florida game watching the Rebels whip up on the Gators down in the swamp) are all “sensitive southerners” who definitely share this burden of memory, and this profound awareness of the past. All four of us are working on memoirs, stories and novels involving those memories and histories, across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
I love the “Friendship Bridge”
And this welcoming bench.
The writer’s surreptitious scars. I wonder if they will be visible to our readers, or if they are only seen by the ones on whom they have been inflicted? Oh, the burden of memory. Why do Southern writers endure it? To reclaim a part of our life, as Scott Morris said at the Yoknapatawpha Writing Workshop back in June.