The Golden Bird #photoaday #project365

Day 189:  The Golden Bird

189 of 365. 100 in my Cranes for Hope project. Our Daily Challenge — The Golden Hour.

I meant to actually leave my house in order to take advantage of the evening sun today, but somehow that just didn’t work out. Instead I made this poor little yellow bird that had an unfortunate run-in with a cat. I intervened, though, and everything turned out golden for the bird.

Do you know the fairy tale, “The Golden Bird”? I stumbled across it today…

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

47 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is riveting. I had trouble putting it down. I wouldn’t have expected to say that about a prison memoir, but it’s true.

Neil White was in the publishing business. First, he ran a newspaper in Oxford, MS. When that didn’t work out, he went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where he started up a magazine business that grew so rapidly it made his head spin. It also made him greedy. He tried to expand too fast, and he got in over his head. He started kiting checks just to buy a little time. I would write checks for money he didn’t have from one account to another. He’d keep writing checks to himself from other accounts at other banks to keep from showing an enormous overdraft. He didn’t actually have the money. He was taking advantage of the window between the time the check is deposited and the time it goes through on the other account. He did this just to buy one more day before he could collect the advertising money to cover his expenses.

Turns out people go to prison for stuff like that. White ended up in Carville, Louisiana. This is the town that James Carville is from. It’s also the site of America’s last leprosy colony, a colony that had dwindled so in population by the 1990s when White arrived that it was being put to double use as minimum security prison. The prisoners and the patients shared the same facility. They were housed in separate sections, but they still intermingled. As you might imagine, neither population was entirely thrilled with this arrangement.

Neil White was frankly terrified of catching leprosy when he first arrived. He shared a room with a doctor (busted for selling banned substances in diet pills), and he asked a lot of questions. Turns out that despite the fact that leprosy has fairly well been contained in this country, doctors still don’t know exactly how it spreads. White’s roommate thought it spread through airborne particles, and the very first day that White was sent to work on the patient side of the facility, someone spit in his face. He probably had reason to be frightened.

Gradually, however, he began to take an interest in the patients as people. He interviewed them. He got to know them. He learned some important lessons from them.

Some of these people had lived in the colony their whole lives after contracting leprosy as children. They may have come there at the age of 8 or 9 and lived in the same institution up through to old age. They knew nothing else, and even refused to leave when offered a chance to assimilate back into the outside world. Theirs is an amazing story.

Neil White also has an interesting story. His prison time was truly life-changing. He didn’t want to change, and he didn’t think he needed to change at first, but after months of interacting with people who had truly suffered in life, he began to confront his own faults. He began to see his imprisonment not just as a humiliating experience but as a lesson in the consequences of pride and greed.

I wasn’t really sure I believed his turnabout. I figured you have to be pretty egotistical to do what he did, and someone that egotistical would say what he thought he needed to say in his book in order to sell a lot of copies and garner some sympathy for his own cause. Maybe that is the case, but in the intervening years, he does seem to have turned his life around. He’s at least stayed out of prison.

I’m going to take that to mean it’s safe to see the character building he does in the book as genuine. I hope it is. I find it inspiring.

I must say that I did not even know leprosy was still around. I’m stunned by the idea that we were still isolating its victims from society throughout the entire 20th century. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to live out a whole long life in a leprosy colony. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be an old woman who had not left the colony since grade school days and who formed her perception of the outside world through watching Young and the Restless.

Nevertheless, these are people who seem to know a whole lot about humility and perseverance. Read their story. It will awe and inspire.

Every Day by the Sun by Dean Faulker Wells

46 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

Every Day by the Sun is simply remarkable. If you are at all literary minded, and you read no other books this summer, read this one. It is a wonderful memoir and a wonderful glimpse into the family life that was William Faulkner’s.

Dean Faulkner Wells is William Faulkner’s niece. Her father, also named Dean Faulkner, was killed in a plane crash shortly before her birth. This made Pappy (her name for Uncle Bill) a larger presence in her life than he might otherwise have been. He felt responsible for her after her father’s death. He provided for her, and he even went so far as to have himself named her legal guardian despite the fact that she had a mother who was still very much alive and present. Still, little Dean was particularly close to Pappy, and now that Pappy and Estelle and Jill and so many other close family members are all gone, Dean is left with a wealth memories.

There was the time she turned Sinclair Lewis away from the door because Pappy was busy and because the man had a funny name she didn’t quite know what to make of.

There was the way Shelby Foote and William Styron both showed her kindnesses at Pappy’s funeral.

There was the time she ran through the doors at Rowan Oak to tell Pappy that her sorority sister Mary Ann Mobley had just been crowned Miss America. Faulkner’s response was “I’m glad someone finally did something to put Mississippi on the map.” This was, of course, after he’d won the Nobel.

She repeats some of the famous stories that show up in Faulkner biographies.

Remember the one about the hunting trip with Clark Gable. Gable asks Faulkner who the best living writers are. Faulkner names several, among them Willa Cather, Dos Passos, and himself. Gable says, “Oh, Mr. Faulkner. Do you write?” Faulkner answers, “Yes, Mr. Gable. What do you do?”

Or how about Faulkner’s stint at the Ole Miss post office? He would sit reading or writing, sometimes refusing to stop what he was doing to respond to people tapping on the post office window. When someone complained, he said, “I refuse to be at the beck and call of every fool who has 2 cents for a stamp.”

Wells remembers a caring and supportive uncle with an unmatched wit. After paying for her college education, he declares her spectacularly prepared to do nothing. As, I suppose, anyone with a degree in English is.

She also remembers a driven, hard-working uncle. He was known for his drinking, but she remembers that he never drank while working. He went on binges after completing a novel. He went on such severe binges that he often checked himself into a hospital afterward to dry out. This is why many think he literally drank himself to death. He died at the same hospital that was his alcohol rehab facility of choice. His niece, however, says the official cause of death was cardiac thrombosis. He had a heart attack. You can fill in your own interpretations of the whats and the hows and the whys, I suppose, but his niece who was very close to him, who sometimes even lived at Rowan Oak, says she never saw him drunk. He drank a great deal, but he drank on his own terms. He did not waste away from constant alcohol abuse. He was even able to have a drink at a social occasion without going on a binge. This was not true of other heavy drinkers in the family, but Wells contends that it was true of Pappy.

There are so many great family stories in this book that it would be unfair to tease you with more today. You should just read the book. It is well done. It is inspiring. It is amusing, and it is insightful.

Dean Faulkner Wells has left me a real desire to learn more about the largest of the literary giants of my state. I think I’ll start by visiting and revisiting some of his novels. Watch this blog to find out how that goes.