Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jogging our memories

You know you totally forget about something then someone else brings it up as a meaningful memory then you can suddenly recall a slice of your past life vividly?

That happened to me when I read about Kevin Sessum's memoir, Mississippi Sissy.

Here's a summary of the book from some literary website:

"...the stunning memoir from Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in the South. As he grew up in Forest, Mississippi, befriended by the family maid, Mattie May, he became a young man who turned the word "sissy" on its head, just as his mother taught him. In Jackson, he is befriended by Eudora Welty and journalist Frank Hains, but when Hains is brutally murdered in his antebellum mansion, Kevin's long road north towards celebrity begins."

Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

“Fuck,” said Frank Hains. “I knew I shouldn’t have given that last bourbon to Eudora.”

It had taken me almost a decade after that day of my mother’s funeral, but I had finally found the only equivalent that Mississippi offered to a What’s My Line? life. Frank — a John Daly–like presence in Jackson — was the arts editor of the state’s afternoon newspaper, for which he also wrote a column called “On Stage.” Eudora was writer Eudora Welty. We were at a cast party for New Stage Theatre’s latest production, Long Day’s Journey into Night, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald as Mary Tyrone. Frank and Miss Welty were active members of New Stage, and he was playing host that night at Bleak House, the name given facetiously to his antebellum home by the local literati of Jackson. The Dickensian nickname derived from the house’s outward appearance of haunted dilapidation where it sat, rather spookily, on a hill opposite Jackson’s lone Jewish cemetery....

Frank would often allude to his “dusky endeavors,” as they had come to refer politely to his interest in young African Americans, some of whom had touched him deeply with their aspirations and narratives of maternal love. Miss Welty welcomed these stories of nuanced carnality, as Frank was careful not to tell her the details.

I was in high school when Frank Hains was murdered, and he'd just directed a play in Vicksburg, Mississippi, that my brother and a friend were in. We used to sit there as he'd explain his inspired plans for the set, and we thought he was so sophisticated.

Then he was murdered. Everyone was shocked. My father, a forensic pathologist, told me that the crime scene indicated that it was a homosexual murder. I was additionally shocked by that news.

My brother then started a gag where some of us would go around confessing that we were the murderer of Frank Hains. (The crime was unsolved.)

A friend from high school recalls how my brother would "creep around muttering, 'I murdered Frank Hains.' It was SO funny because we'd be watching TV or making cookies, or whatever, and he would suddenly appear and say that, in a sepulchral voice, then just walk off."

Also a friend from Jackson recalls actually attending the party that Sessums writes about. She wrote: "Do you remember the very first page of the book, when he describes that party where Eudora Welty got drunk, and Frank Hains was oozing around hosting so urbanely? I wuz thar (as Tom Joad would say.) That very exact party, for the cast of Long Day's Journey into Night. I felt mighty sassy and grown-up, there among the big folks, rubbing shoulders with Geraldine Fitzgerald and all. It made me feel better to read that Miss Welty was so drunk that Kevin had to drive her home because she was horribly rude to me that night. It never occurred to me that she was full of bourbon---I was so naive I didn't think old ladies drank anything but coffee."

I enjoyed the whole experience of thinking about something again that I'd forgotten, and the memories of others from that time rounding out the story for me. Hope someone else is out there writing a memoir that will jog my memory again soon.


Doc_Fungo said...

I don't care if you print an exerpt from a book, magazine article, or wahtever. But, I never think it is at all necessary under any condition to print out such a vile word that begins with the letter "F".

Using an "F" followed by asterisks would suffice.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, I'm sorry for offending you. I was just quoting from the book and didn't think about editing it myself. I do apologize.

Buena Parker said...

Perhaps Doc_Fungo should cease using such words as "Baptist" - as many of us find that word and concept more offensive than the word used in Kevin Sessums' book - why would someone who holds such an odd tendency toward censorship and distortion of fact, words, and meaning bother to comment on, or read, a post on a literary topic? So ignorant and insulting as well to the great, and salty, Eudora Welty.