Tag Archives: Auburn

Dixie Sue

They bumped across the dusty railroad tracks in the oven-hot August air on North Gay Street in sweet Auburn, and headed up the hill toward Toomer’s Corner in the center of town. Halfway up the hill Susan put her hand on Flapper’s leg, and for reasons she did not try to understand picked this time to tell him something she had known since before they left St. Louis. “I’m pregnant,” she said.

Flapper, intent on his driving, still not convinced the other drivers in this curious land were entirely reliable, heard the words, and was instantly overwhelmed by a torrent of thoughts that threatened to drown him in hot, bubbling emotion. To his great surprise he said, while keeping his eyes on the street, “Our children will be born in Alabama.”

Susan, struggling with her own emotions, and looking out at a store window sign that read EAGLE HARDWARE, to her great surprise found herself repeating Flapper’s words, “Our children will be born in Alabama.”

Flapper eased the car into an angled parking space at the top of the hill and cut the engine. He turned to look at Susan, and found her looking at him with wide, and he thought, perhaps a little frightened, eyes. They stepped from the car, and walking hand in hand, soon found themselves on the Alabama Polytechnic Institute campus, where they sat on a shaded bench and began to unravel their tangled thoughts. The sudden realization of impending parenthood caught them both by surprise. They knew they should be happy at the prospect, but they were faintly uneasy and strangely apprehensive.

Flapper thought, but hesitated to say it, I’m not sure I’m ready to share Susan.

Susan thought, I’m going to be a mother.

Flapper turned his head slightly to look closer at Susan. She was dressed for travel in shorts, sandals, and T- shirt, her dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail against the heat. Small beads of perspiration formed above her upper lip. She didn’t look any different. “How do you feel?”

“Hot,” she answered, then added, “A little stiff from the driving . . . maybe we could find a court and shoot a few hoops.”

Flapper shifted to face her and said quickly, “No hoops for you Doctor Jackson.”

“Ping pong?” she offered. “I really could use some exercise.”

“I don’t think so.”

They sat quietly for a while before Susan said, “It must have been the champagne.”

“If it’s a girl we’ll call her Dixie . . . what do you think?”

Susan nodded. “DixieJackson . . . Good. I like it. If it’s a boy, how about Homer Junior?”

Flapper shook his head vigorously from side to side. “Oh no, not in a thousand years. Why don’t we name him after you. What do you think of Sue?”

Susan looked at him in astonishment. “A boy named Sue?”

“Why not? Anything is better than Homer.”

Susan looked at Flapper, but he avoided her eyes. She knew he wasn’t serious. She looked closer. She was pretty sure he wasn’t serious. She changed the subject. “So. Here we are in the heart of Dixie. It does feel . . . ” she paused, considering how it felt. “ . . . Hot.”

In the mid-August heat, the early afternoon sun blazing, the campus was empty except for a few maintenance men drowsily working around shrubs and flower gardens, and cleaning up around the messy magnolia trees. They sat near a fountain in front of the Ross Chemistry Laboratory, a stately three-story brick building with four tall Greek-style columns spread across its wide portico.

Susan sniffed the air, trying to place the faint odor. “Do you smell anything, Flapper?”

He nodded. “It smells like goats.”

Susan agreed. “Yes, goats.  . . . It’s caproic acid.  That must be the chemistry building . . . unless there are some Gingko trees around here.” She looked but saw only magnolia trees framing the square.

Susan had more than a passing interest in that chemistry building because in a little over a month she would be teaching biochemistry there. It had happened as suddenly and as unexpectedly as Flapper finding the notice about the Presidential Academy in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  It was a six-line ad in the Job Opportunities section at the back of SCIENCE magazine.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF BIOCHEMISTRYTenure track position. Nine month appointment.               Successful applicant will teach undergraduate and graduate biochemistry to pre-med and chemistry      majors, and will be expected to initiate a research program. Salary commensurate with experience.             Send curriculum vita and three letters of reference to Professor Achilles Demimelius, School of                 Chemistry, Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn, Alabama.

Susan was surprised to receive a job offer less than a month after submitting her application. So there it was. She would teach at API, and Flapper would teach at Tuskegee. They would live in Auburn; Flapper would commute to Tuskegee, only 20 miles away.

Susan stood up and said, “Flapper, let’s go take a look.”

Flapper was uncertain. He looked at Susan in a funny way and asked, “Is caproic acid good for Dixie Sue?”

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Sweet Auburn

The background for Blue’s new novel COUNT was unfolded more than 10 years ago when the novel FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA was published by Publish America. Here in 2013, Max can’t resist the opportunity to recall some of that background, given the invention of the Blog. Inevitably, Max himself is gaining some insight from this exercise – in many ways that novel is almost a diary of what Max and Liddy experienced in the first years of their now 57 year marriage. Attention Max and Liddy’s children and grandchildren: if you have interest in the circumstances of your being here, read FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA, which will also help you  understand the new novel COUNT.

 

SWEET AUBURN

Heading south from St. Louis in their two-toned green Chevrolet Powerglide, Susan and Flapper, flushed with a sense of adventure, picked up state route three in Red Bud, Illinois, and nosed along the eastern edge of the Mississippi River to Cairo, where they stopped for lunch at the KIM Cafe. Everything they owned was piled into the trunk and back seat of the sturdy Chevvy. They learned from the waitress that KIM stood for Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri, three states that touched here at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. They also learned it’s not a good idea to order lobster in a river town where all they know how to cook is catfish, 1,500 miles from the nearest ocean. When they crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky, Flapper had the odd feeling they had just leaped from the safety and comfort of a cozy airplane cabin into the uncertain and turbulent air of a strange and unfamiliar land, where water fountains and public restrooms were labeled WHITE or COLORED. When Susan reached for his hand he knew she too was feeling strangely disconnected.

Five hundred miles to go, through Jackson, Tennessee; nicking the northeast corner of Mississippi at Corinth, and into Alabama where they wondered at the oversize billboard greeting from the large smiling face, vaguely reminiscent of a horse.

WELCOME TO ALABAMA

JAMES E. (BIG JIM) FOLSOM, GOVERNOR

Y’ALL COME

They moved on through Birmingham and down to Auburn . . .  “Auburn, sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plains” straight into the heart of Dixie, and a new life. Flapper and Susan squeezed each other’s hands, took deep breaths, checked their parachutes, and did not look back.

The Butler

The Butler is the name of a currently popular movie; Liddy and I went to see it yesterday, expecting, on the basis of newspaper and TV reports, to see a story about a black man serving as a White House butler, and wondering at the reports that President Obama shed some tears while watching the movie. Full disclosure here: Max had trouble controlling tears through most of the movie. Liddy and I were not prepared to see virtually all of our married life unfold in two and a half hours through a series of short sketches depicting many of the outrageous attacks on Civil Rights marchers that for us were background as we struggled to complete graduate school in the heart of Dixie from 1956 to 1962.

It’s a perfect blog-in to Max’s novel COUNT. The novel, disguised though it is, tells how Max and Liddy, in all their innocence, followed Max’s brother Jaybird’s lead and left Peoria, the heart of Illinois, to pursue higher education in the heart of Dixie at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API) in Auburn; it was 1956. They scoffed at the idea that a segregated society could be a dangerous place for a young married couple, especially when the wife was half Chinese.