Tag Archives: civil rights

Slavery, Civil Rights, and Self Discovery While Being a Writer

I'm very proud of the fact that, unlike many people I know, knew, like and dislike, I am a liberal/progressive at heart, I think we can and should do better than what we have done in almost all areas of our lives and our history, and that we must know our history so we can learn from it.

Born in Louisiana and raised there and in Texas, I consider myself a Louisianaian and a Southerner, and a Texan to a lesser extent. However, I do not like the direction my states have taken. Rather than the genteel (yes, genteel not gentle) outlooks on life and others I think the states and many of the more vocal residents have taken a turn for the worse, choosing rhetoric over action and choosing a viewpoint that dooms our region to take steps backward instead of forward.

I don't get into political discussions on my author website simply because this isn't the place for them. Sometimes the positions I take in my writings aren't my personal positions, the outlooks or sentiments are those necessary to advance the story. Certainly, you can often read between the lines and could likely discern my attitude on certain political points or, if you want to know, just ask me and I'll give you a personal response, but the author blog is where I share stuff about my books.

Over the years I've had to examine myself and my viewpoints on several occasions. When working on the first Noah Chance book, I was forced to consider the word of those born with Down's Syndrome and the people who love them and I quickly found that not only were my views outdated but they were also wrong in many ways because the information which caused me to form those views was incorrect. 

When writing The Bottle Tree I examined racism, the black and white divide, and why it seemed to be getting worse rather than getting better. My books are, so far, fiction and so it's incumbent upon me not to get too preachy in my novels and to try and keep them interesting while at the same time addressing issues that appear as the book develops. Johnny Robinson allowed me to do that in The Bottle Tree since I knew Johnny back when we were children and since he had appeared in my memories throughout my life. I only wish I had taken the opportunity to contact him again before he passed away and renewed the friendship which I hope would have rekindled. 

For the last year or so I've been working on a historical novel about Louisiana and, as a part of my research, spent a lot of time doing genealogical work tracking how my family came to be in Louisiana and why that is where I identify as "home" no matter where I travel or actually live. 

A number of my ancestors fought in the Civil War on the side of the Conferacy and, until recently, I could say they must have been fighting for the idea of the South since the census records didn't indicate any of them had owned slaves. I'm not ashamed of them fighting for the Rebels and anyone who says people should be ashamed of that fact simply don't understand the concepts which governed life back then or at least life the way they wrote about it in their diaries and journals.

However, in the research I did find that one of my ancestors did own slaves. Not one who was involved in the Civil War but rather one who has a more prominent place in history. Louis Juscheareau de St. Denis, the explorer who founded Natchitoches, the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, owned a number of slaves.

What is particularly interesting is that the daugther of the slaves he owned was Marie Therese Coincoin (Metoyer), whose freedom was later purchased by Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer, with whom she had ten children. She and her descendants established the Creole community along the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish, including what is said to be the first church founded by free people of color for their own use, St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church, in Natchez, Louisiana.

So while slavery itself was wrong, the fact that St. Denis brought slaves to Natchitoches with him when he founded the settlement allowed for the creation of what is a phenomenal piece of history, the Creoles of Cane River. The direct descendants of Metoyer and Marie Coincoin still live along Cane River today and their culture and heritage is a vital part of Natchitoches.

As a side note, many people know my hometown of Natchitoches due to its most famous food Natchitoches Meat Pies which were once sold by cart vendors in town and which are still available throughout the area. The best I have ever eaten are made by the ladies at the very church mentioned earlier. St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church who sell them at booths at the Christmas Festival in December. Some even credit the creation of the meat pie to the Creole community although I haven't looked into the history of that yet.

All that to say that our history shouldn't necessarily make us ashamed, even when it is something that by modern standards isn't aceptable. Instead, it should be embraced and learned from, building on the good and avoiding the repetition of the bad.

Now, since many of you have mentioned that you like the recipes I post, a meat pie recipe that's sure to beat those frozen ones. This recipe is from www.Natchitoches.net.

Meat Pie Recipe

Meat Pie Filling

  • 1 teaspoon shortening
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork meat
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 pod garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped          
  • Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste               
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Meat Pie Crust

  • 1 quart plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening + 1 T
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

Melt shortening in heavy pot.  Add meat. Cook until pink is gone.

Add vegetables and season to taste.  (Season well, as meat will lose seasoning during frying.)  When meat is completely done and vegetables glazed, remove from heat and drain excess liquid. 

Stir in 1 tablespoon flour.

Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in shortening.  Beat egg and add to milk.  Work gradually into dry ingredients until proper consistency to roll. 

Break into small pieces and roll very thin.  Cut into rounds using a saucer as a guide.

To assemble:

Place a large tablespoon of prepared meat along edge and halfway in the center of round dough. 

Fold the other half over, making edges meet and seal with water. 

Form edges with fork. 

Drop in deep fat and  cook until golden brown. 

Drain and serve hot. 

Makes approximately  18.

Meat Pie

My Book – The Bottle Tree

 

A couple of people have asked me about the book The Bottle Tree and how I came to write it. Since it is about to be available in print (fingers crossed) I thought this might be a good time to address it.

A long time ago in a land far, far away (Louisiana) I was out with my uncle looking for a cave back in the Kisatchie National Forest. The cave was rumored to have once been the hideout of the outlaw John Murrell during his days when that stretch of Louisiana was claimed by both (and neither) the Spanish and the Americans. It was known as "No Man's Land" or the "Neutral Strip". Since neither side policed it and the major east-west trail, the El Camino Real, ran through it outlaws were having a field day.

The cave was supposed to have horse troughs carved out of the rock and legends of hidden gold are rampant. During my days off I'd take my metal detector and a shovel and we'd wander the hills. If you know me then you know, obviously, I never found the hidden gold but one day while crossing a creek I used the shovel to steady myself and banged it down on what I thought was a rock. A piece of it chipped away and the rich scent of pine wafted forth.

A few minutes later I began finding rusted and, with the exception of a piece off of a wagon, unidentifiable iron parts in the area. We had no idea what the mass in the creek was and mentioned it later to my great aunt. She told us we had found the site of an old turpentine camp that she had lived at when she was a little girl.

There are excellent articles describing the turpentine camps in Texas, Louisiana and Florida here and here.

That is when my imagination kicked in and the result was "The Bottle Tree".

The name itself has been in the back of my mind as a great title for a book for 20 years or so and one day the story just fell into place.

The Bottle Tree is about a simple life and friendship. It also addresses head on the issues of race.

Leesie, the character in the book, was very loosely based on my great-aunt, Thelma Leach, who was a teacher in the Kisatchie area for all of her life. The "colored boy", Johnny Robinson, was named after a childhood friend of mine who attended Provencal School. Provencal is a very, very small town in Natchitoches Parish and when I was a kid had about 300 students, total, in grades from Kindergarten through 12th grade. The kids were bussed in from a huge area spread across Kisatchie Forest.

What is a bottle tree? If you've driven through the south then you've probably seen one. It's a tree or pole with bottles stuck all over it. There are a lot of legends surrounding them, but one in particular is prominent in this story.

The book is a little shorter than I would have liked because I really, really liked writing it. I wanted to stretch it out more but, believe it or not, the book didn't want me to and evaded my doing that at every turn.

I hope you'll get a copy and read it. The story has both funny and sad parts and even though I wrote it and have read it a number of times, I still love it.

You can buy the book at Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com.