The Family Owned

By R.T. Dickinson

The Missouri man opened Joey’s Lunchroom in Bamberg, South Carolina in 1868. Joey Langston had hired workers to build a two-story wooden building. They painted it blue and added a big white sign. The post-War city developed around the railroad. Memories of cotton and slaves were but whispers among Langston’s customers.

He hired a poor white woman with the family name of Bannister. She was born in a cabin where her own mother died from fever and her father picked his teeth while he decided how to raise the girl. The broke Mr. Bannister gave his daughter to a cook. She lived near a swamp. The cook raised the girl, and taught her to fish and prepare food.

In the early days of rebuilding, Langston found Mrs. Bannister. He offered her better money than she’d ever earned. Behind her back, he called her Madame Wart because of a large red mole above her lip.

Mrs. Bannister—who made the saltiest catfish—became ill. Her heart pumped so hard a second cook swore she saw it jump out of her chest. “It was like a toad come out of nowhere,” she said.

Mrs. Bannister’s flour covered fingers started to shake. They swelled to the point each one looked like a piece of meat rolled in egg, milk and flour. Langston knew of the two women he had hired, her cooking was preferred. He could not keep her much longer. She would die on the kitchen floor. While he was not the cleanest man, nothing prospered for business if rumors circulated about a cook who died in his restaurant.

Langston thought and ordered Mrs. Bannister to bring her son.

She came with him in the early hours when empty chairs sat at empty tables, and the sun had not yet intruded. Joey stood behind the bar. He waved his hands. Mrs. Bannister gave her son, Oliver, a gentle push forward.

Wooden puppet arms and legs and lazy day blue eyes—the kind belonging to a boy who lay in a hay stack—caused Langston’s mouth to form a flat line. Not much of a boy, he thought, especially to have come from a mother with wide hips and muscular arms. He questioned what Mrs. Bannister fed her son. It looked as if he’d eaten nothing but scraps from one of Langston’s tables.

“Can the boy cook?” Langston asked.

“Almost as good as me, sir.”

“How much school do you have, son?”

The yellow hair boy looked at his mother. Joey smiled. Any boy of, what—twelve or thirteen—who still relied on his mother for every decision would do excellent work, he thought.

“He knows his letters and numbers,” Mrs. Bannister said. “He reads and writes a few words.”

“Do you speak son?”

The boy looked at his mother again.

Soon she would die from her ailments. The boy would have no mother; no person of great significance to answer his questions for him.


This is the first of a series. More to come.


The Histories of a World: Real and Fictional

Words and Photo by Rebecca T. Dickinson

Everything comes with history. Most people come with baggage. No matter the time period of your story, poem or the old newspaper article you have discovered as a source for a research paper, people of anytime can connect to history.

With my background in history, I have tried make it pop and sparkle for kids. In a fifth grade class—in which I recently substitute taught—fifth graders wanted to understand the death toll of World War II. How would they understand death, a reign of gun fire, bombings and some people who were at their worst?

I asked the students to stand. I selected more than half of the students, and told them to sit down. I asked those who remained standing to look around at their classmates in their seats. That might be an estimate of lives to never return home from a troop.

Or you take something with words that stirs the soul. Maybe a heavier band, Dropkick Murphies, and listen to its rendition of The Green Fields of France. You hear the story, the words, the pain and see it in the real images.

You break into a conversation about how Lord of the Rings relates to life. J.R.R. Tolkien went off to trenches with his best friends and classmates. Boys in fear laid down their lives in blood soaked mud and barbwire. Tolkien returned home without most of his friends. He started to write in the trenches.

What I admire about Tolkien is not so much the way he writes, but how much detail and history he invests into what he writes. He gives his world a history.

History of a World

A picture I took at the entrance of Mizpah Methodist Church outside of Bamberg, South Carolina. It is an original “meeting house” once used by more than one denomination.

In 2010, I sat in a class full of sci-fi writers. If I must label Sons of the Edisto, it falls somewhere in the historical/time period-family saga-coming of age genre. The guy who taught the class wrote mystery and some sci-fi. He talked about the creation of worlds.

I had to take a world lost to time and in the destruction of old buildings. When I started in 2006, I knew I had a heavy work load. I needed to research the wealth of the area and population, farming, business, style, births, African-American life, the growth of the middle class and the list goes on and on. I did this through pictures, old newspapers, books and interviews.

I learned from Tolkien. He wrote appendices found at the end of The Return of the King. I chose to write a series of prescripts or back stories. I wrote seven in all. They stand apart from my short stories, connected to  Sons of the Edisto, in the way they are written. The narrator of my prescripts is more like a historian.

I plan to share parts of the prescripts in a series starting in the next week. I may have one a week or one every other week, because as you know by now, I enjoy writing about writing and books.

Why the 1920’s?

The real question for me is: Why hasn’t the period between Reconstruction and the Great Depression been explored more in modern literature? In the past few years, I’ve noticed more coming out. Besides that fact, I am falling in love with writers from the age: Richard Wright’s Black Boy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston and some work from Hemingway.

Not to mention all the fabulous clothes.

I look forward to sharing more with you. Thank you for reading.

  • For more information about Sons of the Edisto, please visit my ABOUT page.

Your New Relationship

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

A new relationship takes off. Even if you’re in a relationship or marriage there is a boyfriend or girlfriend who takes you for the ride on a motorcycle. Your emotions about him or her wander through a jungle of the unknown. Then you make up with a hot session in which you cannot leave each other.

Type the first word. Your new relationship begins. The nice thing about this relationship is no one is there to argue with you, although you might sometimes feel stuck on a scene or character.

Dare I suggest your book, story or poem is a boyfriend or girlfriend when it is something more sacred to you?

Not so much me as author, Joshilyn Jackson; author of gods in Alabama, Backseat Saints, and most recently, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.

I met Joshilyn Jackson for the second time in my young career as a writer. I adore her work for the fact the writing is excellent, she makes me laugh after a dark scene, her descriptions are amazing, and the list continues into eternity. I’ve never liked to use the term favorite author because there are so many writers I love and from whom I learn.

Jackson took a writer’s cliché of your book is your baby, and shot it in the foot. It is not without good reason.

When I first heard her speak at a writer’s conference in October 2010 and again last Tuesday, she talked about the way in which she thought of her books. The reason is important because it helped to separate the writer’s thoughts of publishing and writing. If the two worlds collide in a writer’s mind while he or she writes, it becomes a slick, messy landslide.

Think of your individual works as a boyfriend or girlfriend. While you are writing the poem, story or novel, it is hot and heavy. You end up in arguments when you do not agree with something in the plot or how a character evolves. Words, like clothes, end up on the floor. The best ones end up on the page. When the book is published, the relationship is over. Simple: done and over.

Jackson does not open her older books because she said she would see a flaw or think about something she would change. The book is already published. She has to focus on the manuscript at hand instead of what she has already released to the world. It is similar to your being in love with your significant other while thinking about someone else.

I’ve said those words: My book is my baby. When I started my research for Sons of the Edisto at the South Caroliniana Library and trips to Bamberg, SC; my manuscript was my baby. I loved it. I tried to nurture it by learning from the beginning the best way to tell the story and how I could show the 1920’s in an accurate, but a storytelling manner.

At the end of 2009, I did not touch my book for four months. I worked as a full-time reporter, and I learned I was pregnant. The moment I became a real mother, my life changed (cliché) forever. As a mother, I believed I turned into a better writer. It was in the first year of my son’s life when pieces of my work were published.

My short nonfiction story, Grass from the Grave, no longer belongs to me. It is set to be published for a second time in the spring. It is one of the only times I sat down at a keyboard, wrote something in ten minutes, and it stayed in most of its original form. It deals with circumstances surrounding my son’s birth. I never thought it would be something of interest. The fact is the story no longer belongs to me.

The relationship starts. Then it must end. No hard feelings. No broken hearts. Just “I wish you the best, and I know you’ll go far.”

A Dose of Hemingway Reality

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Of all Ernest Hemingway‘s books and stories, To Have and Have Not is not the first recommendation from an editor. The book covers I found for To Have and Have Not mostly show sailboats or ships on the ocean on a bright blue day. The cover below depicts the real colors of the book.

How I Met Hemingway

I went to a book store that sells literature for less than big brand stores. A buyer has the option to trade books for store credit. The first time I went, I thought maybe the store would play coffee house music, jazz or classical. When I walked in on a late summer day in 2011, I realized, Yeah, Becca you’re still in South Carolina.

Country music—I mean Tammy Wynette /Stand by Your Man and twang—played through the speakers. Some customers might’ve liked it. Endless biographies of Sarah Palin sat in the window. I looked for a spot to hide myself from the world and drown in words.

I hurried past the front and found the “Classics” section. I was inspired by an American Literature book given to me by my Dad’s sister. She wrote in the book, “Maybe this will be of more use to you than me.” She had worked as a librarian, but she gave me the greatest gift anyone could give me, a book. I used it to read short stories of “classic” authors and to determine if I liked their work enough to read an entire book. I took Hemingway home with me.

To Have and Have Not

Harry Morgan sets off on his first dangerous adventure from Cuba after his fishing reel breaks and he needs a way to make fast cash. He agrees to carry a group of Chinese men for good money. Once he receives the money, he kills the men’s leader. Later he is caught carrying liquor, and his boat is taken away in the time of Prohibition. His financial troubles lead him to carry a group of Revolutionaries—that stole from a bank for their cause—back to Cuba.

The book takes place during tough economic times. Hemingway examines how far one man is willing to go to support his wife and three daughters. I never felt sorry for Morgan, but I pitied his daughters. Neither Morgan nor his wife cared much for them. He is a hard and harsh man. Morgan, in my opinion, thinks he can do what he needs to do by himself.

Instead of a novel, the book reads more like a series of connected short stories. In the third part of the book Hemingway focuses on events at a bar. It includes the break-up of a marriage, and how she leaves him for another man, none of which is related to Morgan. He writes a series of characterizations of people on their yachts before the reader learns Harry Morgan’s fate. While I found some of the characters and their descriptions interesting, I could not label the book a complete novel.

I read To Have and Have Not when I challenged myself to read four other books. I read it on the same nights as Pride and Prejudice just to have something lighter to go with it. At some points, reading Hemingway’s work felt like a bad hangover when you say, “I’m never going to drink again.”

It is not a bad book. It is a masculine driven and a look at the realities of the time.

“Plenty in this town with their bellies hollering right now. But they’d never make a move. They’d starve a little every day. They started starving when they were born; some of them.”

Do not expect Morgan to have much remorse or pity for those who try to make an honest living. If you are politically correct, I would not recommend the book. If you want a challenge of classics, go for it.

How Place Shapes Us

Words and Photos by Rebecca T. Dickinson

Most people want to belong somewhere, and others never find a place to call their home. The never ending train, plane and car saga is their place. Just as characters are shaped by people who influence writers, for better or worse, land or cityscapes shape us.

I cannot thank blogger and writer, Aly Hughes, enough for her kind words about my earlier post, When Location Should Matter, in her own, Violet of the Palouse. She wrote beautiful prose and description. I decided to write a follow-up to When Location Should Matter.

If we let a sunset—like Kathryn Dawson’s work in Day Forty-Three: Sunsets & Trees—touch us, we discover the inspiration to create a character that is shaped by the land.

Every character in my book, Sons of the Edisto, and the collection of stories, Red Loam (connected to the book), owes a part of his or her character to the city or landscape. Bootlegger, farmer or wealthy son of a bookkeeper all owe something to their surroundings.

I’ve been hesitant to share anything from my book, its stories and prescript. However, the prelude poem below from the beginning of Red Loam shows exactly what I mean better than my own words.

From Red Loam

There was nothing but sand and clay there when I was born.

When time is done, there’ll be nothing but sand and clay.

Those of us born here come from that same place.

Folk say God scooped Him up some mud out of nowhere and made Adam.

That may be, but it ain’t how Bamberg folk were made.

The rich, poor, Indian, black and white were all formed from the same red loam,

and mixed and molded with the Edisto and Salkehatchie waters.

There weren’t no breath of God blown into us.

It was fire—

enough to burn down all the trees and scorch our swamps.

Cotton, tobacco and wheat rose up from that same red loam.

In the end, we all go back to the soil we claim as our own.

It owns us; all of us,

but teachers, politikers and preachers ain’t going to tell you that.

The land we fight for, pay for, and farm is patient.

It knows we belong to it.

© R.T. Dickinson, 2006-2012. Sons of the Edisto and Red Loam. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of Love in the Spring

Words and Photos by Rebecca T. Dickinson

According to legend, spring is the season to fall in love. Everything blooms and babies are born.

In the spring of 2007, I remember thinking every animal was on schedule with the births of their babies. A duck, followed by her ducklings, crossed a walking path in April and early May. Baby rabbits hopped close to a tree or their mothers. Ah, spring the season of love.

At least spring is sometimes a season in which some writers let their characters fall in love. When Elizabeth Bennet realizes her feelings for Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, the season is spring.

Do not let the spring and its legends of romance and in literature fool you.

Last week felt like spring with temperatures in the upper sixties and low seventies. Flowers started to bloom in some places. They do not have a time clock to tell them: It’s still winter.

Strange thoughts occur to me when I’m outside. My mind wonders everywhere. No fence surrounds the loose, inner-wonders of my brain. I enjoy thinking about how characters’ relationships form and friendships in my stories and other books.

From where did the idea of spring as the season to fall in love originate? Is it from the great writers, or does it stem from the fact so many beautiful things happen in the season—even in a winter that pretends it’s a temporary time for growth?

In a book as dark as The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery by D.E. Johnson, a great—but dark—book, Will Anderson remembers falling in love with his former fiancé.

“Five years had passed since we fell in love. Though we had been seventeen, impossibly young, our love was destined, it seemed. But it was gone in an instant, an instant that destroyed both of our lives” (The Detroit Electric Scheme, p. 86).

A Tangled Mess

Realities of love in relationships can create a dark or tangled jungle. If characters always reflected the married life of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, a story or life would become boring. Not everyone wants the opposite end with separated fiancés, Will Anderson and Elizabeth Hume.

Relationships with depth, and often loss, attract my pen. It wants to scribble beyond the bright colors spring offers. In Sons of the Edisto, my main character, Owen Alston, struggles to understand what he feels for Aurelia Jean. She, however, is ready at one point to tell him she loves him. It is not the first thing on his mind.

Sometimes Love is …

An autumn night throwing a football with a college sweetheart.

Looking at stars and how much larger they are in an open, Georgia sky.

An hour of listening to Garth Brooks and Alabama in the car before you tell your boyfriend you want something else.

The understanding a boy has a girlfriend, who yells just as loud as all the other boys at a South Carolina football game.

Learning the art of how to say goodbye;

the knowledge to know when to let go;

and the heart’s secret that some loves last without words, rings, or ever seeing the other again.

How to Let Go of I Can’t

The Little Engine That Could echoes in my mind. I read it to my son, and I wonder if the I-think-I-cans will end before I run out of breath.

As a child, my parents and friends’ parents read the same book, especially if one of us said those famous words, “I can’t do it.”

I came across a third grade student in one of the classes in which I was a substitute. The class had to write a fourth line for a poetry rhyme pattern. He asked for my help. The student whispered and mumbled, and I could not understand anything except, “I can’t, I can’t. It’s not good.”

Those words from any child of my son’s age, one, to eighteen tugs my heart. I went around the room to help other children, many of whom struggled on the same part of the worksheet. The student sat there pulling his wheat colored hair.

Long ago I was at the same kind of desk.

A little girl with blonde hair, soon to turn brown, looked outside. Her first elementary school sat on a hill. She looked down it, to the track, and the playground off to the side. A row of trees hid a barbwire fence guarding a farm, and the place where she would later kiss her third grade boyfriend.

The little girl in that desk did not complete her worksheets. She wanted to play outside. Maybe write something with the words she already had in her vocabulary bank. She probably could finish Mrs. Rewis’ worksheets, but she never did until they put her on medication to help her focus. Soon she completed the worksheets handed out every day.

When I convinced the student to show me his work, he made me promise I would not let any of his classmates see it. I curled the worksheet just enough so no one else could read. I smiled and my heart melted. In front of me sat a boy who was eight going on thirty. In respect of his work, I will not share what he wrote. It was a line that might have caused other boys to pick on him. With a smile on his face from my approval, he completed the rest of the worksheet.

Courage, as a writer of any age, is difficult to acquire. I still have trouble with it whether I write an article, new chapter, edit, or stand in front of a classroom and teach a lesson. Somewhere I see the child who is like me.

Please share your earliest memories of something that scared you as a student or child.