Passing By Samariaby Sharon Ewell Foster
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When the discovery of a schoolmate's lynched body puts her own life in jeopardy, Alena is sent by her parents from her beloved Mississippi home. With thousands of other African-Americans, Alena begins making her way north to the Promised Land of turn-of-the-century Chicago. On the way she meets two men who will dramatically impact her life: James, a young African-American believer determined to establish a newspaper in Chicago, and Pearl, a man with questionable intentions. A stirring novel by an exciting new writer, Passing by Samaria beautifully shows readers the path to truth, purpose, reconciliation, and joy.
- The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
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- 5.19(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.81(d)
Read an Excerpt
In the spring in Mississippi there were perfect days. They were storybook days.
Gentle breezes stirred the magnolia blossoms. Their sweet fragrance hung in the air almost palatable, almost tangible. The same sweetened breezes tickled the undersides of cotton plant leaves and found their way to the collard green leaves on the girl's father's small farm.
The soil was fertile and the grass so green it looked painted, like someone's memory, someone's image of grass. Plants grew ripe and lush as the land Alena's father owned. Her daddy's farm sustained her family. Alena was never hungry. What he grew was fruitful, green, and tidy.
The fruits of her father's laborsweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes, watermelons, greens, okra, squash, green beans, field peasfed Alena; her father, Amos; her mother, Evelyn; and many others that lived near them.
They were good people living in the midst of good land. Alena was nourished and was grown strong on the farm in the shelter of her parents' love. Her skin glowed with love and happiness.
"We are blessed," Alena's mother told her all her young life. "God has given us much, and He expects much from us. We got to strive to do our part."
Sitting on the porch, just home from school, Alena remembered many young days walking proudly beside her mother, entrusted with carrying bright yellow summer squash to old Mrs. Johnson or someone like her. Alena also remembered being just as happy to eat pear preserves, supplied by some neighbor, off a spoon extended byher mother's warm brown hand.
Now, at eighteen, Alena dangled her long, brown legs over the porch, running her toes through grass soft as carpet, carpet that met the weathered wood of her porch. Alena's black, button-up shoes sat beside her. Many of her friends didn't have everyday shoes to wear. She was grateful for them, but she was happy to take them off and feel the cool grass on her feet.
While Alena sat studying, daydreaming, studying, her eyes looked out over the field to see her father driving his mule through the fertile rows. Her father was a good man, full of wisdom and courage.
Alena looked at the spot next to her where J. C. normally would have been. Where was her friend by now?
"You visit my mama," J. C. had made her promise over a year ago. "She's gonna be lonely for me. She might try to act like she all right, but she gonna be lonely."
Alena had promised her friend that she would visit. "Don't put it off, Alena," he had pressed her further. They had ended the conversation laughing and tussling, just like when they were kids. But J. C. was the first to notice they weren't kids anymore. He had gone north to join the war effort.
"This'll be the war to end all wars. Once we able to prove ourselves, prove the colored man, the Race, is willing to fight and die for our country, I know things gone change." Then things would be wide open with opportunities for a man like him, he had said, echoing the words of men from other generations.
Alena's mind moved back to a time when she and J. C. were six, maybe seven or eight, out by the pond looking for tadpoles. She could still remember J. C.'s feet covered with mud, his second toe on each foot longer than the big toes.
"I got one, J. C. I got one!" She could remember the smell of new spring in-the-air, "It's a baby frog." So little it was. So hard to believe a frog could be so smallfully formed, but so tiny. "I'm gone take him home, J. C. I'm gonna put him in a jar and keep him."
"Girl, that frog'll be dead before you know it. You can't keep nothing that small, can't keep it from its home and 'spect it to live."
She looked at J. C. He always had a look in his eye like an old man, like he knew better than all the other kids, even when he was playing. "I don't care what you say, J. C.," she defied him.
"Okay, Alena, but he gone die. That's for sure. How you feel if somebody take you from your mama and daddy while you little? 'Fore you can take care of yourself?" He even seemed to think like an old man.
Alena could feel her lip trembling. Cool wind blew over mossy water and tugged at the ribbons on her plaits. She hated when she looked like a baby in front of J. C., but she hated the idea of being away from home, from her mother and father, even more. She rubbed one stubby, nail-bitten finger gently over the frog's back. She wanted it, hurt to give it up ... but she knew J. C. was right, like always.
"You doin' the right thing, Lena," he said, calling her by the nickname he only used when they were by themselves. J. C. consoled her as she gently lay the bitty creature on a stick floating near the place where she'd plucked it from the water. She knew J. C. was right, but for the moment it would have felt real good to punch, or at least pinch, her best friend.
Still she missed him. They had started school together, been baptized together, sat next to each other every Sunday in church. The old people said they would marry someday.
Where is he now, she thought. Alena's hand rubbed the spot on the rough wood where her friend regularly sat.
Alena stood to stretch. She was taller than all the girls at her school, taller than most of the boys. As she stood, her skirt fell to just above her ankles. Alena smoothed her hands down her body to straighten her blouse and skirt. She was sturdy and well built, but her movements were grace, dignity, and femininity.
"You hear any word from J. C.?" Alena's mother called to her, as if she had read the girl's mind. Her mother's words, and the smells that came through the front porch screen door, pulled Alena from her thoughts.
"No, Mama. No word. I went by to see his mama though. She sure does miss him."
"Well, I just got some newspaper clips from your aunt talking about our boys coming home from the front. Coming home from France with medals and everything. Can you believe it? Just make me so proud. It just made me think about J. C. and how brave he was, volunteering and all. Seem like he ought to be coming home soon, too. I sure do miss that boy."
"Would you miss me if I was gone, Mama? If I wasn't here to go with you on your missionary visits? Would you, Mama?"
"Miss you?" her mama teased. "Why things might go a little faster. For sure I would come home with more preserves or cake, whatever the people give me. That's for sure."
"You know I'm just playing, baby. You know Mama would be heartbroken without her chocolate baby."
Alena smiled at her mother. Love mixed with pride. Today, Tuesday, was the day her mama always went to help the older widows in the community. Her mother had already cooked two dinners and cleaned three different homes while out doing her church service.
Mama turned her back and continued to hum, sometimes singing, while she cooked for the three of them. The smell of candied yams made Alena's mouth water and her stomach rumble.
She smiled at her mother and stood in the confidence of her parents' love. She was their pride and joy. When other children her age were working in the field to help support their families, her mama and daddy sacrificedAlena was spared, still in school.
Alena loved her family, the farm, her life. Let nothing ever take me from here, she prayed silently to God.
"We want you to have more than we had," her mother told her as they sat down to supper. One could almost touch the love Alena's mother smiled at her.
She could feel her mother watching as she pushed back the hair that always fought to fall into her face. Her mama smiled at her. It was the same hair; they had the same hair. Deep brown-black with sunlit cherry highlights. Hair that could not decide if it was kinky or curly. Cotton candy hair. Alena could imagine what her mother was thinking. She knew the smiles; they had talked about it over and over again.
Alena's annoyance with her hair always made her mother smile in just the way she was smiling now. Their hair wouldn't lay flat like hair that had been pressed into submission with a hot-iron straightening comb. It was not tame like hair that had had the curl chemically relaxed by one of Madame C. J. Walker's potions.
Alena's hair did not respond as fashion dictated, but her hair was beautiful. It was beautiful, it was bountiful.
"Um-um-um, that chile got a head of hair!" Alena had often heard people comment. Men and women found themselves compelled to acknowledge that, even beyond fashion's rules, Alena's hair was beautiful.
Now she watched her mama touch her own hair, smiling. In time, Alena knew her mother was thinking. She had heard her mother say often enough, In time you'll be grateful for its glory. Beautiful, bountiful.
"I can feed you all," her father, unaware, interrupted the silent hair fight. "I can feed other people. But you, you got a gift, baby. You can read and write in a way that can make people whole. Me and your mama, we make do, but you can find the truth where other people can't. You can write. You can write about the truth. You got a duty to tell and write about the truth, and you know what I always tell you"
"The truth will make you free!" Alena forgot about her hair, and she and her mother joined in laughing across the table.
Alena saw her father look across the table at the wife of his youth, then her gaze met with her father's. The girl had heard him, late in the night, telling her mama how his daughter's laughter, still like a child's, wrapped around, enfolded, renewed his heart. How, when he was plowing the last row and tiredness would bid him stop, the memory of Alena's laughter moved him to push beyond his arm's strength.
"My baby's laughter and my baby's eyes," she had overheard him say Said she was in so many ways beautiful like her mothernutmeg brown skin, glorious hairbut her eyes were his mother's eyes, she had heard him whisper to her mother. The same almond shape and peculiar color brown. She had heard the words just before there was a muffled silence.
In her father's eyes Alena saw gentle pridelove at who she had become. Certain, strong, intelligent, his eyes seemed to say. "We got another letter from your Aunt Patrice." Alena turned toward her mother. "She want to know when you going to visit. Patrice say Chicago is a sight to see. And she went on again about that young man, James. He must be something special, being a colored military officer and all. Those articles from the Chicago Defender got his picture all over the front page. I tell you, those are some brave children."
"Mama, they're not children."
"I know, baby. You know what I mean, facing bullets, mustard gas, and who knows what else. A lot of them ain't made it back. The paper got pictures of this one unit from Illinois, the Fighting Eighth, they call them. Uniforms, medals, and everything. Colored doughboys.
"James is one of them. Right there in the newspaper on the front page. Let me read it to you." Her mother picked up the February twenty-second edition of the newspaper, an edition that had been passed from hand to hand before it ever reached hers, from a stand near the table.
"The 370th Infantry, the old Eighth Regiment, now known as `The Fighting Devils,' are back home. Monday they carried their colors down Michigan Avenue, bearing flags that `never touched the ground.' These `boys' covered themselves with glory and in their ranks marched 26 who wore Service Crosses and 68 Croix de Guerre. This is a magnificent record, one that Illinois and America might feel proud of, a regiment that was `on the firing line' and `went over the top.' A halo of glory and honor covers every mother's son of them. No regiment of all the allies ever fought braver, without complaint, than these noble sons of Chicago and Illinois. For their heroism, their noble record and daring on the battlefields, all Chicago honored them Monday."
She lay the newspaper on her lap. "Ain't that something? James is a major. I can't hardly believe it. And good looking, too. Seem like they doing all right for theyselves in Chicago." Her mother smiled. "Maybe some place where you could do all right, too."
"Mama." Alena glanced sideways at her father. "I am not leaving here. I'm not leaving you all. I'm staying right here in Mississippi. I can make a home here. I can do good here. I can write here. There's truth for me to tell right here." Alena could feel the cool breeze blow round her heart. It felt like the same breeze from the pond where she and J. C. knelt with the frog.
Sitting to one side of her, her mama took her hand. "Such a pretty girl."
"Oh, Mama." Alena looked back with love to her mother across the dinner table. In between them, on the table, her plate was full: yams, biscuits, chicken, and greens. Alena loved to eat. The only item she refused was okra. She always eyed it with something between disgust and suspicion. How could something so slimy taste good?
Even worse, she knew the icky, gooey pot the okra was boiled in would be waiting for her when she washed dishes after dinner. The family always began dinner with grace and finished with Alena washing dishes in water heated on their woodstove.
If only the dishes and pots would disappear. But that thought was not enough to ruin the sweet taste of the yams or the buttery softness of the biscuits as they passed over Alena's tongue.
"Mama, we're going to save what's left for Cottonball, right?"
"Girl, you and that dog. That dog is just wild. I don't know what he would be eatin' if it wasn't for you."
"I 'spect he thinks he's her dog," Alena's daddy teased her. "Dog so wild you can't even hardly tell he used to be white."
"All right, Alena," Mama answered. "Why should this day be different than any other day." More like a statement than a question. "Just make sure you don't starve yourself trying to make sure Cottonball gets enough to eat."
"Cottonball, hmph," her daddy went on. "Don't look like no cottonball I ever seen."
After dinner, Alena washed dishes. In the background, her parents read and shared sports news reported in the weekly newspaper.
"This basketball is good enough, but ain't nothing like baseball. No, sir. Lincoln Giants, Philadelphia Hilldale Club, Tate's Stars. I love that baseball. We gone have to write to Patrice and tell her to clip the Tribune so we can follow the White Sox, too."
Life was good. God provided all of their needs. "God, let me never leave," Alena whispered again in almost silent prayer. "I will never leave," she vowed to herself.
Finding the body changed everything.
What People are saying about this
(Robert Benson, author of Living Prayer and Between the Dreaming and the Coming True)
(Barbara A. Reynolds, President, Reynolds News Service; author, radio talkshow/television news commentator, syndicated columnist)
(Kweisi Mfume, President and C.E.O., NAACP)
(Diane Noble, awardwinning author of Distant Bells)
(Liz Curtis Higgs, author of Bad Girls of the Bible, Mixed Signals, and Bookends)
Meet the Author
Sharon Ewell Foster is a single mother of two, a former Defense Department employee, and an expert trainer and public speaker, making her home in Maryland. She also writes devotionals for Daily Guideposts and for the soon-to-be-released Women of Color Devotional Bible.
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Thought provoking read!
Heart wrenching, inspiring, enlightening, fast paced and deeply satisfying. Highly recommend!
This novel, Passing by Samaria was actually exciting and sad at the same time I was reading this book for class and i thought, at first, that Passing by Samaria was going to one boring book. The book said everything to me. It was dull and plain looking. But never judge a book by its cover because i actually liked this book. it was amazing once i got into the fourth or fifth chapter i was hooked. Which may be the only reason it took me longer that usall. The start didn pull me in, I though it would be some girl with her family and their life story. but the plot was amazing it was set deep in the south during the 1900s. I am 18 years old; I have only been told how bad racism was by word or mouth. But the descriptions that ms foster gives, are indeed incredible. The book talk's a lot of God, which i really have not seen books based on the bible but it made me realize that God does great thing in a matter of seconds. I thought that he was going to kill that little girl and I was shocked at what happened next. I was in tears once I flipped the page over.I don't want to ruin the story for you but this book is enjoyable. I hardly read a book unless it is purely entertaining and Passing by Samaria is nothing less that that. Therefore, anyone that wants to sit back in their beds and read a book that will have you up for hours, then this is the book for you.
This is a terrific 'coming of age' novel and wrestles with the very issues my 2 daughters (16 & 17) are struggling with. I enjoy ALL of Sharon's writing (Daily Guideposts too!!!!).
One of the most enjoyable books Ive read in a very long time. A Beautifully written uplifting historic novel. The author has a strong grasp on the true meaning of Christianity, offering a story of love and hope for all people.
I could hardly put this book down. The descriptions read like poetry; the characters are 'real people'--you can find someone in your circle of acquaintances who has been recreated in this novel; the suspense is real. The theme--the Samarias we all pass through--haunts us if we come to grips with the 'different' people we all encounter.
This is the best book I've read in a long time. I never knew a Christian novel could be so captivating. I couldn't put this book down. I can't wait for Ms. Foster's next novel. Truly inspiring!