In the sticky-hot summer of 1968, a year in American history marked by assassinations, Vietnam War protests, and civil rights rioting, Alice faces some trying concerns of her own. Alice longs for a connection with her mother, who is beautiful but distant, caught up in the search for a husband who will help erase the memory of Alice's father. Alice's friendship with Bridget, a tennis-playing Twiggy, introduces her to competitiveness and the shallow pettiness of spoiled rich girls, as as well as to the prejudice that many Americans still feel toward black people.
It is Alice's friendship with Doc, the family gardener and handyman, that continually brings her back to the truths that will shape the decsions in her life. Doc reminds Alice that life is about "passing the test" -- doing what's right.
Flying South celebrates a young girl's coming-of-age in a delicate, moving narrative that sings with the understated, yet resonate, pleasures of life in the American South.
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About the Author
Laura Malone Elliott is the author of Under a War-Torn Sky, a NCSS/CBC Notable Book in Social Studies, a Jefferson Cup Honor Book, and winner of the Borders' Original Voices Award, and its sequel, A Troubled Peace, also a NCSS/CBC Notable; Annie, Between the States, an IRA Teacher's Choice and NYPL Book for the Teen Age; Give Me Liberty; and Flying South, a Bank Street College Best Children's Book. She lives in Virginia with her family.
Read an Excerpt
By Laura Elliott
Harper Collins PublishersCopyright © 2003 Laura Elliott All right reserved. ISBN: 0060012145
Never forget whose grandchild you are
Never forget whose grandchild you are
It was nasty hot early on last summer, the summer of 1968. As early as June, houses hummed and rattled with the constant whrrrr of window fans. The air stayed thick and humid well past sundown. it was suffocating, like spending the entire day in a steamy bathroom. Such weather makes people ornery. Doc and I got into a lot of arguments.
Our first squabble came right after school closed. The sun was already too mean for children to roll around in the yard, so I was hanging on the screen door of the back porch, watching the mockingbird divebomb our cat and waiting for Doc to come up from the garden for lunch. The screen had a soft, easy bow from years of my leaning against it. I was pushing my nose into it, to print a grid into my skin, and tasting the screen's rust with my tongue when Doc walked up through the boxwood.
"Alice, what do you think you're doing?" he snapped.
I hadn't stopped when I saw him coming. I would have stopped immediately had I seen Mama. But Doc was one of those remarkable grown-ups who respected a child's experimentation. Usually, he would have asked me what the screen tasted like. I would have answered that it tasted like cold metal with a bite.
Instead, I muttered, "Nothin'." Istepped back from the screen and opened it for him. It thwacked closed behind us.
"Don't you realize you could get tetanus from doing that? What if you cut your tongue on the wire?" He eased himself onto the whitewashed wooden bench by the kitchen table and pulled off his sweat-soaked straw hat.
"What's tenatus?" I asked.
"Tetanus. A terrible infection that can lock your jaws together and give you convulsions and make your nose fall off
I fell silent and tried to rub the screen imprint from my nose. Doc knew about these things. During World War 1, when he was a teenager, he had run off to fight in France. When the army discovered he was only sixteen years old, it put him to work in field hospitals away from the trenches and the battles. He learned a lot about infections and medicine. That's where his nickname, Doc, came from.
I was about to ask if he'd ever had tetanus when, Edna announced that lunch was ready. Edna was the lady who took care of Mama and me. She fixed our meals and kept my dresses ironed just the way I could stand them, with only a hint of starch. During the summer, she cooked lunch for Doc and me. Today, she put down bowls of chicken salad, kale, and beets. Doc had grown the vegetables in our garden. She whispered to him as she leaned over the table, "You really shouldn't tease her, Mr. McKenzie. She's just a baby, you know"
Edna sat down on the bench beside me. She smelled sweet, of vanilla and talcum powder. We all bowed our heads in silent prayer. I wished they'd say grace out loud because I never knew what to say when it was left up to me. This time, though, I asked God to keep my jaws fro In' locking together.
When Doc lifted his head, he glared at me. He didn't like getting into trouble with Edna.
Doc and Edna went way back. They had worked for my grandmother for decades. Edna had run the house while my grandmother ran the garden club and the local chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution and the volunteer library league. Doc kept the gardens fruitful during the Depression. My mother had kind of inherited the responsibility for Doc and Edna, just like she had inherited our family farm deep in Virginia's .president country," the green lands rolling just east of Charlottesville, around the homes of presidents Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison.
Mama had a weird relationship with Doc and Edna. Sometimes she listened to them carefully and gratefully, like they were parents. Other times she bossed, Edna and Doc around, politely enough, I guess. Either way, she didn't seem comfortable with her role, like she had on a hand-me-down coat that itched her all over.
'Take the week before, when Bobby Kennedy had died. He was leaving a party celebrating his winning the California primary when someone walked up and shot him in the head. It was beginning to feel like anyone who talked about peace or getting along with others was going to get killed. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. They'd gunned him down in April. It was really frightening. I know I wanted all the company I could get during Bobby Kennedy's funeral. But Mama had sat, all quiet and stiff like, in the living room, watching the television news cover the service. Edna stayed in the kitchen, tuned to the radio, crying while she dried the dishes. I couldn't understand why they didn't listen to the reports together; they both seemed so sad.
Doc interrupted my ruminating.
"She should know better, Edna," Doc said as he plopped a hunk of butter onto his steaming-hot kale. It made a pretty, little pool of gold in the leafy emerald greens.
He turned to me. "What would. your grandmother have said if she had seen you looking like poor white trash, swinging on the door with your tongue hanging out? Don't ever forget whose grandchild you are. Miss Margaret was a great lady."
"Yes, sir." My goodness, he was crotchety. I didn't like it. When I was real little, my daddy had crashed and died while test-piloting a jet plane for the air force. The only thing I remember about him is a big grin and the smell of pipe tobacco. Mama spent most of her time on the tennis court now. It was important that Doc and Edna like me. Very important. I tried an old trick.
"Doc, why do birds fly south for the winter?"
Doc glanced at Edna and smiled. I had asked him this riddle at least a dozen times since I had heard it. I sup-pose he knew it was my way of trying to smooth him out.
"I don't know, Alice." His voice had gentled and his eyes smiled. "Why?"
"Because it's too far to walk."
"Hah-hah-hah-hah." Doc's old dentures slurp-slapped against his gums as he laughed.
Excerpted from Flying South by Laura Elliott
Copyright © 2003 by Laura Elliott
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.