Dear Hank Williams
Go back in time to 1948. The war has been over a few years; the
emotions related to it are still going strong. The fear of Communism
that will culminate in the McCarthy witch hunts and Margeret Chase
Smith's Declaration of Conscience has begun to rear its ugly head.
Post war prosperity is not makIng much of an inroad into the rural
South. In the small town of Rippling, Creek, Louisiana Tate P.
Ellerbee is finding life, "...predictable, predictable, predictable."
When the school year starts Tate is very excited about a year
long penpal project. Most of the kids choose relatives to write to.
A couple let their teacher pair them up with peers in Japan. Tate
decides that she is going to correspond with country singer Hank
Williams whom she listens to every week on a radio, Louisiana
Hayride. The text consists of a school year's worth of her epistles.
Tate introduces herself to her potential pen pal as her teacher
instructs. She and little brother, Frog, live with their uncle and
great aunt. Her father is a famous photographer, always away on
assignment. Her mother is a movie star on location. (Tate is
planning to follow in her footsteps, starting with winning the
Rippling Creek May Festival Talent Contest, despite her piano
teacher's admonition that some voices are not meant to be heard).
Only as Tate records the joys and tribulations of her daily life
you learn that she hasn't exactly been honest in her self
presentation. Dad isn't off on assignment in exotic locales. He's
been kicked out of the clan. At breakfast one day her uncle tells
her, "Tate, your daddy was't a bad boy in the breaking-the-law sort of
way. Let's just say he was a tomcat." When Tate asks for
clarification her great aunt explains, "It meant he went a-creeping
and a-crawling where he shouldn't have been."
And that's why her mom tossed him out on his ear. But Mom is no
angel. True she is singing professionally, but about as far from
Hollywood as you can get without crossing an ocean.
The third untruth is even more poignant than the first two put
Dear Hank Williams is a poignant yet joyful coming-of-age story,
quite useful for helping kids understand the vulnerability of students
who try to protect themselves from being judged by society on matters
that aren't their fault. It is amazing how many children have a
parent in prison or sleep in shelters or cars.
On a personal note, back in my younger days I became a babysitter for
two children whose dad was in the hospital. Then one day their mom
told me not to read the newspaper for awhile, which I wouldn't have
done except for her telling me not to. The dad, a former police
officer, had shot his lover and the man he saw her in bed with with
his service revolver. I babysat those kids three years despite people
warning me not to. It wasn't exactly their fault.
A great big shout out goes out to people who reach out to kids who are
in tenuous situations through no fault of their own.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod