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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book excerpt: SOUTH BY SOUTHEAST: A Tennyson Hardwick Novel (Sept. 18th)

ALL ACTORS DREAM of a meeting that will change our lives forever, but I didn’t dare hope that Gustavo Escobar would be mine.  Even my agent had no idea why Escobar had called me. Escobar was an Oscar-nominated director on a hot streak, and I was lucky to have a job playing a corrupt lawyer on one of the last surviving soap operas. 
After twenty years in the industry, I no longer believed in the Big Bang.  My microscopic part in a respected film set during the Harlem Renaissance, Lenox Avenue, hadn’t done much for my career.  And the last two Hollywood heavy hitters who had contacted me—both women—craved skills that had nothing to do with my acting.  Let’s just say I was wary of calls from powerful strangers. 
So when Escobar hadn’t shown up by nine o’clock for our eight-thirty dinner meeting, I was sorry I had agreed to meet him without more questions.  Once again, the joke was on me.
           But it was hard to nurse a bad mood inside La Habana.
La Habana was L.A.’s new ethnic restaurant du jour, modeled after a 1930s Cuban supper club.  That night, a full orchestra played a rousing rumba against colorful walls splashed with artificially aged murals of palm trees and revelers in old-fashioned Cuban dress.  Black-and-white footage of bandleaders Beny Moré and Aresenio Rodríguez flickered on overhead screens.  At least I would have an excuse to call my former girlfriend, April; I was glad for any new novelties to bring us together.
I was pulling out my phone to give my agent the bad news when a hand rested on my shoulder.  “Lo siento,” a man said.  “Sorry, I’m on Cuban Time.  Gus Escobar.”
I started to stand, but his firm hand on my shoulder told me not to bother.  Instead, Escobar sat across from me with a wide smile, sweeping off his white fedora. 
I was surprised to note from his short-trimmed graying hair that Escobar was probably in his fifties, long past the norm for an overnight success in Hollywood.  He had a slightly rounded midsection, but he carried himself fluidly, like a man who was fit and comfortable in his own skin.   His round, thick-frame black eyeglasses were prominent, more fashion than function.   His skin had only a whisper of a suntan, so I wouldn’t have guessed his Latino heritage if I hadn’t known.  His accent was as much Brooklyn as Havana.
“I lived in New York too long,” he said.  “I never get used to the traffic.”
“No problem,” I said with my trademark grin.  “Just glad to meet you, Mr. Escobar.”
“No, no, please, it’s Gus. You have to try the Bucanero beer.  They keep extras on ice for me.  Oye, Ramon!”  He signaled for the waiter with two fingers.   
Like a lot of Hollywood types, Escobar was broadcasting himself at full wattage, creating a character, but I liked him.  Rather than focusing on himself, he pulled his chair closer and gave me his attention as if I had summoned him. “You’re kind to make time for me on short notice,” he said.  “I’m such an admirer.  I saw Lenox Avenue, and you stole the scene.  But Sofia Maitlin and I are distant cousins, did you know?  She’s told me so many good things.  She said you’ve never gotten full credit, but you’re a hero.” 
Here it comes, I thought, my grin turning to concrete.  A year before, I’d helped an A-list actress save her adopted South African daughter from a kidnapping ring.  I’d forgotten that Maitlin shared Escobar’s Cuban lineage on her mother’s side.  I was sure Escobar was about to offer me a job as a bodyguard, and I wasn’t interested.
But I was wrong.  Escobar reached into his aged leather satchel and pulled out a script, which he nudged my way on the table.  The title showed through the plastic sleeve: Freaknik.
“For your eyes only,” Escobar said.  “I have a beautiful part for you.  We start shooting in Miami this fall.”  Then he waited for my response as if his livelihood depended on my answer. 
The floor seemed to shift beneath my feet.  I was glad the beer had arrived, because I needed a swig of moisture against my dry throat.   I didn’t want to look as shocked as I felt. 
“Good, no?” Escobar said, meaning the beer.
I wouldn’t know.  I hadn’t tasted anything.  My mind was still stuck on Escobar saying he had a part for me.
Three months before, Escobar had been featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly during the Oscar campaign for his last film, Nuestro Tío Fidel, his arty biopic of Fidel Castro.  He had lost the Best Director Oscar to Martin Scorsese, but barely.  Len Shemin, my agent, had told me that his entire client list would kill to be in Gustavo Escobar’s next film.  
“Why me?”  Len would have kicked me under the table if he’d been there, but I asked.
Lenox Avenue,” he said.  “The fire in you.  I want that fire for Freaknik.”
I wanted to hear more, but a respected young actor passing our table—I won’t say who—did a Scooby-Doo double take when he saw Escobar.  He barely hid the who the hell are you glance he shot my way before he outstretched his hand to the director.  He gushed at Escobar like a college co-ed meeting the team quarterback.  Escobar was polite and patient while the actor angled for a meeting, but Escobar’s eyes frequently apologized to me for the intrusion.
"Thank you so much, but I..." Escobar began, hinting for privacy.
“Man, I’ve wanted to tell you…” the actor went on.  “I’m blown away by your human portrait of Fidel.  Our government talks shit about him, but you weren’t afraid to show the good he’s done.  You didn’t take the easy road.”
Escobar shrugged.  “Truth is in the eye of the beholder, but gracias.”
The actor excused himself reluctantly, his last gaze toward me full of burning envy.  I gave him a mock salute before he walked away.  Adios, asshole.
I’d watched Nuestro Tio Fidel to prepare for the meeting, but Fidel hadn’t seemed sympathetic to me in the film, which chronicled Fidel’s transformation from a young revolutionary to a frail, paranoid dictator.  Reviewers had compared Fidel’s depiction to Michael Corleone’s journey in The Godfather and The Godfather II.  From what I’d heard, the Cuban exile community in Miami had practically proclaimed Escobar a patron saint.
“Fidel’s good side?” I said.  “Was that what you were trying to show?”
            “No man is only one thing.”  Escobar winked, and I was sure he wasn’t talking about Fidel anymore. “The good and bad are always at war.”    
  My father often told me how his pastor could stare at any congregant and see his story.  That was how I felt sitting across from Escobar that night in La Habana, watching the glow of insight in his eyes.  If he’d talked to Sofia Maitlin about me, he had doubtless spoken to others.  He knew details about my history I’d tried to bury in a deep hole.  He seemed to know I was broken, afraid to dream, that I’d almost talked myself out of meeting him.  
He might even know I had killed a man.  Had Maitlin guessed and told him?
I wanted to say more.  To confide.  To confess.  To explain.     
Escobar nodded, as if I had spoken aloud.   He sighed, and tears suddenly shone in his eyes, erased when he blinked.  “Let me tell you something," he began.  “I lost everything and everyone as a boy.  People ask why I would follow Fidel with a horror movie.  I ask, why not?  Loss is one of the true universal experiences.  Our walking dead follow us.  They know us as their own.”
For the next two hours, while patrons came and went and the orchestra packed up its music, Escobar talked to me about his project.  Freaknik was a zombie movie only on the surface, he said.   “This film, at its heart, is about love and redemption in the face of unspeakable evil," Escobar said, tapping the script.  "The ultimate trial.  Like me, Tennyson, you’ve known trials.  That's why my vision won’t be complete without you.”
April and my father often said everything happens for a reason, but I never believed it until that moment.  My worst experiences had led me to the table with a stranger who was willing to help me build a future in Hollywood.  It wasn’t just the best night of my career; it was one of the best of my life. 
If only I had known what real horror would be waiting in Miami.
All of us are the walking dead.

South by Southeast on sale Sept. 18th.  PRE-ORDER NOW.
           Copyright © 2012 by Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due, and Steven Barnes

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book excerpt: DEVIL'S WAKE (July 31)

Thankfully, Longview's streets weren't stacked with cars and bodies.  Kendra drove past the industrial districts, those smokestacks that no longer belched white, the waterway now clogged with logs that, in saner days, would have gone to the Weyerhauser mill to build houses and make cardboard boxes.  Nothing moved.  Interstate 5 stayed mostly clear too.  Until she'd driven twelve miles down.
            There, just as the skies were growing dark, Kendra's headlights showcased an overturned truck that looked like an oil tanker blocking the road.  Kendra's heart danced with images of gas for life, until she realized it was only a milk truck. 
            Don't get greedy, girl.
            She slowed and decided the embankment was gentle enough to steer around the truck, amazed at how easily she'd adapted to the challenge.  Time was, she would have panicked at the blocked road, but she wasn't the same person she'd been yesterday.  Or even an hour ago.   Kendra pulled off, steering toward the dirt on the driver's side, her only clear passage. 
            Her tires had just left the asphalt when a man stepped out the shadows.  Kendra's eyes focused on him sharply, showing her every detail in her car's harsh light.  He was a big man, with dirty, pale, densely freckled skin.  A wild beard speckled white and black, with bits of yellow trapped inside.  When he grinned, his teeth looked like he'd scribbled on them with yellow crayon.   He'd been living outside.  His hands were behind his back as if she'd interrupted him while he was pacing, deep in thought.
            Or maybe, just maybe, he was a freak.
            Kendra remembered Grandpa Joe's warning never to stop for hitchhikers, and she and the stranger had nothing to talk about.  Without hesitating, she pressed her foot harder on the accelerator to make him think she would run him over rather than stop—and maybe she would.  She didn't know yet.
            That was when he whipped out his shotgun.  From four feet away, the barrel loomed as large and dark as a railroad tunnel.  He'd fire if she accelerated, and was too close to miss.  Heart thundering, Kendra rolled to a stop.  She felt her pulse drumming as her hands grasped the steering wheel, her heartbeat shaking her body. 
            Take your damned chances and drive over him!  Kendra's mind screamed.           
            But she didn't.  Instead, with her trembling hands raised high, she got out of the car.  She hoped she wouldn't lose more than the bicycle.  Maybe he wouldn't see her backpack. 
            "Heard the car from a mile off," the man said.  "Don't see too many cars no more.  And a pretty girl really ought not be out by herself.   Get out—and bring your stuff.  Everybody's got stuff."
            Kendra's legs barely obeyed her.   She didn't like the way he'd called her pretty.  She wished she looked dirtier, too.  But maybe he wouldn't hurt her if she did what he told her to do.  When she reached back into the car for her backpack, he gestured her over sideways, toward the ditch.        
            That was when she saw the freak.  
            The infected man had come down from the I-5, almost directly in line with the car, as if he were purposely concealing himself.  A narrow man in a piss-stained business suit, still wearing a tie askew.  It walked like most freaks, like it was having a slow-motion seizure.  This was an older one, his face scabbed red.  Grandpa Joe said the older, slower ones were slowly starving to death, and would do a lot more than take a single bite.
            Kendra moved around, backing away, so that the man with the gun was between her and the freak.  Had bad luck turned to good luck so soon?  The pirate's attention was on her, so he wasn't paying attention.  She just needed to keep his eyes occupied for another few seconds...
            She summoned a warm-up exercise from a long-forgotten acting class.   Kendra shimmied her hips slightly, as if she were about to do a private dance.  She saw the way the pirate's eyes widened, lips peeling back in a grin, exposing those nasty teeth again.
            "That's more like it, girl," he said, his breathing heavy.   "Show me the goods."
            Kendra slowly leaned over to rest her backpack on the ground, her eyes on the man with the gun.  His eyes roamed over her, and his lip as if she were a steak. 
            Over his shoulder, Kendra saw that the freak had halved the distance between them, within five yards, close enough for her to see how its eyes were foamed crimson with fungus.  Which of them horrified her more?
            The pirate still held the shotgun with one hand, but he tugged on his jeans to unsnap them with the other.
            That's it, you sick bastard.   Keep your eyes on me.
            But he must have heard something—or, more likely, smelled something.  He wheeled around just in time to meet the freak face to face.  Too late to run, barely time to scream.  The pirate managed to get off a single shot before the freak grabbed him, and it went so wild that Kendra ducked.  But not before she saw the freak's teeth tear into his exposed neck. 
            Kendra ran, and as she did saw that there were two more staggering in from the west, and one running from the north.  The runner was dressed like a fry cook, his apron tattered and blood-stained, his eyes filled with red veins.  A fast one! The older freak was a woman, thin now but her clothes were so loose that Kendra guessed that she had once been plus-sized.  Skin hung in diseased folds on her face, and her eyes were clotted red.  They were driving Kendra.  Funneling her toward a kill zone.
            They travel in packs.  They lay traps.  Even as she ran, Kendra struggled to comprehend.  
            No time to jump into the car or grab her backpack.  No time to do anything but flee.  She climbed up the side of the road, toward the rising bank of the I-5, the freak below her now, trying to claw toward her.   She heard a shot, and a scream from behind her.   The scream went on so long that its gurgling echo scarcely seemed human.     
            Kendra's world went gray, nearly white, as the fast freak’s hand clamped on her ankle, dragged her back down the incline a few feet while she kicked, expecting to feel the teeth pierce her skin at any moment.   Kendra screamed like an animal.   At last, a kick made contact.   The freak lost its death-grip and rolled away.  Kendra clambered up to the road and ran. 
            She was running so wildly that she nearly lost her balance, flailing her arms as she crossed I-5's eight lanes to disappear down the other side--the steeper side she hadn't been willing to chance with the car.   Panting hard, she ventured a peek.
            The thing appeared atop the far embankment and lurched like a drunk, trying to figure out which way she'd gone, and could not.  It lost focus and staggered north.          
            Sobbing, Kendra curled into a ball behind a pine tree.  She had lost everything.  One piece at a time her fragile world had been dismantled, the pieces ripped from her hands.   She had lost her backpack, her bicycle, her rifle, the car.  Her mother.  Her father.  Her grandpa.  Everything and everyone.  How had she been deluded enough to feel anything remotely resembling joy just yesterday?
            She'd been a fool to dream of living.
            Might as well just stay here, curl up in the dark.  Wait to die.        
            Then...she heard the engine.  Just a groan at first, something that might almost have been mistaken for wind in the trees.  Then a blue truck appeared on, a bus.   Some kind of school bus, a wedge-shaped snow plow mounted on the front. 
            The bus slowed, pulled off along the road the way she had, its lights suddenly so bright that she could only see its hazy outline.  Kendra hadn't moved, was pinioned directly in its headlights. 
            Kendra felt no fear.  No curiosity.  In fact, nothing at all.   Exhaustion and   terror had congealed into a kind of quiet courage.    She only held up one arm to shield her eyes from the bright light.
            The bus stopped with a tremendous squeal of brakes, and a smell of burnt rubber.  The door opened, and she was able to look in past the stairwell to the driver's seat.  The bus driver was just a boy, only a year or two older than she was.  
            He wasn't dirty.  He didn't have a gun.  He had an angel's face with dark, curly hair and bright eyes.  Behind him, she saw others on the bus: a pale girl with long black hair with a single streak of white.  A narrow face, cradling a rifle in her sinewy arms.  One guy standing next to her, tall, thick-chested, darker than Kendra, a toothpick in the corner of his mouth and his lips curled in a lazy smile.  A dog stood at the top of the stairwell, some kind of Lab mix, eyeing her suspiciously. 
            The driver's eyes were wide, intelligent and kind.  So kind.
            They were, he was, the most beautiful sight Kendra had ever seen.
            He smiled at her.  "Need a ride?" 
           © 2012 by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due.  Devil's Wake. Atria Books (July 31)


Library Journal on Devil's Wake:  "The husband-and wife writing team of [Steven] Barnes and [Tananarive] Due puts a fresh spin on the zombie plague motif by hinting at an extraterrestrial origin of the phenomenon.  Verdict: Gruesome but not overly graphic, this tale of young people struggling to remain human--and humane--in a post-apocalyptic near future features top-notch storytelling and believable characters." 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Devil's Wake (VIDEO trailer): bringing our "zombies" to life

           The first zombie movie I remember seeing was George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, probably when I was in high school—and I was mesmerized by its iconic shopping mall gore and mayhem.  My mother raised me on the old Universal horror movies like The Wolfman, which were scary, but Dawn of the Dead was jaw-droppingly shocking.  I was hooked on zombies.  

Like millions of other television viewers, I’m looking forward to the new season of The Walking Dead on AMC—although the show’s premise is achingly similar to a television series my husband and collaborator Steven Barnes and I pitched years ago called Devil’s Wake.  

Our original concept was simple: life in a small town after an infection creates creatures very much like the walking dead.  We wanted to tackle issues like how to rebuild society once it breaks down, and how we create family after losing our loved ones.

Our pitch didn’t fly.  CBS was in the midst of developing a new show called Jericho, which was too similar to our concept, substituting a nuclear event for a zombie outbreak. 

Oh, well.  But Steve and I had published a short story set in the world of Devil’s Wake, “Danger Word,” in an anthology compiled by Brandon Massey called Dark Dreams—recently reprinted in Living Dead 2. We always intended to expand our concept into a novel. 

We got our chance with editor Malaika Adero at Atria Books, but with one change—instead of focusing on the adults, we wrote a YA/crossover novel with teenagers seeking safety on a disaster-ridden road trip in a rickety school bus.  Devil’s Wake is the first in a series of novels, fulfilling our dream of bringing our zombie world to life.  

Atria Books--July 31st 
Our novel never mentions the word “zombie,” but Booklist says we got it right:   “Zombie lovers won’t be able to put down Barnes’ [and Due’s] gripping yarn, which will leave them hungry for the next installment.”

Why do we love zombies so much?  Maybe it’s our fear of our inevitable mortality, or fear of chaos and war.  In the zombie culture, more than a few survivalists live as if they truly do believe the Zombie Apocalypse is only days away.

The Walking Dead won’t be back until the fall, but Devil’s Wake will be published July 31stUntil then, you can follow news from the zombiesphere with the “Devil’s Wake Survivors’ Daily” on Twitter—just follow @ZombiesFreak.  

Soon, I’ll post an excerpt from the book here.

For now, we have shot this book trailer to give you a taste and a tease.  

Here’s wishing you dark dreams.

Bestselling novelist Steven Barnes has been nominated for a Cable ACE award for his television writing on “The Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone.”  He has also written more than a dozen novels, including the award-winning alternate history Lion’s Blood.  He latest collaboration Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is the recently published e-book The Secret of Black Ship Island. Visit his website at   

Tananarive Due, an American Book Award winner, has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award for My Soul to Keep and The Good House.  Her latest novel is My Soul to Take. Barnes and Due also co-author the award-winning Tennyson Hardwick mystery series in partnership with actor Blair Underwood.  Her website is at

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reflections on my mother: Patricia Stephens Due (1939-2012)

Photo credit: Tallahassee Demorat 
         My mother, civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, died on Feb. 7, 2012 after a long struggle with cancer.  We also wrote a civil rights memoir together, Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights.  In 1960, she made history as a part of the first Jail-in in the student sit-in movement.  "History belongs to those who write it," she often told me.  These were my remarks at her memorial service in Tallahassee, Florida.  She was a student at Florida A&M University at the time of her landmark arrest.  

                                                February 19, 2012
                                                Lee Hall
                                                Florida A&M University

            To me, Patricia Stephens Due…and will always be Mom.  
            Mom was… 
            A fierce advocate.  
           Once, my junior high school science teacher confided to a colleague that Patricia Due was one of the most intimidating women he’d ever met.  Heck, she scared me too.  When I had bad news for Mom, instead of telling her in person, I preferred to write it in a note—a habit from childhood that persisted even after I was an adult.  In junior high school, I was so scared to tell her I’d broken one of her dinner plates that I went out back and threw away the evidence in the canal behind our house.
            But anyone who knew Mom understands that beneath her gruff exterior lay the best ally you could hope for.  When I sketched my first little book when I was four—stick figures and captions I called “Baby Bobby” –Mom Xeroxed it to give out to our church members and anyone else who would have one.  When I became a published author, Mom was my manager who toured with me and made sure my needs were protected.   She was cautious and watchful.     
            An unfaltering role model.  
            Mom refused to cut moral corners.  Her honesty pervaded every aspect of her life, from the way she taught her children to the way she conducted herself in her daily walk.  She did not believe in the gray area between right or wrong, and she taught us that we must find ourselves on the right side of any ethical line.  She lived what she preached.
            A leader.  
            How fitting that we’re meeting here on the campus of Florida A&M University, the institution where my mother truly found her voice.  Here on this campus, my mother came to know herself and her purpose.   As I tell my students, she didn’t set foot on this campus knowing she was extraordinary.  She came to get her education and play her trumpet, and she got in a little bit of trouble along the way.  But then came the CORE and the civil rights movement and my mother’s REALIZATION—not a decision, but a REALIZATION—that she could not be still, she could not be quiet…that she was a warrior.
            I was born at the FAMU hospital, but I did not know Mom during that time.  What’s amazing to me is that we could hear testimonial after testimonial about what she accomplished outside of our home—when my sisters and I know that to Mom, her family came FIRST.  She gave so much to us, and had still more to give to the world.
            Mom always said that she’d witnessed too many families suffer under the weight of the struggle, and she was determined that was not going to happen to her girls.  That was her staunch belief: you give to your family first, the world second. 
            She came to every meeting, every recital.  She stretched herself every day to give us the best upbringing she could.  Sometimes she was “Hello, darling” and sometimes she was “Bring me the belt.” But we always knew we came first.
            She was at my side when I first held my newborn son, Jason, in my arms.
            There is hardly a single meaningful moment in my life when my mother was not there.
             And oh, did I want to be like her.  When I was ashamed because I’d left a college anti-apartheid protest at Northwestern University to have dinner with a friend, which meant I’d missed my opportunity to get arrested with the other protesters, she told me, “Tananariva, I went to jail so you wouldn’t have to.”
            Perhaps that was her greatest gift to us:  She gave us the freedom to be ourselves. 
            She tried to pass along to us everything she learned.  To prepare us to be competitive without pressuring us beyond our abilities.  To teach us to love and cherish each other as sisters and as a family; a bond she knew would outlive her
            She told us we never had to be the best, as long as we did our best.
            She told us we would have to work twice as hard to get half as far.
            She taught us to love all people.
            She taught us to stand up for what we believe in.
            She taught us to love books.
            She taught us to love ourselves. She filled our house with black dolls so we would see our own faces reflected everywhere.  She read us books about Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. 
             She taught us “document, document, document.” History belongs to those who write it. 
            And she told us stories.  She didn’t tell a story once or twice.  She told a story ten times—twenty times.  She told a story so you would remember it.  She talked about her childhood in Gadsden County, and how she and her sister, Priscilla, dodged farm work in their grandfather Richard Allen Powell’s fields.  Or chased snakes.  She talked about her adolescence in Belle Glade, and how her stepfather, Marion Hamilton, taught students from the area known as “The Muck” how to play Count Basie and John Philip Sousa.
            She told us the stories of the foot-soldiers.  Of the teargas.  The protest marches.  She told us about the Rev. C.K. Steele and his wife Lois, and their sons Charles Jr., Henry, and Darryl.  She told us about Mrs. Mary Ola Gaines, the Tallahassee housekeeper who was arrested and lost her job because she dared to sit beside the students.  She told us about my godmother, Judy Benninger Brown, and Dan and Jim Harmeling. 
            Many of those stories we put in a book, Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, which I’m so grateful we were able to write during her lifetime.
            She told me stories, but the woman I knew was Mom.  
            Our last major outing with Mom was in January of 2009, when my father, my sister Johnita and I went to Washington, D.C. to see the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  I probably don’t have to tell anyone in this room how excited Mom was about the election of the nation’s first black president; a young man who spoke about the contributions of foot-soldiers and how ordinary people did extraordinary things.  
            In the end, we watched from a downtown news monitor instead of venturing out in the cold, but we were on a rooftop along the parade route, so we saw the presidential motorcade.  
            But Mom was still Mom.  The next day, Dad and I went with Mom to the White House because she wanted to collect some soil to use to plant a tree for the foot-soldiers who hadn’t lived to see the day.  We came with a spoon and a small mason jar looking for soft soil outside of the White House gates.
            This is how we came to learn that the police don’t appreciate people squatting outside of the household gates, digging in the soil—perhaps especially the day after the inauguration of the first black president.   So the young police officer who said, “Hey!” when he saw us was not polite when he asked us to get up and move on.
            “Move—NOW,” he in his I’m-guarding-the-White House voice.
            Some of you in this room may know where this is going.
            Mom was kneeling when he said this, and she wasn’t in a hurry to stand back up.  She started trying to explain why she wanted the soil.
            The police officer cut her off.  “You stay on THIS side of the chain—that’s why it’s there.  Move NOW,” he said again.
            It was just then that I saw bad memories on my mother’s face, and a growing defiance on her face as her lips began to curl.  And in that instant, I imagined our perfect family trip ending in jail some kind of way.  We coaxed Mom away from the police officer just in time.
            Mom got her soil—from a nearby tree where the soil was softer and easier to scoop.   A kindly park ranger had pointed the way.  My mother’s pharmacist, who became a family friend and then a guardian angel, Dr. Lee Dunaway, helped my father plant a tree in her yard with that soil.   Mom got her wish.
            Just as she got her wish to move back to Gadsden County.  She’d felt a strong urge to go back home.  And now, in every way, she is.
             We all sang to her and stroked her when she left this plane, but she is here in our hearts, in our minds, in every atom of our being. 
            She is the voice I will always hear when I face an ethical dilemma.  She is the voice I will always hear when I ask myself if I’m doing enough as a parent. 
            Her voice is immortal.
            I love you, Mom.  I miss you.
            I will stand tall, just as you taught us—and I will walk.