For Black History Month 2021, I’ve curated a YouTube playlist and additional study resources that have been helping to fill the gaps in my public school history education.
Every video in it is associated with longer documentaries, films, podcasts, and/or books and audiobooks, as well as museums. The last video featuring Stanford Psychology Professor, Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt talks about what needs to be done to slow automatic bias within the brain.
Make It Right (MIR) Project was a multimedia campaign from 2018 to 2020 dedicated to educating the public and strengthening the media capacity of the national movement to remove and replace Confederate monuments and memorials.
Before We Were Yours accomplishes something I relish while reading for pleasure – it taught me something. The story is about a Tenessee baby stealing ring, Depression-era shantyboat culture, and institutional mistreatment of children.
For me, the most intriguing storyline follows a riverboat family from the ‘before’ time. Descriptions of nature knowledge gained while living on the Mississippi River are lush and sensory. It reminded me of the next book on this list.
The heartbreak, terror, and powerlessness suffered by poor birth families taken advantage of while at their most vulnerable and children separated from loving parents, and further – siblings from each other – was worthy of the strong emotions it stirred.
This book strengthened my convictions about the support needed for defenseless populations and about prosecuting those who value money over humanity.
The “Marsh Girl” is an enigma in the backwater settlement closest to Catherine’s (aka Kya) home.
Abandoned by her mother, siblings, and eventually, by her abusive alcoholic father, the youngster navigates on her own through her teen and young adult years. She becomes an avid self-taught naturalist who delves into life the cycles of the animals and plants in her South Carolina marsh environment.
‘Fear of other’ and class bias causes her neglectful community to turn against her when the son of a prominent family is found dead.
Where the Crawdads Sing will delight natural history readers while highlighting the social and emotional damage caused by indifference and loneliness.
Shelley Buck’s contemporary memoir gives the reader a viewpoint of life on a houseboat in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Shelley is a dot.com spouse with a high school-aged son attending a financially challenged charter school. While developing her author career, she seeks out a creative housing solution in uber-expensive Silicon Valley. Her journey takes the reader into a fluid dock community, repairs and maintenance unique to houseboats, and waterfront real estate under constant pressure from developers.
Buck’s canine-loving and nature appreciating observations intermingle with poetic narratives and moments of anxiety as she navigates through her soon-to-be empty nest and approaching retirement years.
If your reading mood calls for nature and water and you’ve got emotional reserves to explore traumatic children’s issues, Before We Were Yours and Where Crawdads Sing are great choices. If you want an uplifting family saga fraught with kids, pets, and mechanical challenges, Floating Point should hit the mark.
Best Wishes for Compelling Reading!
For ten more book recommendations from a historical fiction author/ reader, visit World of Mailman.
Kristen: …one of those books you don’t appreciate when tasked with reading it in high school, but it takes on a whole new meaning when you read it as an adult.
Graphic Novel | Fantasy
Lisa: The Grim Reaper’s child doesn’t want to follow in Dad’s footsteps. Listed as an NPR editor pick, this was a surprisingly charming story.
Graphic Novel | Native American | Folklore
Lisa: This book was on my bookshelf when I started reading Crossing the Owl’s Bridge by Kim Bateman. I attended a lecture of Dr. Bateman’s at a writers conference where she spoke about using the trickster and humor in writing. It was a perfect compliment to her book.
Grief & Loss
Lisa: Through folklore, Dr. Bateman explores the grief process humans share across cultures and time. Contemporary grief client vignettes make this a timely read.
The love we have in a relationship doesn’t die with the body. It helps us heal.
I read this book as SARS-CoV-2 was breaking out. Bracing myself for difficult times ahead.
Mary: A true accounting of the lives of the daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella. Taken from their personal letters, court records and historical documents. An interesting perspective on somewhat unknown but important historical figures.
Peggy: True, inspirational, funny stories. Easy read, great if you need short, interesting, individual stories. Seems like it would be a great book to give as a gift to anyone. I might buy a hard copy (got it from the library)just to pass around.
Lisa: Inspired by true events surrounding a group of fourteen women who were emigrating to America from Lahardane in County Mayo, Ireland. Eleven from the group died in the Titanic tragedy.
Karen: Starts out around WWI time period and goes forward from there. Great details about young woman solving mysteries. There are fourteen books in this series!
Mystery | Detective
Mary read this book.
Nonfiction | Time Management
Lisa: Another timely topic – rethinking how we spend our time. Book Quotes: “In 1965 a Senate Subcommittee predicted that by the year 2000 Americans would work fourteen-hour work weeks. And take nearly two months of vacation time.
“Do not let corporate values determine how you spend your days and what your priorities are. You are a big-brained social animal currently constrained by unrealistic demands and expectations.”
For a reluctant, hold-your-breath-and-swallow type of shopper, the NPR Book Concierge gives me a reason to look forward to the holidays. It’s become my go-to place for every bibliophile on the Santa list.
Satisfied reading experiences bring good cheer well into the new year.
With the ability to filter titles by categories such as; Book Club, History Lovers, Thrillers, and Graphic Novels the site makes finding what you’re looking for easy. Book descriptions are concise, not more than a few sentences…and I enjoy reading them, often saving titles on other wish lists.
I do frequent the giant South American river online retailer, but I use Smile.Amazon.com to send a portion of the sale to a local nonprofit.
May this pointer make your holiday shopping more efficient and laser targeted.
Phineas Gage’s niece, Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s gravestone appears on Ocean Beach when heavy storms move sand out to sea. It was last uncovered on June 4, 2012. The lettering — still legible — reads; Delia Presby, wife of, F.B. Oliver, Died, April 9, 1890, Aged 26 yrs., 10 mos. 27 days, — Rest –
Phineas Gage’s traumatic brain injury (1848) made him famous in the psychology and neuroscience fields.
After his death (1860), Gage was buried in San Francisco’s Lone Mountain Cemetery.
In 1866, Dr. Harlow, who treated Phineas after his traumatic brain injury wrote to Mrs. Gage, Phineas’s mother, inquiring about his former patient.
One thing led to another and during the following year, David Shattuck, Mrs. Gage’s son-in-law, along with two physicians (past city mayors), dug Phineas up.
Note: The image above, left is not David Shattuck. Photographs/ daguerreotypes could be found of David or his wife Pheobe. In the interest of storytelling, public domain images are used as representations.
On a misty morning in November, I found myself in the Lone Mountain Cemetery looking down at my brother-in-law’s tombstone. Doctor Coon and Doctor J.B.D. Stillman stood at my side, each with a shovel in hand.
Guards stood at the closed entrance gates affording us privacy.
Coats came off as digging commenced. At first, I felt that I was committing an unforgivable sin. But as my back strained and my hands developed blisters, those feelings subsided, until my shovel made contact with something solid.
The other two paused, nodding to one another, then resumed. Once space was clear, the two doctors were about to lift the coffin lid when I interrupted. “Wait! Gentlemen, please bear with my squeamishness. Before you open it, would you prepare me for what I am about to see?”
Doctor Coon looked uncomfortable. He glanced at Doctor Stillman who replied, “Why, David, you need not see anything.”
“No,” I disagreed firmly. “I promised my wife that I would follow it through to the end.”
“She never needs to know,” Doctor Coon replied softly.
“I’ll know. Please, just tell me.”
“Very well,” the man sighed as he wiped his hands on his vest, “By now, all of the body fluids will have dissipated. The clothing will be intact. Likely, dry skin will still cover the skeletal remains. Hair will be present.” Coon paused to see how I was taking it. “Shall I describe what we’ll do next and the skull removal process?”
Squeezing my eyes shut, I nodded.
“Once the lid is off, the first thing I will do is hand you the iron bar. Next, I will test the skull to see if it separates from the spine. If not, Doctor Stillman has tools for that. I will remove any organic matter that freely separates. Doctor Stillman will take the skull and place it inside the box.” Coon paused, waiting for my response.
“Understood. Proceed,” I said gravely.
It took all three of us climbing inside the hole to pry the lid up and place it off to the side. I was surprised to see Phineas’s body exactly as Doctor Coon described.
Mummified-looking remains wore Phin’s clothes. But it no longer looked like the man I remembered. When I hopped out of the hole, Doctor Coon handed up the bar. It was ice-cold to the touch, heavier than I remembered.
Not wishing to watch more of the proceedings, I held it up, running a finger over the words etched on its surface.
This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr. Phinehas P. Gage at Cavendish, Vermont, Sept. 14, 1848. He fully recovered from the injury & deposited this bar in the Museum of the Medical College of Harvard University. Phinehas P. Gage Lebanon Grafton Cy N-H Jan 6, 1850
I remembered Phin’s story about the engraver he hired to do the work, misspelling his name. I could hear Phineas saying, ‘When mistakes are made, it’s the good man who doesn’t get angry, but figures out how to move forward from there.’
I chose to focus on memories rather than listen to the doctors going on about their ghoulish activity.
“Mission accomplished,” Doctor Stillman proclaimed loudly, breaking into my thoughts. He and Doctor Coon replaced the coffin lid. “Let’s get that hole filled.”
When we finished, Doctor Stillman offered to take the skull with him to process it for travel.
I promised myself at that moment, that ‘the skull’ would remain inside its box until it was delivered to Doctor Harlow. I didn’t care to, ever, look at it, or have any member of my family see it.
Without my noticing, a murky fog had rolled in. The city beyond the cemetery walls had been engulfed in a chilly, dull, gray blankness of a November day. Seagulls could be heard high above in the blue sky that must be up there. Our boot steps sounded muffled.
Doctor Stillman cradled the box in front of him like a wise man on his way to deliver a gift to the baby Jesus. Doctor Coon carried shovels and a bag of tools. I kept pace with the others, Phineas’s bar grew heavier every minute.
A raven landed on a tombstone nearby. It shrieked, raising its wings like it expected a token in exchange for letting us pass.
When the guards opened the gates, the metal hinges let loose a high-pitched protest. I wondered if the flaming gates of hell would sound that way if this deed took me to that entrance.
Worse yet, would Phoebe ever forgive me for this?
~ End ~
Note: The dialog is fictionalized, but the people, dates, inscription, activities, and results are factual.
Donner Mountain trembled when Nian woke. Yawning, her jagged teeth glisten in the light of the round moon as a frigid white wave churns down a steep slope, snapping pine trees like chopsticks. Hunger and the smell of sustenance drove Nian’s movements. In this strange land, she located a field planted with rotting young men. Close to the surface, one paw scrape revealed juicy carcasses she scooped into her mouth. Careful not to shatter bones, she sucks them clean, spitting out neat piles, ready for bundling and overseas transport. Nian senses anxious thoughts of people huddled like mice beneath the deep snow. All of them, save one, missing family gatherings and the safety they provide. As the year of the Rabbit ends, they ready supplies to defend themselves from the Nian.
Inside a rough wooden cabin engulfed by a thirty-foot snowdrift, Gee Lee pitched his bed covers. Delirious, he sought icy air to tame his fire. Once it touched him, he shivered, curling into a ball.
Foshan had been nursing bossy-man for three days, leaving their camp cooking to inexperienced hands. Foshan hadn’t seen Lee sick during the two years they’d worked at Donner Summit. Lee claimed his good health was maintained by a steady diet of Ginseng and mushrooms.
Time spent prepping food with Mr. Gee had been the best and worst of Foshan’s life. Two years older, Lee radiated confidence as he ordered supplies and advocated for spices from home. His management style was firm, yet respectful. The man was devoted to his wife, and their young daughter; he regretted not seeing his son born before he left.
Lee’s shoulders were wide, his grip strong, and his voice felt like velvet brushing over Foshan’s skin. Worst of all, were Lee’s knowing grins while he offered womanly advice. “If your female behaves like warm cheese, she will be receptive when you approach her for clouds and rain; remaining faithful to marriage vows keeps vices from enslaving one while sojourning.”
Laughing with him, Foshan replied, “Do you consider cutting the emperor’s sleeve a vice?”
“Making love to a man?”
“It satisfies the urges,” Foshan replied, his eyes bright.
As if seeing Foshan for the first time, Lee’s smile faded, “I know, but I could not touch a man the same way I touch my wife.”
Foshan’s hope plummeted. He held his breath while turning away so Lee wouldn’t notice his disappointment.
Across the ocean, Liu was thankful the village had emptied for the Spring Festival. Round and ripe, she needed to escape the confines of the house. Since she’d learned of her pregnancy, Liu stayed hidden while her sister-in-law, Ai, paraded in public with padding over her belly. Mama Gee decided that Liu’s baby would be raised as Yang’s son.
Her mother-in-law’s plan meant that Liu could prevent her husband from knowing her shame.
As tall grass brushed against her calves, Liu couldn’t help worrying about Mama Gee’s assumption. What if the child was a girl? Liu wished Nian would take it.
Going to their secluded warm spring, the place Lee first introduced her to the delights of the flesh, felt like another betrayal of the man she loved. But there was no other place Liu wanted to be, except with him on Donner Mountain.
Bathing Lee’s forehead and giving him tea wasn’t helping. For the first time since Lee had taken ill, Foshan feared that bossy-man might die. Even thinking this thought could attract the Nian!
During the latest storm, the tunnel between Lee’s quarters and the kitchen collapsed, cutting them off. No one had cleared it and Foshan wasn’t about to leave Lee to do the excavation. Their tiny room felt as far away as China, and as silent as a tomb.
Guangzhou & Donner Summit:
Mama Gee in Guangzhou and Foshan on the summit worked to guard their space.
Pulling red cloth from storage they hung it on walls and draped it over furniture. They fed paper money to hearth flames while praying to ancestors for protection.
Drawing in a breath, Nian tasted the smoky flavors. Donner Mountain quaked when she growled.
Lee’s mind was as untethered and as windblown as paper lanterns released to the night sky. As the ground shuddered, his thoughts settled upon the source of his misery. “Norden?” Lee muttered. “How bad?”
Foshan wrung out another cloth, laying it on Lee’s forehead. “It’s a dream, Mr. Gee,” or a nightmare, he thought.
Following a messenger, Lee struggled up through the snow shaft coming into the midday light. Unaccustomed to the brightness, his eyes streamed like a woman in mourning. Shouts from a distance drew him in their direction.
At the mountain’s peak, Lee saw the opposite hillside swept clean. Stacks of lumber, wagons, mules, wooden tunnel frames and cabins were gone. Silence, where there should have been hubbub, made Lee’s breath hitch. In the valley below, splintered beams poked through the remains of a frozen tsunami like porcupine quills.
Joining men racing to save survivors, Lee saw fingers, shaped liked unmoving claws, and bloody legs separated from torsos. If not for jewel-colored sparkles winking across a sugar-dusted expanse, Lee would have thought the debris field resembled destruction rendered by a Bei River flood.
Like a dog frantically digging for a bone, Lee’s hands gyrated as he screamed, “Yang! Yang!”
Grasping Lee’s forearms, Foshan needed Lee to understand, “It’s not real!”
Sobbing, Lee ranted. “You told me to protect him, to make sure both your sons returned.”
Foshan wiped Lee’s tears, trying to soothe him. His heart fractured a little more with every word.
“I failed you, Mother!”
Gentle hands stroking Lee’s neck and chest calmed him into sleep while his inner vision replayed the next scenes.
Skies cleared and the sun-warmed. Snow warrens cracked open, forming deep channels directing swift flows of spring run-off.
Every day, names of the dead were read after meals. Lee had known them all but the name he dreaded hearing remained absent. Could Yang have run away? Maybe he was lounging in an opium den in San Francisco?
When a messenger came to stand beside his butcher block, Lee placed his knife flat on the work surface, following suit with his hands. Leaning all his weight over his wrists, he bowed his head.
“You must come,” the man said while pulling at stitches on his hat.
For the first time, Lee wished he were on a tunnel crew, blasting holes in impenetrable rock or carrying nitroglycerin from Howden’s mixing station into the widening mountain gap.
Arriving on the scene, Lee saw his brother standing where they’d uncovered him. A hammer, clutched in his right hand, raised above his head while his left supported a beam. His eyes were open. There were concentration lines between his brows, he was biting his lower lip. If his skin were not gray, if his eyes not cloudy, and his clothes not sopping, Lee could believe Yang would continue his next action.
Lee rode in the wagon with Yang, watching his body relax. Holding his hand over his brother’s eyes until they warmed, Lee drew down his lids.
Remaining with him, Lee watched as they stripped his clothes, bundled him in coarse cloth, placed him in a shallow grave, and covered him with mud.
The enormity of being the last Gee left, solely responsible for his parents, their wives and children settled on Lee’s shoulders as heavy as any granite boulder pulled out of the tunnel shaft.
Not, since watching his wife from the boat deck, growing smaller and indistinct, had Lee yearned for her with such power. “Liu, Liu,” He crooned, reaching for her, weeping.
A Wife’s Comforting Touch
As if summoned by the water gods, Lee opened his eyes to see Liu floating before him, her hair loose, suspended around her head, her face showing a mixture of confusion and pleasure. Lee ran his thumb along her cheek. Opening his arms, she came to him, pressing herself against his chest, wrapping her legs around his waist.
Burrowing his face against her neck, it didn’t occur to Lee that breathing was unnecessary.
When Liu first dove into the pool, she was startled to find her husband. Believing it was a visitation beyond the grave, she was paralyzed. But when she felt his touch, when she saw his wounded expression, and heard his voice in her mind saying, Yang is dead, she knew it was something else.
Clinging to him, she didn’t notice her stomach was flat.
Do you remember the first time I brought you here? Lee asked.
You said the water’s buoyancy would allow me to control the pain. Blowing bubbles, Liu’s eyes crinkled at the edges with her smile.
Liu grinned, reaching down, she took hold of his rigid shaft.
At her wifely greeting, Lee bucked, sending a milky spray into the water. When he was capable of communication, Lee apologized, I dream of pleasuring you with exquisite leisure, my Willow, but I’ve been without you so long I lost control.
And I…. Liu, hesitated, remembering what she had to hide. Leaning in, she pressed her lips to his, Hold me!
They caressed and kissed, muscles tightening and releasing, as fluid as octopi in a coupling ballet. They repeated ravenous acts of love until contentment cocooned them like mists over mountain tops.
Floating with Liu’s back pressed to Lee’s chest. Lee unhurriedly caressed her. Mother will be devastated when she learns she’s lost another son, his thoughts said.
Yes, Liu agreed. YOU must return to me, I wouldn’t want to live without you!
Never say such a thing! Our children need you, I need you. Lee’s strokes moved down her torso.
Liu could feel the change in his body when his hands discovered something unexpected. Stiffening, she realized her encumbrance had reappeared. Ripping herself from his hold, Liu broke the water’s surface, inhaling an anguished lungful of air.
Following the Year of the Rabbit
Lee also jerked to wakefulness, squinting as his cabin came into focus. Still reaching for his wife, he called groggily, “Liu?”
She was sitting at the end of his bed, rumpled bed sheets draped around her hips. Her long hair cascading over a shoulder, the curve of her back glowed in the firelight.
“Come back to me, Love,” Lee smiled, holding out a hand.
A volley of firecrackers detonating outside heralded in the year of the Yellow Earth Dragon.
When his partner faced him, Lee’s afterglow erupted in a white, hot flash of fury.
Frightened by the noise and explosives, Nian retreated to the shadows. Licking her jowls, she sighed. Frozen, sweet corpse flesh appeased her gnawing hunger. Inhaling a mother’s excruciating grief tasted of fish roe, salty splashes of placental fluid exploding under her tongue. Two new purple feathers appeared in Nian’s mane. Betrayal and forbidden desire tasted of savory dumplings, a satisfying sticky lump, swallowed whole. Fresh yellow feathers appeared, gleaming in the lunar light.
Leaping into the heavens the monster followed the year of the Rabbit around the globe until reaching the South China Sea.
Settling into her underwater cave, Nian let the tropical warmth lull her into a restful year-long sleep.
Based on Chinese New Year legends and records from the Donner Summit Historical Society many elements are cultural and nonfictional.
Monster embellishment is an author vide! My additions to Nian include; her hibernation and feathers, her effect on snow slides, and her hunger for death and betrayal.
The title for this piece is a wordplay on “Cut Sleeve” a Chinese narrative about homosexuality written by Pu Songling in the seventeenth century.
Setting – Donner Summit 1865-1869. A harsh mountain environment near Lake Tahoe where railroad construction crews work 24/7 blasting tunnels through granite outcroppings and laying track. Winter storms drop between eighteen to twenty feet of snow. Avalanches claim lives; bodies, not recovered till spring thaw, are found with tools still clutched in hands.
Gee Lee – Chinese immigrant working as a camp cook for the Central Pacific Railroad. Lee embraces family obligations, toiling to send money home to improve impoverished living conditions. Dreams of returning to his lovely wife and young children keep Lee motivated.
Wèi An – Lee’s wife and mother of his two children, a daughter, and a son. Plagued by her controlling mother-in-law, Liu spends most of her time outside, working in the rice fields. Violated by a district official, she is now confined to the house.
Gee Yang – Lee’s older brother. Yang is charming and fun-loving; gambling and opiates have a magnetic appeal. He enjoys being away from his mother’s influence and is pulling away from Lee, who keeps reminding him of his responsibilities. He’s moved from working with tunnel gangs to constructing wooden show sheds at Norden.
Tang Ai (Eye) – Yang’s wife, mother of his daughter. Yang and Ai’s union did not produce a male child before he left for California. In this, Yang neglected his duty to the family. The couple discovered that living in the same house amplified their cantankerous relationship.
Gee Pei (Pay) – Matriarch of the Gee family, mother of Yang and Lee. After losing her oldest son in the Opium War, Pei sold her daughter-in-law and granddaughter to finance a California sojourn for her younger two sons.
Foshan – Lee’s Donner Summit kitchen assistant. He is named for his birth town in China. An orphan, Foshan plans to seek employment in San Francisco once his railroad job concludes. Foshan is wildly in love with his bossy-man.
Jaingshui – A reanimated corpse that hops. A Jaingshui is created when a Chinese person dies away from home and is not buried with his ancestors. Like the western vampire, the Jaingshui searches for life-energy (qi) to consume.
Nian – Chinese lion monster whose name means ‘year.’ Nian grows a unicorn-like horn and collects feathers in her shaggy mane. The monster hibernates in the sea or under mountains for eleven out of twelve months. The weather worsens when Nian wakes to hunt, during February’s new moon. On the menu; infants and children, crops, farm animals, early death, and betrayal.