Motherless Child - stories from a life
by Sarah Gordon Weathersby
Copyright © 2008
$ 17.99 Paperback
Opening the cover of Motherless Child - stories from a life is like arriving at Sarah’s home, where she welcomes you with that special brand of southern hospitality, invites you to sit down for a spell and have a nice tall drink of ice tea while she tells you stories from her past. Reading this book brought back memories from my own childhood of sitting in my grandmother’s parlor and having her tell us stories of life from yesteryear, while gently rocking back and forth in her rocking chair. I could almost hear the creak of the floorboards as her chair went back and forth over that well worn track.
I tend to stick more with fiction reading than non-fiction, but as I was looking at the previews for potential review, Sarah Gordon Weathersby captured my attention. The preview left me wanting to read more and to find out what happened to the people that I had already met through the pages of the preview. Ms. Weathersby tells her life’s story in a very conversational style, inviting the reader to get to know her and her family in a very cozy manner. She starts off with some of her earliest memories, which happen to be when she was two years old. Being the youngest of 7 children of an Episcopalian minister, Sarah was both the pampered pet, and at the same time left to her own devices quite a bit because everyone was going in different directions all of the time. One of her earliest memories was of being a two year old at Christmas time.
My brothers enjoyed participating in the fantasy for me, and that year they came home on Christmas Eve wanting me out of the way so they could wrap gifts, told me I had to go to bed because they heard sleigh bells in the sky, and sent me off to bed clutching my favorite rag-doll, Sally. The next morning, there were animal footprints through the house, that my brothers said were made by the reindeer. I found out years later they had dragged the dog through the dirt, and walked him through the house.
Can’t you just imagine the boys dragging that poor dog through the house to make the footprints? Although Ms. Weathersby starts with some of her earliest memories, and the book ends with the most recent, Motherless Child is not written in a strictly chronological manner. She starts off to tell you about one point in her life, and in order to help you understand will embark on another story which provides the back story to the fabric of her life. Through the telling of her life, Ms. Weathersby also provides the reader with a keen perspective of history as it was happening from her point of view. We see the major events, such as John F. and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations, as well as Martin Luther King’s through her eyes and her observations of her family and friends to the same events.
Motherless Child was written to give her daughter Teal, whom she had to put up for adoption 40 years before, the story of her life and why she couldn’t keep her baby. The agony over the decision to do so, and the hole that left in her heart for all of those years after, come shining through the words on the page. We feel the pain of separation along with Sarah, as well as her inability to forgive herself for having made that decision and how it colors her life from that point on.
Through Sarah’s eyes, we see her awakening to the division of people by the color of their skin, how her mother developed her sense of pride of self and what she could accomplish, and how it felt to go from an all black school to a racially integrated one. Through the pages of Motherless Child I came to admire Ms. Weathersby a great deal. No matter what she set her mind to accomplish, she did. After choosing to attend a university which only had six black students in her first year, she decided to learn German and ultimately studied abroad for a year in Germany. She spoke the language so fluently that when she confronted a professor about the lack of black faculty on the staff, she was then offered a position at the school as long as she completed the necessary graduate work. While she chose not to follow that course of action, she later decided to throw her hat into the extremely male dominated technology ring at a time when it was just starting to put its name on the map. Working myself in the technology arena, I am well aware that it is still male dominated, but far less so than when Ms. Weathersby joined the ranks, and yet she continued to excel in her field. I don’t think it ever occurred to her that she might not succeed at anything she tried, and so she did succeed.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the cover of the book. It is very simple in concept as it appears to be family photos on a mantle, yet in its simplicity conveys to the reader a sense of what the book is about. While Motherless Child - stories from a life was written for her long, lost daughter, and was extremely cathartic for the author to be able to tell her story, it has a much broader appeal. My husband an I recently attended a production of the musical version of The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker, and I feel that the appeal of Motherless Child mirrors the appeal of The Color Purple. Through the eyes of Sarah Gordon Weathersby, we see and experience a slice of life from a very intimate perspective. This book delivers laughter and tears as we experience Sarah’s life with her, and leaves the reader feeling uplifted. Bravo.
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