Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Going Back: I'll Always Be With You by Violetta Armour

"Mom, you can't be serious. Indiana? What are you thinking? Not about me, obviously."

"Teddy, you've hardly left the house all summer.-A fresh start might be good for us--with not so many memories."

"How can moving to Dad's old house, probably sleeping in his old room, be fresh? Oh, sure, no reminders of him there."

"But those are positive things. It's hard to avoid the negatives here. Like that intersection."

Our dog, Winnie, starts whimpering. "Are you going to get rid of him, too?" I blurt, and then I wish I could take it back.

Then it's like she never heard me and she goes into Mom mode. The cost of living. It's cheaper in Indiana. Need to save the insurance money for college. Like a degree from that Podunk school would get me into a decent college. I walk away.

I killed my dad and now my mom is killing me.

But everything in Phoenix reminds Mary Kostoff of her husband Stan and his death, at an intersection by a drunk driver, in a car driven by her teenaged son Teddy out for a lesson. It seems to make sense to move in with Stan's widowed mother, Buba, lonely alone in her big house in a peaceful small town. The two little girls adapt right away to having their affectionate and lively grandmother around, but Teddy is still angry, taken away from his high school where he has just made the varsity basketball team and has many friends.

Now Teddy starts his much-anticipated junior year at Middleburg High School, sharing a locker with Mindy, a quirky, talkative girl with bright orange hair and aquamarine braces on her teeth, and having to be the new kid in a high school where everyone has known each other since toddler days. To make things worse, the varsity coach has plenty of skilled seniors and Teddy has to go back to playing junior varsity basketball. But Mindy's constant fountain of little-known facts keeps him laughing, and his junior varsity coach, Luther Stone, an energetic young black man, sees Teddy's skills and makes him team captain.

Mary, too, misses her old friends, and on a whim applies for a book store job and finds it very satisfying. She offers to start an evening book club, and at her first session meets Rosetta, a striking and stylish African American woman, and the two find themselves drawn to each other. Rosetta is empathetic, telling how her family moved with other black people from Chicago to live in a brand-new subdivision for employees of a new plant in Middleburg. She tells Mary how she made new friends and even became a cheerleader, thanks to her gymnastics classes in Chicago. As they meet for coffee often, Mary discovers that Rosetta was a senior the same year as her husband and is eager to hear what she remembers of Stan in high school. Rosetta brings along her 1968 annual, with pictures of her and Stan and their classmates, and mentions that her grown son Luther is the assistant basketball coach at the high school

With Teddy seeming happier, with a new friend and a job she loves, Mary begins to feel that she is fitting into life in the small Midwestern town--until she goes to Teddy's first basketball game. Looking at Teddy talking with Coach Luther Stone, she sees something she never expected.

She has to talk to Rosetta.

Mary takes a deep breath. "Okay. It's Luther. He reminds me so much of Stan. And when I went to thank him for being so nice to Teddy...up close.... His hazel eyes. The cleft in his chin. It's Stan all over again. And even his mannerisms. That half smile. I know, my counselor said I would keep seeing Stan in so many people....

Rosetta closes her eyes and when she opens them there are tears.

"You're not imagining things, Mary. Luther is Stan's son."

"The past is never dead. In fact, it isn't even past," goes William Faulkner's famous saying, and although at first Mary is angry that Rosetta was drawn to her to learn how Stan's later life went, she realizes that she was doing the same thing with Rosetta, mining her memories for bits and pieces of the young Stan. The two women understand that they were never rivals in their love for the same man at different times in his life and that through him they have the promise of a family connection that offers much more.

In her I'll Always Be with You (iUniverse, 2015), Violetta Armour tells her story through the multiple voices of Teddy, Mary, Rosetta, and with flashback narrations from the seventeen-year-old Stan and Rosetta, and although she populates the novel with other well-drawn characters, her best writing is of the two women who find their lives interwoven by events they could never have expected, of past love and loss, grief, and new life found. Kirkus Reviews sums it up: "The threads of a dead man's life and history converge in Armour's dramatic debut novel about heritage, family, and forgiveness."

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