Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Lesson 420 – At an Event with James McBride

By Wendythomas @wendyenthomas

Yesterday I attended a local Nashua Library event where the author of the One City One Book choice for 2011, James McBride, was in town to discuss his book “Song Yet Sung.” My 20 year-old son Spencer who goes to school where the event was held, met me there and we were able to sit together.

This is the third time Spencer has gone to an author event with me, it won’t be his last. We thoroughly enjoy hearing what these talented artists (and yes, writers are artists) have to say.

James McBride is an amazing speaker. Unpretentious, he wraps his stories around life lessons with the gentle result that not only are you amused but you find yourself constantly saying “huh,” as in, I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

Every time, James would say something that resonated with Spencer, I’d get a sharp nudge in the ribs. James talked about his mother disciplining her children, nudge, nudge. He talked about his disillusionment in government, nudge, nudge. By the end of the presentation, my ribs were sore from all to which Spencer had related.

McBride is a talented, engaging, and entertaining story teller. Just a great guy.

It came time for the question and answer period on his book.

I had interviewed James earlier for a newspaper article promoting the event, but I had another question that had come to me only after I had later read his memoir “The Color of Water” and so decided to ask it.

“When the main character Liz has visions of the future,” I began, “she envisions a place where black children are eating too much, there’s murder, and they don’t go to a school that is available. It sort of sounded like someone telling young men to pull their pants up……”

James listened to this and then cut in saying that that was a rather simplistic view of things. That’s right, in front of my son, James said that my question was simplistic.

Nudge, nudge.


James went on to say that white boys also wore their pants down and that everyone should be pulling their pants up (to which I heard several people, uh-humming behind me and coming this shy of giving James an AMEN.)

Great. Every one in the audience was getting ready to pounce on me, the resident racist, for mentioning the phrase “pull your pants up” with regard to young black men.

First of all, I wasn’t implying that only young black men wear pants low, for the record, I’ve told my lilly white sons and daughters to pull up their pants (and in the case of my daughters to cover up what God gave them on top) on several occasions. There have been many times in my life that I’ve uttered that famous parental phrase “You are not leaving this house dressed like that, my dear” and meant it.

I was not implying any sort of racism on my part by alluding to the phrase “pull your pants up sir.”

But apparently I had pressed a button. James went on about how it wasn’t a racial thing but that it was a universal thing, all people needed to up their game, everyone needed to dress the part. It’s a point that was well made, it even scored a few nudges from Spencer.

But you see, here’s the thing. I never got to ask my question.

Actually the rest of my question (which wasn’t about black men specifically throwing away opportunity but rather about all men (and women) throwing away opportunity) was this:

“… when you wrote that part of the book, I’m wondering whose voice you heard, was it your mother’s talking to you? Yours to your children? A leaders’ voice talking to their people?

Now asking a New York Times Best Seller (who was late to the event because he was on a phone call with Spike Lee – how cool is that?) if he heard voices when he wrote (I do) may be a bit of an odd question, but I don’t think it is simplistic.

And I especially don’t think it’s simplistic when your 20 year old son is sitting right next to you, nudging you in the ribs because he thinks you just got called out.

When our kids were little and I was very pregnant with our 6th child, one evening a few nights before Christmas we gave them candy canes, piled them into the car and took them on a ride to see local houses decorated in holiday lights. When we drove along a heavily wooded road, three deer sprang out from the woods and ran across the road. Marc couldn’t help hitting one of them straight on with our Suburban.

We stopped the car and called the police. We were fine, our car was dented but more distressing was that there was an injured deer somewhere out there in the woods, struggling because of our actions. We stopped to get help for the deer.

Not realizing that we had a car filled (absolutely filled) with little children, a police officer, obviously in the holiday spirit, came up to my car window and loudly asked if we were the ones who had hit Rudolph.

I jumped out of the car and raced (waddled) up to the police officer. Using my best pointing finger in his chest, I made sure he went back to tell all those (now) hysterical children that he had been mistaken and their father had, indeed, not killed Rudolph.

You do what you can to protect your childrens’ illusions of who you are as a parent.

No child of mine was going to go through life thinking that his parents had killed Christmas.

Just as no son of mine was going to think that I, a journalist, asked simplistic questions of best selling authors (even those who spoke on the phone with Spike Lee.)

After the event, I entered the line to get my book signed by McBride. We could have our names in the book, but nothing else, we were told.

I took the blue post-it and wrote out what I wanted in my book. When it came time to get my book signed, I gave it to James.

I explained why it was important.

Look, I have tremendous respect and admiration for James McBride. He is an accomplished writer and musician. He has a great sense of gentle humor. He’s not afraid to say what he believes in.

He has made something of himself where so many others might have failed.

He’s the type of person I want my son to know about.

But I also want my son to know that his mom does not back down. We didn’t kill Rudolph and my question, heard in its entirety, was not simplistic.

It was only what I had wanted to know one afternoon, at an event, with my son and James McBride.

Lesson 420 – At an event with James McBride

You're a good egg, James.

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