I walked in from school and Mom immediately turned off her DVR’d How To Get Away With Murder. This was major. Mom never turned off Shonda. My stomach felt funny because I had a feeling that this had something to do with me.
“Ms. Peake phoned today,” she said.
Mom faked a calm voice and rose from the chocolate leather sofa. Her hips pushed a stack of mail from the credenza and sent it fluttering to the floor. A shiny family reunion reminder postcard winked up at me. She stopped dangerously close to me. Except for the Old Navy flip-flops and the scowl, Mom looked exactly like she did when I left this morning. Her flawless Halle Berry haircut didn’t move an inch, but her animal print maroon, orange, and yellow long African dress swayed with each of her movements.
“Hello, beautiful mother. Did she find my phone?” I asked. I was hoping the hopeful tone of my voice would soften whatever she seemed worked up about.
“No, something more serious. You lost your phone again? We can talk about that later,” Mom replied.
What had I done wrong? I passed my finals. I paid my fines. This year I actually found all of my textbooks to turn in before the last day of school. No trouble this week. I didn’t leave wet towels on the floor in the bathroom. I don’t think. Wait, Ms. Peake wouldn’t call about wet towels. I didn’t know what I had done. These days anything could upset Mom.
“Actually, your teacher informed me that once again you barely passed reading.”
I looked up and rolled my head back to rest on top of my backpack to prepare for the speech. The brown and white mural on our front entry ceiling pulled at my vision – colored like root beer floats.
Art fanatics visited our house just to see our ceiling. John Biggers composed one of his last murals, a replica of “Family Unity,” in our house.
I think Mom asked Mr. Biggers to paint his masterpiece in the entryway so random strangers wouldn’t ramble too far into our house to see his work.
Right now, I wished I could sit backward in the spiral tree trunks with the kids in the painting. The magical colors of the mural blended night with day, and earth with sky. Four kids sat motionless while red dirt from the ground danced with the night stars and sunrays surrounding them.
Next, Mom would tell me about how much money she and Dad paid for the Alain Locke Academy. She’d remind me how many Black people died so that I could live free and read. Why couldn’t I live free, and not read?
“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
I nodded from the kids in the trance back to her.
She inched closer to me, and then stopped. She couldn’t get any closer. “Washington, I taught you how to read and I know that you read well. So, if at twelve years old, you don’t want to take school seriously, we won’t take anything seriously. I’ve cancelled your enrollment in summer league basketball.”
Mom had my full attention now. I slapped my hands over my face to stop the stinging under my eyelids. “No, basketball?” I dropped my arms to my sides. That escalated super fast. Cancelled? My team would never understand. My coach would never understand. I couldn’t let them down. This summer we planned to go all the way—Nationals in Las Vegas.
“Don’t cry now. You can’t just be able to shoot a ball through a net and wind up playing professional basketball. You have to go to college. And in college, you have to do what? Read. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James all went to college. Why are you looking at me like that?” She took in a deep breath and let out an irritated sigh.
I rocked back and forth on my heels. Should I answer? “Mom, two of them didn’t even go to college. And I’m not crying.” Everyone knew that Kobe and LeBron went into the NBA straight out of high school. Everyone except Mom.
Her glare signaled I shouldn’t have corrected her. The calm voice vanished. “You know what? All those Globetrotters did, I think? That’s not the doggoned point, Washington.” She balled her fists on her hips. “The point is your teacher feels you need summer reinforcement and wants to enroll you in summer academy. I love you, Washington, and I know how much you enjoy basketball, but I have to say that I agree with her. This year you are going to summer school…”
Mom kept talking, but I could only hear four words repeating in my head. Summer school… no basketball. Summer school… no basketball. Summer school… no basketball?
Dirt, a middle grade novel, authored by Teffanie Thompson with Brown Girls Publishing releases February, 2016.
Dirt is currently available digitally in pre-sale on iBooks, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.
With diversity hashtags recently trending on social media platforms, Dirt fills many diversity voids in middle grade literature as an African - American contemporary time travel novella with its pre - teen male protagonist, Washington.
Washington would rather be playing basketball in the tournament instead of traveling to East Texas for a family reunion. He hates to read, but takes off on his own with a book to satisfy his parents.
Washington travels back to the past where he encounters his ancestor Square and witnesses the brutal punishment of a slave who is found reading.
When Washington steps out of the protecting circle of dirt, Washington fears he may never be able to return to the present or see his family again.
"Once while listening to public radio, I heard first person accounts of the slave narratives, Remembering Slavery. I realized that every single ancestral win was also a win for me. This is a thought that resonated with me, and I wanted to share that with young Americans. Reading, in its own way, is a beautiful legacy," Thompson said.
"The book, Dirt, gives a reader a fast read on a tough subject. Living in the times that we do, I think it’s a very appropriate image of the past we may have forgotten. The main character, Washington, takes on a journey throughout the all too recent times of slavery in the Deep South. There the young encounters problems from the brutality of slavery, to finding and leaving his first love interest. In a small East Texas town, young Square finds his roots, his courage, and a new admiration for the written word. An entertaining and important read for any age, Dirt from Teffanie Thompson illustrates, inspires, and motivates young readers to be conscious in the new age." - Imhotep White
|Photo Credit : Toyia T. Zachery|
The author, Teffanie Thompson grew up in Killeen, Texas where she spent many years playing with words on Gaynor Drive in Sugar Loaf.
Today she lives in Midland, Texas, without her angelic oldest daughter and creative genius son. Teffanie does reside with her farmer husband, Ginger puppy and brilliant youngest daughter, working in education.
A Master's graduate of Seton Hill University's esteemed Writing Popular Fiction program Teffanie has written several pictureless stories for children, teens, and ballerinas. When not writing, she enjoys working, hula hooping, road tripping, attending concerts and, yes, watching marathon reality television.
She can be contacted at: teffanie at gmail dot com, or at teffanie on Twitter.
Dirt received the African American Literary Award Show Award for Children / YA. Whoa! So h o n o r e d.
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