Book Review: Life on Little River, by Braxton Hickman

I can’t really claim to be a child of the 60s. Born in 1962, by the time I entered kindergarten at Redeemer Lutheran Church under the tutelage of the famed Pasty Brewer, and graduated to the equally famed classroom of Mrs. Hunt in first grade at James Bowie Elementary, segregation had happened, there were a few blacks in my class, and all I was left with were stories from my parents. Granted, as children of the 50s, they graduated and finished college before the Civil Rights  Movement was in full swing, but they saw plenty on television and the news, and my father experienced enough as a high school coach during those tumultuous years. Besides, so much of what transpired during those brutal years had been laid into the foundation and framework of society long before the 60s, so my parents were hardly strangers to all that happened.

Reaching back even farther are my memories of spending weekends in east Texas visiting grandparents, and while I was a young girl still in the 70s, the life presented to me there, and even in my grandparents’ homes in southeast Texas not far from my own, hearkened to an era long since gone – when children roamed neighborhood streets without fear of being molested, when rivers were free and easy places for children to explore, when men were men and took charge of their families, and women were free to focus on their home and their children.

lifelittleriverIn Life on Little River, it was the latter which overwhelmed me at first. I could feel the dust in my mouth as a young Braxton Hickman wandered his neighborhood with his buddies. I could smell the summer moisture rising from the ground, and my own memories rose to the surface, both those I had lived and those I had heard about (for even as a child I was more than willing to listen to stories about the past.) Those were good, sweet days my own children will never experience, for the world is a different place today than when I grew up. As a matter of fact, it was already changing by the time I was a child.

And alas, Life on Little River soon enough experiences those changes, for it is not too long before Braxton is caught up in the Civil Rights Movement, despite the fact that the races have long lived beside each other in Little River. Firebrands inevitably have their day when inspired enough by the wrong sort, and even idyllic Little River is beset by the changing times.

This book is a memoir and is written in first person point of view. A senior class project, it rises above that assignment. Classic literature is drawn from heavily by Braxton, for in those days children read the classics such as Hucklerry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird, oftentimes more than once, and boys wanted to BE Huckleberry or aspire to BECOME like Atticus Finch. When one’s own father IS cut from the same cloth as Finch, life is all the better and safer as young Braxton soon learns.

The symbolism, too, is understated but rich as heavy cream, for as Braxton’s adventures down Little River roll toward a conflict between life and death, good and evil,  the town of Little River itself endures its own growing pains as the safety it once offered is threatened and ultimately changed forever, for both Negroes and whites.

For those of you who grew up in the 50s and 60s, especially in small rural towns where you were allowed to roam freely, and to get into trouble just as easily, this book will bring you back to your childhood. For those in my generation, who grew up in the aftermath of the 60s, Life on Little River will add another dimension to the stories we were told.

More importantly, however, this book should be read by young people. The racial discord in this country has once again reached feverish proportions in some regions. But behind that, in the years preceding such divisiveness, the world, even then, was never seen as all good, all bad, all black, or all white. There were good and bad people on both sides, and many of those color barriers were non existent between people of good will.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson in this book, and why it is so valuable today. It is a rich testament to not only a time gone by, never to be found again, but a window into the early Civil Rights Movement in this country and one young boy’s experience and choices. Choices that were not easy, but altered the course of his life forever.

You can order Life on Little River through Ray Viverette at http://www.viverette.org.

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