Piney Hills

As I mentioned yesterday, my trip to Grambling State University was a success except for the airplane rides. The Delta flight out of Hartford was delayed because of “traffic” around Atlanta. Traffic seems to be a permanent state for that airport. A local said she will only take the very first flight out in the morning even if it means getting up at 4 because after that nothing runs on time.

The plane finally left a half-hour late, and I ran to get the connection for Monroe (pronounced MUNro), Louisiana. I arrived at the gate only to discover that flight was delayed, too. If it had left on time, I would have missed it. They pushed back the departure time twice. Finally said it was announced that the airline was waiting for a mechanic to check out the plane. That should only take about fifteen minutes. Almost an hour later we boarded and were then informed that the delay had occurred because there was a leak in the right front hydraulic something or other. At that point I tuned out – I didn’t want to know any more. Did wonder why they waited till everyone was on board to let us know.

Arrived at the hotel about two hours after I should have. I was hungry, having skipped lunch, and so caught a cab, actually a green mini van with the dispatcher riding shot gun to Appleby’s after they said there was no decent seafood restaurant in the area.

Professor Katherine Bonner picked me up the next morning. She’s a delight, has been friends with Larry’s youngest sister ever since they were in a book club together when Gisele was stationed at Fort Polk. I attended a class where the students had read “Like a Winding Sheet.” They engaged in a lively discussion about the main character, about the racism and poverty of the 1940s, about attitudes toward women. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The second class was chaotic as the teacher was absent, and the students were not being at all clear about their assignment. Discovered after the class that they didn’t realize that the single chapter of The Street didn’t represent the whole book. One young woman seemed truly dismayed to learn that the book didn’t end when Lutie rented the apartment.

After lunch, the Ann Petry Symposium began. The auditorium was packed – probably two hundred people as the English teachers brought their classes. Miss Dessie Saunders read excerpts from Can Anything Beat White? about my grandmother and interspersed it with the most beautiful singing I’ve heard in a long, long time. Her performance moved me to tears, and I jumped up and hugged her when she finished.

It took a bit for me to collect myself, but then I delivered the lecture. Everything seemed to go well, though mostly faculty members asked questions afterward – about mother’s writing habits, my writing habits, about my mother’s connection to the left, what I thought was her best work (The Narrows).

Dinner that night was at Rabb’s where I had a sublime piece of grilled catfish, managing to resist the fried crawfish. In place of rolls, the waitress brought pistolettes to the table. Just looking at the fat glistening on the outside made me nervous – and sure enough, I was right, they were hot, crunchy on the outside, soft like a muffin inside. I’ve checked out a couple of recipes, and they all seem to start with a stick or two of butter and end with frying in hot oil. Scary.

My hotel had some information about the area around Grambling. There are three universities within about thirty miles of each other. Louisiana Tech is in Ruston, and a branch of Louisiana University at Monroe. The schools are just beginning to cooperate with each other.

I also learned that the town of Grambling had actually grown up around the university and wasn’t incorporated until 1953 even though the school has been there since 1901. The little town seems at this point to be a microcosm of what’s going on in the rest of the country. The mayor is under investigation for ignoring alleged embezzlement of city funds and is fighting with the board of aldermen, which wants her to resign.

The folks down there were complaining about the cold. It was 40 when I arrived and 65 when I left. I told them they get no sympathy from me. It was 5 degrees in Connecticut on Sunday morning and had warmed to a balmy 20 when we were driving to the airport. The northern part of the TV coverage area down there is southern Arkansas, and everyone was in a total panic because an ice storm was bringing down power lines, and causing accidents on glazed roads. We had a little rain and dense fog in the a.m. But that southern sun had burned it all away by the time I left at noon.

The flight from Monroe to Atlanta was late, of course. No reason given this time, and they didn’t announce it until 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time, after everyone had cleared security and left behind the restrooms and all other amenities available at an airport with three gates.

Since I had several hours between flights I wasn’t worried about the late departure and in fact arrived only a half-hour behind schedule. Walked from terminal C to terminal E where my boarding pass had listed the flight to Hartford. It was the best part of the airport experience as this is the international arrivals and departures area with a duty free shop, nice bookstore, a sushi bar (I didn’t indulge), and a man playing the piano in the food court. When I got ready to go to the gate, I began to wonder why I was seeing flights for Amesterdam, British West Indies, etc. Got to the designated gate only to be told that the plane was leaving from Terminal B. Returned and of course by 5:30 they hadn’t started boarding for a 5:50 departure.

Plane left close to on time, but I wound up sitting next to this guy who was too big – too tall and to wide to fit comfortably in one seat, so I was hanging out in the aisle for most of the trip. Flight arrived early, but I had to wait at the airport because Larry had a meeting.

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