DON NOBLE: Essays in "Wild Sweet Orange Ride" Meditate on Hope, Nostalgia

The Tuscaloosa News, June 6, 2015 | Go to article overview

DON NOBLE: Essays in "Wild Sweet Orange Ride" Meditate on Hope, Nostalgia


Julia Hightower Gregg has been a columnist for the Evansville Courier and Press in Indiana for 25 years, but before becoming a Hoosier, if indeed one can ever become a Hoosier, Gregg grew up in Montgomery, earned a bachelor of science degree from Auburn University, then earned a master of science from Vanderbilt Peabody College and a master of fine arts degree from Murray State University in Kentucky.

"Wild Sweet Orange Ride" seems to be composed in part of her columns and some additional pieces, surely written for this book, her first.

The book contains 41 short (2 1/2-page) essays that cover a range of topics but are controlled by the idea of the "search for place." Gregg left her home place, Alabama, and what was most familiar.

In the introduction she writes that her travels, both personal and literal, were not smooth ones, with "jarring off-road detours ... mistakes, regrets, and trials." Life has not been altogether joyful but, she insists, "if we are willing to be open to an introspective journey, we can learn, finally, to balance and to breathe." Her theme throughout is that "alienation and hurt are healed by unconditional love and friendship, by work accomplished with pride, and by art -- words well written ..."

These essays, which occasionally draw on the language of motivational speaking and self-help, are meditations on hope and nostalgia.

Gregg invokes her childhood home on Finley Avenue in Montgomery and her grandmother who taught her a valuable collection of life lessons including: "You must pay what you owe."

The Montgomery of Gregg's childhood was the period of school integration and she seems to carry the guilt of segregation with her, especially personified in Delores Boyd, a black childhood acquaintance, one of the first to integrate a white public school, whom she seeks out to settle unfinished business. Gregg had wanted to include Delores at her senior party, but Gregg's parents said no.

But Gregg's major subject is motherhood. She writes of Zach, her son, and the difficulties of divorce and single parenting and the worry of any parent: "parenting has been a crucible, burning away all pride and pretense, leaving only what is real: such effort and hope and tenderness."

Mothers are hypersensitive to their child's pain. Her boy Zach mourns the death of his dog, which seems normal enough to me. …

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