Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Can she right old wrongs and salvage their love? - Summer Of The Oak Moon by Laura Templeton

Tess and Jacob’s bond puts them both in peril, and discontent eventually erupts into violence. Tess is forced to make a decision. Can she right old wrongs and salvage their love? Or will prejudice and hatred kill any chance she and Jacob might have had?


Published: May 5th, 2015

Rejected by the exclusive women’s college she has her heart set on, Tess Seibert dreads the hot, aimless summer ahead. But when a chance encounter with a snake introduces her to Jacob Lane, a black college student home on his summer break, a relationship blooms that challenges the prejudices of her small, north Florida town.

When Jacob confesses that Tess’s uncle is trying to steal his family’s land, Tess comes face to face with the hatred that simmers just below the surface of the bay and marshes she’s loved since birth. With the help of her mentor Lulu, an herbal healer, Tess pieces together clues to the mysterious disappearance of Jacob’s father twenty-two years earlier and uncovers family secrets that shatter her connection to the land she loves.

Tess and Jacob’s bond puts them both in peril, and discontent eventually erupts into violence. Tess is forced to make a decision. Can she right old wrongs and salvage their love? Or will prejudice and hatred kill any chance she and Jacob might have had?

Love and Prejudice 

Oh, wow. This is a great topic. Love and prejudice have a long history in the arts, which I find interesting. From Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, South Pacific, Miss Saigon (and Madame Butterfly), and West Side Story to books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams (and maybe even Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, to stretch the point a bit) love that crosses racial borders has inspired writers and interested readers and moviegoers. And maybe because I grew up (and still live) in the heart of the South—with all of its beauty, verve, prejudices and idiosyncrasies—the subject intrigues me as well. The concept is the ultimate in romance—an attraction so strong that the lovers are willing to risk their reputations and even their lives to pursue it. But too often, as in Summer of the Oak Moon, violence in one form or another goes hand-in-hand with the forbidden relationship. 

Today, I am happy to note that interracial couples can no longer be described as Tess’s uncle does in my novel: “like hurricanes—they only happened once in a while, but when they did they sure stirred up trouble.” As a society we seem to have moved beyond the need to belittle love that crosses racial, ethnic, or even religious lines. I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone approves of these matches, especially here in the South, but rational voices seem to drown out the lingering dissent. It’s difficult these days to fathom the hatred and brutality that kept the status quo with regards to race and romance in place for so long. 

When I was growing up, however, acceptance wasn’t the norm. Interracial couples were rare and were cause for comment. I was born in 1964, so I missed most of the violence of the civil rights era. If you’d asked me when I was young if my parents were prejudiced, I would have said no. They taught me to respect everyone, regardless of their race or color or beliefs—to measure a person by what they contribute to society. In retrospect, though, I think perhaps they struggled a bit with the new world brought about by the civil rights movement, which occurred when my parents were in their forties. There was a note of new-penny brightness to their words, as if the sentiments didn’t quite come naturally. But they seemed determined not to pass along the old ways to me. I will be forever grateful for that. 

And of course, prior to the 1960’s, the south was notorious for its intolerance. One of the inspirations for this book arose from the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching, the 1946 murder of two black couples that occurred not far from where I now live. Interestingly enough, supposedly one of the inciting incidents for the crime—which remains unsolved to this day—was that one of the victims was thought to have been having an affair with a white woman. Again, we see prejudice, love...and violence. 

I would like to say, though (lest I give the impression that Summer of the Oak Moon is a boring lesson in overcoming prejudice) that story always comes first for me as a writer and a reader. Good stories should be fascinating. Un-put-downable. Inspiring. Tess’s love for Jacob forces her to question expectations and confront her own prejudices. Their love changes her, just as great romance changes all of us, regardless of how hard won it is.


Chapter 1

Port Saint Clare, Florida

Two days after graduation, I saw the panther.

Drifting down a shallow creek, I’d cut the motor on my boat and trailed my hand in the water, worrying about my lack of a plan for the rest of my life. Being a girl, local custom didn’t demand too much of me, but Mother had her own ideas about what I should strive for. And those ideas, adhered to with the same fervor as Brother Franklin’s sermons, meant going away to college and leaving this backwater town for a vague, but much-touted, “something better.” It was my life, though, and I’d refused to leave, choosing instead to spend the summer wandering the seemingly endless saltwater marshes and tidal creeks that spread away from our house like a gift unfurling in the hot sunlight.

I spotted the panther crouched on a rock, facing away from me and stalking something in the grass. Growing up on the Apalachee Bay, I’d seen a lot of wildlife. More than once, I’d watched a black bear walk down the wooded coastline. But panthers were secretive and scarce, and I’d never seen one.

The cat was smaller than I expected, and the slight quivering of its hindquarter reminded me of Oliver, my gray tabby, when he stalked butterflies in the garden. I must have made some small sound because it turned to look at me and all resemblance to Oliver vanished. As I stared into its wild, unblinking eyes for a few seconds before the panther leapt away, something broke and swirled inside of me, like when Lulu cracked a fresh egg into a bowl of water and read the white patterns she saw there.

If I’d seen my future in that brief encounter with the panther, I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage to live it. Port Saint Clare was my home, but the summer I turned eighteen I realized that what I knew of it was deceptive as gentle waves rippling the surface of the bay, hiding the dangerous undertow that moves below.

Violence and hatred existed in my world. That summer, I ran headlong into them.


A little after noon a few days later, I slammed the screen door and yelled back through it at Mother. “I swear I hate you!” I stomped off the porch, wiping a tear that hung like an accusation on my chin. How could she fail to see that I was just as upset as she was about the unplanned turn of events?
As if constantly reminding me that I had no place to go come August would get me any closer to college. 

I shoved aside tendrils of wisteria as I walked through the arbor that covered the path to the dock behind my house. Breathing in the sweet scent of its summer blooms, I closed my eyes to the hot sun on my upturned face. I wished its heat could burn away the ugly words I already regretted.  I carried a large Mason jar filled with rose petals and lavender blossoms I’d picked from the garden that morning.

Sitting carefully on the hot planks of the dock, I pulled my canoe toward me with my legs and then set the jar in a holder I’d made from an old tackle box. My backpack held the essentials—water, bug repellent, and my pistol. I tossed the bag in the canoe and climbed in after it, lugging with me the doubt I’d carried around like a suitcase ever since I’d received the rejection letter from Mother’s alma mater.

The paddle made soft splashing sounds as I moved it from one side of the boat to the other, and the water dripping off it cooled my bare legs. The weather had stayed nice long enough for our outdoor graduation ceremony and then turned hot and muggy right afterward. Now the heat clung like a sweatdrenched shirt and wouldn’t let up until October, about the time the monarch butterflies stopped over in the marshes on their way to Mexico.

I used my trolling motor to maneuver the canoe down the clear, fresh water of Sugar Creek toward the Saint Clare River a short distance away. About a mile downstream, the river spread out into saltmarsh before it reached the shallow water of the Apalachee Bay.

A lighthouse stood in the estuary, and I used the whitewashed brick tower to navigate a labyrinth of narrow creeks, each of which looked pretty much like the next. I can’t really say how many times I’ve gotten lost in the marshes. Physically lost, that is. I don’t think I’ve ever felt really lost there. The marshes are in my blood like the grandmothers I never knew—they rock me, ground me, and teach me that many things existed before I was born.

The sun was high, and in the distance, south toward Dog Island, I saw oyster boats—white flags pinned to the gray water. I hugged the marshy shoreline and then turned down a series of side creeks. As the water grew shallow, I killed the motor and paddled. Around a bend, a big bull alligator sunned on a partially submerged tree, his knobbed back the color of the rotting tree bark and his nose hidden in cattails. He was there more often than not, and neither of us was alarmed. He didn’t move as I paddled within a few feet of him.

Right after I passed the gator, I glanced down a side creek and saw a black man fishing from a skiff. It was rare to see anyone out fishing on a weekday, and I looked to see if it was someone I knew. He saw me and raised his hand in greeting. He was a good distance away, but close enough that I knew he was a guy I’d seen in town a few times. I wondered why he was fishing on a Thursday afternoon when most people were working. I waved back, but seeing him there made me uneasy. 
In Emmettsville, about fifty miles away, a black man had recently attacked and killed a white girl who was out hiking, a terrible crime that Mother was fond of calling to my attention whenever I left in my canoe. That she’d forgotten today was a sign of how angry she was. The incident had sparked riots in Emmettsville and a flurry of heated op eds in the Port Saint Clare newspaper. Race, it seemed, was still a hot button issue. I always preferred to be alone on my “expeditions,” as Daddy called them. I never even took my best friend Karen with me, though she and I had done pretty much everything together since third grade.

“Tess, I swear you’re the reincarnation of Sacagawea,” Daddy liked to say. 

I always rolled my eyes, but secretly I liked the image. Me, wild and savage in my canoe, leading Lewis and Clark through the wilderness I knew like the lines in the palm of my hand. I was twelve when I started roaming the woods, most of which belonged to the wildlife refuge. At first, Daddy forbade me to go. But no punishment he and Mother thought up could keep me from the bay.

On my fourteenth birthday, just after we’d finished my cake, Daddy handed me a package wrapped in brown kraft paper with no ribbon. When I pulled back the paper to reveal a gun, Mother gasped so hard I thought she’d swallowed a gnat.
Her face was as red as I’d ever seen it. I knew Daddy would catch heck later.

“It’s a Smith & Wesson .38 Special. It’s got a four-inch barrel, so you can actually hit something with it.” Daddy smiled at me.

“Damn!” Karen said without thinking. I kicked her under the table.

I smelled a hint of oil as I lifted the pistol out of the box, admiring its knurled wood grip.

“Walnut,” Daddy explained before I could ask. I hugged Daddy then. I knew he was turning me loose. He knew it too, and looked like he might cry, which scared me a little.

Daddy spent hours teaching me to shoot the pistol. I was a good shot, which surprised me, and I almost always hit the cardboard torso he nailed to a tree out in the woods. That seemed to satisfy him. But in the four years I’d owned the gun, I’d never used it for anything other than target practice. I supposed that was a good thing, though it also pointed to the fact that my life had been pretty uneventful.

After seeing the man fishing, I set the paddle aside and reached into my backpack, checking to make sure the gun was loaded. It never occurred to me to question why I was doing it. 
I just figured—better safe than sorry.

I paddled alongside a large rock that jutted out into the creek at a shallow spot and secured the canoe with a rope that I long ago had tied to a nearby tree. Then, I climbed the bank and carried the jar of petals a short distance down a dirt path. The undergrowth beside the trail was thick with palmettos, pine trees, and oaks veiled with Spanish moss. Wild lantana ran rampant, its yellow blooms attracting scores of bees. The path ended at a clear pond that reflected the sunlight in brilliant turquoise. A freshwater spring bubbled up through vents in the sandy bottom. The grassy shoreline held few trees, though some cypresses grew along one side, their wide, wet knees sending root tentacles into the clear water. As I approached, a pair of wild ducks half ran, half flew, to the far side, their wings flapping like someone shaking out wet laundry.

I filled the jar of petals with water from the spring, screwed on the lid, and set it on a partly submerged rock. I would leave it there overnight to steep in the light of the full moon. Lulu taught me that. “The full moon gives them power,” she said. 
I removed my shoes and sat in my favorite spot, my back against a large rock. My feet touched the edge of the pond, cooling my whole body. After emptying my canvas backpack on the ground beside me, I crushed it into a pillow and put it behind my head. The heat rising from the rock lulled me to sleep.

Some time later, I jerked as if something urgent had wakened me. At a movement to my right, I turned to see a water moccasin coiled inches from my leg. Its thick, black body, easily as big around as my arm, glistened in the sunlight. The snake lay close enough that I could make out individual scales, little tiles of shiny, violet-black granite.

Instantly, I froze. Moving only my eyes, I glanced at the pistol, which lay a short distance away. I weighed my options. I was afraid to make a grab for the gun. If I didn’t move, the snake might just go away.

For what must have been several minutes, I sat so still I felt my heart pulsing in the pads of my fingers where they rested on the hot rock beside me. Water lapped at the edges of the pond, its gentle sloshing sounds a sharp contrast to the terror that gripped me. But still I waited, as sweat trickled down my forehead and stung my eyes.

Then, suddenly, a bird or a squirrel rummaged through the underbrush. Sensing the movement, the snake tensed and opened its jaws wide. I saw its fangs and the cotton-white lining of its mouth and lunged sideways for the gun. At the same time, I rolled my lower body to the left and drew my legs 
up under me, away from the snake.

But I wasn’t quick enough. Just as I grabbed the gun, the snake hit my leg hard. The needle-like fangs pierced my skin like bee stings, only much worse. I gasped in pain but rolled quickly back to the right so I could aim the pistol straight on. It would be just like target practice, I thought. I pointed the gun 
and fired as the snake raised its head to strike again.

But my first and second shots missed. Fear and nerves affected my aim. I screamed out of sheer frustration, the sound seeming to come from someone else. The snake stretched out almost the length of its body and struck a second time, biting my shin just below the knee. Again the sharp pain tore through my leg. I got a third shot off and finally hit the snake, throwing it backward.

I stood as quickly as I could, wobbling as I tried to put weight on the bitten leg, and fired two more shots into the snake just to make sure it was dead. I felt a little woozy as I watched its body twitch and jump with each shot. I didn’t like the idea of killing something—not even a venomous snake that had just bitten me. Twice.

I sat on the rock and examined the two puncture wounds that oozed blood. Already they were beginning to swell. Pain seared through my leg when I tried to stand, and a wave of nausea hit me, forcing me to sit down quickly. I decided to wait a bit for the pain to let up.

But while I drank from the thermos of water I’d brought, the seriousness of the situation dawned on me. The pain wasn’t going to get any better. A snake bite typically wasn’t as big a deal as people made of it. But I’d been bitten twice, and the tenminute paddle out to the deeper water of the bay was the worst thing I could do. The exertion would set my heart pumping and spread the venom more quickly through my body.

As my leg stung out away from the impact points, up along the veins, I mentally prepared myself to get moving toward home before the pain got any worse. I sat up and splashed some cold water from the spring on my face.

As I struggled to stand, I heard a boat approaching. Remembering the guy I’d seen fishing, I began to shake, though whether in fear or because of the bites, I wasn’t sure. The sound of the outboard motor came closer then stopped. He’d seen my canoe. Nausea caused me to clasp my hand to my mouth and double over.

“Hello?” he called out as he ran down the path toward me. By the time he reached the clearing, I was on my feet with the gun pointed right at him. I had only one shot left, which he probably knew as well as I did. My aim had to be good this time. But the nausea and the pain in my leg made it difficult to hold the gun steady.

“Stop right there!” I meant to sound authoritative. Instead, my voice wavered, and I knew I sounded pathetic.

“Whoa!” He stopped with his palms facing me as if he could hold off a bullet with them. “Hey, I’m just trying to help here. You can put that thing down.”

He has big hands. The thought flashed through my mind and left me wondering about my mental condition.

“Not until you leave.” I swayed a little with the effort it took to remain standing. I needed help, I knew. But Mother’s warnings sounded in my head. I didn’t intend to be the next victim found in the woods.

His gaze moved from the dead snake to my injured leg.
“You’ve been bitten. Cottonmouth, huh?” He could have been commenting on the weather.

I nodded and chewed my bottom lip to curb the nausea. His voice was warm like the rock I’d been sitting on. And he was younger than I’d realized, probably just a few years older than I was. Flushed and dizzy, I let the gun droop until it pointed more toward his legs than his chest. He noticed, but he didn’t step forward to take it from me.

“It’s okay.” He sounded exasperated. “Put that thing away.

You screamed, and I heard gunshots. I came to help.” He watched me closely. I didn’t put the gun down, though by now it was pointed at his feet.

“I’m Jacob Hampton.” He walked deliberately toward me. At the time, that struck me as incredibly brave, but thinking back on it I doubt I was much of a threat. He seemed blurry around the edges, like waves of heat were rising off his brown skin. He stopped right in front of me and, before I could react, offered me his hand. It was clean with trimmed nails—not bitten, like mine.

“Tess Seibert …” my voice trailed off to a whisper. I dropped the gun and fainted in a decidedly un-Sacagawean way.

About the author:

Laura Templeton lives near Athens, Georgia, with her husband, son, and a menagerie of animals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gardening, learning to figure skate, and taking long walks on the quiet country roads near her home. Something Yellow is her debut novel, and her creative nonfiction has appeared in various publications.


Laura said...

Thanks so much for featuring Summer of the Oak Moon. I appreciate the support!

Arf2-D2 said...

I like that hurricane quote describing interracial relationships. Fortunately, we have, as the reviewer noted, come quite a long way in accepting interracial couples. Unfortunately, we have other words that can be substituted for interracial and prejudice rears its ugly head again.
PS. I like the cover too - perfectly captures the essence of a hot summer night.