In Life, Like in a Rodeo, Brenda Black White Always Rode to the Whistle.
November 13, 2012
Last week, we talked about Brenda Black White’s book of poetry, The Thing About Me. The cover, of course, featured a table set up for tea. And with each submission of a cover for her approval, she found something not to like. But the designer finally satisfied her precise tastes. With the book going to press, Brenda scheduled a tea party to celebrate.
Fred Tarpley referred to her gatherings as “High Teas.” I will never forget the last one. Dr. Michael Johnson, an author and speaker Brenda simply called Cowboy, arrived with me. It was hot, and I wore one of my best colored T-shirts, wranglers faded and washed to a nice softness, and well-broken-in boots.
Michael had on a dusty black cowboy hat and his usual starched jeans and shirt with boots, of course. When we walked in, Brenda was already holding literary court with Dr. Fred Tarpley, well known author, editor, linguist and professor, (and my publishing partner and editor). Also present was professor, author and publisher Dr. Charles Linck. When Dr. James Conrad arrived, we all congratulated him on his award from the Texas Institute of Letters for his most recent book. I felt a little rough-around-the-edges in this gathering of literary legends.
Brenda offered us vanilla-rum tea and our choice of key lime pie, chocolate ice cream pie, or cheesecake served with a rather stern visage by Victoria, her caregiver. Michael excused himself and I smiled as I watched him (from my seat at the literary table) lean over the bathroom sink to wash the snuff out of his mouth. I felt out of my element, but comfortable because Brenda was there and I knew that my presence as her publisher was a command performance.
I remember looking around the room and trying to imagine what this eclectic group might have looked like in a situation comedy. What a sight we must have made, sipping tea, eating pie and cookies, all under Brenda’s watchful eye. She brought us all together, stimulated the conversations, directed the event as if it were a stage play.
The title poem’s first lines tell a lot about Brenda.
Is that I’m always falling in love
With men, women, little kids, everybody and everything
Butterflies, sunsets, clouds, daisies
Birds, books, music, movies
But mainly people.
When The Thing About Me was ready for print, I wrote this message in the front as a note from the publisher:
Brenda Black White faces more adversity in a day than most of us do in a lifetime. She does it with aplomb and raw courage. When much is taken away, much is given in return. The bucking and pitching of her life has given Brenda a wider range of sensitivity and experience. In her own words, she is “on till the whistle and tied to the hitch,” and her poems reflect tenderness and deep awareness of the blessings and curses of an unusually wild ride. Brenda says, “I’ll ride this wild bastard till I’m thrown in the ditch” . . and she will. Brenda’s poems are full of grit and sass, expertly blended with romance and a deep appreciation of everyday life. Her writing can be tender and gentle, but also raw, gutsy, and lusty. Be ready.
Brenda did, indeed, ride to the whistle, outliving the short life predicted for her by more than three decades. I have been to a lot of rodeos, seen lots of rides to the whistle, but none did it as well or as long as Brenda. In the end, the wild stallion finally threw her. She was dropped while being loaded into her van for a medical trip. Bones were broken that would never heal.
She still called after she finally returned home, offering her usual cheery, “Hello, hello, hello.” She found a flannel shirt that she thought I would like and invited me over to present it as a gift. But things were not going to get better.
She called me for the last time two weeks before she left us in January, 2010. When I spoke at her funeral, I sent up a short message to all the angels in heaven. Brenda is coming. Be ready.
Jim Ainsworth is author of Go Down Looking. A review posted on Barnes and Noble. GO DOWN LOOKING is another stunning novel from the author who gave us HOME LIGHT BURNING and the Rivers series, which GO DOWN LOOKING aptly concludes. I was drawn into the story from page one, both for its authenticity– a Jim Ainsworth trademark– and the elegiac quality of the writing. If you haven’t read any of the Rivers novels, start with the first one. You will fall in love with the highly skeptical and ever authentic Jake Rivers. You will find yourself caring deeply what happens to Jake and his family through all their struggles with life, and with one another. GO DOWN LOOKING will break your heart at times, and the outcome will be both moving and fully satisfying. –from Suzanne Morris, author of GALVESTON and The Clearharbour Trilogy