Characters, Setting, Storyline make Inman’s Home Fires Burning a Timeless Treat to Read

Published on AL.com 6/24/2014

Sometimes you read a novel that grabs you and leaves you thinking of its characters long after you’ve finished reading — a work that you rush to finish while hating to see it end. “Home Fires Burning” is that kind of book.

Written by Elba native Robert Inman, the book encompasses the lives of three generations of an established family in a small Southern town during the last days of World War II. Inman’s depiction of the social hierarchy of the small town is written with truth and humor. Jake Tibbetts, the editor of the town newspaper started by his grandfather, Captain Finley Tibbetts, after the Civil War, is the central character. And a character he is. Jake is opinionated, bull-headed and eccentric.

He is coming to terms with aging; he is the self-imposed voice of the community through his newspaper, The Free Press; he is married to Pastine, a woman who can hold her own against his orneriness; he is taking care of his 12-year-old grandson, Lonnie, while his son, Henry, is in Europe fighting, and he is facing the changes brought on by wartime.

For Jake, a staunch believer in taking responsibility for oneself, the war has brought about circumstances that challenge his core belief in his ability to “take his life in his own hands and shaking it for all it’s worth.” Jake discovers, however, there are trials in life that may make his motto impossible to follow.

What does a man like Jake do when life becomes a thing he can’t control? For Jake, there is no easy answer. He finds himself lost in the chaos of happenings beyond his control, yet he struggles to live by his motto no matter the collateral damage. It is his finding his way that is so compelling about the book. Jake butts heads at every turn. What he views as faults in others, leads to both funny and tragic situations.

The novel immediately reminded me of my grandfather, who much like Jake, held on to his view of the world, even as that world around him changed. This is what makes the novel both intriguing and timeless. We all struggle with a changing world and our beliefs and convictions are sometimes rocked by those changes. Not only does Jake have to deal with immediate situations (his son’s pregnant wife showing up on Christmas Day), he has to deal with a legacy of mental and physical illness — the Tibbetts’ curse.

Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Jake must deal with his family’s past and its effects on him, his son, Henry, and his grandson, Lonnie. The past is ever present in his life as it is with us all. In his grandfather’s Civil War sword which hangs over the mantel, a testament to heroism and family legacy. In the tragedy of his alcoholic son, his depressed father and the Tibbets curse which he fears yet grips the family. Yet, Jake tries to hold his belief in his ability to take responsibility for his own life even as that life is grows out of control.

One of the best aspects of Inman’s work is his ability to bring humor into Jake’s struggle. There are wonderfully funny scenes that break the tension.  Jake writes witty and biting columns in The Free Press concerning some of the town’s prominent citizens. As with life, in the midst of great tragedy, we are offered comic relief.

And there are some really insightful quotes:

“Man’s avarice is exceeded only by his curiosity. And man is never more curious than he is about the avarice of others.”

“There’s only two things standing between man and perfection, gents, and that’s meanness and ignorance.”

“He grieved a bit for himself, for all men who must grow old and face the certainty of their own mortality, knowing for all their age and wisdom, they go naked and blind into the dark night.”

“Most of the failures of this world are failures of imagination.”

“Home Fires Burning” has no lack of imagination. From beginning to end, the reader is entranced by the characters, the setting and the story of the Tibbetts family.

To quote Jake, “A man has to take his life into his own hands and shake it for all it’s worth.” We are fortunate that Inman took this story and shook it for all it’s worth. With the shaking, a brilliant novel was born with a memorable cast of characters. It’s a book you won’t forget.

Social Awareness in To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books that can change a person. It certainly changed me when I first read it. It helped to shape my idea of justice and fair play. Reading it again after all these years has made me realize just how much the book helped to change my perception of the world around me. I’m not sure if I had ever really looked at the world around me without questioning the state of things. We were taught there was a difference between us and others, and never questioned the validity of this assumption. However, discovering how easily an innocent man is found guilty based on his race instead of facts that clearly showed his innocence helped me to look at other injustices and assumptions that I had never questioned. For this reason, I’ll always be grateful I read the book when I did.

Reading the book now, I find a true kinship with Jem. As Chapter 25 begins, it is September and Jem and Scout are sleeping on the screen porch. Jem chastises Scout for playing with a roly poly before, without a thought, she moves to mash the harmless bug. Jem has taken all he has seen to heart, and tells Scout she shouldn’t mash the bug, “Because they don’t bother you.”

Though just a small scene, it is telling. Jem is trying to make sense out of all that has happened. Scout remembers what Dill had told her about Jem and him riding with Atticus to deliver the news of Tom Robinson’s death to his wife. “Scout,” said Dill, “she just fell down in the dirt, like a giant with a big foot just came along and stepped on her. Like you’d step on an ant.” Perhaps Jem was thinking of this when he stopped Scout from mashing the roly poly. Tom’s life had been mashed out for no good reason. Jem is becoming an adult and beginning to look at the world through eyes that see past the way things are to the way things should be. His sense of justice has begun to mature.

We find also in these two brief chapters how quickly people move on from Tom’s death. “Maycomb was interested by the news of Tom’s death for perhaps two days.” Two days, not a very long time to contemplate the senseless killing of an impaired man who was shot seventeen times while trying to escape an exercise yard the size of a football field. Mr. Underwood writes a scathing editorial about how it “was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting or escaping,” and compared Tom’s death to the “senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.”  This is another example of the defenseless becoming the victim of prejudice and cruelty and the injustice of “the secret courts of men’s hearts,” an injustice that Jem has recognized in its full horror.

At the end of Chapter 25, we are given the foreshadowing of more horror to come when “Mr. Ewell said it made one down and about two more to go.” Jem’s maturity is further shown when he tells Scout not to be afraid and won’t let her say anything to Atticus about Ewell’s threats.

Chapter 26 brings another school year and a change in Scout’s feelings about Boo Radley. She is no longer afraid to walk past the Radley place and envisions a day when she might approach Boo as he sits on his porch swing and converse with him as if they are old friends. The childish fears of Boo are gone, and Scout recognizes that “Boo Radley was the least of our fears.” Even with Atticus’s assurance that things will settle down, Scout feels “the events of the summer hung over us like smoke.” With Atticus being reelected to the state senate, Scout comes to the conclusion that “people were just peculiar” and decides to put them out of her mind. Unlike Jem whose mind is heavy with all that has happened, Scout is still young enough to put it all in the past.

Hypocrisy rears its head again in school when Scout’s teacher, Miss Gates, begins a Current Events period. During this period, Cecil Jacobs speaks to the class about “Old Adolf Hitler.” Cecil’s understanding is typical for a small child in that he claims Hitler is “washing the feeble minded.” It’s interesting that the class has a hard time understanding how Hitler can operate in such a way as to take the property and rights of white people. But this allows Scout to begin questioning the hypocrisy of the adult world when she recalls a statement Miss Gates made on the courtroom steps just after Tom Robinson’s verdict. Miss Gates tells Stephanie Crawford “it’s time somebody taught them a lesson, they were getting’ way above themselves.” Scout rightfully wonders how Miss Gates can “hate Hitler so bad an’ turn around and be ugly about folks right at home.”

And it is ugly.  Miss Gates has agreed with Scout’s definition of Democracy as “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none,” and goes on to demonstrate how America is vastly different from Germany in our lack of prejudice. She can’t understand why Hitler would persecute the Jews. “They contribute to every society they live in, and most of all, they are a deeply religious people.” Harper shows us this is also a fitting definition of Maycomb’s black community. It is the crux of the novel. How can people be intolerant of prejudice and injustice in others, while ignoring it in themselves and their communities?

It is a question society still struggles with today, making To Kill a Mockingbird as relevant now as when it was first published.


Jump on Hayride 2 at the Crescent Theater

What could be more thrilling than watching a movie premiere with the actors, director and producers sitting in the same theater? How about watching that movie at The Crescent Theater when one of the stars of the show is the city of Mobile itself?

Last Tuesday, June 12, writer/director, Terron Parsons, premiered his movie, Hayride 2, to an enthusiastic audience of 180 and followed the premiere with an after-party at Sky View Lounge.

Though I’m not generally a horror/slasher film fanatic, I’ve seen a good bit of the genre and Hayride 2 is a fine offering. (Plenty of cover-your-face, grip the arm of your chair and “ugh” moments.) It grabs your attention from the first scene, in this case a few scenes from Hayride rendering it accessible to those who haven’t seen the first movie. And Fleetwood Covington’s musical score is the perfect accompaniment to the film.

Both Hayride films are based on the legend of Pitchfork, a psycho farmer who goes crazy and murders his own family before unleashing his wrath on the community. Some of the best scenes are centered around Captain Morgan’s (Mobilian, Richard Tyson), rendering of the story.

I don’t attend a great deal of movie premieres, but I found it entertaining to look around the audience and wonder who would be left standing at the end of the film. No spoilers here. You have to see it to find out.

For me, one of the main attractions is the setting. The movie was filmed in various locations around Mobile and Baldwin counties. The main setting for Hayride 2 is the old Providence Hospital, which is extremely spooky in itself. It was a great location for the sequel and allowed for wonderful moments of suspense and creepiness.

In a pre-premiere article, Parsons told Al.com’s Tamara Ikenberg,”Working in the inner bowels of an abandoned hospital even spooked a lot of the crew.” He also gives credit to  the Mobile Film Office for finding the hospital.

Attending the premiere at The Crescent Theater was an added bonus for me, as it is one of the best venues in Mobile. (It’s always a treat to go to The Crescent.)

Parsons and fellow producer Jonathan Kelly are hoping to continue to be able to bring their films to the area. Parsons stated, “I feel very blessed to be able to work in the area I live in and I hope that I am able to keep bringing our movies here. We have two more movies slated to shoot here in the next 12 months, providing that we secure the rest of the financing.”

So, a few other great things to add to the Huffington Post’s list of great things in Mobile. A growing film industry, wonderful talented filmmakers and a unique art-house theater right in downtown.

Thanks to people like Parsons and Kelly, Mobile is buzzing along. (Or is that Pitchfork?) Either way, I feel lucky to live in a community that supports local talent and offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, though that might not include creepy old Providence Hospital.