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THE LAST TRAIN NORTH by Clifton L. Taulbert



Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
Publisher: Council Oak

As a self-styled ""cultural diary,"" this sequel to Taulbert's rich memoir, Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored (1989), often fails to rise above a matter-of-fact blandness. In 1963, Taulbert, a hope-filled high-school valedictorian, left his home in the Mississippi Delta aboard the Illinois Central bound for St. Louis. His trip was in part sponsored by his father, a Baptist preacher whom he'd never seen. When they finally met in St. Louis, the man left the bewildered youth with relatives on North Spring Avenue and informed him that they ""probably"" would not have a relationship (Taulbert later describes sneaking into his father's church to hear him preach). The author's new extended family included bossy Mama Beulah and her daughter, Dora; Uncle Madison, who owned the grocery store above which the family lived; and friendly, gentle Aunt Clara. Taulbert shared a dingy room with a cousin, worked part-time at the store, and attended the Lively Stone Church of God Here, he details how he acquired his ""city"" clothes, got a ""northern haircut,"" reacted to his first snowfall, and made his first friends. A highlight--for the author, anyway--is his first trip back home, where he got the royal treatment (including meals and southern hospitality that he describes with some warmth, although the magic phrase ""sweet potato pie"" becomes a bit tiresome). Taulbert's story continues with his first jobs in St. Louis--as a dishwasher and bank messenger--through his enlistment in the Air Force, boot camp in Texas, and stint in Maine during the Vietnam War. Some charming moments, but not the equal of Taulbert's first book as here he fails to mine personalities and situations seemingly laden with possibility.