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Charming first volume in the new American Places of the Heart series, with forthcoming volumes featuring memoirs about Dallas, Chicago's North Shore, the Philadelphia Main Line, Kansas City, Dedham (MA), and Oxford (GA). Sea Island Yankee is a memoir of a childhood period spent on James Island across the James River from Charleston, South Carolina. In 1921, Bresee's father, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer, answered an ad placed by a St. John Alison Lawtown, who was looking for a manager for his dairy plantation on James Island. After long correspondence, Bresee went South to look over the plantation, then sent for his wife and two sons, Clyde and Kenneth. Eventually the Bresees spent 10 years on the plantation, before returning to Pennsylvania. Much of the memoir turns upon childhood pleasures, crises and vexations, including helping Kenneth weather nearly a year lost to tuberculosis. It is, in fact, tuberculosis which brings the Bresees' stay on James Island to a climax. Father Bresee decides that--as he has agreed with owner Lawton--the dairy herd must be brought up to specifications for accreditation; when he tests the herd he finds 21 cows tubercular. When these cows are slaughtered, the lessened herd is and remains disease-free for the next two years, but the dairy farm faces lean years. What's more, when Father Bresee attempts to get a loan from a friendly northern cousin to buy the plantation, a Wall Street disaster cuts off all possibility of financing. Aside from school, the brothers had few chores--the plantation's Negroes need every chore available--but also no way to earn spending money without breaking down the distance that had to be maintained between the races. This distance broke down when the kids went fishing, crabbing or shrimping. Charleston still lived in the afterglow of the landed aristocracy, and this lends a fading sunset loveliness to many pages, as do the deep friendships the Bresees make. The economics of the dairy business and trying to boost the butter fat content of the dairy's milk (so that there would be a deep cream line on the bottles) also enrich the story. A very likable kickoff for what should be a distinguished series.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
ISBN: 1570030952
Publisher: Algonquin