Hill’s (It’s All About the Children, 2011) eclectic memoir recounts her life in the 1940s and ’50s as one of six children in a close-knit sharecropper family.
As a child, Hill was accustomed to not having electricity, refrigeration (the iceman came in a horse-drawn wagon), or running water (they used an outhouse), “but that did not mean [she] liked it.” The author, who is African-American, went to segregated schools—white students were bussed while she had to walk—but the black and white children often mingled en route. “Our conversations were polite and good natured, as most conversations between children are,” writes Hill. Class work was a welcome challenge (although she admits she rebelliously just “pretended to read” boring textbooks her parents insisted she study). In 1957, at 16, she enrolled in Virginia’s Norfolk State University, a small all-black school, to learn to be a secretary (one of the sure jobs open to women in that era), but gradually, she moved into teaching. She straightforwardly, sometimes monotonously, chronicles anecdotes about boyfriends, sit-ins, the civil service, marriage to her first husband (a compulsive gambler), and her career as an educator in California. While the memoir gives a full and candid account of the author’s trajectory (Hill never sugarcoats her faults), it lacks a sense of place once she leaves her Southern childhood home for California. She’s open about her rather ordinary shortcomings (gossip, prejudice, temper) and sees even missteps as a plus: “I can’t think of anything in my life that wasn’t in some way a lesson. I have been able to pull some good out of anything, to make lemonade out of lemons. I’ve had to do it all my life.” In a final note that shows her practical sense of humor, the book concludes with a short funeral service she’s composed for herself. It’s complete with instructions (“You should get to the funeral early so that people won’t have to move over”) and warnings (“My spirit is in this room so please don’t revise what I have written...I don’t want anyone leaving, saying ‘Gosh, that sure was a long funeral’ ”).
Scattered, sometimes-heartwarming memories may inspire in this anecdote-heavy text.