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by Ron Rozelle

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-17711-2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In Rozelle’s loving memoir of his late father, a longtime Texas school superintendent, we glimpse a dimly lit picture of an aging man whose character never quite emerges. The author, himself a high-school English teacher in the Houston area, alternates reminiscences of his youth with entries from 1991—92, when his father, Lester, began at age 85 “to slip a bit,” experiencing “short moments of confusion, the hesitation before taking a step.” Poignant scenes show Lester getting lost in the house; forgetting that his wife was not at the store, but instead out of town; and even failing to recognize his son: “I have a son who teaches school,” Lester informs Ron. —Now, tell me again . . . Who are you?” Sad but, in an 85-year- old, not tragic . And the author goes on to draw a shaky portrait of his father’s life in happier years. Flashing back to the1960s, when Lester faced the challenge posed by integration to his school system, Rozelle says little about his father’s actual stance. Ditto Rozelle-the-elder’s stint as a political appointee under President Johnson and even when teaching at a prison. We do learn that the purchase of a fishing cottage (although he did not fish) and a car trip to Florida “were exceptions to an otherwise predictable life.” More vivid is the evocation of Rozelle’s chain-smoking, ailing mother who, stoked with too many medicines, would ultimately shoot herself to death. And a powerful scene of youthful racism has the young Rozelle denying his black playmates to a group of taunting boys: “They ain’t my friends,” he insists. Even a slight memoir has its moments. But the real story seems to lie buried somewhere below the surface of the author’s recollections of good times with his mother and under Rozelle’s reflections on his changing East Texas neighborhood.