On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons and The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

There are some periods in history that I tend to read often.  I have many books set during the period of slavery or transitioning from slavery through the civil war to emancipation.  I also have many books that bring to life the Holocaust period.  I’m not sure why.  Many because I want to learn/understand what makes us want to suppress another’s soul or I rejoice in the very triumph of the suppressed.  I seek glimmers of the best of humanity.

On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon chronicles the life of a young white girl into her late adulthood as she reminisces on what may be the last afternoon of her life.  Through her eyes we see the brutality of slavery, the many horrors of the civil war, and the hardships that all must face through personal tragedies.  Just as the country had to make a transition, Emma transitioned from the home of her racist, ignorant father on a southern plantation to the home of her husband, a physician in the north.  With all the liberties afforded an affluent white woman, she could not have triumphed without Clarice, the slave who had first cared for her mother and then went to her new home with her.  She pushed back against the poor treatment of slaves and poor blacks her entire life in finding her own voice and legacy, but the story is filled with the ugliness of the time.

 In The Kitchen House, it broke my heart to see how racism was spread by those too mean and evil to see the value of those caring for them at the detriment of their own families. It reminded me of the current racists we face who have the ear of children, the downtrodden, and politicians.  They are weak who seek to bring others along with them because they are too afraid to embrace equality and change.  But then you see the rays of sun in the hearts of those who continue to love, view individuals for themselves, and attempt to live with compassion and integrity.  This book brings to light the results of secrets kept.  We all know every story has multiple views.  This story intertwines the views of Belle, a slave who runs the kitchen house, and Lavinia, an Irish indentured servant, and those that try to protect them.