How Can I Keep From Singing?
Synopsis: Bonita Byrnes comes of age during the civil rights movement in Birmingham’s working class neighborhoods. Pearl, her mother, runs a boarding house. Ida, her black cook with enormous faith, becomes her confidante as Pearl goes from one bad relationship to another, leaving Bonita’s father for a young Marine, just home from Korea. Their lives are complicated by what we now would call his PTSD from World War II. He drinks to excess, becomes violent at times, and moves from job to job. Lucinda, her older sister, does not like the stepfather. Bonita’s father Phil marries a new wife and does very little to help with the girls though he is quick to criticize Pearl’s efforts. His first wife, Priscilla, is more than willing to help Pearl and her girls. The two women bond as they care for their children together when Pearl is on hard times. Their love and commitment is really the core of the story. Two very different types, they pool their strengths and their hatred of the new wife and raise a house full of children. Eventually, Pearl is able to move on with Rhett who is a bus driver for Birmingham Transit during the famous boycott. Pearl and Lucinda go about the normal rituals of growing into young women. Bonita has crushes while Lucinda has dates. They become involved with a Methodist church where the youth leader is extremely liberal. Rhett is a colorful guy who either preaches at the Baptist church or drinks too much, either extreme. Bonita adores and hates her stepfather. Lucinda hates him. He sells turquoise jewelry made by Indians in Mississippi whom he claims to be related to. Things build to a point of tension so intense that Lucinda runs away after she gets in a fight over attempts to integrate her school. Pearl and Bonita become very close during this time. They are both shocked to learn that Lucinda has been dating the youth leader and has been deeply influenced by him.
ISBN: 978-1-60489-165-2 Hard cover $30.00 Sale Price $14.00
ISBN: 978-1-60489-166-9 Trade paper $18.95 Sale Price $8.00
Cobb grew up in Birmingham, Al., mostly during the
1950’s, where she was educated in the public schools.
She attended Alabama College (now UM) in Montevallo
where she was graduated with honors in English. In 1972
she earned her M.A. in English from the Bread Loaf
School of English at Middlebury College. During her
graduate school years, she taught junior high, receiving
notice for her creative, innovative teaching style.
Loretta married William Cobb, one of her professors,
while she was still an undergraduate. In 1974, her
daughter Meredith was born, bringing an end to her
junior high teaching career. She joined the staff at UM
in order to be a part-time worker. Being a mom was her
top priority. She established a study skills and
tutoring program, which grew into the Harbert Writing
Center, which she founded in 1979 and directed until
1995. Loretta published numerous academic articles and
gave presentations across the country.
After her retirement in ’95, family called again. She enjoyed several years of helping her grandson enjoy his pre-school years. Later, when his sister Sara Beth was born, Loretta had begun a new career as a writer, both for The Birmingham News as a freelancer and for a number of fiction publications. Her first story, “Seeing it Through,” appeared in Livingston’s Belles’ Letters, followed by a collection of her own stories The Ocean Was Salt. She was also included in the anthologies: Climbing Mt Cheaha and Working the Dirt. “Feeling Salty” was short-listed in the Irish International Competition for Fish, a literary magazine. Loretta appeared at all the major literary conferences in the state, and her first book received high praise from reviewers.
For the last decade Loretta has been part of the Alabama Readers’ Theater, entertaining annually at such venues as Monroeville Literary Symposium and the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum’s Gala. The readers performed for the International Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in 2014. She has also traveled extensively with her family. Caregiving for her parents became a priority for a decade, but during that time she worked on How Can I keep from Singing? published in 2016.
Excerpt from the Book:
Chapter One: An Echo in My Soul
Before I am born I know. In utero, already the narrator/observer making notes, I warm to the fragile beating of my half-formed heart as I web my way toward life inside a woman whose own heart races to the beat of my father's whims. He wants me aborted. As soon as she figures out what he’s up to; however, she grabs her clothes and runs out of the doctor’s office--down the back alley of the strange quarter of town.
Lucinda, my sister, whispers to me at my aunt’s funeral, over the organ’s drone, "You really should go see the old man. It would be good for you."
My back stiffens as I turn my head away from her ominous tone. She knows my defenses are down. I feel more manipulated by her timing than the sappy tune from the organ. I gather my purse and shawl, then look up to her pale face, the bleary eyes framed by threads of gray hair throughout the golden curls. I see the Light emanate from this woman. I see my own eyes a few years from now, the hairline identical. She’s so beautiful; the artsy look becomes her. I never liked the lawyer look. It wasn’t her. Her eyes penetrate. I feel the force even then. “Daddy’s at the end, baby.”