It’s been a long month of sequestering for me since I choose to follow my doctor’s recommendations. After all, if you are going to ask an expert, it’s sheer folly to ignore what they say. That’s not to say this post is trying to persuade you to behave one way or the other during the current pandemic. I’ve spent enough time stressing over what other people’s actions may or not mean for me. Enough to say I tick several of the high risk categories the experts refer to when they talk about the dangers of catching the disease. So, I’ve decided to shorten my sight and concentrate on what I can control…my own behavior.
To that end, I’m staying home with my cats and away from people, which leaves me with lots of time on my hands. One of the best decisions I ever made was to sign on with NetGalley.com to start reading books prior to publication in exchange for writing reviews. It’s been a great experience, partly because I simply love to read, partly because I know a few people who work in libraries and I can send recommendations to them, and now, partly because it’s provided me with a great way to entertain myself while I continue self-isolating.
The down side of staying at home for long periods of time can result in an increase in tension. Add to that the tension that comes when you open the news with dread to learn how many new cases/hospitalizations/deaths there are; or you learn your daughter, the EMT is now transporting COVID-19 patients. I found I needed something uplifting to ease my spirit a bit. That’s when I opened Dr. Francois S. Clemmons memoir, Officer Clemmons. I knew there would be some stories about Fred Rogers of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” fame. What I didn’t know was how charming and uplifting I would find Dr. Clemmons as well. In spite of his documented rough beginning as the child of a sharecropper and his later experiences as the country struggled with integration, his story remained uplifting, and he maintained a positive attitude that was refreshing to read; especially when being stuck at home had gotten a little tedious. This book was perfect for that. This book If you’re interested, here’s my review.
Opening Dr. Francois Clemmons book, OFFICER CLEMMONS, is like slicing warm butter. With the first sentence you are already into the essence of the book, and it is so easy to just sit and read and before you know it you’ve read twenty pages, then fifty, and so on until you make yourself put it down for a bit. There is a wonderful conversational style to the book that is like sitting in a room with Dr. Clemmons, listening to him tell you the story of his life.
There is information in the book about his time on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and about his relationship with Fred Rogers, but that isn’t the focus of the entire book. It opens with the story of Clemmons early years, growing up under the influence of his great Uncle. he grew up poor, the son of a sharecropper, but alway feeling loved and protected by his uncle and his grandmother. That is, until floods caused his family to move and he eventually wound up in Philadelphia.
His life, once he moves with his family, is filled with difficulty. There is abuse on the part of his step-father, rejection on the part of his mother because of his sexual orientation, and descrimination from the school system that wants to shuffle him toward a vocational technical school to learn a trade rather than to a 4 year college to study voice, even though his vocal talent is obvious.
Along the way he is fortunate enough to meet several different people who help smooth out some of the rough spots so he can continue his pursuit of a career in music. There are also people who easily accept his homosexuality as well, which gives him the protection he needs to live his life in the way he chooses. This acceptance continues to Fred Rogers. The biggest obstacle he encounters is the realization that, while Mr. Rogers accepts him, homosexuality does not mesh with children’s television at the time and he is going to have to choose between living openly and proudly as a gay man.
The entire story is told with a refreshing naivete which reflects the person he appears to be. He accepts people at face value, accepting their good wishes and offerings of help when they come and he is puzzled and often hurt by people who don’t offer him the same type of acceptance. If you Google images of Dr. Clemmons, many of the photos shown reveal this openness and joy, even as he moved into his more advanced years.
Reading this book will fill you with a variety of emotions from joy and gentleness that is reflected in his relationship with people who are dear to him to anger and frustration at people who want to funnel him into a path that is not one for which he is well suited, simply because of his color. There is more information here that reflects the positive nature of people who came into contact with Dr. Clemmons and who offered him help, or mentorship, or protection throughout his life, and that makes it an uplifting book to read. My thanks to Catapult Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an advance digital reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Now some places are opening again, and some people are getting out; but I’m not one of them. I’ve been directed to stay at home until at least mid-May, and like I said earlier; if you’re going to ask the experts, right? Anyway, I’m going to go find another book to read. Hope you are staying safe and taking care of those around you. Happy Reading.