Novel PASTimes: We’re talking today with Pete McLean, who lives in a little farming community not too far from Birmingham, Alabama, which we all saw on the news a few years back when Dr. King and civil rights marchers protested there. Welcome, Pete.
Pete: Thank you. I ’preciate you havin’ me.
Novel PASTimes: Tell us, Pete—how old are you?
Pete: I’m seventeen.
Novel PASTimes: But you were eleven when you met the field hand Isaac Reynolds?
Pete: No, ma’am, I was eleven when my Daddy passed. I’d always known Isaac.
Novel PASTimes: Before we talk about your friendship with him, tell us about his relationship with your father.
Pete: I’m not sure I can explain it. They just had something special between ’em, you know? Like they understood one another. Respected each other. They liked to sing together when they worked—ol’ gospel quartet songs and spirituals—on accounta Daddy was a tenor, and he could harmonize real good with Isaac’s baritone.
Novel PASTimes: But your father was Isaac’s boss, correct?
Pete: Yes, ma’am, but they didn’t act like it. Daddy didn’t feel right bein’ nobody’s boss ’cause he didn’t come from money. But Mama did. And then when they got married, Daddy started workin’ her family farm with Daddy Ballard—that’s my Granddaddy. But I don’t know—sometimes I think Daddy was prob’ly more at home with Isaac than he was with Daddy Ballard. I saw him slip Isaac some extra money one time, and when I asked him how come, he said it was because he knew what it was like to want things you couldn’t have. I think about that a lot—and I try to do what Daddy woulda wanted me to—helpin’ other people that ain’t got as much as I do.
Novel PASTimes: So tell us about your friendship with Isaac Reynolds.
Pete: Well, he’ll always be my best friend—except for Dovey I mean. But that’s different. Isaac was like the best big brother you could ever imagine. ’Course when I was little, I didn’t understand how hard his life was or what it was like for somebody that dreamed o’ bigger things to be trapped on a cotton farm. I just loved spendin’ time with him. After Daddy passed, well . . . I don’t know how I woulda made it without Isaac. He taught me so much and took up so much time with me. Helped me get past the fear o’ bein’ without my Daddy. And he taught me how important it was to look after Mama. If I live to be a hundred, I won’t ever have another friend like Isaac.
Novel PASTimes: Tell us about Dovey.
Pete: (Smiling) She’s the most beautiful girl in the whole world. And I don’t just mean on the outside. Dovey’s beautiful on the inside, too. And she can see things—feel the currents in the river, you know? What’s so amazin’ is that you can walk from my house to hers, but if I hadn’a gone lookin’ for Isaac in the backwoods, I never woulda met her. And when I think about life without Dovey—well—I don’t wanna think about life without Dovey.
Novel PASTimes: So her father and your mother are both widowed?
Pete: Yes, ma’am.
Novel PASTimes: Any chance the two of them . . .?
Pete: Um, I reckon you’d need to ask them about that if you don’t mind.
Novel PASTimes: Do you feel like you learned anything from your search for Isaac?
Pete: In a way, I learned everything while I was lookin’ for him. I found Dovey. So I learned how to love somebody like I never loved anybody else. I saw how hard her fam’ly has to work for not much money and how that wears on people like her Daddy, who’s got a lotta pride and just wants to make a good life for her. And Dovey taught me that people like me and her and Isaac—we come from different worlds, and you gotta know something about somebody’s world if you wanna understand ’em.
Novel PASTimes: Pete thank you so much for your time.
Pete: Thank you for havin’ me. We got an all-day singin’ comin’ up at the church if y’all wanna come. There’s gonna be a ton o’ food, so come on by if you get the chance. Everybody’s welcome.
Novel PASTimes: Thank you for the invitation! That sounds delightful!
Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society.
Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.
Find Valerie here: https://www.facebook.com/valeriefraserluessebooks/, or www.MissingIsaac.com