Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Memories resurface of receiving “Going Mome” books

My first book, “The Flaming Turkey,” came out 25 years ago this week, as I write this.  It was fortunately a small press best seller, and was into its second 5000 print run within nine months.  The sequel, “Going Home,” was also a small press best seller the next year, although it was actually beat into the bookstores by my third book, the farm book, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  

That one was printed in the USA, but “Going Home” had some color artwork in it, and my agent set it up for printing in Japan, which along with Spain was doing the best color art printing then, for some reason, and the dollar vs. Yen at the time had something to do with the choice.

Onliest thing was, there was a typhoon which the ship bearing my books had to go around, then when it finally got to New Orleans, U.S. Customs impounded its cargo for some odd reason, which delayed it another month, so the farm book got to the stores before “Going Home,” which still became the Number Two Outdoor Book in the country that next year.

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This is an aside, but the bad luck for GH didn’t end in Noo Awleans: the truck bearing the shipment of books caught fire outside of Greenwood, although the cargo wasn’t affected, just delayed.  A second truck arrived in Leland at almost midnight, bearing the metal Conex Box, still locked.  I’d rounded up a few friends to help unload cases of books, and after the driver unlocked and opened the Conex Box, I reached in and pulled out the first case of my newest title.

Printed in large letters on the cardboard box was: GOING MOME.

I turned to the folks waiting to unload and addressed my wife.  “Betsy, I’m going to walk down to the street corner; it’s almost time for the midnight bus to be coming through town.  You open this box and look at the books therein.  If I have a shipment of 5000 “Going Momes” just holler ‘Go!’ and I’ll step out in front of the Greyhound and get this over with.”

Fortunately, the books were titled correctly. I kept an empty box, though!

But what I wanted to tell you about here at Christmas was a call I got just after New Years from a lady in Colorado, who had bought that book.  When she had identified me as the author, she declared, “I’ll bet that I can tell you when you were born, and in what hospital.”

Well, that’s a sucker bet that I declined, but encouraged her to take her best shot. She came right back with December 22nd in Indianola, Mississippi. That information was not available in “Going Home,” so I asked how she knew.

“Because my son was born that same day in that hospital. In those days, they used to keep mother and child for a week before letting us go home, and there were several new mothers who had to spend Christmas in the hospital. In this book, you mentioned a doctor named George whom your daddy took duck hunting, and I remembered their story about that cane duck blind catching fire. Let me tell you what your daddy did that Christmas, because I bet you don’t know.”

I didn’t know, so she continued, “Your daddy went out and cut a Christmas tree to set up in the lobby, and brought in all the decorations to trim the tree, with the nurses’ help. Then he went out and bought presents for all the patients in that hospital during Christmas, and had them under the tree, along with all manner of goodies for us to snack on while we opened presents. He even invited some of our families to come Christmas morning, and had turkey and dressing for dinner. I still count that as one of my best Christmases, along with my newborn baby boy.”

“Lady, you just made my day. Tell your son hello, from a guy with the same birthday! And if y’all ever get down to Mississippi, please give me a call and we’ll go to Indianola to celebrate again.”

What a great call from Colorado! I’d have never known that story about Big Robert, if that lady hadn’t just picked up the phone and asked Information to find my number that evening.
Sure made up for the delays, and even for the GOING MOME boxes!