For the next seven days, come with me to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where I lived as a young girl. It was the inspiration for the fictional setting of Bay Town in Shattered Guilt. I lived in Bay St. Louis for only one year, but what a full year it was. I guess it was enough for me to write a book about it, and six more in progress. I hope you’ll read Shattered Guilt and fall in love with Bay Town as much as I did. I must admit, though, Bay St. Louis held a different degree of suspense than Bay Town.
Our Lady of the Gulf Elementary School
The school isn’t there anymore, but it was thriving when I lived in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. That was in 1964-65. Right smack in the deep south during the Civil Rights Movement. Being an Okinawan-American in a southern state was quite an experience. My sister’s and I attended catholic schools, and we were the only Asians in both the elementary and jr. high schools. I still remember the looks we got when we rode the bus the first time. You would have thought we were aliens. I guess in today’s vernacular, we were. I have a few stories there, but we’ll stick to Shattered Guilt for now.
When I lived in Bay St. Louis, life centered around the Catholic School, or at least it did for me. Carnivals, fundraisers, and mardi-gras all made life exciting. But I wasn’t just the single Asian but the only non-Catholic in my classroom. And oh my goodness, Sister Anne did not like me. At least, not until I aced the catechism test and the rest of the class bombed it. Then she came to our house with one of the priests and the Mother Superior to convince my parents I should become a catholic.
Suddenly, I’d become a valuable entity. I say that with a chuckle. But it wasn’t just the Asian, non-catholic thing. It was the fact that we were not southerners. Even my father, born and raised in Los Angeles, California, experienced some prejudice over that when we first moved into town. That’s another story, too.
So, for now, I’ll move on to the inspiration for a scene in Shattered Guilt.
Balls and Strikes
In one chapter, a rival softball game occurred between Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church and Bay Town Community Church. I had fun writing the chapter because the incident between Pastor Desmond and the umpire actually happened. My husband, also a pastor, was the manager of our son’s little league championship game, and … well, no spoilers here, but he was the inspiration for Pastor Desmond.
Mardi Gras in Bay St. Louis
Although it’s not in my book, I have a fascinating Mardi Gras memory that helped gain our family’s acceptance in the community. The biggest event of the year in Bay St. Louis. The Mardi-gras Ball was held at my sister’s all-girls school, St. Joseph’s Academy. Since the theme was ancient Japan, they enlisted my mother’s help in transforming the gym with hand-crafted, paper cherry blossom decorations. She also taught the entire Jr. High and High School (three-hundred girls) a Japanese dance (Okinawan, but they didn’t know that).
Being an excellent seamstress, mama also designed and directed the sewing of kimonos for all the girls. With all the supplies and help that she commanded, the community was practically at her disposal. I wrote that story somewhere. I’ll have to find it and post it, but my father was so proud of mama, he bought out every copy of the local newspaper. She was on the cover, and they had to print more copies.
Our lives are in God’s hands.
Where other memories could have had a negative hold on my life, I think God protected me. I wasn’t a Christian back then, but I believe in His sovereignty, and that our lives are in His hands. I don’t remember feeling less-than or slighted in my experiences, but I remember feeling different and wanting to belong. I don’t feel the rudeness of some of the ignorance from back then, but I still recall the comments. What I remember most was the kindness of my friends and many good people. I had so much fun living in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Although, as I look back, the racial segregation in the city was shockingly apparent, and that brings much shame and sadness. But I’m thankful that Bay St. Louis has come a long way in rectifying that. I subscribe to their excellent online newsletter, The Shoofly, and appreciate the equality and unity they depict in their journalism while keeping it entertaining. Every issue makes me want to go back. Here’s the link.
Another trip down memory lane
These are just some of the memories that took place in my book’s setting. Maybe the reason why I had to include Our Lady of the Gulf Elementary School in Shattered Guilt was that God used that experience to shape who I am. Please check back tomorrow. You might be surprised about where or what we’ll be visiting.
Until then. “Bye, y’all!”