Review: “Sundays with TJ: 100 Years of Memories on Varner Road”

From a “traveling man” to a “settled-down man,” Sundays with TJ: 100 Years of Memories from Varner Road, the newest book by Janis E. Kearney, from Writing Our World Press, is not only a delight to read for the raw power of its prose, but more than that, it gives the reader insight to the story of a remarkable family and how “TJ,” the patriarch of that family used stories, just as Jesus used parables, to “get his points across.”  After reading the book, one wishes that each of the stories had been developed into individual short stories and published as an anthology.  Though life was hard for the Kearney family, they had one thing that many of their friends didn’t have—a stable family life.  The discipline, dignity, perseverance, and belief in themselves as individuals was fostered and greatly encouraged by both parents, but it was TJ’s stories held the children’s interest and made the most lasting impressions, the point of which were turned into life-lessons that have paid great dividends for each of the children.  Mr. T. J. Kearney, a centenarian passing away last year at the age of 107, was a remarkable man in a period of time that was some of the worst for the African-American community in the south.  Through it all, he maintained his dignity and survived, raising a very large family, all of whom are college graduates and are successful themselves.  One can only imagine the delight of sitting at his feet and listening to these stories.  Mr. Kearney probably had not read and may not have known who Aesop was, but he was the modern version of Aesop, spinning tales, some straight-forward, and some “amplified” a bit—it didn’t matter if each and every fact was exactly true. If a small detour from the “truth of the matter” was called for to get his point across, he used it with great deftness.  This is one of those books that one will keep close at hand.  My personal copy has “sticky notes” appended to many of the pages as they were so personal to me, remembering sitting and listening to my Great-Aunt Ellie, who was born before the Civil War and lived until 1954, tell about things that she remembered.  Anyone who is interested in oral history will find this book an excellent choice.  Any public library should certainly obtain this work for its singularity of the individual as a role model, especially in the African-American Community.