Putting My Lebanese, Catholic, Southern Baptist Childhood to Rest
How one woman embraced her roots and reconciled with her family and Dixie
A descendant of Lebanese Catholic immigrants on her father's side and Baptist sharecroppers on her mother's, Teresa Nicholas recounts in Buryin' Daddy a southern upbringing with an unusual inflection. As the book opens, the author recalls her charmed early childhood in the late 1950s, when she and her family live with her grandparents in a graceful old bungalow in Yazoo City, Mississippi. But when the author is five, her eccentric father—secretive, penurious, autocratic, hoarding—moves his growing family into a condemned duplex nearby. Separated from her beloved grandmother and chafing under her father's erratic discipline, the girl longs to flee from the awful decrepit house. When she's a teenager, she and her father find themselves on conflicting sides of the civil rights movement and their arguments grow more painful, until a scholarship to a northeastern college provides the means of her escape.
Two decades later, Nicholas has built a successful career in book publishing in New York. When her father dies suddenly, she returns to Mississippi for the funeral and to spend a month in the hated duplex as her mother comes to terms with her husband's passing. But as she sorts through the strange detritus of her father's life, the author comes to understand that he was far more complex than the angry man she thought she knew. And as she draws closer to her surprisingly resilient mother, affected by stroke but full of blunt country talk, she finds that her mother is also far from the naïve, helpless creature she remembers. Through a series of surprising and oddly humorous discoveries, the author and her mother will begin to unravel her father's poignant secrets together in this graceful and generous exploration of the intermingling of shame and love that lie at the heart of family life.
"Buryin' Daddy vibrates with honesty of feeling and thought, of eye and ear. Nicholas writes with compelling immediacy about her family—the pains a difficult father brought to an intelligent, sensitive daughter, the uncovering of secrets he had concealed from his family throughout his life, and the sense she and her mother eventually make of it all. An intimate story of simple moments and quiet truths, Buryin' Daddy is always moving but never sentimental—heartbreaking at times but ultimately uplifting. "- JoAnne Prichard Morris, author of Barefootin': Life's Lessons from the Road to Freedom, with Unita Blackwell
"What is a normal family? What is love? In Buryin' Daddy, Teresa Nicholas takes us on a mesmerizing journey into the conflicted heart of her family. The power of her story lies in Nicholas's crystalline prose and unflinching courage in telling the truth. It is a revelation of family, love, and forgiveness that is fast paced and thrilling. "- Ruth Williams, author of Younger Than That Now
"This is a magnificent book, beautifully crafted and elegantly told—you can't help but be drawn in by the emotions of every single character. Through this story, even in the hardest of times, we are brought to understanding and ultimately to healing. Quite an accomplishment, I'd say. "- Jill Conner Browne, author of The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love
"Buryin' Daddy is a stunningly beautiful memoir written with exceptional grace and eloquence. Teresa Nicholas wrenches the reader's heart as she struggles to first escape and then to understand her oppressive father and her childhood. The book is a classic portrait of how the American South both nurtures and haunts each generation. "- William R. Ferris, coeditor of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities
"Buryin' Daddy succeeds on so many levels I hardly know where to begin. But voice is a good place to start: you trust the author from the very first page. She doesn't pull her punches, but she's not out to grind an ax; she just intends to get at the truth, and get at it she does. She's also got a fabulous ear for the way real people talk to one another, whether they're lying or not, and she doesn't miss even the smallest detail. But most importantly, her story is different from any I've ever read before, and I will long remember the people she's told me about in these pages. "- Steve Yarbrough, PEN/Faulkner finalist & author of Prisoners of War
"Teresa Nicholas is just about as gracious, dignified, and wise as a woman south of the Mason Dixon Line and just this side of the Mississippi gets to be. Her story made me cry a few times, laugh many more times, and stay up to ungodly hours because I could not bear to leave the people in her life—who are also, thank the Lord, the people she has delivered to us in the pages of Buryin' Daddy. This book has all the elements we hope for in a memoir: humor, pain, prose as fluid as poetry, wisdom, even redemption—and not just for the author. "- Beverly Donofrio, author of Riding in Cars with Boys
"An astonishingly beautiful and potent memoir about a mother and daughter each coping in her own way with the oppressive and domineering patriarch of the family who remains unknowable until his death. Teresa Nicholas's eloquent prose pulled me squarely into her living room and I, too, felt the tension when Daddy entered the room. The weight of his presence drives the author away from home and the mother into silence, until his death, when his secrets are revealed and intimacy is made possible between mother and daughter, and between a daughter and her dead father. "- Ann Fessler, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and author of The Girls Who Went Away