Books
11:55 am
Tue April 22, 2008

Family Bible

This is not for the most part a volume full of blame or revenge, although there are more than enough guilty parties. This is Delbridge's own story, her very particular growing-up story, and while it is comical at times, these essays are laced through, as many memoirs are, with real pain.

There must have been some anxious moments around old T-Town when advance word began circulating that Melissa Delbridge had written her memoirs?her story of growing up in the "simmering stew of religion, race, sex, and corruption" that was 1960s Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

I was acquainted with the flamboyant Ms. Delbridge in the early seventies and saw her perform on stage at the University theatre and impromptu at the Chukker. In fact, Melissa Delbridge was always on stage, always entertaining, wherever she was, and as a memoirist she is just as entertaining and not the type to hold anything back.

Aside from her own family members, however, Delbridge has changed many of the names in this book, even the names of stores and restaurants, although natives will recognize the old Druid Drug and the Waysider, for example.

This is not for the most part a volume full of blame or revenge, although there are more than enough guilty parties. This is Delbridge's own story, her very particular growing-up story, and while it is comical at times, these essays are laced through, as many memoirs are, with real pain.

As the old folk song has it, her father, George Riley Delbridge, "was a handsome devil." Melissa's daddy was a charmer, a Kirk Douglas look-alike who loved to fish and hunt and to go away for the weekend pretending to be fishing and hunting at the "River Bend Hunting Club" while actually seeing other women. This naturally drove momma crazy and, sadly, she took it out on Melissa. Momma took her kids from the house in the middle of the night, moved across town, and, when she left Melissa's father for good, "remarried fast enough to cause a lot of high talk.," Momma "married a man [called here Billy Linny] who was cussing a blue streak whenever he wasn't calling me spoiled rotten or slipping his thick slug of a tongue down my twelve-year-old throat in the hallway while my mother cooked our dinner . . . ." Later, when Melissa "tells," her mother, of course, won't believe it?"You little liar, she hissed. . . . .Never could stand to see me happy"?and as punishment for lying, throws Melissa's prize possessions, especially her beloved set of white encyclopedias, into the trash. As Delbridge puts it, "mother abandoned me for a drooling monster?.an ogre."

At seventeen, Delbridge moved out, went to UA on scholarships and for a while worked at Bryce, trying her best to help other injured young people. After a few years, Delbridge took a master's in library science and is now an archivist at the Duke University Library.

The relationship between Delbridge's parents and then the toxic mess that constituted her home with her stepdad, identified as a local exterminator magnate and ex-Marine, are staples in memoir, but the story is gracefully told, without self-pity. Delbridge was forever affected by the traumas of break-up and sexual abuse, and amazingly, to me at least, assures the reader she has forgiven her mother.

Much of this volume is, as one might expect, about Delbridge's own sexual awakening, and you know it will be out of the ordinary, even melodramatic. She loses her virginity al fresco to a nice guy named Tom on a sixty-foot mound at the Indian park. "It did not hurt, nor did it feel particularly good," she writes of her deflowering.

Shortly, Delbridge would discover there was more to intimacy than she had suspected, as she commenced affairs with a girlfriend, May, and then, in an extravaganza of Alabamiana, with her married cousin Nan. Had lesbianism been invented in the South by the 1960s? Apparently yes. Delbridge's stepmother remarks, "There's so much of this . . . going on in Tuscaloosa you're bound to step in it sooner or later. You can't even go in the ladies' dressing room at the country club anymore, it's gotten so bad around here."

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