Nacogdoches native recalls ’60s childhood

Nacogdoches native  recalls ’60s childhood

Lamar math instructor Gary Brice said he started out writing a book to pay “homage to a special place and special people,” but ended up writing a timely memoir about racial tensions.

“The Birds, Their Carols Raise” was previously published as an e-book called “Nacogdoches, 1960.”

“You wouldn’t find hardly a hair difference between the two,” he said.

Brice said that he has reached out to East Texas schools, hoping teachers will use the book as a supplement to their regular classroom curriculum and talk about local history.

“I’m coming to a point in my life in which I’m constantly asking people, ‘Hey, do you remember when?’” he said.

He explained that this sense of nostalgia led him “to evaluate and name those concepts and principles that were valuable in my life, things like community and my faith.”

“In all honesty, Nacogdoches was an incredible place to grow up,” he said.

Since his book signing in April, he’s heard from several people from his growing up years who were “encouraged” that they helped to shape his life and to hear that “they did something significant.”

In the book, Brice recounts his childhood as part fiction, part historical, through the persona of 9-year-old Kyle Dexter.

His descriptions of the smell of an East Texas library in the summer should resonate with local readers: “If someone had told Kyle that his magical fragrance was, in fact, a blend of various molds and mildews combined with the smell of slowly decaying paper, he would have laughed in their face. He knew what the fragrance was — it was the scent of adventure, of courage and laughter and tears; it was the scent of imagination, the essence of truth, all blended and distilled and fermented in the minds and hearts of men and women, and at the proper moment, poured onto the pages of books.”

From the opening pages, Brice hints that his childhood experiences were different from others who lived in other parts of town.

In the first chapter, Kyle watches the streetsweeper turn from Park Street to Lanana Street, which he describes as “another world … where poverty reigned … where the children watched the street sweeper pass without Kyle’s thoughts of a brighter future.”

But since these memories are recounted from a child’s perspective, it softens the harshness while still making this part of history accessible to a diverse group of readers.

Brice said that he hoped that his book would encourage dialogue.

“I think you can still talk about hard and painful things without taking on an edge or being an angry author like you might be as an adult,” he said. “I tried to stay in the character’s innocence.”

The confrontation between Kyle, his sister and her friend on their return from the library when they walk home through the primarily black neighborhood on Lanana Street really happened to Brice, he said, but he doesn’t know the girl’s real name.

“It was almost after it was completely written that I thought, this is timely, this could be a jumping off spot or a conversation start for what’s happening right now,” he said when asked if he wrote his book as a response to recent events.

He combines some characters and events for the sake of the plot, but the stories mostly come from real experiences.

“Many times when I wrote a chapter, I would be in tears,” he said. “[I was] drawing out of memory, what was valuable and beautiful in my upbringing.”

“The Birds, Their Carols Raise” is available on Amazon, and Brice said he is willing to sign copies for anyone who is interested.