“Buryin’ Daddy” is a haunting, candid memoir written by Yazoo City native Teresa Nicholas. Her story opens in the 1950s with the author innocently reaching for sunbeams, dancing beneath the front door’s transom in her grandparents’ home, evidence she had once been a happy child.
Nicholas’s steel-trap memory and vivid descriptions provide the reader with fading glimpses of a time and place familiar to generations of Mississippians. Emotive and permeated with melancholy, Nicholas eventually secures a truncated sense of peace and forgiveness.
Descended from Baptist sharecroppers on her mother’s side and Lebanese Catholics on her father’s, Nicholas’s “mixed” family moved when she was 5 years old from her cozy grandparent’s house into a dilapidated duplex down the street. Thus begins her familiarization with the duality known as “Cartoon Daddy” and “Angry Daddy.”
The duplex provides the setting for Nicholas’s authoritarian father to rule the ramshackle roost with an iron hand void of tolerance. The house was an embarrassment to the family. She longed for the day she could escape her father’s narrow views and “heavy hand.”
“When we’d lived at Grandma’s, I hadn’t had much awareness of time,” Nicholas wrote. “But inside the duplex, time stretched out. I blamed Daddy. It was Daddy who’d given me this sense of time misery.”
Peopled with characters representing the confluence of cultures—black and white, hill and Delta, Catholic and Baptist—the core narrative recounts the strained relationships between the author and her indomitable father.
Two decades after leaving Yazoo City, Nicholas returns home for a month from her successful publishing position in New York to bury her father and assists her mother with transitioning to life without Daddy. Assuming her father died penniless, she and her seemingly helpless mother - who had never written a check, paid a bill, or gone shopping - were surprised to find that the patriarch had actually squirreled away a small fortune.
The remainder of the book deals with the author’s mother learning to adjust to life without her husband and with Nicholas starting the process of forgiving as she discovers reasons her father behaved as he did.
“We had all been shaped by the memories of only a few events - Daddy by betrayal and uncertainty, Mama by death and hardship.”
“Buryin’ Daddy” is not a feel-good book, but readers with an affinity for the Deep South or those struggling with the past can find reflective solace in Nicholas’s forthright remembrance.
“Maybe I would never know him, but at least I could say that I knew something of what life had done to him,” Nicholas writes. “And finally, I could forgive him, too.”