“We live so far in the backwoods, we have to pump sunshine through hollow logs,” young Susanette’s daddy says, when asked where the Howell family lives. Their cracker house, which has never been slapped by a loaded paintbrush, sits on a small tobacco farm near the Suwannee River in North Florida, 18 miles from the small town of Live Oak – a town that was, at the turn of the 19th century, the fifth largest town in Florida and the largest inland city in the state.
The Howell’s home has no indoor plumbing and no screens on windows to keep out gnats, flies, and mosquitoes. But the family is a proud bunch that make the best of the each situation as they struggle to improve their lot.
Here, in the 1940s and 1950s, kids run barefoot, use their pennies to buy bubblegum off the rolling store and can’t wait for cracklins on hog-killing day and polecat on cane-grinding day. Susanette and her older sisters attend a three-room county school for eight grades, when schools in the South are segregated and the Suwannee County school district bars country kids – White and Black – from elementary schools in town.
Susanette brings this time and place to life with humor and innocence as she struggles to understand her own embarrassing situations (which occur mostly at night) and overcome the apprehension she feels as her world begins to change. This family’s frugality and can-do attitude and the community’s coming together when the Suwannee River overflows its banks, destroying homes and crops, will amaze and warm the heart.