Susan Straight (BSS #367)

Susan Straight is most recently the author of Take One Candle, Light a Room.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Exploding Roman candles overlooked by the elite.

Author: Susan Straight

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Straight: I think what I’m trying to say about America is that it’s a series of villages. And everyone has a village. Again, people stay or people leave. But the idea that Americans want to forget that you come from a village — whether it’s the Upper East Side or Clackmannan Parish — that’s your village and you have to honor it. Fantine is the ultimate rootless traveler who goes on the road trip from hell with her father. Her father was really a pivotal character to me. I thought about Gustave and Enrique for months before I wrote this. And I wrote two short stories about them. The way that they became brothers was based to me on a true story told to me by an elderly neighbor. He came to my house for me to write letters to him. Because he couldn’t read or write. And I wrote letters to the VA. He was missing a little finger from the Korean War. And he was still trying to get money for it. And I grew up with his son. So he would come to my house. And I would write letters for him. And one day, we were sitting on the porch. And he told me this story of how he was an orphan. I mean, his dad was killed when his mom was pregnant with him. And he was seven years old. And he was hungry. And he wanted some meat. And nobody would give him any meat. No one would go get any meat. So he took a hammer. He walked three miles. He found a pig on a farm, killed it, dragged it three miles back to his house. Seven years old. And said, “Cook me some meat.” So that to me — the Enrique/Gustave — those are the men that I grew up listening to their stories of immense deprivation. Of walking fifty miles to go find a job. Of not ever having a mother and father, and making themselves into brothers. So that meant a lot to me too. That family at the end of the Clackmannan Parish Delta would say, “We’re still here.” It doesn’t matter what you do to us. We will still be here. Enrique was a big part of that for me.

Correspondent: Related to this desperate hunting, I have to ask you: Where did you get the idea of wrapping bacon around a gunshot wound as a home remedy? I asked a forensic science masters. I asked a medical student. And they had not heard of this. And I had not heard of this.

Straight: (nodding her head)

Correspondent: Aha! You did.

Straight: My mother-in-law told me that. My mother-in-law, I miss her so much. She died the year that that youngest child was born. And the last thing we whispered in her ear was that I was pregnant with her third granddaughter of our family. I mean, she had twenty-five grandchildren. My mother-in-law could have been born in Mississippi. She could have been born in Arkansas. She could have been born in Calexico. Nobody ever knew where she was born. We had to get her a birth certificate when she was fifty. My mother-in-law told me that when they were so poor — probably in Mississippi — that you would wrap bacon around the wound or salt meat. More likely salt meat. And that the salt pulled out the infection. She told me that when my children were really, really young. I mean, I knew her from the time I was sixteen on. And [my daughter] Rosette had this horrible infection on her leg. And we couldn’t figure out what it was. And we had tried everything. Antibiotics. Everything. One night, it was as if my mother-in-law spoke to me. And I had a piece of maple cured bacon. Farmer John. Stupid maple cured bacon. And I took that part. And I put it on Rosette’s wound. And I wrapped a dish towel around it. And the only thing I had to tie it with was Christmas tool. Like wrapping ribbon.

Correspondent: Wow.

Straight: She kept it on all night and all morning. Pulled it off. And the infection came out with the piece of bacon. It was the most disgusting thing you can imagine. And her wound healed over. And I just thought, “Okay, this is Alberta telling me what to do from the beyond.” And that’s exactly where that came from.

Correspondent: I’m shocked that, if this has happened, no mystery novel has picked this up. Or anything like that.

Straight: Exactly!

Correspondent: It sounds like the coolest way to get rid of a wound.

Straight: I took her to the dermatologist, who was Chinese. And she was like, “No, that’s not true. That’s not true at all. It couldn’t have happened.” And she dug a big hole in Rosette’s leg after that. And Rosette has a horrible scar now.

Correspondent: Oh wow.

Straight: So for us, the bacon. We should have just stuck with Grandma Alberta.

Correspondent: Quite literally, you must bring home the bacon.

Straight: Well, the sad thing is that that is one of those folk remedies that was passed down to me from my mother-in-law. Along with the title of the book. Take One Candle, Light a Room is something I’ve heard some older women say at some family reunion. And someone said, “Oh, is that your only child?” And she was like, “Take one candle, light a room.” And I was like, “Wow.” That’s the best phrase I could ever imagine. In a kind of defiant way to say, “Yes, I have one child. And that’s all I ever needed to make my life.” So everything I’ve been given like that is kind of like a gift from listening, I think. I’m the person who listens.


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