As you settle in for the evening after eating a big holiday dinner, there’s nothing more glorious than to grab your favorite fleece blanket and snuggle up to a good book along with a heated beverage. The holiday is here and this new novella about family and sacrifice is just in time for the season.
One of the most notable commandments in the Holy Bible is located in the book of Exodus 20:12 — Honor thy father and thy mother. In the case of Abigail Kimball, she wants to honor that commandment, but it comes with a price of sacrificing her own dreams and aspirations. She’s on her way to becoming one of the top managers in her firm, breaking the glass ceiling as the only woman — but it all comes to halt when her elderly parents need her help. The Last Button On Ole Abraham’s Jacket tells the story of a critical decision Abigail must face that will change the course of her life forever.
In her debut novella published by iUniverse, A.C. Bell illustrates an intimate portrait of family life through the lens of Abigail Kimball — a woman tirelessly balancing the demands of her high-powered career and taking care of her elderly parents. Abigail is a single woman, married to her career but loyal to family and finds herself in a precarious position when her father (Benjamin Kimball) who has become ill, can no longer take care of her dementia-stricken mother (Jeanne Kimball). Abigail, known to her friends and family as Abby, has to make the choice between reaching her goals and climbing up the corporate ladder to success or being sympathetic to the needs of her family who were always there for her when she needed them.
I had the pleasure of speaking with A.C. Bell (my first cousin whom I’m very proud of), she gave some background about the importance of this story, and the character of Benjamin Kimball, based on her father.
“I was inspired by the life of my father, not just by the way he faced life but also the way he faced death, and during the time when I initially started writing the story it was more of a therapeutic process for me to recap some events that happened leading up to my father’s passing. I just wanted to document, as my own therapy, and then it just kind of blossomed into a story that I wanted others to read. I wanted to recap those moments and when I decided to do that — I just started adding fictional characters surrounding the very real character of my father. I wanted everyone to read the story to kind of know him and to mourn him with me.”
In The Last Button On Abraham’s Ole Jacket, Abby is not alone in elder care, her older sister Naomi shares the duties of looking after their aging parents. Naomi is bold, assertive and protective of their parents. She keeps Abby on a bit of a tight leash when it comes to responding to their needs. Whether it is checking in to assist with trips to doctor visits or being certain that their parents are taking their meds. Jeanne Kimball, Abby and Naomi’s mother, suffers from dementia — she requires constant monitoring. Their father Benjamin Kimball endured bypass surgery on his leg and it has since become infected. As the doctor tries to find methods to help assuage his condition, his health is quickly deteriorating.
The topic of dementia is one that doesn’t come up often in the Black community and A.C. Bell sheds light on the silent epidemic that significantly impacts more African-Americans than other ethnic groups.
“I do think that dementia is not talked about enough, it’s not spoken about within our community because of the stigmas surrounding it. You know, people don’t know how to react to it. It’s sort of like that same stigma of mental illness, some people withdraw from those in that situation. I think it’s not discussed mainly because the people that are suffering from the disease really don’t have a voice. Their loved ones who are caring for them are so exhausted from their daily sacrifice they can’t be active in creating awareness of the challenges faced by people with that disease. [Black Americans] also have the highest percentage of loved ones suffering from this diseas. All across the board no matter the economic status or educational backgrounds, we more likely to become family [caregivers], it’s a part of our culture. And that’s something to be proud of, taking care of our loves ones and making it a priority.”
Abby’s life gets more complex when she’s hanging on by a thread to keep her career intact. Abby works as an account manager and has a major deal with the Mitchell account she’s determined to close. During some time while Abby is out of the office to help with home matters, a highly competitive co-worker by the name of Glen, is interested in the Mitchell deal. He reaches out under the guise of offering assistance to help close the account. Abby sees Glen as a threat to steal the account from under her while she’s away.
To add more drama to stir in this pot — is Abby’s ne’er-do-well cousin Adena. Adena is a former drug addict who meanders her way back into Abby and Naomi’s life just to add more stress to an already stressful situation. And when a family heirloom goes missing in the home, Adena is the prime suspect.
You can take a piece of the family drama in The Last Button On Ole Abraham’s Jacket and see the reflection of your own family staring back at you. It is a story that resonates and is indelibly printed in your mind. It also made me hug my own mother just a little tighter after I finished reading. What I loved about this book, is that it reminds you about the precious moments you share with a loved one in your life. It could be a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend or a colleague. Whoever it may be, it’s important to cherish the time we spend with others. My favorite line from A.C. Bell in this poignant novella is the following:
“Sometimes I don’t notice the trees until the wind blows. And I don’t notice God until He moves”
“I hope people will learn from Abigail’s journey, how important for us to impact one another each day through love and charity. I want readers to realize that caregivers all across the globe are rising to the challenge of caring for loved ones that are voiceless and it’s an honorable sacrifice. These individuals are truly our hidden heroes.”
When I asked A.C. Bell what advice she has for budding writers out there interested in sharing their stories, she says:
“Set writing goals for yourself each day even if it’s just 500 words and stick with those goals. Become a part of a local writing group in your community, because you can always learn from other writers. Be able to welcome not just their encouragement but their criticism as well. A support system can help you stay focus each day when you’re writing your manuscript.”
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critic Association