Amy Hassinger

Writer. Teacher. Manuscript Consultant.

Patricia Hruby Powell's LOVING VS. VIRGINIA

This year is the 50th anniversary of a landmark court case that set a federal precedent against miscegenation laws. The case was brought by a couple from Virginia, Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Loving, of African-American and Native-American descent. The Lovings married legally in Washington, D.C., but home in Virginia, they were arrested, jailed, tried, found guilty, and sentenced. They could not live together in the state of Virginia—could not even be seen together—without risking arrest. Their case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 1967, unanimously reversed Virginia’s court rulings. Finally, the Lovings could return home to Virginia and live together with their children as a family.

That was just fifty years ago. Not so very long ago at all.

Patricia Hruby Powell, who lives here in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, has just published a wonderful new “documentary novel” called Loving Vs. Virginia. It’s illustrated by Shadra Strickland and is aimed at children, but is truly a story for all ages. Patricia writes in two different voices—Mildred’s and Richard’s—beginning with their childhood in rural Virginia, through their courtship, and their eventual marriage. It’s a compulsively readable book.

Today I’m going to share an excerpt from early in the book, when Richard and Mildred are first dating. This section is in Mildred’s voice, but it begins with a quote from Richard. Garnet, you should know, is Mildred’s sister.

This beautiful spring day
he says, “After everyone goes to bed,
            sneak out of the house,
            come down the road,
            meet me at the oak tree—
            you know the one.
            I’ll be there at midnight
            waiting for you.”
 
I wait for Garnet to snore her
soft little snore.
Everyone else has been asleep for ages.
I stay awake counting my breaths.
I pull on my pants
tiptoe down the stairs
carrying my shoes,
avoiding the places I know squeak,
pass my parents’ room,
out the door
and I step into my shoes.
 
The stars sparkle.
The grass is wet.
 
I get to the road
and tear down it.
I hear an owl hoot
in the woods and
the flutter of leaves,
some squawks,
cackles,
the cry of some animal
who just lost
to another—
coming from the field
across the street.
 
The night belongs
to the animals.
 
It could be scary,
but any scariness
goes into my
running.
The dark of the night
is protecting me,
making magic.
 
I’m nearly at the oak when I hear
an owl hoot
right nearby.
 
I startle.
Richard comes
out of the woods.
Richard is the owl,
and now he’s
FLYING
alongside me.
 
We’re not laughing—
just breathing together.
He grabs my hand
and guides me to the car.
We get in
still don’t say a word—
just breathe.
 
He drives to another spot
further down the road
and pulls
right into the woods,
so the car is
hidden
from the road.
 
We get out
and pick our way
through the woods—
brambles and twigs
snagging
at our clothes.
Then we’re on a path
where Richard pushes
me ahead
and he trots behind.
You can hear
a million chirping
tree frogs,
the low moan
of a bullfrog.
Must be a creek nearby.
 
The night might belong to the animals
but it’s ours too—
Richard’s and mine.
I’ve never loved to run.
But TONIGHT
I could run all night long.
 

You can find Loving Vs. Virginia, by Patricia Hruby Powell, published by Chronicle Books wherever books are sold.