In the Beginning

A year ago, this month, I had my very first book signing for my novel, Budapest.  This month, Little Flower Press is launching its second book, Four Crumbling Houses, by Robert Fernandez, Sr.

When my husband and I began Little Flower Press we definitely considered signing other authors, but well into the future.  This was not a venture that we envisioned happening any sooner than five years down the road.  But when I received a brief, neatly typed manuscript from a man living in just the town over from me, I decided to read it.  Sometimes, just like turning water into wine, it becomes time to work with your first miracle even when you weren’t expecting to.

Mr. Fernandez’s book is just such a work.  It is one of those continual stories that immediately teaches you something new – about unconventional friendship or living through a war you were born many years after – but at the same time, it can suddenly and permanently draw you in as a reader, helping you to see glimpses of your own life within the humanity inside its pages.

Four Crumbling Houses, at first glance, is a story about three Jersey boys.  One is half Polish and half Spanish – a true immigrant story, one is Irish-American, and another African-American.  And all three weave their adventures in and out of four crumbling houses on the same street.  At second glance, the book is about a sport.  Boxing.  One is apt to embrace the idea that reading this book means learning about a sport you could never be brave enough to engage in yourself, one that teaches discipline and offers ” a way out” of a neighborhood that maybe did not provide the greatest of all opportunities.  But, even more, one could read this book and see how two wars invaded the lives of three friends with words like “rations”, “war bonds”, and headlines about Normandy and Hiroshima.  But really, this is a book about all of the above.  It is about three people, one friendship, and the sport that united them all even in the midst of war and the trials of racial prejudice, life and, even, death.

Four Crumbling Houses is a book that can be enjoyed by men, women, boys, and girls, and no one will put this book down without seeing their own place in it.  And no one will pass it on without equally feeling as though they have just been transported through half a century, through a friendship and cultures not their own – all through the doors of one of those Four Crumbling Houses whose contents were worth far more than its material value.

You can read it this month.  It will be available from www.littleflower-press.com and lulu.com after May 15th and available from Barnes and Nobles, Borders, and all other major online booksellers in June 2008.  Until then, enjoy your first excerpt.

 

Mack, Bob, and Sack Taking in Some Sun at Camp

 

An excerpt from…   

Four Crumbling Houses ©  2007 Robert Fernandez, Sr.

Early one morning I heard a loud uproar in the alley-way between our house and the next. I ran out on the porch and looked down to see Dennis being pummeled. Three black kids who had chased him and caught up to him in my alley-way were beating on him. In a low loud voice I hollered, “Get out of there!”  Thinking it was an adult voice, they took off running.

Dennis had been chased from his own yard at the four crumbling houses. In his panic to out-run his tormentors, he could think of only one place to run to – my yard on the next block.  The kids at the four houses had never set foot on “honky” property – they had been taught by their elders that it was taboo. If he could make my back porch he would be safe. He was about fifteen yards short when they caught him.

Dennis got up and I called him to come on upstairs. His nose was bleeding, his lips were cut and he had several knots on his close cropped skull. His knees were badly scratched from hitting the concrete when he was tackled.

 

 

I got Dennis into our kitchen and sat him down at the table. My mom immediately got out her trusty bottles of rubbing alcohol, iodine and peroxide, along with a bowl of water and a face cloth. As she administered to him, I explained who he was and what had happened. My two sisters were home and looked at the happenings as something very rare. It was the first time a Black person had been in our house. You have to understand that almost all the people in the Frog Hollow section were Polish Americans. Across the railroad tracks was the Peterstown section of the city, Which was Italian. The Irish section was known as Kerryhead. The Elmora section at the time was the “well-off” part of town. The Elizabeth Port section had a blended variety of folks and had a small black section around South Street and Front Street. By contrast, in Frog Hollow, at that time only, the four crumbling houses were occupied by the Blacks.  And they too, just like the other nationalities, stuck together in their respective mini-section. They remained so close together that the grounds around the unfenced four properties had not one single blade of grass. Foot traffic made the soil barren of even stink-weeds. On a windy day the dirt would blow into clouds of dust. I often wondered where all those kids who lived there went. They certainly didn’t spend their entire time around the houses. When I questioned Dennis on this he said they divided their time between the Elizabethport section – where most of their relatives lived – and the four houses on Delaware Street.

 

 

 The neighborhood and the Blacks got along well. Never any trouble between them, yet each maintained their distance. It was always a friendly, “Hello,”when crossing paths, yet nothing beyond that. Strange but true. You didn’t set foot on their property and they didn’t set foot on yours. It was like an unwritten law, yet obeyed by all. That’s why Dennis when in jeopardy made a beeline for my house.

 

 

 After my mother cleaned up the victim of the beating, Dennis thanked her. He said he would never forget her kindness. From that first initial meeting, little did my family know that Dennis would become a fixture around our house and in our lives.

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on May 7, 2008 at 1:01 am  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is great! I’m invested! I can’t wait to buy it and read the whole thing.

  2. I’m already emotionally hooked. Even though this happened in a different generation than my own, the neighborhood “divides” remind me so much of where I grew up in South Philly. My husband and I will be in competition over who gets to read it first. However, I think I’ll win, because I read faster than he does!

  3. I don’t know babe. You have three books in your queue before this one…Kite Runner, The Road, and Snow Falling On Cedars, which I will finish this weekend.

    I too am hooked and eager to read this book. Can I preorder?

  4. It’s a great read. You guys won’t be disappointed!

    Tiffani

  5. Four Crumbling Houses Ten Count has been a labor of love from my Dad, Robert Fernandez, Sr. This story delves into the friendships, lessons, and good times as well as sad times shared by these friends that have been a part of each others lives for well over sixty years. The story is wonderful and it will warm the heart.

  6. I have known the author, Bob Fernandez, since he was a youngster in the Frog Hollow section of Elizabeth, New Jersey. I also knew Bob’s inseparable, culturally diverse friends, the Black kid and the Irish kid. Being privy to the original manuscript, Bob’s style is earthy and honest, with the feelings and emotions of a classic author. I laughed and welled up with tears many times. Also, Bob is a Boxing Historian and was iinducted in the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. He is a prolific writer of stories on boxing’s great boxers. However, FOUR CRUMBLING HOUSES-TEN COUNT, masterly written, is a showcase of Bob’s literary talent. Congratulations, Bob and LITTLE FLOWER PRESS.
    Much success in this and future works.

  7. Even though I have heard Dad’s stories growing up, seeing it in print is even more exciting. I think that most people will enjoy this book especially the way times are now. A blast from the past may help the future. This book is for anyone who enjoys reading about the past, friendship and the way things should be. Thanks Dad and good luck.

  8. I was born in the Hollow. (Geneva St.) My fathers parents lived on Delaware st. My Grandfather had a barber shop on the corner od Erie and 2nd ave. I knew a Fernandez when Iwent to Cleveland Jr. High. Been away from NJ since 1972. Am looking forward to reading this book.


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