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When one is well into his fifties, it is often difficult to remember those long past days spent day-dreaming on the third row of Mrs. Cross’ Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry (Trig’n’Analyt) class—yes when he should be listening and learning all about tangents, sines, and cosines. The same must be true for Mrs. Cross when she retires. Who would ever expect the purveyor of all knowledge mathematical would be a great story-teller, too? But here you have it. Jo Ann Cross has penned in her retirement the book that all retirees plan to write. Her subject matter? Not math, but her stories—the stories she heard from parents and grandparents as she grew up in a rural east Texas community, the stories about her own experience, stories that span the funny to the tragic. And she does so quite successfully, too.
In an attempt to preserve some of the stories of her ancestry that have been passed down orally from generation to generation, and to offer a glimpse of community life from east Texas for a larger audience, Cross has developed what she calls “short stories” but is mostly a collection of memoir-type essays that bring all aspects of life into crisp focus.
The author’s talent is evident in superb moments of personification. Many of the stories hinging on her own experience rely heavily on her dry, but ever present sense of humor. The one story that deals with math and her father’s ability to teach the difficult concepts so that the smallest child can understand brought me back to that third row seat in Mrs. Cross’ Trig’n’Analyt class. I recall plainly the day when I kept asking “why” and “how” and Mrs. Cross smiled at the whole class and said, “Don’t try to understand it, just know that it works, and do it.” That advice saved my bacon in the only upper level math I would ever take.
Included in the smiles and jests are a couple of very touching stories. Of particular interest are “Pa-Pa’s Funeral” which deals more with race relations in early 20th century east Texas than the funeral itself, and “Samuel and Sarah” chronicling the author’s ancestral move from the deep South to deep east Texas in the mid-19th century. The latter of these two stories bearing a heavy L’Amour-esque flavor in relating the history of the move.
This little collection will have appeal to a variety of audiences—friends and family of the author will certainly enjoy the book, Mrs. Cross’ former colleagues and students (yes, I am one) will find the peek into the real-ness of Jo Ann Cross very fun and refreshing, readers who like the historical and the hysterical will both be extremely entertained, and like me, people with roots in places like Brinker, Texas (mine would be Cason) will be transported to those thrilling days of yesteryear to relive their own amusing moments. Thanks for the trip down several memories’ lanes Mrs. Cross. And thanks also for being real during all those years you took your place at the front of a Mesquite High School classroom.
Well-written and entertaining, Jo Ann Cross’ “Collection of Short Stories” deserves every bit of the five reading glasses that this reviewer awards it.
—Benjamin Potter April 17, 2015