Satisfying, soothing, and heart-warming — these are only a few of the many things that this narrative will give its readers. This is a collection of his adventures and all the lessons he learned as a child. It is a slow-paced book but a thoroughly interesting read. Robert Williams revealed to us the vivid world he was living in his early years in this lesson-packed memoir, Woodlawn Giants, in this one-of-a-kind and fascinating account.
Robert Ross Williams is an Annandale, Virginia-based retired army officer. Mr. Williams has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Memphis and has a M.A. degree in Russian studies from Florida State University. Williams now calls Northern Virginia his home. Williams’ third and most current book, Woodlawn Giants, is about his time as a young boy growing up in West Memphis, Arkansas.
What was your inspiration in writing this book?
The inspiration came from a story I told at the funeral of my mother. Reflecting on that moment I suddenly realized there were many more stories like that one that deserved to be told. These stories speak to the time where life was much more innocence. It describes a childhood best described as one where a single street was an ecosystem and subset of a larger community. Within the parameters of this horseshoe-shaped street was a world complete with the trials and tribulations of young boys and girls and their parents living in small-town America in the 60’s and 70’s. These boys would remain friends for life and are each represented by the pine trees planted by my father which stand to this day. So, in wrapping up the answer to this question I wrote the book to capture that time period of my life so that the written record will stand and reflect what a wonderful time it was and the positive influences that parents and churches and schools had on our lives. Also, I wanted the memories of some of those special friends who have since passed to be captured as well. We have lost a few along the way to include many of the parents but the pines still stand in defiance of the test of time.
Can you walk us through your process of writing? How long did it take?
As mentioned, the inspiration was the eulogy I delivered for my mother when she passed in 2020. I then decided a collection of short stories to capture that time of my life as a young boy growing up in West Memphis, Arkansas would be the ultimate tribute not only to her but all the parents and kids from that time. It is a safe bet to say similar stories in the same vein occurred across America and the same lessons learned by the boys on Woodlawn were similar lessons learned in other parts of the country. That is the reason that Woodlawn Giants should resonate across the entire country in that it will serve as a reminder to all who read what a special time it was. It took a little over one year to write, collect photographs from friends and finish the book.
What is your favorite part of the book?
My favorite part of the book is the story of the day in church we had special visitors. That day which was normally an agonizing thirty-minute sermon for a kid just wanting it to be over transformed into a social experiment. Suddenly church became interesting. What happened that day was because it was the ten-year reunion of the church a large amount of food had been assembled on tables under tents with side flaps open on the church grounds. This food was waiting for all to partake upon the conclusion of the sermon so we all were wishing the Preacher would preach faster and Brother Simon would pray faster in blessing the food to the nourishment of our bodies so we could go eat. About halfway through the sermon something unique and interesting happened when two young men probably in their mid-twenties walked into the church, proceeded towards the front of the congregation, and took a seat. You could smell them before you saw them as it seemed they had had a rough go of things and were not dressed in their Sunday best. I will leave it to you as the potential reader to learn the rest of the story. But the lessons learned that day about prejudice and judging of others was one that has remained with me my entire life. The “Dirty Windows” analogy Momma told me made it perfectly clear.
The characters inside the story are real, did some of them read it? Can you share their reactions?
Not only did they read and thoroughly enjoy they also assisted in the composition. The conversation I had with my friends assisted me in that they helped me recall certain events which led to many of the short stories. It was my friend Steve who when talking about our sandlot baseball adventures inspired me to take the name of our team which was the Woodlawn Giants and use that as the title for the book. The title has a double meaning in that it not only refers to that name of our sandlot baseball team but also serves as a reference to the pine trees planted by my father which grew to be living proof of Woodlawn Giants. The trees symbolize the lives of the boys who grew up to be men on that street. Two of the boys on that front cover depicted by the names under the trees have since passed. The brothers of those two boys I am certain take an additional amount of pleasure from reading about their siblings. My brothers and family members as well thoroughly enjoyed reading these accounts because they are real and bring back memories.
If you could relive a memory, what would it be?
In some way I do relive certain memories such as my love of fishing which continues to this day. Of course, being able to relive those special moments with my mother but additionally my extended family and friends comes to mind. To specifically address the question it would be the memory of my mother when she explained to me not to judge others by their dress, color or social status the day the two men off the street visited our church. That in my opinion is a lesson not taught often enough and should be relived every day.
Do you wish for things to be the same as before just like when you are growing up?
Yes, in more ways than one. It was a much simpler world based on the pragmatism of the Golden Rule and simple verses such as ‘be kind to your web-footed friends for a duck may be somebody’s mother ‘were simple in principle but brilliant in effect if followed. I also like the time of no mobile devices where people conversed with strangers at public locations such as a bus stop for example. In contrast nowadays all you see at public gatherings are people not conversing but sadly staring down at the palm of their hand where a mobile phone seems to be permanently attached. I also think kids should play outside more which brings to mind the punishment used to be you can’t go outside but has now done a complete 180 and the punishment is you have to go outside as kids have become more confined to their rooms and electronic devices.
How was the writing experience? Any new insights after finishing the book?
The impetus for this as mentioned was the death of my mother and the recollection of her when I delivered her eulogy. In that sense the writing of this was very therapeutical for me personally. Momma did not fade away after her passing conversely, she was relived repeatedly in the composition and writing of this book. And now it is a written record of not only her influences and memories but others dear to me and still with us like my aunts, uncles, cousins, and lifelong friends.
Have you always dreamed of becoming a writer?
Not really. There was one encouragement from a professor when I wrote a paper for a Medical Anthropology class thirty-six years ago. What I though would be a complete bust received high praise and I was encouraged to get it published in a local magazine. I never acted on that, but the seed was planted and after writing a thesis for a Master’s Program in Russia studies I self-realized I had the capability to write. Now to write something interesting was the new challenge and I feel I have accomplished that with the publication of this my third book.
What are your favorite books?
Easy, Mark Twain’ s Joan of Arc. Firstly, in that it is different than his first books I read as a child. Every kid from my time knew of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and the simple yet brilliant accounts of those boys and the fascinating tales of their everyday lives. Twain himself concede those books were easy writes. Secondly, the amount of travel and preparation Twain invested into writing the biography of Joan of Arc are unapparelled. At a time when cross Atlantic travel was not an easy thing, he made several trips to England and France to research the archives and get the story as accurate as possible. The result was a fascinating account of a peasant girl from a small village rising to extreme prominence in French history.
Are there any new books you plan to release? Can you share it with us?
Yes. I am currently working on the final book of a trilogy that begin with the publication of Rainbow Farm followed by Rainbow Farm 2.0 Impeachment and Virus. These books are political satire that use the same construct as Orwell did in Animal Farm where animals on the farm represent real life personalities from today. The first book begins with the announcement of Donald Trump as a candidate for president and continues to the present through his term hit by impeachment and virus and the election of Joe Biden as the 46th President. The third and final book will be lengthier because the current administration and world events and the D.C. Swamp, as the gift that keeps on giving, has provided a plethora of material. Look for it sometime in 2023 after the 2022 midterms.
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