Friday, February 27, 2015

Not Without My Father by Andra Watkins


Can an epic adventure succeed without a hero?

Title: Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444 Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace
Author: Andra Watkins
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Word Hermit Press
Format: Paperback/Kindle
Purchase at AMAZON

 Andra Watkins needed a wingman to help her become the first living person to walk the historic 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. She planned to walk fifteen miles a day. For thirty-four days.
 After striking out with everyone in her life, she was left with her disinterested eighty-year-old father. And his gas. The sleep apnea machine and self- scratching.
Sharing a bathroom with a man whose gut obliterated his aim.

 As Watkins trudged America’s forgotten highway, she lost herself in despair and pain. Nothing happened according to plan, and her tenuous connection to her father started to unravel.
Through arguments and laughter, tears and fried chicken, they fought to rebuild their relationship before it was too late.

In Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace, Watkins invites readers to join her dysfunctional family adventure in a humorous and heartbreaking memoir that asks if one can really turn I wish I had into I’m glad I did.



Ray Charles

Dad moseyed through the faded grandeur of the Plantation Suite at Hope Farm,

a bed and breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. Our first stop on my 444-mile

Natchez Trace Parkway saga. Dad planted himself between two canopied beds.

“That the TV?” It was the size of an iPad, perched on a desk. He fumbled with

his suspenders and rocked back and forth on the Persian rug, eyeing chairs he

knew wouldn’t hold his weight. “How’m I gonna watch that?”

I left him cradling his sleep apnea machine and followed my friend Alice into

Mississippi dusk. “What am I doing here?” I whispered.

“You’re gonna be the first person to walk the Natchez Trace as the pio- neers

did.” Alice slammed the trunk of Dad’s tan Mercury Grand Marquis and pushed

her glasses up the bridge of her nose. My dearest friend was the ballast that

would protect me from the onslaught of my father’s outsized personality.

Alice had been part of my life for more than a decade. In my early thirties, my

friends were all married, including Alice. I was the only pa- thetic single person

I knew. While everyone talked about

the possibility of babies, percolating babies and actual, birthed-and-breathing

babies, I chewed my lip and won- dered if I’d ever meet a functional man and

contemplate babies.

Or maybe I wasn’t functional.

I sat alone in my house, ate alone at my table, showered alone in my

bathroom, and slept alone in my bed; yet, I didn’t want to be alone.

I endured lunches and dinners, drinks and parties, listening to every- one

compare notes on the next phase of life, a milestone I couldn’t achieve. They

wove their stories on blue-lined notebook paper, while I clung to holes in the

margin. I came away from these interactions, my insides shrunken and my life

an afterthought. I thought nobody cared about me.

Except Alice.

Even though she was pregnant herself, she tried to steer group con- versations

to non-gestational topics. “What books are you reading?” She asked. Or, “Tell

me about your last trip.” One time, she interrupted some- one mid-ultrasound

photo essay. “We’ve been talking about pregnancy for almost an hour. Can we

spend the last few minutes of lunch on something else?”

If friends are a reflection of who we want to be, I wanted to be more like


While I wove from thing to thing to thing in a vain effort to find my- self, she

became partner in an architecture firm and mothered a daughter I considered

a niece. She was primary caregiver to her disabled brother and supreme

supporter of her husband. I cultivated a friendship with her, because I wanted

to be her. I never understood how she did everything, but I thought if I got to

know her better, some of her juju would dribble onto me.

A decade on, she was a seminal figure in my life.

Alice and I decided Dad as wingman would be the equivalent of what writers

call an unreliable narrator. He might intend to drop me off and pick me up

each day, but given the wealth of strangers between miles one and fifteen, he

couldn’t be depended upon to be there for me.

Alice agreed to babysit my father and schlep me around for the first week of

my Natchez Trace walk. The rest would be just Dad and me.

I didn’t want to think about that.

Not yet.

I shoved the looming time with my father over my shoulder in a moon- lit

parking lot. If I thought about what was coming, I’d quit before I took one step.

Alice heaved grocery bags up narrow stairs. “I think that’s everything you’ll

need for a long walk.”

“Maybe.” I held the screen door and followed her into our suite. A jumble of

athletic gear awaited me. Compression tights. Hiking shoes. En- ergy bars.

CamelBak water bladder. Gadgets and creams designed for the extreme


An athlete? Who was I kidding? In high school, I couldn’t run a mile, score a

goal or hit a ball. Why did I think I could walk more than a half- marathon

every day for a month at forty-four?

I spread a map across the quilted bedspread. A long rectangle stretched from

one side of the bed to the other.

The Natchez Trace.

Almost 450 miles of highway ringed by farms and swampland, its sides were

eroded canyons in some places. Ghostly buffalo herds competed with the

earliest Native American spirits, Spanish conquistadors, French mis- sionaries

and warring armies along a paved federal parkway. I imagined their voices, and

I honored them in my novel. Ten thousand years of his- tory.

The Trace was a tunnel through Time.

From March 1 to April 3, 2014, I planned to walk the highway as our ancestors

did. Fifteen miles a day. One rest day a week. For thirty-four days.

On the eve of my start, I perused a daunting list of things to do: Stock up on

snacks for my daily food kit; buy enough bottled water; organize supplies for

easy access as we moved; fall asleep early to

be rested. I flitted between piles of stuff, wondering how I would winnow it

into one compact pack. I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, about her trek up the

Pacific Crest Trail. I didn’t want to carry unnecessary things.

Food, a water-filled CamelBak, Gatorade, a first-aid kit, extra socks, flashlight,

toilet paper, waterproof pants, a spare battery pack for my iPhone, cards

announcing my novel, notes from readers, a Parkway map, a voodoo doll and

mace. Items of necessity. Charms for good luck. One weapon. Two if the

voodoo doll counted.

Everything I needed.

I flattened a roll of toilet paper and shoved it into a ziplock bag. “Dad, can you

help me go through this list? Check off things as I call them out? Dad?”

Even though Dad wore hearing aids, I had to shout if I wanted him to hear

me. He said they didn’t pick up children and women with higher voices, but

I caught him turning them off around me. I barreled into the other room and

found Dad standing in front of a precarious bureau, his sleep apnea machine

balanced on a ledge. An electrical cord dangled from one hand. “Dad! Help me


“I cain’t find a place to plug this thing up.” His filmy eyes scanned walls

papered with yellowed clippings of Dwight Eisenhower and Barry Gold- water.

“This all seems like yesterday......”

I groped along the walls and felt an outlet behind the bed. “You can plug it

right here.” I picked up the end of the cord and scooted under the bed. When I

stuck the prongs in the socket, I held my breath. “No telling whether the wiring

in this place is up to code, right Dad?” Silence. “Oh well, maybe he can’t hear

me under here.” Layers of history peeled back with me as I heaved myself to

stand. Coughing, I knocked dust from my knees in the empty room. “Dad?”

I opened the bathroom door, expecting to find Dad spraying every- thing but

the toilet, but it was vacant. Foiled, I darted into the other room. “Where’s


Alice reclined on one of two mountainous canopy beds, blonde hair splayed on

the pillow. Her eyes drooped behind glasses perched on her heart-shaped face,

and her voice ran thick like syrup. “He went over to talk to Miss Ethel.”

“Again? Jesus God, it’s after nine o’clock.”

She punched her pillow and settled onto her side. “I guess she’s the only

stranger he can find to talk to at this time of night, Andra.”

Miss Ethel was the doyenne of Hope Farm, a spunky wisp of a woman in her

seventies. When I checked in earlier that afternoon, she met me at the front

door and blinked through thick glasses. “Surely you’re not gonna walk all the

way to Nashville, Ondra?”

I winced and bit my lip when she butchered my name, but I didn’t correct her.

People usually didn’t get it, even when I smiled and said, “It’s AN-dra.”

Miss Ethel fingered her double string of pearls, her wrinkled face un- readable.

“Well. Bless your heart. My Yankee husband’ll be sorry he died before he could

meet the likes of you.” She swooshed one silk-clad arm. “Allow me to escort

you to your room.” I followed the impressions her black pumps made in the


Hours later, I looked at the clock on my phone and slipped my feet into some

sneakers. “I have a sick feeling I’m seeing what my father was like when he

was courting women.”

Information no child,  little or grown,  wants to know.

I was not familiar with Andra Watkins before I was offered this book in exchange for a review.
I was not prepared for the emotions I would experience as I read about this woman's decision to take thirty-four days and walk fifteen miles per day to promote her debut novel. 
You have to think - what a CRAZY idea for an author!

Andra is not still in her foolish twenties. She has a husband, might I say a very supportive husband, and elderly parents who, through the stories told in this book, often reminded me of my own family.
There is one reminiscence about Andra's mother and mauve curtains that made me yell YES! That happened to me!

Andra's debut novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, is a fictionalized novel about the famous explorer Merriweather Lewis, whose death at age 35 remains unexplained.
After reading this memoir, I am looking forward to reading her fiction. 
I am sure her father can get her to autograph a copy for me.

If you are expecting a travelogue sort of book, you will find so much more within these pages.
This is a story of determination, for sure, but also a discovery of self and a discovery of family.
When she invites her 80 year old father to be her wingman on this journey, Andra is really unsure what to expect.
She will be happy if Roy remembers to come back for her at the end of the day.

Roy is difficult to fully appreciate at first. 
Andra has had a difficult time understanding him her whole life.
We get a completely new appreciation when we hear Roy's thoughts, 
especially about being "sandwiched" between women and sometimes feeling an outsider in his own family.
I also appreciated Roy's love for "junk" and wood. The story about how he found and refinished his first piece of furniture really touched my heart.
There is a quote in the book: "I finally understood Lewis's connection with my father. 
They both feared a wasted life, always believing they could use what they were given to do more."

Something else that touched my heart was the connection between bloggers, who may never know each other beyond the virtual world. I am so pleased to have met several supportive women (and even a man or two) who encourage others to follow their dreams, who will invite you into their homes, or jump on a plane to physically support you when possible; sometimes even at great expense to their own bank account or other time commitments.
Bloggers have given a wonderful emotional boost to humanity.

I am recommending evevryone from teenagers on up read this book. For the younger set, I hope you view your parents in a different light and learn to appreciate their concern for you. 
Start a conversation and ask why they have the ideas and opinions they have. I hope you learn something.
For older readers, I am sure you will find your own relationships somewhere in these pages.
Put that fresh awareness to good use and use the time you are given. As Andra encourages: Make A Memory

When Andra reaches her final mile marker, please continue to read the Epilogue and additional pages of information. You will not be disappointed.

Let me add: Great playlist as chapter headings

About the Author

Andra Watkins lives in Charleston, South Carolina. A non-practicing CPA, she

has a degree in accounting from Francis Marion University. She’s still mad at

her mother for refusing to let her major in musical theater, because her mom

was convinced she’d end up starring in porn films. In addition to her writing

talent, Andra is an accomplished public speaker. Her acclaimed debut novel To

Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis was published by Word

Hermit Press in 2014.

Her latest book is the memoir, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444 Mile

Walk of the Natchez Trace.

For More Information

• Visit Andra Watkins’ website.

• Connect with Andra on Facebook and Twitter.

• Find out more about Andra at Goodreads.

• More books by Andra Watkins.

• Contact Andra.

• Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444 Mile Walk of the Natchez

Trace is available at Amazon.

• Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

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