Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


 Memoir Review    


Distant Son: An Alabama Boyhood
By Norman McMillan
Cahaba Trace Commission, 2002
Hardcover, $24.00 (257 pages)
ISBN: 0-9711913-1-X

In 1985, the Alabama Legislature created the Cahaba Trace Commission "to promote the cultural and natural assets of the Cahaba River Valley and environs." Norman McMillan's Distant Son is the first book in the Voices Along the Trace series highlighting the people of the region.

Norman McMillan taught English at the University of Montevallo from 1971 - 2000. Recently retired, he spends his time "reading and writing and working with the Montevallo Main Street Players."

McMillan credits the writing of the book to his involvement with the Reading Our Lives: Southern Biography program sponsored by the Auburn Center for the Arts and Humanities. While conducting a writing seminar at the Hale County Library in Greensboro, the audience responded to McMillan's teaching and writing with enthusiasm. Their enthusiasm inspired the author to write along with them, resulting in the memoir, Distant Son: An Alabama Boyhood.

The eighth of ten children, the author was born in 1942. His father's family could trace their origins back to Devon, England and Cornworth, Scotland. His mother, Lucille, a school teacher before her marriage to Albert, McMillan's father, felt a certain pride into marrying into the McMillan family. 

During the first nine years of young Norman's life, the family sharecropped in Hale County, Alabama. Like most farmers of the times, Albert struggled financially, moving from place to place hoping for a better life. 

The second nine years of Norman's life were spent in southern Tuscaloosa County. While the family lived in a better house, and his older children were leaving for college and the military, Albert continued to try to earn a living as a truck farmer. 

While Albert drank his earnings depriving his wife and children of stability, Lucille encouraged her children to succeed because their "riches" believing birth and ability were more important than economic circumstances. She taught her children deprivation was temporary and would build character. 

Distant Son is a quiet memoir. McMillan doesn't offer explanation or apology, he simply tells the story of his family ending the memoir with an afterward updating the reader on his siblings' lives.


Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews


2003, Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved