Terry Kay has more stories to tell than he could ever get around to typing. His autobiography, alone, if he were to embark on that definitive journey, would be difficult to bring to a conclusion. One sketch, one profile or gripping scene from the past would lead to countless others.
He is a ‘50s guy whose salt-of-the-earth family life gave him perspective and ambition but without avarice and greed. His was a time when austerity embraced much of society and constantly reminded him by its rural existence that in doing well there was a responsibility to do right.
There was motivation to get off the farm, which spawned him, but to never lose the grasp of its influence and teachings. Life is a collection of short stories, but to enjoy fulfillment in the end, there is a moral code to respect. He can pen a compelling novel without a single word of profanity, which few authors can do although it is a simple matter of choice. Four letter words in their own right are graphic, but does that make the narrative better? More illuminating? More engrossing or insightful?
Terry’s latest book, his 18th, is a love story with a story line with which you are likely familiar. Lovers in high school go their separate ways following graduation but reconnect in their doting years — forever wondering what might have been.
Published by the Mercer University Press, with which Kay has often been allied in his publishing career, “The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet,” has a “small town” narrative that has enraptured so many of us. There are Friday Night Lights, a barbershop, a funeral home, an independent motel and a high school made up of nondescript athletes with more ambition than talent. As is often the case, they, nonetheless, had their signature moments.
Luke, the leading male character in Terry’s novel is a learned teacher who gained fulfillment from hanging out at the library and advancing the cause of a place where kids today would only flock if there were pot smoking and loud music instead of “Quiet Please” signs and water coolers.
Middy, Luke’s girlfriend, qualified for homecoming queen, Miss congeniality and the most likely to succeed. She married well but to a rich and abusive husband. After his death, she couldn’t wait to return home to try to find romance and happiness.
Everything about this book, its place and characters are cloaked in a modesty, befitting small-town living. You are uplifted with the author’s ability to weave a suspenseful story with penetrating insights, discerning words and flowing vignettes that make you pontificate your own past with your long-ago friends. “That could have been my teammate. That could have been my teacher. That could have been my best friend’s girl friend.”
There are sidebars, which illuminate the narrative of a seasoned writer who never expected to be what he is — a fine-tuned story teller who has enjoyed an accomplished career from an occupation he never expected to pursue.
The farm Terry grew up on was near Royston. He was the 11th of 12 children. Somehow, they all escaped dysfunction. There was not a single black sheep, no bad apples. He has two brothers who earned doctorates — one at NYU and one at Vanderbilt — which allows a glimpse into what farm chores, brotherhood, good parenting and focused ambition can bring about.
Playing high school football, Terry was a quarterback who learned what it was like to run the show. The name of the signature play, designed to fool the opposition in his book and brought Luke enduring local fame, was “Hoo Doo Voo.” It didn’t work as well against Lavonia in real life as it did in his book.
“When I got started with the book,” Terry says, “I wasn’t sure where it would go, but the possibilities did intrigue me. Oddly, I enjoyed writing about the place as much as the characters involved.”
A former sports writer with the Atlanta Journal, Terry’s writing career was influenced by Furman Bisher, one of the great sportswriters of our time, and Jim Minter, who is a far better writer that those who give out awards and serenade local writers are aware. A member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, Terry has been named Georgia Author of the Year four times. His book, “To Dance with the White Dog,” has sold over two million copies, worldwide. In Japan, the book was turned into a movie.
Terry says this could be his last book, but that would be a loss, for those who know and appreciate him — greater than the Hoo Doo Voo play that failed to go 80 yards against Lavonia once upon a time.
It is fitting that book success and honor has come Terry Kay’s way. He deserves it. Furman Bisher is not here to add an exclamation point, so I’ll do it for him.