A World War II-era small town sparkles to life in this luminous memoir.
Half a century after the death of his father Jud, manager of the railroad depot in the village of Republic, Mo., the author revisits his boyhood world in these epistolary recollections. In part, they are a subtle appreciation of the virtues that a son doesn’t fully see in his father until he grows older himself—of Jud’s hard work and skillfulness, his shrewd wisdom and his steady love for his family. But through them Alderman also sketches an enchanting portrait of the close-knit town and the lonesome farmsteads of the Missouri Ozarks surrounding it, as seen through the eyes of a boy growing to manhood. There are youthful pranks and raucous baptisms that nearly drown their beneficiaries. There are beguiling neighborhood characters: a homeless man who grows succulent vegetables, a local “witch” who turns stones into cupcakes for kids, and a glamorous eighth-grader who smokes, kills snakes and steals honey from wild hives. There are darker threads, including a man who walks into town one day waving a gun and threatening to shoot someone. There’s the dread of bad news from the front and the excitement of the war mobilization as transports carrying troops and tanks come bustling through. (The author’s re-creations of the culture and technology of trains—the sleek aerodynamic locomotives, the ritual of handing up messages for the crew on radio-less expresses to snatch as they hurtle past—are an engrossing reminder of the vanished romance of railroading.) Alderman’s lyrical prose infuses these vignettes with evocative details—“I couldn’t think of anything that smelled better than the fragrance of a cigarette freshly lit by a kitchen match in the cab of a workman’s truck”—and a quiet humor. When he returns to finds Jud’s depot demolished, we’re grateful that his vivid memories endure.
A funny, moving, finely wrought remembrance of a lost Middle America.