Hokey but charming memoir, reminiscent of an afternoon spent flipping through the pages of an antique photo album.
Although an autobiography, Coleman chronicles his life in the third person with a dispassion and modesty remarkable for a novice writer. It is perhaps the era that speaks through his prose--not a child of the "Me Decade," Coleman reminds us that the past was, indeed, more difficult than the present. And people certainly tended to whine a good deal less back then. The account begins chronologically, with his birth in 1902 to pioneer parents, their eighth child. By the time he was nine, the family had moved to their own homestead in Myrtle Creek, Ore. That summer he contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. Overcoming his crippled condition occupied a good portion of his youth, admirably marked by self-reliance and invention. He whittled his own crutches, made violins and, at 19, attempting to find a trade that would accommodate his physical condition, paid a jeweler $25 per month in order to serve as an apprentice to the watchmaker. As a young man in the '20s, he married and became a father, then established himself as sole proprietor of a jewelry store. The narrative is interspersed with photographs, newspaper clippings, Coleman's poems (an unfortunate weakness), musical scores (also not very solid), jewelry designs and the Coleman family tree. At a glance, Coleman’s history, aside from his disability, is not unusual. He becomes one of the leading merchants of a small town, state archery champion, and president of the Lion's Club. His would seem to be the unremarkable chronicle of a small-town success of interest to no one outside his family. Even so, it's his banality that is oddly compelling. Following the ups and downs of the Coleman jewelry store through the Depression, World War II, and the post-war era up until Coleman's death in 1972, is an enjoyable journey through the low-key strength and integrity that sustains middle-American lives. Coleman's son, John Coleman, today runs Coleman's Jewelers, the jewelry store founded by the author, in Corvallis, Ore. (Proceeds from the sale of this book, which has an endorsement from former senator Bob Dole, will go to Rotary International's "effort to eradicate polio" and to the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University.)
A real-life Frank Capra tale, just as corny, sentimental and inspiring as It's a Wonderful Life.