A debut memoir traces a man’s many moves across the United States while working on government land surveys.
Born in 1929, the same year that 7UP was invented and Babe Ruth hit 500 career home runs, Novak grew up in a small Midwestern town caught up in the Depression, Prohibition, and World War II. After holding various odd jobs in Haddam, Kansas, on farms and creameries, the author realized that he did not want to become a farmer. As a result, he jumped at the opportunity to leave town to join the Coast and Geodetic Survey—the oldest scientific bureau in the nation, responsible for charting America. From there, Novak spent his nights triangulating positions across the U.S., laying the groundwork for topographic maps and eventually satellites and GPS systems. While crossing the country, he met a young woman named Jean in a dance hall in Chillicothe, Missouri. After turning him down once, Jean finally agreed to go to lunch. Not long after, the two were married and she started traveling with him. Just as their first son, David, was born, Novak was shipped off to Alaska for the first of three difficult stints surveying islands and treacherous territory in the wild landscape. After his return, the family kept growing, with two more children. They made their way from town to town, eventually settling for a while in Kansas City, Missouri. The author begins every chapter with a specific place, labeling its exact coordinates and giving a little bit of history both general and personal: “Besides being the birthplace of my wife…Meadville” in Missouri “is home to the historic Locust Creek Covered Bridge,” he writes. Novak’s stories are short and to the point. Overall, his memoir offers little that is truly exciting or surprising. But history and geography buffs should adore his unique view of America in the mid-20th century and his folksy anecdotes—like his tales of the cigarette-smoking Eskimo children he met in Alaska and the numerous small towns he saw explode from simple main streets into modern suburbs.
A concise account of a tumultuous American journey that offers some intriguing insights for history lovers.