Kellams (A Coach’s Life, 2007) shares fond recollections of a childhood spent in the small town of Marion, Iowa.
In a series of chapter-length vignettes, Kellams brings readers back to the 1940s and early ’50s, recalling a time when local papers and radios were the main sources of news, when young boys played cowboys and Indians with prized toy guns (cap guns, the author says, were the best) and when kids ran off to local swimming holes in the summertime. The elder of two sons born to Stanley and Margaret Kellams, the author came into the world in 1936, during the waning years of the Great Depression. His parents were educated and industrious, and they reflected a Midwestern frugality that was only enhanced by the economic turmoil of their times. By his own account, the author was a sensitive, insecure child, easily brought to tears, but he still depicts his childhood as a happy one. Many stories involve his love of and involvement in sports, including baseball, basketball, and swimming; his father is shown to be especially supportive of all these endeavors. In a disciplined narrative sprinkled with dry wit, Kellams relates his experiences factually rather than emotionally. The crisp prose usually maintains a reporter’s detachment (his parents, for instance, are frequently called Stanley and Margaret instead of Mom and Dad), but there are a few revelatory moments that will give readers a glimpse into the passions of the child. Here, for example, he speaks of working as a newspaper delivery boy for the Cedar Rapids Gazette when he was about 11 years old: “The smell of Fred Ross’s cigar…was the dominant odor, but it mixed with the bitter smell of wet ink, the woody scent of damp paper, and the mingled stench that rose from the jumble of our two dozen bodies….It was part of the romance of journalism.” Kellams not only delivered the Gazette, he read it every day, foreshadowing his eventual move east to obtain a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. He would never again live in Iowa, but in this book, he offers effective reminders of the time he spent there.
An informative, sometimes-tender memoir of midcentury small-town Americana.