A sentimental look back at the author’s idyllic childhood in Dearborn, Mich.
Youngquist, born in the 1920s into a recently emigrated Swedish family, takes us on a detailed ride through early-19th-century life in small-town America. His parents came to Dearborn, like many others, to find work in the factories of the Ford Motor Co. His immediate community was a complex mixture of European immigrants, yet the childhood episodes he tells are uniquely American–it’s notable that his family and others like them were more interested in assimilation than in preserving the customs of their native countries. Activities like kick-the-can, backyard football, marbles and marshmallow roasts are remembered lovingly. Youngquist gives us, often in excruciating detail, instructions for making model airplanes, painting machinery in a Ford plant and even a house-by-house layout of his neighborhood. Upon reaching adolescence, he begins to move beyond his Mayberry-like world, working on farms in the Midwest and traveling throughout the western United States. He eventually receives a Fulbright scholarship and works for the U.S. State Department. Few adventures from this part of his life are mentioned, though one feels that some may be of more interest than the childhood tales he relates–in a poignant final chapter, he states that he only feels right ending his account with his marriage to Rita. Like many of the events here, this isn’t presented in a linear way but as a stand-alone event; the episodic nature can become confusing at times. His story will have great appeal to members of Youngquist’s generation as a moving evocation of their childhood. For anyone younger, however, it will read as a slow and sometimes indulgent look at a world that is foreign to them.
An overall gentle and nostalgic glimpse into an extinct slice of American life.