An account of the author’s family’s history in the American Midwest, starting in the early part of the 20th century.
Debut author Ehlert begins this remembrance with his father’s life in Stearns County in central Minnesota. Melvin George Ehlert was born in 1923, and until 1931 he was commonly known as “Bunny”; this changed at a family dinner when the 7-year-old declared that he would only answer to “Melvin” from that point forward. From there, the reader is given a tour of Melvin’s life, which included plenty of farm work, being rejected for service in World War II due to flat feet, and eventually opening a store and settling down to start a family. The titular Melvin is the focus of the book, but there are also moments from the author’s own life, as he’s Melvin’s oldest child. He was the first sibling to sweep the family store, he says, and he later attended and eventually dropped out of Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, before joining the U.S. Marines in 1967. Throughout the personal accounts are inklings of what was going on in the popular culture of the United States at the time; for example, the author notes that in 1958, when Melvin opened his store, the hula hoop was wildly popular. There’s also a portion of the book devoted to the life of a local celebrity: Nobel Prize–winning author Sinclair Lewis, who was born in the nearby Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in 1885. Regardless of the subject matter, the book maintains a folksy sense of humor throughout. For instance, the author says that when someone once remarked on the delightfulness of Melvin’s many stories, he responded, “But how do you know they’re true?” Such details are relatable and often touching. However, occasional accounts of small-town dramas are less memorable; at one point, Melvin is on the board of directors of a local hospital, and the board, which wanted to attract doctors to the town, discussed the merits of hiring a medical doctor versus a doctor of osteopathy. Neither this discussion nor its conclusion is particularly engaging. Overall, the book shines brightest when keeping things personal.
An often entertaining history of a Minnesota farm family.