Neihardt, poet and Indian scholar, now in his nineties, runs the risk of irremediable mawkishness by beginning his autobiography with that earliest memory -- the light and warmth he felt as his aunt warmed his ""bare bottom by the fire on the hearth."" But the gamble pays off, establishing the tone of artless intimacy that pervades this gentle memoir. Skipping back and forth through memory, Neihardt tells of his late 19th-century youth in the midwest. The events are prosaic enough -- friends made, books read and written, jobs sought and held -- but through Neihardt's eyes each day offers new wonders. A snowball fight, a passage of Vergil, a perfect winter night are all cause for celebration. Even in the occasional sentimental moments, real pleasure in remembering and sharing the past shines through. Those with a taste for nostalgic reminiscences will find Neihardt a worthwhile acquaintance.