Captivating memoir of life and customs in Boonville, Missouri, during the 1940's-50's. Davis (English/Univ. of Oklahoma) re-creates his Catholic youth with thoughtful originality, as if sketching his past on a grid and then coloring in the squares with shades called ``Protestants and Catholics,'' ``Town and Country,'' ``Food and Drink,'' and so on. He begins with a lively family history of the Davises, clearly a line of eccentrics just short of being crackpots, then dips into the physical layout and history of Boonville, its state during WW II, and the first hints of his several awakenings. The writing flags after this opening, however, caught in abstracted social recollection that focuses in part on racial awareness between blacks and whites. Midway through, though, Davis sinks his fingers into the fertile loam of childhood and youth, with rich descriptions of milking chores, gardening, his work-ridden father's resistance to the boy's studies, and the kinds of food and drink the family enjoyed. The narrative blooms with the author's telling of the differences between knowledgeable country boys and naive town boys; of the first inklings of sexual development in school, with the girls maturing faster than the boys; of his reading Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars series for information about sex (its red-skinned Martian heroine lays eggs for John Carter to impregnate); of neighborhood games from childhood through the team sports of adolescence; and of trash art, his disappointment in a young woman's suicide note modeled on ``lumpen-realistic true confession and modern romance magazines,'' and the magic of getting to Kansas City. Leisurely dig through leaf-meal on a southern life-path, best when the compost ripens.