Award-winning poet and writer Lanter (The Final Days, 2013, etc.) remembers growing up in rural Illinois during the middle of the 20th century.
Begun as a set of reminiscences to be shared with relatives at a family reunion, this personal narrative weaves recollections, gossip, popular songs, nursery rhymes, and the author’s own poems and photographs into a rich tapestry depicting life in the American Midwest from 1935 to 1955. Lanter tells of his immigrant ancestors of English, French and German descent; of his birth “six months and ten days” after his parents’ wedding, a fact that in his father’s mind forever marked him as “the symbol of his incarceration in a marriage he did not want.” He led a “happy, unencumbered” childhood “at the edge of the farm doing what rural people have always done to give meaning to their interests and concerns. We had work to help with, planting and digging potatoes and otherwise tending the garden.” In a one-room country schoolhouse and at a small-town high school, he stumbled through the maze of pubescence, victory gardens, blackouts, and maimed and broken veterans returning home from World War II. He tells of his love and aptitude for basketball and baseball, which opened the way for his escape to university, “out of the village, out of the welding shop and away from the coal mines where a number of my friends were already headed.” Lanter’s verse beautifully communicates the emotional content of the narrative, while the songs and rhymes he includes (“You’re in the Army Now,” “This Little Piggy Went to Market”)provide historical context as well as a bridge to shared childhood experiences. Though the text is at times heavy on details, it is a measure of the writer’s skill that the book’s diverse elements coalesce and invoke in readers a feeling of nostalgia for a past they may never have known.
A creatively rendered, memorable memoir.