Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Worst Hard Time

I initially borrowed this book from our excellent library. At that time Timothy Egan had not yet received the National Book Award. Of course, I had to have the book for my personal library. Believe me, this is an excellent book!

This week Timothy Egan will receive the Evil Companions Literary Award 2009 at the Oxford Hotel in Denver (wish I could be there!). The Oxford Hotel by the way is such a beautiful historic hotel in LoDo (Lower Downtown Denver). Our daughter and son-in-law's wedding reception was held in that marvelous hotel.
I digress!

The Evil Companions Literary Award is presented annually to a poet or writer who embodies the spirit of the West. The award pays homage to a group of Denver writers who met in the 1950s and '60s to drink and discuss writing, and dubbed themselves the Evil Companions.

Working to preserve the memory of the original Evil Companions are Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover Book Store, Dana Crawford, owner of the Oxford Hotel and Colorado State University Professor of English, David Milofsky. The trio created the literary award and its accompanying event to promote and build upon Denver’s deserved reputation as a center for writing and literature. The Evil Companions event is quickly becoming a local favorite. Proceeds from the event benefit the Denver Public Library. {Wonder if the Seguin Friends of the Library could have such an event, honoring local writers ??? A thought . . .}
Excerpt from The Worst Hard Time:
At its peak, the Dust Bowl covered one hundred million acres. Dusters swept over the northern prairie as well, but the epicenter was the southern plains. An area the size of Pennsylvania was in ruin and on the run. More than a quarter-million people fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Looking around now, it may seem that most people just hurried through the southern plains or left in horror. Not true. John Steinbeck told part of the story, about getting out, moving somewhere green. Those were the Exodusters. But Steinbeck's exiles were from eastern Oklahoma, near Arkansas -- mostly tenant farmers ruined by the collapse of the economy. The families in the heart of the black blizzards were further west, in towns like Guymon and Boise City in Oklahoma, or Dalhart and Follett in Texas, or Rolla and Kismet in Kansas. Not much was heard about the people who stayed behind, for lack of money or lack of sense, the people who hunkered down out of loyalty or stubbornness, who believed in tomorrow because it was all they had in the bank. Yet most people living in the center of the Dust Bowl, about two thirds of the population in 1930, never left during that hard decade.
...For now, the narrative of those times is not just buried among the fence posts and mummified homesteads. People who lived through the whole thing -- the great town-building, farm-fattening, family establishing prosperity of the 1920s, followed by the back hand of nature in the next decade, when all of life played out as if filmed in grainy black-and-white -- are with us still, shelters of living memory. But before the last witnesses fade away, they have a story to tell.

Educating yourself

Things Lost in the 1998 Flood

The hardbound 1941 first edition copy of this book was washed away (in the Gulf of Mexico, I suppose) in the 1998 flood. After tossing about 2800 books (if memory serves), I stopped counting. The discarded damaged books made an enormous pile at curbside. However, things ARE just things.

The family memorabilia is probably what I miss the most (when I take the time to think about it). My mother's autograph book. The old old photographs. My baptism certificate. Birth certificate. All of the old scrapbooks (I had scrapbooks for every year of my life and the older I get - and I am OLD - the more I seem to reminisce). My mother's letters. My youngest son's personal items (I had given the three older children all of their memorabilia and photos when we moved from Denver). News clippings about family members.

Since we had only recently moved to Seguin from Denver, all of that 'stuff' was in the shed by the house as we continued to renovate our home. Naturally the shed was the first to go - the sound of the nails popping from the shed like gunshots as we stood on higher ground across the street and watched everything float away.
ANYWAY - I just had to purchase a copy (1996 - softbound) of William Alexander Percy's book Lanterns on the Levee Recollections of a Planter's Son, to replace the first edition I had in my library.
The author Walker Percy was greatly influenced by his uncle, William Alexander Percy, and in the forward to this book, Walker Percy writes:

"I remember the first time I saw him. I was thirteen and he had come to visit my mother and me and my brothers in Athens, Georgia, where we were living with my grandmother after my father's death.
"We had heard of him, of course. He was the fabled relative, the one you liked to speculate about. His father was a United States senator and he had been a decorated infantry officer in World War I. Besides that, he was a poet. The fact that he was also a lawyer and a planter didn't cut much ice -- after all, the South was full of lawyer-planters. But how many people did you know who were war heroes and wrote books of poetry? One had heard of Rupert Brooke and Joyce Kilmer, but they were dead."

"...For to have lived in Will Percy's house, with 'Uncle Will' as we called him, as a raw youth from age fourteen to twenty-six, a youth whose only talent was a knack for looking and listening, for tuning in and soaking up, with nothing less than to be informed in the deepest sense of the word. What was to be listened to, dwelled on, pondered over for the next thirty years was of course the man himself, the unique human being, and when I say unique I mean it in its most literal sense: he was one of a kind: I never met anyone remotely like him. It was to encounter a complete, articulated view of the world as tragic as it was noble. It was to be introduced to Shakespeare, to Keats, to Brahms, to Beethoven--and unsuccessfully, it turned out, to Wagner whom I never liked, though I was dragged every year to hear Flagstad sing Isolde -- as one seldom if ever meets them in school."
William Alexander Percy [note: my friends shudder when I mention another genealogy 'link' and have been heard to groan and derisively mutter : "You're related to everyone." and once when we were discussing the kids' project with Flat Stanley (you've heard of Flat Stanley, I trust), my husband looked at me and commented dryly: "I suppose you are related to Flat Stanley.").

I am distantly related to William Alexander Percy (and thus Walker Percy) through my Williams lineage (of which - boring my friends I know! - the playwright Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams belongs).
From the forward of Lanterns on the Levee:

The desire to reminisce arises not so much I think from the number of years you may happen to have accumulated as from the number of those who meant most to you in life who have gone on the long journey. They were the bulwarks, the bright spires, the strong places. When they have gone, you are a little tired, you rest on your oars, you say to yourself: "There are no witnesses to my fine little fury, my minute heroic efforts. It is better to remember, to be sure of the good that was, rather than of the evil that is, to watch the spread and pattern of the game that is past rather than engage feebly in the present play. It was a stout world thus far, peopled with all manner of gracious and kindly and noble personages--these seem rather a pygmy tribe."
I suppose there is some irony in losing a book about the 1927 flood in the 1998 flood - The Flood of 1927