“When I think of Pud, I think, ‘Here comes fun!’”
That’s how Diana Mountjoy Hill responded in 2015 when I asked her about any memories she might have of my father. I had just started working on The Last Resort, and I was trying to track down anyone I thought might be able to offer me insights into his life in Lawrenceburg. Bill Bryant, a Lawrenceburg native and retired professor of biology who had written an article about my father’s academic career—which included the statement “Common sense, and a sense of humor, were essentials for John Goodlett”—pointed me to Diana, whom I had always known as “Dyna.”
Pud and her dad, Lin Morgan Mountjoy, were great friends. The Mountjoy family had a big farm between Lawrenceburg and Pud’s camp on U.S. 62, so I have to imagine Pud stopped by there frequently on his way to or from Salt River, occasionally entreating his buddy to join him for some fishing. And I know Lin Morgan and his wife, Joy, visited the camp after the war with Pud and Mary Marrs.
Like nearly all of Pud’s buddies, Lin Morgan also served during WWII. Diana tells me that he and Joy wrote each other every day while he was in training at Deming Air Base in New Mexico and later while serving in North Africa at a base near Casablanca.
When they all somewhat miraculously made it back safely to Lawrenceburg, Lin Morgan was in Pud and Mary Marrs’ wedding in December 1947. Diana was born to Lin Morgan and Joy a couple of years after that. So she was still pretty young when Pud would stop by the Mountjoy farm on his rare visits home from the Northeast.
“Whenever I heard Pud’s Ford convertible careening down our long driveway, I would run to the front window,” continued Diana. “I knew all hell was about to break loose.”
I can’t think of a better legacy than to be forever associated with “fun.” When I first heard this anecdote, I admit I was surprised. Others had shared stories about my dad’s sense of humor and his ability to talk easily with anyone from any circumstances. I had heard him described as “folksy.” But none of this initially jibed with my recollection of a disciplinarian and a serious academic.
I’ve been delighted, however, to embrace this image of the man I never really knew. Sometimes, when I choose going outside to play rather than spending another hour inside taking care of work, I think of him. When I’m spending time with friends and I see myself fall into playful behavior unbefitting a woman d’un certain âge, I think of him. When I jump in the lake for a swim or paddle my boat to a back cove in search of turtles or Great Blue Heron, I think of him.
My cousin Vince, Pud’s nephew and namesake (“John Vincent,” named for his uncle John Campbell [Pud] and his uncle Robert Vincent, the youngest and oldest Goodlett brothers), told me, “He was a cool dude. He just seemed relaxed and easygoing.”
I’m not sure those are shoes I can fill, but a legacy of “fun” is one I’d be proud to continue.
Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., responds to the recent post Whistling Past the Graveyard. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
T. S. Eliot once wrote, “Great works of art always mean more than they are capable of expressing.” Whenever I return to Pud Goodlett’s journals in The Last Resort and reread his thoughts as a young man, I am reminded of Eliot’s quote, of how even something as apparently straightforward and unencumbered as a camp logbook can resonate with unexpected intent and purpose. I am particularly cognizant of Goodlett’s love of place and family, and how scholarly success never weakened his ties to Kentucky.
When I read Sallie Showalter’s recent blog—which mirrors this attachment to family and place—I realized there must be a mystical connection between people and location that sometimes transcends all else.
As I was growing up, my family moved a dozen times to a dozen different states while my parents pursued graduate degrees and visiting professorships. I learned early not to form an attachment to a place. I am also the only child of an only child, and I can count my remaining relatives on one hand. I am watching my mother die from Parkinson’s disease. So I use the term “mystical” deliberately when thinking of those who experience this ineffable pull of family and place. As a young man, I was unaware of its power. As I contemplate the latter phases of my life, as I extricate myself from the shackles of my career, I yearn for those ties to a constant place and to people who knew me way back when.
That, in a roundabout way, brings me to Pud’s wife, Mary Marrs, and my brief encounters with her when I was young. I recall her as a woman of unassailable beauty and grace. She, too, served her country during WWII by leaving her small-town home in central Kentucky and going to work for the Navy in Hawaii. (A tough gig, that.) Like many of the more fortunate members of her generation, she returned to her roots when the conflict concluded.
I must have been 15 years old, a friend of her older daughter, when I met her. She always treated me with the utmost kindness. One story will suffice: I’m not sure where her two daughters were, but she and I found ourselves in her kitchen, drinking coffee early one morning. We must have talked for an hour, and while I don’t remember the thread of our conversation, I do recall that she took me—a 15-year-old boy and all that that entails—seriously. I also recall her discussing her deceased husband and telling me how I would have liked him.
It was only years later, after the death of my own father at an absurdly young age, that I recognized in the eyes of my mother the look on Mrs. Goodlett’s face during that talk: a look of bereavement, confusion, controlled anger, and a sadness that cannot be articulated.
And just as Mary Marrs had returned to Lawrenceburg from her home in Maryland after Dr. Goodlett’s passing, so my own mother left Kentucky and returned to her family in Minnesota after my father’s death. The pull of place, of family, of familiarity surmounted the grip of artificial roots. And while we could argue whether these two women made the right decision, who can argue with the gravitational pull that lured them home?
Camus wrote: “There are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial can be born.” The human condition is absurd: we plan, we strive, we rely on rational, systematic thought to live. And yet, our mortality tells us that our existence is provisional and transitory; it is irrational. We carve out careers, and they crumble into insignificance when we visit the gravesites of our relatives; we remember our deceased loved ones in their vibrant youth, and yet we somehow live longer than they; we live in exciting locales among interesting friends, and yet our profound meaning comes from our place of origin.
It is, indeed, when we delve into and accept the irrational—the “dying of the mind”—that we find our true selves, our “truth.” And for those, like me, who do not have roots, who do not have a family or place which circles the wagons and protects us, this irrational absurdity compels us to act, to rebel, to define ourselves by our actions, by our choices.
Pud Goodlett, writing home about what he witnessed at the Nuremburg war crimes trials, wonders if his brother Vincent, an attorney who had served his country in England, would have found the events interesting. And his widow, talking about her deceased husband to a teen-age boy as though this untamed youth were the most important person she had ever met, perhaps unwittingly reveals the most profound truth she knows: family and place are what bind us to this earth, and to each other.
As we stood at the gate to the pen holding the enormous Black Angus and her recently born calf, it would soon become clear who among us grew up on a farm.
I suspect that cow outweighed all of us combined. Just how protective would she be of her baby?
We were trying to find the Goodlett cemetery, which my cousin Sandy believed was somewhere on the ridge on the other side of that pen. The owners of the property—whom we did not know—were not home, but we had received the babysitter’s permission to trek across the farm.
The somewhat rickety wire fence establishing the boundaries of the pen was reinforced with new, tautly strung barbed wire from top to bottom. On either side of the pen was dense vegetation—waist-high on me. The ground was deeply rutted by the cattle that had grazed there.
As we were examining our options, I looked up to see Bob and Charley climbing the fence into the pen. They walked purposefully toward the other end, the mother alternately snorting at them, pawing the ground, and walking menacingly in their direction. In the end however, she chose to stay close to her calf, who was still wobbly on his feet. She let the two pass unmolested. The rest of us city slickers watched in awe.
Rick and I are typically up for any adventure. And it was clear the family patriarch, Sandy, was not to be deterred. The three of us figured we had missed the opportunity to walk through the pen. The mother might have put up with that once, but we doubted she would tolerate another mob now that she was alert. We instead managed to navigate the barbed wire and drop over the fence into the deep weeds on the south side of the pen.
Perhaps a hundred yards along, the three of us found a way to climb back over the well-fortified fence and join the other two. We trudged along, all secretly wondering what fool’s errand we had so gleefully undertaken.
As we approached a copse of trees at the top of a small rise, we caught a glimpse of our holy grail: an elaborate wrought iron fence. We somewhat clumsily breached the wire fence strung among the trees on the exterior perimeter and soon found ourselves peering over the sturdier iron fence that protected the Goodlett family graves. The ornate crosses set at regular intervals on that fence presented yet another obstacle. With my small feet, however, I managed to get a toe-hold and hop the fence without too much trouble. Shortly thereafter, Sandy—clearly the best problem-solver in the group (take note, Lawrenceburg residents, as you choose your next mayor)—managed to pull away a part of the fence that had been secured by rope, so everyone could get a closer look.
Among the opportunistic trees and weeds and errant ground cover were the gravestones of our great-grandfather and great-great grandfather and their wives. Bobwhite called out as we carefully pulled away the weeds and squinted to make out the inscriptions on the older markers.
It was the highlight of a remarkable day spent traipsing across Anderson County searching for our ancestors. The graves of the Moore family—our common grandmother’s relatives—were easier to find and well-maintained, perhaps because of the prominence of her father, Rev. William Dudley Moore, a well-known minister of his era who performed hundreds of marriages and funerals in the county—including the funerals of John Thomas Goodlett and his wife, Virginia Campbell “Jennie” Goodlett, both buried in the graveyard we had just uncovered. The family of the Goodlett our grandmother married, however, was a little more obscure and, as his descendants, we know less about them. So I was ecstatic to find this burial plot and drive around a remote part of Anderson County—southwest of Lawrenceburg near Washington County—that I had never visited.
This has been one of the most rewarding aspects of pulling my cousins close late in life. As we lose our siblings—or simply lose touch with them—we can invest time and emotion in that next ring of relatives, our cousins who share our DNA, childhood experiences, and family folklore. I have to think that Pud, Virginia, Vincent, and Billy—the Goodlett siblings who brought us into this world—would be happy with our efforts to get better acquainted with our ancestors and with each other.
It may have been a foolhardy trek across somewhat forbidding land and past its 1,000-pound sentry, but we did indeed remain cheerful despite the rather obvious hazards. And the reward—a peek into our family’s past—far outweighed that matronly beast.
David Hoefer, of Louisville, Ky., is co-editor of The Last Resort and the author of the book's Introduction. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
Some knock midcentury America for its supposed philistinism—remember, we’re talking about the generation that survived the Great Depression and would go on to win World War II, create history’s mightiest economy, and put men on the moon. Is being expert in the consumption of esoteric culture really a laudable achievement?
That said, there is a somewhat naïve, but also affective, quality to the camp journal in The Last Resort. This comes across in the relationship Pud Goodlett has with the two great loves he references, neither of which at age 19 was a young woman. I’m referring to Mike, his dog, and to Thomas, his 1925 Ford Model T pickup.
It’s Thomas that helps put to rest the notion of a sophistication deficit as a defining characteristic of the pre-war population. The Ford Model T was, of course, one of the signal success stories of American business. Henry Ford didn’t invent assembly-line production or standardized machine parts, but he was the first automobile manufacturer to wed mass-production techniques to design and marketing concepts. Just as importantly, his was a car for the middle rather than the upper classes, both domestically and abroad. In production from 1908 to 1927, the Model T ultimately recorded sales of 16.5 million units.
This explosion in low-cost but relatively fast transportation, with top speeds of 45 mph, had enormous impacts on American society, some good, some not so good. Automobile owners found themselves with the means to escape the intellectual isolation of a small town, but in the process they stumbled into the psychological isolation of an even smaller car—perhaps a busier version of loneliness.
But automobiles—and automobility—can foster values and virtues as well. As the philosopher Loren Lomasky has argued, freedom of movement, as aided by the triumph of horsepower over horses, can be important to the pursuit of life-projects:
“Movement, therefore, does not simply describe getting from here to there; it has normative richness. To move is to progress—though, of course, it can also be to backslide. Only stasis is morally neutral, and ours is a dynamic universe. The greater the variety of dimensions through which an individual transforms itself and things it encounters, the greater the scope for evaluative concerns. The grounds on which human beings appraise themselves and their fellows will be much richer than, say, the standards applied to horses or bottles of wine or the performance of machines. For people, there is not only a better or worse but a chosen better or worse toward which we deliberately direct ourselves. Intelligent automobility is crucial to the elevated status of human beings vis-à-vis other beings.” (Lomasky, Loren E. “Autonomy and Automobility.” The Independent Review, Vol. II, No. 1, Summer 1997, pp. 5-28.)
I suspect that Thomas was important in exactly this manner—he gave Pud the gift of automobility, of independent pursuit. He added to the richness of Pud’s experiences and pointed toward new vistas along the muddy, rutted roads of Anderson County. Beyond these, at much further distances, were the vistas that Pud eventually chose or had chosen for him: war under Patton in Europe, marriage to Mary Marrs, Harvard and Harvard Forest, teaching and scholarship at Johns Hopkins. There was nothing of the bumpkin in any of this.
Thomas’s end was opera buffa slapstick if not exactly funny, demolished by moonlight on August 22, 1942, when striking another vehicle on the way to Camp Last Resort. Neither car had its headlights on, a common power-saving trick in those days. The personal injuries weren’t life-threatening, but poor old Thomas was a twisted wreck, shortly to be replaced by Pud’s second car, Westbrook, a 1934 Chevy.
Like Moses, Thomas never entered the Promised Land, always waiting patiently for Pud at the head of the final footpath the boys took to camp. Here at least Mike the dog, who followed his master everywhere, had a singular advantage over the intrepid but less sure-footed Thomas.
Here’s a nicely done five-minute video clip about the Ford Model T, courtesy CarDataVideo’s YouTube channel.
In July 1942, Pud was attending summer school at the University of Kentucky. If he made any trips out to Camp Last Resort that month, he didn’t document them. In July 1943, he was already training at Camp Wolters, Texas, a member of the Enlisted Reserve Corps of the Army. Of that ordeal, he writes the following to his sister, Gin; her husband, Len; and their son, Slug (short for “Sluggo,” Pud’s nickname for young Dave Fallis):
"Well, here I am at the end of my fifth week of the training cycle, and I still don’t know whether we’ll take the full thirteen weeks or not. I suppose you know by now that I took my final OCS physical exam last Friday—or rather Friday before last—and passed O.K.
"The weather is fine today—the sky is completely overcast and it’s only about 90°—perfect for relaxing. It’s been rather hot—several days last week hit 120°. This part of Texas is really not so bad. The country is flat except for low flat-topped hills, and although the trees are almost all stunted, there are plenty of them—mostly post oaks. The soil is all sandy, in fact it’s not soil—it’s sand. Horned toads, jack rabbits, and chiggers abound, as do the sand burrs, which are the sharpest stickers you ever saw. They grow on very low plants everywhere, and simply cannot be seen, but every time I sit down, I find them.
"You’d die if you could see my face—my nose, chin, and both cheeks peel constantly, but my upper lip actually feels like cardboard. And don’t believe that I’m getting fat—the OCS physical only weighted me in at 133—so there!"
As I enjoy a stretch of languorous summer days beside my little manmade lake, I occasionally think how my father would have appreciated this setting. My backyard is filled with healthy trees planted randomly or allowed to grow where they please: sycamores, tulip poplars, redbuds, several types of oaks and hickories, a beloved black gum, a red maple, a couple of birches and bald cypress trees we planted near the water to replace the willows and cherries we lost, and Norway spruces and a few cedars we’re encouraging to grow into a natural barrier to shield us from others who recreate on the lake.
About 30 feet from my backdoor I can step onto a small dock that juts into our little cove. Moored to the dock in its custom-shaped slip is an old metal johnboat, sturdy and indestructible, awaiting anyone wanting to head out onto the lake to fish for the plentiful largemouth bass. The boat has stood sentry over the west side of the property through three homeowners. It’s largely retired now, which is a shame, usually left behind when the fleeter kayaks and stand-up boards get a turn on the lake’s placid water.
I think my father would have loved that I have settled on a small body of water in central Kentucky. It may not be a natural river with fishing holes and snags and treefalls. It may not change much with the seasons or with the level of rainfall. But it provides ready access for swimming nearly six months out of the year and easy fishing any time we’re willing to give it a try. We seem to have fewer snakes than Pud and Bobby encountered on the cliffs along Salt River, but we have an enormous variety of birds and lots of turtles—which appear safe from bored young men while sunning on their logs. Manicured lawns have largely displaced the wildflowers, but there are still areas of the neighborhood where mowing is erratic and the butterfly weed and bee balm and chicory occasionally peek above the grasses. And what would Pud and Bobby have thought about the deer—does, bucks, and fawns—that regularly graze on our lawn or bed down among our garden plants for the night?
During our first years here my husband and his buddies enjoyed a good bit of fishing on the lake. My dad’s old tackle box and fly rods stood ready in the storage room that opens to the back patio. I would occasionally find Rick sorting through the antique lures and fishing paraphernalia, either looking for something new to try or just reveling in the oddity of it all. A Styrofoam container of earthworms was usually in the basement refrigerator, along with the beer.
Yeah, I think Pud would have enjoyed this spot. I can almost see him stretched out in an old camp chair in the backyard, a Budweiser or a glass of bourbon in one hand, a cigarette in the other, watching the Green Herons or the Kingfishers as they swoop down the lake.
Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., responds to the blog Imagining Community. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
I have been thinking about Anthony Bourdain.
I have been thinking particularly about his now somewhat countercultural paraphrase of a nineteenth-century French writer: “A gentleman never undermines the dignity and self-respect of another.”
In all corners of the world, close and distant, forces concertedly whittle away at individuals’ dignity and self-respect. We separate children from parents because “they” are not us. We demonize the “other” because it makes us feel superior. And, perhaps most perniciously, we condone the environmental degradation of areas where others live while jealously guarding our own domains.
I read with interest Sallie Showalter’s recent blog Imagining Community. Her piece is a call for all of us to read, and to read widely. She asserts that by reading we can vicariously experience lives different from our own and thereby gain a transcendent understanding of the world. I was particularly pleased to see her reference to the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s collection, The Other. In a review of this work in The Guardian, Jason Burke writes:
“Every person we 'meet along the road and across the world' is 'in a way twofold', he (Kapuściński) says. First, there is 'a person like the rest of us', who has 'his joys and sorrows, does not like to be hungry or ... cold, feels pain as suffering and good fortune as satisfying and fulfilling'. But there is the second person, 'who overlaps with the first'. He is 'a bearer of racial features and ... a culture, beliefs and conviction'. These two entities co-exist and incessantly interact. Anyone who has travelled through our supposedly 'flattened' world in recent years can confirm this. Few can deny the emotional pull of the tribe, the nation, the linguistic community, or the difference of peoples, races, languages, cuisines, traditions and histories. This has proved the great flaw in the doctrines of liberal interventionism and neoconservatism. Much of development theory clings to an economic vision of growth, underplaying the emotional. But the two beings outlined here are frequently in conflict and the second often wins.”
And so the novelist’s imagination is a prompt for understanding. Robert Coles, in his cogent work The Call of Stories, writes that the poetry and prose of William Carlos Williams “urges intense, searching self-scrutiny.” The stories and drama of Anton Chekhov prompt us to “a close look not only at ourselves, but at others, at the terrible contrasts of this world.”
Travel, too, is the anodyne of smugness and intolerance, where riding public transportation is the norm and engaging in conversation with a cab driver, a restaurant server, or a fellow traveler can be a profound educational experience. Anthony Bourdain brilliantly evoked this ethic throughout his work. Whether acknowledging his host’s gracious hospitality by eating food that was clearly outside his comfort zone or conversing with manual laborers, restaurant dishwashers, or subsistence farmers, Bourdain showed us how to travel, how to interact respectfully with those who are not like we are, and how to be ever aware of those who suffer.
Surely embracing his vision will only make us wiser.
This writing business sure requires a lot of books.
As I entered my office a few days ago, I had to wade through books filed in boxes, books in paper shopping bags, books stacked on the floor. My office is small, and I could barely find a pathway from the door to my desk.
I am surrounded by books that I need to read because they have something in common with the novel I’m trying to write: a similar structure, perhaps, or a similar narrative approach or a common historical setting. In my growing collection are nonfiction books about World War I, Prohibition, racial violence, the steel industry, coal camps in Eastern Kentucky, and Lexington’s most notorious madam. There are historical photo collections from the various cities where my maternal grandfather spent some period of his life. There are books on the craft of writing that I continue to hope will inspire me to write something worth reading.
I have written before about my passion for collecting books. Evidently it’s unslakable. I am proud that I still value books, particularly in light of recent reporting that “The share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004.” I described last week how reading can increase empathy, a quality we all need to embrace in these times. But despite my plea for everyone to read more, my friends know how I struggle to find the time to read all that I want. Nonetheless, I never question that reading is time well spent. And I recognize the luxury of being surrounded by books I love.
But recently the sheer number of volumes has multiplied, due in part to the overwhelming generosity of a friend and mentor and in part to the consolidation of references my chief researcher had acquired over the past several years.
Something had to give.
So this weekend, my husband—the hunter-gatherer of the family—found a $50 bookcase to help me get my office back into some sort of order. With any luck, my thinking will become a bit clearer as the room becomes more uncluttered.
In doing research for the novel, I discovered that my predilection for books may go back several generations. At the beginning of the twentieth century, my maternal great-grandmother ran into some trouble keeping up her accounts with local shop owners. In May 1908, as many businesses were still recovering from the Panic of 1907, J.T. Hinton—the proprietor of a Paris, Ky., home furnishings store as well as a funeral director and the future mayor of the city—filed a suit against Mrs. W. E. Board for payment of a past due account amounting to $131.69. The purchases on the tab went back to 1902, and by far the most expensive item on the account was a $35 bookcase (the third item listed in the exhibit filed with the suit, left).
Maybe it’s a genetic compulsion. I can only hope that I find more time to enjoy the “writing” library I have amassed—a library that is now neatly arranged on shelves rather than scattered among various trip hazards on the floor. Perhaps eye-level reminders will be all I need to start a marathon summer reading spree.
Empathy, like civility, seems to be a vanishing American quality. The ability to imagine oneself in another person’s situation and understand that person’s feelings typically engenders compassion and a sense of shared human experience. Without empathy, we tend to align ourselves with others whose experiences we can identify with. That results in homogenized communities and a bubbling fear of those who are different—the threat of “The Other,” as described so vividly in Ryszard Kapuściński’s book that borrows that title.
That’s where our nation—and much of the world—finds itself right now.
Bill Bishop, formerly a columnist with the Lexington Herald-Leader, relied on demographic data to sound the alarm about this phenomenon in his 2009 book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. He argued that our choosing to live in neighborhoods with others who share our lifestyle and our beliefs has helped create the political and cultural polarization we see today.
Unfortunately we currently have political leaders who find stoking those fears useful for holding on to their power. By promulgating misleading data and straight-up lies, they are able to prey on people’s fears of those who are different—or simply unfamiliar—and push agendas that lack compassion and humanity.
Our nation has a long history of persecuting immigrants and those whom we perceive to be different. We have been callous, hateful, distrustful, even cruel—all while pointing smugly to the Statue of Liberty, our national symbol of compassion.
It is our responsibility as citizens to distinguish the facts from the untruths and to consider the effect of proposed policy on all people, not just those who look and think like we do.
So how do we build empathy for others who live very different lives from our own? If you live or work among a diverse population of people, it’s much easier. You interact with people with different backgrounds from yours every day. So talk to them. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Share a meal. I expect you’ll find you’re not very different after all.
If you live and work in an area with little diversity, as I do, you have to work a little harder to discover the empathy and compassion necessary for a united nation truly interested in justice for all. You can volunteer to work with groups of people whose life experiences are different from yours. If you have the means, you can travel. You can take classes or attend public lectures.
But perhaps one of the simplest ways to develop empathy is to read. Read widely. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read books by authors from other countries. Read history so you’ll know the struggles of those who preceded us. Read biographies about people you’ve never heard of.
And read fiction. Good fiction invites you into a world you know nothing about and engages your emotions in a way that encourages you to feel empathy for the characters. Whatever their situation—however different from anything you’ve ever known—you begin to identify with the fictional characters: you feel their pain, their sorrow, their happiness, their embarrassment, their fear. You struggle with their decisions. You want them to succeed. You live their lives vicariously.
If reading fiction is not a regular part of your life, here are a few suggestions to get you started. Of course, there are hundreds of others to choose from. Feel free to share a comment below listing other books readers might find compelling.
In the second Appendix of The Last Resort, Pud lists what he is reading while working as a researcher at Harvard Forest. The almost wacky list includes a historical thriller, a collection of essays by the humorist James Thurber, a contemporary novel, a telling of Maurice Herzog’s trek up Annapurna, and a book of Ozark folk tales. He was also rereading Thoreau’s Walden and working his way through Ridpath’s history.
In 1953, Pud and Mary Marrs had no television. Reading was their primary pastime. I suspect that in that era more people read more widely. With the widespread establishment of public libraries and the advent of paperbacks, books became more accessible. Newspapers were commonly found in homes. Magazines were popular.
But in the digital age, we read “soundbites.” We rarely dig deeply into a story or analysis. Fewer still pick up a book or download a novel to an electronic device. Who has time for that?
As we once again consider important policy and legislation relating to immigrants, refugees, foreign aid, and how we respond to national disasters that disproportionately affect the poor and marginalized, let us all summon as much empathy and compassion for our fellow travelers as we possibly can. Let’s all pick up a good book and read. And then let’s make our voices heard.
For another call to action, please read the comment left by Vince Fallis at the bottom of Tragic Patterns.
David Hoefer, of Louisville, Ky., is co-editor of The Last Resort and the author of the book's Introduction. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
It will surprise few readers to learn that editing a previously unpublished manuscript is not unlike wading waist-deep into an endless stream of choices. At least that’s what Sallie and I found in preparing Pud Goodlett’s 1940s Salt River journal for publication as The Last Resort.
We felt a moral obligation to reproduce the author’s original text as faithfully as possible, but other considerations managed to creep in. Some of them were practical—for example, pencil smudges and strikethroughs in the source document required interpretive skill. There were also, on occasion, plausible arguments for more extensive revision. Does one correct spelling errors? Pick grammatical nits? What about gray areas like replacing period slang or clunky phrasing with something easier to read (after all, Pud was only 19 when he started his journal)? Aren’t editors supposed to edit?
Sallie and I erred on the side of laissez faire et laissez passer—let do and let pass—but not everyone follows the same strategy. An interesting counterexample involves an unpublished manuscript by the patron saint of outdoor writers, Ernest Hemingway. Though he’s often associated with big-game hunting in Africa, Hemingway undertook only two safaris during his lifetime.
The first occurred in 1933 and resulted in Green Hills of Africa, published two years later and viewed by some as the gold standard for this genre of writing. The second took place in the early 1950s and generated an unfinished 850-page manuscript, partly handwritten and partly typed, deposited by Hemingway for safekeeping in a Cuban bank vault.
Since Hemingway’s death in 1961, “the African book” (as he called it) has been published not once but twice in two very different versions. The first, appearing in 1999 and given the name True at First Light, was heavily edited by Hemingway’s son, Patrick. It was, after a fashion, a father-and-son collaboration.
The same manuscript served as the source for a second publication, Under Kilimanjaro, in 2005, edited by a pair of Hemingway scholars, Robert W. Lewis and Robert E. Fleming. They took the opposite approach, leaving the original manuscript largely intact. According to Lewis and Fleming, “[T]his book deserves as complete and faithful a publication as possible without editorial distortion, speculation, or textually unsupported attempts at improvement.”
Sallie’s and my approach was more Kilimanjaro than First Light, which isn’t to say that we didn’t earn our paycheck as editors (speaking figuratively here, as there’s no money in scholarly self-publication). The appendices of World War II correspondence and the Harvard Forest journal were created after a meticulous review of the source documents and an appropriate reduction in size and scope. The introduction, annotations, taxonomic list, and other content additions involved considerable time and required input from both of us. But the point of the book—Pud’s delightful journal of halcyon days on Salt River—is as verbatim as we could make it. The Last Resort is the authentic work of an authentic voice before our current period of largesse and decline.
Last spring I silently marked the 50th anniversary of my father’s death, on April 1, 1967. It seemed fitting that shortly after that anniversary David Hoefer and I committed to publishing The Last Resort by the end of that summer.
This spring the entire nation has marked the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
As an eight-year-old in the spring of 1968, my world seemed to be wracked by death. My father the year before. His mother two months later. Then two towering icons whose deaths recalled the raw wound left behind after the murder of John F. Kennedy five years before.
Of course, the whole nation had other reasons to grieve that year, as more and more servicemen had their lives cut short in Vietnam. Drug overdoses made the news. Death and despair seemed to have a determined grip on our nation.
In many ways I realize it’s unfair to conflate my personal losses and the nation’s loss of these public figures. But from the limited perspective of a child, the incessant drumbeat seemed overwhelming. I couldn’t understand why all of these important people were being taken from us—from me—one right after the other. One in April 1967. One in April 1968. One in June 1967. One in June 1968. Even at that young age I had a sense of the symmetry—or perhaps the regularity—of these deaths. I had no reason to think the next year, or the next, would be any different.
These men were all linked, at least in my young mind. All were in the prime of their lives—from 39 to 46 years old—having steadily built their influence. All had families with young children. All died unexpectedly, the family members and admirers having no preparation for the sudden emptiness, the sudden annihilation of a shared future. All represented huge promise—for a nation in turmoil in the case of the assassinated public figures, or for a tiny sphere of students and colleagues in an emerging field of science, in the case of my father.
In retrospect, it doesn’t seem so outlandish that a young child who had been immersed in grief would take these continuing deaths personally. This was the world as I knew it. Sadness. Loneliness. Endless inexplicable tragedies.
I knew the commemorations surrounding the anniversaries of the 1968 deaths of two of our most inspiring public figures would affect me. I expected it would be best if I buried my head and blithely went about my business this spring without recognizing them. But the condition of our nation and our politics at this moment made it impossible for me to keep my head bowed. I feel it is my responsibility to raise my head up, to stay vigilant, to maintain a clear-eyed gaze.
I’m certain it’s good for our nation as a whole to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. I would hope that by remembering the unfulfilled promise of their lives and the hopefulness of their messages we would be inspired to alter how we think, how we act, and how we treat each other, even on the smallest scale.
But I’m afraid I may be one of the few who is paying attention.