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.
One of the more challenging aspects of preparing The Last Resort for publication was getting the details right. Sallie and I spent countless hours running down obscure references and perusing what Poe called “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” in assembling the footnotes and the species list. (Yes, some of the book’s content probably qualifies as arcana.)
Why all this effort? Because accuracy matters, even in little things. The devil may be in the details, but so is the delight of finding new ways to connect with the past by ducking down unexpected pathways.
That’s why I was pleased when Sallie forwarded to me an internet audio file she discovered of the University of Chicago Roundtable program on the NBC Red radio network. This was the episode from December 7, 1941—the date that lives on in infamy. NBC interrupted the start of the program—a discussion of what Americans could learn from Canada’s war footing as a member of the British Commonwealth— to announce the attack at Pearl Harbor. How does this fit with the boys of The Last Resort? The Roundtable program followed Sammy Kaye’s Sunday Serenade on NBC Red. As we noted in the book, Bobby Cole was a fan of Sammy Kaye’s music.
In listening to the announcement and the discussion that followed, I entertained an image of Bobby leaning in close to his radio, hearing for the first time about the devastating raid at Pearl. I have no knowledge that it happened exactly this way, but it seems likely that the news would have spread quickly once the government announced it, and radio was the premier broadcast medium of its day. The residents of Anderson County, either individually or in small groups, would have come into the news while living out the usual routines of a day.
Those usual routines—like pleasure taken in music—were now linked to the chaos and cacophony of war. By the time Pud Goodlett began his camp journal in February 1942, the Salt River idyll was already coming to a close.
Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., was surprised to see Annapurna listed as one of the books Pud Goodlett had read in March 1953. Here Cooper writes about how he stumbled onto that book and what it meant to him. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
When I was young, I was intelligent. Bolstered by the hubris of youth and fearless of everything save the notion of being the same as everybody else, I read voraciously and indiscriminately, sure in the thought that I was unique, and that what I read was the best.
In all of this, my hero, Robert F. Kennedy, always guided me. Just when Bobby became my hero is not important; can I simply say that I can’t recall a time when he wasn’t? And if it’s true that we define ourselves by our actions, then I, too, was going to leave my mark on the world, to live bravely and care deeply, just as he did. Ah, youth.
I must have been 15 or 16 years old and living in Richmond, Ky., a mystery to no one except myself. In those days, my favorite thing to do was to walk the three miles from my house to downtown and go to a used bookstore run by an ancient Renaissance man. Housed in a dilapidated building that couldn’t possibly meet today’s safety codes, heated by two or three space heaters scattered haphazardly on the uneven floor, this used bookstore was a haven for my imagination and me. The old man would always give me the run of the place. What could possibly be better than that?
One Saturday morning while rummaging through stacks of books and magazines, I stumbled on a Life magazine from 1965. On the cover was a picture of Bobby standing on top of a mountain dressed in mountain climbing gear and surrounded by various flags. The caption on the front cover was “‘Our Climb Up Mount Kennedy,’ by Robert Kennedy.”
Too impatient to wait until I got home, I read Bobby’s article twice before I looked up and saw the old man walking over to me with a handful of books. Yes, they were all books on mountain-climbing expeditions, and I bought every last one of them. And no, I had no idea that mountain climbing was a popular sporting endeavor, much less a literary one. I read those books, which confirmed over and over my own uniqueness. Dare I say that it never occurred to me to wonder why there were so many books on mountain climbing if I was the only one interested? Ah, youth.
My favorite book in this stack was Annapurna by a Frenchman named Maurice Herzog. The pain and suffering experienced by Herzog and his team were rendered in great detail in this remarkable book, and I just couldn’t fathom the courage and teamwork that was required to climb that 26,000-foot mountain. But surely I was the only person in Richmond to know who Maurice Herzog was, to have read his book. That was enough.
About a month ago, I stumbled onto Sallie Showalter’s remarkable blog and her magnificent book on her father, Dr. John C. Goodlett, The Last Resort. And though Sallie and I have known each other since we were in our teens, I was never privileged to have known Dr. Goodlett, who passed away a few years before our paths crossed.
Just a week or so ago, I was again poring over The Last Resort when I noticed that Dr. Goodlett made reference to reading Herzog’s Annapurna while he was working at Harvard, and that he characterized it as “gruesome, loony, and gripping in places.” A more apt description you’ll never find. May I tell you that something quite strange and wonderful happened to me when I read Dr. Goodlett’s reference: I felt a measure of comfort and joy and contentment I haven’t often felt as an adult. I recognized that the self-assured autodidact that I was as a youth had given way to an adult who recognized the complexity of the world and who enjoyed the company of like-minded friends. I felt immediately reassured in the knowledge that the father of a friend of mine from my youth had also read Herzog’s book when he was a young man. What I felt was solidarity.
No, I never knew Dr. Goodlett, and it is nearly impossible for me to refer to him as Pud, a nickname, I think, that should be reserved for family and friends. But, reading through his journals, I like to think that we’d both enjoy sipping a bourbon together. And I like to think that we would enjoy talking about mountain climbing and the “loony” Frenchman who wrote a book so important to us at different points in our youth. Here’s to you, Pud.
It’s still magical.
That’s what we discovered when several of us “second generation” sanctuary-seekers visited the site of my dad’s old camp on Salt River last weekend. It was a spectacularly beautiful early spring day: temperatures in the mid-40s with deep blue skies and a light breeze. The torrential rains of the previous week had finally ceased and the ground was surprisingly solid as we hiked down a gravel road past pretty little ponds on either side, down the long hill to the immense corn bottom along the river itself. (Finally, I know exactly what Pud meant by “Cap’s Corn Bottom.”) Remnants of last season’s corn crop littered the flat land that extended as far as the eye could see to the east and west and down to the tree line adjacent to the river. We turned east along the southern edge of the field and headed toward the woods that brought an abrupt end to the corn rows.
Once in the woods, I knew I was home. Everything felt familiar. I had only been there once before, but I immediately recalled the path up the hill to the right, the gurgling stream to the left. We crossed the small stream—somewhat carefully this time with the water running a bit more swiftly—and marched directly to the old chimney, still untouched by time. The cabin, of course, is gone, but I expect that chimney will last well into the next millennium. We all marveled at how two teenage boys constructed such a solid edifice 80 years ago.
This was a special trip. Bobby Cole’s two children, Bob and Julie, and their spouses were there. They had been regular visitors to the site until their family sold the property in 1981. Two who had visited the camp with my dad as youngsters also joined us: Bob McWilliams (author of "Puzzle Pieces"), son of George McWilliams, my dad’s good friend and my mother’s first cousin, and Sandy Goodlett, oldest son of my uncle Billy, Pud’s brother. They pointed out favorite fishing holes, recognized giant sycamore trees along the river, shared stories about the slow deterioration of the cabin and the shelter it continued to provide even in its compromised state well into the 1960s.
We wandered a few yards west of the camp to the waterfall our fathers had used as access to the river for their many fishing expeditions, the steep bluff in front of camp preventing an easier entry. The waterfall was more beautiful than I remembered it, and we tarried there quite some time taking in the scene, recalling the winter photo of my dad sliding down the frozen water on his rear, noting the animal bones littered on a nearby shelf, marveling at the remnants of an old dry stone fence.
Yes, it was magical. It’s clear why the boys escaped to their woodland refuge whenever their other obligations permitted.
None of us wanted to leave. I wished we had thought to ask permission to camp there that night to extend the dream. The current property owners were once again gracious, gladly allowing us to immerse ourselves in this piece of our family history.
Time changes everything. But for a couple of hours in early March, we could imagine our dads walking among us, excitedly pointing out the burgeoning buds on the trees, bragging about their fishing exploits, making plans to improve the camp that summer. We shared sacred memories rarely spoken aloud and honored our dads’ love for that hallowed ground. It was indeed magical.
This past week we lost one of our cousins who I suspect visited The Last Resort with his uncle Pud and his cousin Sandy when they were toddlers and possibly later, when Pud came back to Kentucky to see family. In his correspondence, Pud referred to Sandy as “Sweetpea” and to Davy as “Sluggo” or “Slug.” David Fallis was the oldest son of Pud’s sister, Virginia, and all of us will miss his gentleness and his sense of humor. Rest in peace, Dave.
Roi-Ann Bettez of Georgetown, Ky., recently read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling and found her descriptions of rural Florida evocative of Pud’s descriptions of rural Kentucky Both were keen observers of the natural world during a time when we still valued its beauty. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
In search of books set in Florida during a recent trip there, I discovered Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ novel The Yearling and her autobiographical stories, Cross Creek. Many people have probably read these, but I had missed them.
The plots and characters delighted me, but what I loved most were the settings. Central Florida, still a wild and rural place in the 1930s when Rawlings wrote, comes alive in her hands. She writes—about the animals, the plants, the weather, the crops, the hunting, the freedom, and the toil—with such emotion and detailed description that the place itself becomes a character. For example:
“March came in with a cool and sunny splendor. The yellow jessamine bloomed late and covered the fences and filled the clearing with its sweetness. The peach trees blossomed, and the wild plums. The red-birds sang all day, and when they had done with their song in the evening, the mocking-birds continued. The ground doves nested and cooed one to another and walked about the sand of the clearing like shadows bobbing.”
As I imagined that place in Florida, I found myself thinking about The Last Resort. Pud Goodlett’s journal is full of lists and descriptions of the birds, the fish, and the plants around the cabin where he and his friends camped. He also says that he read there, and I had longed for him to include a list of what he read. In my imagination I saw him reading one of Rawlings’ books by firelight or kerosene lantern while the rain pattered on the roof above him.
Then I thought: maybe he did. It’s possible. Rawlings’ The Yearling was published in 1938, when Pud was 16. A best seller, the book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939. Kentucky’s Anderson County Public Library (built and furnished with a grant from Andrew Carnegie) had been dedicated in 1909 and was well established by that time, and would certainly have carried the book. Pud’s home on the outskirts of Lawrenceburg was within an easy walk of the downtown library, especially for a young man who readily hiked several miles out to his Salt River camp. It’s also possible he could have read her books later. If he ever did read her writing, I have no doubt he would have been fascinated with her detailed descriptions of rural, central Florida.
But whether or not Pud Goodlett read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, it’s evident that the two would have found a kinship in each other’s world view. They delighted in the places they loved. They were keen observers of the abundance and variety and beauty—and sometimes violence—of the plants and animals on their patch of this place we call Earth. I think Pud would have liked the ending to Cross Creek:
“It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed but not bought. It may be used, but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers and not masters. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.”
This thought pattern stayed with me. While there on Florida’s east coast, I decided to look at the world through the eyes of Goodlett and Rawlings. I got up early to see the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. I became so aware of the bounty of the world that the next time I went to the beach, I saw things I had not noticed before. When the ocean retreated, it left bits of foam on shore that glowed all the colors of the rainbow for just a few seconds before disappearing into the sand. A tiny crab peeked out from his clawed hole, then dipped quickly back inside. Pelicans decided to roost for their afternoon nap atop a nearby tiki hut. The world was awake and alive all around me.
Try it. No matter what kind of day it is, go outside. Look around carefully. Take a deep breath. Think about how Pud or Marjorie would see your place. Look closely. See it through their eyes. I bet you’ll see something differently.