Sunday, July 01, 2018


This 21st Century I sometimes find myself reflecting on 20th Century life, even 19th Century remnants carried over that I encountered when young – the General Store, the place to shop in my grandmother's and aunt's small villages; the gazebo in the town’s “center” on a weekend afternoon where a small group of local musicians played the “oom pah pah” music rhythms carried over from the previous era. 

Patriotic holidays like July 4th celebrating Independence Day attracted the entire community to either participate in, or cheer on the school's marching band augmented by a few old-timers parading down the center of town.   Colorful red, white and blue stars and stripes flags waved by onlookers then, in my Midwest state neighboring that of the golden raintree, fluttered everywhere as they continue to do  yearly in these parades. including where I live now on the Pacific's West Coast in Southern California. 

When I was young, a variety of books, magazines and comic books captured my attention.  In addition to classic books an older relative had received when young, and periodically sent me, I sometimes was also gifted with a brand-new book for my birthday, or at Christmas.  That is how I came to read all about The Bobbsey Twins. 

During my middle to upper elementary school ages we continued to live in town.   I used to ride the city bus down town,  then took only a block’s walk to our local library.   Saturdays, and during the summertime when we had school vacation, to occasionally be permitted to travel alone by bus downtown increased my self-confidence that not only was I trusted, I was capable of taking care of myself.  I'm sure this freedom contributed significantly to my developing an independent nature.

I examined numerous library books, some quite at length, before selecting a few I was permitted to check out.   I recall becoming interested in historical fiction, also at that age I enjoyed Lorna Doone, said to be a romance novel infused with some historical characters.  Probably some of the books I examined I might not have been allowed to check out since I was so young – librarians likely screening to protect my youthful sensibilities. 

I concluded during those pre-teen years that reading big thick books with lots of pages often held more interesting complex stories.   So, I sometimes just wandered down aisles, randomly selecting such hefty books, flipped them open to the middle, then read a few paragraphs.   That’s how I encountered one of the books I read only at the library, Madame Bovary -- also one in which I probably read more paragraphs than in some others.   

My 35 cents a week allowance I spread pretty thin, so I made certain to never have any library late fees.   My mother endeavored teaching me to be selective in my tastes and not squander my limited funds on what she thought would be a waste of my time and money -- such cheap stuff which included most ten cent comic books with superheroes and villains, serial movie matinees at the local theater.   I’ve become a bit more accepting, enjoying those super heroic humorous characters in some recent generations’ movies.  

“True” comic book was an occasional exception because the stories were based on history in Mother's view.   Years later when I was a teen, a comic book that attracted me then was the satirical “Mad” with the “What, Me Worry” boy, Alfred E. Neuman for which she had little appreciation.      

We had by then, years before, left the town of my early years following significant changes in family makeup, location, and financial status.   From my Jr. High through Sr. High School years we lived in what I generously describe as being the “boonies”, or if I desired to present a classier tone I would describe those years as being when we “lived in the country” and the immediately succeeding years when we had “a cottage near a lake.”  Privately, I knew the latter would have been described as more like a shack compared to where we had lived in the Midwest.  I was learning the nuances of language and the situations in which it might be wise to use those more palatable terms.    

I no longer had such ready access to a library, or even to checking books out from school.   My having books to read was quite limited.  Pop was enamored with the book “Scottish Chiefs” by Jane Porter which didn’t capture my interest at the time (he would have liked the years later movie “Brave Heart” about Sir William Wallace).    

Mother’s vision problems had long since developed to a degree she could no longer read most print – large size print books were generally not available.  In fact, I had to read to her the letters she received.   Some years later, I was able to obtain a subscription from the Library of Congress for her to receive by mail the Talking Books, on records then.  They later transitioned to tape before becoming audio books, now digitized, distributed here through the Braille Institute.   

Knowing I missed reading, Mother quickly accepted a new book offered, that I could even keep, when a casual friend wondered if her daughter might like this fictional novel, Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr., her son had earlier received as a book of the month selection.   

Other forms of entertainment from the arts were pretty much absent from my life, except for what I might encounter at school.  I was thrilled to finally see a movie again when our English teacher took us to see “Hamlet” starring Sir Lawrence Oliver’ in a performance which totally mesmerized me – the visual effects when Hamlet encountered his father’s ghost in those black and white film days before technicolor were chilling.   

To say that aspects of my being were starved for nourishment during those years would be an understatement, so when I received Raintree County that summer I became totally immersed in the words and story which captured my imagination.   I tended toward romanticized fantasy despite life's realities.   The over a thousand page novel's conclusion came too soon, did not resolve as I might have wished, but the visualizations conjured in my mind have lingered throughout my life.  

I sometimes thought, I would really like to meet that author and discuss his book with him.  This Wikipedia excerpt describes the world into which I entered, encapsulated in an ethereal environment, entranced, beneath a magnificent golden raintree. 

“The book is often surreal, with dream sequences, flashbacks and departures from the linear narrative. It has been described as an effort to mythologize the history of America, which to a great degree it succeeds in doing through the eyes and the commentary of John Shawnessy. For example, a number of turning points in John's life seem to coincide with Fourth of July celebrations.”

Years later the book was made into a movie that deterred significantly from the novel’s storyline.   I was disappointed that the movie did not do justice to the book, though most movies don’t – two totally different story-telling mediums.    But…that said, I did derive some momentary satisfaction in how the movie concluded their story, even though the ending was altered from the book. 

Nat King Cole sings the movie’s theme, a melancholy harmonica in the background.

The character emphasis in the movie’s created story probably had to do with embroidering the roles played by the stars chosen to play them, especially the female lead, Elizabeth Taylor.    Something similar occurred with a movie that has come to be considered a classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, as revealed by the book’s author years later.   In that movie the male lead’s part was beefed up, his character made more idealistic, at the star’s, Gregory Peck’s, insistence, but this was not quite how the author portrayed the character in the book -- or observed the person to be in real life, her father, who served as the model.    In fact, the author said she intended the story to revolve more around the child (actually the author) from whose perspective the story was being told.       

I think my circumstances during 1948, a significant year for multiple reasons, coupled with my youthful mindset, probably had some bearing on why reading Raintree County published that same year affected me as it did then, and why the novel has continued to remain such a nostalgic memory.   Certainly, I’ve read many books since, impacting me emotionally.    I have bookcases filled with print, running the gamut from nonsense to the profound, from little known to some considered among the greatest writing, fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, and much more. 

Why some literature, music, paintings, artistic creations resonate with us at various times in our lives can be very complex.   Our reaction likely has little or nothing to do with how critics may assess a creation, or the general public’s response in popularity.   I wish I could have told Ross Lockridge, Jr. about my reaction to his only book, but I discovered years later that would never be possible.  You see, shortly after the movie was released, the book’s author committed suicide at age 33.   Ever after, I’ve always wondered, why?   

Many years later sharing this with a personal friend, who happened also to be a creative writing teacher, she noted, having read the book, she was not at all surprised he committed suicide.    I never understood what about his story caused her to have this view.   Ironically, a couple decades later she engaged in behaviors she had to have known could and did culminate in her own death, much too early. 

I was reminded of all this a few years after my husband’s death (not a suicide) and I came upon the information Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s son, Larry Lockridge who was only 5 years of age when his father died (coincidentally my age when my father abandoned our family) had written his father’s biography titled In the Shade of the Raintree published in 1994.    The book was re-released a few years ago.  Later, I happened on an Internet free copy offer which I accepted by writing that author a letter and soon received the biography.    

I fully intended to read the son’s book and write about it here, but for some unknown reason, I couldn’t bring myself to start reading the book immediately.   When I did start reading I was pleased to discover the son’s writing to be that of a very polished experienced writer as I later discovered he actually was.   The book is filled with page tabs I placed throughout, as I read words that resonated with me in some way.  Yet, when I finished I still could not quite bring myself to write that blog post. 

The son’s account was very emotionally moving to me – making the acquaintance of one who might have been dear to him though his memories of his father were limited – the descriptive word picture painted of his father’s life – his mentions of possible contributors to depression’s pain.   I thought, too, of the ramifications of life-ending actions on those left to grapple with the consequences.      

Someone I cared for many years ago ended his life.  I learned soon after that his behavior revealed he had become severely depressed.  I was angry to hear those close to him had reacted in the manner  they did, however well-intentioned, but misguidedly inadequate.   He clearly needed professional help -- so much more than they provided.  I recalled words he had said to me many years earlier, in retrospect revealing the seeds of pain that might have portended his possible outcome. 

If only he had not been so idealistic, been less noble, moral or ethical, he might have avoided reaching that low emotional state into which he sank, or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.  In my sorrow mixed with pain I was angry with him, too.   Why hadn’t he called me?  I could only think of that saying, "the truly good die young".  I felt similarly about my writing teacher friend after being informed of her death.  

I never wrote as I intended about Raintree County, or about In the Shade of the Raintree.  I never wrote Larry Lockridge to tell him how much I appreciated his writing about his father -- to thank him again for the biography.   Often when the 4th of July comes around, thoughts and visions of the book’s mystical golden raintree flash through my mind much as Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s words first planted that mental imagery.      

Movie clip of Montgomery Clift (hero John Shawnessy) and Lee Marvin (Orville “Flash” Perkins) in 4th of July race culminating with Elizabeth Taylor (Susanna Drake) and Eva Marie Saint (Nell Gaither) HERE.


  1. Interesting thoughts. I never read Raintree County. I am not sure why not as I read many books from that era like Steinbeck, Hemingway, etc. Maybe I thought it would be negative. And yet some of Hemingway certainly is negative. It's interesting to me what draws us to movies or books.

    Today, I only read or watch films that are upbeat. I know some would think that's shallow and i am missing modern classics. I just know what i need and it's to feel good about life in my choice of fiction. Although Life of Pi isn't exactly upbeat maybe considering what happened. I guess then it was the mythic aspect that appealed to me.

    1. I recall a gal I know here saying years ago that she would only watch movies that had a happy ending. Expect conditions today, plus I learned of her and her husband’s health decline though they’re a decade or so younger than me, she would have even more reasons for doing so.

  2. What a beautiful post Joared. I,too, gave been enraptured by books in the past. One I will never forget was And Ladies of the Club. A lifeworks by the writer. I remember the movie of Raintree County. I must have read the book being the voracious reader I am.Most movies make a bollox of the original material. Bums in movie seats appealing to those wishing a happy ending and simplistic motivation.

    Thanks for this. I see your childhood clearly. I was a library nerd and bus hopper at a young age too.


    1. Fascinating to think about how and why we are drawn to particular books at any given time in our lives.

  3. I was fortunate enough to only live in 2 places throughout my childhood - my hometown, Pueblo Colorado and Hayward, California - in the East Bay near San Francisco. I happened to see Raintree County at the Uptown Theater in Pueblo when I was 8 or so. My reading up to that point was mostly comic books and the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mysteries. By the time I reached Jr High, I was hooked on SCienceFiction. along with my friends. Iwasn't until the mystery bug bit me that I became a serious reader. One of the things I discovered is that mystery authors - at least the good ones - are just as expert at chronicling the human condition as the so-called serious fiction writers. Since then I have read up to 110 books per year - though usually now on my Kindle as the old eyes need all of the help they can get.

    I do recall To Kill A Mockingbird as the first piece of "serious" fiction that moved me and is likely to this day one of the reasons I hate living here in the south.

    I have only been close to suicide a couple of times and I admit in both cases I was stunned - these kids - both of whom I thought I new fairly well - were fine.

    This has been one of the most interesting blog pieces I have read.

    1. There can be advantages to living long periods of time in one place. The year, 1948 I mentioned, I was in 4 different schools in 3 different states. We ended up living in the south then which was a real culture shock to me given the predominant and open discrimination I had never seen before. I also witnessed first hand the rigidity and proclivity toward being dictatorial for some religious denominations prevalent today to force their social values, often hypocritical, on to all others. I learned a lot during those years including a continuing appreciation of nature. Glad you enjoyed reading this.

  4. What an amazing blog post. I followed it line by line, learning more about you. I fear my reading was quite shallow when I was a child and the bookmobile visited our lake. If the story was about a horse--I wanted it. I had a pretty one track mind.
    I can't say I became a reader till my late thirties. Now, reading is the perfect end to my day and my interests are varied. Not saying I will but I just might tackle Raintree County. I hope his son comes across your blog.

    1. Oh, I had a love affair with a horse in those years. I once dreamed of having a horse farm with a dog to run along behind every horse. How lucky you were to have a bookmobile. Some years I’ve read more than other times. Even now I sometimes read in spurts, often books connected to one another in some way by different authors.

  5. I completely understand being consumed by books. It was my entire childhood story and much of my life. Teaching American classics in depth--among them To Kill a Mockingbird, to my great joy--was my career and my delight for more than thirty years.

    This struck many common chords with me and my experiences with books, with my students, and with the "holy chore" that is writing (and that definition is from Cleveland-born writer Harlan Ellison, who died this past Thursday).

    1. No doubt there are lives you have touched in ways you don’t know. Years ago when I first reflected on some of what I’ve written here, I wanted to write that English teacher I mentioned, only to learn she had died years earlier.

  6. A wonderful post and brought back memories of my childhood
    I have always loved to read and would give a list of books I wanted to my mother when I was growing up. Times were difficult for me at that time, end of the depression and my young parents relocated to
    Detroit. When marrying at 21 returned to my family in the South
    where I now live. Again, many memories surfaced while reading your post. I might also say that for many years I read nothing sad.

    1. I expect you may have experienced somewhat of a culture shock of your own moving from the south to wintry Detroit where many of the same issues prevailed but were often only more subtle. Whenever we first leave all with which we’re most familiar the world can sometimes seem almost overwhelming.

  7. I often have to revisit the last century to either comment on blog posts or to respond to comments on my blog posts. I also have to do this repeatedly with younger people in my life who have no clue about the kind of lives we had immediately after independence and during the Socialist days. There are also flashbacks about books and movies just like you have shown here during such interactions.

    On the assumption that you will be close to my age of 75 I can state that we have seen a great deal of life that modern youth cannot even conceptualise.

    1. Yes, our lives have been exposed to much younger people often can’t begin to comprehend. The changes happened so much more quickly, I think, than in earlier generations. Makes me wonder what the next 100years will be like, but at 82, I likely won’t be around in this life to experience it.

      Your thoughts do make me wonder how well our generation really has understood about our earlier generations we’ve only read about in others interpretations — often the writings occurring only long after the fact. What will future generations say about us and see as our predominate qualities to characterize and describe us?

      I know only about Indian life before the country became independent from what I’ve read, movies, but changes there in that transition must have been profound — a nation with such a long history and variety of governing rulers. Our own U.S.A. history and government is but a babe in the woods by comparison. Movie depictions, even a lot of what is written often fails to capture the picture of us as a whole.

  8. That's a fascinating account of what might be called "your reading life", of the sort of books you've read and what books have had a special influence on you. I read voraciously as a child, but mostly childish nonsense like Enid Blyton. It was only as a teenager that I started to appreciate more serious adult books. I think what especially interests me is accounts of lives quite unlike my own - people from very different backgrounds, in other countries, or just with very unusual personalities.

    And yes, films are generally a big disappointment and aren't at all faithful to the original book.


    1. I’ve been on reading jags sometimes based on an author I.e. after “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy” I’ve liked LeCarre. I recall after reading my first James Patterson wanting more, but soon after his books began to seem formulaic so I stopped reading him. Enjoyed Tony Hillerman’s mysteries due to his weaving in American Indian lore and descriptions of the American Southwest.

      Recent years, finally explored some writings to understand what the circumstances were that allowed so many German people to be hoodwinked into supporting Adolph. Became rather sickening to discover similarities here in U.S. with our present leader as I had always said this could never happen in U.S. but clearly it’s happening with his efforts to undermine our democratic republic claiming he’s doing this in the name of our Constitution. Our forefathers must be turning over in their graves as he whittles away at our freedoms and values for that’s how it’s done, little by little.

      I’ve enjoyed a number of more current writers including some humor with David Sedaris which started when my son recommended “Me Talk Pretty Someday” with a bit of a take on my profession. Sometimes I’m engrossed in nonfiction, other times fiction, biographies/autobiographies. Oliver Sacks is a favorite writer as is Atul Gwande and others in science, medical, neurology, health arena. Months can go by and I don’t read even one book.

  9. I read Raintree County when I was in high school and it has been one of my favorites since then. When I first read it, I was amazed at how the author started each new chapter by continuing a sentence from the end of the previous chapter. While I definitely enjoyed the movie, I loved the book much more. I find myself reading it again every year or so. The two other books I re-read every year are Poisonwood Bible and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

    1. I, too, loved the way one chapter led to another. There is much to admire about how this story was told. Glad to see you back again.