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Synopsis

Once each summer a morning breaks that tastes of fall. Despite a vault of unrelieved blue that promises equally unrelieved heat by late afternoon, some patch of Canadian tundra has airmailed southward a precursor of the coming season, full of sensory contradictions, like a good red wine. Tomorrow the Gulf will reassert itself, drowning the message from the cooling North, but for one morning the promise hangs there, summoning ragged, maddening memory-snippets and the bewilderment appropriate to falsely anticipating what is irretrievably past. Something about the harkening wind stitches a loop in time calling forth a history hindsight annually edits, as the forces that inform the authorship of memories work their disclosures and distortions. When fall really arrives, it will bring to our semitropical savannah, if not a genuine chill, at least welcome relief from summer's stunning heat, and the ordinary experiences of three months' time: school clothes to buy, schedules to keep, leaves to rake, all burdened with the wet colorless stretches National Geographic never features. It will bring, too, the evidence that local heroes and sweethearts belong to a new generation, and that what once seemed unforgettable has been forgotten. For these young people, Stanley Roger Simmons is a plaque on the wall at the high school; Jefferson Sands Mc Callister, a face on a football trading card; Charles Pendleton Drennan, Jr., a young trial lawyer just beginning to make a name for himself. Few of them ever heard of Mark Jansen or Candy Atchison. If they are unusually curious, they may be able to attach faces to these names by poring over old newspaper clippings and some of the memorabilia in the school library, but they can do no more. The faces and the names lie on the pages, and the story they tell is strange and sad, but sooner or later the young readers say to themselves that it was a long time ago, when things were really weird, and they go about the human business of cropping their own memories from the profusion of detail that is everyday life. Someday-- perhaps even now--some few, who by inclination or training tune themselves to the contrapuntal melody of the world, will recognize a summer morning as a false autumn, and taste its once-and future character. But that is all. Only for me, and for a few others whose victories and triumphs, whose clumsy acts and blind omissions appear on or just behind those pages, does that bright annual harbinger make the dead walk and fists clench helpless again, as if that fall lived in time as truly as the crisp taste of its revenant rests a while in the backs of our throats before the rest of summer bums it gone again. One such day arrived in August 1970, when I was sitting at my desk in the room I was to occupy my senior year in college. I had returned to school early, by special permission, to get a head start on my honors thesis. Before that day was done, I had put away forever my notes for that project and begun another, on which I wrote steadily for most of the year. The result of those labors was the document that follows. In the end, my thesis advisor accepted it in lieu of my original project--a gesture for which I was deeply grateful, as it enabled me to graduate with my class. He seemed to understand my need to write it, and write it then, not later. In a sense, he said, I had delivered what I promised: a work of history, written from original sources. And he invited me to consider the writer's dilemma, shared by all who try to capture the truth: when the sources are fresh, so are the passions that warp judgment; when time brings perspective, the materials have frozen into shapes that, like photographs, show only one side, and hoard their secrets always. Another such day arrived today, and, as I have done so many times before, I took the document from my drawer again and began to read.

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