Sunday, January 15, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 5

This is a quiet period in my 'preparation' for working on this new story, if it has even begun yet, since I have not even starting doing the reading research required to immerse myself into the material. So what is there to really say? Is there anything that I can write to justify its own posting in this 'journal' leading up to what I hope will be work on this new idea?

Just that my mind is sort of milling it over before I start on anything. And as I have indicated before, this is a process that has been going on for some time. It's been a while since I last visited the area that I want to write about, in western Indiana. 1999 was the last time I was there, and I chronicled that visit, which I made with my Dad, in a nonfiction writing called A Father I Am. But I still see images from that trip in my head often, especially when I am thinking about working on this fiction idea. I can see the little town my Dad was born in in my head, and I can see the other small town he grew up in, a handful of miles down the highway from the latter. I can picture the house he was born in (no hospital), the street he lived on, the little graveyard where his parents, maternal grandparents and his brother are all buried. (Ronald Lovell, my father's second brother, was a twin to his sister Donna, but he died one hour after birth, and has his own small tombstone in the graveyard in Kentland, Indiana.)

I used to visit Kentland from time to time when I was a kid - we all did - so it was certainly not the first time I had been there. My Dad's mother lived there until she died in 1985. She had a tiny little ranch house on a very quiet little street; in fact, that is where my parents decided to get married a long time ago. I remember going around the corner from her house to the Nu-Joy restaurant, which my Dad's family owned until it went out of business sometime in the late 80s I think.

The entire town, in fact, was a very small, quiet, unassuming place, and that is one of the things I remember the most about it - the sense of isolation from the rest of the world you have there, the silence, the slowness that seems to permeate everything. When you see the house that my father was born in in Kentland, it's on the end of a short, tree-lined avenue that stops at a T intersection. Beyond the intersection is a large field of soy plants, and beyond that is an endless sea of corn. Within sight is the highway, the two-lane expressway that breezes through the small hamlet, but you can only just barely hear the trucks whizzing by in the distance. During the summer it is blazing hot there, dusty, and a thick and hazy silence settles over everything. I remember standing on that corner, staring at the lovely, formidable brick house where Dad was born on the second floor 75 years ago. The wind was rustling through the trees that lined the street and there was no sound except for its passage and birds. It is a very tranquil place, but it also has a sense of being rooted in the past and not having much of a future. It's the kind of thing that is hard to describe unless you are standing there, and yet that is the task I have before me, to put readers in a town like that, where there is practically nothing to do, no where to go, and, when everyone was poor, no means of breaking out.

That is not the town Dad grew up in, however. He grew up in Fowler, which as I said before was down the highway, but the situation there is almost exactly the same. I don't know which town is actually bigger, but they are more or less two versions of the same idea, and time has cruised by them both. At least that was the sense I had in 1999, I am sure it is only that much more like that now. Again, the house my father lived in there is large (eight people had to live there) and full of 'character', almost Victorian a little bit (although when I saw it, it was painted a noxious mustard-yellow color), and the street is just as picturesque and charming in a small-town way, but it has the same feeling: stuck in the past, nothing to offer, no where to go. The rest of the town, only more so. There is a little movie theater in down town Fowler (or there was seven years ago) that was a holdover from when Dad was a kid, and it looked like it had been around since at least 1930. I wonder if it is still there. I remember driving by it and noting its decrepit look, which at the time was depressing for Dad. It was showing the film The Matrix at the time, which I still remember clearly.

These are just musings, reflections and memories that I wanted to make about the areas I hope to write about. I can see them vividly in my head, and I wonder what it must have been like to live in such small places as a child, with no means of escape, no great prospects for the future, and practically no money. My Dad used to work numerous jobs as a kid, just to have pocket change to go down to that same movie theater and watch the old serial features of the 30s and 40s - the only means of filling his head with fantasies and dreams that the rest of the town must have been doing its best to snuff out of him. But it wasn't just the movie theater that offered him escape, or he wouldn't be my father - it was the library. This was the place he went to for a way out. This was where he went to learn about other towns, other ways of life, other people. It was the key to his eventual escape. But his own father never read much, never visited the library, he stuck to his work, stayed in the town, and more or less worked his fingers to the bone until he died, on the job. He never found a way out of those small places, from the day he was born to the day he died.

What the lack of escape routes did to a man like that, what it must have been like to live and die in small town America, never once tasting the luxury of any other kind of lifestyle, always working, providing, digging into the earth for more oil, straining at the chains that would never break as long as he lived - that's what I am going to be writing about.

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