Sunday, April 7, 2013

Go Home, Young Man

I once had an English professor who wrote a book on postmodern trends in fiction in which he proclaimed that many of us find the open road, and its escape from our hometowns, appealing. But ultimately, we have to re-embrace our past. We may be happier far away but, especially if we are writers, we have to return or we choke off the headwaters that feed us.

Plainly, I have resisted this notion of his. But then, my hometown lacks the spicy, Wild West past of his native Dodge City, Kansas.

However, the professor took his own advice. Succumbing to nostalgia about the dusty landscape from which he came, he has now published his memoir, Dragging Wyatt Earp.

Author Robert Rebein grew up as one of seven closely-packed boys in a Catholic family. His father was one of those handy sorts who had a hard time resisting major renovation projects on the house. He drew plans for new kitchens, or bricking the exterior, on some handy envelope and, before long, had the family camping in the basement, eating chicken noodle soup on rice for days on end.

For years, the father owned an auto salvage yard, providing a richly imaginative playground for the young Rob, not to mention a cast of hired help that limped and swore and came in late after sleeping one off.

Later, Dad Rebein sold the salvage yard and bought a ranch.

In Rebein's classes, he occasionally mentioned his Kansas-ranch past. I always wondered if his family regarded him as a fiddlehead who writes useless stuff, we have no idea what, and goes nutty for poetry. But when Rebein describes the chores he mastered, everything from repairing the sprinkler system to pouring concrete to herding cattle, I gotta admit, his family probably respects him, whatever they think of his profession.

His life-journey from fenced fields to bookshelf-lined professor's office reminds me of Black Earth and Ivory Tower, a book of essays written by former farm kids who ended up teaching at universities. Each essay muses on the tyranny of the agricultural life and the wide gulf between the parents who met its demands and the children for whom it holds no future.

For those I know in Kansas (and their book-clubbing friends) Rebein will appear at the Leawood Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, April 10th, at 7 p.m.

Since you'll be busy reading Rebein's absorbing recollections, you may look up sometime around dinner and panic over what to fix your crew. If you froze last week's Chicken Starter, you'll be well on your way to a meal of:

Tex-Mex Chicken Pasta

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