Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tuesday, Tome - A Place in Time

My wife and I took a little road trip last Friday to New Ulm, MN. We toured the Schell's Brewery, visited the Wanda Gág House, watched the Glockenspiel Clock sound off, ate at the Kaiserhoff, and took in some of the Oktoberfest celebration. Thanks to our friends, Einer and Sandy, for letting us stay with them.

On the way home we stopped by Schmidts Meat Market in Nicollet and picked up a little smoked cheese and sausage. While driving along the beautiful Minnesota River Valley, Cheri read a short story aloud from Wendell Berry's A Place in Time. The story was a perfect fit for the small town trip and mid-western history all around us.

The particular story she read was titled, "The Requirement," and it gives one old-timer's personal account of the passing of his lifelong friend, a character nicknamed "Big." As always, Wendell Berry is able to see the profound in the prosaic. He describes the everyday struggles and events of life and discovers within them the bigger story of what it means to be human.

The day that was going to be the day Big died I went over there first thing in the morning, as soon as we finished up at the barn and ate breakfast. It was a fine morning, cold and bright, the sky blue and endless right down to the horizon, and everything below shining with frost. We had finished with the hog-killing the day before, and I was bringing some fresh spareribs and tenderloin, thinking they might tempt Big to eat. Until then Big and Annie May both were talking like he was going to get well. 

But that morning things had changed. I could feel it as soon as I stepped in through the kitchen door...

From the Publisher:
For more than fifty years, Wendell Berry has been telling us stories about Port William, a mythical town on the banks of the Kentucky River, populated over the years by a cast of unforgettable characters living in a single place over a long time. In this new collection, the author’s first piece of new fiction since the publication of Andy Catlett in 2006, the stories date’s range from 1864, when Rebecca Dawe finds herself in her own reflection at the end of the Civil War, to one from 1991 when Grover Gibbs’ widow, Beulah, attends the auction as her home place is offered for sale.

It feels as if the entire membership, all the Catletts, Burley Coulter, Elton Penn, the Rowanberrys, Laura Milby, the preacher’s wife, Kate Helen Branch, Andy’s dog, Mike, nearly everyone returns with a story or two, to fill in the gaps in this long tale. Those just now joining the Membership will be charmed. Those who’ve attended before will be enriched.

The story of the community of Port William is one of the great works in American literature. Published in the author’s 78th year, this collection, the tenth volume in the series, is the perfect occasion to celebrate his huge achievement.

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