An eighty-year-old writer in the Thursday memoir-writing class I lead for Lincoln Park Village was so moved by the Mondays with Mike post here this past Monday that he wrote his own essay about author Wallace Stegner. Bruse Hunt read this essay in class yesterday and generously gave us permission to share it with all you Safe & Sound blog readers here.
by Bruce Hunt
I am a regular reader of Mondays with Mike. I was especially glad that I read this Monday’s edition, called Accidental Goodness, because he shared his admiration for Wallace Stegner and his misremembered introduction to him at the University of Illinois.
Here is my version of an introduction to Stegner. Just because it is more than 30 years old does not mean it is any less true (or frankly more true) than Mike’s version. But the parallels are fascinating.
In the early 80s Anne and I were wandering through one of our favorite venues in Door County, Wisconsin, the Passtimes bookstore in Sister Bay. It seemed to us this idiosyncratic shop must have been around for ages. We have since found out that it was founded in 1978.
The founder was Harold Grutzmacher, and he was the sole presence while Anne and I were exploring the aisles in the store. He was not exactly lurking, but it seemed to me he was consciously keeping us in view but letting us roam. We were watching him and he was watching us.
I had determined that if I was going to enjoy the new house we had built at Wagon Trail on Rowley’s Bay and if I was going to keep myself intellectually challenged, I should read poetry. Given my work in the market place, I had the idea that Wallace Stevens, the insurance executive from Connecticut, who was also a complex poet, would be a good place to start.
“I’m looking for something by Wallace Stevens,” I said to Anne when she inquired about my poking around.
“Here’s one you must read,” Harold burst forth from the neighboring aisle. “Its one of his best” He presented me with a rather plain copy of All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner.
After acknowledging our mutual embarrassment, Harold for eavesdropping inaccurately and me for not having a clue who this excellent author might be, I decided that I should take the mistake as a sign and I bought the book.
It was a sign. Stegner’s tale of the 60s is exactly right; the characters (Allston, Peck, Marian—crabby, hippy, happy) are worth caring about – always a critical judgment. I became a Stegner junkie.
I read his novels, his not so well disguised memoirs (Recapitulation) and his essays about the natural world, especially the natural world of the Western United States. His collection of essays about living and writing in the West, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, reminds us why he moved back, even though he appreciated my New England, and how important it is to pay attention to the water. It seems to me he does represent a sort of prose version of Ansel Adams, as Mike suggests in his post.
I have given up altogether on reading Stevens; I tried but his images baffle me. He could never be a hiking companion as Wallace Stegner might have been.
Passtimes, the bookstore, closed in 2014, not because of Amazon but because of the decline in trade during the shortened tourist season. Or so said Steve Grutzmacher, Harold’s son. Wallace Stegner died in an auto accident in Arizona in the mid 90s.
He should not have been driving at night.
Bruce Hunt is one of dozens of older adults in Chicago in my memoir writing classes, and if readers are interested in learning when my new book about them is coming out, they can sign up for my newsletter.