By the highly praised author of the wartime memoir Flights of Passage, a spare and poignant account of coming of age in the years before World War II changed America
"A memoir (by the author of "Flights of Passage") of his Midwestern youth, in which he trained to be a man by being first a boy..." -The New York Times -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 22, 2003
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Excerpt from The Growing Seasons by Samuel Hynes
The summer my father got married I lived on a farm. It wasn't his first marriage, of course, there was my mother, before. I was five when she died, but I remembered her, not as an everyday presence but in fragments of memory, in pictures and sounds and smells and touches. I remembered how she looked, not from a distance but up close, as a child in its mother's arms might see her: a small, soft body, a strong face with dark, sad eyes (on the right eyelid a small growth, a mole perhaps), thick chestnut hair coiled in a knot behind. I remembered her in the dining room of our house, ironing and singing a little song to herself while my brother and I lay on the carpet coloring in books, how she dipped her fingers in a shallow bowl of water to sprinkle a shirt, how the drops danced from her hand like blessings, catching the light from the window, and the warm smell of the iron and the steaming cloth. And I remembered lying warm against her in the back seat of our Ford as we drove home late at night-returning to Chicago from Rolling Prairie, perhaps-and how she sang to soothe me on the journey, songs from an old war, "Tenting Tonight" and "Just Before the Battle, Mother," melancholy songs, but comforting to a small boy because she sang them so quietly in the darkness and I, close to her, didn't hear her voice but felt it, a warm vibration through her breast as she held me.
One other memory. I enter a white room where she lies motionless on a white bed. Her face is pale under the bright hair, the eyes are circled by deep shadows. I approach the bed, but only the eyes turn toward me.
My father didn't talk much about my mother after she died, that wasn't his way, but occasionally a memory would escape his reticence. He told me once about a Christmas before the first war when she gave him a silver watch chain. He pulled the watch from his pocket and showed me the chain and the penknife at the end with his initials on it. "She saved up for it," he said with a kind of wonderment, "for a whole year." He carried that watch and chain until he was an old man, long after other men were wearing wristwatches, long after the silver initials had worn away. So I knew he loved her, though he never said so, not out loud.