Tuesday, March 20, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt two)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

A poor farmer didn’t really want five daughters but that’s what John and Hulda got. It was sad for the daughters who felt his disappointment. They worked like men but that likely wasn’t enough in his autocratic mind. The only son died as an infant during the flu epidemic around World War I. This flu epidemic was unimaginable in that it killed millions, the majority of them children and the aged. On one of my frequent visits to Nebraska to research Dalva and The Road Home my friend Ted Kooser, a Nebraska poet, took me to a country graveyard that was beautifully overgrown with lilacs and roses and wildflowers in a grove of pines. One family lost six children within a month, all of the children they had. What was left for the parents? Not much, I’d guess. Forty years later I can still hear the voices of my father and sister, Judith, who died together in an auto accident when I was twenty-five. I’m sure the parents of the six at night while looking up at the moon and stars could hear the voices, or in the morning so many empty chairs must have driven them quite mad. Kooser told me that in the middle of this extended plague people took to burying their dead in the night. A night funeral does seem more appropriate when you are dealing with small caskets.

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