Childhood in valley inspires new novelist
Circling the Square
By David Abrams, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 31, 2012
I got so excited when I heard the Jackson Hole Writers Conference was bringing David Abrams to read from his debut novel from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Center for the Arts, I asked him if he would craft something special to share with you. He agreed. — Ceci Clover
In March 1975, I burst into Art Lohuis’ sixth-grade science class, waving a copy of Jack and Jill over my head.
“Guess what?” I squeaked. “I got a story published in here!”
Mr. Lohuis took the magazine, slowly read “Caring for Your Dog” (a how-to article with the valuable tip “Never strike your dog on the head — never!”), then he marched me down to the principal’s office. Once there, he showed Jack and Jill to the school secretaries to a chorus of oohs and aahs. Somebody called the newspaper, and a reporter rushed to the school to take a picture of me with my drunk-on-early-fame smile.
This week, 37 years later, I’ll return to Jackson, waving a red-and-white copy of a book over my head and shouting, “I did it! I published a novel!” OK, maybe I won’t shout — as all my classmates from Jackson Hole High School’s Class of 1981 will tell you, I’m a shy guy — but I am proud of “Fobbit” and grateful to Grove/Atlantic for taking a chance on a comedy about the Iraq War. I’m so proud of my book I might just take it out for a date to the Silver Dollar Bar, prop it up in a chair and buy it a drink. Anyone want to join me?
Thirty-seven years is a long road, and there have been lots of detours and side streets along the way — a false start to an “acting career” at Dirty Jack’s Theater, a marriage, three children, two college degrees, a 20-year career in the Army as a journalist — but Jackson has always been there, humming in the background. All writers dip buckets into the well of their childhood, and I’ve often returned to the Jackson of my memory and imagination. Though I didn’t always fit in and spent most of my years at Jackson Hole junior high and high school hugging the wall, keeping my eyes downcast and suffering from a painful stutter when I was around members of the opposite sex, I wouldn’t change a single anxious moment of those years. In my role as an outsider, I also learned to be an observer, a trait that would serve me well in my career as a writer.
When I think back on my Jackson years, I don’t think of all those dateless school dances as much as I do the happy golden memories of my time in the valley, like:
• My first job at the library (when it was still in the old log building on King Street). Librarian Jean Kirol hired me when I was still underage (a book-brained 13 years old), working out some sort of under-the-table hush-hush deal with the county and her conscience.
• My second job at the Happy Hound. Joanne and Al Allison eventually became my closest adult friends, and I still keep in touch with them through their son Matt (they live in California). I’ve eaten a hundred-thousand hamburgers over the course of my life, but I’ve yet to find anything to rival the heaven-in-your-mouth experience of the “Big Al.” During breakfast, the Happy Hound counter turned into what I’d later learn was a warehouse of characters I could use in my writing. I can still remember the “regulars” hunched over their steaming mugs of coffee and short stacks of pancakes. Angus Thuermer, Risty Peck, Cecil Lynch and a half-dozen of Cecil’s mechanics from the service station across the street held royal court at the Happy Hound A-frame nearly every day. I watched, listened and drank it all in.
• All of my English teachers, but especially Debbie Schlinger for her enthusiasm (she was the first pom-pom-waving cheerleader for my writing) and Eleanor Lawton for her strict discipline of grammar. I can never thank them enough for convincing me that maybe, someday, I could write a book (that day is here, ladies!).
• The members of my father’s church. The First Baptist congregation (folks like Grace Brown, Judy Bayse, Ken and Bobbi Thomasma, and Tom and Cile Lamb) always made me feel special, even when I didn’t always deserve it, and I hope they’ll forgive me for all the salty swear words in “Fobbit.” If it makes them feel any better, Dad has read my book and loves it, profanity and all. His one complaint was that there wasn’t enough fishing in it.
Ceci Clover writes weekly on the doings and doers in and around Jackson Hole. She will return to her regularly scheduled column in the issue of Nov. 7. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 307-733-8348.