Crunching Gravel: A Wisconsin Boyhood in the Thirties by Robert Louis Peters

By Robert Louis Peters

No nostalgic story of the nice outdated days, Robert Peters’s reminiscences of his youth vividly evoke the melancholy on a hardscrabble farm close to Eagle River:  Dad using the Vilas County reduction truck, Lars the Swede freezing to loss of life on his porch, the embarassment of commencement in a swimsuit from welfare.  The challenging efforts to place fish and potatoes and blueberries at the desk are punctuated by way of occasional pleasures:  the Memorial Day party, swimming at Perch Lake, the county reasonable with Mother’s prizes for jam and the unique delights of the midway.  Peters’s clear-eyed memoir unearths a poet’s eye for wealthy and stark element even as a boy of twelve.

“Peters misses not anything, from the main points of the town’s Fourth of July get together to the reason and impression of a tender cousin’s suicide to the calibrations of racism towards Indians that used to be so appropriate then.  It is an engaging, unsentimental examine a section of our past.”—Margaret E. Guthrie, New York occasions ebook Review

“It’s not going that the other modern poet and student as unusual has risen from particularly so humble beginnings as Robert Peters.  Born and raised via semiliterate mom and dad on a subsistence farm in northeastern Wisconsin, Peters lived harrowingly just about the eventual stuff of his poetry—the dependency of people on animal lives, the inexplicable and traditional heroism and baseness of individuals dealing with severe stipulations, the urgency of actual desire.  .  .  .  Sterling youth memoirs.”—Booklist

“Robert Peters has written a memoir exemplary simply because he insists at the particular, at the own and the local.  it's also greatly pleasant to learn, and it truly is one of the so much real bills of youth and adolescence I know—a Wisconsin David Copperfield!”—Thom Gunn

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Her teenagers found work in town, so the entire day was hers. She was in her late forties and had sagging bosoms and a floppy stomach. Her hair was done up in tightly rolled curlers. She was often tipsy. Margie and I would sneak up on her, hiding, making animal sounds and throwing pebbles on her roof Mrs. Ohlson would scream that she knew who we were and then lie back quietly on her cot. On one occasion she caught us red-handed; and when she challenged us, clad in her usual scanty fashion, Margie ran off while I stayed to face her.

His hair and eyes were brown. He loved fishing. He and Dad played music weekends at local dances. Charlie had a good but untrained voice and played guitar. We chopped half a dozen spruce and dragged them onto the ice, as a windbreak and for firewood. The lake surface was rough, as though it had melted recently and then quickly frozen. Ice hummocks provided traction. Rarely were any of the thousand regional lakes ice-slick, free of snow, and suitable for skating. We set up camp about a hundred yards from shore.

Mine was ofa chubby straw-hatted boy with a fishing pole. Margie chose a girl in a pinafore pouring tea for dolls. At first, I stayed within the lines; then I got bored - the spaces for coloring are vast and empty. There were no hints that you could mix colors or try for shading and nuance. If this Christmas ran true, by afternoon the books would be tossed into our toy boxes, seldom to be fingered again. Then Dad surprised me with an air rifle, a gift I didn't want, and showed me how to insert a bullet and squeeze the trigger.

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