From the Forword:
"In, September, 1974, as I was about to end this book, I went with my wife and sons to Quitman, Mississippi, to visit the farm where I grew up. My nine-year-old son Carter had often asked to see the place where my life began. Seven-year-old Anderson was looking forward to catching some fish from the pond on the land that nurtured my family for generations. I had often, in my imagination, brought them together before this, the yesterday and the tomorrow of my life, the landscape that figures vividly in my memories and the two little boys who represent my involvement in the future, and I felt impelled, before turning loose these pages, to introduce one to the other in fact.
As we drove out from Quitman in a heavy downpour, I reminded the children that the place would not look as I had described it. I knew that the house and barns were gone, the well filled in, and the land untilled and untenanted, but I was unprepared for what we found. Even the road was not where it had been. No trace remained of the house I had known and loved. Where the peach orchard had been, where the cotton fields had been, the pasture, the blackberry patches, the fences-all had been swallowed up by time. A forest of tall pine trees covered the entire 260 acres, and it seems a strange irony to me that the sale of timber brings in more income than all the cotton we ever grew."
He ends the foreword with this:
"But Christmas came, and, with it, the drawing together of my own little family group. There was the familiar joy of the children, their delight in the new bicycles they had themselves picked out, the presence of Stan and Chris, my stepsons, now fine young adults and the splendid painting that my wife, knowing the pleasure I take in her art, had made for me. Christmas is also our anniversary. This one was our eleventh, and to mark the occasion, she painted a family portrait. The setting is our living room; in it, she and I and our two boys form a continuing circle that is complete, comforting, sweet, and durable; that seems inviolate, hopeful, and somehow, sacred."
Here he writes about the Cooper Family Reunion...
"These reunions were of major importance to us. They registered the changes that took place in our lives: the marriages, the births, the moves, the prosperings and the failings to prosper. We watched each other growing up or growing old, and we felt ourselves to be a part of some timeless process, a process the rules of which applied equally to us all.
The reunions did not end when Grandma died, though they had already begun to fade some years before when she, like most of us, left her farm and moved to the town. It would never be the same in the city; there would be other demands on one's attention; one would go as one went to other engagements; it became an event sandwiched in between other events.
One needs land, really, to feel that kind of sense of family, for in those days it was the land that made you, that nourished you, that would, eventually, claim you. The land was home. It was permanent and eternal; it had always been there and would always be there; it was made of the bones of millions of years and the dust of centuries; it had known the games of Indian boys, and the battles of unnamed men. You stretched out your body upon it in the early days of spring. You felt it grow warm beneath your belly. You filled your lungs with its clean, rich, and lusty smell. You ran your hungry fingers through the tender green stubble of its surface, you lay and listened to the music of its silence, and gazed through half-closed eyes at the wide, high, pure, blue sky. It belonged to you and you belonged to it...
And to close here's one of my favorite excerpts from Anderson's book, Dispatches from the Edge, due out in paperback in May.
"I'm not sure when it happened, when I realized something had changed. I don't think there was a precise moment, a particular day. It's like when you're mourning and suddenly you become aware that the pain has faded. You don't remember exactly when it did. One day you laugh, and it shocks you. You forgot that your body could make such a sound.
Here, in New Orleans, the compartmentalization I've always maintained has fallen apart, been worn down by the weight of emotion, the power of memory. For so long I tried to separate myself from my past. I tried to move on, forget what I'd lost, but the truth is, none of it's ever gone away. The past is all around, and in New Orleans I can't pretend it's not."
Check back next week for another excerpt. Have a great week.