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Weekly Wrap: Places That Capture Us

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The setting that keeps cropping up in my writing is the town where my dad grew up and where my grandparents lived. I’ll just say it’s in the Northwest, and this is where I learned my fear of rattlesnakes. That’s me with my brother and grandparents up above.

The town looks like this:

Here’s a funny thing. I tried Googling the town for a better photo and this is actually the photo that turned up on a real estate page:

I guess the town is what it is – big and flat and brown.

This is my grandparents’ house:

I’m pretty sure that’s my dad in the photo. According to the stories I write, I’m very taken with this particular door. I don’t remember there being a tree. Anywhere. But there are two in this photo.

Of course there’s a downtown:

The unusual amount of traffic is because the photo was taken during a wedding at the courthouse.

Now, imagine you’re a colorful little girl and like to wear bows and cut your own hair; and you don’t especially like exerting energy except to chatter about books.

And the big activity when you visit the grandparents is to go to the family cemetery to clear the brush and rattlesnakes out of it. We always took rifles with us. I hope we were also armed with tetanus shots because many of the grave markings are made of rusted metal.

Besides snakes, the cemetery is full of stillborn children. One stranger was struck by lightning and buried there.

There is a hotel in town. Last I heard, there was still a community toilet, sink and shower. No TVs in the rooms.

The reason there’s even a hotel in a town this size is because there’s good hunting in the area. Recently, my dad had his high school reunion, but because 11 had rsvp’ed, they had to move the reunion to a larger, neighboring town. The reunion featured such activities as chokecherry picking and a ride past hay bale sculptures. My dad was the only one no longer living in the state, not to mention the only one with a Ph.D.

This place has never captured me because of love. It was a place where a girl who likes to go off in her head can suddenly find herself in the middle of danger. It’s a place where you better get things right the first time. It’s a place where the wind and the gumbo and the pure nothingness of it will humble you. Until I married, it was the place I feared I’d be buried.


Thanks to those of you who described your favorite settings: Mark’s London, Aimee’s Ann Arbor, Mikel K’s small apartment, Amy’s Hudson Valley, Lance’s DC, Betsy’s Chicago, Julie’s beach, David’s North Carolina swamp land, Robin’s Philly and NYC, Lauren’s London, Carolyn’s England and California beaches, Gail’s Chicago, Sarah’s small towns, Juliet’s abandoned hospitals and factories, Noria’s Sonoma and San Francisco, Patry’s housing projects, Amy’s any-city, Myfanwy’s Adirondacks, Pia’s New Orleans (Gorgeous interview with Ron Carlson, PZ!), Shelley’s Boston, n.l.’s Bakersfield, and Maria’s echo of a place. Thanks to you and to Jim Tomlinson for telling your stories!

As for the favorite Beatle poll, the official count was 8 for John, 6 for Paul, 3 for George, and 2 for Ringo. And then there was one George-John toss-up and two who loved Paul in childhood and switched to John as adults. Thanks to everyone who played!


Couple things before I go. Congratulations to Bach-Boy Henderson for landing the role of Harold Hill in his school production of The Music Man!

And here is a photo from the KGB website. That’s me, Carrie Kania and Josh Kilmer Purcell, dressed in our autumn palette. It was a great evening and I’ll have more to say about the reading soon.

Stop by tomorrow for the monthly lit riot!

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  • Sarah Roundell
    November 10, 2006

    Thanks for sharing about the place you grew up, Susan. It echoes the first place my characters usually live in before leaving the nest for bigger(to them anyway) and better things. The Beatles’ question was definitely cool and Jim Tomlinson’s interview was lovely. Cheers to another great week in the Park!

  • Jordan
    November 10, 2006

    Oh gosh, it reminds me of my trip to Havre, Montana. Harsh conditions often produce amazing growth 🙂

  • mikel k poet
    November 10, 2006

    awwwwwww that was so sweet. thanks for sharing this aspect of your existence…

  • Ellen Meister
    November 10, 2006

    Those photos knock me off my seat. Thanks for posting.

  • Lance
    November 10, 2006

    great side of you.
    stellar photos.
    I’ve a place I fear I’ll end up being buried…most humbling thought.

    thank you for sharing this.

  • Aurelio
    November 10, 2006

    WOW! That first photo of you as a little girl tells a story all on its own. I can see why this locale inspires you. Thank you for sharing.

  • Carolyn Burns Bass
    November 10, 2006

    What I noticed about the photo of you with your brother and your grandparents is that no one is touching. Everyone’s lined up and still as the models in an old daguerreotype. It’s kind of haunting in an American Gothesque, 1970s kind of way.

    I’m guessing the location to be in the Dakotas. More specifically, South Dakota. This is what my stepdad says about west Texas, “It’s a great place to be from.”

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    November 10, 2006

    Congratulations, Bach Boy!

    Keep in mind, Mark’s London is undoubtedly different than my London, double ditto for our New Yorks.

  • Pia
    November 10, 2006

    Sue – The way you narrate photographs is such a gift. This is how I pictured the landscape, the house, in the story you wrote about this place. The photo of you with the bow on your head . . . feels like there’s so much going on inside someone so young.

  • Gail Siegel
    November 10, 2006

    That self-inflicted haircut, and that bow — they got me. You must have been quite a spitfire.

    You still have the same, incredible smile.

  • Carolyn Burns Bass
    November 10, 2006

    GAIL SAID: That self-inflicted haircut, and that bow — they got me. You must have been quite a spitfire.

    I imagine she still is.

    Oh btw, My first grade photo has me with fringe from my own self-inflicted haircut. My son topped me with the scissors, though. He cut off his eyelashes during class in first grade.

    LAUREN SAID: Congratulations, Bach Boy!
    Ditto that.

  • Robin Slick
    November 11, 2006

    Sue, I was mesmerized by that post. What incredible photos and your touches of bittersweet humor blew me away.

    And Bach Boy is a star! And in keeping with our Beatle theme this week, he gets to have Til There Was You sung to him. How freaking cool.

  • Tish Cohen
    November 11, 2006

    LOVE this post. Fascinating, sad, beautiful and funny, all mixed into one.

    You can’t imagine how much I’d have adored to be sitting at that table…I love Carrie Kania, my publisher. I’m madly, deeply in love with Josh after reading his memoir and have told him so. And you, Susan, I have a feeling we’d have each other laughing so hard we’d be collapsed under that table. Have a great weekend.

    And congratulations to Bach Boy!

  • Noria
    November 11, 2006

    A sort of agoraphobia grips me when I look at these photos, making me long for trees, buildings, snugness, anything but the vastness of space and sky. I’m reminded of the movie Badlands. Of course you have to write about this place. Of course there is some part of you that is never not there.

  • Susan Henderson
    November 11, 2006

    Sarah – Thanks! LitPark is only as good as the people who play here, so all compliments go right back to you guys.

    Jordan – I Googled Havre and it looks like a rocking metropolis compared to this town.

    mikel k, Ellen, Lance, Aurelio – Thanks for looking at the photos with me, and for being here!

    Carolyn – Hee. You will never see a photo on that side of the family with people touching – and we’re always in a line.

    Lauren – Thanks from Bach-Boy!

    Pia – Aw, thanks. When I decided to do a photo walk-through of the town, I called my mom so she could look for pictures to scan in, and then sort of typed by the seat of my pants.

    Gail, Carolyn – Mr. Henderson would certainly agree that I’m a spitfire. But I wonder what my mom would say?

    Robin – Thanks. I was worried my post was too long.

    Tish – I’m deeply in love with Josh, too. He’s very fun, except he prefaces things with “Don’t put this on your blog,” and it’s always stuff that’s too good not to share.

    I had no idea Carrie was your publisher. I love her taste in books! Next time you want to go to KGB, let me know. I’m all for collapsing under the table!

    Noria – I’m someone who loves nests and cubby holes and dens and tree tunnels, so I absolutely understand what you’re describing.

  • Daryl Darko
    April 15, 2009

    how many relatives of yours are buried in the wee town’s cemetery? when was the last time you visited there?

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Susan Henderson