Wayne Holmes was born into a poor family in Kansas in 1930. When he was three, they rode in a covered wagon for a month, traveling four hundred miles to western Oklahoma. The Holmes family lived in a tent for a while, but the canvas was torched by a man angry over being cheated in a horse trade. Later they lived in an abandoned schoolhouse before migrating to southwest Missouri in 1935 and sharecropping on bare-boned hillside farms. Back in Kansas at age thirteen, Holmes flunked eight-grade English three times. The family returned to Missouri at war’s end.
Twenty years old and finally at high school graduate in 1950, Holmes joined the U.S. Navy. Military hierarchy and discipline clashed dramatically with his lifeling irreverence, however, and he was tried and found guilty of mutiny. After ten years of teaching hisch school English and drama and coaching football, Holmes earned his M.A. at the University of Missouri. He taught for twenty-four years at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri.
In retirement, Holmes, who still lives in the Ozarks, writes between stints of wood chopping and livestocking. His observaations about hard-scrabble farming and rural life once commonplace but now receding into the mists of a vanished century are related from the perspective of a naive but watchful boy. In the memoir that follows, Holmes looks back more than six decades, to the lean and hungry ’30s, with unblinking honesty.
History as Literature
Sep 01 2001
The Jill-Flirted Mare
“Here she is, Packsaddle Bridge,” Dad announced, and as I looked down through a knothole in the bridge floor I caught a glimpse of a narrow stream far below. “Right down there,” he said, “is where your Uncle Cager lost his team in the quicksand before the bridge went in.”