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

By Robert Louis Peters

No nostalgic story of the great previous days, Robert Peters’s reminiscences of his formative years vividly evoke the melancholy on a hardscrabble farm close to Eagle River:  Dad using the Vilas County aid truck, Lars the Swede freezing to loss of life on his porch, the embarassment of commencement in a swimsuit from welfare.  The demanding efforts to place fish and potatoes and blueberries at the desk are punctuated by means of occasional pleasures:  the Memorial Day social gathering, 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 aspect even as a boy of twelve.

“Peters misses not anything, from the main points of the town’s Fourth of July social gathering to the reason and impression of a tender cousin’s suicide to the calibrations of racism towards Indians that was once so appropriate then.  It is an interesting, unsentimental examine a section of our past.”—Margaret E. Guthrie, New York instances e-book Review

“It’s not likely that the other modern poet and student as exotic has risen from particularly so humble beginnings as Robert Peters.  Born and raised by way of 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 early life 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 tremendously pleasant to learn, and it's one of the so much real bills of youth and adolescence I know—a Wisconsin David Copperfield!”—Thom Gunn

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I set my lines at intervals, primarily for bass and pickerel. Pickerel are notorious for giving test tugs on the line. eating off salted minnow, almost as if they know, avoiding the risk of the barbed hook. We crept to the hole, grabbed the line, and jiggled it to give the illusion that a minnow was escaping. Usually, when a pickerel strikes, you yank fast on the line, you'll snag him. Once caught, it may still rip free. Whenever it slackens, you draw the line taut, and 40 Crunching Gravel when you glimpse the snaky form, you jerk with all your might and bring it forth flopping and squirming.

Since she spoke no English, she smiled and waved us inside, where she gave us two brightly colored eggs and a few jelly beans. She did not wish us to linger, for she soon opened the door, bowed, and smiled us out. Years later, one of her daughters said that her mother's ritual waS an ancient peasant one: If you could inveigle a non-Catholic, a non-Pole, to receive gifts on Easter morning, that person would be your scapegoat, carrying away your entire year's burden of sins. We were oblivious to these subtleties.

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. She motioned for me to sit. "I don't hurt you," she began. " I had no answer. She brought cookies from the house and then began to talk about God, extolling a "personal relationship" with Jesus as her lodestone. She asked me if! had been baptized. I said I had never been to church.

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