Reading through this compelling and bittersweet selection of stories, I was reminded of the Walton’s TV show, in which a budding writer raised among his dirt-poor but happy mountain family in the 1930s, will, despite moving on to the big city, write his “great American novel” about his unsophisticated family. The TV show, which aired in the early 1970s, was clearly designed to take viewers away from the ugliness and confusion of the Vietnam era to–in the words of Richard Thomas, the actor who portrayed the writer character–“a simpler, sweeter time.” A friend of mine, who is the same age and like me, grew up in a small town in the South (mine was Marlin, Texas—his was Spigot, Arkansas) and I were talking about how we wouldn’t let our kids wander off unsupervised on their bikes at night. When I said my parents never worried about that, he said, “It was a different time back then.”
But was it? I was born in 1967, a year before the “Days of Rage,” in which armed 1960s revolutionary groups battled cops in the streets; the same year Hollywood movies began using profanity and nudity; at the same time when child molesters were even then preying on children. If you grew up in the “silent majority” South, however, such things were as remote as the moon. Scott Douglas Vaughan is older than I am, but we both grew up in a part of the country that could still lay claim to being a “Mayberry” kind of town.
One would think that since Vaughan uses fiction to recall this time, when one could leave doors unlocked, and wander down the town streets at night, it would render his treatment of Cummings, Georgia more remote, more critical. But Vaughan’s fondness for his upbringing shines through, and he is able to capture for the reader—who by age, or location, might not have had the same “Our Town” experiences as Vaughan—what life was like growing up in a small town in mid-60s to early 1970s America.
Through the character of “Frank,” Vaughan takes us through the testosterone -filled adolescence of boys who fart into their elbows, panic at vaccination sots, laugh at the poor soul who dares to shoot baskets under-handed, and look askance at “braininess” exhibited by one of their own. This is why Frank, Vaughan’s character, already intending to be a writer, hides his work from everyone but a trusted friend. Although television provides Cummings with images of the counterculture, it is revealing about the charmingly unsophisticated nature of this town that what inspires a school play from the TV line-up isn’t M.A.S.H or the hippie-friendly Smothers’ Brothers; instead it is the innocuous family-friendly Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (a show so mainstream that even Richard Nixon performed a skit on it).
Penned by a skilled writer, Scott Douglas Vaughan’s MEMORIES OF A HOME is a compelling and bittersweet selection of stories and a time-capsule treatment of Americana in the mid-1960s.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader