Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Excerpt from THE BOOK OF FAMOUS IOWANS, by Douglas Bauer

In The Book of Famous Iowans, Douglas Bauer explores the life of Will Vaughn, a man of late middle age living in Chicago with his second wife, remembering the month of June 1957 in his hometown,  the rural village of New Holland, Iowa. More precisely, Will remembers just a few days of that month and the quick sequence of astonishing events that have colored, ever since, the logic of his heart and the moods of his mind. He tells of his stunningly beautiful young mother, Leanne, who liked to recall the years of the Second World War, during which she sang with a dance band in a lounge in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He tells too of his father, Lewis, a soldier in the war who one night saw the "resplendently sequined" Leanne step onstage and began at that instant to plot his courtship of her.


I have kept three photographs of my mother, Leanne McQueen Vaughn, and anybody who sees one of them invariably asks me who the beautiful young woman in the picture is. No one recognizes a trace of her in me, since I grew, against her certain prediction, to resemble my father. I have his fair coloring; his stocky build; his wide, square face.

It would be easy to think that the photos had been taken, not over a decade, but within a span of a few weeks. For her face in the first, when she was fifteen, appears remarkably the same as in the last, that of a woman whose sophisticated beauty has matured just moments before the picture was snapped. Her expression, too, is closely repeated and seems to me one of cool epiphany. It's conveyed by a watchful gleam in her eyes and in the way she holds her head, gracefully extending her neck so that she looks to be peering out over the heads of the crowd. I know well how it felt to be within its range (and it often felt powerfully confidential and secure). But thinking now of her actions, the choices she made, and how they permanently changed us all, I see her expression as suggesting that she has raised her eyes to look past the distractions of hope and innocence, in order to see what she needed to see.

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