Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn.

He walked as far as the hedge that signaled the end of the airfield. The beating of the bounds. The men referred to it as his "daily constitutional" and fretted when he didn't take it. They were superstitious. Everyone was superstitious.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating's christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny's mother, Beverly -- thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families. 

I don't know what it is exactly, being a server. It's a job certainly, but not exclusively. There's a transparency to it, a an occupation stripped of the usual ambitions. One doesn't move up or down. One waits. You are a waiter. It is fast money -- loose, slippery bills that inflate and and disappear over the course of an evening. It can be a means, to those with concrete ends and unwavering ambition. I grasped most of that easily enough when I was hired at the restaurant at age twenty-two. 

The other night, at dinner, Sheba talked about the first time that she and the Connolly boy kissed. I had heard most of it before, of course, there being few aspects of the Connolly business that Sheba has not described to me several times over. But this time around, something new came up. I happened to ask her if anything about the first embrace had surprised her. She laughed. Yes, the smell of the whole thing had been surprising, she said. She hadn't anticipated his personal odour, and if she had, she would have probably guessed at something teenagey: bubble gum, cola, feet.

The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dress -- frock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric and twill -- they might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them; indeed, the studied isolation of each man as he pored over his paper, or leaned forward to tap his ashes into the grate, or placed in the splay of his hand upon the baize to take his shot at billiards, conspired to form the very type of bodily silence that occurs, late in the evening, on a a public railway -- deadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain.

You better not never tell nobody but God. 

If on that Autumn morning someone had visited the cabin of Adam Green, the timid young northland farmer whose uncle grew giant apples, to tell him that his life was about to get ripped apart, that his humble patch of land would soon be saturated with blood and smoke, he might have jumped off a cliff. All he ever wanted was peace, and all life had ever given him was horseshit.

My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth-rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name. "He'd put on fifty pounds and the spring was gone from his step in the outfield, but he could still hit. Oh, how that man could hit. No one has ever been able to hit like Shoeless Joe."

Three years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin's egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, I was sitting on the veranda of my farm home in eastern Iowa when a voice very clearly said to me, "If you build it, he will come."

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