So many childhood memoirs seem to focus on either a dreadful, deprived childhood or a single terrible defining moment after which the author passes into adulthood. But what about those of us who had an average childhood, running free, playing with friends, and yes, having big things happen in our lives but perhaps not entirely understanding their import at the time? Jeremy Jackson has written a lovely, evocative, lyrical, and nostalgic memoir of his own regular childhood during the year he turned eleven. He captures the midwestern 1980's beautifully, bringing that era and the children who lived and played through it back to life. Because it is his tale, it is specific to the time and the boy he was but the memoir also offers a fairly universal tale of growing up that all readers should be able to appreciate and relate to regardless of what era they lived through.
Jeremy Jackson spent his childhood on a farm in Missouri although it was not the main source of income for his family, his parents holding non-farming jobs. The year that he tells of in these pages is the year that he was ten turning eleven, his grandmother was sick and his oldest sister was getting ready to leave for college. It was really the last year his family was one inseperable unit and as such is a touchstone for him. In many ways, each short chapter is its own self-contained snapshot from his childhood but strung together as they are here, they form a larger picture of a boy heading into adolescence, still young but growing and maturing, developing a different, less child-like and innocently uninformed mindset. He talks of the long, slow, heady days of summer play; his budding recognition of romance; his grandmother's decline; tight, cold school days in winter; and the way that he participates in his family's life as well as the ways in which they all swirl around him.
Jackson has mined his own memories and those of his family in writing this beautifully evocative memoir. He has also used bits from his grandmother's own journal to help reconstruct her thoughts and feelings for the pieces of the narrative in which he writes in her voice. The shift in focus from pre-adolescent boy to stoic grandmother could feel out of place but I appreciate his attempt to add to the depth of his own experiences by using hers as a parallel. The inexorable march of time as Jackson's family moves towards the loss of his grandmother and his oldest sister's leaving for college is remarkably well-done, neither coming event dominating the memoir but always hovering silently just beyond the periphery of Jackson's and the reader's consciousness. His remembrance of a ten, almost eleven, year old midwestern boy's life over the span of a year in the early 1980's is detailed, real, and wonderfully, remarkably ordinary. It is only toward the end that Jackson, as author, admits that he has included some things that his younger self could not have known or fully understood and left out other bits, allowing the reader to be complicit with him in the warm, serene glow of his backwards glance. This is a quietly satisfying memoir, a quick read, and a snapshot caught in time of an innocence and universality that will leave readers looking at their own long past childhoods and remembering as well.
And on a purely personal note, I found I had many unexpected degrees of connection with this memoir. First, a friend of mine who had been Jackson's editor on his first book loaned me the copy I read and asked me to review it. Second, when I read the back page of the book recognizing people who have donated generously to the non-profit publisher of the book, Milkweed Editions, there were quite a few people listed with whom I went to high school. (Good for all of you who support the art of publishing and books! I wish I'd known you better in school because it seems as if you have priorities like mine.) And finally, Jackson's father briefly taught at my alma mater albeit long before my time and after my parents' time. None of this influenced the review in any way other than eliciting a "Hey, how neat!" sort of reaction from me.