A WRITER'S WIT
Myths . . . gossip grown old.
R. P. Blackmur
Born January 21, 1904
Bisbee Rediscovered . . . Twice
In this long-heralded memoir, Shelton accomplishes many things. For one, he takes the reader on an extended journey, not only over his life on this earth, but, citing sources, he also brings an awareness to us of the fascinating town that is Bisbee, Arizona. He achieves a certain paradox by seemingly moving forward through time and backward at the same time.
Shelton seems to know so much.
He knows botany.
"The popular, as opposed to scientific, names for plants and animals are often based on figurative language, the language of impression and comparison, the language of poetry. These names are descriptive, concrete, highly compressed, and usually require some kind of imaginative leap. I am not a linguist, but it seems to me that the more 'primitive' a language is by our standards, the more it relies on such names" (16).
He knows archeology.
He knows history.
"Gradually, a terrible tension developed between life as it was actually lived in Bisbee and the deeply felt moral, spiritual, and religious impulses of the day. Starting just before the last decade of the nineteenth century and lasting until well after World War I, most of the non-Hispanic residents of Bisbee were trapped between the hardships of life in a small Western mining community, including the horrors of mining itself, and the pressures of an uncompromising Calvinist God. It is no wonder that those two pressures, one from below and one from above, created a society that was basically fatalistic and often hypocritical. The wonder is that the society survived at all" (265). That's Bisbee!
Richard Shelton knows, of course, literature, a great big chunk of it from the Greeks, to prose, to poetry.
My favorite chapter may be Chapter Ten, in which he relates what his first year of teaching in Bisbee's Lowell School—seventh and eighth graders—is like for a young man who has already served time in the army. He's not wet behind the ears, and yet he is honest enough to admit how astounded he is by the experience, how profoundly it affects him. He develops enough courage to tell off a rather officious faculty member who seems to have been after him since his first day (every school has a Molly Bendixon):
"Whatever it was, it caused me to be late getting the roll taken, and I had just turned to that task when the door opened and Molly Bendixon walked in abruptly.
'Where's your absence report?' she demanded. 'They're waiting for it in the office. It's holding everybody up. Haven't you been told that you're supposed to take the roll first thing and get it down there?' Her tone was sarcastic and patronizing.
'I'm just taking it now,' I said. 'I'll have it down there right away.' I was furious but determined not to show it in front of the students. Molly turned and marched out, and I followed her, closing the door behind us. I hadn't had my morning coffee yet, and my anger was getting the upper hand. 'Miss Bendixon,' I said, 'let me explain something.' She sighed and turned, evidently expecting an excuse. 'My classroom is off limits to you. You are never again to enter it unless I invite you. And if you ever humiliate me in front of my students again, I will knock you on your ass. You can tell that to the principal if you want to, and if you don't believe me, try me.'
I went back to my classroom and slammed the door, hard. Several of the students had slipped up to the door and had been straining to hear what I was saying to Molly, but they scuttled back to their seats when I came in, and everybody was very quiet."
Having made a visit to Bisbee myself, about ten years ago, I consider Shelton's book my trip back to Bisbee, too. I can visualize so very much that he puts before the reader, and I can see the town in a different light. If, like me, you've never read Shelton's book, check it out. Still available in fine bookstores everywhere! Click on title above. I wish to thank my friend Peter for turning me on to this book, in fact, for getting me my copy!
WEDNESDAY: PHOTOS OF LAS VEGAS ARCHITECTURE