The Bookworm: A farm boy and cowboys
“Never Curse the Rain: A Farm Boy’s Reflections on Water”
By Jerry Apps
c. 2017, Wisconsin Historical Society Press
$22.95, higher in Canada; 145 pages
Your eyes are on the forecast. Depending on what it says, you’ll either approve or scowl. You don’t want your plans ruined but here’s the thing: you know that weather changes and you can’t do anything about it anyhow. So read the new book “Never Curse the Rain” by Jerry Apps, and learn to appreciate what comes from the skies.
Growing up on a farm in north central Wisconsin, Apps remembers the importance of water. One of his first memories of the liquid, in fact, was when his little brother was sick: there was an emergency rite performed and, because he was standing nearby, four-year-old Apps was conveniently baptized, too.
His father, knowing how essential moisture is to crops and livestock, always admonished Apps and his brothers to “never curse the rain.” He understood, says Apps, that “the farm’s need for water must come before the family’s hopes and wishes.”
There were times when rain didn’t come.
Apps remembers when the windmill didn’t turn and the cows bawled their thirst. His father first hauled water from a neighbor’s farm; when that wasn’t enough, he purchased a second-hand gas-powered pump that, with “wheezing and kabooming,” saved the livestock until the wind and rains returned.
Theirs was an otherwise good well, 180 feet down and dug by hand in the late 1800s. The family was lucky; Apps says he knew of farmers who had to relocate their homesteads when wells went bad.
As for indoors, Apps recalls how he and his brothers hauled water from an outdoor pump for indoor use. Saturday was bath day and Monday was wash day, which meant multiple trips with heavy pails. Other days, they carried water for cooking, drinking, and washing-up. Apps says he was grown and gone before his parents had indoor plumbing in the house; the barn had it first.
But water wasn’t important just on the farm. Apps writes of fishing in local lakes, of visiting the water-powered mill, camping in the rain, after-chores swimming on hot summer days, and the blessed relief of a night-time thunderstorm.
Do April showers bring May flowers? They say it’s so. You have a few weeks before you’ll know for sure. In the meantime, might as well read “Never Curse the Rain.”
For the average reader, this book is like the literary version of comfort-food: put it in your hands, and you’ll feel as though you’re wrapped in Grandma’s hand-knitted afghan while sipping tomato soup on a grey day. Author Jerry Apps will do that to you; he’s a consummate storyteller who can sadden you on one page, tickle your funny bone two pages later, and astound you with facts in between. His memories evoke a time many readers have only learned about in books.
For those who share the memories, this book is like a handshake from a friend.
There are, therefore, two distinct audiences for “Never Curse the Rain”: 16-to-35-year-old readers, and anyone who’s 36-to-104. If you fit inside those basic groups, the forecast for this book is sunny.
"Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West”
By Tom Clavin
c. 2017, St. Martin’s Press
$29.99, $41.99 Canada; 400 pages
It’s only a piece of metal. Star-shaped, circular, oval, or shield-like, it’s so small, it could fit in your hand or your pocket. It’s made of few letters, a few numbers, and a high shine that reflects lights – particularly blue and red ones, flashing. It can call up respect, it sometimes attracts derision, it can calm turmoil, finish arguments and, in the new book “Dodge City” by Tom Clavin, a badge can be the stuff of legend.
Of all the towns that appeared in the West in the 1870s, why is there “immediate name recognition” for Dodge City?
The short answer, says Tom Clavin, was that Dodge City might’ve been unremarkable, except for three “uncontainable” things that came together in one Kansas spot: “buffalo, railroads and longhorn cattle from Texas.” The junction of the three made Dodge City “a totally lawless young town,” and the perfect place for myths to be made.
But here’s the truth …
Born into a large family and raised in Iowa, Wyatt Earp was “bold,” even as a child. He would tolerate no foolishness and embraced an “adventurous life” that ultimately led him west. There, he lived and thrived in an area with a reputation for hard living and hard drinking, though Earp was a near-teetotaler.
Bartholomew Masterson (who later took the name William Barclay Masterson) was born in Quebec, Canada , and never quite got around to becoming an official U.S. citizen. He, too, was born into a large family and was said to love a good prank and a better joke; he also loved to hunt buffalo, which is how he reportedly met Wyatt Earp.
The two shared a type of Old West wanderlust and a sense of adventure. Both moved restlessly from city to territory; Earp married and was briefly a father, while Masterson gained a reputation for being a gunfighter. Both fell afoul of the law for various crimes before settling down and becoming peacekeepers themselves. Each seemed to know that he could call on the other for help when needed – which is what happened in 1883 when the “wickedest” city in the West was out of control.
Much as I enjoyed the bulk of “Dodge City,” its subtitle is a bit of a misnomer.
This book is, indeed, the story of two historically-iconic men in a dusty Kansas town, but that’s not all. Author Tom Clavin also writes of other Old West towns and about dozens of contemporaries of Masterson and Earp, which is necessary but can be overwhelming, too – especially since neither man stayed in place for very long.
Still, Clavin tells a lively tale that’s both entertaining and informative, with plenty of action and little-known information to keep a reader around. It’s those between-facts facts that prove the romanticism of the Old West is absolutely misguided.
Fans of Western U.S. history or lovers of Larry McMurtry novels should covet this non-fiction book; it’s everything you want it to be. If you’re unfamiliar with Old West history, however, “Dodge City” just might test your mettle.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.