Clear Springs: A Memoir
Bobbie Ann Mason
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In this superb memoir, the bestselling author of In Country and other award-winning books tells her own story, and the story of a Kentucky farm family, the Masons of Clear Springs. Like Russell Baker's Growing Up, Jill Ker Conway's The Road from Coorain, and other classic literary memoirs, Clear Springs takes us back in time to recapture a way of life that has all but disappeared, a country culture deeply rooted in work and food and family, in common sense and music and the land. Clear Springs is also an American woman's odyssey, exploring how a misfit girl who dreamed of distant places grew up in the forties, fifties, and sixties, and fulfilled her ambition to be a writer.
A multilayered narrative of three generations--Bobbie Ann Mason, her parents and grandparents--Clear Springs gracefully interlaces several different lives, decades, and locales, moving from the industrious life on a Kentucky farm to travels around the South with Mason as president of the Hilltoppers Fan Club; from the hippie lifestyle of the 1960s New York counterculture to the shock-therapy ward of a mental institution; from a farmhouse to the set of a Hollywood movie; from pop music concerts to a small rustic schoolhouse. Clear Springs depicts the changes that have come to family, to women, and to heartland America in the twentieth century, as well as to Bobbie Ann Mason herself. When the movie of Mason's bestselling novel In Country is filmed near Clear Springs, it brings the first limousines to town, even as it brings out once again the wisdom and values of Mason's remarkable parents. Her mother, especially, stands at the center of this book. Mason's journey leads her to a recognition of the drama and significance of her mother's life and to a new understanding of heritage, place, and family roots.
Brilliant and evocative, Clear Springs is a stunning achievement.
the dining room, near the kitchen fireplace. The house was full of children, but none of Chris’s own age to play with. She was outgoing, yet she was often lonely and bewildered. She hid in the attic and wrote little stories on a tablet. Or she explored the fields and the creeks. Along the fencerows, she found a kind of weed with a translucent lining in its seedpod that she could chew. It was like plastic. Years later, when plastic was developed, she claimed she had invented it. She discovered a
astonishment of my grandparents—the little toss of Granny’s head as she tried to accommodate the surprise, the tickled exuberance beneath Granddaddy’s placid grin. I try to envision my parents emerging from the bedroom. He guides her by the shoulders, like a calf he’s bought at the stockyard. Her eyes are wide, as she enters her new life with a paradoxical mix of meekness and audacity. But I have trouble truly comprehending my parents’ courage in conducting this surprise incursion into the Mason
have had more love from my grandparents, but not from my daddy. He didn’t want me.” Frowning, she stares into the distance. After a moment, she goes on. “Grandma Lee was real sweet. I believe she told me she had a baby at the same time I was born, but her baby died. Or did I just imagine that?” In my snooping in the library, I have already traced that baby. It lived only a day. The name was recorded as “Vilent” Lee—probably Violet. I tell Mama now. Violet would have been her aunt. Mama absorbs
tigers—houses where alcohol was sold clandestinely—kept a barrel out front as a signal. On Saturday night, a man might go to the poolroom in Mayfield, encounter some whiskey in the back room, and have to be dragged home. Or it could be worse. Will Sutherland and John Burnett had a difficulty at Clear Springs last Sat. night. The former was severely cut on the hand and neck. The latter was slightly wounded. Mr. Sutherland [is] on the way to recovery. —Mayfield Monitor, June 26, 1885 The John
his wife lived upstairs, but they weren’t home. The house was dark and shabby, furnished with antiques. I noticed manuscripts lying around casually, worn books stuffed with papers, original artwork (by the upstairs professor) on the walls. Professor Hazel laid a jazz record on his turntable and pricked it with the needle. “Progressive jazz,” he said, and he told some story about New York and a jazz club and Gerry Mulligan. I took all of this in, heavy with the weight of its authority. Holding