My grandfather was a blacksmith. To supply his shop with the metal, wood and other materials he needed for the business, he attended auctions. Auctions selling all kinds of items.
Since his store was located in Ashdown, Arkansas, this brought him close to the auctions that were frequently held in Oklahoma. Hugo, Broken Bow, and other areas of the Sooner State were rich in the things he needed to concoct his living.
One Thursday night every month, my sister and I go with our grandparents to the Broken Bow auction. To keep my sister and I focused, our grandfather promised each of us a dollar if we behaved on the trip.
The dollar at that time was a princely amount, especially for a child.
Provided we acted, the money was handed to us on our arrival at Broken Bow where we were allowed to do whatever we wanted with it. We can put it in our pocket and keep it or we can buy something there.
On the way to the auction house there was a small shopping mall. It wasn’t a huge place, but it was big enough to include exactly what my sister and I felt were essential stores.
I made a beeline for the ice cream parlor and made my way to the bookstore. Not much for foreplay, our grandfather told us to quickly get what we wanted so he could get back on auction road.
After my first stop at the library, it didn’t take me long to make my choices on subsequent trips. On each visit I bought an Alfred Hitchcock paperback of Murder Mysteries. A compendium of short stories written by excellent writers. I couldn’t get enough of these books.
Hitchcock’s books have featured up-and-coming authors, as well as established writers. One thing they all had in common was the ability to get a near-instant picture of what was going on in the story. It will pull and push you to try and figure out what’s going to happen before the twist in the ending you didn’t expect.
And the book did it in just a few pages. Some were as short as this shaft. These short stories for me were perfect.
And they were in my price range. At 60 cents for the book, the dollar covered the price and tax, with the money left over. And a new book comes out every month, the number of times we went with my grandparents to Oklahoma.
I would take the books to school and read them in class if I finished work or in the classroom. My comrades noticed that I always carried one on myself. My best friend Jeff started borrowing each one and he read them too.
We were discussing how a writer creates a story and then delivers it with artist perfection.
And that’s what these writers-artists were to me. It was the beginning of my interest in writing.
Years passed. So did my grandparents. Any Alfred Hitchcock books I had collected would have been lost over time and many movements. But I never forgot them.
Curious to see if they were as good as I remembered, I found a stack of them for sale on eBay and bought them.
When they arrived it evoked the Oklahoma vibes of the early 1970s. I recalled the sensations of riding in the back of our grandparents’ station wagon and gazing out the windows at passing telephone poles and cattle pastures.
I would look from one to the next, then back to my book as I worked my way from one story to the next.
Today, more people (young and old) listen to audiobooks than buy physical hard copies. This is hard for me to understand. Because for me there is no substitute for holding a book in your hands and turning the pages while you learn what comes next in the author’s mind.
An author who could create a murder mystery collage into a short story, set alongside other short stories, that a kid like me could buy on a dollar.
Even if people move from the printed page to the spoken word, someone somewhere will have to come up with the content. And the lure of it is not at all a mystery.
John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and vol. 2, available on their website – TheCountryWriter.com. You can also send him a message and listen to his weekly podcast.