Timothy James Bazzett
Meet Tim Bazzett, fifty years ago. This book is not so much a memoir as a rambling and luminous letter he is writing to his kids. In it he pays tribute and homage to his parents, to his teachers, and to Reed City, the town that shaped him. Mining his earliest memories, Bazzett tells of childhood scrapes, homemade toys, playing cowboys and “war” and even comes clean about an embarrassing feat of flatulence in a most unlikely place which became legend in family lore. He takes you along to Indian Lake, where he spent his summers swimming, and to Saturday matinees at the Reed Theater, where he learned homespun values from Gene and Roy. You’ll meet the nuns who educated him at St. Philip’s School, where he learned to dance and diagram. Early struggles with sex, sin and “Catholic guilt” are given their due, along with a short-lived religious vocation and a stint at the seminary. A “pseudo-farm kid,” Bazzett tells too of his trials with cows, chickens, and picking pickles; and of lessons in “animal psychology” learned from his grandfather. His high school years are marred by pimples, dorkiness, and pining for the “popular” girls, but brightened by a few close friends and some minor successes on the basketball court. He loves some of his teachers, clashes with others, and even terrorizes one, as he fumbles his way toward manhood.
It’s all here – the work, the play, the frustrations and the joys of growing up working-class and Catholic in the heart of small-town America. Anyone who has been there will chuckle, remember and relate to Reed City Boy.
But life at St. Philip’s School wasn’t all work and study. There was also recess and lunch time, probably the favorite subjects of many kids, then and now. We had a reasonably well-equipped playground, with swings, see-saws (we called them “teeter-totters”), and a merry-go-round, all situated in a gravel-covered play area. (I never have figured out why play areas were paved or gravel covered. Either surface can be pretty hard on little knees and elbows when you fell or got pushed down.) This equipment was used mostly by the youngest kids. By the time you reached fourth or fifth grade, there were more challenging things to do. The girls did a lot of rope-skipping and whatever else girls that age do. The boys were into playing marbles, or more physical games like Red Rover (aka “pom-pom-pullaway”) or “King of the Hill.”
Sometimes these rougher games got a bit out of hand, particularly if we were far enough out on the playground so the Sisters couldn’t easily see us. We played King of the Hill on a dirt and gravel partially grassed-over hummock out behind the backstop to the softball field. It was actually a little beyond the playground and outside the playing fields proper, which is probably what made it so attractive to boys who were testing their own strength and the limits of the rules. I remember one particular game in which Jack Hurst and I had formed a spontaneous alliance to hold the top of the hill, and were successfully fending off all attempts at incursion, pushing and flinging the other boys off in all directions. Unfortunately, things must have gotten a bit too physical when we forcibly threw down one of the smaller boys, Billy Lehman, who landed awkwardly at the foot of the hill and began to cry, something that would normally have brought immediate scorn and taunts of “crybaby,” but we all saw at once how one of his arms was bent unnaturally underneath him. The game ceased at once and we all gathered around him, glancing fearfully back at the playground for the Sisters, already mentally formulating our “We were just playing, S’ter!” excuses.
As it turned out, Billy had to be taken to the hospital for a compound fracture of his right arm, which was duly set and put into a heavy, L-shaped plaster cast, which enveloped his scrawny little arm from shoulder to wrist and was supported by a sling. When he returned to school sporting this impressive apparatus a couple days later, he became a kind of instant celebrity, with all the kids clamoring to sign his cast and carry his books or lunch tray. I was probably the most fervently eager to be his lackey, since I felt deeply guilty and ashamed of my part in his injury. Of course, Jack and I were both in the doghouse with the Sisters for our oafish, savage behavior, and King of the Hill was pretty much banned forever. If there was anything good that came out of this incident, it was that Jack and I became pretty close friends from then on. We savage oafs had to stick together.
"I really enjoyed Reed City Boy - for the humor, for its 'Midwesterness' and for the details ... So much of it was very familiar: the duties as chicken-barn clearner - the smell, the dust, the stupidity of those birds ... the barnyard humor, the sexual turmoil of an adolescent boy ... Bazzett's book brought it all back ..."
Author of the Iowa memoir, We Have All Gone Away
"Reed City Boy is the history of the sort of small-town American childhood that millions of us once knew, and which we only realized was so very precious when both our youth and the land that nourished it were gone."
Author of the novel Tom Wedderburn's Lifeand the sci-fi classic, Fitzpatrick's War
"I made Reed City Boy my bedtime book ... I started reading and just kept reading ... After the first couple nights I started bringing it into the kitchen during the day so I could read while I was having lunch, and also at dinner ... [Flows] with an easy grace, a fine ear for the rhythm of the language ... It was the voice of a friend sitting across the table, telling his story to me, laughing at himself from time to time ... The easy intimacy between friends. That's the writing voice here. And it's perfect for this book. Perfect ... I now have [Bazzett's] Soldier Boy on my bedside table."
award-winning author of the bestselling novel, Hearts of Horses, and the perennial favorite, The Jump-Off Creek
"I enjoyed Reed City Boy so much ... Some great looks at the past, done with such thoroughness and honesty, and topped with a large helping of humor."
author of the beloved Bois Blanc Island memoir, Island Boyhood
"I think I had that same winter coat (pictured on p. 33). And those glasses look way too familiar! ... We share much the same background ... [Reed City Boy] is evocative of a lost world."
Senior Editor of The Washington Post Book World, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the midwest memoir, An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland
"For anyone who has ever thought about living in a small town - where most people, it's true, do know your name - Tim Bazzett has written the perfect book. For those who grew up in small towns, in places like Reed City (where I was born), this tale is a reminder of those lost spring afternoons when the redwing blackbirds called down by the river, and the smell of the creosote bridge was in the air, with your whole life ahead of you. This book is funny, poignant, and blazingly honest."
author of NY Timesbestseller, In Harm's Way
"A good, honest and straighforward portrait ... A touching story."
author of Eighty Acres: Elegy for a Family Farm, a modern classic of country memoirs
"The best autobiography I have read in years ... Paints a picture with a fine artist's brush ... Reed City Boy has universal appeal [and} could easily become a best-seller."
Dr. Maury Dean
Pop Musicologist and author of Rock and Roll Gold Rush
"Bazzett manages to capture the magic and mystery as well as all the quirks and foibles of growing up in Small Town U.S.A. ... This is a fun book! Well worth the read."
Pioneer News Network
"Bazzett shares his memories of growing up in Reed City, attending Catholic boarding school in Grand Rapids in the 1950s and working at the local A&P grocery store."
Lansing State Journal
"Devilishly funny! ... Bazzett tells all with a witty, sometimes hilarious style so often missing from memoir writing ... A very American boy's life [told in] whimsical essays written with a sense of joy and pride ... This is the kind of book I wish my dad or grandfather had written. I would know them better now."
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Traverse City Record-Eagle
"A wonderful, touching and honest memoir that will make many smile in empathy as they remember the tortured rites of adolescence ... A terriffic read. I can't wait for the sequel!"
Dr. Neil Alexander Patten
Ferris State University Professor of Communications
"Pays tribute to small town life."
"It ought to be required reading for every self-absorbed, video game-addicted, non-chore performing youngster ... Reed City Boy captures a certain bygone warmth ... It honors growing up in small-town America [and depicts] a life that might be defined as a melding of Opie, Beaver and Dobie."
Grand Rapids Press
"Delightful! ... Touching, funny, and infused with a love of family, friends, and, certainly, Reed City ... Refreshingly devoid of the usual anger and angst associated with memories of one's youth ... Write on!"
Dr. Thomas Gordon
Director of Human Services for Oakland County, Michigan
"A real piece of American history ... Very well done: honest and frank and very Midwestern (and from me that's praise)."
Professor Emeritus of Literature at Princeton University
and author of The Growing Seasonsand Flights of Passage
"'Don't tell Mom, OK?' In Reed City Boy Tim Bazzett tells all, making his parents proud and leaving his readers anxiously awaiting his next book, which we certainly hope will not be his last."
Amy J. Van Ooyen
author of Transplants, and Michigan's U.P. Writer of the Year
"As anyone who has gone to Ferris knows, just north of Paris is not the city of Rouen, but Reed City. In Reed City Boy, Bazzett pays tribute to the town that shaped him ... And as for his style of sledding? 'I was hospitalized for weeks and couldn't walk for months,' Bazzett confesses. An even worse fate than Jean Shepherd's famously ill-fated Christmas gift of a Red Ryder BB gun!"
Crimson & Gold/FSU
"Thank you for Reed City Boy ... (a) delightful book. It is a fine addition to my library."
Hon. Jennifer M. Granholm
Governor of Michigan
"Reading Reed City Boy was like stepping back in time to my own childhood. Bazzett's conversational style made the story so accessible that I closed the book feeling I'd just had a long enjoyable chat with an old friend ... An entertaining read."
award-winning author of Trappedand Abduction!
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