Workingman’s neck

Labor Sunday, Sept. 4.

Long before I knew the term “red neck,” I was fascinated by my grandfather’s neck. It was reddish, with deep groves in diamonds that grew deeper when he turned his head. He’d lived in the sun, mostly in the South. He grew up on an Iowa farm, worked relentlessly by his father. Once in a bar in De Witt, my grandfather caught sight of an actual twenty dollar bill (this was some time ago) flashed by a traveler who’d gotten it roughnecking in the Texas oil fields. My grandfather high-tailed to Texas, where he shared a room, old car and one good suit of clothes with a friend. When the Depression hit, my grandfather was married with three children. Under a New Deal plan, he got title to a little farm outside Houston with $200 his mother somehow scrapped together.

There he worked, the kids and my grandmother worked, he delivered the Houston Chronicle, milk and eggs. His neck grew diamonds. When the kids married and went away and my grandmother died, he paid cash for a little duplex in a modest neighborhood with a yard for gardening.

At the funeral, my father wasn’t surprised to see a small gathering. My grandfather was 94, after all. But among the church ladies and old friends was a young Mexican woman, one of my grandfather’s neighbors. Her income covered the bare minimum for herself and her children, rice, beans, bread. Then bags of vegetables began mysteriously appearing on her porch before dawn. One night she waited up and nabbed my grandfather, who sheepishly begged understanding. “I’m an old man,” he said, “I plant too much in the spring. Maybe you can help me out.” He was 92 at the time, still a working man, his neck full of diamonds.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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Sunday, May 6, 2pm reading from latest work at Hexagon Brewing Company, Knoxville, TN.

Thursday, May 10, 6-8 pm presentation on research on the historical novel, Blount County Library, Maryville, TN.

When We Were Strangers, Italian translation, to be presented in Pescasseroli, Italy, August 2018.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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