The Great American Novel – not

December 28, 2013


Outdoors Columnist

If you have, like me, passed mankind’s allotted span of three score and ten years tenure on planet earth that the Good Lord grants us, then you’ve realized that we’re making fewer and fewer New Year’s resolutions.

Of course, we all resolve to hope and pray for good health for our family and friends – and the nation — during the coming year.

For myself, probably my No. 1 resolution for 2014 is to hang around, hopefully with lesser back pain, just to see what happens.

I’m making one resolution that probably falls into the category of dreaming. It involves my love of fishing. I resolve to catch (and bring into the boat) a Cave Run Lake muskie approaching 50 inches.

I’ve caught three out there in the past few years, all exceeding the legal size limit of 36 inches, but none which would measure even 40 inches.

But if we’re going to dream, we might as well dream big.

My No. 2 resolution is to publish my novel, “Oh, That Summer of ’45,” which is finished but waiting the final editing by Prof. Amanda Gilmore. She hopes to have it by Jan. 13.

I once thought of it as becoming a Great American Novel. But after half a dozen rejections by major publishers, I have lowered my expectations to it being a book that hopefully some of my friends will enjoy reading.

I have read some good novels lately, and I know that I don’t have what it takes to produce writing like that. I have the imagination, but not the vocabulary or talent to get those thoughts onto paper.


It’s a boys adventure story. There are six 11- and 12-year old members of the Hooperville Braves, and throughout that summer, where you saw one of them you saw all six.

There were only five of them until Tom Sycamore’s family moved from central Ohio to the small village, located on the Kentucky shore of the Ohio River, about halfway between Pittsburgh and Cairo.

Sycamore gets a hostile greeting from Gale Flanders, who lives just across the street from his new home.

Gale automatically dislikes Tom after spotting the Ohio license tag on the moving “van,” which is actually a cattle truck with high board sides and a canvass stretched over the top.

The Braves have more than once gotten into a skirmish with the Buckeye boys when they cross Grand Bridge into Shawnee to visit the Garden and Lyric theaters to take in the Batman serial and the latest John Wayne war movie or a Hopalong Cassidy western.

It takes the Boy Scouts of America to see the two sides bury the hatchet.

Gale and Tom become friends after Gale’s dog, Leader, and Tom’s dog, Chopper, make up and become friends.

Gale talks Tom into joining the Braves, which requires him to pass an initiation that nearly costs him his young life.

The test is made up by the “Major,” Vince Royalton, the undisputed leader of the Hooperville Braves.

Royalton, Tom was to learn, reads every adventure book he can get his hands on, such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He liked to take fiction from the pages and turn it into real life, or maybe some kind of movie version of real life, usually with him playing the roles of producer, director and star. More often that not, though, he made up his own script as he went along.

“He comes up with the craziest things sometimes,” Gale tells Tom. “But he does get us into a lot of nice adventures. See that sandbar over there?” He pointed toward the distant Ohio shore. “Well, no, you can’t see it now, cause the water’s up. Lots of people think that’s the Ohio River bottoms. But it ain’t. That’s Guam, honey. Guam, Iwo Jima, Bataan, Okinawa. We must have killed a thousand Japs on an invasion there. The Major, leading the charge, of course, was machine-gunned twice and somersaulted by a hand grenade, but they couldn’t stop him. He’s like one of these cartoon characters – mash him, bash him, riddle him, he springs right back.”

For now, though, Gale explained, the Major had taken on a new role. “He’s Robin Hood, and we’re his merry men. Down there in Sherwood, we’ve got ropes tied to tree branches. We can swing down and knock the king’s men right off their horses. He’s got that scheduled for this afternoon. Yes, for now, we’ve gone from carbines to bows and arrows – ha!”

Sycamore slips out of the upstairs window of his new home just short of midnight to meet the other five in the alley for Tests No. 1 and No. 2. The first involves stealing a quart of strawberries from the patch of the Widow Louella, who earlier in the day had offered to give them all the berries they wanted.

Sycamore seals the test by slipping the stolen fruit behind the door of a poor family living on the lower end of the village.

As a storm makes its way upriver, they head for the old graveyard on the slope of Dead Man’s Ridge for Test No. 2. There, young Sycamore must stand on the grave of notorious murderer, Buzzsaw Baker, and swing a dead black cat on a string around his head 13 times before flinging it into the woods. This is designed to stop the devil from interfering with the good deeds the gang hopes to accomplish for mankind.

The third and final test, held the next day after church, sees Sycamore diving from a tree limb 30 feet up into the muddy, swollen waters of the Ohio River, even knowing that he can’t swim a lick.

At any rate, after being pulled out by his older brother, Flint, he winds up becoming a Blood Brother of the five Braves.

The story involves the mystery of a U.S. Marine who appears in the Victory Garden Sycamore rescues from the weeds. The garden was planted by the marine while he lived there with his wife before shipping out for the South Pacific and becoming the very first American to die in the invasion of Okinawa.

The adventures for the summer involve the six being trapped in a cave-in of Devil’s Den, experiencing the ghost of Hansen’s Bend, and a mysterious happenings on Dead Man’s Ridge.

Tom’s brother joins the Marines and ships out of San Francisco in mid-July on the doomed cruiser, the USS Indianapolis, which is secretly carrying the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.

His mother trades her apron for coveralls and goes to work making bomb casings in the big steel mill in Shawnee.

In the final adventure, the Braves leave home on a raft, bound for Cairo to see the mighty Mississippi, where Huck and Jim drifted by a hundred years before.

G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@windstream.net.