Archive for the ‘Memoir/Autobiography’ Category
Title:The Side-Yard Superhero
Author: Rick D. Niece
Number of Pages: 260
Summary: “I know where Bernie Jones is.” With one late-night phone call, Rick Niece is transported back over forty years to cherished childhood memories of small town DeGraff, Ohio. His daily newspaper route, the sights and wonders of a traveling carnival, the sounds of Christmas caroling-the idyllic memories all circle back to one special relationship.To Rickie, being friends with Bernie Jones was no different than being friends with any other boy in town. Bernie’s physical world was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from being an intrepid daydreamer, adventurer, and hero to Rickie. The unique friendship the boys forged defined an era in both their lives. When he left for college, Rickie promised Bernie they would meet again. Now, decades later, he is making the pilgrimage back to Ohio to fulfill that promise.
Author Bio: When he was four, Rick Niece’s family moved to DeGraff, Ohio, a town of 900 citizens. Life in DeGraff was good, and the lessons learned from treasured friendships still inspire him today. As president of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, Dr. Niece and his wife, Sherée, are the proud parents of 675 students.
In The Side-Yard Superhero, Rick Niece recalls his childhood friendship with Bernie Jones, a boy in a wheelchair who is confined not only by his own body, but by the limitations imposed by the 1950’s and 60’s small-town society. When Niece becomes a paperboy in DeGraff, Ohio, population 900, one of his customers is Bernie Jones’ parents. Bernie doesn’t attend school–special needs children had few opportunities for education in those days–but he does spend a lot of time sitting outside in his wheelchair. Niece is afraid of Bernie at first, and has a disasterous first meeting with him. But after a pep talk from his father, Niece takes the inititive to try again, and so begins a long friendship. After Niece leaves for college, he loses track of Bernie. Decades later, he discovers where Bernie is, and sets out to see him, as the happy and bittersweet memories come flooding back.
I admit to being predisposed to like The Side-Yard Superhero, simply because I grew up in a small town myself (and still live here.) But even if you didn’t grow up in a small town, this book is a delight to read. The Side-Yard Superhero is a mixture of humor, adventure, and memorable characters. Rick Niece has fond memories of the people and events that shaped his childhood, and it shows through the way he tells his story. Although the main theme of the book is Niece’s friendship with Bernie Jones, many chapters describe other people Niece grew to know during the years he delivered newspapers. One such person was Fern Burdette, a “brassiere wearing, hard drinking, wooden leg walking, frequent spitting, world interesting” retired newspaper jounalist whose best friend was a dalmation named Duke. Another was Miss Lizzie Moore, a recluse whose fiancé had been killed in France during World War I. Then there was Mary Waite, an invalid who requested Niece read the obituaries to her when he delivered the paper. These and other colorful characters weave through Niece’s tales of childhood exploits and revelations of universal truths.
Funny and poignant, The Side-Yard Superhero is well written, and my only quibble is that the chapters aren’t perfectly chronological. For instance, one chapter takes place during Niece’s teenage years, while the following chapter takes place during his childhood. This made me a bit confused at times, because afterwards I wasn’t always sure of his age when he started a new tale in a new chapter. However, I can’t think of a better way he could have organized the chapters/stories, so I really have no cause to complain.
Niece calls his book an “automythography” which he defines as “A work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it; an iridescent memory based upon truth and fact.” Whether or not everything happened exactly as Nieice recalls it, he tells it well, and I loved reading his “iridescent” version of life in DeGraff. I highly recommend reading it.Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Side-Yard Superhero for review from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists. I subsequently lost the book on a trip to Rapid City, SD, so bought a replacement copy from Amazon. My reviews are not influenced by receiving free review copies, nor am I compensated in any other way.