My grandfather was a blacksmith. To supply his shop with the metal, wood, and other materials he needed to operate, he attended auctions. Auctions that sold all types of items.
Since his shop was located in Ashdown, Arkansas, that gave him close proximity to the auctions frequently held in Oklahoma. Hugo, Broken Bow, and other Sooner State locales were rich with the things he needed to fabricate his living.
One Thursday night a month, my sister and I went with our grandfather and grandmother to the Broken Bow auction. To keep my sister and me focused, our grandfather promised us each a dollar if we behaved on the trip.
A dollar at that time was a princely sum, especially for a kid.
Provided we behaved, the cash was delivered to us upon arrival in Broken Bow where we were allowed to do whatever we wanted with it. We could stick it in our pocket and keep it or we could buy something there.
On the way to the auction house there was a small strip shopping center. It wasn’t a large place, but it was large enough to include exactly what my sister and I felt were necessary shops.
She made a beeline for the ice cream parlor and I made my way to the bookstore. Not much for dallying, our grandfather instructed us to quickly get what we wanted so that he could get back on the road to the auction.
After my first stop at the bookstore, it didn’t take me long to make my selection on subsequent trips. Every 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 paperbacks.
Hitchcock’s books featured up-and-coming authors, as well as established writers. What they all had in common was the ability to create an almost instant image of what was happening in a story. It would pull you in and compel you to try and figure out what was going to happen before the twist at the end that you didn’t see coming.
And the writers did it with just a few pages. Some were as short as this column. These short stories were, to me, perfection.
And they were in my price range. At 60 cents a book, my dollar covered the price and tax, with money left over. And a new book came out each month, which was how often we went with my grandparents to Oklahoma.
I’d take the books to school and read them in class if I’d finished my work, or in study hall. My buddies noticed I always had one on me. My best friend Jeff began borrowing each one and he read them too.
We would discuss how the writer had set up a story and then delivered it with the mastery of an artist.
And that’s what these writers were to me – artists. It was the beginning of my interest in writing.
Years passed. So did my grandparents. Any Alfred Hitchcock books I’d collected were lost to time and many moves. But I never forgot them.
Curious as to whether they’d been as good as I’d remembered, I found a stack of them for sale on eBay and I bought them.
When they arrived I relived the feelings of early 1970s Oklahoma. I remembered the sensations of riding in the back of our grandparent’s station wagon and staring out of the windows at the passing phone poles and cattle pastures.
I’d glance from one to the other, and then look back to my book as I made my way from story to story.
Today, more people (kids and adults) listen to audio books than buy actual hard copies. That’s hard for me to comprehend. Because to me there’s no substitute for holding a book in your hands and turning the pages as you learn what’s coming next in the author’s mind.
An author who could come up with a murder mystery bundled into a short story, placed next to other short stories, that a kid like me could buy with his dollar.
Even if people migrate from the printed page to the spoken word, someone somewhere will have to come up with the content. And the allure of that is no mystery at all.
By John Moore