The times they are a-changin' . . . The summer that Paul turns sixteen his mother pushes him to take a job in town instead of just working on the family farm. “You need to meet the public,” she says, which is saying a lot for a woman deeply committed to the tightly knit religious community to which they belong. And meet the public Paul does: He meets Kirk, the angry gas station manager; Harry, a reclusive and kindly gangster; and a family of hippies passing in a yellow peace van to San Francisco. He also meets beautiful Peggy, a high school sensation, and dark-haired Dale, her onthe-
side boyfriend who is headed to Vietnam. All of them come to the station – as well as girls on summer vacation, tanned and smelling of coconut oil, and ministers from Paul’s fundamentalist church, who are worried about his soul. As the summer progresses, Paul learns the secrets of his small Minnesota town and discovers that he’s ready to have a few secrets of his own.
With richly developed characters and a flair for arresting imagery, Will Weaver tells the story of the end of one boy’s innocence, unfolding at a time when the country as a whole is undergoing a difficult, deeply disturbing coming-of-age.
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Author of Red Earth, White Earth and A Gravestone Made of Wheat, Will Weaver grew up in northern Minnesota on a dairy farm. The sometimes harsh and beautiful landscape of farm and small town life figures strongly in his writing. Sweet Land, an independent feature film adaptation of his story “Gravestone Made of Wheat”, and starring Ned Beatty, premiered in October of 2006.
Weaver is also known for his young adult fiction. His character Billy Baggs, a teenage farm boy baseball phenom, earned his way into the hearts of teen readers in the series Striking Out, Farm Team, and Hard Ball. Each novel has won numerous awards, including being named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Memory Boy, a post-apocalyptic novel based on environmental collapse, is used across the curriculum in many junior and senior high schools.
Claws, a novel set in northeastern Minnesota (Duluth and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) features outdoor survival with a strong family back story. Weaver’s Full Service won starred reviews (Kirkus Reviews and The Horn Book) for its focus on a young man struggling with matters of religious faith and doubt, all complicated by his first “real” summer job, at a gas station, where he “meets the public” in all its variety. Defect, a novel about a teenager born with a miraculous birth abnormality, highlights what one reviewer from The St. Paul Pioneer Press called “the humanity and decency that runs through all of Weaver’s work.”.
As an author, Mr. Weaver is particularly concerned with youth literacy and keeping kids reading. His new MOTOR series addresses a group of underserved young adult readers: kids who love cars. His new novel Saturday Night Dirt and its sequel, Super Stock Rookie, focus on dirt track stock car racing. The series starts with a close focus on a small town speedway and the cast of colorful characters who come there to race on Saturday nights. One of the characters, sixteen-year-old Trace Bonham, is a natural driver with dreams of racing professionally. The MOTOR series follows Trace’s on his path toward getting a “ride” (a sponsored race car) and competing at the highest level he can. While these auto racing novels will certainly appeal to boys, Weaver’s novels always contain a diverse cast of characters. Auto racing is one of the few sports that gives no gender advantage, and the MOTOR series also includes a positive and realistic portrayal of young women involved in racing.
Along with the MOTOR series of novels, Weaver has formed a stock car racing team with a teenaged driver. His black No. 16 Modified race car, co-sponsored by Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishers, is driven by Skyler Smith of Bemidji. Team Weaver races in the WISSOTA circuit in the upper Midwest. You can learn more about the Skyler, the race car and the MOTOR series at www.motornovels.com.
An avid outdoorsman, Will Weaver lives with his wife on the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota.
1 One bright spring morning in 1965, my mother said suddenly, "Paul--what would you think of working in town this summer?" "Me?" I said stupidly. She was washing breakfast dishes, I was drying, and we were listening to her little transistor radio--something about freedom riders in Alabama and teach-ins in Washington. At least I thought we were both listening. "Yes, you. A summer job off the farm." Her gaze went to the kitchen window, and beyond it to our red barn, the shiny metal grain bins, the pale green fields stretching flat and far. "You mean like last summer? Mowing those old ladies' lawns?" I hated being dropped off in town with my lawn mower. I felt stupid, naked, exposed--an interloper subject to attack by rough boys at any moment. That and the towering elms that cut off the sun, the houses a short clothesline apart, the little old ladies who peeked through their windows watching my every move--all of it depressed me. Especially the trash. The closer my mower came to the street, the more I had to watch out for it: cigarette butts, some with red lipstick stains; a broken and snarled eight-track tape; a smashedcoffee cup; flintless cigarette lighters; once, a limp and floppy condom. When my mother came to fetch me, I was always exhausted and happy to go home to the farm. "No, no, no," she said impatiently, wiping her hands and turning down her radio, "a real summer job--full-time. One where you could meet the public." I glanced quickly through the screen door. "What about Father?" "I'll talk with him." I shrugged. "Yeah, well, what about the others?" "For once let's not worry about the others," she said. She turned back to her dishes, and her hands again moved in the soapy water as quick as trout among stones. "The others" takes some explaining. We were a Midwestern family long on religion. Not Lutheran, but sort of. Not Mennonite, but kind of. Not Amish, but a little bit. Not Quaker, but a good part. It was a Christian nondenominational faith, a phrase mystifying to my few school friends who were not in it ("Come on, Sutton, how can a church have no name?"). Farmwork was communal. My family shared the larger machinery--baler, grain combine, corn picker, silo-filling equipment--with several other families in the Faith. Planting, haying, threshing, silo filling, corn picking were done on an orderly circuit: VandenEides, Grundlags, Sorheims, Suttons (that was us), and so on. Unlike the Mennonites in Canada, or the Amish in central Minnesota, each family owned its own farm, but the focus was on shared work, worship, and fitting in with the others. My mother hastily wiped her hands to turn up the volume on her radio. The tinny, scratchy voice of the newscaster could hardly be heard over people chanting and sirens wailing--a civil rights demonstration. "The world is changing, Paul, right this instant!" I muttered something that she didn't hear. It was her most annoying habit--making sweeping statements about the world--because really she was talking about me. How I needed to be more "outgoing," more "social." I had a sinking feeling that "meet the public" was this summer's grand plan for me. The morning stretched out endlessly, and as noon approached, I looked with increasing frequency at the clock. But that was not necessary. My father, Glen Allen Sutton, crossed the yard from the barn at exactly twelve o'clock. He was a medium-sized man with nut-brown forearms, oat-colored hair, and a ruddy face; he wore a clean work shirt every day, and long johns 365 days a year (woolen in the winter, light cotton in the summer). We waited while he washed up in the summer sink. His manner was deliberate--he always used all the same motions washing his hands, then rattling the roller towel. At the table we bowed our heads as he gave his blessing: the beauty of spring, the parable of seeds falling on bountiful soil, our faith in their growth--and always the gift of good work. I peeked at my mother; she was peeking at me. When grace finally ended she passed him the hot dish, then said in an offhand way, as if it had just comeinto her head, "Paul is thinking of working in town this summer." I looked at her with instant annoyance. My father turned to me. "Mowing lawns? Like last summer?" He carefully spooned scalloped potatoes and ham onto his plate; he could be starving and still not hurry. "No. Something full-time," she said. "Full-time?" My father's serving spoon stopped in mid-stroke like a mower's sickle against stone. His eyes opened to their full slate gray. I cleared my throat. "Well, Father," I said, "I dunno, maybe not full full-time." "You're needed here in the vineyards, son," he said. Leave it to him to find a biblical allusion. "Yes, but I've been thinking," my mother said. "I have a plan." "A plan," my father said, raising one pale bushy eyebrow at me. I looked away; I didn't want to take sides. However, my mother had a history of "plans"--the chinchillas, for example. "All that unused space in the attic," she had said enthusiastically, "think of the extra money we could make!" They were gone now, the furry little critters; their skittering and rattling and scratching about in their cages all night had driven us crazy. "Yes, a plan," my mother said testily (we knew enough not to bring up the matter of the chinchillas). "All right. I'm listening," my father said, though he really wasn't. "First, Paul finds a job--a real job, one where he can meet the public--and then we hire someone to take up the slack here at home," she said. My father reached for the bread. He began to butter a piece. The silence went on. Finally he said, "First, I don't know that Paul necessarily wants to work in town. Second, who could we find to take his place? There are no hired men anymore. But third, none of it really matters, because there aren't any jobs in Hawk Bend for farm kids. Town kids have them all." There was silence. I looked down at my food. "It must be nice to be right all the time," my mother said. I sucked in a breath and held it. My father put down his fork; he stared at my mother, then at me, as if we had conspired against him. Me, I was suddenly angry at both my parents; I had started none of this. "Go ahead and look around town," he said. "You'll see." Then he continued eating with the same even chewing motion. He had already moved on to something else inside his head.
The next day, I drove. Still over three weeks from my sixteenth birthday, I had a driving permit but not my license yet, which meant I needed an adult in the car. My mother, of course, was excited about our adventure. She insisted that I dress up, so here I was in a short-sleeved white shirt, clip-on tie, and school pants. At the stop sign for the highway, I waited for several tourist cars to pass,two of them pulling boats, and after them, a stubby, boxy motor home--rare enough to draw a second look. I waited for another car pulling a boat. My mother fidgeted. "You could have made it, Paul." "What's the hurry?" I muttered. Soon enough we neared town. Even the faded city limits sign, with its rusty bullet holes, drew my eyes today Hawk Bend, Minnesota (population 1,750), was a four-hour drive northwest from Minneapolis. It sat at the eastern edge of the Great Plains where a long-ago glacier had grated and scraped along, pushing all the rich black dirt into Iowa. In its path the glacier left behind lakes, chains of them, each surrounded by sandy shores and tall pines, lakes that were favorites of tourists from Minneapolis and St. Paul, from Iowa, the Dakotas, Illinois, and beyond. Tourists came for the water, not shopping, so Hawk Bend remained small. It was ruled by a single traffic light at the central intersection. That and two older policemen who occasionally drove the perimeter, then circled back to Main Street, where they parked at either end and sat slumped in their sedans. Judging from their posture and their sunglasses, it was unclear whether they were awake. Despite a summer surge of traffic, Hawk Bend remained a small town with lots of churches, little crime, and clear if unwritten rules of summer employment. Town kids worked in grocery stores or clothing stores. Farm kids worked at the very few jobs that remained:tossing bags at the feed mill, mixing dirt at the greenhouse, or pumping gas. There was a businessman's logic to this: town kids had the "gift of gab," but knew nothing of physical work; farm kids were too shy to sell anybody anything, but were used to hard work and were at ease around tools and machines. I knew these rules in my bones, as did my mother, but nonetheless she first wanted me to look for a job "uptown." She waited in the pickup as I trudged into Kendrigan's Clothiers on Main Street. Barely inside the store I felt the silence and smell of fresh wool and shoe leather descend on me; I blinked as my eyes adjusted to the muted light. "May I help you?" said Mr. Kendrigan himself; he leaned out from behind a male mannequin. A dapper middle-aged man, William Kendrigan was dressed à la mode in a powder-blue suit with narrow lapels and a red carnation; he had wavy bright-blond hair that was most certainly dyed. His eyes fell to my clip-on tie. I looked about the store, which was silent, museum-like; I felt my throat closing. "I'm looking for ... ties," I stammered. "I should think so," he said. He guided me briskly, hand on my shoulder, toward a wire rack of wide bright ties. "Just give a shout," he said, then returned to work on his mannequin. His touch tingled on my shoulder. Falsely I inspected the ties for what I thought was a reasonable amount of time, then slipped out the door. "Any luck?" my mother said. "No." More likely a prospect was Bob's Mart, a brand-new warehouse-sized grocery store at the edge of town dressed with colored banners that crackled and snapped in the breeze. Unlike the gloomy cheese-smelling general store on Main Street, Bob's had no worn and undulating oak-strip floors, no ice chests, no butcher's shop at the rear where older farmers still delivered dressed hogs and sides of beef--none of that. Bob's was a modern supermarket where the food came frozen and from far away in semitrailers. "I'll wait here," my mother said. For which I was grateful. Who needs his mother along when applying for jobs? Especially if she's wearing a long dress and clunky old-fashioned shoes. In our religion women dressed simply. They wore no makeup or earrings, their hair was uncut and pinned up, their dresses simple and long. Men were clean-shaven and dressed unobtrusively. Unlike the Amish, whom we considered vain with their beards and severe black hats, we were true plain style. I could spot us a mile away, however, and figured that so could everyone else. Inside Bob's Mart I squinted at the bright lights, listened to the rattle of cash registers. Each till was operated by a pert woman who looked fresh from a television show. The carry-out boys wore bow ties; all were town kids. I recognized several of them from school. Two smirked at me, whispered to each other. I edged my way to the service counter and managed, with only a slight stammer, to ask for an application. I filled it out in full public view, then waited for the assistant manager, who I was told was in the freezer room. He finally appeared wearing heavy gloves, a jacket, and a white, short-billed plastic hard hat; cool fog rolled off his back and shoulders. He glanced down at my application, then asked me a question or two. The unceasing movement, noise, and color of the store left me distracted and staring. "Later in the summer, maybe," I heard him say. I nodded dumbly and left. Afterward, my mother suggested we take a break and stop at the Dairy Queen. There we licked our cones. "Well, Paul, where to next?" she said at length. I narrowed my eyes, scanning her face for even the faintest trace of sarcasm. There was none. I thought momentarily of her life; of her growing up in a religious farm family, then marrying my father, another farmer; I thought of the transistor radio she always listened to when he was in the fields. "We could try the feed mill," she said, "but there you might as well be back on the farm." I was silent. "How about the gas stations?" she said. "Okay," I said without enthusiasm. "The Shell station first," she added. The broad yellow Shell Oil station sat at the main intersection of Hawk Bend--and its only stoplight. TheShell station had the highest gas prices in Hawk Bend, and was known as the tourist's service station. We both went inside. "Sutton?" the owner, Mr. Davies, said, "as in the dairy Suttons from east of town?" He was a large-bellied man with small, soft, damp hands. "Yes, sir," I said. "We don't get many of you ... folks looking for work in town," he added. You folks: Bible thumpers? Mr. Davies suddenly leaned closer. "How many teats on a dairy cow?" "Four," I said, though it was occasionally five, even if the extra one was shriveled and dry. He laughed largely, a Santa Claus laugh, and winked at my mother whose half smile remained unchanged. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and I could smell something sweet and strong on his breath. Whiskey, I was pretty sure. "Just checking to make sure you're a real Sutton. And your timing couldn't be better. I lost my regular day boy just last week, so the job is yours." He put out a damp hand once again. "A dollar fifty an hour, and you can start tomorrow." "I can?" I said like an idiot. I suddenly tried to free my hand from his. Behind me, my mother sucked in a small breath. "One thing," she said. "Paul wouldn't be able to work Sundays." "No problem," Mr. Davies said. "I've got a nightboy, Tim, and Kirk helps out on weekends. Be here tomorrow, eight a.m. sharp."
Of course you'll have to keep up with your chores at home, too," my father said at supper. A vein pulsed in his forehead. I nodded. "I can keep up." "I'll help him," my mother said. My father ignored her. "And the haying, too," he added. "The haying," I replied. "And your Bible studies." He leaned closer and locked his eyes onto mine. I looked down. I was studying toward "confirmation" (as the Lutherans called it) with two of our preachers, and things were not going well. "Yes, sir," I mumbled. "I'll help Paul as best I can," my mother repeated. "You have everything else," my father said to her, gesturing sharply to the house, the garden, the flock of chickens that drifted beyond the barn. "I don't see how--" "The Lord will provide," my mother said to him. "It's what you always say, yes?" Copyright © 2005 by Will Weaver
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