Side-Yard Superhero and Why I Wrote It
Posted Jan 27, 2012 00:00
Side-Yard Superhero drifts softly back to small-town life in the 1950s and 60s. The small town, DeGraff, Ohio, has a population of 900 citizens. Although several of DeGraff�s eccentric and lovable characters come to life throughout the book�s richly descriptive narrative, the story arc is Bernie Jones, a wheelchair-bound boy with severe cerebral palsy. Bernie has no control over any part of his body, except for his eyes. Rickie, the book�s narrator, delivers the newspaper to Bernie, who spends his days confined in his small side yard. Rickie and Bernie�s daily late afternoon ritual involves Rickie reading Bernie the Dick Tracy comic strip and telling Bernie about his day in school.
(Portrait by Jolie Leeds)
Author Rick D. Niece
A young trick-or-treater brings
the Side-Yard Superhero to life.
Bernie’s world is his small side yard. As a result, Bernie is a daydreaming fantasizer whose fanciful plans are usually impractical strokes of unimaginable invention. But, in time, Bernie’s vicarious adventures through Rickie grow into real adventures with Rickie.
Their friendship begins when Rickie is nine years old and ends when he leaves DeGraff to attend college. During their last time together, Rickie promises Bernie that they will see each other again. But their lives drift apart. The book concludes with the adult Rick returning to Ohio to visit Bernie in a nursing home, the two having not seen one another for over 40 years.
I wanted to write this book for several reasons. First, I never forgot about Bernie Jones and his influence on me. He was my side-yard superhero then and now. I frequently include stories, within the large number of speeches and other talks I give as a university president, about Bernie, DeGraff, and DeGraff�s eccentric citizens. Also, my wife encouraged me, over the years, to write about Bernie and DeGraff before I start forgetting the details. But even with those motivations, pen still did not touch paper.
Then, I received a late-night telephone call from my mother. She told me that she knew where Bernie was now living. A flood of childhood memories washed over me. After my long-overdue visit with Bernie, the writing began immediately.
Side-Yard Superhero is an 'automythography,' a word I did not coin but have attempted to define for literature. An automythography, as I define it, is a work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember. It is an iridescent memory based upon the author’s truth and personal narrative. For example, a soap bubble is iridescent. As it floats away, it changes colors and shapes, but it is still the same soap bubble. Our memories, and the way we remember them, do the same thing. When our memories drift away from us, they change colors and shapes. But they are still the same memories.
Side-Yard Superhero describes the carefully-pocketed memories of my childhood, memories that I treasure. For readers, I hope it captures the essence of innocence and charm- that sense of community-that existed several decades ago for me. I want for Side-Yard Superhero to remind others of life as it used to be for them as well, life in all of its idyllic and nostalgically remembered glory. For younger readers, I hope Side-Yard Superhero describes a time they never knew, one that they can now experience through my writing. Also, I hope the book inspires others to write their own automythographies. We all have an automythography waiting dormant within us. We each have a life story that deserves to be told.
I am proud of Side-Yard Superhero because it is a book that grandparents can give to their grandchildren, or grandchildren can give to their grandparents. Neither will be embarrassed by the language or content, and they will share in the joy of times remembered.
Please visit my website, www.RickNieceBooks.com , for more information. You can also read about books two and three in my Fanfare for a Hometown series.
- Rick D. Niece, Ph.D.
President, University of the Ozarks