My Grandfather’s Notebook… Review

3-star rating

 

 

According to the biographical notes JoeSue Ruterman provides, her grandfather, Charles Gus David Faught had an interesting early life. Born in 1873 in Lincoln, Missouri, his parents, Henry and Martha, took him and his baby sister Bell to Texas by wagon train in 1876. Charles’s mother died in an accident and her heart-broken father took Charlie and his sister Bell back to his in-laws because he didn’t feel he could raise them. Five years later, at the ripe old age of eight, Charlie joined a wagon train back to Texas to try to find his father. Henry found Charlie and they spent some time together, but Henry was rumored to be involved with a gang of bank robbers and he wanted better for his son.

Years later, Charlie had moved to Arizona and was working for the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, otherwise known as the Hashknife outfit. He continued working as an Arizona cowboy for the rest of his life. He married and divorced twice, along the way becoming a Mormon and having a total of nine children.

Charlie never went to school but taught himself to read and write. He must have also developed a great desire for learning and literature, as I’ll show below. During his adult life, he kept a notebook—or Note-Book, as he called it—in which he wrote stories, poems about his life, the lives of the people around him, and his philosophies of life, hence the full title of the book, My Grandfather’s Notebook of Western Tales, Poems and Stories in His Own Handwriting.

Given her own age, and the age and condition of the notebook, Ruterman decided to have it reproduced in a more lasting form. She chose to have the pages reproduced as-is, rather than in a more formal, type-written format, in order to capture the full experience of the notebook. This means that copies of a few pages are fragmentary, and the lines of text occasionally stray into the margins of the original paper.

Virtually all of the work in this book is in poetic form, even the stories. The fact that Charlie Faught’s education was highly informal at best shows up in a number of ways. His spelling is often non-standard—much is spelled mutch, angel is spelled angle, and so on—and his poetry is hardly refined, certainly nothing that a T.S. Eliot, say, would respect. But the work was often a first and only draft, with some minor edits and corrections squeezed in. Some of the language is, by today’s standards, quite racist, and the philosophies simple. Faith is an important part of the work, but not all of it serious, as in “An Elder’s Life,” about the life of a traveling Mormon missionary. While “Down in Oklahoma” has nothing good to say about the state, “The Willow Creek Wedding” is a romp of misunderstandings and happy endings.

Charlie Faught must have come across much more serious literature from time to time, and some of it made enough of an impression on him that he copied it, unattributed, into the notebook as well. A few examples: Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees,” Ben Jonson’s “Simplex Munditiis,” John Clare’s “Written in Northampton County Asylum,” and Sir Robert Ayton’s “To an Inconstant One.”

I’ve given this book a 3-star rating, but I’m not sure what that really means, or if any rating is even appropriate. My Grandfather’s Notebook… provides some insight into the life of one Arizona cowboy in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it can hardly be called a historical document. Nor is it biographical, or clearly autobiographical. It might be possible for another reader to draw more, and more insightful, conclusions about Charlie Faught the man; I found that I had to do too much work trying to translate his sometimes hard to read handwriting, work through his spelling errors, and deal with the sing-song rhythms of his poetry.

In the end, the book is exactly what Ruterman says it is: a reproduction of her grandfather’s notebook, and perhaps we shouldn’t make more of it than that.

Thanks for leaving a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.