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“You Should Write a Book” by LeRoy Chatfield

Lucille & Ray Chatfield  Mont LaSalle c.1952


You Should Write a Book


by LeRoy Chatfield


I admired my father and looked up to him. I knew he was not Superman, but almost.

He was a serious person, not one for small talk or quick with a smile or a conversationalist,  but he was quick with numbers and  could fix anything. He could operate heavy equipment, drive trucks and  tractors and harvesters, fly an airplane and repair them all.  When he shook your hand you felt the vice of his grip because he was   strong.  He feared no man.

To  this  day, I remember when  my father arrived   home from work with his shirt off and walked into the kitchen.  His upper torso was flaming red, it glowed. We looked at him in disbelief, it was awful looking! He had been replacing a broken piece of machinery underneath a harvester when the radiator plug came loose and the steaming water poured out onto his chest.

Not a word! He crawled out from underneath the rig, got into his car and drove the ten miles home to put salve on the second degree burns.   Seek medical attention?  Workers compensation?  Take a few days off? Not my Dad, not in the 1940s!  He went to work early the next morning. He was Superman.

But as much as I admired him, I sensed that his lack of a formal education bothered him and he felt it held him back.   One time,  on our way to work, he told me that when I grew up he expected me to get an education and make something of myself and not end up like him. He wanted me to do better, he said.

When my father talked to me, one on one, with his voice firm,  I listened but did not respond  because during those years of my childhood when my father spoke to me it was because he was telling me something and I should listen,  we were not having a discussion.  But this time, I knew it was  different,  he expected an answer.  I said I would. He seemed satisfied.

This might have even been the same day when he pulled off to the side of the road and  asked me if I wanted to drive the pickup.  Oh, did I ever!

On another childhood occasion I remember my father talking  to me, one on one.   I was attending a Boy Scout Jamboree in  Colusa and, along with a dozen or so other Scouts, I would receive a Merit Badge of some kind.  At the ceremony, my father came right up and stood in front of me, he waited a minute, then  pinned the badge on my uniform.  He put out his hand to shake mine,  and said,  Son, I am proud of you!  I never forgot that moment.

(During my childhood, even though my given name was LeRoy, everyone called me Son. If you can believe this, I never used my given name until after I left home to attend boarding school.)

Fast forward 72 years to July 12, 2018.

In yesterday’s mail, I received a signed contract and a letter of congratulations from the University of New Mexico Press regarding a book they agreed to publish: To Serve the People: The Long Pilgrimage of LeRoy Chatfield.

University of California, San Diego Professor Emeritus, Jorge Mariscal, – a friend of mine – had offered to serve as editor of a book if I would agree  he could make selections of my writing from the journals and essays I had written   during the period 1960 to 2017. He said he would  arrange the selections  more or less chronologically  and add  a short commentary about each one. He said it would make an interesting book, especially for students, and with his contacts he was confident he could find a publisher.

Even though I liked much of what I had written, I was not at all confident that it was book-worthy or that any publisher would be interested.  If left to me, I knew a book would never happen and told Jorge so.  LeRoy, there will be a book!  OK, I said, let’s give it a try. 

We now have a contract from UNM Press that states our book will be published in  2019.  Imagine that!

Life is strange, unpredictable, happy and sad – yes, even funny  – as it runs  its course to death. I did not plan to write a book, never in a million years!  I wrote because I wanted to write – things that happened to me; people that I met; things I thought about; things I wanted to explain to others; things that bothered me; things I remembered from long ago.

But a book? No! And yet . . .   there was one other time my father spoke to me, one on one,  that belongs in this conversation and may even have played a role in the outcome.

 I must have been about 13 years old and whether for a school assignment, or just because I want to do so, I wrote an account of a road trip my family took in 1945 from Parker Arizona to Tehachapi California.

Near the end of World War 11, my father was a free lance “contract harvester” in California and Arizona. He had leased a Massey-Harris harvester and a large flat bed truck to transport the harvester wherever he found work with farmers who needed their wheat, barley, corn or rice fields harvested.  On this particular occasion, he had a contract to  harvest the fields of the Japanese American concentration camp in Poston Arizona. When that work was finished, he found another opportunity in Tehachapi California, a distance of 300 miles.

My father drove the truck carrying the harvester, my mother drove the black Plymouth coupe behind the truck with my brother and me  in the back seat. My brother, two years younger,  had come down with the mumps and of course my mother was very worried about him and also whether we would even make it to Tehachapi.  Sad to report, that is about all I can now remember about my short story – probably a dozen pages or so –  but the trip turned out to be a long and arduous journey filled with many ups and downs associated with World 11 tires, gas rationing,  cars without air conditioning in the dead of summer, a nervous mother and a sick child following a flat bed truck going no faster than 45 MPH.

I showed the story to my mother who liked it and she gave it to my father to read when he came home from work. My father read it, paused for a bit to take it in and said: Son, you should write a book!

Whether “To Serve the People” is what my father had in mind, I cannot say.












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