Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Joseph Holt writes about his debut story collection, Golden Heart Parade, out now from Santa Fe Writers’ Project.
If Golden Heart Parade were a family member, it would be your bachelor uncle. He is generous and kind, welcoming, warm—though you suspect you’ve never known him entirely. Your bachelor uncle missed Thanksgiving with the family, but your mom assures you he’s doing fine. He’s keeping busy, she says, though it’s always something new with him. Little things become big things. He’s always working into or out of some jam. And then the next holiday comes around and here’s your bachelor uncle, chipper and cool, spinning his follies into comedy.
Your bachelor uncle was the youngest child, and a wild child at that. But he never hurt anyone, not intentionally. He is a calm person, he is nonviolent. If anything, he sunk his four-wheeler in the mud, or he melted the soles of his boots in a campfire. No, your bachelor uncle hasn’t settled into adulthood the way his siblings have, but why should he? He doesn’t have a mortgage. He’s not putting kids through school. He doesn’t need to plan ahead (though perhaps he should), and he seems perfectly happy to be improvising his life.
Maybe your bachelor uncle is onto something: he’s keeping things simple, and he appears free from stress and strife. No moping, no casting blame. His attitude is to live and let live. Your bachelor uncle seeks no moral authority, he is nonjudgmental. (You suspect, perhaps, that neither does he want others judging him.) He is always game for conversation with a stranger. You imagine cats and wild rabbits are drawn to your bachelor uncle, trusting him instinctively.
He doesn’t follow a schedule. He doesn’t heed a company boss. He makes food in the slow cooker, and he accumulates auto parts that maybe someday he’ll use. It would take a lot to make your bachelor uncle worry. Things will turn out fine, and if they don’t, he’ll adjust. Take the time he broke his ring finger in a turbine; it’s been crooked ever since, but his only handicap is that now it’s harder protecting his cards playing poker.
Your bachelor uncle is getting older, but is he getting wiser? To be honest, he doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes. Living alone, he has no one to hold him accountable. And his life must be more complex than you understand. Admittedly, he doesn’t tell the family everything, and much of his life goes undocumented. But when you’re together, you recognize a rare quality in your bachelor uncle: cheer. Others tend to guard their cheer, but not him. He gives what he can so the cheer will be multiplied, never wishing to keep it all for himself.
I’m a bachelor uncle myself, which might be why I’ve chosen this analogy. But I wasn’t thinking of me when I listed those details above. Instead, I was thinking about my own bachelor uncle, Wallace Arnold, or Wally, as we knew him. Wally was my mom’s brother, a farmer and a cattleman, a barfly, a junk collector, and in later life a bit of a recluse. Wally died five years ago, though it doesn’t seem he’s been gone that long.
Wally was hard to know—as a bachelor uncle, he was fairly private. Yet when he died at age 53, he received plenty of tributes. That guy made a lot of jokes, his friends said. He knew how to have fun. But he was stubborn, they said, and he didn’t take help very well. Nonetheless, you couldn’t ask for a more loyal friend. I was told that when someone would corner Wally to gossip, grouse, or badmouth, he would excuse himself without even allowing the other person to finish their sentence. Wally was a hopeful person, and he didn’t want to be infected by the cynicism of others.
I liked Wally a lot when he was alive. He took me as I was, never judging or criticizing or wishing I was anything else. He was a fair person, honest and humane. And while he was imperfect—he could be self-destructive and self-sabotaging—his intentions were always pure. One season, the rumor goes, he brought out a calf too late and sheltered it in his concrete basement, where it would at least survive the freezing temperatures. Abhorrent practice for a cattle farmer, but it shows Wally trying to make things right to the best of his ability.
If my book hadn’t been called Golden Heart Parade, it was going to be Your Nightmare. That was its name when the manuscript was accepted for publication. But Your Nightmare was too negative, the wrong tone, so I wrote a new story called “Golden Heart Parade,” and we decided that would make a better title. To me, the phrase suggests a string of characters who might fail and flounder, but who are motivated by genuine goodwill. I believe we’re all trying our best, despite our limitations. And if my book carries the spirit of any one person, it would be that of Wally Arnold, my own easy-to-love bachelor uncle.
Joseph Holt is author of the story collection Golden Heart Parade. He grew up in South Dakota and graduated from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. Holt teaches at Catapult and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His writing has appeared in The Sun, Prairie Schooner, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, and has received an AWP Intro Journals Award. His website is holt.ink.