What This River Keeps
Publication Year: 2012
In the rolling hills of southern Indiana, an elderly couple copes with the fear that their river bottom farm—the only home they've ever known—will be taken from them through an act of eminent domain. The river flowing through their land, where the old man has fished nearly every day of his life, may be dammed to form a reservoir. Their son, meanwhile, sinks deeper into troubles of his own, struggling to determine his place in a new romantic relationship and the duty he owes to his family's legacy. What This River Keeps is a beautiful and heartfelt novel that reflects upon what it means to love a place and a family, and the sometimes staggering cost of that love.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Break Away Books
I grew up on a working farm outside of Milan, Indiana, and while almost nothing of this novel is autobiographical, that land is where this story begins. I thank my parents, Richard and Mary Lou, for showing me the value of places and for their never-ending support. When I was a boy, they were the kind of parents...
The two old men slept on the bank of the dirty flooded river, and from above they would've appeared as dead men—corpses washed ashore and left to rot in the coming sun. The river, swollen and thick in the predawn light, looked capable of carrying bodies along with its load of...
Ollie drove to the hardware store in Logjam on Saturday morning because all but one lightbulb in the trailer had burned out. What were the odds of such a thing? Only the light in the hallway still worked. He could see into the bathroom with its glow, but the bedroom...
The act of leaving—motoring upstream against the current and will of the river, trailering the boat, and throwing gear into the truck bed-—broke the night's spell and made Frank worry about getting home to his wife. He left her alone many nights, even now, but always to fish. Still,...
Saturday afternoon came around, and the Shipley County Fair had been held in the outskirts of Green City. the county seat, since Sunday, so the week was about to reach its pinnacle. The 4-H'ers had held their...
As the afternoon wore on, the sun slipped below the peak of the barn roof, momentarily setting it ablaze, and then the house fell into shade and immediately cooled. Frank knew exactly what time the...
Now what do ya think of that folks?" Jerry Sallus yelled through the PA system, addressing the grandstand crowd. "He calls the car 'Every Mudder's Nightmare' and comes from Logjam! Name of...
Frank woke up and noticed the breeze lightly blowing the faded curtain that hung over the window by their bed. Ethel had sewn the curtains herself, and now the white fabric with its flowered border rose into...
Sunday morning came down hard on him, sleeping in the hot, airless bedroom of his trailer. The window stood open, the screen behind it torn and pulled away from the frame, but no breeze came through...
By Sunday afternoon it was raining again. This time it came gently over the woods to the west of them, descending slowly like a down blanket being laid over a sleeping child. The rain fell on the leaves...
By the time Summer finally reached for her milkshake, Ollie thought, enjoy your warm milk. Watching Spring go after her miniature cone was like seeing a possum turned loose on the buffet tables. Ice cream...
It was not yet five Monday morning, the window still faintly lit with predawn light, but already she lay alone in bed. She wondered how he'd managed to dress without waking her. Then again, after all the...
At six-fifty Monday morning Ollie parked his truck in the gravel lot in front of Sellers Sawmill. Even though it was still chilly he rolled his windows down so when he came out at lunch the cab wouldn't...
Frank knew the sounds of most of the vehicles likely to pull into his driveway. He was familiar with the pitch of their engines, the way their leaf springs flexed when they hit the dip in the driveway out...
Ollie turned left at Peterson's Market and drove toward her house. Was it really smart, coming out here without calling first? He wondered about that. On one hand, no one liked being surprised...
The yellow shreds of scrambled eggs swirled and made their way down the drain. He usually ate everything Ethel put in front of him, and she worried about his health as she finished the breakfast dishes...
Tuesday after work Ollie drove over to Hapgood, a pilgrim in a dented truck seeking Coondog as one might go visit a sage. If it were possible for one man alone to figure out this current situation, he felt certain...
In the middle of the week, there'd been the excitement of the straw baling. Two days after Wayne had combined the whole wheat field in several hours, Charlie Wolfing baled the straw with the help of five gangly high...
A year or even a month ago, he would've been worried sick about his truck. The dents would rust where the paint was broken and he hated driving a banged-up vehicle. But instead Ollie spent the week...
The jars three-fourths full of snapped and cleaned green beans rocked back and forth in the water of the steaming pot. The whole house smelled of steam and vegetables. The windows stood open, but no...
The ringing phone woke him up Saturday afternoon but he came to with a smile on his face. Ollie wasn't a religious man but he'd thanked God so many times last night he half expected to hear His booming...
Frank first thought, after being awakened by the horn, that the appraiser or someone like him had returned, and his initial idea was to grab the shotgun from where he'd recently leaned it in the corner of the coat...
Seeing the face in the door's window, Ollie involuntarily yelped and fell backwards, kicking over a toy. Some tall, freestanding thing, it clattered against itself, making a tremendously loud noise in the black...
The corn out this way had grown even in the last week. Now it reached the hood of the truck, and the last time he'd come out here it was barely as high as the wheel wells. Corn lining the ditches on both...
Somehow Ollie lived through Sunday. Normally he wouldn't have heralded such an accomplishment, but considering how many times he studied his black eye in the mirror and how many minutes he thought...
Loss," the preacher said, trying to look him in the eyes, "this is not something God meant for us to understand infallibly." They sat on the hard pew in the little church on the edge of Logjam. The preacher's...
Ollie hadn't gone to the sawmill Tuesday morning. Instead he woke up at the normal time, called in a vacation day, and slept two more hours. Then he filled a duffle bag with three pairs of jeans, a stack...
When Frank woke the next morning, his first thoughts were of fishing. Even before he was fully awake his mind formed lists of things he'd need to fish with Chub today. Then he opened his...
It'd lightly rained at some point during the night, and now Ollie's sleeping bag felt heavy and moist. The sun was just strong enough to heat up the damp bedding and make it stink like wet feathers. His back ached from...
The public place best suited for this kind of meeting would've been the high school auditorium over in Green City, but they'd been remodeling it all summer. Although it only lacked drywall and paint,...
Tennessee didn't look that big on the map, but it took about forever to cross it. Ollie had celebrated his transcendence as he crossed the borders into Kentucky and Tennessee, but now he drove past the sign...
They rode home after the meeting along county roads dark and deserted. The moon hung nearly full overhead and its blue hue illuminated the gravel they drove on, a ribbon of light. Ethel sat next to him in the...
After sleeping in his truck bed again, homeless man style, Ollie woke feeling blue and mean. It'd gotten hot early, the sun waking him by cooking his brain in its pan. When he jerked the damp sleeping bag...
Frank sat astraddle the three-wheeler and followed the forlorn trail into the woods. He drove slowly, the bumps and ruts of the path traveling up through the tires and suspension and shaking his sinewy frame...
A few cars drove by him at this late and lonely hour, but Ollie couldn't figure out where in the hell they might be going. Not in this quiet little place, anyway. Not here in Logjam, where the Dairy Queen...
Prank couldn't bring himself to drive out to Chub's place. Dust was settling on the reels' oiled levelwinds even as he thought about it, but he couldn't make himself go out there to save them. He wasn't ready...
In his dream suddenly there came a knocking. He was on the ocean, in this big-ass cruise ship, one with as much going on inside as outside, and then something was knocking on it. He was on the boat with Spring, of...
Frank knew he needed to check on Ethel, but he was still worked up, so instead he drove around and examined his fields. He'd been as worthless as tits on a boar since the meeting and he would've admitted...
Sleeping two hours before rising to work among saw blades after the craziness of the past week wouldn't have been what a medical doctor or some other learned person might have recommended, but it was...
Ethel heard them first. She hadn't started frying the chicken yet, but she'd chopped up the potatoes, onions and eggs for the potato salad. There hadn't been much on the table at noontime, and she wanted to...
The chain had been up earlier, of course, but somehow he'd forgotten about it. Or maybe he just assumed it'd be taken down in preparation for his unscheduled, unannounced visit. Now they waited in the truck...
Of course the visit was something she was anxious to converse about. She'd waited months just to see Ollie and now he'd given her so many additional things to say about his new family. But at the...
Here was one more thing Ollie believed about life and how to live it: when it starts getting better, you don't dare back down. Quite the opposite-you pour gas on the fire. Add a cup of water to the...
By Thursday evening it felt like it was fish or die. He'd sunk as low as he'd ever been, but he suspected that he could get even lower and probably would in the coming months. He needed to mow the yard, ...
Throughout the day trucks hauled in mud-streaked logs of various sizes and types and stacked them around the sawmill in numerous piles, marked and labeled on the sawn butts. The skid loaders were...
Frank drove the dirt lane alongside Chesterton's cornfield, heading down to the river, the truck bumping and sliding in and out of ruts. What had happened back on the road left him edgy and tight, but in...
It rose through the trees as surely and as steadily as tomato plants growing .in June. First it surrounded the trunks of the sycamores, then it came farther and slipped over the roots of the oaks and maples. They were...
Ollie was home now, and worn out from work, but still he sat in his parked truck and smelled deeply of the plush upholstery. What did they call this material? Who cared. It was soft, deep blue, and...
He reclined asleep in his old chair, wizened ever further now by additional years and the stress of relocating most of what he'd accumulated and kept after nearly eighty years in this world. The...
Ollie saw the old man walk out of the garage as soon as he turned down their lane in the new subdivision. He was surprised to see him outside. Then he noticed the boat hooked to the pickup. Now...
The clouds to the west looked heavy and dark again, and Frank drove with the windows down, as he always had. The air blowing through the cab felt charged and it seemed likely another round ofstorms was...
Ethel stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window. One of the neighbors was outside, pushing her daughter on a swing they'd built just last week. The little girl was smiling and laughing, and her...