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The Attic

A Memoir

Harnack, Curtis

Publication Year: 2011

In The Attic, his sequel to the classic We Have All Gone Away, Curtis Harnack returns to his rural Iowa homeplace to sift through an attic full of the trash and treasures left behind by the thirteen children in two generations who grew up in the big farmhouse.
      The adult Harnack had been making pilgrimages to his past from various parts of the country for thirty-plus years; now the death of an uncle and the disposal of an estate bring him home once more. The resonant diaries, church bulletins, photos, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia in the attic allow him to rediscover both personal and universal truths as he explores the enduring legacies of home, family, and community.
      Finally, discovering a cache of letters written home while he was in the Navy in the mid 1940s, he confronts a stranger—his younger self. Harnack’s “dream-pod journey . . . from who I am now to how it once was for me” tells the life story of a close-knit family and extends this story to our own journeys through our own memory-filled attics.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vi-vii

One's earliest years tend to leave the deepest impressions, and most writers draw upon that stock of primal experience, especially at the start. I found that I could write best about Iowa if! remained physically distant from it, though it was no conscious choice, just the accident of where jobs took me. I always regarded myself as an Iowan who happened to live elsewhere, who returned home as often as he could. The truths one discovers in ...

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Picture a House

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pp. 3-17

Time once again for a visit home, to the Iowa farm forty miles northeast of Sioux City where I grew up. My ailing Uncle Jack, now in his eighties, lives there alone. For thirty or more years I've been making the pilgrimage to my past from various parts of the country, each time telling myself, probably this is the last. ...

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Mining the Family Lode

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pp. 18-32

It's happening: the white china kitchen doorknob is in my adult hand where my child fingers once reached. I am pushing the door in to the same sound of squeaking hinges. To the left is the crank-handle wall phone, black tulip mouthpiece mute to the conversations of decades. It remains hanging there as part of the furnishings, though long ago the line was connected to a dial phone. ...

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Called Back

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pp. 33-44

The next time I returned, Uncle Jack was approaching his eighty-fifth birthday; he seemed much thinner and shorter. I recalled the big man he had been most of his life, six feet tall and weighing 220 pounds or more. Now in addition to his gaunt physique, he had lost that inner vitality and optimism which kept him young and up to the minute, a keen witness and participant of the day. ...

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The Glorious Fourth

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pp. 45-53

... During the worst Depression years of the early thirties, civil disobedience-and occasional riots-were frequent throughout Iowa because so many were losing their farms. The idea of nationhood seemed to have become so feeble for most people that to have a holiday like the Fourth of July for patriotic reassertion (Armistice Day was another) gave us children the sense of being ...

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pp. 54-69

Here was a Remsen Bell-Enterprise, carefully saved; was one of us in it? Extra copies of an issue containing a family obituary were often laid away in their brown wrappers by way of reverent memorial. I can seldom resist poring over an old newspaper, but it would be a time consuming diversion leading me away from the task at hand. ...

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pp. 70-88

Soon after establishing the prairie homestead, Grandfather made use of his carpentry skills by helping to build a white frame church. A mellow-sounding bell, which had been forged in an eastern Iowa foundry, was set in the belfry. But by the late 1930s our minister talked of replacing the edifice with a new house of worship because at present ...

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Bertha's Time

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pp. 89-109

Under the eaves, where as children Lois and I never penetrated, we now find early rural school readers and exercise books, German language children's tales, a set of etched fingerbowls, a broken double-globed kerosene lamp of the kind antique dealers call "Gone With the Wind," and two diaries by my father's sisters: Elizabeth's covers her first year at ...

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Native of the Wild West

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pp. 110-133

Our family's leavings in the attic, which may have looked like ordinary household junk, still held resonances for me, and our efforts to dislodge it seemed a desecration. Lois's husband, Rex, being an outsider, was best equipped for the task at hand, though he respected what she and I were going through. Indeed, he had done much the same in his ...

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This Stranger in Uniform

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pp. 134-176

In the attic we unearthed several bundles of envelopes neatly tied with household string. All had been franked with "Free" scribbled in the upper right-hand comer. I recognized my childishly open handwriting, knew this was correspondence from my hitch in the Navy. Evidently Mother had saved every single scrap I wrote. ...

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Now the Future

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pp. 177-190

Once the farmhouse is completely emptied, the barren attic, each wing a cavernous A-frame, seems a lot like the hayloft of the barn at winter's end: dusty, bigger than it looked when crammed full. Our voices echo, footsteps sound like the gait of giants. The round metal watertank, now empty of course, dominates as a fixture. Water used to be ...

Family Tree

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p. 191

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299667
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295461

Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 743802278
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Attic

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Subject Headings

  • Harnack, Curtis, 1927- -- Childhood and youth.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Farm life -- Iowa.
  • Iowa -- Social life and customs.
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