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Inheritance of Horses

James Kilgo

Publication Year: 2013

Reconciliation and remembering are the forces at work in Inheritance of Horses. In these essays, James Kilgo seeks the common ground between his roles as a man, as husband and father, and as heir to his family legacy. Pausing at mid-life to make an eloquent, understated stand against our era's rootlessness, he honors friendship, kinship, nature, and tradition.

In the opening section, Kilgo focuses on the tension between his need for ritualistic male camaraderie and his familial obligations. Searching the woods for arrowheads, sitting around the dinner table at a hunting lodge, or careening down an abandoned logging road in a pickup, he seems ever-prone to the intrusions of domesticity and civilization: a sudden memory of miring the family station wagon in the sand on a beach trip, an encounter with a couple on their sixtieth wedding anniversary, a stream littered with trash and stocked with overbred hatchery trout.

Restlessness and responsibility converge and again clash in the second series of essays, in which domestic themes are explored in settings that range from Kilgo's own living room to Yellowstone Park and the deep waters off the Virgin Islands. Through such images as a hornet's nest, a gale-force storm, a grizzly bear, and a marlin, Kilgo gauges the strengths and vulnerabilities of his family and moves toward an existence that is part of, not apart from, the women in his life.

The long title essay composes the book's final section. Reading through a cache of letters exchanged between his two grandfathers, Kilgo recovers and revises his memories of them. What he learns of their open, passionate friendship reveals an essentially feminine aspect of their patriarchal natures, enriching, but also confusing, Kilgo's earlier understanding of who they were. As some of the more unhappy or unpleasant details of his grandfathers' lives come to light, they first heighten, then assuage, Kilgo's ambivalence about a family heritage built as much on myth as on truth.

The manner in which Kilgo makes such intensely personal concerns so broadly relevant accentuates what might be called the "told," rather than the "written," quality of Inheritance of Horses. He is foremost a storyteller, working in a style that is classically southern in its pacing and its feel for the land, but all his own in its restrained humor and lack of self-absorption. Guided by a storyteller's respect for common people and common feelings, Kilgo never prescribes or moralizes but rather brings us to places where principled choices can be made about what we need and value most in our lives.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-13

For their help in reading and preparing parts of the manuscript, the author thanks Bob Benson, Stan Lindberg, Maura Mandyck, Karen Perry, and especially Susan Aiken. Some of these essays first appeared in the following publications: "Indian Givers...

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pp. 1-4

BACK WHEN we were young enough to believe that the rest of our lives would take forever, Ocean Isle Beach was undeveloped, an empty stretch of marsh and sand, naked to the south Atlantic sun. Someone had recently built a bridge from the mainland, and if you...


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Indian Givers

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pp. 7-20

MOST of the boys I grew up with were more interested in playing baseball and football than they were in hunting and fishing and camping, but I was different. Until I was twelve or thirteen, I would rather have found an arrowhead than hit a home run. I had no more...

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Mountain Spirits

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pp. 21-32

THE MAN who told me how to find Bascomb Creek had lowered his voice to keep from being overheard by the people standing near us. "It's hard to find but it's easy to fish," he'd whispered, "and it's jumping with trout. Just keep it to yourself." That sounded too good to be true, but as soon as I got home, I called my friend Charlie...

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Coming off the Back of Brasstown Bald

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pp. 33-45

EVEN WHEN he was married, Billy Claypoole was subject to impulses that drove him from home, down the blacktop county roads through the waning afternoons, into the night. Sometimes he stopped at my house, unannounced, wanting me to go with him. Looking back...

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High Blood

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pp. 46-56

JUST ABOVE the toilet, directly in front of my eyes, hangs a framed stanza of verse: There's a race of men that don't fit in, A race that won't sit still. They break the hearts of kith and kin And roam the world at will. Singsong doggerel by Robert W. Service, but it nails Billy Claypoole like an epitaph......


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Taken by Storm

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pp. 59-67

MY GRANDFATHER spent the last thirty years of his life in bed, victim of an assortment of chronic maladies. During my childhood, he seemed to suffer one crisis after another—the deliriums of high fever, internal bleeding, and once, a stroke that left him tangled...

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Open House

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pp. 68-77

FOR the last two weeks a summer tanager has been pecking at the window in our den. All day he's at it, fluttering, breast to glass, peck, peck, peck. I know, of course, what he's doing. He is mistaking his reflection for a rival tanager. Cardinals and mockingbirds are famous...

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A Gift from the Bear

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pp. 78-96

IT'S A RARE THING these days to come face to face with a wild animal that is powerful enough to kill you. In the lower forty-eight your best bet is Glacier or Yellowstone National Park. It's not likely even in those places, but it is possible because grizzlies live there. I....

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According to Hemingway

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pp. 97-112

GOOD FISH STORIES start with good fish. Trout is the choice of most writers, which is not surprising when you consider that trout fishing traces its ancestry back to a book. Ernest Hemingway wrote the best trout-fishing story in American literature, maybe in the world, then..


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pp. 113-127

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Inheritance of Horses

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pp. 115-145

JIM KILGO loved a spirited horse and he drove with a heavy foot. You may think I'm mixing metaphors, but those are literal facts. When he was fifty-two, his friend Bob Lawton told him to "take things more quietly, strive for inward peace, make the world your brother, and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780820346274
E-ISBN-10: 0820346276
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820316406

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2013