October 27, 2020

No News from Doodlebug Island, by William F. Jordan


One of the more fascinating aspects of being in the newspaper editing and publishing

business is that it provides a ring-side seat to the news or to the lives of those who make

the news. Equally interesting is the business of publishing biographies, but either or both

of these fails to rise to the interest level involved in publishing autobiographies. Here are

recounted not only the factual results of someone’s life but his or her more intimate

feelings, reactions, and attitudes about those results. More intimate yet are the regrets,

blunted dreams, wishes unrealized, achievements missed, or ambitions unfulfilled It is

these, I’ve found, that are better descriptors of character than all the achievements,

successes, or notoriety that fill most of the pages within an autobiography.

Veoma Shoup, for example, writes poignantly about having fallen in love at sixteen

with a young man struggling to become a successful musician. Knowing how strongly

her father objected, she eloped with the young man, and, at the end of the month it took

her father to find her and have the marriage annulled, she was pregnant. Destitute, she

had little choice but to return home where, in the course of things, she gave birth to a

baby girl who would one day become as handsome as she.

“I bitterly mourned the loss of my child’s father, my darling Cole,” she writes. “I’m

sure he wrote, but letters to me were intercepted and destroyed. Only the presence of our

daughter kept me from harming myself. I lived for her. Eventually, I married a man twice

my age, one whose successful automobile dealership provided financial security, but the

truth was Cole remained my life love.”

It appears the choices we make or that are made for us have a binary effect in that they

establish a path along which life flows. Choosing a career, a partner, a location closes the

door on other careers, partners, and locations Born, perhaps, from the limited time given to a single life, it becomes

incumbent to decide on a career, a life partner, a location, or whatever else, and that at the very time an

individual has unlimited choice in each of these things. Or does he? Actually, one would

appear to cancel out the other. And, whether the result is regret or remorse, most people

feel in their heart an almost nostalgic lack of complete fulfillment wondering about the

roads not taken, or those blocked to them.

Jim Perkins confesses in his account of his life that as a child he was endlessly

fascinated with the study of geography and planned a career in cartography. His father,

however, arranged an appointment to West Point for him where, upon graduation, Jim

found himself a frontline officer facing German Panzers in the Second World War. His

leadership and bravery won him advancement and citations together with an eventual

Pentagon position in Strategic Services where his talents landed him in Procurement. “It

was the sort of job you get caught up in because needs and innovation change everything

so quickly.”

But there had been a wistfulness in his voice, so I waited for him to continue. “One

day during the period we were carpet bombing Vietnam, I became aware of the

endlessness of my situation, the wasted effort and wasted materiel for which I and my

colleagues were responsible. I resigned and took a job with GE. Looking back, I don’t

know whether or not I would have contributed much to the world of mapping, but I

would have found that part of myself—perhaps the most important part—that seems to

cast a melancholy shadow on my life.”

In something of a variation of that theme, Brad Peterson writes in his autobiography

that acting as a trail guide taking dudes muleback to the bottom of Grand Canyon was an

absorbing if not altogether satisfying job in that it put him around livestock and other

cowboys. “The old-fashioned ranch life was what I and those other waddies wanted,

bustin’ broncs, herdin’ range cattle, ropin’, brandin’, castratin’, gitten bucked off, broken

up. But that kind of life was used up and gone, so we made do with mules and dudes, and

each other.”

An Island dentist, Glenn Rhymer, who is popular with children because he’s good at

allaying their fears and making them laugh, has written, “From my earliest memories, I

always wanted to run away and join the circus where I could be a clown. Soooo, if I ever

turn up missing . . .”

It isn’t given me to know if there’s anything to notions regarding reincarnation, but

judging from the secret or thwarted ambitions of people whose autobiographies I publish,

such a thing as living multiple times would be a grand idea, that is, if a person could

come with a check list and a tickler file!

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