Thanks to editor Sheldon Lee Compton, for finding a room for this story at his wonderful Revolution John. If you’d like to skip right to the story, here is a link.
This may be called “The Crescent,” but it is based on an outline by the great West Virginian short story writer, Breece D’J Pancake. He had planned writing a story titled “Southern Crescent.” My story ticks the boxes of a narrative he outlined but never completed. Of course, I’ve not lived the same life as he, so this adaptation comes from another voice than his.
While working on this story, I spent a lot of time listening to Phil Ochs, a musician and lyricist that Pancake loved and admired. I visited railway museums and American Legion halls and asked a lot of questions. I talked with my father-in-law, a steam fitter, about steam engines and the trains that he loved to visit. My friend at work, John Kratch, provided a ton of good conversation about life aboard the C-130. His references to old films and on-board sensations make Claude come to life. Thank you.
This is also a story I began writing and drafting three years ago. Many trusted friends have read it, critiqued it along the way. Thank you Jolene McIlwaine, Gay Degani, April Bradley, and Richard Thomas. Thank you David Queen and Jonathan Baker and Jenny Stalter. I have to say, editing and revising the story itself felt at times like doing rounds with a heavy bag, but Claude himself was such good company. He is kind. He is intelligent. He deserves happiness, and I hope you love him.The outline was suggested to me by editor Sheldon Lee Compton, who is writing the Appalachian-themed Pancake biography, The Orchard Is Full of Sound, forthcoming from West Virginia University Press. Pancake had outlined five stories, in a letter dated Mar. 21 1978 to the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation, and the one I was given to run with is described therein as such:
“Southern Crescent” – is a tribute to the death of good passenger service and the death of a kind man. Claude, retired from the Air Force and wasted with stomach cancer, takes a last ride on a train he ran in steam days. In the club car he talks to a young college student coming up from Virginia to Washington for a job interview. En route the student is not willing to concede that Claude’s life is any richer than his own. Not until the two are held at knife-point in Union Station’s men’s room and Claude backs the thief away with an imaginary gun does the student realize his own gutlessness.”Douglass, Thomas E., and Breece Pancake. “The Apprenticeship of Breece D’J Pancake: An Unpublished Story, Poems, and Letters.” Appalachian Journal, vol. 19, no. 1, Appalachian Journal & Appalachian State University, 1991, pp. 45–59, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40933318.
I think that if Pancake had lived and continued to write, the depth of his female characters would have improved and become less problematic to today’s reader. Pancake’s outline implies the fellow-traveler was male, but it just made more sense to me to bring along Canese.
I did my best to honor them all: Shel, Breece, and Claude.
Thank you for visiting my blog. Here’s a link to “The Crescent” at Revolution John.
And, if you have a moment, here’s a great Phil Och’s song that I think Claude would not mind listening to, if he could.
Note: Featured image is Susan Goldsmith’s Redbud Rhapsody (Triptych) 2016. Photographed by A. E. Weisgerber at Gallery Henoch, 555 W 25th St, NYC 2/21/2017