By Joe Paradis
Published in The Burg September 16, 2021
(The Wordsmith Bookshoppe at 235 E. Main St. in Galesburg is planning a promotional event (TBD) for a recently published book of local interest with the catchy title, LOOKING FOR CORNBREAD, Coming of Age in Small Town America Circa 1950s-60s. The author, Joe Paradis, was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Galesburg on March 8, 1947.)
Joe spent his earliest childhood, first in Wataga, then Oneida, then Cameron before his family settled Avon in 1952. There, Joe grew from childhood until he left the area in September of 1970 at the age of twenty three.
The book provides a richly detailed account of small town life in the 1950s-60s, including the intricate social norms and personal associations that hold a community together. As a bonus, the narrative repeatedly makes a direct connection to the dynamics of the 2020s, showing how the forces of today have impacted the life of those earlier decades.
The passages that bring illuminate small town life back in the day are some of the most enjoyable parts of the narrative, yet the book it is not just an historical account of a town but a story about a boy who struggles through his childhood challenges as he comes of age.
The story begins in a cramped apartment above an auto repair shop in Wataga, Illinois. An alcoholic, frequently violent father, hops from one manual labor job to another before landing the family in the town of Avon. It is here where a boy grows from the age of five to early manhood and where he is imprinted with the beginnings of his world view.
At an early age, he encounters abuse, loneliness and a sense of alienation (toward community and even family). Yet, this is not a sob story. There is much joy, devilish humor, as well as the already mentioned colorful descriptions of small town life that leaven the narrative. To quote from the book’s Foreword written by Linda Tucker, Associate Professor of English, at Southern Arkansas University “… if you’re looking for a memoir that captures the culture of Mayberry, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a sophisticated narrative that delights and dismays readers throughout in remarkably unpredictable ways, then prepare to be engaged by this impressive work from beginning to end.”
In sum, this memoir is a rich, detailed and gritty account of a past era, wrapped around a story of triumph, where a young man had every encouragement to fail and did so repeatedly--before finding his cornbread.
(If you would like to nominate someone for The Book Corner Page of if you have an idea for it, please contact Jeff Holt at (309) 368-0303.)