I care, that’s who!
My name is Larry F. Sommers. I am a writer, seeking fresh meaning in our common past.
The “F” stands for Franklin, a name chosen to honor the younger of two uncles who died flying bombers in the Second World War.
I was born in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1945. Galesburg is the nearest city to Knoxville, our family’s hometown. In the center of Knoxville stands a square-hewn timber cabin, the first permanent structure in Knox County, built by storekeeper John G. Sanburn in 1832. This historic cabin was found in October 1963 under the board siding of my grandmother’s house, when she began to tear it down. Grandma suspended demolition and donated the cabin to the village. It was restored to near-original condition, and it now serves as a mini-museum.
My boyhood was spent in Streator, Illinois, a city of 17,500 at the time. As a ten-year-old, I frequented the Streator Public Library—a lovely classical building donated by Andrew Carnegie—reading science fiction by Lester Del Rey, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke.
I sometimes read half a book while sitting on the cool floor between bookshelves, then checked it out and took it home to finish it. My next-door neighbor and I invested boyish enthusiasm in the U.S. space program and looked forward to the American launch of the first artificial Earth satellite. But on October 4, 1957, the Russians beat us to space with Sputnik. Mere words cannot tell my angst and indignation at that event.
We moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where I attended junior high and high school. There was a wonderful teacher, Leo Gebhardt, whose passion for American history infected me and many of my classmates. All the big names of our national past became personal friends. (“… and at this crucial point, when our new country needed its credit and its currency stabilized, who should come along? Your friend and mine . . . Alexander Hamilton!”)
Mr. Gebhardt died too early, only in his forties, but not before I had the blessings of his inspiring tutelage.
Later, I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the Vietnam War.
In middle age, I became a Christian.
If you’ve read this far, perhaps you know why I think that our very lives are part of history, and that history is a part of our lives. The past is alive to me, and I hope to bring it alive to others—both for the valuable lessons it can teach us, and for the sheer entertainment and fascination it conveys.