Sanburn’s Cabin

For the past sixty-five years I have lived as a Wisconsinite. I’ve grown to love the Badger state—its saucy lingo full of bubblers and hotdishes, its full spectrum of tasty cheeses and sausages, and its gentle yet unmistakably corrugated landscape. 

But through age twelve, I was all Illinois. My family was Illinois before me. Flatlanders, every one of us.

Grandma LaFollette

My mother’s parents, Alvin and Berneice LaFollette, dwelt in a rambling, single-story house. It sat on the south side of the town square in Knoxville, Illinois, facing the old abandoned courthouse across the square. Knoxville was once the county seat of Knox county, but it did not grow enough to keep the distinction. When I was a boy, in the 1950s, it was a town of about two thousand souls.

My grandparents’ house must have been built bit by bit, expanded over the years by adding rooms. The dining room and kitchen were down a step from the living room and bedrooms. You had to go outdoors to get to the indoor bathroom, which was not only behind the house but also down a flight of stairs; it was basically a plumbed storm cellar, with toilet, shower, and laundry tubs. The whole house, except for this unique subterranean bathroom, was clad in weathered brown clapboard siding.

Time passed. Grandpa died. About 1963, Grandma needed to sell the property and take up a more practical and frugal mode of living. Buyers would want the lot only if the tired old house were first removed. Grandma found a man who agreed to tear down the house for free in exchange for the salvage—a good deal, she figured. 

Surprise!

Demolition began. All went well. But when the man took his crowbar to the kitchen, what he found beneath the clapboard siding was not framing studs but the solid walls of an old log cabin—square-hewn timbers, saddle-notched to lock at the corners, no nails needed. Gaps were chinked with prairie clay and hay.

Everything stopped while local historians scratched their heads and searched old records. It turned out that Grandma’s kitchen had once been the first permanent structure built by a white man in Knox County. Pioneer settler John Sanburn built it in 1832 to house his general store. Naturally, it also became the town’s first post office.

All that was well and good, but Grandma still needed the land clean so she could sell it. She donated the cabin to the village on condition that it be moved from her land. They jacked it up, put it on wheels, and eased it across the square. There it sits to this day, beside the old courthouse. 

The parking lot where Grandma’s house once stood.

Grandma sold her land and went to live with three daughters and a son-in-law in Albuquerque. In the old place, where we held family picnics in the big yard under Knox County’s largest elm tree, where we caught lightning bugs after dark, where the town band serenaded us with Sousa from the bandstand in the square on Saturday nights, and where we met the Yule with aunts and uncles and cousins around the roaring kerosene heater in the ramshackle old house—there now stands a jim-dandy asphalt parking lot.

The Past Restored

Sanburn’s cabin today.
Notches.

Meanwhile, the old cabin on the north side of the square has come under the stewardship of the Knox County Historical Sites, Inc., which also maintains the old courthouse, the old jail, and the Knox County Historical Museum. The cabin has been restored to what it must have been like in John Sanburn’s heyday. 

In the store.

Last weekend, having an hour free during the course of a Knox College class reunion, my wife and I met Ron Poyner, current president of the Knox county Historical Sites, Inc., for a quick tour of the cabin.

It was a poignant moment for me, being inside an 1832 general store which I had last visited when it was a modern 1950s-style kitchen featuring great meals served by Grandma LaFollette. Aunt Sue made peanut butter sandwiches for me in that kitchen. Aunt Linda, still a kid herself, sat with me and my sister and our cousins at the “kids’ table” in that kitchen while the grownups ate their Christmas dinner in the dining room. 

Cabin as kitchen, Christmas 1952. Clockwise from lower left: Cousin Steve, Aunt Sue, Aunt Linda, my sister Cynda, and me.

Surprise, Too

Ron offered to show me also the second floor of the old courthouse. “We’ve restored the courtroom to the way it was in the old days,” said Ron, who is also Knoxville’s chief of police. “It’s where the trial was conducted that resulted in the only legal hanging in Knox county history.” 

I wish I had thought to ask how many illegal hangings there were, but my mind was on other things. I knew the old courthouse had also been the scene of a fierce legal fight over Susan “Aunt Sukey” Richardson, a black woman who had fled a brutal situation of indentured servitude that was tantamount to slavery. Although the legal proceedings came out muddled, Aunt Sukey did stay free and lived out her life in nearby Galesburg and later, Chicago.

The old courtroom where Aunt Sukey’s fate was argued.

Naturally I wanted to see and photograph the old courtroom, which was on the second floor of the stately courthouse. So up the steep, narrow stairway we went. I viewed the courtroom and shot a picture. 

Then, as I turned to go back downstairs, a photo on the wall stopped me in my tracks.

CONTINUED NEXT TUESDAY.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers

Your New Favorite Writer

Recon: A Reminiscence

September 3, 1969

“S-1,” says the copilot’s voice on interphone. “Rotate.” 

The nose lifts, the wheels leave the ground. 

The Boeing RC-135M tilts skyward, pressing the twenty of us into our harnesses chestwise, for we have swiveled to face aft while slipping the surly bonds of earth. A Renaissance tune piped by Ed Flaspoehler on his recorder whistles bravely through the bluster of four jet engines and the whoosh of the fuselage as it parts the air.

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder. 

Marking time. One more bottomless day. 

But coming soon, for me: Liberation from all this glory.

“S-2.” We cross an unseen threshold in the sky, en route to our twelve-hour recon mission. Our faces glint green and orange from the freq scopes and nixie tubes that surround us in the darkness of the cabin. We are airmen of the 6990th Security Squadron, U.S. Air Force, flying out of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

The Allied Powers defeated Japan in 1945, my birth year. Innocent of the war just behind me, I was a bright-eyed, precocious little learner—smiling, always merry, long-winded and talkative, yet also shy and timid. 

Now it’s 1969. In twenty-four years I have picked up a lot of baggage, have grown a hard shell wrapped in a muffling batt of sullen. Well, you need to get through some way, don’t you? 

The Japanese island of Okinawa remains occupied, though Japan is now America’s friend. We use Okinawa as a staging area for our war against a new enemy, North Vietnam.

RC-135M. “Combat Apple.”

Today’s mission is part of that war. Our platform—dubbed Combat Apple by some wizard in the Air Force’s Bureau of Baffling Nomenclature—will speed south, swoop round Hainan Island, and fly a long oval above the Gulf of Tonkin at thirty-seven thousand feet, keeping thirty nautical miles shy of Vietnam to the southwest and China to the northeast.

Our cockpit crew, from the 82nd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, are simply bus drivers. They will keep us on course, zooming along the charted racetrack while we back-enders in our windowless box do The Mission: scooping up signals from Vietnam and South China. 

After twelve hours and two mid-air refuelings, another aircraft will relieve us on the orbit over the Gulf. We will jet home to Kadena with our take—hundreds of enemy transmissions recorded on reel-to-reel tape and hand-scribbled traffic logs. 

Anyway, that’s the plan.

It’s a routine. Each of us endures three to six such flights every month. At first I was airsick every time. Then somebody taught me to chew soda crackers and control my breathing. Now, after forty-two missions, I’m an old-timer. 

But this trip, my forty-third, is different, being my last. Tomorrow I will turn in my headphones, brain bucket, and oxygen mask. I will climb aboard the Freedom Bird and fly home. 

There, a spot in the junior class at the University of Wisconsin awaits—my earliest opportunity to atone for past failure. There’s also an exhilarating young woman from Chicago, Joelle Nelson. I will leave the military and return to real life. 

But not till tomorrow. 

Wouldn’t you know my final mission would turn hairy? 

There’s a storm—not quite a typhoon, but big enough to fill the Gulf and strong enough to garble electromagnetic signals, even VHF, beyond recognition. 

Combat Apple’s main job is to overhear Vietnamese surface-to-air missile controllers. However, the back-end crew of twenty also includes three of us who work what is termed “the Chinese Problem.”  We are graduates of Robert Tharp’s uncanny 32-week Mandarin Air Force Aural Comprehension course, on board to give early warning in case the Chinese Communists decide to scramble on our plane. Four ChiCom fighter bases—Haikou, Lingshui, Jialaishi, and Mengzi—lie within a MiG-21’s flight range of our orbit. 

The MiGs fly a lot, mostly practicing ground-controlled intercepts and air-to-air gunnery. So far, they have never come out over the water to get us, but there’s a first time for everything. Splashing the Apple would cost them something, a couple of planes and pilots lost at sea by running out of fuel. But if that old man in Beijing, the one with the high forehead, had a sudden craving for a U.S. spy plane, his pilots would have a fair chance of giving him one. 

Normally we can hear what they’re up to—vectoring on imaginary intruders for practice, shooting at targets towed behind AN-2 biplanes, or sometimes just flying around, shouting inane slogans: “Long live Chairman Mao! All reactionaries are paper tigers!” 

The pilots’ and controllers’ voices blast out in clear speech, in regional accents of Mandarin, the national tongue. We ought to be able, theoretically, to detect hostile intent in time for our plane to beat a swift retreat. 

But today weather blitzes the airwaves. I can catch only a few callsigns. 

As our confining cabin bucks up and down, tilts left and right at odd moments, sweat bathes my face. I breathe deep and slow to calm my stomach as the bottom drops out repeatedly. Worse, I can’t make out what the MiGs are saying. Is there hostile intent?

EC-121M, PR-21, the Navy bird that was shot down by North Korea in 1969, all hands lost.

Last April a North Korean MiG-21 shot down a U.S. Navy EC-121M over the Sea of Japan, sending thirty-one souls to watery graves. Men unknown to any of us, but colleagues just the same.

I see myself donning brain bucket and mask, buckling my straps, standing up and waddling under sixty pounds of parachute and survival gear, through smoke and flames, hoping for a clean drop through the slim emergency hatch as the Boeing cartwheels in flaming loops toward the sea. To bail out at thirty-five thousand—even if the conditions were ideal, which they never will be—is something near a death sentence. 

I have come this far—have survived college disgrace, military exile, and forty-two of these disorienting, sinus-busting, strep-throat-inducing joyrides—and stand now on the brink of a new opportunity to prove myself worthy of adult life, maybe even with a delightful bride at my side. Only—could this be the day the MiGs have us in their sights? 

To get blown out of the sky and miss my chance to show what I can really do in life would be par for the course—just one parting humiliation.

Tech Sergeant Cooper is with us today as a performance evaluator. I call him over to my console. “Plug in here. See what you make of it.”

Cooper, standing, jacks into my panel, sways as the airplane lifts and drops. He listens. “Got some call signs. Seven-eight-ex.”

“Out of Jialaishi. I think. Can you tell what they’re doing?”

Cooper frowns. “Could be a practice GCI. Or maybe the real thing. Too barfy to tell.”

Cooper is one of three Chinese ops conceded by all to have golden ears. If Cooper can’t pull anything out of this traffic, neither will I. 

I swipe the back of a hand across my damp forehead.

Cooper listens, stares through the rolling tape recorder on the bulkhead. He holds his hands over the earcups, brows beetling. 

He takes off the headset. “Let’s abort,” he says.

I exhale. My heart slows to normal. I slump in my seat, feeling for all the world like a mound of SOS plopped on a tin mess tray.

Cooper scoots down the aisle to the airborne mission supervisor and speaks in his ear. The AMS nods. He calls the pilot, Major Martin, on private interphone. The plane banks away, out of its assigned orbit. 

I’m glad Martin is our bus driver. He’s one of the good ones. You know the landing at Kadena will be smooth, even if there’s a crosswind. 

#

Over Ie Shima, Major Martin stands on the dive brake, and our aircraft drops like a rock. Civilian airliners make gentle descents, but military pilots like Martin prefer to stay high as long as possible and then make a steep dive for the runway. It’s accepted practice. 

There’s a fifteen-knot wind across the runway. Martin sets the heavy plane down softly but glues it to the tarmac. No three-bounce landings for him. 

We roll to a stop on the apron. We walk down the portable steps with helmet bags slung over our shoulders, board our Air Force blue school bus, go to the ops building for debriefing, get back on the bus, and ride to our barracks.

I drop the helmet off in the barracks room I share with Tom Stehura, who is out somewhere. As usual after a nineteen-hour flight, I’m dog-tired but can’t sleep. I stagger like a drunken seaman two blocks to the base bowling alley, where there is a little snack bar with a juke box and formica tables. I order my usual—peach pie à la mode and root beer—pick up the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes, and sit down at a vacant table. 

I glance around me, checking the room. The horizontal line of the panel wainscoting bobs up and down, tilts left and right in irregular rhythm. I focus on my newspaper and pie.

“HO IS ‘SERIOUSLY ILL’,” screams the 54-point banner atop the first page, summing up a rumor-based UPI story out of Paris. Maybe he is, but it’s not that big a deal. Don’t they realize Ho Chi Minh could drop dead this morning, and General Giap would keep fighting the war as if nothing happened? 

Another front-page headline reports progress in the Paris peace talks. I’ll believe that when I see it. Why we’re talking with the Vietnamese Reds at the same time we’re bombing them to smithereens is a bit hard to dope out. Must be part of Nixon’s secret plan to end the war.

There’s an article on page two titled “The Killing Pace of College.” Guess I’ll find out soon enough. The peach pie is tasty and comforting, as always. One of the best things Okinawa has to offer. 

Page thirteen has a profile piece on three black musicians—Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Very nice.

The pie is all gone. I sip at the root beer and look up at the room. It holds pretty steady now. I get up and walk back to the barracks, not swaying much at all.

The next day is spent out-processing. I sign a form stating that I will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law if I ever breathe a word about anything I did, saw, heard, learned, produced, or processed as a member of the United States Air Force. I turn in my green Top Secret Cryptographic access badge.

Brain bucket.

I turn in my white, spherical brain bucket with oxygen mask and hose.I turn in the rugged, olive drab field jacket that has been with me since Basic Training. I can keep all my uniforms, summer and winter flight suits, duffel bag and B-4 bag, flight jacket and parka, flight boots and aviator sunglasses. But my field jacket—the one item that might be of use in civilian life—that’s an accountable item I have to give back so it can be issued to some newly-minted zoomie at Lackland Air Force Base. That and the switchblade jackknife with the special sharp hook in case you have to cut tangled parachute lines. I don’t suppose I’ll have much need for that in Wisconsin.

The foregoing narrative is true and accurate as best I can recall it over the intervening space of almost fifty-three years. It was written to be part of a more general personal memoir, only I don’t know which part.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

My Father

Lloyd Everett Sommers.

Born 26 April 1922 in Metamora, Illinois.

Died 20 December 2011 in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Requiescat in pace.

#

Last Tuesday would have been your hundredth birthday, Dad, though you did not live to see it. 

You were the fourth of five children. There was Edward first, then Mabel, then Stanley, you, and Franklin. When you were ten, your family moved to Knoxville, Illinois. With two thousand people, Knoxville was a metropolis. Dahinda, where you formerly lived, was just a bend in the road, a place where you and your brothers ran wild in the woods.

By the time you graduated from Knoxville High School in 1940, you had acquired a sweetheart, Barbara Bantz LaFollette, a classmate. 

But Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo had other plans for you.

The Lowering Front

Though America’s policies were isolationist, everybody knew war was coming. In September 1940 Congress passed the first-ever peacetime draft. Top generals wrestled with the mere logistics of swiftly building a large Army. National Guard units would play a key role.

In April 1941, you enlisted in the 33rd Division, Illinois National Guard—a unit that had already been called into federal service. You took part in a huge war game called the Louisiana Maneuvers, the Army’s way of testing and validating its rapidly growing force. 

On 7 December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

War

Your regiment, the 132nd Infantry, was rushed to the East Coast, assigned to guard bridges and power plants against possible attack by saboteurs. Being at war with Japan meant the U.S. was also at war with Germany and Italy, who were thought to have sleeper agents in America.

Things were being done in a crashing hurry, thrown together on the fly. In mid-January 1942, you got new orders. The 132nd Infantry Regiment was removed from the 33rd Division and shipped to New York as a free-standing regiment. At the Brooklyn Army Terminal you boarded USS John Ericsson, a troopship. In pre-dawn darkness on 23 January, you and 17,000 new friends slipped out of the harbor on Ericsson and seven other ships.

The eight-ship flotilla was designated Task Force 6814. Its vessels hosted a collection of miscellaneous units, including the 132nd. It was imperative to get under way quickly. 

The Kungsholm

Your ship, the John Ericsson, had been the Swedish American Line’s flagship, MS Kungsholm, until 12 December. As she sailed out of New York harbor, shipfitters and carpenters were busy tearing out the Kungsholm’s luxury accommodations for 1428 passengers, replacing them with plywood bulkheads and tiers of pipe bunks to accommodate five thousand troops. 

Entrance to the Kungsholm’s luxury dining room–before the Army makeover.

Once under way—expecting to cross the Atlantic, your duffels stuffed with heavy coats and winter gear—the task force turned right and sailed southward instead. You steamed through the Panama Canal and took a zigzag course, to confuse the enemy, across the Pacific. Resources on board were strained. The water ration was reduced to one canteen a day. 

Task Force 6814 arrived in Melbourne on 26 February 1942. Disembarking the crowded, stinking ship, you encountered Aussie troops in turned-up hats, wheeling a squadron of horse-drawn buckboards into place to receive you and take you to your temporary camp. 

After a week of Australian hospitality you got back on the boat and sailed to New Caledonia, arriving at Noumea 12 March. The 250-mile long, cigar-shaped island, 800 miles east of Australia, was a French possession. Its loyalty was an open question: Would New Caledonia be governed by the Nazi puppets of Vichy, France, or by General DeGaulle’s government-in-exile operating from London? 

An Allied force on the island could decide the issue. Hence the rush to throw Task Force 6814 across the Pacific. It was hoped New Caledonia and nearby islands would prove a stumbling block to the Japanese march across the Southwest Pacific.

Once landed at Noumea, the units of Task Force 6814 were eformed into a division, called Americal (AMERIcans in New CALedonia), commanded by Major General Alexander M. Patch. After several months spent securing and defending the French island, the Americal was relieved by other units and started reorganizing itself to prepare for combat in the forward area.

Into the Fight

In October through December, the Americal landed on the contested island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Its mission was to reinforce the Marine units which had invaded the island back in August. The 132nd was the last of three Americal infantry regiments to arrive on the island. It was  given the task of capturing Mount Austen, also known as Hill 27, a high point of land from which the Japanese could see and shell the U.S. landing strip at Henderson Field. 

This moment, in December 1942, may have been your greatest exposure to combat. We’ll never know, because you didn’t talk about it, except in very general terms. I know that you were a Signal Corps sergeant, part of regimental headquarters, and thus spent a lot of your time repairing and operating radios at headquarters. You admitted, however, having gone on some combat patrols, lugging a heavy backpack-mounted radio set. 

“I saw dead bodies,” you told me. “Some of them were guys I had known.” 

Bettys

The danger that seems to have stuck in your mind was when a Japanese “Betty” bomber, performing one of those solitary overflights collectively referred to as “Washing Machine Charlie” raids, buzzed your tent area near Henderson field and loosed a stick of bombs. 

He must have been flying low. “The nose gunner was so close I could have reached out and shaken his hand,” you said. You were all tangled up in sleeping bag and mosquito netting, trying to find your helmet. One of the bombs landed quite near, but it burrowed underground before detonating, so the explosive force was dissipated.

Further Operations

Mortar crew of 132nd Infantry on Bougainville.

After Guadalcanal was secured in late winter, the Americal was withdrawn and sent to Fiji for rest and refitting, arriving there in March 1943. You remembered Fiji as a wonderful place, full of great, friendly people. Possibly because they were not shooting at you. 

The division went back into action December 1943 at Bougainville, an island in the Northern Solomons. The Americal spent most of 1944 pushing back stubborn Japanese defenders on this large island. In September 1944, however, your time was up. You rotated back to the States. 

During your two and a half years in the Southwest Pacific, you had learned of the deaths of two brothers: Stanley, flying a B-17 in the Pacific, and Franklin, in a B-26 over France. “Other guys lost family members, too,” you said. “There was nobody to talk to about it. You just had to suck it up and keep going.”

Dad and Mom in January 1942

The first thing you did on returning home was marry your high school sweetheart, Barb LaFollette. Then you went off for about nine months in military hospitals getting fixed up. You were below 140 pounds on a five-foot-ten frame and had numerous health problems. 

We have all seen war movies with strong, hardy soldiers played by strapping, handsome actors. In truth, our forces in the islands of the Southwest Pacific were at the very end of a long, overtaxed supply chain. “The only thing we had plenty of was mutton,” you said. “The Aussies shipped us all we could eat. I will never eat mutton again in my life.” And you never did.

Life After War

Somewhat aimless before the war, you had acquired some sense of purpose. Upon discharge from the military hospitals, you enrolled in Knox College on the GI Bill. I was born in June 1945 and spent my first four years on campus. 

You graduated with a degree in chemistry. You became a high school chemistry teacher. A couple of years later, disillusioned with teaching, you got a job in industry, working as an analytical chemist for decent money. You and Mom had another child, my sister Cynda. 

We all participated fully in the roaring postwar economy. I remember the 1950s and early 1960s as an idyllic time. We had everything we needed, because you were providing it. 

I was especially blessed to be a Boy Scout. The camping, hiking, merit badges, and the companionship of other boys like myself added a lot of interest, meaning, and sweetness to my life. I became a Scout largely because you invested yourself in the movement. You were an adult Scout leader for probably twenty years or more, staying with it even after I was off to college and the U.S. Air Force. It met some need in your soul. You could become emotional talking about the influence of Scouting on your life when you were a boy in Dahinda and Knoxville. 

As I grew and became a smartass teenager, and then an independent young man with my own agendas, you and I sparred and sometimes wound up at loggerheads. But our relationship mellowed as we both got older. 

Like others in my generation, I was blessed to live in a family headed by a man who did his duty in a long and terrible war and then came home, turned on a dime, and adapted to decades of sober-sided family life in order to make a stable home for our generation. 

I’m not sure how you did this, but I will always be grateful. 

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation, coming August 23. No fooling.

History Is Not What You Thought, Part III

Our conceptions of history depart from the facts. 

America, in the era leading to and through the Civil War, was filled with formidable women who shaped the course of history though they seldom rate more than a footnote in standard accounts. 

Fictional Females

Maria Nybro, the main female character in my historical novel Price of Passage, is one such woman. The seventeen-year-old daughter of a small-town boat builder, she resolves to follow her heart’s desire, Anders Gunstensen, to America. She cajoles her father and uncle into a scheme that sends her across the sea with other family members, as caretaker to her strange Aunt Osa. 

In central Illinois, where Anders has settled, Maria moves heaven and earth, taking a tough scullery job to stay near him—while meeting her family obligation to care for the bewildered old aunt.

Aunt Osa herself is one of a kind. Marked as a “different” child from infancy, Osa sees herself as a changeling, one of the babies left with unsuspecting human families by huldrefolk, reclusive beings who live in Norway’s forest glades. When asked why she does not have the long, hairy tail of the huldrefolk, she explains that her mother took her to be baptized soon after the exchange, and her rudimentary tail dropped off within days of becoming a Christian.

“The Changeling,” by Henry Fuseli. Public Domain.

Another strong woman in the story is Kirsten Haraldsdatter, mother of four, who fearlessly leads her family’s expedition across the sea to join her husband Osmund, who has gone on ahead to establish a farm. Like Maria and Osa, she is fictional but based on a real woman, a shipmate of my great-great grandfather Anders on the brig Victoria in 1853.

These strong women and others in Price of Passage meet challenges as great as those facing the male characters. Some of those challenges, indeed, are posed by the male characters. When Anders goes off to fight in the Civil War, for instance, Maria must fend off the advances—financial and carnal—of a seedy land speculator. She finds an original way to defend both her farm and herself.

The Real Thing

Mary Ann Bickerdyke, steel engraving by A.H. Ritchie, 1867. Public Domain.

Actual historic women also appear as characters in the book, such as “Mother” Bickerdyke. Mary Ann Ball Bickerdyke, a middle-aged widow from Galesburg, Illinois, who practiced “natural medicine” in that community, went south with a wagon of medical supplies in 1861 to aid the sick and wounded soldiers at Fort Defiance in Cairo, Illinois.

Focused on healthy food and good care for ailing soldiers, Bickerdyke shrugged off Army regulations and red tape. Backed by the Sanitary Commission and the ordinary soldiers, she soon won the full support of Generals Grant and Sherman, who cheerfully deferred to her in matters of soldier care. 

Mother Bickerdyke stuck with the Army until the war’s end, serving on nineteen battlefields and establishing three hundred field hospitals. After the war, she continued her work on behalf of the veterans she called “my boys,” lobbying and aiding in their fight for pensions and other benefits. 

Bickerdyke was just one of many women who served ably as nurses and Sanitary Commission workers—but she was the most colorful and legendary. When a surgeon questioned her authority to take some action, she replied, “On the authority of Lord God Almighty, have you anything that outranks that?” In a day when male surgeons ruled the Army Medical Department, Bickerdyke caught and held the ear of the generals. Sherman called her “one of his best generals,” and others referred to her as “the Brigadier Commanding Hospitals.”

The soldiers just called her Mother.

She’s only one of the strong, pioneering women you’ll meet when you read Price of Passage.

HISTORY IS NOT WHAT YOU THOUGHT.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation, coming August 23. No fooling.

History Is Not What You Thought, Part II

Our conceptions of history depart from the facts. 

Consider Daniel, a young slave in my soon-to-be-published novel Price of Passage.

Daniel felt like a motherless child. His heart thumping, he crouched in the weeds between two of Mister Davis’s warehouses, not far from Mister Davis’s wharf. . . .
The steamboat idled a few yards away. 
Torchlight from the wharf made his task more difficult, yet not impossible. . . .
Daniel darted across the open ground. He slipped into the water. His toes sank in warm mud. He waded chest-deep in brown water to the boat. With strong shoulders, he pulled his slim body over the low rail. . . . The deck gang shouted as they drew in the gangplank. The side wheels churned, and the boat backed away from Hurricane Landing. . . . 
Light from the landing faded away when the boat turned upriver. 
Daniel had been born on Hurricane Plantation, had never left its boundaries. Now he would see the rest of the world. As the wooded shore slid by, lit by stars and a sliver of April’s waning moon, he reckoned he had never traveled so fast. Oh, Mammy, look at me now.

Daniel is a fictional character, but Hurricane Plantation was a real historical place. It was owned by Joseph Emory Davis, whose younger brother Jefferson would lead the Confederacy.

Joseph Davis’s library and a few of his slaves at Hurricane Plantation. Public Domain.

Social Experiment

Joseph Emory Davis. Public Domain.

Joseph Davis worked for years as a lawyer and invested his earnings in Mississippi Delta cotton land, and slaves to work it. He became one of the wealtiest planters in the state and owned more than three hundred African Americans. 

Under the sway of utopian reformer Robert Owen, Davis sought to establish a harmonious, and therefore profitable, community based on the master-slave relationship. He provided better-than-usual quarters, clothes, and bedding, more varied and plentiful food. Going beyond physical measures, he established limited self-government, setting up a slave court “where no slave was punished except on conviction by a jury of his peers.” Davis also encouraged his slaves to gain skills in areas that interested them. He allowed them to keep money they earned beyond the value of their labor as field hands. And they could sell their own poultry, eggs, and firewood for in the local economy.

Davis believed Owens’s dictum: “There is but one mode by which man can possess all the happiness his nature is capable of enjoying—that is by the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each.”

It never occurred to him that the very foundation of slavery—one person owning another—might be incompatible with an ideal society.

A Remarkable Slave

Benjamin Montgomery. Public Domain.

One slave stood out among all others at Hurricane. Benjamin Thornton Montgomery tried to escape but came to terms with Davis when he was made manager of the plantation store. His ability and enterprise led Davis to place him in charge of all purchasing and shipping operations. 

Montgomery learned to read and write. He mastered land surveying, flood control, architectural design, machine repair, and steamboat navigation. He made himself a skilled mechanic and inventor and applied for a patent on a new steam-operated propeller for shallow-draft boats.

When the Civil War came and the master of Hurricane Plantation fled the advancing Union troops, it was Montgomery who kept the place going. Resourcefully, he found ways to keep his fellow slaves employed and fed. After the war, he bought the plantation from Davis on a land contract and continued to provide an economic base for the Black community. But in 1876, catastrophic floods made him default on payments, and the land reverted to the Davis family. 

Montgomery died the following year. His son, Isaiah, struggled to keep his dream alive, leading a group of former slaves to establish the town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in 1887 as a majority African-American community.

Another Option

Most Black slaves in the South worked and lived under far less favorable conditions. But they did not simply wait for the U.S. government to emancipate them. There was another option. 

Colonies of self-liberated Blacks laid low in swamps and upland forests, sometimes under the noses of their former masters. Dubbed “slavery’s exiles” by historian Sylviane A. Diouf, these reclusive plantation refugees are known to history as maroons.

Fugitive slaves fleeing through a swamp, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Public Domain.

Unlike the better-documented maroons of the Caribbean basin, the ones who lived in ethe United States are poorly represented in historical accounts. Their colonies, hidden away in every slave state, were small compared to those ofd Brazil, Surinam, Hispaniola, or Cuba. Official records usually called them truants, runaways, or banditti.

But they were more than that. They were organized communities of sub rosa freedom.

Marronage was a hard life that involved hunger, cold, danger, and much privation. Many maroons were caught by professional slave hunters and driven back to the plantations. Many others perished in the woods. But there were those like Thompson West of Plaquemine, Louisiana, who held out until the Yankees arrived and then walked out of the woods, saying, “I’m a free man!”

National Service

What about those African Americans who were already free? At the start of the Civil War, almost half a million free Blacks lived in the United States, South and North. Their numbers were continuously augmented as enslaved people fled their masters and established lives of freedom in northern cities and rural areas. 

Frederick Douglass in 1856. Public Domain.

These people had a powerful interest in seeing their enslaved brothers and sisters liberated. They almost unanimously sided with the Union in the war. Many of them wanted to serve militarily.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a self-liberated slave, declared, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Douglass made this famous remark in April 1863, in the midst of a struggle to get Black Americans admitted to service in the U.S. Army. Everyone who has seen the film Glory knows that, despite African Americans’ willingness to serve, enlistment was denied them until about the mid-point of the war. The rationale was that “colored men won’t fight” or “they won’t make good soldiers.” It took the actual experience of several ground-breaking regiments such as the 54th Massachusetts to begin to dispel these myths.

A fact less well-known is that sailors of color were admitted to the U.S. Navy from the start. More than ten percent of the Continental Navy in the American Revolution was Black. Even more sewrved in state navies and on privateers. In the War of 1812, Blacks represented one-sixth of U.S. naval personnel. In the Civil War, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles authorized recruitment of escaped or liberated slaves in the Atlantic Blockading Squadron from September 1861. These new sailors supplemented many other African Americans already in the Navy. Blacks served on seven hundred Navy ships. Eight won the Medal of Honor for their service. These sailors of color were limited to low-level positions and served under conditions of inequality with white sailors. But serve they did, in large numbers. 

Black sailors on USS Galena, a Civil War ironclad. Public Domain.

Astounded Yet?

A utopian plantation. An enterprising inventor/engineer slave. Self-governing communities of runaway slaves in the wilderness. Naval vessels with free Blacks and newly-liberated slaves in their crews. 

None of these things are really surprising, if we remember that history is composed of millions of individuals with their own unique situations. They only seem surprising in the face of oversimplified assumptions gathered from popular sources.

I call these instances to your attention, Dear Reader, for selfish purposes. I want you to buy my book, Price of PassageA Tale of Immigration and Liberation, when it comes out August 23. It is filled with little things like this. Things that may be unexpected but are nonetheless true. 

I began writing this novel in the conviction that fiction can be a good way to tell the truth.

So remember:

HISTORY IS NOT WHAT YOU THOUGHT.

Next Week—Some Uppity Women.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation, coming August 23. No fooling.

History Is Not What You Thought, Part I

Our conceptions of history depart from the facts. 

Our brains are stocked with tableaus sketched for us by parents, by teachers, by Hollywood. These static visions are partly true. But they are oversimplified. They dull our sense of wonder.

When we get down to actual cases, something magical happens. History stretches forth as a varied landscape, vividly peopled by wayward actors who refuse to stay on script.

HISTORY IS NOT WHAT YOU THOUGHT.

Scandinavian Shuffle

Nordic immigrants appear in the mind’s eye as quaintly dressed folk descending from a ship in New York harbor, then forging their way westward by wagon, oxcart, train, or even on foot, to reach Wisconsin, Minnesota, or the Dakotas—the paradise of a Scandinavian farmer’s dreams. 

The brig Lady Washington, photo by Miso Beno, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. The brig Victoria, in which Anders crossed the Atlantic, would have been similar.

We have read this story in Ole Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth, or in Vilhelm Moberg’s The Emigrants. If you saw the Emigrants film back in 1971, your brain may show Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman as the Swedish trekkers.

And if you happen to be descended from Norwegians or Swedes who did indeed follow this well-trod path, then you know the image is true.

Wait a minute.

What if I told you my great-great-grandfather, Anders Gunstensen, took a ship in 1853 from Norway to NEW ORLEANS, not New York? How does that affect the picture?

A Different Story

It’s true. Anders landed in the Crescent City. He was far from the only one. Many Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes entered America through its second-greatest seaport. These people must have been stunned—if not by the warmth and lush vegetation, then at least by the bouillabaise of nationalities, tongues, and skin tones encountered on the wharf at New Orleans.

Steamboats at New Orleans wharf, 1853, painted by Hippolyte Sebron. Public Domain.

And if stunned by these things, they must have been shocked to see African American slaves, human chattel herded like livestock to and from the auction block. This was something their kinfolk taking the northern route would not witness.

But hold on. Why, you might ask, would Northern Europeans sail the long way round, to fetch up on America’s south coast instead of the northeastern seaboard? 

The U.S. railroad system was in its infancy. Modern highways did not yet exist. The broadest, swiftest, most sure-fire route to America’s heartland was the Mississippi River. Still, only a minority came through New Orleans. Most of the Scandinavians arrived at New York or Quebec and made their way by Great Lakes ships, canal boats, and the railroads just being built.

Many who came through New Orleans were recent Mormon converts. The Latter Day Saints began harvesting Nordic souls in 1850 and soon had thousands. Church doctrine required converts to gather in Zion—that is, Salt Lake City. In March 1853, a week before my ancestor Anders Gunstensen would arrive, a sailing frigate landed three hundred Danish Mormons in New Orleans. They took a steamboat up the Mississippi to St. Louis, where they caught another boat westbound up the Missouri, getting closer to their coreligionists in Utah.

But Anders was not a Mormon, nor did he emigrate for religious reasons. He wanted opportunities not available to him in Norway. So in February 1853, he sailed from Arendal on the brig Victoria. After arriving on the Gulf Coast, he traveled up the Mississippi and settled in Menard County, a place in the middle of Illinois, just north of Springfield. 

Huh? Aren’t Norwegians supposed to go farther north? 

Most of them did, but not Anders. He and a few fellow Nordmenn chose Menard County for reasons of their own—most likely following the lead of one Gunder Jørgen Nybro, who had arrived three years earlier. 

With only a handful of Norwegians, they could not publish a Norsk newspaper like Nordlyset, established in Muskego, Wisconsin, by Even Heg, James Reymert, and others. Nor could a Norwegian in Menard County burrow into a large Scandinavian community and spend months or years learning the American language and folkways. No: Anders, Gunder Jørgen, and their friends had to deal with Americans, in English, from the start. 

Itchy Feet

The Restauration. Public Domain.

Our first Norwegian immigrants, Cleng Peerson and fifty-one fellow voyagers on the sloop Restauration, came to New York in 1825. Norwegian immigration peaked fifty-seven years later, in 1882. 

In the 1850s, when Anders arrived, Norwegians were more footloose than they had been since Viking days. Decades of smallpox vaccinations had allowed Norway’s population to grow explosively. With only three percent of her land arable, something had to give.

Ole Bull. Public Domain.

Norwegians have never been daunted by ocean waves. They headed for America, filling old-fashioned sailing vessels in the days before widespread use of ocean-going steamships. Even as early as 1853, travel to America was no strange thing. 

In March 1853, besides Anders Gunstensen and three hundred Danish Mormons, New Orleans hosted violinist Ole Bull, who performed a series of “farewell” concerts in Odd Fellows’ Hall, with nine-year-old singing sensation Adelina Patti. Bull was no stranger to America, having visited first in 1843. In 1852, he had founded a visionary colony called New Norway in Pennsylvania but soon gave up on the endeavor, which was not an agricultural success. 

Norwegians were exploring the world, particularly the United States. They found it inviting. And they did not all settle in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

HISTORY IS NOT WHAT YOU THOUGHT.

Next Week—The Black Experience.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation, coming August 23.

Price of Passage

What does it take to make a story?

Timothy Eberle on Unsplash.
In 1856, on the Illinois prairie, Norwegian farmers ANDERS and MARIA encounter DANIEL, a young fugitive slave. Will they do their legal duty by turning him in? Or will they break the laws of their new country and put their lives at risk to aid Daniel in his bid for freedom?

Peasant Farmers, by Julien Joseph. Public Domain.

That’s not really a story. It’s more like a situation, a setup. But it’s a start.

In historical fiction, an author wants to pay attention to the underlying morality of the situation. But you have to build on that. The story of Anders, Maria, and Daniel, as mentioned above, is incomplete without some sense of where Anders and Maria have come from, to be newly-arrived Scandinavian immigrants in central Illinois. 

The Captive Slave, by John Philip Simpson. Public Domain.

One also ought to sketch Daniel more fully. What kind of slave life is he trying to escape from? What are his chances? What will he do with his new freedom, if he makes his escape good? 

There are more questions than answers.

John Brown.

It’s notable that Anders, Maria, and Daniel all arrived at the same place in 1856—just when the nation’s quarrel over slavery was starting to come to a head. John Brown was murdering pro-slavery men in Kansas about this time. The Dred Scott decision, which gave iron force to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, would come along in early 1857. Lincoln and Douglas would contest for the Illinois Senate seat in a series of debates in 1858. Brown would show up again, this time raiding the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, in 1859. The pot was coming to a boil.

How would these events affect Anders? Maria? Daniel? 

It’s all there in Price of Passage—A Tale of Immmigration and Liberation, coming August 23 from DX Varos Publishing. 

Sign up for my free newsletter, The Haphazard Times, above right, to be kept fully informed.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation, coming August 23. No fooling.

Tip-Top in Chi-Town

I finally made it to the Cloud Room. A divine ascent, after all these years.

Taiwan map by Uwe Dedering, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

It didn’t look promising back in 1967, when I was a 22-year-old airman. We worked at midnight in a windowless compound on northern tip of Taiwan, straining to hear the calls and responses of Chinese pilots and controllers, just across the Strait. 

Some nights, however, the MiGs were quiescent, inactive. On those nights we listened to commercial radio programs relayed from the States and rebroadcast by Armed Forces Radio. 

In the depths of night an announcer boomed, “It’s Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club! Coming to you from the Cloud Room of the Beautiful Hotel Allerton on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile!”

The McNeill Experience

In the murk that enveloped the Pacific Rim in the wee hours, we heard sunshine in the voice of ever-chatty Don McNeill, who had brightened America’s mornings for thirty-five years. He was the pioneer of the concept that people coast-to-coast would listen to idle chatter interspersed with music in their waking hours. 

My mind’s eye pictured the Cloud Room of the Beautiful Hotel Allerton with walls of gleaming jasper and pillars wrought in 24-karat gold. 

It must be some swell place, judging from the staff announcer’s enthusiasm. And it was.

Ethereal Realm

Photo by Tony the Tiger, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Cloud Room, on the stately Allerton’s twenty-third floor, had been called the Tip Top Tap until it was renamed in 1963, just before McNeill’s long-beloved show took up residence there.  “TIP-TOP-TAP” in giant letters remained emblazoned across its upper stories for all Chicagoans to see. In recent years, the old name has been restored to the room itself.

Despite the “tap” in its name, the twenty-third floor has no permanent functioning bar. These days the elegant space is reserved for meetings, such as last weekend’s “Let’s Just Write!” conference sponsored by the Chicago Writers Association, which is what drew me there, after my fifty-five years of forlorn pining. 

I must say the Allerton, now the Warwick Allerton, is looking good as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2024. The twenty-third floor is divided between the Tip Top Tap on one end and two smaller, but still large, meeting rooms—the Michigan and Huron rooms—at the other. All have large, wrap-around windows affording a lordly view of downtown Chicago.

Kristin Oakley teaches Chicago writers. Larry F. Sommers photo.

It was nice to be there, especially on a sunny day. And the meeting was great, too.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation, coming August 23.

Taking Stock

Maybe, Dear Reader, you’ve been wondering what Your New Favorite Writer’s quixotic quest for literary lionhood amounts to. 

Let’s take stock.

Just over six years ago, in January 2016, I undertook to be a full-time writer of fiction, after a lifetime of doing . . . well, other things. 

In that six years, what have I accomplished?

  • Wrote a character profile of my superannuated Siberian husky and got it published in Fetch! magazine.
  • Wrote three “Izzy Mahler” short stories published by the Saturday Evening Post. The first two were published online as part of the Post’s New Fiction Friday series (here and here); the third won Honorable Mention in the 2018 Great American Fiction Contest and was published in the e-book anthology for that year’s contest.
  • Joined a monthly writers’ mutual critique group, Tuesdays With Story, and became a regular contributor in its proceedings. This interaction with my writing colleagues, more than anything else, has helped me learn to write fiction.
  • Attended the 2018 and 2019 University of Wisconsin–Extension Writers’ Institutes, fabulous conferences where I learned a great deal about writing, the publishing world, and the writers’ tribe. I signed up for the 2020 Writers’ Institute as well, but then COVID hit, deep-sixing that very valuable annual event for 2020 and ever after. On the bright side, I plan to attend a similar conference in Chicago soon.
  • Wrote an 83,000-word historical novel, The Maelstrom, which is being considered for publication by two different independent publishers. I plan to continue querying and submitting this work until I find a publisher.
  • Wrote a 41,000-word middle-grades novel, The Mulberry Rocket Ship, on behalf of which I am about to begin querying agents and publishers. 
  • Have begun the first draft of a book-length personal memoir—tentative title: Reconnaissance: A Debriefing. I’ll keep you posted on that, Dear Reader, as it develops. 
  • Have written more than a dozen short stories, which I consider “not ready for prime time.”
  • And in April 2019 I created this blog to share my thoughts, aspirations, struggles, whimsies, and literary creations—all around the theme of “seeking fresh meanings in our commmon past.” I have usually posted once a week, with only a few misses. 

So, as you can see, I have been busy the past six years with my new writing career. And I have accomplished a great deal.

In case you’re wondering why there is not a published book, or more than one published book, to show for all these efforts, I must say: Have patience, Gentle Reader. We’ll get there. 

Rome was not built in a day, nor Parnassus climbed in a similar timespan. Six years is but the twinkling of an eye in the Lit Biz.

You may know people who have already published their novels. Chances are, most of them are self-published. That’s wonderful. It means you can read their work earlier. 

Self-publication is a great thing. It allows authors to get their work in print sooner by skipping the traditional publishing industry process.

Van Gogh

I have chosen a different path, because there are only so many years ahead, and I have a lot to say.

The task of learning to write well and getting some things into decent form is so all-consuming that I cannot take time off to become a publisher as well. 

I will just have to write the best I can and try to connect with a traditional publisher. 

Remember, Emily Dickinson’s poems were all published after her death. Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life. All of his critical and popular success were posthumous. If I should shuffle off this mortal coil before any book is published, at least I will have written as much, and as well, as I can. And I, for one, will still have both ears.

But fear not, Dear Reader. You may yet get a chance to purchase a deluxe edition of my works for yourself, not to mention extra copies for all your friends and family members. They will make excellent Christmas gifts.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Six Simple Steps to Literary Lionhood: #9

Do you recall, Dear Reader, when I said that to be a Literary Lion you must write?  Or words to that effect? Yes, that’s right: Step Two in my Six Simple Steps to Literary Lionhood.

Lion. Photo by Kevin Pluck, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I may have neglected to mention that, even when you go on to other steps, such as getting feedback, hobnobbing with other literary lions, and submitting your work for publication, you still must continue to write.

Case in point: Your New Favorite Writer.

State of Play

At present, I am juggling multiple balls. Besides posting this blog, I have a finished historical novel manuscript, The Maelstrom, being considered by more than one traditional publisher. I am polishing another historical novel—a coming-of-age story about a young boy, Izzy Mahler, in the 1950s—and will soon begin seeking a publisher for it. I am always, of course, on the lookout for likely places to submit some of my completed short stories and poems.

But while all this is going on, I must keep writing.

Which brings us to the current project.

Memoir

Lincoln Steffens. Photo by George G. Rockwood. Public Domain.

I am writing a memoir—have written only a few thousand words of first draft so far, and I don’t know where it’s going. This in itself is odd—because you would think I’d know the story. Writing a memoir is like writing a novel, except that you generally have some idea how the novel ends. In the case of a memoir, you know the whole story in great detail but can’t figure out what parts make it a story, and what parts make it an insufferable catalog.

How does memoir differ from autobiography? They could be the same—but not always.

I like to think of an autobiography as a document written by a person of note. (That would exclude Your New Favorite Author.) Benjamin Franklin wrote an autobiography. Lincoln Steffens wrote an autobiography, but it’s arguably more a memoir. Harry Golden wrote many memoirs or autobiographical pieces, but they might better be considered miscellaneous collections of reminiscences. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading, but they are a different genre. 

The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant is a great autobiography as well as a great memoir.

Confused yet? If you’re not, you just haven’t been paying attention.

Consider: “What makes Larry F. Sommers worthy of an autobiography?” Absolutely nothing—in the sense that I’m neither Hillary Clinton nor Jon Bon Jovi. 

On the other hand, if you’re talking memoir, well—I’ve lived a long time, learned a lot of things, and have something to say. Memoir-writing guru Marion Roach Smith says memoir is about what you know after what you’ve been through. 

I’m only now beginning to understand it’s not as simple that. Maybe I’ll sign up for her course.

Structure

The structure of a memoir is crucial. I’ve got a slam-bang, surefire opening chapter—a riveting account of a reconnaissance flight from my time as a member of the U.S. Air Force. But what comes after that? How do I integrate the opening chapter with all the other things I want to include?

RC-135M reconnaissance aircraft, 1969. Public domain.

“All the other things I want to include” is a big fat hint. The trouble is, I want to leave in way too much.

In seventy-six years, one may accumulate a lot of experiences and quite a bit of wisdom. But good writing, a book you would want to read, depends on selectivity.

Every bit of my life seems tremendously significant. To tell it all would take millions of words. Even if I live another thirty years, there may not be time enough to write it all down. And then—who would read it? 

Martion Roach Smith also says that all non-fiction, memoir included, is an argument. To wield the razor effectively on one’s own narrative, one starts by knowing what the argument is. Then you only leave in that which supports it.

So here’s where it gets tricky: I don’t know what I’m trying to say, and I won’t know until I write it down. My writing is not the triumphant display of certainties already discovered but a stumbling exploration of what the past may mean. 

So in tackling a memoir, I’m being forced to change from an outliner to a pantser. I’ve got to just write, until I get a glimmer of the path forward. 

The only comfort is, you can tell is when it’s not working. You can feel when your prose is floundering. Then you need to back up and do something different.

I call this “living the dream.”

Thanks for listening, Gentle Reader.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer