The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, a novel      Author's Note:   The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, a novel by Steven Key Meyers  



This delicious book remains a favorite of mine. Maybe because I’ve been reading Chekhov recently, The Wedding on Big Bone Hill strikes me as Chekhovian—you have the landscape, the people connecting or failing to connect, old standards falling to new impulses, everyone flailing against backgrounds both turbulent and unchanging.

The story may be said to have started the Labor Day I was working in the entrance booth to a Midwestern state park when word came over the radio of a little boy gone missing while mountain-biking through the woods with his family. Immediately, there came a diesel roar as the original of Ranger Ray, with whom I'd been working peaceably all summer, rushed his truck up to the booth to give me the most evil look I’ve ever gotten; just such a look as a Jew in Germany might have gotten the day after Kristallnacht. (Word came five minutes later that the boy had been found.)

The two workamper jobs I had while living in a motorhome provide much of the background to The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, but it conflates them, bringing a colleague—the original of Percy—from a private campground (in its store a sawed-off shotgun hung suspended beneath the counter, aimed at the customers) into the state park where I worked a summer season.

The Beanblossoms? Straight from life, unfortunately, including their sad enterprise, plasma donations, Rick and disastrous home-schooling. Dennis, too; I’ve never known an alcoholic who set about his drinking in a more businesslike, less joyous manner.

Ranger Randy is based on a fetching young ranger who performed a feat that summer: Some drunk Russians (really!) alarmed the park one evening by illegally shooting off assault rifles in the woods, and Ranger Randy, unarmed and looking like an angelic choirboy, singlehandedly disarmed and handcuffed them and, with the arrival of back-up, took them away.

The ranger station’s wall of caged reptiles was inspired by that at Wheaton Regional Park, outside Washington, D.C., when I was a boy. We used to go over all the time, walk its nature trails and, in the playground (lent incomparable glamour by virtue of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s having brought her kids there to play), crawl through the engine cowling of the superannuated fighter jet poised next to the swings.

Rereading this book, I’m relieved to find that the extravagant ending works, though I’ve never yet been involved in a hostage situation. I have, however, had a .38 poked in my ribs and, on two other occasions, guns mistakenly aimed at me, by police officers, no less. And I was walking along Beargrass Creek in Louisville one Christmas week when twiglets suddenly showered me from overhead simultaneously with a big blast. I hit the deck as more blasts followed, then got to my feet and went forward, figuring it might be the only opportunity I’d ever have to advance under fire—experiences my uncle, grandfather, great-granduncle, great-great-grandfather and so many other ancestors had. Naturally the first two people I told about it responded, eyes shining, “Shooting mistletoe!” (Ah, Kentucky's colorful customs!)

The original of Percy was an intelligent—if scary—man who ruined his life when anger carried him away on several occasions. Percy’s crimes and his being paroled from prison and returned to it the same day are based on that colleague’s history (he loved to tell the parole story as a boast). Such is the predictive power of literary fiction that I circulated a draft of this book among friends fully a year before the real-life Percy, facing a return to prison after a drunk-driving conviction, claimed for himself his fictional character’s fate. Well, he always did say he'd never go back.

And here’s a poignant memory of my summer working booth: I used to have to bicycle six miles downhill to buy groceries. The uphill slog was such that I’d wait to buy that weighty commodity, beer, until I reached the convenience store at the park entrance. Only at the end of the summer did my boss, surprised to learn I'd been patronising it, inform me that that store, by quiet arrangement with the rangers, sold only 3.2 beer, a fact I could have learned by reading any can.


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