“Clarksville is in Texas–but only barely. Take a map and place
the index finger of your right hand on Clarksville, your middle
finger will rest in Oklahoma, your ring finger in Arkansas, and
your little finger in Louisiana.”
Good beginning. And the rest of the 362 pages are good, too, and
I’ll tell you why . . .
The book centers on three generations of Ordways and it
opens with a family annual get-together cleaning up the family
graveyard. Everyone is represented–everyone except “Little Ned”.
Seems Little Ned was kidnapped years ago by the neighbor family when
Ned was only two. He has become a family legend, told over and over
again at each family gathering. This isn’t a gritty crime story–more of
a folksy family lore sort of story. It has a little of the feeling of Northern
Borders by Howard Frank Mosher–a favorite of mine.
A large part of The Ordways is written about the father, Sam Ordway,
searching all parts of Texas looking for “little Ned”. Much of the story is
told by the ‘narrator’, the grandson of Sam Ordway.
Sam carried a little black and white photo of the small boy—and would
show it to people he met in each town that he passed. The little boy was
light haired, kind of nondescript actually. One of my favorite parts is
when Sam Ordway asks a man if he’s seen a little boy who looked like
“In all my travels I’ve never seen any little boy that didn’t look like that . . .”
Sam takes a long time traveling through Texas with his oxen team. We
learn a lot about Texas geography! And we learn that there is East Texas
(farm people) and West Texas (cowboys!)
Sam finally joins a circus–figuring that a family with a little boy would
probably come to see a circus. Sam is in charge of Topsy the elephant
for a series of interesting pages. Remember circuses?
Later, Sam finds himself in jail under a trumped up charge. His cellmates
are wonderful!! One is a “minister” Sam has already met up with and been
conned by. And the other is Rags who exclaims delight in seeing him.
“Lefty! So they caught you at last, you old horse thief you!”
“My name is not Lefty and I never saw you before in my life,” said my
grandfather . . .”Look here . . .I’m not even left-handed. Give me that
pencil.” He wrote on the wall ‘Sam Ordway’—
“Write some more,” said the prisoner, Rags,
“Write ‘Thirty days hath September.'”
It turns out Rags is in jail for about a million offenses—which is very
funny—including ‘consorting with persons of known criminal record’–
(though how he was to avoid that he didn’t know, short of turning out his
poor old mother out into the street . . .”)
Well, to make a long story short, the author finally winds up swiftly with
even more humorous scenes and all in all the author, William Humphrey,
gives us a fine little yarn of a book.
I was pleasantly surprised with the novel. Humphrey is best known for
Home from the Hill which was made into a movie with Robert Mitchum
and Eleanor Parker. (haven’t read/seen it) and I’m reading a book of
short stories by him–slowly. This novel was better.