PLAYING WITH FIRE: A CHILDHOOD MEMOIR
By Tom Lyford
Green Bough Publishing, 2011
283 pages, $20
ISBN 978-1-4611-6862-1
 
Tom Lyford has done the Baby Boomer generation a great service. He has put into words all those childhood thoughts, questions and wacky antics the rest of us have always been too scared, or too embarrassed, to admit.

PLAYING WITH FIRE is Lyford’s hilarious memoir of growing up in Maine in the 1950s, when television was black and white (and just one station), Old Gold cigarettes were popular, and when little boys did all sorts of stupid things to impress little girls (who probably couldn’t care less).

Lyford lives in Dover-Foxcroft, is an English teacher, poet and essayist. He is a talented writer and storyteller, and he is a very funny guy. These 13 chapters are stand-alone stories of growing up — from 1953 to 1960, age 7 to 14 — when Lyford was a cigar-smoking, Zombie-drinking Dennis the Menace.

As Lyford so smartly reveals, the decade of the 1950s was a great time to be a kid.  Dad worked, Mom cooked and kids played outdoors all day long with no supervision, but lots of imagination.
Back then growing up was fun!

In “Hot Shot,” 11-year-old Tommy tries to act cool by ordering a prohibited drink at the local soda fountain, only to be rudely and painfully surprised by his bad choice.  He should’ve stuck with the popular Root Beer Fuzzy.

In “Doesn’t Play Nicely With Others,” Tommy, age 7, wonders “what are old people good for, anyway? And why do they smell funny?”  His family’s visits to see Aunt Nellie and Uncle Loren are a 7-year-old’s nightmare.

Learn too about the “pine tree float,” about the mysterious secret of the “condiment,” the strange attraction of the Liberace Show and why it’s not a good idea to make your paperboy wet his pants.

 

BREAKWATER
By Kevin C. Mills
Maine Authors Publishing, 2011
251 pages, $18.95
ISBN 978-1-936447-56-5
 
Comic Jerry Seinfeld once quipped:  “There is no such thing as fun for the whole family.”  And if he had met the Miller family, he wouldn’t be kidding.

BREAKWATER is award-winning journalist and Lewiston resident Kevin Mills’ second novel, following SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE OCEAN.  This novel has a thin connection with the first novel, stories of the Miller family 100 years apart.

Mills admits there are similarities in this novel and with his own family history, especially relating to his grandfather. This is a sad and poignant family portrait, two stories a generation apart as two men try to understand why their lives turned out as they did.

Hal Miller, a grandfather in his 80s, loving and devoted, is struggling to care for his elderly wife and her increasing dementia. Watching her steady mental decline is breaking his heart and testing his faith. He already lost two young wives to disease, has forgone his dream of becoming a writer, and now is faced with a life alone.  “This day-in and day-out constant battle with Clarice is taking its toll.  I can feel it.  And I fear it,” he reveals.

His grandson, Clark, a bachelor and aspiring writer, is unexpectedly reunited with his high-school sweetheart, but there is a complication — she is married with a family.  They begin a torrid love affair and suddenly both experience the guilt, the lies and deceptions, and the helpless feeling that this relationship will likely end badly:  “Sometimes I wish I could just walk away, but I know I can’t.”

Mills vividly and convincingly describes the emotions of love, happiness, missed opportunities, sadness and loss both men experience.  They are good men confronting life as best they can, trying to do the right thing no matter their sacrifice.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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