The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam
In this chapter we get
to know Sonny and the important factors in his life much better. He
begins to round out our knowledge of his mom and dad, John Dubonnet, Poppy,
and Coalwood itself. Along the way, of course, we get more insight into
Sonny himself and the reasons behind his uneasiness. We begin to realize
that there is great depth to the feelings he is having, and that these feelings
are sufficiently complex to require a long time to sort out. In fact,
the author is probably using much of this memoir to help him work out some
of his remaining unresolved feelings, even after the passage of so much time.
It reminds us that many of the things that happen to us, even in our youth,
will remain with us for a very long time. Authors often seem to have
a special sensitivity to incidents in their lives, and also seem to retain
a deep sense of detail in their feelings about the situation. This
helps to make the recounting very convincing and immediate. Particularly
here, the author's recollection of meeting the nurse, Charlotte Sheets Dawson,
heightens the tension in the chapter, since she correctly admires Poppy's
strength while mistakenly complimenting Sonny's sweetness. Even after
the passage of all these years, the author's remembrance of this encounter
is deeply bittersweet.
Writers' Workshop ~
(1) As the author describes
Coalwood, he depicts it quite differently than we might usually stereotype
a West Virginia coal town. Might we chalk this up to "selective memory"?
Do all of us have a way of softening our memories as time passes? Why
might we be inclined to do that?
(2) Poppy is not introduced
until well into a chapter that is titled for him. What might be the
author's reason for doing so? Can we, as writers, learn anything from
this about plot and pacing?
Freud's Couch ~
(1) The author does
a fairly amazing thing by describing Poppy through the eyes of the young
man he was when this incident occurred. How difficult is it for us
to look back in time, remembering not only how we felt at the time, but how
we thought as well? Do our judgments of others (and for that matter,
ourselves) change over time? Why?
(2) What are Sonny's
feelings about simply being present in the clinic? Have you ever been
in a place that evoked certain feelings that you were having difficulty dealing
with? Write a description of that event, recalling as much as you can
about the elements that brought out those feelings.
(3) Sonny notices that
his father is acting very much out of character, displaying extreme tenderness
toward Poppy. We notice such things about our parents, especially in
trying times. Describe a time when you noticed an aspect of one of
your parents' character that you had previously overlooked or ignored.
(4) Part of Sonny's
unresolved pain about this situation revolves around his desire to simply
escape from a stressful situation. Unfortunately, this desire prevents
him from properly saying "good-bye" to his grandfather. Most of us
have lost someone close to us without having had the opportunity for closure.
Describe such a situation from your own life.
Mountaineer Morality ~
(1) Elsie gives Sonny
two pretty good reasons for going to see Poppy: (a) it will give him time
with his dad; and (b) Poppy "is your blood". Both reasons have a double
edge, and carry mixed emotions for Sonny. Still, they are very West
Virginia sort of reasons. Relate a situation in which you were encouraged
to spend time with family for one or both of these reasons.
(2) The sequence of
events in this chapter drives a wedge between Sonny and Homer that will separate
them throughout the book. In WV, such things are usually not discussed
between parents and their children. The implication is that the children
are expected, as part of their maturation, to recognize the ways in which
they have offended their parents, and rectify the situation on their own.
It would be a sign of weakness for the parent to admit that they had been
"hurt" by a child, but the child rarely realizes the full impact of their
actions. Perhaps there is a relationship in your life with an unspoken
barrier. Describe how it came to be, objectively analyzing whether
"blame" needs to be assigned or if it can mostly be chalked up to circumstances.
How might it be resolved?