H enry David Thoreau at the opening of Walden said: ‘I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.’ I take that as my authority and my defence for what I’m going to say.
I was born in the steel mill town of Pueblo, Colorado, in the war year of 1943, and I was born with a cleft lip. It was sewed up, and more than that, my parents didn’t know what to do, how I should be taken care of, what should be done with me. There was no money – my father was a Methodist preacher – and after a day or two it was decided to send me to Children’s Hospital in Denver where I stayed for about a month. Money was collected from churches in Colorado to help pay for the expenses. During the war, gasoline was rationed, even if my parents could have afforded to buy gas, so my mother came to see me by train, the two times she could come. At the hospital I was fed out of a paper cup since I couldn’t drink from a bottle, and that’s how I was fed when I was taken home. Sometime later the surgeon was supposed to do more work on my lip and nose, but he died in a plane crash and my parents took that as a sign of God’s will, and so nothing more was done.
In the summer of 1943, my family moved out onto the high plains of eastern Colorado and that was where I grew up. For twelve years we lived in three little towns out there. And of course it was those towns and that landscape and the culture of that specific place which has had so much influence on me and my writing. During that period of my life out on the high plains, I was more or less a happy kid, I think, and I survived childhood with only a few hard lessons that I still remember. One was: don’t you be a show-off, and I have tried to abide by that injunction ever since, with all its contradictions and complications.