© 2019 by Justin Hunt, text and photos

 

Forthcoming - A Memoir

 

Dominoes Are Played at Joe’s Place (working title) is the story of my son-of-Kansas-settlers father and my struggle to bridge the chasm between us. It is my journey into the four decades our lives overlapped and the half-century he lived before me. It is my ode to the Southern Plains—the wind and dust and open sky of a vanished way of life, a time and culture far removed from 21st-century America.

Homer Hunt was born in 1897, just yards from where I grew up. By the time he was ten, he was driving cattle on horseback. When he was 22, his parents died within hours of each other. He took over his father’s cattle and farming operations, was elected Kansas’ youngest mayor and became a banker—the same banker who once grabbed a .35 Remington rifle, piled into his 1915 Cadillac and chased the heavily armed thugs who had just robbed him.

My father’s past wound through my childhood like a thick strand of DNA. And yet, when I was 30 and he 83, I stood at a microphone in Washington, DC, and declared he was a stranger to me. “I don’t know who he is,” I said. But how could I not know the man who apprenticed me at age eleven to work summers at his side? The taskmaster who paid me a nickel an hour and said I should be paying him for the experience? The no-rules prankster who invented his own lyrics while singing next to me in church choir? The consummate horseman who handed down to me my grandad’s branding irons, his most treasured keepsake? The Chautauqua-circuit musician who taught me how to listen to the classics, who sat with me in the dark, lost in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor?

On the long trek back to our shared and separate pasts, I find my father. I find him on the prairie I chose to leave, in the grit and sweat of his time, in the laughter of those who remember his antics. And I discover that the distance between us was mine to own and overcome, not his.

Dominoes Are Played at Joe's Place was a finalist in the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (Narrative Nonfiction Book category). An adapted version of Chapter 8 was a finalist for the American Literary Review’s Nonfiction Award. Excerpts of my manuscript appear in recent issues of South Dakota Review, DASH Journal and HeartWood Literary Magazine.