By Connie Hocking Ι July 23, 2015
This is the summer of Super Heroes. So who’s your favorite? Superman? Wonder Woman? The Green Hornet?
Mine is the Thunderbolt Kid. A product of the memory and imagination of author Bill Bryson, the Thunderbolt Kid comes across as a mild-mannered, typical kid growing up in the 1950s. Unless you cross him; then you’re likely to become just a pile of ash. In his memoir, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,” Bryson takes us to Des Moines, Iowa, where he chronicles life in that idyllic period, blissfully unaware of the dangers of DDT, nuclear blasts or jumping off the railway trestle into the Raccoon River. It was an era when kids were on their own much of the summer, a time of tea rooms and stores with pneumatic tubes to whisk payments straight to the accounting department. Full of facts, fiction and downright exaggeration, “The Thunderbolt Kid” is a breezy summer read.
Bryson has been one of my favorite authors for many years. I was first introduced to his dry wit while reading “The Lost Continent.” In his search for the perfect small town, Bryson starts in Des Moines and travels in a figure-8 around the United States. He writes of the folly of a Strategic Air Command in football-crazed Nebraska — “If Iowa State should happen to beat the Huskers, they might just nuke Ames!” He drives through Russell, Kan., home of Bob Dole. Alas, Russell doesn’t make the cut in his list of quintessential perfect places to grow up.
Some of Bryson’s other works include “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” — his take on America after living in Europe for several years — and “In a Sunburned Country,” which covers his travels in Australia. He also wrote “A Walk in the Woods” about his hike of the Appalachian Trail. It has been made into a movie, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, set to open in September.
One of his latest releases is “One Summer: America 1927.” It details events in America from April through September 1927. That was the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, Henry Ford introduced the Model A and the Great Mississippi River Flood became the most destructive river flood in U.S. history.
Although quite a lengthy book at 528 pages, it is a fascinating history of our country and makes me wish I’d asked my parents and grandparents more questions. Did they remember the Lindbergh flight? My dad would have been 9, but since they didn’t have a radio, how would they have learned about the flight?
My maternal grandfather was quite a pitcher and was recruited by the New York Yankees. What were his feelings about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig?
Lindbergh and Ruth were the Super Heroes of 1927. Would they live up to that title today?