Re: RARA-AVIS: Willeford and Thompson and what's for dinner

From: Maura McMillan (
Date: 02 Jan 2001

i've given the matter more thought, and see a pattern emerging here.

kip mentioned that willeford was from arkansas. this is true, but he left as an infant, involunatrily, and moved to california, where, as we all know, the climate is far more temperate and the vegetation lusher than in the hostile wilds of oklahoma, that bleak and unforgiving landscape etc etc. thompson had to make it out of the region under his own power, and his work shows it. where thompson is embittered, willeford is tolerant. yes, it could very well be the climate.

but not JUST the climate. after very limited research this morning i found that thompson's mother, according to polito, was not much of a cook: "she inherited an aversion to the kitchen, and for family meals raided the prepared-food counter of her local market. 'she tried to keep everyone going on junk food,' harriet says. since she often sent the children to the store themselves, 'everything we ate was full of sugar.'" tsk, tsk.

compare that to page one of 'i was looking for a street,' the first volume of autobiography of willeford's, where he discusses family dinners prior to the death of his mother, when he was seven, and the consequent dissolution of their household: "we had a full-time negro cook, and we ate big dinners at night -- huge roasts, turkeys, chicken and dumplings, and i don't remember what all. except for joe cassidy, who had moved to los angeles from new york, mattie, mama, and roy were from greensville, mississippi, so southern cooking predominated. because i was the only child, and a boy at that, i was indulged. i liked jell-o, for example, and regardless of the desserts the others had, i was always served jell-o, usually the red kind with chopped bananas in it."

okay, maybe it's the only child thing -- thompson had siblings -- but i can't be sure. it's hard to say what the real consequences of having a mother who's a bad cook are, in terms of life-long influence. all i know for sure is that willeford was well fed, and he turned out to be a friendly and compassionate nihilist, whereas thompson remained ill at ease with himself in the world and was way too thin. coincidence? i think not.

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