The passages within Arnold Bauer’s “Time’s Shadow” awaken memories of a long-forgotten style of life: steering work horses through a rural terrain; trapping muskrats in the cold; and learning in a one-room schoolhouse.
And thanks to some unexpected national recognition, the now 81-year-old Davis resident’s account of growing up on a 160-acre farm in Kansas won’t go as unremembered as the nostalgia it contains. “Time’s Shadow” was listed under The Atlantic Magazine’s top five books in 2012.
The well-received memoir recounts a childhood typical of family farms of the time, the 1930s to the ’50s, when the young labored alongside the old. It also captures an eventual decline in viability in smaller agriculture on the Great Plains — when technology, laws and the market shifted drastically, and permanently.
“It’s a world that is now lost; not only in the United States, but many parts the world,” Bauer said of the family farming that cultivated him.
While Bauer’s self-portrayal primarily focuses on the early portion of his life, it also follows his pursuance of studies in Casablanca, Mexico and Berkeley. This path led him to a career teaching Latin American Studies at UC Davis, where he served as a professor for more than 30 years.
During Bauer’s time with the university, he produced books related to his academic specialty. In 2005, he received the “Order of Merit Gabriela Mistral,” which is the Chilean government’s highest recognition for contributions to culture and education.
Bauer tasked himself with writing autobiographical letters to Lily and Frank, his two grandchildren in Brooklyn, after retiring from his position at UCD. This minor project became the impetus for “Time’s Shadow.”
“I thought I’d tell ‘em something about their grandfather,” Bauer said. “I got into it. After writing several of those, I thought that maybe there was something to it. I wrote a bit more, then decided to send it off to a publisher.”
Bauer began by pitching his story to the University Press of Iowa, but it was denied due to its “limited market appeal.” The same reaction came from the next publisher he propositioned.
Even what he believed to be the likeliest source of acceptance for publishing his memoir, the University Press of Kansas, replied with a rejection letter.
That, obviously, was not the end of the story. Bauer countered the Kansas-based publisher’s dismissal with stubborn persistence:
“I wrote a letter saying, ‘I reject your rejection,’ and explained why I did. The editor of the press wrote back, ‘You’ve made me very grumpy, because I’ve been an editor here for 40 years, and I’ve never once in my life changed my opinion on a manuscript’
” ‘But,’ ” the editor wrote, ” ‘I will, this time. I’ll send it out for two reads, if they’re favorable, we’ll go ahead with it.’ ”
After Bauer’s memoir successfully made it through the review process and reached the shelves, his personal remembrances were met with positive feedback from readers.
“It has been a fulfilling experience,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of comments from people in the United States who have undergone that same experience.
“Several people were brought to tears, because it has poignant sides to it. Others, well, most wouldn’t write to you unless they were enthusiastic in favor of it.”
It was certainly appreciated by the literary editor of The Atlantic Magazine, who Bauer said shocked his editor by naming it one of the best books of 2012.
“I was surprised by the honor, as I wrote it for a very local reading public,” he said. “The memoir had sold out, and is going into extra printings to respond to the unexpected demand.”
The Atlantic’s writer, who also recognized National Book Prize winner Hilary Mantel and other notable authors, cited Bauer’s compelling writing and reflections on a disappearing way of life in the year-end list selection.
Bauer said he hopes his introduction to a vastly different lifestyle — and the elimination of it — is something that can resonate with everyone.
“Where there were 10 farms when I grew up, there is now one huge agriculture business,” he said. “So, that’s the drama … I’m hoping readers get a picture of that 160-acre family farm, and the obliteration of it by modern forces.”
Bauer’s memoir is available in a hardcover edition on amazon.com and through some local retailers.
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett