Book cover of by Robert Flanagan

Bits & Pieces: Winding Down

The final collection of short essays/newspaper columns by Robert Flanagan, Connemara Press/McClain Printing, 2020. This collection is Book IV of the 4-book series of selected columns by Robert Flanagan, another subset of the 986 columns he wrote over a 19-year period for The Hampshire Review, weekly newspaper in Romney, W.Va. The columns in this collection were published in the paper in the period September 2012-June 2018.


Soft Cover   $25.00



In Rome, Italy, we lived seven miles "out.". Driving into town, we crossed the Tiber River; just at the bridge crowded the Ponte Milvio market. Clothing and shoes were sometimes offered, but it was essentially a farmers' and fishermen's market with "picked this morning" fruits and vegetables and fish still writhing, freshly dried pasta, and a bounty of Italian cheeses from cow, ewe, mare, goat or buffalo — all delicious. Shopping demanded haggling; vendors truly don't want to sell to you, even at ruinous prices, until you demonstrate negotiating skill. Our daughter Lisa, then 10, offered a vendor honorable accomplishment if he could overcome her fishwife, bullying tactics in his own tongue.

The favorite market in Rome occurred in the weeks before Christmas each year when Piazza Navona, largest, most beautiful of city squares, was closed to vehicular traffic and a vast array of stalls blossomed where anything might be sold. Farmers from the Abruzzi offered cured meats; fishermen from the Adriatic and Mediterranean, their glistening bounty. The aroma of chestnuts roasting over charcoal fires, and roasting lamb on spits, suffused the square; the sharp resinous smell of pine sap from fresh-cut Christmas trees; the tart sweetness of new wines from their first pressing three months before. Street musicians moseyed about, playing for coins; shepherds, down from their winter-closed mountain pastures, played their mournful pipes to earn a few lire. Bells of the many surrounding churches rang out joyful seasonal fare, or tolled the hours. Italy is rife with markets: outside Rome's walls, weekend "flea markets" operated where you could buy from the open back door of a van the same labels that sold in toney downtown shops for 10 times the price. Stall markets about St. Peters Square on Easter Sunday; squalid, malodorous markets of sea creatures flank the docks in every coastal village.

—from "Bizarre Bazaars," page 56

You can imagine; my jaw had dropped. I was mesmerized by this quiet mid-westerner's history; and though I also had little training in writing, I knew this was a tale that had to be told. I began holding sessions with Glenn, when we had a chance between training rigors, questioning him on details: dates, events, places. I would write his story. In a book!
I had much to work with, but the story needed a future, a finish; Glenn's story as I knew it was too bleak to bear reading. I did an outline; I thrashed back and forth in time, seeking entryways into the narrative; I chose names for the characters who would populate my version. I began the story in 1956, when "Glenn" (not my character's name) arrives in Britton, Ill., a town I created (mapping out streets, parks, college). He has just returned from 3 years working on a fishing boat in Alaska, a place he had gone to heal after Korea. Britton was the hometown of his fiancée, and though she was dead, he returned there in search of some link to her past. He enters college in that town, meets another girl whom he could love but he is still a broken man, his undisclosed past a barrier. In flashback, the reader learns all the earlier history — leaving home, college, love, war, imprisonment — then returns to the story's "present" to learn the truth of his former love's and child's death.

I wrote at that story for 10 years, off and on, without any training in writing. In Viet Nam one night in 1964, I sat in my hooch and pulled out the manuscript to review, and suddenly realized, "Hey, I've got my own war here." I began keeping the Viet Nam journals, and over the long haul of that trilogy, the treeline story blurred into distance. I've written 9 chapters and the story continues to resonate.
But it's still a tale not told.

—from "A Tale Not Told," page 360