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Book brief

Essays reflect on small-town Kansas

Cheryl Unruh, d’81, wrote Flyover Country and Waiting on the Sky—essay collections drawn from her long-running Emporia Gazette column about life in Kansas. With Gravedigger’s Daughter, she dials the spotlight of her careful observation even tighter, focusing in poems and short prose vignettes on the people, places and pastimes of Pawnee Rock, where she grew up in the ’60s. Unruh has an eye for small-town oddities and ironies, as when she alone is awed by “the marvelous juxtaposition of normal and abnormal” upon encountering neighbors from home while on a Rocky Mountain vacation with her family.

Best are the moments when her abiding affection for her father, Elgie Unruh—gravedigger, school bus driver, woodworker, mail carrier, artist and “one man promoter of Pawnee Rock”—comes front and center. In “Folded Socks,” she remembers him kneeling in his suit before church, carefully folding socks a size too big under her toes as he slips black Mary Janes on her feet. “The bulkiness/of the extra cloth/trapped under my toes/stayed with me/the entire morning,/but the tenderness/of that moment,/the gentleness of my father,/kneeling, helping me/get dressed, well,/I’ve carried that moment/with me/my entire life.”

Gravedigger’s Daughter:
Vignettes from a Small
Kansas Town
By Cheryl Unruh
Meadowlark Press, $20

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