Current Littourati Map

Neil Gaiman's
American Gods

Click on Image for Current Map

Littourari Cartography
  • On the Road
    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

Search Littourati
Enjoy Littourati? Recommend it!


Littourati is powered by
Powered by Squarespace


Get a hit of these blue crystal bath salts, created by Albuquerque's Great Face and Body, based on the smash TV series Breaking Bad.  Or learn about other Bathing Bad products.  You'll feel so dirty while you get so clean.  Guaranteed to help you get high...on life.

Go here to get Bathing Bad bath products!

Entries in community (2)


Blue Highways: Sutton, West Virginia

Unfolding the Map

Another casualty of a changing America in the 1980s, the soda fountain, is the focus of William Least Heat-Moon's (LHM) attention in this post's starting quote from Blue Highways.  In this post, I speculate how my life might have changed had my father realized his dream of owning a soda fountain in my hometown.  To the right is the West Virginia state flower, the Rhododendron maximum.  To find Sutton in the long geographical timeline of our journey, please see the map.

Book Quote

"In the frayed, cluttery hamlet everything - people, streets, buildings - seemed to be nearing an end.  In one old survivor, Elliott's Fountain,...I drank a Hamilton-Beach chocolate milkshake, the kind served alongside the stainless steel mixing cup.

"The owner, Hugh Elliott, laid out a 1910 photograph of the drugstore when you could buy a freshly concocted purge or balm, or a fountain Bromo-Seltzer, or a dulcimer; although the pharmaceuticals were gone, you could still get a Bromo or a dulcimer (next to the Texas Instruments 1025 Memory Calculator)....what had been a spacious room of several bent-steel chairs and tables was now top to bottom with merchandise.  What had been a place of community was now a stuffed retail outlet...

"....A crisp little lavendar-and-lace lady, wearing her expansion-band wristwatch almost to the elbow to keep it in place, sipped a cherry phosphate and pointed out in the photograph the table where her husband - dead these twenty years - had proposed to her.  She said, 'You won't find me at the grave.  Always feel closer to him in here with a phosphate.'"

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 3

Main Street in Sutton, West Virginia. Photo by Tim Kiser and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.Sutton, West Virginia

In stopping in Sutton, LHM goes to a soda fountain to have a milkshake, and then uses his experience and the description of a lady enjoying a phosphate drink to again lament a disappearing America.  "What had been a place of community," he writes, "was now a stuffed retail outlet."

One of the stories that I picked up about my father had to do with a soda fountain.  My father's dream was to own a soda fountain in my hometown, in particular a soda fountain called The Green Parrot.  He lost his mother at a young age, and during the Depression he had to work to help support his family.  Along the way one of the skills he picked up was cooking.

World War II broke out in 1941, when my father was 17 years old.  He knew that he would be drafted for the army, and went to talk with the owner of The Green Parrot.  The owner told my father that when he came back from the war, if he had the money he could buy the fountain.  My father went off to war and served in the Pacific, eventually rising to the rank of master sergeant.  He served mostly on the island of Saipan, where his skills were put to work when he was given the duty of organizing and managing the mess halls.  He dutifully sent portions of his pay back to his father at home, and had told his father to put the money into savings so that he could buy The Green Parrot.

When my father came home, he asked his father for the money so that he could make the offer for the soda fountain.  His father told him the money had been put into a different investment, a 13 acre piece of property in the Irmulco Valley, about 25 miles distant.  Gone was his dream of owning The Green Parrot.

You have read of much of the rest of the story in Littourati.  My father went to work at the lumber mill, the main employer in my town, where he worked the rest of his life.  He was unhappy and unfulfilled.  He was a longtime alcoholic and may have abused Valium.  He may have had depression.  He was the anchor of dysfunction in my dysfunctional family.  He sexually abused me, and to this day my family still deals with the legacy of his unhappiness.

But I'm not writing this to demonize my father or my family.  Instead I'm writing this to speculate what might have been.  What might have happened had that money been available to my father when he came home from the war?  Would my father have been happy as a small business owner.

Would The Green Parrot have been my place of employment?  Would I have developed a community there among the people who came in - the young, the old, the regulars, the out-of-towners?  What effects might they have had on my life, outlook and aspirations?  Would I have learned skills that would have had effects on my life?  Would I have gotten to know a girl, fallen in love and stayed in Fort Bragg?  Would I have taken over The Green Parrot after my father retired, and would I have attempted to keep it alive through lean times until fountains became retro and cool again?

Most importantly, would being a visible business-owning member of the community have made my father a different man?  Would he have been more satisfied with his life being in control of his own destiny?  Would his marriage and family have been successful?  Would my family have been spared the pain of dysfunction, and would I have been spared the horrors of abuse?  And would our constant exposure to the community in a type of place that, at their height, fostered community and caring in small towns, have served as a check against dark activities behind closed doors?

These are all just speculations. and I suspect that the my father's problems were deeper than a change of employment could address.  The fact is that my father's life is what it was, and mine has been what it is.  I have weathered the pain and horror of my family's problems, though I still have to deal with it sometimes.  I have made my life into what it is which, like everyone else's, has been full of a lot of joys and opportunities along with some occasional setbacks, mostly of my own doing.

But when I think of how I did it, it was a lot of my own effort and in a feeling of isolation.  Of course, there were people who helped me along the way and I am very thankful for them.  However, at that time in the United States the concept of community was stronger than it seems to be now.  People looked out for each other.  My father's isolation took us out of a wider community, and the inability of my immediate and extended family to confront the problems within it made our problems worse.  An extended community doesn't mean that all problems are immediately solved, but makes it more possible that difficulties and hardships affecting some of its members will be recognized and addressed.

Now, many of these establishments that encouraged community - the soda fountain, the neighborhood bar, the diner, the small markets and pharmacies, and the fraternal organizations have given way to chain restaurants, loud taverns where speaking is impossible, material goods are placed front and center over opportunities to mingle, and the world-wide web and social networks have replaced communal organizations.  With these advances have also come reversals.  I believe that there is more isolation, more discord and less opportunity to come to agreement.  We see it on local levels in anger that boils over into violence, and on the national level in a polarized government.

And to be realistic, the world wouldn't have changed much had my father been able to buy a soda fountain in the 1940s.  My world might have been better or worse, depending on unforeseen factors.  But our country is always worse for a loss of community.  It's telling that the lady in quote feels closer to her dead husband in the soda fountain, where the memories of her interactions with him and others in the community are strongest, than at his grave.  I hope that the real sense of community that made America so strong and vital aren't someday marked on a symbolic gravestone with "Here lies America's community spirit, killed by modernity and progress."

Musical Interlude

Perhaps I might paint a soda fountain too optimistically, but it's hard not to get into the infectious spirit with Glenn Miller and the Modernaires making it look so fun!


If you want to know more about Sutton

Braxton County News (newspaper)
Photo of sign at Elliot's Fountain
Town of Sutton
Wikipedia: Braxton County, West Virginia
Wikipedia: Sutton

Next up: Gassaway, West Virginia


Blue Highways: Corydon, Indiana

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

William Least-Heat Moon wants to put the miles between him and his troubles, and we're going along with him like a fly in his van riding shotgun.  For a reference point on our journey, click on the thumbnail to get to the interactive map.

Book Quote

"...through the old statehouse town of Corydon, I drove to get the miles between me and home.  Daniel Boone moved on at the sight of smoke from a new neighbor's chimney; I was moving from the sight of my own.  Although the past may not repeat itself, it does rhyme, Mark Twain said.  As soon as my worries became only the old immediate worries of the road - When's the rain going to stop?  Who can you trust to fix a waterpump around here?  Where's the best pie in town? - then I would slow down."

Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 5

Marker commemorating Indiana's first capitol at Corydon. Photo by Kathy and her Buckethead H., on Click on photo to go to site.

Corydon, Indiana

The quote above cites one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain.  The idea that the past does not repeat itself, but rhymes, appeals to me on so many levels.  I've faced this in many aspects of my life.  You hear the phrases "the more things change, the more they stay the same," or "we are doomed to repeat our mistakes."  I think that these phrases touch on part of Mark Twain's idea.  For me, when it seems that I finally get a handle on things, especially those situations that really set off negative reactions or times of self-despair or even self-destructiveness, I go through a learning process.  I think to myself okay, I know how to handle these situations in the future and I will never go down that road again.  But other situations come up that bring on the same negative consequences in my life.  The situations seem different, but once you peel through layers of disguise, connections begin to reveal themselves.  Only after I've gone through the whole damn process again do I realize that indeed, I was just relearning what I already learned.  It can be very frustrating and maddening, but after the fact, I realize that Twain's rhymes were there if I'd only recognized them.

I don't know about any of you, but I have some of the spirit of moving on when one has the "sight of the smoke of a neighbor's chimney."  I am an introvert, and am often uncomfortable around large groups of people.  In addition, I grew up in a small town, and it's taken about twenty years for me to get used to living in cities.  My wife despairs of me sometimes, because she loves to take advantage of cities and I, if left to my own devices, usually don't do the things that cities offer best - live music, theater, restaurants and other activities.  Were I living in Daniel Boone's time,  I might have done what he did and moved on when people got too near.  But I'd probably come back from time to time, because I like people.  As did Daniel Boone, who was largely responsible for settling Kentucky and served in the politics of the state in his later life.

Don't we often do that, whether or not we live in a city, or on a remote ranch somewhere?  Humans seem driven by the need for people, and companionship, but also a need for our own space.  This causes some interesting clashes, especially in our society where the old frontiers defined by seemingly limitless geography have given way to the new frontiers defined by how far we can go in the electronic, virtual world.  People immerse themselves in computer activities, such as I do in this blog.  It's a solitary thing that divorces us from the reality around us.  A young man plays World of Warcraft and doesn't talk to another live human for weeks.  A woman builds an avatar and disappears into Second Life.  Yet even as they divorce from reality, they seek community in these places.  Facebook is the most popular social networking site on the internet, with millions of people seeking companionship in their Facebook friends.  World of Warcraft is interactive gaming with others, all solitary, sitting at their computers and connected to each other in the game.  We don't often hear of the Daniel Boone's of this frontier, though some have decided to chuck it all and go "off the grid."  We tend to think of them as a little crazy.

I don't know whether this aspect of our society is bad or good.  I think the lack of real community is a negative, but you can't help but admire the new and innovative ways people are finding each other.  Someone like William Least-Heat Moon, even as he drives to put the miles between him and home and the problems he is running from, can't help but pass through towns like Corydon, reminders that the world exists and that we can always plug back into true reality when and if we must.

Ho about a little information about Corydon?  It was the second capitol of the territory of Indiana, and the first state capitol.  It was also the site of the only Civil War battle in Indiana.  For those of us into 70s television, the town was the birthplace of James Best, better known as Roscoe P. Coltrane, sheriff in the Dukes of Hazzard (the original TV series).  The town is also known for its festivals and town activities.  So, there's a bunch of reasons to stop there!

If you want to know more about Corydon

The Civil War and Corydon
Corydon Democrat (newspaper)
Corydon, Indiana (PDF from Center for Minority Health at University of Pittsburgh)
Historic Cordyon
History of African-Americans in Corydon
Wikipedia: Corydon
Wikipedia:  Images of Corydon

Next up: Louisville, Kentucky