Blake Allmendinger is a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Imagining the African American West (Nebraska, 2005) and other books. His work on western writers and literature has been featured in the Los Angeles Times. His most recent book, The Melon Capital of the World, is now available.
People in Los Angeles area who have read my book have told me they have been moved by the story of my family’s struggle. The memoir has inspired some residents of Rocky Ford, Colorado, to share their own stories. The elderly father of one resident—a friend of mine—read the book shortly before dying. He confessed, prior to his passing, that he had engaged in an extramarital affair while living in my former hometown, and had fathered a child out of wedlock. After the man passed away, my friend returned to Rocky Ford to learn more about his half-brother. The boy’s high school yearbook was missing from the local public library. My friend went through the back issues of the town’s newspaper and discovered that his half-brother had died in a car accident when he was eighteen. Although he had a sibling he never knew about, he felt that learning the truth provided a belated closure.
I interviewed an interracial farming couple for the book in 2009. The wife, who was white, told me about her son, who was gay. As an adult, he moved to Colorado Springs and eventually died of AIDS. I assumed the woman’s children were biracial, since her husband was Japanese American. But I learned after the memoir was published that the woman had two sons—not one—and that they were the products of an earlier marriage. Both of them were white, as well as gay. The surviving son contacted me after reading my memoir. He told me his stepfather used to beat both boys for being “sissies.” After they ran away from home, their mother tried to commit suicide. She remained in a coma for several weeks, and continued to suffer from periodic bouts of depression. She was on a manic upswing when I interviewed her. I described her in the book as boisterous and energetic. After hearing from her surviving son, I realized her family—like mine—wasn’t what it seemed. There were tensions between parents and children, instances of physical abuse, and secrets that couldn’t be revealed within a conservative farming community. The son found my memoir cathartic. He felt I was telling his story, as well as my own.
Writing is a lonely enterprise. After spending several years trying to write a story that I worried might never get published, it is rewarding to know the book is connecting with readers, some of them strangers, who nevertheless have similar stories to tell.