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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
"R. Kent Rasmussen" <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 15 Aug 2011 12:52:47 -0700
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain once remarked how sad it was our memories must decay as we go to pieces. I'm old enough now to know how true that is. Some day, I'm sure, all I'll remember about my meager contributions to Mark Twain studies is that I once wrote a book called MARK TWAIN A TO G. I shall not, however, ever forget the thrill of attending the first scholarly Mark Twain conference in Hannibal, Mo., which concluded this past weekend. From start to finish, it was an unmitigated joy--most especially to those paying their first visit to Sam Clemens's boyhood home. In my own case, it was my second visit there. However, as my first visit came fully 19 years ago (when my ignorance of Mark Twain covered the whole earth like a blanket, with hardly a hole in it anywhere), this visit felt like a first-time experience. Being envied is humankind's chiefest joy, so let me relish telling those of you not at the conference what you missed:

--$15/night dorm rooms with semiprivate bathrooms (i.e., shared by two rooms) and air conditioning

--weather so cool that even attendees not from Yuma occasionally wanted extra blankets

--guided tours of every major landmark and historic site in Hannibal and Florida (which is even more invisible now than it was in Clemens's time)--mostly under the expert guidance of Henry Sweets, ranconteur extraordinaire

--a riverboat (no, not a real steamboat) dinner cruise under a full moon on the majestic Mississippi (plus an opportunity to take the helm)

--a selection of conference papers with too many good ones for me to risk mentioning only a few

--uniformly delightful company that included lots of promising young scholars


--the open-air music concert in front of the Boyhood Home on Thursday night

--Grace Coggswell's performance of "A True Story," which was so moving I was grateful it was too dark in the auditorium for anyone to see my eyes

--Pat Ober's impromptu lecture on Dr. McDowell's attempt to petrify daughter body in a glass case stored deep inside the Mark Twain Cave (Pat spoke in the very chamber in which the body had been kept; I expressed my appreciation of his performance by recommending that another chamber--which our guide said was the cave's creepiest--be named in his honor)

--archaeologist Karen Hunt's tour of the site of John Quarles's farm in Monroe Co., where she is overseeing the reconstruction of the farm's original buildings

--a long and stimulating conversation with Dan Norman (I think I have his name right), one of this year's young "Tom Sawyers." Through him, I gained both insights into life in modern Hannibal and confidence that not all young people are obsessed with cell phones, iPods, and television

--getting to know Shoichi Nasu, a freelance Japanese journalist touring the sites of 25 American novelists in order to write a book (Shoichi--if  you're reading this, don't forget to go back to the San Francisco Bay Area to gather material on Jack London. While you're there, be sure to take in the R. Kent Rasmussen Boyhood Home, Donut Shop and Nail Salon in Berkeley)

--Finally, I must not forget the local Mark Twain impersonator whose performance reached a level of perfection that brought back pleasant memories of the piano player in chapter 32 of A TRAMP ABROAD.


--visiting the public library with Tim Champlin and finding 30 copies of his books and none of my own

--seeing myself quoted at length at the Birthplace Museum's exhibit of HUCK FINN illustrations and not having Beverly David with me to share the moment

--seeing how badly the old Tom Sawyer movie theater on Broadway has deteriorated

--riding with Tim into Hannibal on Sunday to drop off Shoichi at the old bordello and not having time to go inside

Seriously ... it was a truly wonderful occasion, and I can't wait to come back in 2015. My thanks to Henry Sweets, Cindy Lovell, and their staff; the staff and volunteers at the Hannibal-LaGrange campus; and all the old and new friends who attended.