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I’ve always been suspicious of published memoirs. So often they’re written by celebrities—movie stars, politicians, pro athletes—bent on self-promotion. Or they recount with melodramatic flair some remarkable, often tragic aspect of the author’s life. Michael L. Hall is not a celebrity and his life, as he himself muses, “has been only ordinary,” comic even, in that during his childhood he experienced “few tragic or even sad moments.” But while there may be little remarkable about Hall’s childhood, what is remarkable is his ability to look back on it and see how the people and events of his early life played a critical role in forging the man he ultimately became.
“What I have actually done,” Hall says of his memoir, “is simply tell some stories.” Yet the stories he tells, rich in detail and loaded with insight, are at once unique to his childhood and universal in theme: school, church, work, family and friends—and, yes, girlfriends—and more. These stories are relatable because they speak to the sometimes mundane, sometimes comic, sometimes poignant moments that happen in every person’s life. And the heartfelt lessons Hall draws from reflecting on his childhood experiences are bound to resonate with those of us who look back on our youth with the weighty ambivalence that resides at the confluence of nostalgia and regret.
It isn’t lost on me that Hall’s memoir presents only a narrow slice of Americana—a portrait of a boy who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in a suburban, working-class neighborhood in central Texas, the child of loving and supportive parents, in a time when children were allowed to be children. Not exactly the stuff of Leave It to Beaver, but not far removed either.
So why should anyone reared in a dissimilar culture, under less fortunate circumstances care to read Hall’s recollections? For me the answer is this: My San Antonio Childhood: A Memoir, for all its unassuming narrative charm is, at its core, a thought-provoking examination of the roots of character. And who can’t relate to that?