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by Nancy Grindle · July 26th, 2016


Although Dan Kellams left home to attend Cornell College in Mount Vernon and then Columbia University in New York City, a part of his heart remained in Marion, Iowa, as we find when we open his second book, a memoir called Mistaken for a King: Sketches of a Small-Town Boyhood.

Dan is returning to Marion in late July. He will present a book talk and signing at the Marion Public Library on Saturday, July 30, at 11 a.m. We will be able to hear him speak about and read from Mistaken for a King, and then we'll be able to purchase our own copy, complete with his autograph.

His book is a delightful and easy read. It regales us with tales of his adventures in the 1950s. We can read for just a few minutes at a time or spend a bit longer as we accompany Dan on his adventures.

We are reminded of the younger sibling who insists on pestering us with his or her presence. Who among us hasn't taken advantage of that younger one's inexperience?

Ah yes, Dan approaches that situation right at the beginning of his book as he describes the adventure of climbing up onto the garage roof and trying to decide whether to jump or not. As he puts it, "I remember three boys sitting in a row on the roof of a garage, their knees pulled up under their chins, their arms wrapped around their legs. They aren't supposed to be up there. ... I am one of the boys. My best friend, Tom, is another. I'm not sure who the other is. I'm pretty sure it's not my younger brother, Pete. ... The reason I'm pretty sure the third boy was not my little brother is that I would have made him jump off to test the descent."

We have to envy the freedom Dan experienced during his childhood. He and his buddies roamed safely from one end of Marion to the other (and beyond). Dan and Pete were limited at first only by the distance their father's whistle would carry, signaling that it was time to drop what they were doing and head home.

Throughout the book, we share Dan's feelings and empathize with him. We witness his parents' reactions when he doesn't want them to go on vacation, his mother's leaving home because of his naughty behavior, his internal battle over stealing candy.

And doesn't every home have to have pets? In Dan's world there was the dog Spike, the cat (who didn't last very long) and the duck Donald, each with their own distinguishing characteristics.

We are reminded of the good old days in many ways. There were tales of the trips to the grocery and soda fountain, owning an autograph book, sneaking cap guns into the theater to shoot during Westerns and war movies, then ownership of BB guns and bigger ones.

Dan describes the local businesses, too. Harley Breed's barber shop and shops nearby had, as Dan put it, "a slightly sordid aura that appealed to some and mildly repelled others." When very young, Dan was nervous walking there and he noted that some girls avoided it completely. But Charley's Popcorn and was just the opposite, drawing customers at a frantic pace.

Dan was fortunate that his father handled worldly topics in a sensitive manner. For example, an instance of the Marion High School basketball team playing Cedar Rapids' Immaculate Conception High School in a tournament triggered the need for an explanation of the term "immaculate conception." There are other instances throughout the book. We must admire Dan's parents for their decency and Dan for his honest but well-chosen phrases.

Some of the most important memories revolve around water. There were the places along the creek where snakes and turtles provided hours of entertainment. There was swimming naked in the creek and also in the American Legion Pool, with an occasional venture to the Cedar Rapids YMCA pool. We share Dan's anticipation and experiences in all of these locales.

We are reminded of the movies and cartoons: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Lash Larue, John Wayne (of course), Tom and Jerry, Wile E. Coyote, and Elmer Fudd.

There were the summers Dan spent at Camp Wapsie while his mother cooked there. The adventures include dealing with the river rapids, blasting a huge fallen tree, the birth of a bunch of snakes, being treed by an angry cow, and many other experiences.

We get to see what it was like to carry The Cedar Rapids Gazette in those days, not an easy task. Nor was it easy to be an usher at the local theater.

And of course there are the inevitable ball games - basketball, sandlot baseball, and the contests against teams from across towns. See the chapter called, "That Championship Summer."

And Dan includes the tales surrounding his desire to box like a Golden Gloves champion and own a speed bag. You can read for yourself about the match that occurred in his own parents' basement.

Boys begin to be aware of national sports heroes, and Dan's hero was Jackie Robinson. Much later, in his adult life, Dan gets to meet Jackie in person.

How Dan's book got its name, "Mistaken for a King," is related fairly early on, but we'll let you read that part yourself. And by that time, you'll be thoroughly hooked.

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