January 31, 1995
Charles Kemnitz is now into his second year on the faculty of Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA He used to be a technical writer here in Perry for the Charles Machine Works, Inc., and the two of us were colleagues there for several years. I also knew Charles' father, George Kemnitz Jr., when George and I were students at the Perry elementary school years ago. George recently died after a prolonged illness.
Charles was home for his father's funeral and during the brief time we had to visit, he mentioned that he has finally completed a collection of essays which he began while still living in Perry. I had read one or two of the earlier essays, so he sent me a copy of the manuscript for the entire collection. The title is "Hand Me Down the Land," and when it is published in book form you really must try to buy a copy.
In general, the essays tell the story of the Kemnitz family and they joined the early settlers in the Perry area. They were pioneers in the purest sense, cowboys, farmers, adventurers and home builders. In many ways they typify the rugged individuals who came here around the time of the Cherokee Strip opening. Charles' story-telling technique mixes fiction and non-fiction as a means of spinning an interesting yarn. Many people are identified by their real names, others are given fictitious names but you will quickly recognize some of them just the same. It is a literary device known as "creative non-fiction" which is becoming more popular in this age.
The title, "Hand Me Down the Land," relates to the passage of land from generation to generation through inheritance, and the love that so many people have for the soil, especially ancestral soil. Charles weaves the pieces together in an engrossing style. It is far more than a history of the Kemnitz family, interesting as that subject is all by itself.
Some of the essays already have been published as separate articles. One of them, "Strong as an Ox," will be appearing in the Small Farmer's Journal; "Plain Ignorance" and "Some Dam Ecology" have been purchased by Oklahoma Today magazine. "Plain Geometry" was published in the fall 1994 issue of Cimarron Review, and Phoenix has taken the title essay, "Hand Me Down the Land."
I learned to appreciate Charles' writing gift when we were co-laborers at the Ditch Witch plant here, but previewing this collection has given me a new awareness of his artistry. He also is a published poet and his prose flows with the same grace and fluidity of poetry. I will keep you posted on the progress of this work as it goes through the various steps leading to publication. You'll find it well worth your while when it is finally available.