...what we will be
has not yet been revealed.
L.E. Taylor, author, Elgan and Grace
- First John 3:2
ONE DAY, IN THE FINAL DECADE of
the last century, I found myself brooding
over the futility of the alien life I’d
wandered into. I shut off my telephone,
closed my office door. My eyes fell upon
this new device that squatted on a
writing desk over near the window.
I pressed a switch and the screen shone
bright and pure. Not a virgin sheet of
foolscap, but close enough.
I found myself writing—not advertising copy, but a story.
A true story that had haunted me for much of my life since the
first hint of it, when I was a boy.
The rest of that day I dwelt vicariously in an era before I was
born. The result was “Tracks and Ties.”—soon to be christened Chapter One.
Elgan and Grace, A Twentieth Century Saga became a
decade-long labor. It was written for you.
Taken together, almost in any sequence, its fragments are scenes remembered—poignant and jarring, spiritual and profane. They bear witness to virtue and vice, hope and heartbreak, to passion and folly and the ardent promise of redemption. Some arrive for your judgment just as they happened, some as they might have happened. A few are recalled as they never were. Like every story, the parts are not all facts; they are not all faith.
Yet, the tale, however it congeals in your care,
is most certainly true.
About the book
“To be thrown on one’s own resources is to be
cast on the very lap of fortune; for our faculties
undergo a development, and display an energy, of which
they were previously unsusceptible.” - Benjamin Franklin
L. E. Taylor is a product of the 1930s and ’40s, the first son of a hybrid Middle American family—itself a resilient mix of Scots-Irish Kentucky coal miners and poor German immigrants. The novel comes together at the social and economic battleground of an age: Detroit.
Historically authentic settings and mores rekindle the past: backwoods Kentucky, a booming young Detroit, anti-German hostility during The Great War, whiskey-running and speakeasies, twists of fortune after The Crash, the Machiavellian inner sanctums of the world's largest industry, the World War II American home front—and finally, sea-changes in society and in private lives that accompanied Post-War normalcy.
Caution: The book is based upon oral history, family lore, and first hand memory. It is an adventure, a spiritual journey… and to delicate 21st century sensibilities, politically incorrect to a fault. So be warned.
The story is written exactly as people behaved, spoke, and lived. To change one word to accommodate 21st century fads would be irresponsible, factually and artistically. And it would be insulting to the memory of those—with all their flaws—who’ve preceded us.
A SELECTION OF
Comments from Readers
“TO MR LE TAYLOR: Your book, Elgan and Grace, arrived today! I grabbed an extra hour and read the first two chapters. Fascinating. I have no idea where all the plots are going, but that's the way a good book reads. . . Hard to believe how you captured the "South." Makes me feel like I'm there. Not the deep South from which I hail. (You know; the moss covered richness of LA, Harper Lee style. LOL) You had me smelling beans and salt pork cooking, for crying out loud!
. . .
Just finished Elgan and Grace. Riveting!!”
Alabama & Texas
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“DEAR LET, I finished Elgan and Grace last night!
It was beautiful. Raw, emotional, bare... I was reading Part III over the past few weeks and Elgan's struggle came crystal clear to me. “We don't have any power. It's all in the hands of God.” Thank you for committing so much of yourself to penning your/their story.”
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“ELGAN AND GRACE IS A HARD-HITTING, hard-scrabble, painfully intimate interpersonal family memoir. Desperate to escape the ignorance, abuse, and dead-end poverty of rural Southern coal fields, the young protagonist, Elgan, embarks on a long, hard journey that blesses him with a gifted wife, Grace, and a life together filled with accomplishment and love. But as obstacles become great struggles, Elgan’s inner foundation reveals weaknesses, and he embarks on another desperate quest: a lonely search into the mysteries of Christian faith. L.E. Taylor writes with a relentless clarity and vulnerability that makes history come alive in the moment.”
Rev. Constance M. Morrow
The Church of the Nazarene
Los Angeles, California
“AS A GUEST COLUMNIST for my local paper in South Carolina, I am favored with off-the-mainstream reading recommendations from friends and readers. Recently, a friend suggested that I might enjoy a new book called Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga. It is the result of a 15-year-long effort by a first-time novelist from Dallas, L. E. Taylor. . .
I found Elgan and Grace to be a book I couldn’t put down. Multiple storylines are woven together in a way that held my interest. What I love about his writing is that it is an easy read, and so many of the places in Michigan that he mentions, I’ve either been there, or know about the history. I woke up at 2:30 one morning and read to 7 a.m. Then I had to take my van to the shop, and found myself waiting 2 hours – doing guess what? Reading Elgan and Grace on my Kindle.
This is more than just another family history. Elgan and Grace are two [real] people that did the things that helped make this country great – with hard work and honesty. The book touched me deeply.
I hope L.E. Taylor plans other books in the near future. I give this one Five Stars!
A New “Adult” Novel for Every Generation.”
North Augusta, South Carolina
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“…THROUGH READING THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK, I have [the author] to thank for lighting a fire under me to leave a legacy for my own generation (Gen X). . . a true story of strength, hope, wisdom, and good old American perseverance. Elgan And Grace is not just a saga of the 20th century, but a message… needed for ours and future generations!
A timely story for a generation in need: Mine.”
Amazon.com review (5 stars)
Have you read the book?
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From Chalk Talk (page 9)
… “You’re going to be challenged, looked down on; half-truths and outright lies about you will precede you and people who don’t even know you yet will have their minds all made up. So, you’ll need to know what’s true. About your country, about your state, about the South and slavery and what really happened both before and after that war. There’s honorable things to be proud of and there’s un-Christian things to be ashamed of. It’s our job to see you know which is which and see that you take along as much of it as you can hold, wherever you go.
“That’s what this semester at Central City High School is going to be about.”
From That Woman (page 16)
…The young man stood leaning against his car, smoking a cigarette. Ginny saw him as she rounded the first bend past the sycamore. He raked back a shock of black hair from his brow and grinned. Ginny Kelley came to a stop a couple of paces away. Her heart was pounding. Her mouth was dry.
“What’s your name?” she said.
“Grover,” he smiled and made a feeble bow with a nod
of his head.
“How ‘bout a ride, Grover?”
“I’ll show you.”
From False Start (page 22)
… Up ahead, the engineer sounded the whistle twice, and Elgan hurried to the third to last coupling and lifted himself onto the iron rungs that ran up the back of the forward-most car.
“You! Boy! Get away from there!” …The train began to move. The brakeman jumped down from his platform at the back of the crusty red crew car and sprinted forward. …
Elgan leapt to the other side of the car and off, and came to land on his feet, running. As the last boxcar passed, he rolled onto the undercarriage a second before the railroad man, now up on the coupling, peered around the corner to see where the boy had got to. At fifteen, Elgan was small and compact, and he fit well onto the tiny platform with nothing to spare. As the train picked up steam, he clasped the cold metal suspension rods. His grip was certainly not going to hold all the way to Chicago. It held until the train took a curve just before Owensboro, flinging the boy down an embankment in a shower of sparks and an angry shriek of metal on metal.
Elgan sat up. Cut and bruised, he limped back down the tracks, south.
Also from False Start (page 24)
… “How come you left before?”
“I was just troubled. I’m working now. Makes me
“You two kin talk on yer own time. Get busy!” The young foreman was no older than sixteen, pimply and freckled both. A thatch of orange hair stuck out from under a sweaty no-color fedora.
“You go to hell,” Roy said. “We’re workin’ harder’n
“Watch yore mouth, boy, else… ”
“Else what, you big dumb redneck.”
The foreman took a step and Elgan put out his hand. “He doesn’t mean anything, mister. He’s just hot and tired. Let’s forget about it, what do you say?”
“Back off, white trash,” the kid said, pushing Elgan’s
hand away. Roy puffed up like a dead fish on a riverbank. “Look who’s callin’ people trash,” he said red-faced. “That boy’s got more smarts than you’ll ever know of.”
“Oh yeah?” the redhead snarled. He pushed Elgan hard, sending him off-balance through a row of tobacco, and into a colored field hand working the other side. “There’s where you b’long, with your kind,” he snarled at Elgan over the foliage.
Roy stood enraged, also shouting at Elgan across the same low hedge of green. “Don’t let him get away with that, Elgan!”
A sinewy arm shot across the tobacco row and grabbed the foreman by the shirt front and pulled him across. Elgan flung the young foreman to the ground with a force that startled him, not to mention cousin Roy and the Negroes. In an instant, Elgan’s work boot was on the kid’s chest. “I don’t want to fight you. I’ve got no quarrel with you. Now let’s just forget about this. OK?” Elgan removed his foot and put out his hand.
From Going to Eloise (page 32)
… Outside, on the front porch, Helena and Quinn pause and survey the Elysian grounds of the Michigan State Asylum for the Criminally Insane. “Aren’t them lilacs beautiful?” Helena remarks softly to no one.
Quinn looks at the row of frothy lavender trees. “Oh. Yeah. Sure are.” He pulls out a pipe, jams a thumb into the bowl, and feels in his pocket for a match. He finds one and strikes it on a thumbnail. “I wonder who ‘Bill’ is,” he muses, sucking the flame into fresh sweet tobacco.
“She kept sayin’ ‘Bill.’ Can’t be the fella she killed. She knifed him dead. I wonder who Bill is.”
Helena rubs her tender wrist. “Her boss,” she says flat, speaking to her wrist, “Bill Kane.”
“Mmm.” Officer Connie Quinn blows a whiff of fragrant tobacco smoke downwind and flips the cold matchstick into a flower bed.
“I sure love the lilacs,” Helena says. “Too bad they
From Papa's Girl (page 40)
… A forest of massive elms and oaks loomed larger as Fred guided her further eastward. Helena fell silent as the two passed one newly scraped-out dirt street after another, their names freshly painted in white on the new black street signs: “Ojibwa,” “Seminole,” “Algonquin.”
“Are you sure you know where you’re goin’?”
“One more block,” Fred grinned. A minute later they turned at the corner of Chippewa Street, the last street of the development.
“I don’t know, Fred.” Helena peered up the dirt road. Fields and dense stands of tall trees separated skeletal houses in various stages of completion.
“It’s just up in the middle of this block.” Fred could hardly contain his excitement.
“Are you cold? Let me give you my coat.” Fred began to remove his suit coat.
“No, no. I ain’t cold.” They slowed to a stop. Helena frowned. “This is out in the middle of nowhere, Fred.”
“Well that’s where they build new houses,” he laughed. “What’s wrong?”
She looked up the rough road. Then back the other way. “Indians.”
“Them woods. I bet they’re full of Indians.”
Also from Papa's Girl (page 43)
… She played absently with a honey-colored curl as she stared, curious, at the sleeping face of her Papa. Oddly, she saw something that made her heart leap. From a nostril, appeared a trickle of blood… In an instant, the doctor moved to the corpse, wiped the blood away with a swipe of his handkerchief, and gently guided the child toward her shocked elders. From the hallway, a large woman in a flurry of swishing black silk and a clatter of pearls rustled across the parlor and snatched up the girl.
“Come, Grace. Come to Auntie Kane.”
From Owensboro Game (page 83)
… the Owensboro boy found himself closing on the lone Central City defender, only five yards away. It was the kicker. In a flickering second the slight-built punter dove low, caught an ankle and the two cart-wheeled through the downpour, the smaller Central City boy coming to earth on his back. The ball-carrier’s left cleat planted itself firmly on his face. An explosion struck Elgan’s eyes like lightning. He scrambled to his feet, the field a red blur. He stumbled over something, the downed runner perhaps, and pitched face down into the liquid earth. Vaguely, he perceived near his face a black melon of mud, which he drew to his chest and hugged like the rolling coronet of King Richard.
The murky bleachers came alive with cheers of rowdy students, drenched townsfolk, and proud kin. “You done it, boy!” a delirious teammate screamed, “you done stopped him!”
The cleat scar remained all his life, a white line through the black arch of his right eyebrow. It was not Elgan’s first scar. It would not be his last.
A letter home, from Curse of the Radio People (page 205)
‘... It’s clear to me that if a man wants to get ahead, he does himself no good appearing to be from the south. The first purchase I made after gaining full time employment was a radio. Detroit has two stations that broadcast late into the evening. I study the way the news announcers speak and I practice imitating them. They seem to have no “accent” at all. Native Michiganders for the most part speak without a “drawl” and they are keenly aware of any hint of speech oddities among outsiders…’
From Old Kenturcky Home. Far Away (page 213)
… This is real ugly, son. Coal’s got to get mined and we’ll hire anybody to get it out… Negras, Hunkies, Chinamen. They’ll work if you pay ‘em anything at all, and show ‘em how to do it. Trouble is, some of ‘em you can’t teach anything.”
“You wouldn’t get away with that up in Detroit...”
Grover shook a Lucky Strike from its green pack. “I don’t know about that,” he said, lighting up with a wooden match. “But I do know that these strikers are not going to stay hungry much longer. There’s so many of ‘em out looking for other work that what jobs there are, are going for fifty, sixty cents a day.”
Elgan stared at the ground. “I’m sorry about that,” he said, but without show. “Men need to work. Or they lose their self-respect.” He flicked an imaginary spot from the door handle. “I’ve seen it up North, the idleness. You can’t give up or you’ll just blame everybody else and you’ll end up no good to anybody.”
Grover sat down on the stump, picked up a twig; the Lucky hung from his lips. “A carload come a-driving by last week, throwing bottles at the house and yelling, scab! out the winder.”
Elgan noticed that when his kinfolks got excited, their speech became more ‘country.’ “You don’t think Mama and the kids are in danger do you?”
“Don’t know. It’s not up to me.”…
From A New Man (page 247)
… Grace stepped carefully to avoid dark heaps of refuse, trying not to soil the hem of her new ivory-and-taupe silk dress. She held his arm, and she wondered. What did I get myself into? “We’re almost there,” Elgan said. “They don’t let you park near the door. I’m sorry.”
I’m going to be murdered, she thought. If my mother knew. Oh my God, if she knew.
They arrived at the light. A rivet-studded black steel door, glistening and cold from the just-quit rain, did not welcome them. Elgan stepped forward and removed his light gray snap brim fedora. The light shone softly on his haircut. He tapped on a small brass plate with a car key. Just above the plate a tiny grate protected a miniature door, no larger than a playing card. It opened inward and a man’s eye appeared.
“Taylor,” Elgan said. “Rossini says the ravioli's good.”
From Old Time's Sake (page 364)
… Howard maneuvered his green Dodge into the left turn lane and accelerated onto the Belle Isle Bridge. He checked the rear view mirror. Howard was glad to see so few cars going to the island. A handful of pedestrians kept to the sidewalk along the concrete rail, but it was a workday, and in 1954, that meant people were at work.
He kept to the right and drove along the water’s edge around to the ship channel side. A long brick-red lake freighter, the Harvey S. Mott, was gliding past between the island and the Windsor waterfront. It was high in the water, empty, on its way to Lake Superior for iron ore, or maybe to Green Bay or Chicago for grain. Howard turned at the playing field entrance and parked at Diamond 8.
Howard scowled. Memories of the old days on these ball fields were more bitter now than sweet. This was a mistake, he thought: He should have insisted on meeting by the water, or in some restaurant. No, that was no good. There was no good place. Howard just wanted to get this over with. He got out of the Dodge … looked at his watch. Ten-twenty. He walked up the lush green collar along the right field line to the wooden bleachers behind first base, climbed to the top row, and sat down… Past the verdant outfield, and the picnic grounds beyond, the giant ore boats that majestically passed each other and the Hiram Walker Distillery on the Canadian side looked close enough to reach out and touch…
Movement on the road caught Howard’s eye. A black car, an old Ford, entered the playing field lot, and limped to a halt next to the Dodge. The driver’s door groaned opened and stayed agape for a half minute before the driver emerged. He closed the door, stared at it, opened it again and closed it with more force… The man saw Howard and waved. Howard gestured in reply and looked at the river. A black ore carrier was riding low in the water, heading downriver toward the Rouge. White sails skimmed past in the opposite direction, lake-ward. Howard thought about people who had nothing to do on a Tuesday morning but sail a boat.