"'Ain't nothing like family,' my father used to say." This line comes from "The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir" by Pacific Grove writer, Bill Minor.
Minor's father said many other things as well. When they were meant to stick, young Billy knew it, and knew, very early on, that he was the one designated to preserve the family story.
A book launch party for "The Inherited Heart" will happen tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at The Works. The program is infused with a live soundtrack carefully chosen to represent the 1940s and '50s — a time Minor says carried a "romantic sense of life, that anything was possible."
Harold Arlen's "It's Only a Paper Moon," Thad Jones' "A Child is Born" and "The Nearness of You" by Hoagy Carmichael are part of the set, along with a few original pieces. Minor will be on keyboards, with Heath Proskin on bass and Jaqui Hope providing vocals.
Born in Detroit and bred by his "Yankee" mother and Arkansas father, Minor began playing music professionally at age 16, and was trained as a visual artist before turning to poetry. He has authored three books of non-fiction on jazz.
Prior to his current book, his most recent project involved a commissioned score to accompany the dramatic readings of "Love Letters of Lynchburg" — Civil War correspondence between Susan Leigh Colston Blackford and Charles Minor Blackford — Minor's distant relations and just two in the cast of stars who brighten "The Inherited Heart."
The book includes an 18-page spread of photographs, some of which even play key roles in the story.
"I longed to be truly alone, at peace, sick." Minor writes in the chapter "The Runaway." At home ill, Minor is waiting for everyone to leave so he can be just that. After his brother, protesting him as a fake, goes to school, his father, advising him to "plant the hillside in corn" exits for work, and his mother is off on an errand, he retires gratefully to the bathroom with a book of poetry.
But alone he is not meant to be. A neighbor, Jean MacDonald, bursts in on a quest to discover who's home.
"The world is not a private place," the 11-year-old heart of the author intones wisely.
Packing "provisions," he climbs out onto the porch roof from his parents' window. But already by age 11, Minor felt the weight of his roots. Nearly stopping him in his tracks are stoic and gentle faces from both sides of the family framed and hanging on the wall.
Though MacDonald was quite real, ("She was the nosiest person, but she was delightful," said Minor.) We discover in a recap following "The Runaway" that not all the story holds up to fact.
Minor lays bare his motivations, hesitations and best of intentions throughout the book, speaking directly to readers about his process and content.
Interspersed within the text are passages from a book "Extremities" he completed in the '80s. Minor was teaching American Humor and Comedy at Monterey Peninsula College at the time (where he taught for three decades). A long-standing student of Thurber and Twain, he thought, "I'm just going to have fun with my life."
It didn't last. "I got dissatisfied with that," said Minor. "I thought, 'No, I want to get as close to the so-called truth (as I can).'"
It wasn't long before the author began to ask pertinent questions like, "What the heck is the 'so-called truth?'" Take the four-plus versions of his grandfather's almost-death.
"We have a whole lot of ambivalence in our lives," concluded Minor, "and you're not going to get around it, you just have to live with it."
Ambivalence and complexity. Minor relates the shock he feels at discovering a ledger of his great-grandfather's — a revered doctor and intellectual — listing his 20 slaves.
His own father's views on race are another matter he confronts on more than one occasion in "The Inherited Heart," and the fact that the music he is enthralled with is belittled as "black music."
From before that 11-year-old tried to climb out the window under the eyes of his ancestors, Minor has been destined to write this story. "I had to deal with what it was in me that made me hold off for so long," he said.
Despite an older brother and a younger sister, there was never a question it was the Minors' middle child who would carry their history. "It was kind of a burden," Minor understated. "I just wanted to be a kid."
"It's my job to make these people come alive," Minor said. "They are characters in a novel, and at the same time, they are you."
In the end, he learned he couldn't run from himself, nor did he need to: "My God, I've got good genes for a writer!"
Kathryn Petruccelli can be reached at montereybound@yahoo. GO!
·What: Book Release party and concert for Bill Minor's "The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir"
·Where: The Works, 667 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove
·When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan 11
·Tickets: $15 at the door
·Information: 372-2242, www.bminor.org