Famed author returns to his roots

When Bill Bryson came to visit his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Foss Bryson in Winfield, he didn't realize that those visits would be a part of the books he would write in the future.

On Friday, June 2nd, Bryson and a film crew invaded Winfield for a day of reminiscing and meeting new friends. The team, from England, was in town to make a documentary on Bryson which will also benefit his latest book which will come out in the fall.

Bryson comes by his desire and abilities to write through his father, Bill Bryson, Sr., who was a sports writer for many years for the Des Moines Register.

Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century - 1951 - in the middle of the United States - Des Moines, Iowa - in the middle of the largest generation in American history - the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for twenty-four-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood wearing a jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers - in his head - as "The Thunderbolt Kid."

Using his old fantasy-life persona as a springboard, Bill Bryson recreates the life of his family in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality - a life at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, and full of Bill Bryson's inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is as wondrous a book as Bryson has ever written.

Some say that the first hint that Bryson was not of Planet Earth came when his mother sent him to school in lime-green Capri pants. Others think it all started with his discovery, at the age of six, of a woolen jersey of rare fineness. Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people's hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman.

Bill Bryson's first travel book opened with the immortal line, "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to."

In his deeply funny new memoir, he travels back in time to explore the ordinary kid he once was, and the curious world of 1950s America. This book is about growing up in a specific time and place. But in Bryson's hands, it becomes everyone's story, one that will speak volumes - especially to anyone who has ever been young!

Bryson now lives in England with his wife and children, but this past week, with his British film crew, made the trek back in time to his younger days "spending his summers with his grandparents."

To the delight of Bryson and company, an entourage of farm equipment chose to make a trek down Locust Street while they were filming. They later drove out to the Klopfenstein farm to do additional filming.

Bill Klopfenstein, who served as host for Bryson and his filming crew, said he thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. "We weren't sure at first if Bill (Bryson) was going to be with the group. We thought it was just going to be the filming group," Klopfenstein said. "But, we were delighted when they showed up and Bill was with them."

The board of the Winfield Historical Society was present when they toured the building and everyone was able to visit with Bill. Bill and Mary Wintermeyer were also at the museum to exchange stories with Bryson.

Bill Bryson's bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, and Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words. A Short History of Nearly Everything earned Bryson the 2004 Aventis Prize.

If you would like to read any of these publications, check with Mike Thomas at the Winfield Public Library.