The Skipworth Summer is possible only because of the real Luther Skipworth, my grandfather. Events in his life inspired this novel, but it is a work of fiction. So, what is real? The information about Skip’s early years is completely factual. His mother did die when he was 10 years old in an accident as the family returned from the grist mill in Many Springs, Missouri. In fact, the obituary in the novel is quoted exactly from the death notice as it appeared in 1910. A young, motherless boy, Skip was shuttled to multiple families. Denied the opportunity to attend school beyond the third grade, Skip valued education above all else. As such, he was tireless in his pursuit of knowledge. He prized his extensive collection of books, proudly embossing each title page with a seal noting his ownership. He and his bride, Faye Lewis Skipworth, worked as barber and beautician in the building on the corner of Church Street in Berryville, Arkansas. Artifacts from his many years as a barber are still on display at the Pioneer Heritage Museum, and the curators there were most gracious in sharing information from their archives.
Skip did lose his wife in 1951, and details of Faye’s death are factual, but he did remarry and was survived by his second wife, Phenie. In the matter of Skip’s death, fiction was far kinder than reality. Instead of passing quietly away in the barber shop he loved, Skip suffered a debilitating stroke. Complications from the stroke claimed his life a year later. Ross Benedict is completely fictional, but Skip did at one point want very much to take in two boys to live and work on the farm. My knowledge of that intention provided the “What if” that is the fountainhead for all story tellers.
The novel originally was written as a gift to my own children, Skip’s great-grandchildren, because I wanted to capture for them the grandfather I so idolized and whom they would never really know. I owe my mother, Jorita, unending gratitude for graciously allowing me to tell this story in which she plays a large part and for her permission to invent or alter details of Skip’s and her life for the sake of the narrative. My oldest sister Karen, with her absolute recall of almost everything, helped validate memories that comprise the chapters about the family’s visit to the farm. My friend Lin Settle provided invaluable insights and suggestions through multiple revisions. Foremost, however, my husband Rick was patient and supportive throughout the entire process, uncomplaining as I spent countless hours at the computer and ever confident that the story would sometime find a wider audience.
Jan Netolicky is a retired language arts teacher who lives with her husband in Robins, IA.