ALTHOUGH I WAS BORN IN FAIRMONT,
WEST VIRGINIA, the place I like to think of as "home town"
is Maquoketa, Iowa, a farming community to which the family moved
when I was three years old. It has been a long time since I last
saw Maquoketa, but according to a recent letter from a boyhood
sweetheart, who long ago married "the other fellow,"
it has not changed much over the years. The same spreading maples
filter the hot summer sun and the same cornfields stretch away
in a sea of yellow on the outskirts of town. Different mothers,
as clucklingly watchful as my own, forbid different boys to swim
in the "dangerous" Maquoketa River, and different boys
continue to swim in it, even as I did long years ago.
Our family consisted of my mother,
her brother and her parents. I never knew my father, who died
when I was six weeks old, but I cannot complain of a "fatherless"
boyhood. My grandfather, Leo Reinheimer, was father enough for
a dozen lads. When not long ago I was asked to write a young
peoples' biography of St. Jean Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of
Ars, I used grandfather as my model - a compliment to the old
man, to be sure, but one that he deserved. He and I were inseparable
right up to the hour of his death, when I was sixteen, and in
all those years I never saw him do a mean or cowardly thing;
nor did I ever hear him say an unkind word about another human
During most of those happy years
in Maquoketa, ours was the only Jewish family in town. Since
there was no synagog, it was next to impossible to raise me in
Judaism, so at an early age I was enrolled in the Christian Science
Sunday School. One reason for this was that an aunt of mine had
become interested in "Science." Another, I suspect,
was that geographically the Christian Science meeting rooms were
closer to our house than any other religious center in Maquoketa.
From the beliefs of Christian
Science I parted reluctantly but deliberately during my college
years at the University of Iowa. It was not a case of moving
from one religion to another. At the time I concluded that religion
itself was "excess baggage," something no one really
needed-a notion that would wear away under the stress of time
At the University of Iowa I "majored"
in journalism, but at graduation, a newspaper job proved difficult
to locate. It was the 1930's. People were talking about something
called "the depression." Iowa seemed practically jobless,
so I hitch-hiked south, stopping at the larger cities and offering
my services to the local newspaper editors. In Oklahoma City
a city editor turned me down with vigor. During the preceding
weeks scores of experienced newspaper men had trooped through
his office, begging for work. When I approached him, a whippersnapper
innocent of experience, the harrassed editor blew up. I left
his office literally in the air, tossed out like a bag of potatoes.
It was not until I reached the
oil-country town of Palestine, Texas, that I lucked into a position
on a small daily. It was a Pooh-Bah of a job. I did general reporting,
sports reporting and society reporting. I edited the national
news relayed to us by pony-that is, over the phone-from the United
Press Bureau in Dallas. I wrote all the columns and tried to
One event of those Palestine
days lingers in memory. In the evening the newspaper office was
the Mecca of some of the young townspeople who liked to sit around
and gab. And one evening the conversation drifted to the Civil
War. As it grew somewhat heated, I was guilty of a gauche and
"So it's true," I ventured,
"you southerners are still fighting the Civil War."
A young woman in the group put
me in my place. "No," she snapped, "it's not the
Civil War we're still fighting, it's the Reconstruction that
came after it."
Her remark prompted me next day
to visit the public library. There I discovered that my southern
friends might be still "fighting" the Reconstruction,
but they were not reading about it. The books on the Reconstruction
shelf were layered with dust. I cleaned them off and read them
all. It was the beginning of a hobby that came to a sort of cumulation
five years ago when I began writing a book, Andrew Johnson:
President on Trial (Farrar, 1960), dealing with the first
Reconstruction President and, in my opinion, our most-misunderstood
chief executive and one of the most remarkable.
I enjoyed the work in Palestine.
It was a sad day when the boss informed me that he could no longer
afford my $15-a-week salary. A few months later found me back
in Iowa where I got a job on the Des Moines Register. There
I remained for about five years, working in several editorial
capacities. Followed a succession of newspaper jobs in St. Louis,
New York City and finally in Chicago where I took time out to
get a Master of Arts degree at Northwestern University.
When I finished my studies at
Northwestern in 1941 a teaching job was waiting for me in a nearby
collegebut before I could get to the job, Uncle Sam got to me;
and I spent the next four years as an officer in the Chemical
Warfare Service of the United States Army.
After the war I settled in New
York, working first as a publicity writer for a book-exporting
firm, later as an advertising manager for a chain of restaurants.
In my spare time I wrote magazine articles and, with the late
Whitford Kane, co-authored several plays, two of which were produced
in a summer theatre. In 1950 1 left my job to write full-time,
with some teaching at New York University and elsewhere on the
By this time my attitude toward
religion had taken a drastic turn. This development started in
1939 when, as part of my newspaper duties, I was told to write
an abstract of the first encyclical by Pope Pius XII. At this
late date I no longer recall exactly what appealed to me in that
document, which dealt with the function of the State in the modern
world. Perhaps it was the Holy Father's carefully- reasoned condemnation
of dictatorship at a time when so many of my people, the Jews,
were suffering under Hitler in Germany.
At any rate, I began reading
Catholic literature and occasionally attending Mass. Conversion
did not come until 1949 when I was received into the Church at
St. Joseph's in Greenwich Village, New York, on the Friday evening
before Christmas. Insofar as a conversion can be explained in
human terms, I believe my final decision was largely motivated
by the example set by my Catholic friend, now my Godfather, Ray
Neville, a Connecticut artist.
During my first year as a full-time
writer, concentrated on magazine articles. Many of these were
for The Sign and in the editor of that magazine, Father
Ralph Gorman, C.P., I have found so good a friend and guide that
I suspect him of commanding a private line to my guardian angel.
Lately I have been writing mostly children's books, some of them
biographies, some novels.
In common with many writers,
I always employ people I've known as models for characters, even
when those characters are historical. My chipper and humorous
little maternal grandmother dominates a mystery for young people,
ominously entitled The Secret of Grandfather's Diary. When
I was asked to prepare a juvenile biography of that one-time
juvenile delinquent, whom we now know as St. Augustine, I went
back to grammar-school days to find a model for his saintly mother
in the best and toughest of my teachers, the late Mary Hancock
of Maquoketa, Iowa.
Friends tell me that I enjoy
writing for the young because I'm childish. The statement is
true, but what little success the books have enjoyed has not
been because of this personal defect, but in spite of it. Books
for children should not be childish because they are not directed
to childish readers. The word "childish" applied to
adults has not kept up with their years. I am satisfied with
the letters I get from young readers that they are doing very
well on that score. It is a grave literarycrime to feed children
books written in baby-talk and oozing with false sweetness-and-light.
Children like their history straight and their fiction believable
and thoughtful. The many letters I get from them tell me that
on this point the younger generation and this childish grown-up
see eye to eye.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Books by Mr. Lomask
Include four volumes in Farrar, Straus & Cudahy's Vision
Books series: The Curé of Ars (1958), John Carroll,
Bishop and Patriot (1956), St. Augustine and His Search for Faith
(1957), and St. Isaac and the Indians (1956). General
Phil Sheridan and the Union Cavalry (1959), is in Kenedy's
American Background Books; he also coauthored St. Thomas and
the Preaching Beggars (a Vision Book, 1957), with
Father Brendan Larnen, O.P.; Ariel Books issued his book, The
Secret of Grandfather's Diary (1958); his adaptation for
young readers of Inuk by Father Roger P. Buliard, O.M.L,
under the title My Eskimos (1956), is also a Vision
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Sixth Series, 1960.