This book began as a story: Here are four people; here is what happened to each of them and to the four of them as a group. As the author, I initially knew that much, but I didn’t know them well. I needed to become acquainted with them individually — (see Who are these people?) — and then construct their story as I followed them around.
Most of the time I was almost out of breath keeping up with them. (They were young, I am much older.) And so I was well along in documenting their lives before some themes became plain.
Cars and Horses
For example, this book is not about cars. True, cars aren’t a focus, but, given that it begins in the 1960s and takes us not far into the 1970s, the vehicles you would see on America’s roadways were much more interesting then than they are now. Consequently, the cars that make their appearance are intriguing if not downright fascinating. Two, in particular, play supporting roles in many scenes.
I knew at the start that horses would play a major part, and they did. But, by the start of Book Two, I realized that they were fading from their earlier central part.
Family – Siblings, Parents
Sister-brother relations dominate the entire novel, followed closely by parent-child relations. The book is extended by perhaps a hundred pages beyond what it took to tell the story in order to emphasize these themes. For me, these relationships far outrank the quotidian if equally important pairing of romance and sex. Braided with these two threads of family and siblings is the theme of matrimonial relations, as expressed in the wedded bliss or blisslessness of two couples, Leroy and Wilma Straed, and Madeleine and Henry Clay Comosh.
Romance and Sex
They’re young. They fall in love. It’s not treated casually or graphically. The story acknowledges it and moves on. It’s not a central theme but one that is unavoidable.
Shadows and Ancient Wisdom
Shadows fall in almost every chapter, beginning with a quoted passage early in Chapter One. Young people discover tidbits of great and ancient wisdom and, upon first encounter, can be deeply moved by it.
Images of American Indians
This one was rather fun. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched all the cowboy and Indian shows on television. Yes, Indians were depicted as vicious — in defending themselves and their lands from invaders. They were also depicted as honest, wise, accepting, and highly skilled.
As I was growing up I noticed the reverence with which American society regarded the pre-Americans, as Lionel, in the story, refers to himself and other indigenous people whose ancestors were here before it was called America. In Boy Scouts we were schooled in Indian lore. I was in awe of the authentic Indians that I met.
The novel makes much of the fact that images of Indians — often inaccurate in some ways but mainly out of enthusiasm — were and still are used as product trademarks, on coins and currency, and to promote other things.
And so, in Cold Morning Shadow, we meet an Indian motorcycle, (a brand still in production under that name), we are reminded of the automobiles named for Chief Pontiac, we hear a little about three different types of American coins of the 1800s and early 1900s depicting Indians. We are reminded of the art of Frederick Remington. A cigar store Indian lurks in the shop. And there is more besides these examples.
The open prejudice of some stupid people regarding American Indians is acknowledged in the story but given no credence. And the response of some Indians to the presence of post-Europeans, as Lionel Comosh calls those born here of European descent, is acknowledged as well.
Lionel is the one who questions the sobriquet, native American, as applied only to people of aboriginal ancestry. He defines native American to include everyone who was born in North America or South America, and certainly to include all post-Europeans who were born here.
Indians I knew during the period in which this novel is set didn’t dispute the term, assuming a necessity to apply any collective term to one human being or another. Lionel in the novel, on behalf of all pre-Ams, is content to be known as an Indian.
Poetry and Music
I didn’t write scintillating poetry in my youth, and neither did these guys. But a couple of the characters in the novel did write some. And one composed a heart-felt song. Other songs of the times pop up here and there throughout the story.
Only after I had published the novel did I notice that there is enough of this to call it a theme.
There are the obvious pairings — two girls who become friends, two boys likewise. There is Rex’s wild image of his son jetting off to Zürich speaking three languages and brandishing exotic currency, paired with the later but unplanned realization of that exact event.
Once it was in print, other things began to emerge in twos from the shadows of its pages: two of this, two of that: radios, sirens, hearing aids; two examples of “a primal mutilation,” the same setting and the same pair of characters at the end of Book One and the end of Book Two.
There are two appearances of a big cat, two incidents in one family on two successive Fridays that both made the news. There are two chapters on the parent-child relationships in one of the two families, (Chapter 21: Father and Son, Chapter 22: Mother and Daughter), although the book has a different way of describing the parent-child relationships in the other family.
There are two word games (see below). There are two ceremonies for one wedding, two versions of the vixen’s den, two versions of a homophone list, two injuries to the same hand, two factory settings in Asia, two wrestling matches, two Buicks, two shop pickup trucks, a 1941 Packard and its doppelgänger… Are there more examples?
Languages and Linguistics
The story unfolds as Cyleine meets a new girl, Garnette in eleventh-grade English class. One is already immersed in the language, the other almost baffled by it. The book is centered on language, its use and misuse in English as well as other languages, and on related themes, such as the next two topics. Some Latin comes into the story, a good bit of Chinese, a smattering of German and Romanian, and some Lakota.
Words and Word Games
Cyleine and Garnette become collectors of words. Their eleventh-grade lists comprise Chapter Twenty-seven. But for one of them, words constitute a means of serious miscommunication as well.
Two word games are incorporated into the book, Botticelli and Latinos, the latter being an original game invented for the novel.
Codes and Ciphers
The four friends who are the main characters in the story find themselves compelled to invent a cipher for their private communication once the elder two have graduated high school. They succeed in it and eventually employ it in what might be construed as an example of international intrigue.
There is a difference between a cipher and a code. A code, generally, is an open, undisguised representation of one word or idea with another plain word or idea. The 10-codes used by emergency responders and police agencies throughout the country provide an easy example.
A cipher is a system of disguising a message in some way that it’s not readily deciphered. It may not even be evident that a message is hidden in a piece of text.
In the novel, the model number of a radio, 831-CC, is a code. Lists of apparently ordinary words, on the other hand, are instead an inconspicuous cipher.
Wilton steps forward and volunteers for military service during the Vietnam non-war. He takes his role seriously, no matter how nonsensical and hazardous the situation. Things reach a military climax, of sorts, after the first ex-soldier whom Wilton meets, Mister Turnbull the English teacher, reaches out to General Westmoreland on Wilton’s behalf.
The Fabric of the Story
The military theme is interwoven with the theme of codes and ciphers. Codes and ciphers are interwoven with words and languages. Poetry and music are interwoven with romance. Cars and horses are interwoven with family.
Altogether, they are the fabric of the novel.
There may be other themes that a reader will perceive that I, as the author, have not remembered or even noticed. You are welcome to suggest them to me.