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Kurt Vonnegut:A Friend’s Viewpoint

Hello! I’m Majie Failey, the author of We Never Danced Cheek to Cheek: The Young Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis and Beyond.

One of my very favorite remembrances of Kurt is the one he spun in an article in Architectural Digest and which he told me also. It centers about his favorite lake, Maxinkuckee in northern Indiana. I can just see it as he described it, a bare butt boy up early in the morning while the mist is still cloaking the lake and the air is cool, the sun not yet burning through. His beloved sister Alice and older brother Bernard have the cottage’s rowboat and are going to accompany him on an across the lake swim.

This lake is a mile wide!

Here is what I say in the book, direct from Kurt’s own memories:

He has told them he’s determined to swim the width of the lake. It’s two and a half miles long, over a mile wide, the second largest natural lake in Indiana, and he’s going to swim almost a mile. He’s peeled off his swimsuit for maximum freedom, and he’s naked as a tadpole. He dives in. He starts to swim. He’s clipping along through the smooth, gleaming water, his siblings laughing in delight as they row alongside and shout words of encouragement. . . the boy’s boundless energy and sheer joy show that he is, at the precise moments, probably as happy as he will ever be.

(As happy as he would ever be until Slaughterhouse Five came out, I

Kurt and Majie at work on a project in her kitchen.

should say, to great critical acclaim.)

Reading this, people wonder:  Did he make it? Have to get in that rowboat? Yes, he did make it. How did Alice and Bernanrd, sister and brother, feel about that day? Surely they cherished it as a special memory of their little brother. Did Kurt ever try it again? I’ll never know because he never said.

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