Doug Thatcher grew up around a mile west of the Wayne County Home. From his parents’ land, he could see the brick building.
“It used to be a real hustling and bustling place,” Doug said. “Some of the residents did farm work. It depended on what their disability was, if they were physically in good shape, and they could take direction. There were animals to raise and crops to harvest. They were pretty self-sufficient as far as growing their own food. They had a big garden.
“Others would help with dishes and clean the residence, and do some yardwork. It depended on people’s abilities.”
This experience became part of Doug’s first book, Bring Me Back Home, a work of nonfiction outlining the changes taking place around the world in contrast to the daily grind of rural life in Iowa circa the mid-century.
“During that time, sometimes the farmers in the area needed some additional labor,” Doug said. “You would go to the County Home and talk to Wink Chastain. He would see if they had a good fit, and they would bring the labor over. They would have a person from the County Home to supervise them.
“It all worked out really well, because they wanted to get away and get out and do something, and the farmers needed some help. It was just a good community effort.”
The County Home is just one of the historical subjects Doug discusses in his book. His grandparents lived near Seymour, while he attended elementary at Cambria. His grandmother painted folk art and grew a large garden. His father Wilbur was a World War II veteran.
He watched The Ten Commandments at the Wayne Theatre in Corydon
Doug graduated from Wayne Community High School in 1972, and his wife Jan graduated in 1973.
After earning a degree in drafting from Indian Hill Community College, he worked in manufacturing engineering for years, for most of that time in Muscatine. His first job out of college was as a machine designer at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Burlington.
He went back to school later in life, and in 2007, he graduated from Western Kentucky University with a bachelor of science.
The couple has lived just outside of Louisville for 10 years and in Kentucky for 28 years. They left Iowa in 1989. Jan works at the Rawlings Group, a company that edits medical insurance claims.
Around two years ago, Doug decided to write a book.
“I had been working for a company called Meritor in Asheville, North Carolina,” Doug said. “They made axles for heavy trucks. I wrote training materials for people. I was still living here close to Louisville, so I was coming home every weekend.
“My dad died in 2015, and I wasn’t there for that. I started reevaluating my life, and realized how fast it was going by. About four months later, I quit my job, came back and decided to reorganize and reprioritize my life. That’s when I decided I would try my hand at writing.”
Though Doug had plenty of experience with technical writing in college and on the job, creative nonfiction was a different animal. He went back to some of his old English books, which were gathering dust.
“After several false starts, I followed the old adage ‘write what you know.’ It was quite a learning experience. I really didn’t know what I was in for, to be quite honest. That brought me back to writing about what it was like growing up in Iowa on a farm in the 1950s and 1960s.”
After a year, Doug dealt with another learning curve, the editing phase. This time, he turned to outside, professional help.
“To me, the biggest challenge was getting used to working in a very solitary environment,” Doug said. “I’d always had people around me at my job, and then all of a sudden day after day I was all by myself. It was getting used to that mindset.
“After a few months, I did get used to it, and then I could really focus and get things done. After I got going, it seemed to keep flowing. Luckily, I never got stuck. In fact, by the end of the book, I got rid of 50 or 60 pages just through the editing process.
“Even though it’s a memoir, part of it’s historical from my point-of-view. The personal experiences I had along the way with other people, situations and places—it’s a combination of a memoir and historical document. That’s what I set out to do.”
Much of the book is a contrast, between the average life that an Iowan had to grind out at that time, with the tumultuous, chaotic nature of the shift in culture framing it all. Walls were built, nations fell, yet the people of Wayne County still had to work hard for everything they had.
In some ways, the evening news was only background static. At other times it hit home.
“Over time, I developed it into a more personable thing to read,” Doug said of Bring Me Back Home.
Doug has his own publishing company but went through Amazon to put out his book. This can be a feasible option for many authors in a market oversaturated with agent-represented, inferior work by those published because they have a famous name.
Unfortunately, people do judge a book by its cover. The fact his daughter designs books for a living was a boon.
“I have to plug my oldest daughter, Monica Haynes,” Doug said. “She has her own company called The Thatchery, and she designs book covers for authors. She was gracious enough to design mine.”
Monica lives just north of Memphis, Tennessee. He also has a son, Brian Thatcher, and a younger daughter, Lindsey Geib. Lindsey lives in Myrtle Beach, but is preparing to transplant to Pensacola.
Doug and Jan have eight grandchildren.
“They range in age from one year to nine,” Doug said. “When they’re all here, it’s quite a circus. But it’s fun.”
Doug is targeting an audience around his own age group, as well as those familiar with the lifestyle he describes.
“There’s potentially another audience,” Doug said. “People who are curious about what that life was like. For instance, there’s a gentleman reading the book right now who’s in his 30s, and his first remark was, ‘I couldn’t have survived.’ Because he’s only lived in the city—he’s never been on a farm or seen anything like it.
“The message is, of course it’s a time that’s gone by, but it was a really unique time. There was so much change. There was going from basically a very simple life, people not having a lot of money in Wayne County. And then things progressing with technology. All the things that were going on globally—it was quite amazing.
“When I was in college the second time, I was in a course, and they were talking about families. They mentioned that the data from the 1950s was an anomaly, and they didn’t include that in their statistical data.
“I said, ‘But I lived in that time—I wasn’t an anomaly.’
“For some reason, the 1950s are looked upon as really unusual. In some ways, it was. That’s what this book helps describe from my point-of-view.”
Doug rarely gets back to southcentral Iowa. Most of the time, it’s for a funeral. He rarely gets a chance to just sightsee and reminisce.
“I was at the Cambria school building last year in April,” Doug said. “I walked around it and took a video.”
In Bring Me Back Home, Doug writes of this day:
Now there was only a vacant playground begging for children to return and play upon her just one more time, to bring back the life that once thrived there.
Doug attended junior high at the old Allerton school building and its wooden stairs, with Dean Booher as principal.
“We were packed in like sardines,” Doug said.
Doug’s book is fresh off the press. The e-book came out Feb. 20, the print version on Feb. 22.
“It was quite a little rush,” Doug said of first holding the book. “You just say, ‘I thought it was never going to happen.’ Then, all of a sudden, you have something tangible to hold in your hand for all of the effort you put out the last year plus. That was a very satisfying moment.
Now all he has to do is sell it. “Since I’m an independent author, I have to take care of my own marketing. My daughter, Monica, actually works for some other authors and does marketing for them. She’s been teaching me some things.
“I’ve got an idea for a series of books. I’ve learned a lot from writing the first book, so I’m going to approach it a little different and save a lot of time.
“I was able to go back and really look at how I was raised, and all the things my parents did and the sacrifices they made, and I developed a renewed respect for what they did—I saw the whole, big picture of why everything happened that happened.
“I also had a greater respect for the community I grew up in, because that was a huge part of it also.”
It was the first time in Doug’s life he had stopped to look at this age of development, and it was an awakening. But it took leaving the beaten path.
“The takeaway is probably more for me,” Doug said, “than it will be for anybody else.”