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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The Last Road Rebel and Other Lost Stories: Growing Up in a Small Town and Never Getting Over It is a nonfiction memoir written by Robert Gilberg. Gilberg grew up in the small town of New Bremen, Ohio, and he shares his experiences growing up in that farming community during the 1950s and '60s. He opens his collection of stories with the recollections he began conjuring up on his trip back home for his fifty-fifth class reunion. The car rental agency had set him up with a silver Mustang convertible, a fitting set of wheels for an erstwhile Road Rebel, as the now Californian traveled back in time in preparation for coming back home. In the 1950s when he was growing up, New Bremen wasn’t much bigger than it is now, but there were definite changes. Some of the surrounding areas still had one-room schoolhouses when he was a student, and his senior class consisted of 25 students -- and 18 of them had been in school together since first grade. Everyone knew everyone -- and everyone else’s business -- in New Bremen, but, still, Gilberg and his friends were able to get away with some crazy stunts with the help of a few sympathetic adults, including the town’s doctor.
Robert Gilberg’s collection of memoirs caught my attention with the sheer concept of a fifty-fifth high school reunion. Never having gone to any reunion, and with no plans on doing so in the future, I wondered just what it was that beckoned so enticingly to Gilberg and his fellow students. I was also looking to understanding a bit more about those benighted souls whose coming of age predated so much of modern culture. What I found in this irresistibly compelling, and at times hilarious, collection of memoirs was well worth the time spent there. I loved the chapter entitled Duty Calls, which describes the author’s participation in the town’s Cold War Skywatch project, when he and his pals volunteered for two hour shifts to scan the skies for, and report any, incoming Russian planes. And as kids will be kids, I loved the author’s admissions about the water balloons (think Molotov cocktails) and watermelons that bombed the unwary from the volunteers’ outpost atop the opera house.
I was likewise fascinated by his account of the Road Rebels club, how it was started and the Car Show they put on. But my favorite memoir bar none would have to be The Carbide Cannon Incident. I loved that one! It had me sitting here laughing my head off and clearly understanding the logic behind the explosive event -- you see, Gilberg is still very much that small-town kid at heart, and he speaks loudly and clearly to the hearts and souls of all us fortunate ones who can still giggle at juvenile pranks and even, sometimes, just cannot resist considering a well-timed prank or two even today. Gilberg speaks so eloquently to that not-so-inner child, and he also succeeds quite brilliantly in making that heralded time before the Beatles and the Rolling Stones come to life. His selections of music which accompany each memoir are also brilliant and not to be overlooked. The Last Road Rebel and Other Lost Stories is most highly recommended.