Norman Floyd McGowin Jr., author of The Forest and the Trees: A Memoir of a Man, a Family, and a Company, was born into a prosperous family whose W. T. Smith Lumber Company dominated the small town of Chapman in Butler County in south Alabama. Family members achieved distinction in business, politics, the arts, and society. Floyd grew up, as he put it, during “periods of our region’s and country’s history that have encompassed momentous social, political, economic, and technological change. More took place in the last two-thirds of the 20th century along these lines than probably during any comparable period. My life has been full and interesting, and I have been privileged to know a lot of people and be involved in situations that illustrate change in both the physical aspects of life as well as the values that affect it.” Thus while in that “era of my life between active employment and impotent geezerhood, where I see things with more clarity and truth than previously,” he decided to write a memoir so that his grandson Peter and other young people “might better understand what is different and what is the same with regard to the past.” His story unfolds in three parts: family, early education, and surroundings; Yale University and the Marine Corps; and his years in business. “It is my hope that this book will pay adequate tribute to those people and times that have formed mine,” he wrote.
Floyd McGowin is as quirky a guide to the South as characters in Twain or Faulkner. If you want a view of an old world, told in the tough-guy voice of an endangered species—the Southern family business man, pugnacious and proud—you won't go wrong with The Forest and the Trees
—Taylor McGowin Beck, Montgomery Advertiser
The Forest and the Trees
. . . begins with the lyrics of a song entitled “The Log Train” by Hank Williams that was recorded as a demo in 1952 and subsequently long forgotten. Williams’s father drove a log train for the W.T. Smith Lumber Company, and the song is the first of many references, from the trivial to the significant, that give life to this memoir. McGowin has an incredible memory for detail and for the appearances and characteristics of the places and people that he encountered during his life. He is more than willing to evaluate the motives, abilities, and performances of those with whom he interacted.
—The Alabama Review
The Forest and the Trees
is the story of Norman Floyd McGowin's life but it is also a social history of the times, including race and class relations, a corporate history, and an informed, extensive commentary on developments in private aviation. McGowin, refreshingly, shows no hesitation in characterizing his friends, family, and himself. McGowin worked for decades expanding and modernizing equipment and processes in the lumber business over the resistance of his conservative and parsimonious uncles. Like most memoirists of this variety, he is proud of his work in the industry and of his private life and he has every right to be.
—Don Noble, Alabama Public Radio