Sunday, March 27, 2011
Potpourri of Pages
I was hesitant about reviewing my next book for one reason. It is a wonderful, living tale of everyday bravery and adventure in frontier Alaska, BUT it does have rough language in it. Nothing obscene, but the kind of language one would expect to hear trappers, miners, and mule drivers use. That disclaimer aside, it is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time.
Tisha is the story of a young girl of nineteen who leaves the familiar surroundings of Oregon to travel to the interior of 1927 Alaska to teach school. If you read the jacket, it tries to set up potential conflict between 3 possible suitors, but it's pretty obvious early on which one she favors. It is one of those "true life" stories, true except for alterations made "only when I (the author) deemed it dramatically necessary." So you can pick and choose in your own mind what things actually happened.
"The further we went the more uneven the trail became and I kept slipping and sliding all over the saddle....Then things became worse. Without warning the sun disappeared and everything was gray and chill. A few minutes later big feathery snowflakes were drifting down and it was like being in the middle of winter....Once when Mr. Strong rode back he complimented me on how much better I was sitting. 'You're not sliding all over the place now.' 'Thanks,' I told him, 'but it's not me. The snow melted on the saddle and my pants are stuck.'"
For some reason, (I can't think why!) I am drawn of late to stories of single and (amazingly) attractive heroines who journey to cold new places, have many adventures, and ultimately triumph. Go figure. This book is no exception to that rule, and the funny things that happen to Tisha as she learns about life in the Arctic and life in an often prejudiced small town will have you in stitches.
"It was the outhouse that almost caused a tragedy of sorts at the end of the week. Ten minutes after I excused little Willard Friday morning he still hadn't come back to the classroom, so Nancy went out to see what was keeping him...She came back right away, trying not to laugh and looking worried at the same time. Willard was stuck to the seat.
We tried pouring warm water around him, but it froze almost as soon as it hit the boards, so finally Mr. Carew had to bring a crowbar and pry the boards off. The outhouse was a two-holer, so when we carried Willard into my quarters the boards were long enough so that he looked for all the world like a prince on a litter. It didn't seem to bother him, though. We propped one end of the boards on the stove and the other over a chair and he sat as calm as you please until he thawed off."
After their Indian mother died and their white father refused to take responsibility for them, Tisha adopted two young children. This ignited the fires of prejudice she had already sparked with some of her previous actions and soon the whole town was in an uproar. Matters culminate with a feverish dog sled pursuit to save her children.
"'No!' I yelled, and it was the strongest no I'd ever given to anyone. I didn't think, and I didn't care. I just gave him the hardest push I could and he went sprawling.
'These children are mine!' I yelled at him. 'They're mine and nobody is going to take them away from me.'"
It has a happy ending and not one of those old movie happy endings with the final kissing scene that stops at just the right spot, but you know the rest of the story, how they get a divorce ten years later and one of them dies in their sixties of alcohol poisoning. This was a real happy ending, of a life well lived and love given freely. I won't spoil it for you, but it was nice. And I think I will need a dog sled by next winter. Finley will be so pleased.