If you like memoirs, history, and humor, you’ll love this. I bought it because I have a friend in his eighties who tells colorful stories about his early life. Our elders are living history, especially when they’re gifted story-tellers. Mystery writer Norma Huss, an elder story-teller herself, wrote up her father’s memoir, which he recorded for her. It’s in his voice and vocabulary, and you can feel Bill Collins’s personality and presence in every page.
In the early 1920s, Collins took off for a summer job in Alaska to make money for his second year of college. Not quite a hundred years ago, the risk and adventure of such an enterprise was extraordinary. Alaska was the Wild West. The wild northwest. Can you picture a college sophomore turned loose in a place like that?
It turned out Collins was suited to the place. Self-aware but not too introspective, fun-loving, hard-working, and impetuous, he was unafraid of a fight, of working with dynamite, of going underground, or of walking insane distances in the snow. He tempted fate a few times, but he survived.
There’s not a dull sentence in this story. I could hear a voice not unlike my raconteur neighbor's, telling tale after tale of his youth. It’s a coming of age story, as Collins matures from a self-described knucklehead to an experienced Alaska man, and it’s part of our country’s still-imperfect coming of age as well. We think differently about mining today—and about many things—than an educated young man of his times did. We choose different words. Part of the vitality of this story is that Collins tells it with only a little of his elder self’s perspective, staying inside his late teens and early twenties point of view instead.
Thank you, Norma Huss, for sharing your father’s story with the world. I feel as if I knew him.