Friday, October 19, 2012
Double Time on the Oregon Trail
Title: Double Time on the Oregon Trail
Author: Dixie Dawn Miller Goode
Available on: Amazon and other sites (including Kindle)
Author's blog: Back to my Oregon Trail Novel (the photographs in this post are gorgeous)
Author's page on: GoodReads
Summary of the book as available on GoodReads:
The past and present meet on the Oregon Trail when two girls travel the same trail with the same lap desk 152 years apart.
Kenyon is traveling in 2002 from Pittsburgh to Salem, OR. Her mother is pregnant and staying behind to close escrow on the house and then flying west to join the family. Kenyon; her 5 year old sister, Melissa and her father are in a Dodge Caravan, with a trailer hitch. Her Grandfather has given her a plain, black polished ebony wooden lap desk lined with a scented wood that still smells faintly of cedar. The box is filled with thick, creamy paper, envelopes, a calling card, a hand mirror, pens and pencils and a small Swiss army knife, postage and an electronic address book. Her Grandfather is not moving with them but plans have been made for him to fly out in December for a visit. Kenyon strongly resents being expected to entertain Melissa at the motels in the evenings. Her father has decided to take the long way and show his girls some of the wonders of this country and Melissa is excited but Kenyon is determined to not have any fun.
Traveling in 1850, Della, age 15, has already traveled from Northern Illinois to St. Louis, then a week by steamboat on the Missouri river. She stopped in Independence, MO to prepare for the journey and meet with the wagon train. She left behind her 60 year old grandmother who feels too old to attempt the trip, but who gave her a gift of a wooden lap desk. The desk is filled with paper, a small mirror, wooden handled pens with steel nibs, a metal letter opener, hair pins and a small sewing kit. Her younger brother, Orville, her father, and her pregnant mother are traveling with her. She has been asked to teach the younger children around the campfire in the evenings.
What happens when they open the desk to see the other girl's journal?
I did not know of the historical importance of the Oregon Trail till I read this book. After all, US history is not something that we in India have learnt in school. Stories about pioneers and new discoveries have always enthralled me and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Here, Kenyon is heading for Oregon with her father and kid sister Melissa. Her father's biggest worry is keeping them entertained on this trip. With Kenyon is a gift from her grandfather, a wooden lap desk, made of cedar. He found it in a garage sale and thoughtfully also provided Kenyon with a journal in which to pen her journey and other relevant stuff - including a calling card. He will remain in touch with Kenyon always and this makes her more amenable to the idea of moving away from her friends into a new home in Oregon.
Likewise, Della is part of the historic Oregon trail. She, her kid sister, her pregnant mother and her father are part of a caravan which is painfully marching ahead along this trail. Her father's worry is providing for his family's safety. Della's precious possession is her journal which she stores in a cedar lap desk given to her by her grandmother who has not undertaken this journey. Between helping the other women wash clothes, prepare meals, looking after her kid brother - Orville and scores of other children whom she teachers and her mother, Della steals time to pen her thoughts.
There is time travel involved. But it is the contents of this cedar lap desk that travel across time. So Kenyon is amazed to see Della's journal one day on sliding open her lap desk and Della is equally shocked not just to see Kenyon's journal but also stranger things like a calling card.
Periodically, the girls find each other's belongings and they learn to communicate via notes sent through the lap desk or jotted down in their own journal, hoping the other girl will read it.
Kenyon is able to warn Della to avoid cholera by boiling water and suggests that her family periodically washes their hands. She saves Della's mother's life by insisting that mercury - which then was used as a medicine is now rat poison. One fine day, Della snaps and doesn't want to communicate with Kenyon anymore. She realises that Kenyon is a native Indian - native Indians are ferocious and often a threat to travelling pioneers.
However, it is the native Indian's who manage to help the new born baby, as an Indian nursing mother not only feeds him but also nurses Della's mother back to health.
Even as the girls lived 150 years apart, they learn a lot from each other and also from the journey. They learn the meaning of true acceptance.
It is a beautiful book and I enjoyed reading it. School children will have a lot to learn from it and will love the story. While the book is based on American history, it teaches a lot more and any school kid anywhere in the world will enjoy this book.
"I had something fun happen with this book, I had one copy that I gave a local 5th grade teacher. I thought that would be the end of it, but he decided he liked the research in it and he's going to teach it to his class so he ordered 36 copies as a class set," says Dixie.
INTERVIEW WITH DIXIE GOODE:
1) What inspired you to write this book?
When I was a child, we lived close to Yellowstone Park in a town My Great Grandparents had moved to, helping Buffalo Bill Cody found the new settlement of Cody in the Northwest corner of Wyoming. My Great Grandmother was raised among the Sioux until she married a white stage driver and her father disowned her and she never saw her mother again until the funeral for her father. Sound familiar? So my Grandfather, and one of four boys, was a rancher and a trapper and bought and sold scrap metal and furs and antlers. My family was very much a part of the move west, work hard and make the high desert land give you enough to get by on. And My Grandfather married a girl born in 1908 in Illinois and raised in the Farmland during the depression and World Wars. Her sister answered an ad in a newspaper looking for a bride for one of the four brothers born to my great grandparents. The sister came to Wyoming, and hated the brother she had come to meet, but loved his brother, and when they got married, my grandmother came to the wedding and ended up staying and marrying the original brother. So the two sisters married two brothers and the two families lived in log cabins near each other on the Greybull River in Meeteetse, Wyoming. As a child I begged for stories of their early days and my Great Grandmother lived to be 98 and loved to tell stories as much as I do.
Then when I grew up and moved to the Pacific Redwoods, we would drive across the country with our two boys to visit family and as we drove and explored, I would read books and tell stories to keep the boys from realizing how many hours they had to spend strapped into seat belts. So much that happens in this book is my research blended with the real events of my family and my own imagination.
2) Who is your favourite character in this book?
Really? You want me to choose. Ouch.
Ok, I guess the one who pulls my heart strings the most is honestly Orville, a minor character, but after raising two boys I love the defiance and freedom and curiosity and enthusiasm and sense of adventure of boys his age, and the incident with the cactus is based in a large part on a tumble my grandfather took. I Think maybe you wanted me to choose between the girls but I'm not sure I could.
3)For whom do you think life is more challenging, Kenyon or Della? And why?
I think the challenges of the two eras are very different but so are the expectations. The things Della does as a matter of course, haul water, cook over a fire, be expected to wash laundry by hand in a river are not so much challenges to her as routines, but to Kenyon they would be unbelievably difficult. Della has to face the terror of going through what she sees as enemy territory where real, deadly battles happen but she always has a circle of support until her Mom gets sick and they are alone. Her sense of her community and her place in it are a lot stronger I think because the whole wagon train forms a moving city.
Kenyon on the other hand, has much more leisure time, but that also gives her more time to worry and pout and feel depressed and sorry for herself. Her physical life is easier but she feels much more alone.
4)If you could travel back in time, would you like to be a pioneer?
I have often thought of that question as a child, I really loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and wanted to be her. I had an old fashioned dress and sunbonnet and china doll and loved to play pioneer. A friend of the family had built a museum "Old Trail Town" with old pioneer log cabins that he re-located to a stretch of the Oregon trail, with wagon wheel ruts still visible, and I would play there. But No, I would not have survived if I were in that time. My Grandmother's sister died at 18 of a burst appendix and I had one at 26 which I survived, but only barely. Then an emergency pregnancy would have killed me again. I love the adventure but I am only here thanks to modern Medicine. I can still camp and cook over a fire and hike in the hills and then come home to the comforts of my life.
Source of the photographs: Author's blog.