What makes up how a person comes to think and live? Always an interesting question to consider.
I picked up a copy of Tony Hillerman’s memoir, “Seldom Disappointed”, on CD this afternoon from the downtown library.
I’ve really come to appreciate books on CD, as you are a captive audience spending that 20 minutes every morning and every evening driving too and from work being able to fully attend to whatever it is your “reading”, and you can power through pages in those bursts of time.
It’s through books on CD that I first read a Hillerman novel (finally). And then a second.
And I loved them, because the places he portrays are also my places. Locations and locales around New Mexico.
Reviewing a survey of titles in his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mystery series, I stumbled across his memoir title- and I thought it was as good a time as any to learn more about the man.
I’m not very far into his personal story- one trip home from work, exactly- but even in this, Hillerman provides me with some insight into where he came from.
Dust bowl Oklahoma.
He was born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, in 1925, and grew up in a rural area in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma. He was not a farmer, but not a city kid. His dad’s side was German, and his mom’s side had been English.
He was the youngest of three- his sister was the oldest, and then his brother.
He attended grade school at- Sacred Heart’s public school? No. He was one of a handful of local boys who attended St. Mary’s Academy, the day school at the Catholic boarding house which was founded for the education of… Pottawatomie Indian girls. His dad thought he would learn more there- along with a little religious instruction.
His childhood family life was happy. His family was poor, but so were all of the other family’s in the region around them. His family was a family, and they each loved one other. His parents worked hard. His dad farmed and ran a shop. The family prayed together before meals.
Farmers did fieldwork. Rural kids like him did chores.
He and his brother and other kids their age played war a lot. Sometimes they would play Cowboys and Indians, even after his Comanche friends realized the Indians, at least in the movies, always lost.
In time, he would become a foot soldier in Europe during World War II, landing in the D-Day invasions, and seeing action in France, carting around a mortar, and eventually being wounded in action, and then decorated with a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and a Purple Heart.
And… then, after the war, he becomes a journalist and ends up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1952, and then Albuquerque in 1966, where he teaches journalism at the University of New Mexico for a while- and then writes 18 mysteries that focus on two officers in the Navajo tribal police.
He was married for 60 years to his one and only wife, Marie Unzner, and together they raised 6 children- five of them adopted, and then had 10 grandchildren.
And after a distinguished career as a writer and teacher, Hillerman passed away in 2008 at the age of 83.
Growing up in Pottawatomie County, Hillerman had plenty of experiences with Native American culture, rural thinking, and the trials of the poor to help inform his vision as he shaped the characters of his Four Corners novels.
It’s interesting how our experiences shape us.
I’m looking forward to getting to know Hillerman better.