Pack Up! Heading Out West!

Imagine you are 105 years old.  Nothing is really wrong with you besides being old.  In West with Giraffes (2021) by Lynda Rutledge you will read a fictional account of an actual event and you will become acquainted with Woodrow Wilson Nickel.  He has a story he feels he has to tell.

Woody hurriedly began putting his adventure down on paper while in the nursing home.  At 105 years of age, he knows he has little time left to record what he experienced all those years ago.  The reason for his writing?  Woody recently learned while watching a documentary that giraffes are heading towards extinction.

Why would that one fact lead Woody to begin putting down on paper his adventure when he was only 18 years old?  Whatever it was, Woody was determined to get the details on his ‘adventure’ recorded.  He wants people to know how two giraffes changed his life.

Take a step back to 1938.  The world seemed so be in chaos:  Dust Bowl, Wall Street, Hitler.  Woody is an orphan and nearly 17 years old.  His family is gone thanks to the swirling dirt and winds in his part of the country.

Since nothing is left for him in what was once his home, he heads to New York with only the clothes he has on his back to find a cousin and hopefully some work.  Arriving in the dock  area of the city turns out to be more of an eye opener for him than his trip across country.

It is there where Woody first sees two giraffes that had survived a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic in a ship.  He overhears that the two giraffes are about to be shipped to a California zoo.  Woody decides to follow the truck West.

In order to accomplish the trip, Woody needs transportation.  He steals a motorcycle and tries to keep up with the truck.  Not as easy as he thought.  It all leads to a 12-day trip across country starting with the Lee Highway in Maryland.

Woody finally connects with Old Man, the driver of the truck, and begs the man to allow him to travel along.  Woody says he will do whatever needs to be done.   Old Man knows he can get to San Diego faster with two drivers and finally relents. Eventually Woody takes over the most of the driving.

Of course, several other characters make their way into the story of Woody and Old Man’s trip across country to deliver the giraffes on time to Belle Benchley, the woman who is responsible for obtaining the giraffes for the San Diego Zoo.

One other character who Woody calls Red, and recalls seeing her at the docks when the giraffes arrived.  Red is constantly tailing Old Man’s truck across country in an effort to capture photos of the giraffes.  She is hoping to get her photos published in Life magazine.

Now step ahead ten years to 1948.  You are still out West.  I am not quite sure why I was drawn to the Montana a 1948 (1993) by Larry Watson.  I am pretty sure it was the opening line of the Prologue:  From the summer of my twelfth year, I carry a series of images more vivid than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them….

I was hooked.  The next few hours were spent getting to know 12-year-old David Hayden, his family, and Bentrock, Montana. The fictional town Bentrock is located 12 miles from Canada and 10 minutes from North Dakota. Montana 1948 stayed in my head even when stepping away from it for a time.

Wes Hayden is David’s father and also happens to be the county sheriff.  It is a position Wes inherited rather reluctantly from his father, who is now enjoys being a wealthy rancher.  It always bothered David that his dad wore a suit and tie rather than a cowboy hat and boots.   Dad also does not wear a badge or carry a gun.  Wes would rather practice law of breaking up fights and throwing drunks into jail.

Marie Little Soldier, a member of the Sioux tribe, lives 5 days a week with David’s family while the parents are at work.  David always thought she was their housekeeper.  He was shocked to find out she is his babysitter.  She and David have a very strong attachment.

Gail, David’s mother, works 5 days a week as a secretary.  Family is the most important thing for Gail.  Her close and trusting friendship with Marie leads to learning why Maries refuses to see a doctor, not even Dr. Hayden, even though she is quite ill.

Frank Hayden is Wesley’s brother.  He is loved by the Bentrock community.  Seen as witty and charming, he is also a war hero and one of the town’s physicians.  It seems he cannot do any wrong in his father’s eyes.

Marie’s temperature is climbing.  David is very anxious about Marie.  Gail tries to care and comfort her.  She suggests they call a doctor to see her.  Marie says, “I don’t need no doctor!”  She insisted she was ok.  David is very concerned about Marie.

Actually, Marie was not ok.  Uncle Frank was called and arrived. Within minutes of entering Marie room the screaming begins for “Mrs”. The actions taken place that summer have stayed with David all these years.

It was a summer he has never forgotten.  He learned so much that year…why doing the right thing can be a very difficult decision, especially when it involves family.  Montana 1948 may be a small book, but between the pages you will find some beautiful writing.

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