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Books feature local lore, authors: Molly Hootch Hymes autobiography reflects bygone era

Molly Hootch Hymes describes the process she used to create "I Remember When..." a book about her years growing up as a tradition Yupik Eskimo in Alaska. Hymes and her husband, Alvin Hymes, left, worked on the book for the last 15 months. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Books make welcome gifts, especially when they have connections with the local area. In the weeks before the holiday giving season, I recommend looking into these books, all by Minnesota authors. They capture local history, culture and natural beauty. Or, in the case of "I Remember When..." a Bemidji author recounts a true, far-away time and place and experiences difficult for readers to imagine in 2010. These works are all available at Book World or from the authors.

"Molly Hootch: I Remember When - Growing Up on the Kwiguk Pass of the Lower Yukon River"

By Molly Hootch Hymes

2010, Arrow Printing, Inc., Bemidji


After her father died in 1997, Molly Hootch Hymes, now a vault teller at Deerwood Bank in Bemidji, wanted to share stories of the life she lived growing up during the 1950s, '60s and '70s as a Yupik Eskimo girl in a subsistence hunting and fishing family.

She said she had been thinking about recording these stories since her father, James Hootch died in 1997, and she realized she was the last generation to experience the traditional Yupik life.

"It was the life that we lived growing up," Hymes said. "At the time we were poor, but we didn't know it. We were always well fed."

Hymes actually started writing about 15 months ago. She would talk the stories into a recorder on her way to work and then work on the writing with her husband, Alvin Hymes, in the evenings.

Molly Hymes will hold a book signing from noon-1 p.m. Dec. 4 at Book World in Bemidji.

In "I Remember When ..." the author describes a childhood tuned to the seasons, as well as her later fame as one of Alaska's most influential citizens.

Born in 1956, before Alaska statehood, Hymes remembers how life followed the rhythm of the seasons from spring ice breakup and river flood to summer fish camp, fall berry picking and winter trapping.

During her childhood, families in her little town of Emmonak, Alaska, population about 600 at the time, ran sled dog teams. Now, everyone uses snowmobiles.

They relied on a good catch of salmon and other fish to feed themselves and their dogs. Emmonak was named for the Yupik word for the blackfish that teemed in the Yukon River. Now, commercial fishing reigns.

The Hootch family and most others hunted, fished and gathered almost everything they needed. Her father spoke no English and couldn't read or write, but he was incredibly skilled at building boats and sleds, setting nets, running trap lines and providing game for the family table.

"I actually taught him to write his name," Hymes said. "Before that he signed checks with an X."

Their cabin had no plumbing or electricity. Their baths were in the community sauna, water for drinking and washing came from the river and refrigeration was a pit dug in the permafrost.

Pleasures included rare potlatch community gatherings and moonlit winter dog sled rides across the river ice to watch movies projected on the wall of a general store.

Emmonak provided a school for grades one through eight, but any student who wanted a high school education had to go - as Hymes did for her freshman and sophomore years - to stay with a family in Anchorage or some other big city. Even though the host families were relatively kind to their student guests, loneliness from being away from home and immediate kin for months at a time, the strangeness of city life and the lack of connection to other students were difficult.

In the summer of 1971, representatives from Alaska Legal Services came to Emmonak to promote a petition to the state to provide hometown high schools for rural students. Hymes, then Molly Hootch, happened to be the first signature on the petition in what became the Molly Hootch Case.

"And they liked my name," she said. "They thought it was catchy."

As the Anchorage Daily News wrote in 1999, "She made history before she was even old enough to vote."

A high school opened in Emmonak in 1976, too late to be of use to her, but the first graduating class dedicated the yearbook to her.

"They surprised me with that," she said.

In any case, Hymes quit high school to earn money for her family by working in the town's store. She also had to take the place of her mother who had left the home to live in Anchorage. Hymes eventually earned her GED by studying on her own.

Later, she met Alvin Hymes, a fisheries biologist working in Emmonak. They courted, mostly by letters, and eventually married. In 1982, they moved to Bemidji, a town they simply picked as a place they would like to live. Molly and Alvin Hymes have two grown sons, Alvin and Daniel.

Hymes has been honored several times by her native state and will return to Alaska in January for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Molly Hootch Case, Alaska American Civil Liberties Act.

"I Remember When..." is organized according to the seasons, as were Hymes' girlhood years. She introduces each subsection with the Yupik word for the segment's theme and closes with related quotes from the Book of Proverbs. She also added a chapter titled "Miscellaneous" to recount some family stories that weren't strictly connected with a time of year.

For example, in "Firsts" or "Ciuqlikacaarmek," she tells of the opening of the town power, sewer and water plants, the arrival of the freezer ship Polar Bear, telephone service and her father's introduction to strange foods like crackers and flour and his first airplane sighting, which terrified him.

"I Remember When ..." also features a delightful section of family photos that bring to life the subsistence livelihood and the joys of the Hootch family during her growing-up years.

"The Last Hunter: An American Family Album"

By Will Weaver

2010, Borealis Books, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minn.


Another family memoire is Will Weaver's new book, "The Last Hunter."

From the time he was old enough to drive deer toward the hunters' stands, Will Weaver has followed the traditions of his father and the seasons outdoors.

However, he is the last in his family to experience the excitement of fall hunts. His son and daughter don't share his interest.

The book starts with family biographies leading up to the author's childhood on a Hubbard County farm. Weaver describes his experiences at the University of Minnesota during Vietnam War protest days, his meeting and courtship of his future wife, Rose, and memorable hunting trips, especially with his father. Because the hunt is about more than taking down game, he also recounts the rituals and etiquette of hunting, the comradeship among hunters and their respect for the animals, weather and firearms.

"Minnesota 101: Everything You Wanted to Know About Minnesota and Were Going to Ask Anyway"

By Kristal Leebrick, Ruth Weleczki, et al, and edited by John MacIntyre

2011, MacIntyre Purcell Publishing, Inc., Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada


Minnesotans per capita annual beer consumption is third in the nation at 29.5 gallons; Gold Medal Flour created Betty Crocker in 1921; 44 cites have boundaries in more than one county; and, with 54.4 percent, Fertile ranks highest in population claiming Norwegian descent.

These are just a few of the nuggets offered in "Minnesota 101." Others include brief biographies of notable figures, linguistic quirks, geography, wildlife, agriculture, history and crime.

John MacIntyre, who has never been to Minnesota, began the 101 series for Canadian provinces and two other states, Rhode Island and Maine. He enlists local writers to research and organize the material and invites readers to add information or make corrections on the website

"We were looking for a place with a strong identity of who they were rather than a transient state," MacIntyre said in a telephone interview.

He generated the idea for the trivia/fact books from his career as a statistician. However, he said he knew statistics in themselves would be boring, so he enlisted writers to add twists and turns.

"It's a fun little book," said Kristal Leebrick, one of the major contributors to "Minnesota 101." "I think having a lot of writers is not a bad idea at all. You get a lot of perspectives of Minnesota.

"Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet"

Photography by Joe Rossi; text by David LaRochelle

2011, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul


Joe Rossi of Bemidji traveled the state photographing nature scenes from Granite Falls to the Chippewa National Forest and Bemidji to St. Paul.

The result is a picture book suitable for children starting at about age about 3 and older.

"All across this wondrous state, Letters A through Z await..." wrote David LaRochelle of White Bear Lake. He carries the rhymes to B (a pattern on a painted turtle shell) C (a shed antler) and so on through Z for a crack in a lichen-covered rock.

Some of the letters are easy to see, and some take a while to separate the reality from the letter illusion.

Although the rhymes are simple, older children can learn nature facts from the insets, such as the "W" image in the curled leaves of a trout lily. No, the flower does not look like a fish, but the speckled leaves match the pattern of a brown trout. Another example is "T" (the colors on a brown carpet moth's wings) giving the author the opportunity to explain the difference between moths and butterflies.

The book also comes with a teachers' guide containing tips on photography, writing and hands-on activities for exploring nature.

"The Assassination of Hole In The Day"

By Anton Treuer

2011, Borealis Books, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, Minn.


Most people in this area know something about the Ojibwe leader, Hole In The Day - Bagone-giizhig - in the preferred orthography.

The Bug-O-Nay-Gee-Shig School near Bena is named for the chief who fought and negotiated with the United States government as well as Dakota neighbors.

When Bagone-giizhig, 41 at the time, was murdered in 1868 by a gang of his fellow Ojibwe, the crime made national news, including the New York Times. At the time, Bagone-geezhig was on his way to Washington, D.C., to fight the planned removal of the Mississippi Ojibwe to the White Earth Reservation.

Anton Treuer's scholarly book, "The Assassination of Hole In The Day," is the result of many years of archival research, as well as mining the oral history maintained by traditional Anishinaabe people. Although the appendices are laden with references, lists of protagonists, bibliographies, language overview and footnotes, the history of the times, culture and changes the Ojibwe people experienced is totally readable and akin to a "whodunit." The conspirators and assassins are known, as are their motives, but moving toward the murder and subsequent downfall of Bagone-giizhig's people is highly suspenseful.

"A Porch Sofa Almanac"

By Peter Smith

2010, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis


Listeners to Minnesota Public Radio are familiar with Peter Smith's short essays on being Minnesotan. Now, he has compiled 60 of these vignettes in a book.

Easy reads, each essay covers about a page and a half. Most are amusing and colloquial observations on ordinary life. For example, in "This Ill of the Literate," Smith notes "There's a fine line between important and boring. Book club selections are on the wrong side of that line just about every time." He says he'll feel guilty if he doesn't agree to the invitation to join the club.

"Don't Minnesota's Official Rules and Bylaws state that if I say no and they decide to disband the club it will be my fault for not joining? So I guess I'll have to join. Yish. Now watch. The first book is going to be 'Finnigans Stinking Wake.'"

"Wishing for a Snow Day: Growing Up in Minnesota"

By Peg Meier

2010, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, Minn.


Peg Meier has collected diary entries, letters and commentaries, starting in the 19th century, about experiences from pets to historic events, celebrations and home life.

The book is illustrated with black-and-white photos of children in studio poses and candid shots as they were caught unawares. These voices and images from the past showcase the joys and pains of childhood through the decades.