The country schools in the west were the cultural centers of the community, where dances, debates, recitals, and meetings were held. Not wanting to be an ordinary ranch wife, Olive Hamilton, one of Samuel’s daughters and the mother of the narrator of the novel, became a teacher, which was a daunting and somewhat unsafe profession. Besides teaching her classes, Olive had to practice rudimentary medicine and organize the social life of the area. Although she was much sought after by the young men her age, she was determined not to marry a rancher, for she wanted to live in town. She finally accepted a proposal by a young man who had built the flourmill in King City. After their secret engagement, they married and moved to Salinas.
Olive inherited Liza’s determination and greatly influenced her own children. She was determined that her family would stay out of debt, and instilled a fear of debt in all of her children. The narrator remembered when he contracted pneumonia at sixteen years of age and almost died. His mother had all the major denominations praying for him. When the illness passed but he was too exhausted to get up, she made him do so out of her own will power. She told him his father had gone into debt for him, and she expected him to rise and walk out of appreciation.
During the First World War, Olive distinguished herself by selling liberty bonds. When she sold more than anyone in her region, the government sent a plane to take her for a ride as a token of appreciation. Although she was horrified at the thought of flying, she agreed to board the plane because her children were so excited for her. In preparation for the flight, she made out her will and arranged her life as if she were certainly going to die. During he flight, the pilot asked her if she wanted him to perform a stunt. She thought he was saying that he was stuck and she nodded her encouragement to him. He performed the stunt and kept asking her if she would like to see another. She kept nodding her encouragement. He thought she was brave and would make a great pilot herself. She had to be helped off the plane and stayed in bed for two days.
This brief chapter introduces the narrator’s own generation. His childhood memories take on a mythic quality with his mother representing the old fashioned values of grit and determination, a strict moral code, a determination to stay out of debt, and a feet-on-the-ground practicality. The story of her flight is told as if it were a family story often repeated over the years, making the story seem like a memoir more than fiction.
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