Seldom Disappointed: A Memoirby Tony Hillerman
Seldom Disappointed is an affectionate and unvarnished recollection of the life on one of America's best-loved writers. Beginning with his upbringing in Depression-era Oklahoma, it spans his tour of duty in France during World War II, his newspaper career, and his now legendary years as an author. Tony also talks about the poverty of his early life, and his adoption, with wife Marie, of several children.
Using the gifts of a talented novelist and reporter, Hillerman draws a brilliant portrait not just of his life, but of the world around him. Relating his life story with generous intelligence, gritty honesty, and above all, a lack of sentimentality, he has written about an era rich in context and anecdote.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.13(d)
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Papa's Melon - and What Happened Next
Outside on this New Mexico morning the dandelions add festive color to our yard while I sit inside casting back in my memory for autobiographically useful material. I intend this to be a recitation of good luck and happy outcomes but my mind turns up only fiascos and misfortunes.
The first memory popping up is of sitting on our front porch in Sacred Heart on a torrid Oklahoma Sunday watching Papa trudging up the section line carrying a huge Black Diamond watermelon. The Black Diamond is the most delicious fruit known to humanity and this was more than a normal Black Diamond. Papa had been nurturing it all summer on the Old Hillerman Place, picking off competitive melons and, when it wilted, helping it along with a couple of lard buckets of water in one of his agronomy experiments. The previous Thursday he had declared it ripe and rigged up a little arbor of sticks and leaves to give it cooling shade. He announced that after Mass Sunday he would carry it home, put it in a washtub of well water to chill it, and when the cool of twilight came we five Hillermans would eat it, inviting anyone who happened to pass on our dusty street to come in and have a slice.
Alas, it was not to be. During the long walk in the humid heat Papa's perspiration had made the melon slippery. As he reached for our gate latch it slid from his grasp, crashed to earth, and shattered. I recount this incident, trivial though it sounds, because seventy something years later I still recall my reaction was as much confirmation assorrow. At some level in my psyche even then I had sensed that this Black Diamond was too good to be true. I must have mentioned this to Mama when she was comforting us kids, because it's the first time I recall hearing her favorite aphorism.
"Blessed are those who expect little," Mama would say. "They are seldom disappointed."
I was about five then and probably didn't appreciate the doubled-edged irony in that beatitude. Looking back at life, I find I have often received more than I ever expected and suffered less than my share of disappointments.
The absolute earliest memory I finally managed to retrieve also involved a fiasco and, like so many to come, it produced a positive effect. I was sitting on one of those little hills red ants form of the tiny bits excavated from their tunnels. We were living on the Old Hillerman Place then, which means I was a toddler. I was scooping up sand and pouring it into the ants' exit hole. Why? Perhaps to block this passage and keep occupants from swarming out to attack me. Alas, those already out were crawling all over me, biting away. Before Mama heard my howls and rescued me, I had accumulated enough bites to make this incident a sort of family legend.
The next affair that pops from the memory bank is the dismal afternoon at Oklahoma A&M when I fell so soundly asleep in College Algebra that I toppled from my chair into the aisle and the professor sent me off to get a drop card. Turning away from that, I dredge up the terminal night of my career as an infantryman when I had gone along on a dinky little raid intended to capture two German prisoners. My role was to tote the stretcher on which we would carry a captive in case we wounded him. Instead I rode back on it myself. Part of the way, that is. The fellow carrying the front end stepped on an antipersonnel mine, which killed him and broke the stretcher. I'm a little hazy about the rest of that trip, recalling the final lap was made with me the passenger in a "fireman's carry" formed by a couple of friends, recalling being dropped into a frigid February creek, reviving while being strapped onto a stretcher on a jeep, and being aware I was going somewhere to get some sleep.
Next to come to mind was my original literary agent delivering her verdict on my first novel. Don't want to show it to anyone, she said. Why not? It's a bad book. Have to think of your reputation as well as mine. Why bad? It falls between the stools, halfway betwixt mainstream and mystery. No way to promote it. And where does the bookseller shelve it? Stick to nonfiction, said my agent. I can sell that for you. How about me rewriting it? Well, if you do, get rid of the Indian stuff.
Unpleasant as those affairs sound, every one was lucky in a way. The sleepy tumble into the classroom aisle resulted in an Algebra grade of W (for withdrawal) instead of the otherwise inevitable F with its negative effect on one's grade point average. The fiasco at the Alsatian village of Niefern provided the "Million-Dollar Wound" for which all sane members of World War II infantry rifle companies yearned and which got me home at just the right time. My agent's advice caused me to seek a second opinion, which sent me to Joan Kahn, the Einstein of mystery editors, who saw possibilities in the Navajo cultural material and subsequently forced me to be a better plotter than I had intended.
Even the lost contest with the ants had a good outcome. It established me as a kid from whom not much should be expected. It remains a vivid memory because through my boyhood I heard it described at countless family gatherings. It provoked grins and chuckles from uncles, fond head pats from aunts, and helped establish my reputation among cousins. They used it to illustrate my tendency to be impulsive ("Antnee didn't worry about those ants already out. He just tried to put the stopper in."), stubborn ("Antnee wasn't...Seldom Disappointed. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Tony Hillerman (1925–2008), an Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident since 1963, was the author of 29 books, including the popular 18-book mystery series featuring Navajo police officers Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, two non-series novels, two children’s books, and nonfiction works. He had received every major honor for mystery fiction; awards ranging from the Navajo Tribal Council's commendation to France 's esteemed Grand prix de litterature policiere. Western Writers of America honored him with the Wister Award for Lifetime achievement in 2008. He served as president of the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, and was honored with that group’s Edgar Award and as one of mystery fiction’s Grand Masters. In 2001, his memoir, Seldom Disappointed, won both the Anthony and Agatha Awards for best nonfiction.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Date of Birth:
- May 27, 1925
- Date of Death:
- October 26, 2008
- Place of Birth:
- Sacred Heart, Oklahoma
- Place of Death:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- B.A., University of Oklahoma, 1946; M.A., University of New Mexico, 1966
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Tony Hillerman brings his natural story telling ability to his memoirs. I smiled, laughed aloud, and cried during his reading. He paints pictures, with words, that bring the events to life. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of the Colorado Plateau and the San Juan River, places I have wandered through and loved. His descriptions of his children are heartwarming and bring tears.
Enjoyed reading about the man who intrigued me with his Joe Leephorn novels rich in Navaho and other Pueblo Indian culture.
Great read to pick up and enjoy on the patio. He has a special way with words, he sees things in people others might miss. I was intrigued with how his experiences in France and other life events were used later in his mystery series. His optimism, no matter the circumstances, is contagious. Haven't finished it yet, I'm just savoring it mainly on the patio with a cup of coffee. I'll bet I won't want it to end.
One of the worst Hillerman books I've reag
I love Tony Hillerman's books but I got bogged down in his stories of the war and never finished.
Alas I have not read this one yet but. Hillerman is great. He takes the time to really resreach issues of concern with the native people. I am impressed with his story weaving and his humor. He relates well to all persons. Hillerman gives you the mystery you need with the history you need. I just returned from Hillerman country on a cross country trip. I was so happy to see the same places that he descibed in his books. I am a huge fan and always will be. thanks Mr. Hillerman you inspire me.