I Climbed Mt. Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor, and Other Stories of the Pacific Northwest
by Rick Fordyce (Ghana 1978-80)
Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65)
If you grew up in Seattle in the ’60s or ’70s, you’ll appreciate this little book. You might even understand some of the teenage jargon. Groovy! Cool!
There are twelve stories here, about adolescents in the city trying hard not to get busted for pot; about camping out in the North Cascades with a bunch of friends trying hard to like it; about making friends and comparing notes about urban high school life; about flying off to Europe with other teenagers, smoking cigarettes in flight (before the ban), and kissing the girl sitting next to, though you’d only just met; and, among others, the title story about climbing Mt. Rainier with the guy who was Jimi Hendrix’s high school counselor (how cool was that!) in the days when climbing the peak cost a measly thirty dollars, all equipment included.
The Mt. Rainier story is one of the best. But I also liked the one about the kids flying off to Europe for the summer. Fordyce is a good story teller, so for a bit of the flavor of his style, here’s a well-crafted and memorable (perhaps even familiar) little scene. Remember the daze?
Michelle . . . turned slightly and leaned again into Kevin. The seats were very close together and the backs were tall so it seemed like being in a private little living room. They had already kissed a few times earlier, not long after the dinner trays had been carted off and people were turning off lights. Kissing is what you did when you were nineteen, or seventeen or sixteen, and you were seated in a private little living room with someone of the opposite sex. This seemed especially appropriate if you were flying on a jet for the first time headed for London, with no parents around. At their age, in the summer of 1971, kissing is something everyone did at every opportunity, religiously, the thought of not for any length of time — two days, a week — as dreadful as acne or a bad haircut.
Michelle turned and they kissed again. She was pretty cute. Kevin put his arm around her and she nestled in. They finished their cigarettes and soon fell asleep. They had known each other for about two and a half hours.
As a fellow writer, I can’t resist making a few observations about Fordyce’s style. First, I like it. He knows how to spin a yarn. Second, he’s good with dialogue. It’s brash and sounds like pubescent teenagers talking, shouting their rage over their raging hormones. Third, he knows his subject matter. But how does he remember all that? Are his these stories truly fictional? Despite the standard caveat inside the title page that tells me this is a work of fiction and that “Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental,” you could fool me, cuz it sounds a bit autobiographical. But then, writers often write best about what they know best. And Fordyce obviously knows.
I only caught one tiny flaw, a miniscule and inconsequential misspelling. In the Mt. Rainier story he compares one steep chute on the climb to “Everest’s Hilary Step” . . . except that Hilary is missing an ‘el’, as in Sir Edmund Hillary (whose last name is spelled exactly the same as the firsts name of the lady who just might become our next president). But, then, kids nowadays can’t spell anyway, can they?
Fordyce is a good story teller in print and I imagine orally at a party, too. And since I live just down Interstate-5 a few hours’ drive south of Seattle, perhaps if we ever meet up I ask him to tell me the Mt. Rainier story aloud. It’s a gas.
Dr. Don Messerschmidt was born in Alaska, and got his Bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Alaska and PhD in Anthropology from Oregon. In 1963 went to Nepal as a PCV working in village development, then stayed on for most of the next 50 years as a teacher, development consultant, researcher and writer/editor (see www.EditWithUs.com). He and his wife Kareen live in Vancouver, Washington (when not off tramping through the Himalayas). Don writes books, articles, essays, reviews and blogs (see www.LiteraryDogs.com).
To purchase I Climbed Mt. Rainier . . . from Amazon.com, click on the book cover, the bold book title or the format you would like — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that will help support our annual writers awards.