Thursday, March 7, 2019

Vintage Book Fun For Old And Young

Hello! I'm well past the target age for young adult books, but I couldn't resist picking up this vintage volume at a thrift store:

Run Sheep Run, published in 1959 by husband/wife duo Bob and Jan Young. The cover may look rather generic, but the back of the book jacket mentions a lofty goal:"Best Loved Girls' Books is a new program of top quality reading entertainment for girls in their early and mid-teens. Each month a staff of experienced editors in this field chooses an outstanding teen romance, career story, or girl's adventure book for our membership. Every selection is pre-tested for its wholesome, enjoyable appeal to today's young moderns..."

So of course I bought the book to see what the "young moderns" of 1959 would read. I discovered an appealing story of a girl who learns to be her own person, and that part of the story is still relevant. But of course there were still plenty of outdated passages that seem amusing or bizarre today! 

As the book begins, our heroine, Judy Cannon, is relaxing on a state park beach with her friends, somewhere in California. Her junior year of high school is about to begin, so the discussion of a science class requirement comes up. None of Judy's friends are fond of science, it seems, and they all agree that "girls hate science". She's urged to take biology, as it's supposed to be the easiest science class at their school. Perhaps that's because an aging teacher has led that course at their school for decades. Judy agrees, reluctantly, to sign up for that class.

We also learn that going steady during junior year is the thing to do. After all, think of all the parties and dances one would miss otherwise! 

So right away here's two outdated notions. I began high school 14 years after this book came out. I'm glad I'd never heard that "girls hate science", since I took science all four years of high school, well above the then-meager state requirement for that subject. And although there was plenty of "steady dating" in my high school (something I actually did for half my junior year), it wasn't as big a thing as it was for Judy and her friends. 

Judy's group walks up the coastline, until they reach the boundary of the state park and the beginning of private property. We learn that the land was a recent purchase by Judy's widowed mother. It's "100 acres of shoreline and meadow" and has an abandoned Victorian house near the beach to boot. 

In the next chapter, we read that Mrs. Cannon has a rather modest-sounding job working in the underground safety deposit vaults of a local bank. Yet by cashing in her late husband's life insurance policy, she was able to buy all that land on the California coastline. Since subdivisions had just arrived in their area, she figured she could resell the land at profit to the next developer. Can you imagine the average single mom buying land like that in California now? How much would an unspoiled tract like that would be worth today? 

The school year begins and much to Judy's dismay, the old biology teacher has retired, and now there is a younger, presumably tougher male teacher. But in spite of herself, Judy finds herself liking the marine biology lessons. And since she'd already shown aptitude in art class, she's pleased when her art teacher announces an marine watercolor assignment. 

So all is going well, until disaster strikes: Mrs. Cannon is suddenly hospitalized with some sort of severe lung condition. The doctor's orders for her recovery involve a year off work and plenty of fresh air and sunshine. I couldn't help but wonder what sort of lung condition would have warranted such a drastic change in lifestyle. TB? But the authors never say. 

This turn of events is real trouble for Judy and her only sibling, a ditzy, 19-year-old married sister whose husband barely makes enough money to support their newlywed household. No dad, no other relatives in town to help them. But wait - there's their Uncle Mort, their mother's stepbrother, recently retired from the Navy and settled in Oregon. Would he be able to help them?

Would he! It'd been decades since he'd last seen the family - Judy was too young to remember his last visit - yet he settles his affairs in Oregon and within days comes to assist the Cannons. He vows to stay as long as he's needed. What luck!

Uncle Mort brings many changes to the family, the biggest being moving the family to a residence that'll meet the requirements for Mrs. Cannon's recovery: that old Victorian house on her beachfront property. In no time, he is able to make the house habitable again, and Judy, Mrs. Cannon and Uncle Mort move there shortly after the new year.

Judy's against the move at first - she's now 4 miles out of town, away from her friends. Even worse, there's no school bus route that leads to her property, so her uncle informs her she'll have to ride her bike to and from school. Judy's mortified by this - nobody, but nobody but a few loser boys, rides bikes to school. I was amused by this, and wondered if this would still be true in energy-conscious, fitness-conscious California.

(Conveniently, shortly thereafter she makes friends with a girl who happens to live by the last bus stop in Judy's direction. The girl suggests that Judy bike to her house, leave her bike there, and then board the bus with her. The reverse steps would occur after school. This shortens Judy's commute by a huge distance, and best of all, she'll no longer be seen biking to and from school!)

She's also appalled when Uncle Mort announces a start of a money-making venture for the family: he's going to fix up an old structure between their house and their beach to turn it into a  bait shack. The fishing's good along their stretch of the coast, and he figures they can do well by selling bait and other fishing supplies. And before you know it, they're up and running. Judy helps him on the weekends. Initially, she figures the money she earns will go toward a car. No more being stuck out there; she'll be able to go into town to hang out with her friends! 

But she begins to like the bait shack work. Instead of saving for a car, or even buying new spring clothes, she purchases a fish smoker at the hardware store. This delicacy sells so well at the bait shack that she convinces a local butcher to stock it too. 

The bait shack start-up and addition of smoked fish seemed to happen really fast. I wondered what sort of licensing, zoning and health department requirements were around back then. Granted, the authors may not have wanted to bother with such details, but I bet things were more lax in 1959. After all, a lot of things have changed since then.  Why, Judy was shocked that the smoked fish the butcher had purchased from another supplier was "...marked at more than a dollar and a half per pound." I'd take that price for smoked fish any day of the week!

Judy grows ever more immersed in her biology class. She risks the scorn of her friends by joining the Science Society. It's a sometimes painful process, making new friends there while trying to keep the old. But after a few false moves she gains more confidence in herself, and even gains the respect of her old crowd. Some of them bemoan their lack of funds and have to look for summer jobs. They admire her smoked fish and bait shack earnings.

Along with her new Science Society friends, she participates in a regional high school Science Fair. Her exhibit of marine tide pool drawings combined her interests in art and marine biology. Much to her disappointment, she wins no awards at the science fair, but her exhibit catches the eye of the director of the local Marine Biological Station, who wants it displayed in his facility's museum all summer. 

And prize ribbon or not, Judy now has a future career goal in mind:  marine biology illustrator. The financing of the college education necessary to meet this goal will be no problem - she'll just make more money working at the bait shack and selling more smoked fish! 

So yes, our heroine Judy Cannon grows up a good deal in Run Sheep Run. I don't know if this book appealed to the "young moderns" it targeted, but it appealed to this "old" reader. A slightly contrived but believable story, along with tidbits that are amusing in today's world, made this vintage book fun to read!

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