Apr 01

GrandmaGatewood

Grandma Gatgewood’s Walk, By Ben Montgomery ★★★★

This is a true and fascinating tale about a woman who married a very abusive man, had 11 children, and after her husband left her and the children grew up, she notified her children that she would be going for a walk. The year was 1955 and she was 67 years old. They had known their mother to occasionally disappear for a period of time, and so thought nothing of it. Eventually, she made it know to her family and the world as to what she was up to. She had decided to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. To allow that, she wore nothing but sneakers, some rummage sale walking clothes, and sewed herself a burlap sack to carry her scarce belongings, which she threw over her shoulder. She had a walking stick, an extra pair of glasses, since she was nearly blind, a blanket, and a large sheet of plastic to serve as a rain coat and shelter in the event that she could not find natural coverage from the rain. Her hike went from May until September, interrupted only by nosy and inquisitive news agents, and then, only once she was discovered as to what she was up to. It was a year of major east coast hurricane activity, so much of her northerly walk was drenched in rain and mud, and swollen rivers. She eventually made it to the tip of Katahdin, the northernmost part of the AT.

The story is broken up with three different dialogues. The most important was that of her actual walk, which was reconstructed from the notes that she took and the correspondence that she sent to her children. The second dialogue was flashbacks on her early life, going from childhood, to marriage, to a seriously flawed family life with a very physically abusive husband, 11 children, and much coping. Eventually she got a divorce, her children grew up, and she found herself alone, only to find her greatest enjoyment in walking. The third dialogue was discussion of the history of the Appalachian Trail, discussion of issues of the ecology of the trail, and the loss of a wild area.

The book is inspiring. It makes one wish to get out to walk. It is an easy but compelling read, hard to set down until the end. It was easy to follow the story lines in spite of the fact that they were broken up.

Since then, Grandma Emma Gatewood again did the AT a second time, becoming the first woman to ever hike the AT and the first person to ever hike it twice. She also section hiked it a third time, as well as walked from Independence, MO to Portland, OR following the route of the Oregon Trail. She did this while she was in her 70’s.

There is interesting discussion in the book about hospitality shown to her as well as mistreatment on her trip along the trail. Perhaps the book implies that people with crazy ideas need to be catered to.  Even in the 1950’s, most people that looked like “homeless tramps” were alcoholic, irresponsible persons. Grandma Gatewood was not alcoholic, but certainly expected assistance and handouts as well as shelter along the way. She could not possibly have done the trail in an entirely self-supported fashion, making her at least somewhat irresponsible. Yet, the book is still a good admonishment to show hospitality to strangers.

The book is labelled a New York Times best-seller. Like all labels of this sort, such as being a Pulitzer prize winning book or Oprah Winfrey book of the month club book, the label usually persuades me not to read the book. This book mostly stayed clear of political issues, but they could still be seen. As an example, the author spends much time speaking of the racial inequalities, and political machinations that transpired during the 1950’s. He happens to briefly mention the Republicans (never the Democrats) as associated with the segregation movement, without mentioning that the overwhelming majority of segregationists were Democrat. It is almost like taking the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” as reflective or based on history. In the Pirates movie, the pirates were the Spanish and the folk being robbed were the British. In real life, it was just the opposite. It’s as though history some day would have the Americans as killing off the Jews, with Hitler coming to rescue the Jews from a holocaust. New Yorkers, in their sophisticated sophistry, so often just get it completely wrong. Oh well. Read the book. Laugh about the historical or political mistakes. But get inspired to walk a long walk.

Add comments

Leave a Reply

ERROR: si-captcha.php plugin: GD image support not detected in PHP!

Contact your web host and ask them to enable GD image support for PHP.

ERROR: si-captcha.php plugin: imagepng function not detected in PHP!

Contact your web host and ask them to enable imagepng for PHP.

preload preload preload