Carrying Albert Home - Homer Hickam
Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam (the father of the author) were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.
Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days with Buddy every day because of his unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert she raised in the only bathroom in the house. When Albert scared Homer by grabbing his pants, he gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or that alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do: Carry Albert home.
Carrying Albert Home is the funny, sweet, and sometimes tragic tale of a young couple and a special alligator on a crazy 1000-mile adventure. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys/October Sky a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking tale is ultimately a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we inadequately call love.
Oh lambs. I've been told that when I write a book review, sometimes you can tell how much I loved the book by the way I talk about it. I sure hope that comes across in this review because this was such a tremendously wonderful book. Truly. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't love it.
The book is told by Homer Hickam, the son of Elsie and Homer, and he's pieced this story together based on the snippets of the larger story told to him while growing up. His parents would casually drop a statement like, "She learned how to do that when she was with those damn bootleggers." and then give him a small sampling of the story. The story of course, was when they took their trip from West Virginia coal mining community to Orlando, Florida on the mission to carry Albert home. Albert, of course, was Elsie's pet alligator that she had since he was a baby and treated much like a cat, honestly. He was given to her after her wedding to Homer by an old love she still carried a torch for, and so obviously Homer wasn't pleased. After some time, Homer made her choose Albert or him and she reluctantly chose Homer. On the start of their trip, they also acquired a rooster (or really, the rooster chose them) and the rooster also goes on their travels.
The really spectacular thing is that all along their trip they meet fantastic people (Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck is a sampling- CAN YOU IMAGINE?!) who later become icons in American history. Add that to the story taking place during the Great Depression and you have a great setting, a fantastic adventure, and a couple trying to make it work. Homer, desperately in love with Elsie, and Elsie, who hates coal mining and never wanted that to be a part of her life, kind of come together on this trip. I worried the entire book about Albert, are they really just going to leave this domesticated alligator off on his own? What will become of him?
Honestly, at first I didn't like Elsie at all (except her unabashed love of the alligator made her pretty endearing) but the more I read, the more she reminded me of the senior volunteers I had once worked with. I think, given the times they were living in, you really had to be spectacular to get through it and Elsie was. One line in the book isn't funny at all, but I absolutely laughed because I remember a volunteer telling me that she knew she was just about dead when her son came to see her.
In October 2009, my mother lay on her deathbed, clearly disappointed. She was ninety-seven years old and had hoped to live to be one hundred but, based on her doctor’s candid report and the fact that her second son was uncharacteristically hovering about, she knew she probably wasn’t going to make it.
It's certainly not funny to laugh when a person is at their end but then I thought, if only one tenth of this story was true versus family legend, what an amazing adventure she has. I certainly can't imagine any of that to happen in today's times and maybe that's what makes this book so special. Honest to goodness, this might be my number one book of the year. This will be a book I read again and again and I will likely read it to my children because it was just a fun journey.
And I am a sucker for old photographs, so at the very end of the book we get pictures of what Elsie and Homer looked like back then and some of the other characters mentioned. And I won't lie, I cried at the end. I really was so concerned about this poor alligator. I became attached to a damn alligator, you guys. Seriously.
I cannot urge you enough to purchase this book (Amazon or Barnes & Noble) because truly, it's such a great story that makes you laugh at the absurdity of it and honestly, this makes me want a pet alligator. I will call him George. Even better, follow the author on his website, Facebook or Twitter!