Friday Sampler: Family is Forever by Shirley Skufca Hickman
July 8, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Family is Forever, a memoir by Shirley Skufca Hickman.
The 1950’s come alive in Shirley Skufca Hickman’s memoir FAMILY IS FOREVER. A typical teenager, Shirley loves to dance, attend slumber parties, play in her high school’s award-winning band, and sing in a girls’ triple trio. Dreaming of becoming an actress, she stars in several high school plays.
She enjoys her teenager years until her father’s death shatters her family. Without his love and support, their security is threatened. Shirley and her sisters, Mary and Vera, offer to drop out of school and support the family. Because their mother, a strong and intelligent woman, was forced to leave school after the eighth grade, she insists her daughters continue their education at all costs.
Her parents had cashed in her father’s life insurance policy to make the down payment for their house and now they have nothing. If they cannot pay the mortgage, they might lose their home.
Although relatives and friends offer their support, the family must call upon their courage, resilience and love for one another to cope with this tragic loss.
About Shirley Skufca Hickman:
Shirley Skufca Hickman grew up during World War II in Crested Butte, Colorado, a coal mining town and wrote about those early years in “Don’t Be Give Up.”
In 1947 her family moved to Gunnison, Colorado. As the new kid in town, Shirley wondered if she’d ever adapt to this new community. Her memoir, Is Everybody Happy Now? is about that successful transition.
In 1952, her father died, and this tragedy changed her life dramatically.
After graduating from college, she moved to California where she taught over 6,000 students. Besides teaching English, speech and dance, she also choreographed 13 musicals.
As an educator, she saw first-hand the plight of undocumented teenager immigrants from Mexico and wrote about them in Fall in Love with an Orange Tree or a Book.
She founded the Porterville Writer’s Workshop, which has continued for over forty years. Her prize winning books include School Success: 500 Ways Busy Parents Can Help Their Children Succeed in School and Sarah Darlin’ a romance set in San Francisco during the Gold Rush.
Besides teaching and writing, she enjoys traveling and on one occasion visited the small villages in Croatia where her grandparents grew up.
Another activity she enjoys is making Barbie doll clothes and quilting. She and her friends are making quilt blocks to send to the Orlando Quilt Guild where they will be made into quilts and given to families who lost relatives in the recent tragedy.
Currently she writes, tutors, and sews. Married to Joe Hickman for over 50 years, they have a cherished son, a wonderful daughter-in-law and two extraordinary grandsons.
World War II ended in 1945, and the post-war era began, but peace was short-lived when in 1950 another war, this time against Communism, took men away from their families to fight in Korea.
Society changed for many Americans, including my family. My father spent years working at the Big Mine in Crested Butte, Colorado. Now with less demand for coal, the mine operated only three days a week.
To find steady work, he moved our family from Crested Butte to Gunnison, only 28 miles away, but vastly different in religion and politics.
We were a close-knit family, and as we gathered around the kitchen table, I glanced at my handsome Daddy. He reminded me of Clark Gable, but Mary thought he looked more like John Wayne. I could imagine Daddy gambling on a Mississippi River boat, but not riding a horse.
My beautiful Mama could have been a movie star. When she was a young woman she won tango contests with a partner who looked like Rudolph Valentino. A talent scout offered Mama a trip to Hollywood, but her father wouldn’t allow his favorite daughter to consider such a disreputable occupation.
My sister, Vera, who was sixteen, had Mama’s beautiful dimple and pretty face. Mary, my older sister, was eighteen and looked more like Daddy’s side of the family. At fourteen, I was the youngest and looked like Daddy’s sister, Christine. My sisters and I were tall and thin and had brown hair like our parents.
One evening while we ate, Daddy was unusually quiet, but his smile told us he was up to something. If we asked questions, he would evade them or give us silly answers, but we knew if we waited long enough, he would tell us.
We finished eating and did the dishes, but no one wanted to leave the kitchen until Daddy told us what was on his mind, so we sat at the table again. Finally, he finished his cigarette, smashed it in the ashtray, and announced, “Tomorrow I’m going to college.”
Vera raised her eyebrows. “How can you go to college when you only have a sixth grade education?”
Vera was my sister and I loved her, but sometimes she irritated Daddy without meaning to. She would be a junior in high school this fall and should have known better.
Daddy didn’t appear offended.
“What classes are you going to take?” Mary asked, going along with Daddy’s game. She was four years older than I and always took Daddy’s side in every situation because she was his favorite. I thought her question was stupid because she was a college freshman and worked in the registrar’s office. She knew students had to have a high school diploma before they were admitted to college.
Daddy didn’t answer her question. He only smiled. “We can ride to the college together, Mary.”
“That would be great,” she said.
“Tell us what this is all about, Steve,” Mama insisted. “Don’t keep us in the dark. You aren’t really going to the college tomorrow, are you?”
Daddy leaned back in his chair and lit another cigarette, waiting for the suspense to build.
He liked to tease us, but sometimes I wished he’d just get on with it.
At last he explained. “I’ve been hired as a carpenter with the Ring Construction Company that’s going to build a new gym at Western State College. The job should last a year or maybe more.” He grinned. “Is everybody happy now?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Of course we are.”
Mary had a smug look on her face. “I knew all along that Daddy’s secret was something good.”
Mama smiled at Daddy. “Oh, Steve, that’s wonderful!”
I said I was going to college tomorrow and that’s what I’m going to do.”
“Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” Vera grumbled.
“Oh, Vera,” I interrupted. “Just let it go. Be happy Daddy has a job that will last for a long time.”
“Don’t argue, girls,” Mama warned.
Now that Daddy’s secret was revealed, our family disbursed into various parts of the house.
I was happy for him and our family. When he had a steady job, there was less stress.
During World War II, when he worked in the coal mine, his job was secure, but when a strike was called, our family and the entire community worried about how long it would last and if the money would run out before the strike was settled.
Since we moved to Gunnison, Daddy worked steadily as a carpenter during the summer and fall, but when winter snows covered our town, no one built houses and remodeling work was sporadic.
Luckily, Mama always had a job working in a restaurant, store or hotel. Mary worked at the college as a secretary during the week and a waitress on weekends. Vera and I babysat for spending money. With all of us working, we still managed financially even when Daddy was out of work.
Last June, when Mama’s youngest brother, Uncle Billy, told Daddy men were being recruited to work on a secret government project, both of them went to Minnesota to be interviewed.
Uncle Billy was accepted and hired as an electrician, but Daddy wasn’t because of his poor health.
When Mama asked Daddy about what he said in his interview, I thought he’d say he wanted the job to pay off our mortgage or buy a new car. Instead, he took Mama’s hand and looked at her in that special way. “I told the man I wanted to give my wife a honeymoon. We never had one.”
Mama had tears in her eyes. “Oh, Steve, I don’t need a honeymoon.”
“I know,” he said, “but I always wanted to give you one.”
When Daddy didn’t get the job after the interview in Minnesota, he had come home a deflated balloon. Now with the prospect of a year-long job, Daddy was happy, the air was back in the balloon and sailing again.