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Jon wrote two books for young adults:  Four Miles to Pinecone and Jemmy

"It All Started the Day School Ended."

That was when my English teacher decided not to flunk me--if I wrote a long story during my summer vacation. My name's Tom Barry. I'm sixteen, and I really do want to e a junior next year at the high school in St. Paul where I live. But with my full-time job at Mr. Kerr's grocery store, I didn't think I'd have enough time to do it.

But by the end of the week, the paper seemed small potatoes. You see, Mr. Kerr's store was broken into--and my best friend Mouse was involved. I saw him, but I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to be a fink.

I kept mum because it was right about then that I was invited to stay at my uncle's resort near Pinecone. It's a real neat place in the Minnesota woods, and I figured I could cool out there. And then I found that they have crime just like in St. Paul--but this time the stakes were much higher. Suddenly, my life was on the line...

 

The first few pages from Four Miles to Pinecone by Jon Hassler:

Summer is over.

I hope I never have to, live through another one like it.

First, I flunked English. Then there was the break-in at the grocery store that put Mr. Kerr in the hospital and me out of work. And finally, a three hundred-pound goon tried to run me over with a truck.

I'm not the scholarly type, so you may be wondering why I'm sitting here in the public library with a ballpoint pen and a notebook.

It all started back in June, on the last day of school. Mouse Brown and I stood by our lockers comparing report cards. I had an F in sophomore English and so did Mouse. I knew my parents would have a fit, and I asked Mouse to go with me to see Mr. Singleton. I thought we might talk him into changing our grades.

But Mouse said no. He said flunking English didn't make any difference to him. He said he was thinking about quitting school now that he had turned sixteen. He said he'd had a fantastic job offer, and if he liked the work his school days would be over for good. I tried to picture Mouse working, but I couldn't do it. He's like his dad. I've never known him to shovel snow or mow a lawn or set out the garbage. His mother does it all.

So I went alone to see Mr. Singleton. I found him sitting in his classroom, cleaning his glasses with his tie, and squinting at thirty empty desks. Without his glasses he looked ten years older, and very tired. The sound of city traffic drifted up through the open windows. The room was hot.

"Thomas," he said, "I know why you're here. You are less than satisfied with your grade."

"I'm in a state of shock," I said.

"All is not lost, Thomas. Pull up a desk and be seated. We shall talk. Nothing is hopeless."

"That's what I came to hear," I said. I sat down.

"Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul." Mr. Singleton is forever quoting dead poets. He put on his glasses and gave me the same repulsive smile he always gives students who talk out of turn or carve on desks. It's the only smile he's got, and he shows a lot of crooked gray teeth. He's the only teacher I know who can discipline a student simply by smiling at him. You'd rather behave yourself than look at those teeth a second time.

"Mr. Singleton," I said, "I deserve better than an F in English. I did great on all your tests. I know everything you teach, and here you flunk me. How can you get away with that?"

I was coming on strong. His smile faded.

"Please do not question my judgment," he said. "Now it's true that you know a great deal about what I teach, but you have one great weakness-one vast flaw--in an otherwise adequate mentality."

"What's that?"

"You lack perseverance, my good young man."

"What's that?"

"Perseverence is another word for handing in assignments. Would you care to estimate the number of written assignments you failed to hand in during the year?"

"I know I skipped a few. Ten or twelve."

"Guess again."

"Maybe more. Maybe twenty. But I had a job, Mr. Singleton. I couldn't always find time to do the assignments."

"Guess again."

"Twenty-five?"

He opened his grade book and said, "Look at this," and pushed it across his desk. "Forty-seven," he said.

"Forty-seven?" I said. I pretended to be surprised, but I knew he was right. I had decided early in the year that I wouldn't trouble myself with English assignments, because English always came pretty easy for me, and I figured I could get by with at least a C by simply showing up for class and taking the tests. English assignments, if you take them seriously, can really cut into your free time.


Jemmy Longs to Soar Away From Her Family and Her-Life With The Strength and Grace of an Eagle....

The older she gets, the less seventeen-year-old Jemmy Stott feels she has to look forward to: with her Chippewa mother dead, her alcoholic father becomes even more self-pitying than usual. The final blow is that he has ordered Jemmy to quit school so that she can stay home and take care of her younger brother and sister

But on her way home on her last day of school, Jemmy is caught in a fierce snowstorm. She's rescued by Otis and Ann Chapman, a couple who have moved to rural Minnesota from the city. Otis is a well-known painter, and he sees in Jemmy the model he needs to complete a mural of the Maiden of Eagle Rock.

Jemmy soon finds that the Chapmans have rescued her in more ways than one ... and that there's a whole world outside of her family's dreary existence, a world she can conquer if only she has the courage to fight.

Chapter 1 from Jemmy by Jon Hassler:

Out of the orange October sun rising over the reservation came an orange school bus heading for Eagleton. It swayed in the ruts of the gravel road and slowed to a stop where a short driveway led to the Stott place-a four-room house and a small shed huddled at the edge of the pine forest. The house and shed, bleached a pale blue by years of harsh weather, were tipped slightly toward each other; drawn together, it seemed, by the tight clothesline stretched between them. Parked in the weedy yard was an old Dodge the color of earth.

The bus driver honked. Jemmy Stott opened the kitchen door and hung a dishtowel on the clothesline, then, shivering, she went back inside for the denim jacket that hung on a nail by the door. As she walked slowly along the driveway the bus driver honked again, for he had ten miles and seventeen stops to go, but Jemmy did not hurry. Jemmy was always deliberate like this-not stubborn, merely deliberate-as though she had found, at seventeen, the pace, designed for carrying a half-breed girl through a long, unpromising life. It was an all-purpose pace. When she swept the kitchen floor or smoked a cigarette or took a history test, she looked as though she were daydreaming; but despite her languid manner she always did a thorough job of things: she swept in the comers, she smoked down to the filter, and she never flunked a test

Jemmy's was a family of four. Her father was hooked on orange-flavored vodka and out of work. Her brother Marty was eleven years old, and her sister Candy was six. Her mother, a Chippewa, was dead.

Boarding the bus, Jemmy threw her long hair back over her shoulders and turned up the sleeves of her denim jacket to hide the tattered cuffs. She went to the back of the bus and sat, as usual, with Roxanne Rooster. Jemmy and Roxanne were thought of as friends, but the truth was that they didn't care much for one another. They had attended Reservation School together through the first eight grades and now they rode the bus together to Eagleton High School, but Roxanne (in Jemmy's opinion) was too loud and grabby. If Jemmy had two cigarettes, Roxanne wanted one. If Jemmy had one cigarette, Roxanne wanted half. of it. If Jemmy had a new issue of Bold Confessions, Roxanne wanted to read it before Jemmy was done.

"Hi," said Jemmy as she sat down. "Have you got any gum?" said Roxanne.

The honking of the school bus had awakened Jemmy's father. He sat up in bed and before he opened his eyes he put on a pair of glasses. His bed was in a windowless room not much bigger than a closet. He stood up and put on his pants and a flannel shirt, old and spotted with paint. All his clothes were spotted with paint because at one time he had been a house painter. Combing his faded red hair with the palms of his hands, he went barefoot into the living room, where Marty and Candy sat watching a fuzzy picture on TV A cartoon man was chasing a cartoon cat. Or was it a dog? This far from the transmitter it was hard to tell. Marty and Candy sat on the bare floor with their jackets on.

"Come on," said Stott.

Marty and Candy pulled themselves away from TV, looking back at it as they followed him into the kitchen. He found his shoes under the kitchen table and sat down to put them on.

The frayed denim jacket he shared with Jemmy wasn't hanging on the nail by the door. "Go out and get in the car," he said, and he went back to his bedroom for a paint-spotted sweater.

Marty ran out to the old Dodge and jumped into the back seat and locked all the doors. Candy ran after him, but she wasn't fast enough, and when she reached the car she couldn't get in. She hit the frosty window with her fist and shouted, "Damn you," and Marty laughed to hear her say it. He couldn't see out through the frost, but he knew by the slamming of the kitchen door that his father was coming, so he unlocked the doors and let Candy in.

Stott pressed the palms of both his hands on the outside of the windshield and melted away two patches of frost big enough to see through. Then he got into the car and started the engine and listened to it clatter for a minute before he shifted gears. He wrenched the steering wheel as far as it would go and turned in a tight circle between the shed and kitchen door. He drove out from the shadow of the house and turned east on the gravel road. The two clear patches on the windshield widened as he headed into the low sun, and by the time he had driven the two miles to Reservation School, the frost was sliding and dripping away from all the windows.

This was the first year that Stott had delivered his children to school. During the eight years that Jemmy had gone to Reservation School, she had walked the two miles every day. And Marty, too, had been accustomed to walking during his first four grades; but now Marty and Candy rode because this year Candy was old enough for school and she was Stott's favorite. Unlike Jemmy and Marty, Candy's hair was red, like her father's.

Reservation School had two outhouses and one teacher.

On the roof stood a belfry without a bell, and in the yard were two swings and a teeter-totter. As the engine of the Dodge idled and clattered, Stott watched Candy join a group of friends by the swings. The sight of her with other girls made him uncomfortable. She wore dresses of Jemmy's-third- and fourth-grade dresses from the days before girls wore jeans to school. They were too big for Candy and they reached nearly to her ankles. Stott saw that nobody else in the schoolyard looked so frumpy as Candy.

He made a U-tum and parked in front of Rooster's Store, which stood across the road from the school. In Rooster's Store you could buy groceries or hardware or chicken feed or get your shoes fixed or have a drink. The proprietor was a scar-faced Indian named Stan Rooster, who lived with his wife and two children (one of whom was Roxanne) in rooms behind and above the store.

"You're up early, considering last night," said Rooster. He smiled easily. His teeth were very large.

"So are you," said Stott, who seldom smiled.

Rooster chuckled, thinking how tipsy they had both been at two o'clock this morning when they had parted company.

Stott bought a pack of cigarettes.

"Coming back tonight?" asked Rooster.

"Not the way I feel right now."

"You'll be back." Rooster chuckled.

Stott returned home, and as he entered the kitchen he heard a TV voice speaking to the empty front room. He dropped his pack of cigarettes on the kitchen table and his sweater on the floor and he went to his bedroom for the bottle of orange-flavored vodka he kept under his bed. He had a breakfast of vodka and smoke, then he cleared a tangle of bedclothes off the couch in the front room (Marty's bedclothes, for the couch was Marty's bed) and he lay down to watch the fuzzy picture on TV. Before long he was asleep, and because he slept until late afternoon, Marty and Candy (she for the first time in her six weeks as a first grader) walked home from Reservation School.

The orange bus brought Jemmy home from Eagleton at suppertime. The sun was low, and as she walked to the house a cold wind clutched at her open jacket and her long black hair. She shivered, but she did not hurry. From the woodpile behind the house, she carried into the kitchen a few sticks of dry pine and started a fire in the range. Her father was still asleep; Marty and Candy were watching TV. She picked her father's sweater off the floor and hung it, with her jacket, on the nail by the door.

Later, when she served up four plates of macaroni and called her family to the table, , her father came into the kitchen with a headache. At the table, Marty was whistling loudly and Stott rapped him on the head with a spoon.

Halfway through the meal, Stott cleared his throat and fastened his eyes on the light bulb that hung on a cord over the table and said, "Jemmy, I want you to quit school. "

Jemmy was pouring milk when he said it, and her hand did not falter.

"This is your twelfth year of school," he said, "and I don't see where it's getting us. I don't see the point in it. It's time you stayed home and took care of things full time. Candy needs somebody to get her ready in the morning. Get her fixed up decent. Drive her to school in the Dodge. I can't always be getting up at dawn, looking after the whole pack of you. It isn't good for my breathing, getting out in the cold air early in the morning. If the truth was known, I might be suffering from the same ailment your mother had, and she died of it. "

Stott rarely said this much at one time, and Marty and Candy, wearing their jackets at the table, stopped eating and looked at him. He was speaking to the light bulb.

"So it's settled then. You've got the responsibility around here now. Take the car in the morning. Drop Candy and

Marty off at Reservation School, then go to town and quit. Half the kids your age around here quit a long time ago. I don't see the point in going to school all your life. Be sure you get a refund on your lunch ticket. And have four dollars' worth of gas put in the Dodge. They'll charge it at Texaco.

Stott brought his gaze down from the light bulb and glanced at Jemmy. Her eyes were on Marty and Candy, studying them, looking from one to the other as though she had never seen them before. And she hadn't-not in this light. If she understood her father correctly, Marty and Candy were now her responsibility. He was backing out. He was quitting his job as father just as he had quit painting houses. From now on, it was up to Jemmy.

"Well?" said Stott. He wanted her to reply. She would obey him, he knew, because that was her nature-slow, steady obedience. But he also knew that she was capable, on rare occasions, of anger. If she was going to lash out at him about this, he wanted her to do it now and get it over with.

"Well?" he said again.

"Well, what?" said Jemmy, and their eyes met for a moment. Then she stood and took her plate of macaroni to the garbage sack under the sink. She had lost her appetite. She filled the sink with hot water from the kettle on the range, and as she waited for the three of them to finish eating she gazed out the window, where dusk was creeping out of the dark forest.

"There's things to be done here," Stott said to the long black hair lying over her shoulders and down her back. "As soon as you quit tomorrow, get home and start shortening Candy's dresses. Nobody in first grade wears dresses as long as hers."

Jemmy did not turn away from the window.

"Nobody wears dresses to school but the teacher," said Marty, grinning.

"None of your lip," said Stott.

After supper Stott settled down on the couch in the front room to watch TV, but he couldn't rest easy. He wondered what Jemmy's silence meant. Was she building up steam until she exploded, like the time she caught him stealing cigarettes from the bedroom she and Candy slept in? Or was she simply taking it in stride, the way she had taken her mother's death? He remembered standing in the cemetery two days after Candy was born. As the preacher blessed the open grave and the men let down the coffin, Stott looked at the faces of Jemmy, eleven at the time, and Marty, five. Neither of them shed a tear. Nor did anyone else, for that matter. The faces of his wife's relatives Chippewas all were expressionless. Stott himself had no relatives that he knew of. As for his own sorrow, he did not reveal it in the cemetery, but saved it for later that evening when he could do it justice in Rooster's Store with his bottle of orange flavored vodka.

From the couch Stott heard the rattle of dishes in the kitchen and he concluded that Jemmy was taking it in stride. Still, he couldn't relax. If only she would say something He rose from the couch and hurried through the kitchen, where Jemmy was slouched over the dishwater, absently washing a plate, and Mary and Candy were kicking each other under the table. He took the denim jacket off the nail by the door and drove down the road to Rooster's Store.

 

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Last modified: March 04, 2002