Monday, April 13, 2009

Leaving Cades Cove: Autumn Winfred Oliver Does Thing Different by Kristen O'Donnell Tubb

So there I stood, on something akin to a big, bald behind. Mighty appropriate circumstances, considering what came next.

Autumn Winifred Oliver is a girl who prides her self on "doing things different," so when her reverie on the Smoky Mountains' Gregory Bald is interrupted by the tolling of eleven tolls of the church bell down in Cades Cove, she gets scary prickles down her spine. That sound can only mean that someone eleven years old had just died--and Autumn is the only eleven year old resident of Cades Cove, Tennessee, so far as she knows. Her own death sure is something different, all right!

Down the mountain she finds the answer to her mystery. The tolling of the bells was for her Gramps, John Tipton, who, being pronounced dead, suddenly began to wheeze and breathe, stopping the bell ringer in mid-toll and returning abruptly to his usual cranky, headstrong ways. Suddenly her mama uses her father's near-death experience as reason to move into his generations-old log cabin and look after him. This is not necessarily good news for Autumn, who has been looking forward to a move to the big city of Knoxville, where her Pops is working. It's a decision which Autumn intuits is just her mother's way of staying out of the big city and inside the security of the Cove and her family circle.

But that safe haven is fast changing. It's 1934, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is taking shape under the guidance of John D. Rockefeller and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Promised that the park would stay clear of Cade's Cove, Gramps is full of big plans to make money off the hoped-for tourists and stays on the go convincing his neighbors to approve the takeover. His enthusiasm keeps Autumn and her fifteen-year-old sister Katie hopping as they transform their ramshackle barn into a tourist trap of a hotel, a job which is far too dirty and boring for Autumn's taste. To her mind, Gramps is way too happy to have the girls around to do his chores. Assigned to keep his flock of geese from cleaning out the garden one morning, Autumn is rankled that her planned day of fishing is interrupted and takes matters into hand her own way.

"I managed to snag every single goose out there, despite a lot of flapping and honking and stinking. And then came the hard part. I pried open their horrible beaks, snipped of a bit of twig, and propped open each goose's mouth like a pup tent.

Boy, what a sight! Those stinking geese couldn't close their mouths, let alone do so around a juicy tomato plant. Problem solved."

Autumn, for sure, is a girl who does things different, and she manages to find herself some adventure when a flash flood washes the local undertaker's privy, chicken coop and chickens, and a brand-new coffin down Abrams Creek. Autumn and her sidekick Cody climb aboard to pioneer the first white-water coffin trip nearly all the way downstream to Townsend.

Rescued after a cold, damp night in the woods by some CCC workers, from them Autumn learns some surprising and saddening facts: the Cove is indeed to be included into the national park and her own family's house is already being demolished in the drive to return the Cove to its pioneer appearance. Convincing her grandfather and mother that they have been misled takes a bit of trickery on her part, but her family finally realizes that their old way of life is on its way out. Autumn is consoled by her Pops, whose sawmill job will also end when the park closes down the lumber companies. Pops describes the terrible fate of the hills denuded of their forests, their creeks fouled, by the lumber companies which are racing against time to cut as many trees as they can before the park service shuts them down.

"So, if we do have to sell out to the park--which it sure sounds like we do--well, then, we might lose a few buildings here and there. But I'd say we all agree that's better than stripping bare our land. Let's thank heaven our land was spared the saw."

In the end, with her Gramps really dead this time, the Park Service claims his cabin, fated to become the "Tipton Cabin" exhibit in the Cove, and the family belatedly make their move to Knoxville, where, with all those sidewalks, Autumn at least looks forward to being the roller skating champion of East Tennessee.

Despite the sad story of the diaspora of the Cades Cove community, Kristen O'Donnell Tubb's Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different is a joyous and humorous story of a resilient and spunky girl who finds a way to put her mark on everything she does. Tubbs works a lot of historical information about the displaced mountain communities of the Smokies into her narrative, admittedly compressing some events for dramatic effect. Although a bit more editing could have winnowed out some speech anachronisms (for example, Autumn speaks of being "grounded" for her mischief) in the text, Tubbs' characterizations are strong and memorable, putting human voices and faces to those shadowy "pioneers" of the Smokies National Park.

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  • Hello! I just found your review and wanted to say thank you for taking the time to write about Autumn Winifred Oliver! Thank you, too, for your dedication to children's literature.

    ~Kristin Tubb

    By Blogger Kristin Tubb, at 7:32 PM  

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