Carrying Albert Home
by Homer Hickam
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: William Morrow ( )
The long-awaited prequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Rocket Boys—the basis for the movie October Sky
Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam Sr.—the future parents of Homer Hickam Jr.—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 in Florida every day because of Buddy's unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert who lived in the only bathroom in their little house. Eventually Homer gave Elsie an ultimatum: "Me or the alligator!" After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do—carry Albert home.
Carrying Albert Home tells the sweet, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a young couple and their special pet on a crazy 1,000-mile journey. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam's rollicking novel is truly a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we call love.
“The way I see it, if everybody ran from bad things instead of trying to stop them, bad things would be all there is.”
“Boy, if you were a box of chocolates in my house, all you’d be in ten minutes is empty little paper cups.”
“‘Welcome to the United States Coast Guard,’ Chief Vintner said. ‘In case you wondered, our unofficial motto is ‘You have to go out but you don’t have to come back.’ ”
“There are no coincidences in life. Although the big God of the Hebrews might be the greatest of them, I believe there are small gods who watch out and sometimes determine our fate. I believe they also like to have a little fun with us from time to time. Kismet.”
“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.”
Part parental recollections and part southern tall tales, Carrying Albert Home was an enthralling, highly entertaining, and touching story. I could feel the characters as well as see and hear them as I read. It started off in my head as a black and white movie, as that is how my pea brain associates the time period discussed, with the vocabulary and speaking manner employed reminding me of old movies starring Will Rogers and young Mickey Rooney, using words like victuals, goons, greenbacks, forelock, proclivities, thence, rectitude, nefarious, abrogated, smite, etc. These people were living through the Great Depression during the bulk of the story, which is generally a grave and listless topic, yet I was transfixed by the narrative and fascinated by the adventures being described. I smirked, chuckled, and even teared up a time or three.
The writing was superb, consuming, and easy to follow despite the occasional odd vernacular. I was transported. I could feel Elsie’s frustration, ambivalence, restlessness, and yearning for something better than being a coal-miner’s wife. I could also feel Homer’s anxiety, disappointments, and personal humiliations. I adored the story and had a hard time putting it down. This would make an excellent movie as the adventures chronicled reminded me of Forrest Gump as they seem utterly fantastic yet oddly believable in the way the characters just fell into them. And the adventures and various employments taken up along the route were awe-inspiring. With Albert’s help, they foiled a bank robbery, experienced movie making, a hurricane, radical labor unrest, communists, a bombing, professional baseball playing, several near drownings, sailing, poetry writing, a serial killer, bootlegging, kidnapping, smuggling, piloting an airplane, railroading, and meeting famous writers and actors - all during an arduous road trip with very little money, no maps (just traveled south on instinct) , and while sleeping and eating in the car with an alligator named Albert and a nameless rooster. Kismet… I wish I had some!
About Homer Hickam
Homer Hickam (also known as Homer H. Hickam Jr.) is the bestselling and award-winning author of many books, including the #1New York Times memoir Rocket Boys, which was adapted into the popular film October Sky. A writer since grade school, he is also a Vietnam veteran, a former coal miner, a scuba instructor, an avid amateur paleontologist, and a retired engineer. He lives in Alabama and the Virgin Islands.