methow grist 2011-2014 archive
Inspired by Tom Sawyer

An excerpt from Bill Hottell's unpublished memoir

As a young fifth grader at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Spokane, Washington, I was browsing the shelves of the school library when my eyes lit upon a dark green book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I had never heard of Mark Twain or Huckleberry Finn, but some strong, magnetic force pulled that volume right off the shelf and into my hands. From the very first pages I felt the thrill of exhilaration. This was a defining moment of my lifetime.

I carried the green book home and buried myself in Tom Sawyer’s escapades. Tom snuck out of his bedroom window at night to roam with his friend Huck Finn. Tom and Huck took a raft journey to exotic Jackson’s Island. They explored abandoned houses and mysterious caves. Tom Sawyer had a gift for finding adventure, mystery and intrigue in everyday life right there in his little home town of Hannibal, Missouri.

I lived with the book. I devoured its pages. I took it to bed with me. Tom Sawyer was such an exciting role model for me, I internalized him completely. I, young Bill Hottell, actually became Tom Sawyer. I went barefoot all summer (it was very painful on my tender-soled feet), carried a corncob pipe in my hip pocket, hiked often up into the woods and floated around the pond on a make-shift raft. I even built an enormously heavy raft from railroad ties. The raft in my back yard was so heavy and bulky that it never moved from the yard. But still I spent many hours aboard her sailing the mighty Mississippi in my imagination. Spent hours as a pirate captain on the Spanish Main and other hours sailing out to Jackson’s Island to a life of freedom and leisure.

I would sneak out of the house at night, climb down the rope from the second-story balcony and explore the alleys of 19th and 20th streets with my friend, Tom McAndrews. We raided gardens in the neighborhood, pulled carrots, and even stole an entire case of Cracker Jacks when we found a candy truck unlocked. We sat in the middle of the woods and opened all fifty boxes, prospected for the prize in each box, gorged on the delicious carmel corn, and just sat back and gloated over our glorious treasure.

Finally my midnight adventures came to an end one night when my mother found my bed empty and called the police. It was a horrifying moment when I returned home from the nocturnal escapade to see a cop car parked in front of the house. I slipped in the back door to be met by a panicky and sobbing mother. I crept up the stairs to my bedroom feeling like a criminal.

In short, I actually became Tom Sawyer and began a lifetime of seeking out adventure. Mark Twain had helped me form an agenda for life: the quest for adventure. As a fifth grade boy I never could have guessed that the Tom Sawyer spirit in my soul would eventually lead me to 166 different countries and to fascinating places like Tierra del Fuego and Timbuktu, Macao and Machu Picchu, Zimbabwe and Azerbaijan, Kilimanjaro and the Klondike gold fields.

Posted Dec 16, 2010