Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Are You my Huckleberry?

The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment

If you know what a huckleberry is, you are mighty lucky! Smaller than a blueberry, a luscious dark purple when ripe, they are sweet with a hint of wildness. Huckleberries are found growing in the Pacific Northwest along mountain slopes, in forests, around lakes and are almost impossible to grow commercially. So they remain wild and free for the picking.

At elevations above 5,000 feet, competition for a ripe huckleberry in late July into August is intense. Equally relished by both man and bear (birds, coyotes and deer), you can pick a bucketful and even then will not be satisfied that is enough. Bears feel the same.

First known as hurtleberries or whortleberries, the name changed around 1670. Evolving from that, the term has been used in various ways describing people from worthless to valuable. Today it is generally positive describing someone right for the job, someone you can count on. In the movie "Tombstone," it meant having someone's back. In the song "Moonriver," it is good to be a "huckleberry friend."

When Mark Twain created his characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Huck was based on and named for Twain's childhood friend Tom Blakenship who lived a hard life. At that time, huckleberry was used as a nickname for something small and insignificant. Huckleberry Finn was a character that was abused and treated as if he was worth nothing in society.

Recently I decided to reread "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and purposefully chose the original text. The spoken language is broken and many times illiterate. The newer versions sanitize both language and some of the more blatant racial indignities while the first version keeps true to Twain's commentary of social issues, if somewhat diluted by humor and satire.

Huckleberry Finn tries living within walls and rules, but when his father returns from the dead (gone for over a year), he takes his son away, keeping him prisoner. Huck decides he likes neither of the lives he's been offered and fakes his own death to escape and make a new life to his own liking. He meets up with the slave Jim on an island and they work out survival together. Huck finds out there is a price on their heads. For Jim, some believe he has murdered Huck. And for Huck, in case he really isn't dead. It's a wild journey.

This March 2024, author Percival Everett dared to step into the shoes of Mark Twain himself to write the novel "James." The story is now told through the eyes and voice of the runaway slave Jim. This time, the atrocities of slavery are written blatantly, vile and coarse. No watering down for this classic. American history of slavery is undressed within a fictional story by using real life facts actually faced by black slaves in early America and it's eye opening.

Over 100 years later, this nation still disputes the realities of American slavery. Reading "James" you are placed in his skin and feel each indignity and human slight. It becomes personal. And it is personal even today.

While the books can seem controversial and even adversarial to some at times, they embrace multiple wisdoms benefiting people of all ages. The picture book "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," a Baby Lit Classic by Jennifer Adams, has an abundance of bright art along with actual quotes from the original story. It is hard for parents not to read this book aloud without the twangy accent of Mark Twain. The text is well rounded and encourages friendships, adventures and a love of the outdoors.

I chose to highlight these books for this review in honor of Father's Day and the dads in our community. They are action filled with boyhood antics. And don't forget about those huckleberries! Is your dad your "huckleberry friend?" Is he someone you can count on? Does he get appreciation for having your back? Are you a "huckleberry friend" to him? Are you a huckleberry your dad can count on, as well? Huckleberries, whether given as a name to someone with a description of admiration or baked into a pie, are a sweet goodness in life. Well, sweet with a tartness on the wild side. I think Tom and Huck would approve.

Good Books.

Good reading.

*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.