What would possess an Iowa schoolteacher and his wife to mortgage their house and buy a miniature golf course in Wisconsin? As a child who worked every summer and many weekends at that course, from the time she was ten-years-old, June Melby often wondered that as well. But, when her parents sold Tom Thumb thirty years later, she was unprepared for the loss. My Family and Other Hazards is Melby's memoir of those summers, and what they really meant.
While she was living through it, June Melby was eager to escape the work of a miniature golf course. As the middle child of three girls, she wasn't the one in charge, and she wasn't the delicate one. She was the rebellious one who questioned everything, but still respected her parents enough that her rebelliousness did not effect the business. She and her sisters were expected to work cleaning the course, painting it, waiting on customers. And, it was a never ending job; every summer, along with the weekends when they drove from Iowa to prepare the course for the summer opening, and the weekends they drove to close it up. Along the way, she lost Iowa friends, missed the in jokes in high school. But, when she ended up living in California, she found that she did her best to take her one vacation a year in the summer when she could end up back at Tom Thumb.
It was only when her parents were about to sell Tom Thumb that June Melby realized how much that course meant to her and her family. They all returned, to tell stories, and work in the ticket booth one last time. And, Melby realized that every obstacle on that course, all eighteen of them, could be seen as metaphors for life, and for her family life. Chapter by chapter, she tells that story. It's an account of parents totally unprepared to run a business, but who put thirty years of effort into it. It's a story of three sisters who remember hard work, and laughter.
At times, this book bogs down in the details of the miniature golf course, and all the work. It starts to feel a little repetitive. At the same time, it's the story of a unique childhood. My Family and Other Hazards is melancholy, with its memories of the past, hard work and family. June Melby never expected to miss Tom Thumb, but she found herself "crazy sentimental" when it came to losing her childhood home. And, it's those sentimental feelings that finally overcome the reader as well, sentiment for a vanished Midwestern past, and a vanished childhood. Melby tells of a life that most of us never lived, but she's able to remind us of family values and Midwestern summers. My Family and Other Hazards manages to tug at memories and hearts.
June Melby's website is www.junemelby.com
My Family and Other Hazards by June Melby. Henry Holt and Company. 2014. ISBN 9780805098310 (hardcover), 300p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.