The book cover flap of Janet K. Brennan’s latest release, Harriet Murphy: A Little Bit Of Something, invited me to grab a cup of coffee, sidle up to the table of a nineteenth century log cabin, and accept a freshly baked piece of apple brown sugar pie. The baker of said pie, it seemed, wanted to tell me her story. So I did, and what a vivacious story it is!
Born in 1875, Henrietta Murphy, whose name would later be reduced to simply Harriet, was the sole child to parents who, in 1850, followed their hopes for gold to the small mining community of Old Pine along the American River in Tahoe, California. The colorfulness of the life that was to follow (which is golden in itself), is indicated by the post-christened addition of a previously nonexistent middle name, Dang.
Harriet Dang Murphy led me through the saga of her first thirty-seven years, one that most people twice her age would be hard pressed to experience. She describes a single woman’s life in that great untamed West, regaling me with humorous stories, such as pulling a woman from the local church choir out of a grave that she had fallen into after getting drunk on several small bottles of elixir from her doctor. She recounts the mud-pit of trying to decide how to deal with a married, traveling appliance salesman named Henry Longfellow, who dupes her into a love affair.
She drew me into her heart with the accounts of losing a baby daughter, Rose Tender, to pre-mature birth, and the fostering of another daughter, whose name happened to be the same, and of surviving the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, only to lose her cousin, her only living relative, in the aftermath.
I was by her side as she survived fires, floods, falling into an abandoned mine shaft, being bitten by a rattlesnake, killing a grizzly bear, and having her foot amputated. And I rejoiced with her as she is able to adopt her second Rose Tender as her own daughter and discovers the blessings of true friends and real wealth.
Ms. Brennan’s casual, down-home style is warm and cozy, yet quick paced and teasing, enticing you to turn the next page and read just one more chapter against the objections of a post-midnight clock. So, I heartily invite you to join me. Grab a cup of coffee and sidle up to the table for your first piece of Harriet’s apple-brown sugar pie (I’ve had more than I can count) and “as sure as a sure-footed mule crossing a rocky-bottomed river” you will find yourself intoxicated on these stories like you were drinking the Irish whiskey from Ole Seb’s Tavern. Brennan has struck a deep vein of story-telling gold with this one, and I advise you to get in on the rush to Harriet Murphy: A Little Bit of Something, by Janet K. Brennan; you’ll be the richer for it!
D. Allen Jenkins
Author: The Making of Tibias Ivory: Freedom’s Quest