“North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both” by Cea Sunrise Person
$25.99 / $32.99 Canada
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
You stopped in the store the other day, and stopped short.
In all its electric-colored glory, tie-dye is back. Or maybe it never left, just passed down by Baby Boomers like you who also loved groovy music, an everybody-helps-everybody mentality, and how wonderfully carefree that felt.
Ah, the good ol’ days… or were they? For author Cea Sunrise Person, the answer was “no” for years, but in her new memoir “North of Normal,” she explains how she made peace with it.
Cea Sunrise Person’s grandfather was more at home in nature than he was anywhere else. He’d always wanted to live in the outdoors and so, shortly after he came home from Korea, he took his new bride to live in the wilderness.
In about the mid-60s, the family (including three girls and a boy) moved to Wyoming, then to California where they fit in perfectly: they’d already embraced the emerging counter-culture, so “pot smoking, nude cookouts, and philosophical discussions” were easy additions. Their home soon became known as a clothing-optional place to hang out and score drugs, and “the parents were always totally groovy with it all.”
Not-so-groovy: Person’s mother was sixteen when she became pregnant. She married the boy but they parted before their baby was born, so Person’s first home was a drafty shack in the British Columbia woods. Later, when she was a toddler, the family moved into a tipi on Indian land where she recalls the freedom of an idyllic childhood spent on chores, pretending, and running through meadow, woods, and water.
But that, too, would end: when Person was five, her mother met a man who whisked them away to a life of tent-living, theft, and things little girls shouldn’t see. By the time she was thirteen, Person had enough of the “misfits,” so she lied about her age, left family behind, and started a surprising career – though she still wondered why they couldn’t seem to be “normal.”
Twenty-five years later, broke and twice-divorced, she finally learned the truth.
As a tail-end Baby Boomer, I was really excited to start “North of Normal.” Would author Cea Sunrise Person’s recollections be ones that I shared, too?
No. Not even remotely, which just made this book more enjoyable.
Through memories of her own and that of her mother’s family, Person tells what it was like to be raised by an unconventional hippie mom who did her best but was, herself, a product of the times. That alone would be a far-out tale, but the way it’s told makes this a book to read: Person is a gifted storyteller, and that snatched me up from the first paragraph. I also was fascinated by her voice, as it changed with the age she was as she remembered.
Beware that this coming-of-age memoir contains explicit language, but it fits with what you’ll read. Yes, it might make you wince but you’ll be so engrossed in the tale that you might not even notice. For you, that’s a hint of what “North or Normal” has in store…
Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.