Gary Paulsen grew up in a very poor family, and ran away when he was fourteen. As a result, he has supported himself and kept himself busy in very unique ways. When he wasn’t in his garage alone, reading one book after another, he was working difficult, manual-labor jobs in order to pay for clothes and school supplies. Paulsen’s jobs included setting pins in a bowling alley, selling newspapers in bars at night, or hoeing sugar beets for eleven dollars an acre and picking potatoes for five cents a bushel. When he wasn’t working, he hunted deer, rabbits, and grouse using a bow and arrow. When he was in the wilderness, his life depended on survival-surviving moose, mosquitoes and treacherous weather conditions. All the time he spent in the wilderness influenced him to become critical of technology-some have even called Paulsen a Luddite, or, according to Merriam-Webster’s:
“One who is opposed to especially technological change.” All in all, the wilderness became his culture.
His profound interest in the wilderness eventually led him to become a professional Iditarod dog racer. However, a condition known most commonly as angina, or chest pain due to the poor blood supply to the heart, prevented him from pursuing this career, and so he began to write. That’s when he created the character Brian in the book Hatchet, which I believe is his alter ego. Basically, he uses all the knowledge he ever gained from spending countless hours in the wilderness, and depicts stories in which Brian used this knowledge to escape. In Paulsen’s autobiography Guts, he explains the factual stories of his life that provided the basis for the stories used in Hatchet. My mom’s dad, Malcolm Sills, lived in a different culture, but his culture still shared many similarities with Paulsen’s.
Unlike Paulsen, my grandpa Malcolm was Jewish, so he attended temple on Saturday, the Sabbath, and as a responsibility of his culture, did not run away from his family when he was fourteen. He did not spend much time in the wilderness, and he was not an expert on survival. However, the differences stop there. Malcolm was very poor, and was separated from his family when he was drafted into the Korean War. Prior to his success as a physician and a psychiatrist, he also spent time working hard labor such as selling broomsticks on the street and working in a leather tannery in order to put himself through medical school, just like Paulsen did. The Jewish and Luddite cultures both valued hard work. My grandpa Malcolm had fervor for reading; the Jewish culture places a large value on reading. Like Paulsen, he could go for hours on end reading one book after another. Sometimes, he would read one-thousand page history books. The rest of Malcolm’s life is the most interesting.
When he was drafted into the Korean War, he was currently a physician, so in Korea, he worked as a doctor in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH). While in Korea, he treated hundreds of soldiers with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental trauma. As a result, he decided to change from his current occupation as a physician to a child’s psychiatrist. My dad’s dad, Gary Katica, lived in a different culture than that of Paulsen, but the cultures still share similarities.
Growing up, Gary Katica’s dad was a prize fighter. Gary was a very poor Greek, who ate almost exclusively Greek food and lived in a well known Greek community-Long Island, New York. Unlike Paulsen, Gary did not enjoy reading because he is dyslexic and struggled very much with reading. However, like Paulsen, he too separated himself from family and education when he dropped out of high school. Eventually, Gary became a successful salesman in real estate and the automobile industry. He is now mayor where he currently resides in Belleair, Florida. All in all, over the course of this project, I learned a lot about my family and their culture.
Primarily, I learned what my grandpa Malcolm did for a living. I especially didn’t know that his service in Korea ultimately determined his occupation. I thoroughly enjoyed this project, and I look forward to doing one similar to it in the future.