NPR logo VP Nominee Sarah Palin Growing Up in Alaska

VP Nominee Sarah Palin Growing Up in Alaska

What do you think about Senator John McCain's choice? Most of us news producers were surfing the internet Friday afternoon looking for any and all information on Sarah Palin's background. I came across her biography, "Sarah: How A Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down." The author, Kaylene Johnson is a writer and long-time Alaskan who lives on a farm outside Wasilla, Alaska. I gave her a call at 8:00 p.m. ET to set up a radio interview. We also got permission to post photos from the book as well as an excerpt:

Two-year-old Sarah Palin with the live shrimp caught in her father's shrimp pot in Skagway, where Chuck Heath taught school before the family moved to southcentral Alaska. Photo credit: Chuck and Sally Heath hide caption

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Photo credit: Chuck and Sally Heath

Fifth grader Sarah Palin holds her flute. Her sister Heather (right) accompanied her on the piano at home. Photo credit: Chuck and Sally Heath hide caption

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Photo credit: Chuck and Sally Heath

Eight-year-old Sarah Palin and her family, camping near the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska Photo credit: Chuck and Sally Heath hide caption

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Photo credit: Chuck and Sally Heath

Here is an excerpt from Chapter One:


Sarah was two months old. Chuck took a job teaching school in Skagway. Her older brother, Chuck Jr., was two years old, Heather had just turned one, and Molly was soon to come. Chuck Jr. vividly remembers the days in Skagway when he and his dad ran a trapline, put out crab pots, and hunted mountain goats and seals. The family spent time hiking up to alpine lakes and looking for artifacts left behind during the Klondike Gold Rush. "Dad never stopped lining up new adventures for us," Chuck Jr. said. The kids caught Dolly Varden off a nearby dock. Chuck Jr. loved to catch the Irish Lord, an ugly, creepy-looking fish, for the pleasure of holding it up to his little sisters' faces and making them scream. In 1969, the Heaths moved to southcentral Alaska, living for a short time with friends in Anchorage, then for two years in Eagle River before finally settling in Wasilla. The family lived frugally. To help make ends meet, Chuck Heath moonlighted as a hunting and fishing guide and as a bartender, and even worked on the Alaska Railroad for a time. Sally worked as a school secretary and ran their busy household.

In 1974, Wasilla incorporated with a population of barely four hundred people. The Heath house sat a few blocks from the center of town, north of the railroad tracks and south and east of woodlands of birch, willow, and spruce. The woods were a wilderness playground—the kind of place where kids play out the imaginative adventures of childhood. They had a white cat named Fifi and a German shepherd named Rufus, a canine sidekick to the kids who shows up in many family photos. The children often hiked the "Bunny Trail" to the home of a distant neighbor who had kids the same age.

In both summer and winter, most of the family's activities took place outdoors. Sarah said that she appreciates the many outdoor adventures she had as a child. Fitness was a big part of
family life. "My parents jumped on the bandwagon of the '70s running craze," she said. The whole family ran together, competing in five- and ten-kilometer races throughout the summer. When the family wasn't running or hiking, it was hunting or fishing. "We could literally go hunting out our back door," Chuck Jr. said. Sarah shot her first rabbit at age ten not far from the back porch. In her teens, she hunted caribou with her father. The family's freezer was always full of fish and game. Chuck Jr. said he didn't eat a beef steak until he was a senior in high school. Gardening helped fill the family larder.

In summer, Chuck Jr., Heather, Sarah, and Molly spent long sunny days building tree forts, riding bikes, and playing with friends. They took swimming lessons in Wasilla Lake—a pond with water so cold that they huddled around a campfire on the beach afterward to silence their chattering teeth. During the summer, their father put away the television. For entertainment, he put up a basketball hoop with a dirt court in the back yard. The Heath kids and their friends spent many hours playing ball. Once a year, the family accompanied Chuck Sr. on a weeklong class field trip to Denali National Park, where camping in view of majestic Mount McKinley left indelible memories with the Heath children. The family often packed up and drove fifteen miles to Hatcher Pass, a scenic expanse of alpine tundra tucked between jagged peaks in the Talkeetna Mountains.

An excerpt from: "Sarah: How A Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down" by Kaylene Johnson

The book arrived via FedEx on Saturday and it's a quick read at only 159 pages. Davar Ardalan hide caption

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Davar Ardalan