Coffee-Drunk or Blind: An Alaskan Homesteading Adventure is a poignant book by Elle Knowles. It is a memorable account of her family’s courage to try homesteading in the, then, newly admitted state of Alaska. It is a compilation of letters written by the author’s mother, Helen Knowles, and some short narratives by the author and her siblings as they recount their own memories of that specific time in their lives so many years ago.
In June 17, 1959 at 6am, with only $1000 and a credit card, Vernon and Helen Knowles together with their four young children Debbie, Naomi, Lindy and Chip, began their journey in their ‘two bedroom house trailer behind a truck, with a camper built onto the bed’ from Oakdale, Louisiana towards Alaska to take advantage of the Alaskan Homestead Act. After 4040 miles and several motor troubles, the family finally arrived in Alaska in July 1, 1959 at 8:50 pm.
This is a memorable, touching, inspiring, entertaining and sometimes amusing story of a family’s courage, love, and faith in themselves and in each other. The book is a chronological presentation of letters written by Helen Knowles mostly to her sister-in-law Letaine. I, personally, attribute the success of this book to these letters. They are thoroughly detailed and vividly descriptive in their accounts of the family’s life and situation in the wilderness.
Halfway through the book, I realized why the author worked hard to complete this book. This is not just a simple compilation of their memorable time in a faraway place. This is their legacy, and reading it is a kind of time travel, a journey in time and place where people dig their own well, where having a telephone connection, even only with a few people, is a reason to be excited, where reading a book to the children is the only form of amusement and where a child wakes up and sees a moose in the front yard. Undoubtedly, the Knowles experienced hardships in Alaska but those same hardships made them what they are now.
At the end of the book, I felt jealous and envious of the Knowles. I envy them for their adventures, but most importantly I envy them for their memories.