Tulalip author draws on her life experiences

An American Indian basketball player doesn’t like his stepfather, isn’t sure he’ll get the date of his dreams and may not star on the school team.

The plight of the fictional character featured in “Three-Point Shot” by J.R. Nakken of Tulalip was embraced by students in an alternative School/Home Partnership program at Marysville Middle School.

Their teacher, Marjorie Serge, liked the book.

“It was real, and the kids I was working with could relate to it,” Serge said. “We read the book as a class.”

Nakken paid a visit and talked to students about reading and writing.

“It was exciting to have a local author to talk to,” Serge said.

Born in South Dakota to an alcoholic father and a timid, agoraphobic mother, Nakken’s parents divorced when she was a toddler.

One of her books, “Stream and Light,” includes childhood memoirs “washed and stashed” for 25 years.

As a 4-year-old, she lived with her grandparents and spent time at their general store.

“It smelled so good, of cheese and apples and that red, floor-sweeping sawdust stuff. Cigarette smoke and pipe tobacco and a faint odor like the dairy room at the sheep farm also filled the air.”

Life was rocky when she returned to her mother.

“She was particular and I hated her. I despised her beauty and her indolence and her nitpicking, and I hung a perfect wash in order to escape her tongue.”

Home problems aside, she was a precocious student.

“There were 39 teenagers in the high school upstairs that autumn of 1947. I was not yet 12 years old and in the eighth grade, with an unbelievable IQ, one lazy eye and two white cotton brassieres, size 36D.”

She could have graduated early, but hit the road.

“I escaped the loveless prairie household before I was 16. Without a backward glance, I began an emancipated life, accumulating husbands, children and homes in several states.”

In “Stream and Light,” she shares colorful, sentimental, honest stories. For instance, she loved playing bridge, though competition was fierce.

An attorney’s wife joined the games.

“This woman’s attitude was a pool of refreshing water in which to plunge my agitation. I used her as a touchstone, locating her countenance across the room. I didn’t talk to her, of course. Cats and queens, you know.”

Leo tried to get her work published in the late 1950s, but rejection slips from publishers proved daunting.

“I am too thin-skinned,” Nakken said. “I have the rare occurrence of both a high right and a high left brain, so I became an excellent accountant, controller and cash flow troubleshooter.”

She found her soul mate, Dale Nakken, and married him in 1974. He is an Assiniboine tribal member and his family owns a fence company in Tulalip.

Their home is surrounded by 100 foot-tall maple and cedar trees.

“I love the reservation,” Nakken said. “I see eagles. I even like the coyotes.”

In 2000, she sat down to write memoirs for her children. They didn’t know that she saw Sandy Koufax pitch a perfect game for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

One story was published in a national magazine.

Ice broken, she was off and running as an author.

She often writes in the middle of the night. “Sweet Grass Season,” a reservation love story, is in stores. Her books are sold at Tulalip Resort gift shops, Snow Goose Bookstore in Stanwood and at amazon.com.

There are several more books in the pipeline. She said she plans to allow young students in Marysville to critique her work.

“I’m a senior citizen who writes and submits nearly every day, and intend to do so until I go to the great journalism class in the sky.”

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.

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