Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review: Is Everybody Happy Now?

The second volume of Shirley Skufca Hickman’s autobiography

By William Silveira

Building on the success of the first volume of her autobiography, Don’t Be Give Up, author Shirley Skufca Hickman has published the second volume of her very well told life story, Is Everybody Happy Now?: Growing Up after World War II.
    Don’t Be Give Up, was set in the town of her birth, Crested Butte, Colorado – then a coal mining town where her father was a miner. While it reaches back in time to tell us of her Slovenian and Croatian grandparents, immigrants to Crested Butte, it is set generally in the period between 1936 and 1946. Is Everybody Happy Now? begins in 1947 with the Skufca family moving from Crested Butte to Gunnison, Colorado. Her father, a victim of silicosis, left the coal mine for employment as an automobile mechanic in Gunnison. While the two towns were only 28 miles apart (and probably would have been dismissed as only two small towns in the hinterlands of Colorado by people in larger cities), they were nonetheless very different places. Crested Butte was essentially a company town in which nearly every family derived their livelihood from mining. Gunnison, by contrast, was a farming and ranching town with a small-town social hierarchy. In this book we find Shirley and her family adapting to this new environment.

Is Everybody Happy Now? begins with Shirley about to enter the sixth grade in Gunnison and ends with Shirley’s graduation from the eighth grade. Between these two events Shirley fills 355 pages with memorable detail about her family’s and, in particular, her own adaptation to a new life.
    The title of this book dovetails with that of Don’t Be Give Up, a phrase in broken English used by Shirley’s Croatian maternal grandmother and meaning “don’t be a quitter.” “Is everybody happy now?” was a question asked by Shirley’s father to sum up for his family that he had done his best to make circumstances comfortable for them and that he hoped that they appreciated his efforts. The foundation for the determination and indomitability shown by the Skufca family lay in their shared beliefs that they would not be quitters and that they would make the best of the world around them, no matter how hard that world might be. The very hard work, love, and care shown by Steve Skufca for his family were embodied in his loving and affectionately sarcastic question, “Is everybody happy now?”
    This book is a well-told story of the maturation and successful adaptation of a young girl to entirely new circumstances. We learn of her fears, her mistakes, and her successes – all told with colorful detail. In reading Shirley’s story, no reader could help but recall his or her own growing up and the challenges that growing up presents to everyone. We sympathize with Shirley and we admire her pluck.

While having a chronological framework, Is Everybody Happy Now? is certainly not simply an amusing chronology of events – although it does amuse and delight. Nor is it solely a well-told story of Shirley’s adaption and maturation. It is also the story of her hard-working parents, and particularly of her father, Steve Skufca.
    Reared in an abusive family environment and forced to make his own way in the world after finishing the sixth grade, Steve developed a strong work ethic and skills that later enabled him to make comfortable homes for his family. He did this through his own labor and clever adaptation of second-hand materials. Steve worked hard, long hours, after which he put in more hard work using his skills to create a decent home for his family – whether in Crested Butte or in Gunnison.
    Steve also found time to take interest in the lives of his children and to provide guidance and direction to them when the need arose. His behavior and dedication to his family spoke louder than any words. While Shirley clearly admires and loves her father, she does not give us a one-sided picture of him. We learn, too, of his mistakes. But what inspires and emerges from these pages is clearly the picture of a father that all men might aspire to be.

I recommend Is Everybody Happy Now? to any reader, but particularly to young people entering or in junior high. It is chock-full of inspirational, old-fashioned virtues – something in seemingly short supply these days. It shows us that meaningful success in life is possible even in very difficult environments and with little money. In a world fraught with disillusion, this book gives hope and inspiration – not only to the young, but also to those of us who hope to become better parents.

Copyright © 2016 by William Silveira
William Silveira is a retired judge and former student of Shirley Skufca Hickman.


  1. I wasn't exactly a student of Miss Shirley Skufca when she was a teacher at Tulare Union High School - she directed the class play I acted a part in. And I have few memories (none that I can access, actually) of the experience. Someone showed me a photo last year of rehearsals for the play, and it surprised me with the reminder that I had a flat-top haircut at the time. But that doesn't matter. What matters to me is the author's writing career, which has only deepened my appreciation and admiration of Shirley Skufca Hickman, and her life.

  2. Dear Morris,

    Thank you for asking Bill to write a review of my book Is Everybody Happy Now? I was thrilled with his review and that he understood my father and our family.

    I just sent the next book continuing the story of our family called Family is Forever. It covers my high school years from 1950-1954. If you'd like to purchase an autographed copy of any, or all, of these books, let me know.

    I am so blessed to have had so many wonderful students in my life. Thanks again.

    1. Shirley, Bill volunteered, and I was delighted to welcome his review. I look forward to reading ALL of the volumes of your autobiography.