Sarah Palin ends her book tour where it all began
Former Vice-Presidential nominee, former Alaskan Governor and (briefly) former infant resident Sarah Palin returned to Sandpoint, Idaho Thursday evening to modest fanfare.
The small north Idaho town (pop. 8,000), where Palin was born and spent the first three months of her life before the family moved to Alaska, was the last stop on Palin's 36-city bus tour to promote her bestselling memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life."
The Sandpoint signing was added at the last minute and at Palin's personal insistence, or so I heard from several people who said they had heard it from someone who had spoken to someone close to the Palins. (Hey, it's a small town. That's how news travels.)
Local bookstore Vanderford's ordered a ton of books for the event - literally (2,000 books weighing a total of 2,942 pounds). About 700 people braved the cold to get their copies autographed, some arriving as early as 5 a.m. for the 6 p.m. event in temperatures well below freezing.
The signing took place at the Sandpoint Events Center, a recently renovated building that was formerly the town's high school. Palin's father, Chuck Heath, was teaching science and coaching track there 45 years ago when Palin was born.
Marilyn Dalby Sebella, a longtime resident and student of Heath's at the time, recalls him talking about the still unborn Palin during her 8th grade science class. "He didn't know if it was a boy or a girl so he called her 'Oscar.'"
Sally Heath, Palin's mother, confirmed the story. "He was convinced it was going to be a boy named Oscar," she said. "I guess we could have made Oscar her middle name."
Locals were impressed with the Palins and particularly the personal attention they felt they got. "I was so surprised that they were genuinely interested in my kids," said Crystal Zieske, who spoke with Todd and Sarah about her two boys, who are attending the University of Idaho (Palin's alma mater; she was wearing a U of I sweater).
The Palin family seemed to be sincerely enjoying themselves. Todd and Sarah were teasing each other and warmly greeting their fans. However, Chuck Heath was enjoying it the most.
Heath stood off to one side watching his daughter and son-in-law and chatting with people. When he had found out the signing was happening, Sally Heath said, it brought "tears to his eyes" he was so happy. "He's really enjoying talking with children and grandchildren of his students," she added.
Besides Palin and her family (and, to a much lesser degree, her book), the big attraction of the night was her Book Tour Bus. A near constant stream of people took turns having their picture taken in front of the giant Sarah Palin adorning its side. People loved the Tour Bus.
The signing was pulled off with the help of at least 40 local volunteers, who were thrilled to be involved. "Heck, I've lived here my whole life and never been involved with anything like this," said Jesse Gardner. "I think it's a good thing for the town, that's for sure."
That sentiment was not shared by everyone in the community, though. About a half dozen protesters quietly held signs denoting their dissatisfaction. Jenni Martin held a sign reading, "Thank God you lost." She was joined by two of her three children.
"I don't like her representing Sandpoint," Martin said. She had just hours before returned from a trip to Utah and was frustrated by misperceptions there that north Idaho was home to racists because of the Aryan Nations' past attempts to settle in the region. She felt Palin's relationship to the area fueled a negative perception of Sandpoint along similar lines.
The protesters were mellow, and, although occasionally someone would shout something like, "You're pathetic" from a car, no significant arguments broke out. They hung around long enough to take some pictures of themselves in front of the Book Tour Bus (yes, even they wanted to have their pictures taken with the bus) and then departed.
By the time Palin headed out of the Sandpoint Events Center to shouts of "We love you, Sarah!" none of the protesters remained.
As she walked through the makeshift barricade from the entrance of the building to her Book Tour Bus, Palin paused to shake hands and tell the crowd, "It's good to be home!" She moved quickly but took time to greet nearly every child who was present and sign just a few more copies of her book. As she reached the bus, she called out over the crowd, "Thank you, Sandpoint! We love you guys."
A Post-It note stuck on the bus's front door earlier that evening said, "You go girl! Thank you!! And God Bless you. From Sandpoint."
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