|The LifeStory Institute
The writer's workshop for memoirists, autobiographers and family historians.
LifeStory was founded in 1991 as a how-to newsletter/magazine and also as an over-the-road workshop
travelling North America teaching and coaching new and longtime writers of all ages how to write about
their lives and the lives of their ancestors. The premise is that everyone can, and probably should, write
their life story to pass on to their family,friends,and others interested, including and perhaps especially,
All material on this website unless otherwise indicated is Copyright 2016 by The LifeStory Institute.
Welcome to THE 23rd LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
PROMPTS are what you need to get past the problem of not having anything to write about. It leads to writer’s block, which is 100% fatal for a
writer. The only cure for writer’s block is to deny you have it and go on writing. Otherwise, you’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe writer. There
are numerous causes to writer’s block but prompts are the way to avoid it.
So make a list, a long list, of prompts to get you going and keep you going and keep it handy at your writing desk. Make the prompts in
advance. Have 10 or 20 at hand when you sit down to write, and don’t walk past the first one and say, Oh, I don’t feel like that one now. Start
writing with the next one that comes up.
Your prompts aren’t always mine. Your best prompts are those that come to you unbidden in the course of the day. Write things down. Make
a note and stick it under your keyboard or clip it to your monitor. Don’t say, Oh, that’s a good one, and then expect to find it there on the tip of
your fingers when you sit down to write. You’ll draw a blank.
I tend to have my ideas for writing come at me at the oddest moments (driving, bathing, always I seem to be doing something that prevents
note-taking), and so I cease what I’m doing just as soon as I can and start writing. The ideas usually come in batches. I have “idea attacks.”
Prompts are specific. They are not things like “write about Mom.” They are things like “write about the time Mom told the policeman she was
going to take his badge number and call the county.” Make a list of these narrative prompts. Make a written list!
Write along with me every day for the next 28 days and you will form the habit of journaling every day, one day at a time. In one
year if you write 500 words a day you will write 182,500 words--the length of three books. If you write 250 words a day, you will
write 91,250 words, the length of one long book. Choose which you want to do, 500 or 250, then start in and stick to it. If you
have any trouble and need some help/support, please call me at 785-564-1118. This is important if you consider writing your
personal and family history important to your descendants.
DAY TWENTY-THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., July 23, 2016
It’s my responsibility to pass on the stories that were told to me by my father and by my mother. Necessarily I will color these stories with
my own brush. There is no objectivity. But I do my best to be as honest as I can and to present their stories as their stories. Yet even in
the act of remembering, I am necessarily selective: I don’t remember everything, and I mis-remember and dis-remember.
My dad didn’t tell a lot of stories, not the way my mother did or the way her father, whom I knew well, did. Dad had a number of little sayings
that he would more or less ironically, state from time to time.
One of these was Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers. I don’t know where he got that—I suppose it’s just a well-known wise saying. I
haven’t googled it. It doesn’t matter where it came from, what matters is that he believed it. And I think it’s a perfectly reasonable
observation about life.
When my brother and I were acting up or somehow being more or less obstreperous, Dad would laugh and say, Boys, boys! Someday YOU’
LL be teachers. This, he once explained to me, was something that one of his schoolteachers would say to his class when they were
He was more listener than talker, more doer than contemplater.
He was proud of his athletic prowess. He had been a track star, and in fact in teacher’s college in Platteville, Wisconsin, he had been a four-
letter man in athletics, and he was a good student too. When he decided not to be a career teacher after a couple of years at a rural school
and went to medical school at the University of Wisconsin, he was a good student. He always said he was an average medical student. But
he made a good doctor and practiced for 44 years—from 1932 to 1976, most of it in Manhattan, Kansas. For years he was the only eye, ear,
nose and throat specialist for many miles.
He had a loving wife and three children. I am honored to be one of them.
He retired in 1976 but didn’t really enjoy it. He had defined himself as a doctor and when he was no longer a doctor he felt he had (to use a
phrase that he used to more or less ironically say, with a laugh and a toss of his head)…he had “outlived his usefulness.”
He died by his own hand at the age of 80, what I would call a rational suicide. He had Parkinsonism and had lived with it for about five years
and the medications he had used were not helping that much. He was losing his mobility. He wasn’t happy. He had done his work, he had
provided for his family all these years, and he had provided for his widow. And so he went.
We all mourned him. That was thirty-three years ago, 1983; but we mourn him still. We miss him. He was a brave, kind and beautiful human
being. In my head, which really is where the action is, I talk to him every day. ###
DAY TWENTY-TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., July 22, 2016
We went to Costco for the pizza. Well, not really: obviously we had some shopping to do but they have a food court that has very good
pizza for two bucks a slice, and the slice is about two acres. We got the pepperoni. June also wanted a big diet pepsi. I said go ahead and
get us a table and I'll get it. So I did, came back to the table with everything and promptly knocked over the pepsi, nearly spilling it onto a
couple sitting a few feet away at the same table.
I began apologizing and wiping it all up. The lady gave me her napkins and laughed and June gave me more napkins and I got some more
too. No problem, got it cleaned up in no time and went on eating. We started talking to the folks I'd nearly pepsied, and soon learned that
they'd lived here for years but (I guess June asked them this as I was folding the acre of pizza into my mouth) he had come out here just
stopping on the way to Alaska but the job there fell through and so he ended up staying here in Washington.
They were a nice looking well kept couple maybe in their early 70s. He had been a cosmetics salesman, and he talked about that. He had
worked for Avalon or Revalon, something like that, of which he said, Good company.
We talked about selling and how you had to work at it but it was a good living. I told him one of my sons was a salesman of school
buses and he worked very hard. He seemed to want to talk and so I didn't get into my selling of memoir writing workshops and the
They finished up their eating and stood up and we all said how glad we were to have met one another and they ambled off and we put our
stuff in the trash receptacle and went about our shopping. It's a big wide world, I went away thinking, and everyone has a hustle. We all
have to hustle. We come naked and screaming into this world and eventually we all settle down in a corner of it and make ourselves more
or less useful and live out our lives. That's how it works.
I am grateful to be part of it. That's about all I have to say for myself this morning. I'm a more or less happy camper and I'm grateful to
be part of the great whirling anthill we call earth. ###
DAY TWENTY-ONE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., July 21, 2016 posted at 510 am PST at Olympia Washington...this morning!
There I go, thinking again about what I'm going to write. No no no. I need to write and find out what I think: I don't want to think and then
write. That hasn't worked for me.
And so I launch, I stoop over (painfully) and light the fuse that lifts off the rocket for today.
This is, after all, a journal, and not a stone tablet left on a mountaintop. I'm not writing the Ten Commandments...thank God!
Sixty-one years ago today I was enjoying my first full day as a seaman apprentice in the U. S. Navy. I was 17.5 years old. I weighed 129
pounds. Today I'm going to be stripped of my civilian clothing and issued a uniform that doesn't fit. I'm going to have all my hair cut off and
left on the floor--er, the deck. People are going to laugh at what I look like. When ten weeks later I went home on what they called "boot
leave" my father looked at my ID card picture and at my stated rank NONRATED and he laughed. I never forgot that. Dad was 39 when he
went in the Army and he started out with the rank of Captain. But still he laughed.
A resentment, we are told, is a poison. In fact, it is a situation where you drink the poison and expect the person you resent to die. That's
about it. It's not really very smart.
Ten or fifteen years ago when I saw for the first time since boyhood my old school pal Jim Bascom I reminded him that he had given me a
friendly laughing push in the 4th grade and called me Four Eyes when I wore glasses for the first time. (Glasses in those days were rare in
children.) Jim looked at me and smiled. "And you've held onto that memory all this time." "Yeah," I said, and gave him a little push but I was
just blustering and trying to save myself from the embarrassment that I felt. It was a spiritual lesson.
Today I'm grateful to be somewhat teachable. My grand-daughter, Adah, teaches me every day with her innocence and willingness. If I say to
her, Look, here's how to make a paper airplane, and she watches my every move with the paper as I fold it and show it to her and sail it
across the room. See? She nods happily and wants to imitate what I did, and she does.
She has the humility to be willing to learn something new. I wish I could say I was like that, but all too often I say quickly, Oh, I know. I know. I
went to Paper Airplane school: I've got a Ph.D. in paper airplane making!
Of course I do not have a Ph.D. in anything. One of the great shames of my life is that I never finished my Ph.D. In fact I barely started: I went
half a semester as a Ph.D. candidate and then I met June and fell in love and together we went to our own private graduate school. It has
worked for us these forty-five years. I'm content. But now and then I'm walking along and someone comes at me out of the crowd and says,
Where'd you get your Ph.D.? and I am ashamed all over again and I peep something about not finishing and I hurry away. ###
Wed., July 20, 2016
To write well, you have to be willing to write badly. Wannabe writers can't do this. Their egos just can't take it, or even the possibility that
they might write badly, so they do nothing. They live day to day in misery and fantasy saying well, when I'm inspired (or some such self-talk
malarkey), I'll write beautifully. Someday. Of course that day never comes.
I know this, because I've been like that. That's what led me into journaling, which is simply defined as writing every day no matter what. And
being satisfied with that. If today I'm bored out of my skull or whatever and I write Uga-uga-boo, uga-boo-boo uga, that's okay. I count the
words there and add them to my daily quota--300 or 500 or whatever goal I've set. And then I move on.
But mostly I don't write uga-uga-boo (which actually are quoted lines from an old Phil Harris song, Bingle bangle bungle I don't wanna leave
the jungle/I refuse to go), instead I just write up something. Usually in the course of the day I've jotted down an idea or two in the little
composition book I carry with me everywhere using the gel pen I carry with me everywhere.
I'm a nut about that. If I start out to town and I find a couple of miles down the road that I don't have my little book (pocket-size) and my pen
with me, I turn around and go back. I can hardly begin to relate how many ideas I've lost because I didn't have paper and pen. No, it's not
true as our teachers and parents said that if it's really important, you'll think of it sooner or later. Not so. In fact it's really important there's a
good chance you won't think of it again because it's too scary an idea--in psychological terms, you'll repress it.
So I go back and get my pen and then I open that little book when I sit down to journal.
I once met and had the opportunity to chat a few minutes with a man who had won the Nobel Prize in physics, and when he said something I
thought very interesting I took out my little book and jotted a note or two, and he said, Oh, you use those too. I love them, don't you? (These
miniature composition books had just appeared on the market a year or so before.) And he showed me his. But I don't think he wrote down
any notes about what I said. #journalong
DAY NINETEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., July 19, 2016
We have gotten a new mattress. Not only did the new mattress cost us a lot of money, it cannot be used for 48 hours after being unpacked
so we have put it in place and took the old mattress and put in on the floor and so we are basically sleeping on the floor, which isn't any
fun. So I woke up kind of grumpy and definitely on the wrong side of bed.
I have had now and then some depression. Depression in old age is probably as inevitable as wrinkles. I haven't had a lot, but I have found
a cure for mine: get up and sing Merrily we roll along, roll along; or Some Enchanted Evening if you think you're Ezio Pinza; or at least get
up and make the coffee and pretend you're not depressed. That relieves me of my depression and soon I am sitting here happily--more or
less happily--writing for all the world to see.
Remember that old song: Lucky, lucky, lucky me...I work 8 hours a day, I sleep 8 hours, that leaves 8 hours for play! Wonderful song!
And so I am lucky. In fact I'm considering changing my name from Charley to Lucky. Maybe it will improve my luck.
Years ago a guy named Alfred Couee, a Frenchman, said you should get up every morning and look in the mirror and say, "Day by day in
every way, I am getting better and better..".and gradually you will. I think Alfie was right: it's a cheap cure.
I think now I mentioned Alfie just the other day. Sorry, but it's been on my mind. Old people are granted the right to repeat themselves now
Old people are granted the right to...hahahha.###
-DAY EIGHTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 18, 2016 from Seattle
What’s the movie tonight? the Chief said. “Abandon Ship,” I said. I was the only one in the dining room. Jim was back there threading the
projector. Chief Olah sat down a few seats away. “Are you kidding?” he said. “No,” I said. “I wish I were.” “Who’s in it?” he said after a
while. “I don’t know, really.” I turned around and yelled at Jim. “Who’s in this movie?” I asked. Jim’s head popped up from where he had
been working on the projector, which was very old and very delicate. He started to say something smart but then he saw the Chief
and said, “Uhh..Tyrone Power is, I think. I don’t know who else.”
The Chief didn’t look up from examining his fingernails. He was very fussy about his fingernails and they were always very, very clean. He
nodded slightly to indicate that he had heard.
It was five till seven. In a few minutes the others began drifting in: the Chief Engineer, Mr. Calcanis, who nodded, holding his pipe, and sat
down. “How are you this evening, sir?” I said. “I’m just fine,” he said. “Wait’ll you hear what the movie is.” Chief Olah said . “Abandon
Ship.” Mr. Calcanis laughed. “I remember that movie,” he laughed. “It’s pretty good. The ship explodes in the first scene. The rest of the
movie is in a lifeboat with ten survivors.”
William, one of the stewards from the galley, came out and began laying out the evening snack. Henry, the chief cook, was famous for his
evening “snacks,” which were elaborate. The rumor was that he had once been the salad chef at the Waldorf. He was quite an elderly man
and very courtly, nodding politely to everyone but speaking little. When he spoke it was in a heavy German accent.
I was just a kid of twenty then. It was my last year in the Navy. I was happy. Maybe I should have stayed in. I had made First, gotten
recommended for promotion and if I stayed in, I would make that rank in less than four years. Very few made that in that length of time. I
was a good test-taker, and I had kept my nose clean. The CO liked me, treated me like a son. I knew he was soon going to get around to
giving me a re-enlistment pep talk, which I dreaded, because I would have rather died than ship over, but I liked Mr. Rutledge and I didn’t
want to say I didn’t want to be part of the Navy that he loved and had been in for more than thirty years. I would tell him that I was thinking it
over, but that my wife wasn’t too keen on the idea.
If I had stayed in the Navy I would have probably gone to OCS or something and, since I had poor eyesight, even though it was correctable
with glasses, I was not eligible to be a line officer, so I’d be in the Supply Corps. I’d be working in some office, as I had the previous three
years plus, but I’d be in charge of something or other. I’d work my way up and maybe someday be a Lieutenant Commander like Mr.
Rutledge. I’d have an easy job and I’d have a good pension when I retired. Honestly, the thought of that made me gag. I was sick of the
Navy. I hated gray and I hated blue and I didn’t like white much either. I was sick of being on a ship and watching the movie every night. I
wanted adventure. I wanted to go to college. And that’s what I did. For the next twelve years, as teacher or student, I was in
one university or other. ###
DAY SEVENTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., July 17, 2016
My mother grew up in a tough neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana, known then as Little Chicago and a hangout for folks like John
Dillinger when the heat was on up in Chi.
When I was a kid of 8 we moved from Wisconsin and located in Manhattan, Kansas, where I lived in various parts of town and the country
around until I was 17 and joined the Navy to see the world. Manhattan, a river town at the confluence of the Big Blue River and the Kansas
(Kaw) River, then had a population of about 12,000 people. The town got its start in 1855 because a riverboat heading upstream ran
aground there at a big bend in the river. So the folks who were on the boat and were going to start a town around Junction City decided
Manhattan was close enough.
From 1863 Manhattan was a college town and the county seat and an army town too, just ten miles from the main gate to Fort Riley, then and
now a huge installation. It was there before Manhattan and it is there now, big time. You still hear the cannons practicing day and night.
My dad was one of the ten or so doctors in town, an MD specializing in diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat. He was, as I liked to say—
smartass kid that I was—he was an ophthalmologist and an otorhinolaryngologist. My mom was a housewife and mother, as nearly all
married women were then. Later she became a serious amateur golfer, in the summer playing nearly all day long, day in and day out.
But during the War years, like so many women, she did a man’s work (as we used to call it) and bought a house and ran the household with
some help from her own father and mother, who lived with us until they died, first my grandmother in 1943 and then my grandfather in 1950.
My father’s father, who was called G.R. by nearly everyone, was the village blacksmith in Rewey, Wisconsin. He died in 1943 when I was 5,
and I only met him a few times and do not remember him at all, I am sorry to say. He was a kind and wonderful man, I understand, and a
ready and willing fisherman who, when the fish were biting down on the Pecatonica River, would close up the shop and get his sons
and his pole and go fishing for trout and everything else, fish no doubt a staple in the family diet—the staple, probably—and something my
father wanted for supper as often as possible but that my mother rarely provided, as she didn’t like fish. Whenever we went out to dinner,
Dad always ordered the trout.
And that’s how I was raised. My father wasn’t a drunk, he didn’t beat his wife, we always had food on the table, I had a brother and a sister
and I grew up surrounded by love and family. I was a very, very lucky boy. ###
DAY SIXTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., July 16, 2016
In my junior year of high school I decided I wanted to go out into the wide world and so my pal Johnny Rush and I got into his spiffy 1947
Chevy Fleetwood (two tone blue, midnight blue and royal blue) and in the middle of the night snuck out of our respective houses and left
home. I left my parents a note saying I was running away and not to blame themselves [sic] and that it was time, I was after all, 15 years old.
I have told this story elsewhere, about going down to New Orleans and then somehow making it back home just in time for Christmas.
I have to tell a bit of it here, again, in order to explain why my senior year in high school was only one semester: I was so embarrassed (to
be honest for once) that I had come home with my tail between my legs after I had told everybody I was going to jump ship in NO and sail
the Seven Seas and, of course, write and become world famous like maybe Jack London, only a better writer.
So I wouldn't go back to school. My parents were concerned that I wasn't finishing high school. In those quaint days the thought that you
could be self-educated was too radical to be entertained. And I felt it. Everyone asked me, "And are you in high school?" and I'd hang my
head and try to explain but I just knew they thought I was some kind in ineducable bum. HANDS TIED BECAUSE YOU LACK A HIGH SCHOOL
EDUCATION? was a popular headline on ads in the back of magazines and even, for the love of God, on matchbook covers.
This brought me to write to the American School in Chicago (the ad was theirs) and enroll in a correspondence course. Meantime, I worked
three jobs: I worked for Mr. Graham, the printer, downtown, "after school" and on Saturdays. (I couldn't bring myself to tell Mr. and Mrs.
Graham, who were like grandparents to me, that I had quit school.) I worked for Mid-Central Theaters taking tickets in the evenings. And I
worked 8 to 4 during the day in a small factory that made rubber stamps.
Then at the theater job I met a girl and we started dating and she was in high school and that lured me back to high school at mid-term, in
January, 1955. I had to take a course also from K-State by correspondence in Kansas history and I didn't get the word on finishing that until
about 2 hours before graduation on that rainy and stormy night in May. The power went off during the commencement and someone broke
out candles and we had a candlelight graduation, pretty cool. So I by the skin of my teeth got to graduate with my regular class.
And that was my senior year at MHS in Manhattan, Kansas.###
DAY FIFTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., July 15, 2016
I love my routine. Some people are bored stiff by their routines but I live by mine. It's the way I get things done, and getting things done is
the meaning of my life. Sorry, Buddha, but that's the way it is: I am here to work.
But I am lucky that I get to define my work myself. I don't have to shower and shave and jump in my car and get on the freeway and hurry to
get to the job on the dot of eight or nine. I don't punch any clock but my own.
Well--not usually. But this coming Monday we'll get up early and do exactly that--we have to go to Seattle and do a workshop in memoir
writing at the big Seattle Central Downtown Library. Now that Library is quite a place...it's a huge ultramodern (as we used to say back in the
day) building downtown that looks like something your ingenious child made with his erector set rather than a staid old library building like
the one Miss Brooks presided over back in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas.
Hers was a Carnegie Library of the kind that old Andy Carnegie caused to be built all over America more than a hundred years ago, a more
or less small and squat stone building with lots of shelves with lots of books and with a lady like Miss Brooks to go around sweetly and
firmly shushing the children and using her pencil with the clever little date due stamp on it. She had a sweet smile as she told you
you could only check out five books at a time, so you had to take that sixth one back and put it on the shelf, and to be sure to put it in the
right place so the next child would be able to find it.
Miss Brooks lived on and on. Her hair got grayer and grayer and one day she was no longer there. Her routine was done. Isn't it wonderful, I
mean isn't it an honor to occupy a place in the world for a certain length of time and then move on? I know that somewhere in some
Manhattan cemetery MIss Brooks has been laid to rest, date stamp and all. Now that is living the routine, isn't it? ###
DAY FOURTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., July 14, 2016
Today is the midway point of this LifeStory Journalong. I hope you are writing along with me, a few hundred words every day. The idea is not
necessarily to write well, the simple idea is to fix the habit of writing.
And so this morning I write to express my gratitude to the Veterans Administration which provides me with some of the several medications
I need to take every day. I am grateful also to the pharmaceutical companies--yes, Big Pharma--for their ability to do the research and
production of these medications that make the quality of my life--and of so many of our lives--better than they would otherwise be.
I write also to express my graditude to the United States of America for the innumerable blessings it has bestowed upon me and millions of
I am grateful for Facebook, which is probably doing about as much for all of us as all of the governments of all the countries in the
world put together.
I am grateful for my maternal grandfather, Lewis Clinton Isaacs--"Gramps"--who stood in for my father when he went overseas from 1942 to
1946 to participate in World War II.
I am grateful to my maternal grandmother who, though she died in 1943 when I was only 5, was a warm and loving force in my young life.
I am grateful to my paternal grandfather, known to all as G. R.,, whom I only met a few times and don't remember physically at all, yet his
legacy of kindness and caring leaves me with warm feelings about all my ancestors.
I am grateful to my paternal grandmother, whom I remember well, who cooked huge family dinners on a wood stove.###
DAY THIRTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., July 13, 2016
I'm not superstitious but today is the 13th and I couldn't get online for the first time in months. I didn't know what to do--I am no techie--so I
waited for June to get up and she went over to some box coming out of the wall and did something and it came on. Still, today is the 13th...
what else will go wrong?
Actually I can't think of anything bad happening on any 13th in my life. My 13th year in life, 1951--well, there was that flood that carried away
half the town but at 13 it was exciting--we didn't live in town and nothing of ours was carried away. What was carried away was a lot of old
buildings that were collapsing anyway and every business downtown needed to be remodelled, anyway. I don't suppose everyone
who lived through the Great Flood of 1951 will agree.
Then too there was that 13th year on the farm, Letter Rock. That would be 1984, and in fact we had kind of given up by then on earning a
living off the farm and we were working in town with our painting and papering biz. We had hired too many people to help us and we were
slowly sinking financially under the weight of taxes and insurances and I don't know what all.
Thirteen years from now I will be 91 years old and there's a good chance I will be dead, so I can count on nothing bad happening to me that
year. Everyone of my six kids will be over 50 by then...I hope they'll be okay.
So much for the number 13.
One Alfred Couee, a Frenchman and a psychologist, about 100 years ago or so developed the idea that if you just look in the mirror every
morning and say to yourself, Day by day in every way I am getting better and better--well, Alfie said, you will get better and better. I think I
believe him...though I don't know just when the better and better part kicks in. I suppose right away. Just imagine looking in the mirror and
saying, Day by day in every way, I am getting worse and worse. That'd be awful!
But that's the way I lived for years. Old Nick, I mean Old Negative, had me by the throat. I was there with the old philosopher, George Carlin,
who said in one of his inimitable routines, "People say that positive thinking really works...but I don't think it'd work for me." ###
DAY TWELVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tu., July 12, 2016
I have learned to write by writing.
There are some tips I've picked up along the way from other writers and even occasionally from books about writing. Next to actually
writing, though, I have learned the most from reading writers I liked.
Today I started out the day wrong. I read something by a complete idiot about learning to write by improving your prepositional phrases.
Honestly. I'm pretty sure the article wasn't satire, but you never know.
When I taught college writing years ago they wanted us to diagram sentences for the students and to teach them how to do that. I was so
embarrassed--not least because there were always six "bright" students in the front row who were experts at diagramming. I would write a
sentence on the blackboard and begin to diagram it, you know, and then one of them would say, extremely politely, "But Mr. Kempthorne,
isn't that word a predicate junctival?" And I would get flustered while they smiled at one another and the rest of the class, hopefully, slept.
I remember it used to be considered very bad form to end a sentence with a preposition. Some wag announced that and said, "This is
something up with which we will not put."
My writing begins with what is in my heart. I come to believe by unpacking my heart that I have something to say. I want to communicate with
you. I don't give a damn about my prepositional phrases, or yours. Just imagine, you're in love and you're proposing to your honey, or about
to, and you search for just the right prepositional phrases to ask her.
Please stop the world: I want to get off here.
Or, as Olde Walt said, "I go bathe and admire myself."
I have written many times about how learning to type helped my writing. I learned to type fast (courtesy of the US Navy) and the faster I
typed the better I wrote because I didn't have the time to think while I wrote. Today I write rapidly and in a kind of meditative mode as I do
so. I'm very grateful for that.#journaling
DAY ELEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 11, 2016
We had been married six months and we were both 19 years old when I got orders to sea duty. I had been in the Navy nearly two years and I
was a Yeoman, Third Class. I was to report to the Military Sea Transportation Service in Brooklyn, New York. Betsy and I had a new 1957
Chevy and we wanted some adventure, so we drove together to New York.
When we came out of the New York end of the Holland Tunnel and into the traffic we were both stunned. We had never seen traffic
like this. It was like being among bumper cars at a giant amusement park...we just kind of went the way we were forced to by the rest of the
traffic. Everyone honked at us. Policemen blew their whistles. Fists were shaken and death threats were made. We looked at one another in
Welcome to New York City. Somehow we got into another tunnel and made it to Brooklyn. We had a map we'd gotten at a gas station--the
kind they used to give away free. No Google Maps in those days, no cell phones to call ahead...just two frightened children who suddenly
didn't want any adventure at all, we just wanted to go home and hide under the bed. We found a hotel in Flatbush. It seemed as good
a place as any. I didn't have to check in to the base for a day or so.
The idea was that I'd check in and be assigned and Betsy would get a job doing something--she could type, she could answer a phone, she
had nearly graduated from college...she was competent. And I'd go to work in the morning on a subway and be a New Yorker and I'd come
home and give her a kiss while she made supper for us and I went into the living room of our cozy little New York apartment and I'd sit in an
overstuffed chair and read the New York Times and watch the evening news on our teevee. Life would be just like it was in Norman,
Oklahoma, where we'd been living since we'd gotten married back in January, except that now and then I'd take a little seagoing trip.
But the Mohawk Hotel was a weird, even creepy place. They had a dining room and when we went downstairs to eat dinner everyone stared
at us like we were weird. They were ancient! Everyone was at least 100 years old. It turned out to be a hotel for retired people...something
we'd never heard of. No one was friendly or unfriendly. It was like being in a museum. We talked in low tones. Next morning we checked out
and somehow drove to the base and I reported in while Betsy waited in the car, or maybe went to the cafeteria across the street from the
main entrance to get a coffee. We were playing everything by ear.
They told me then that, no, I would not be doing an 8 to 5 and living off the base, no, I was going out next day on a ship bound for
Bremerhaven, Germany. Further investigation, that is, asking other guys in white hats, revealed that this was in MSTS and we steamed 27
out of 30 days a month. Send your wifie back home, one sailor told me. New York is no place for a woman living alone.
One of my regrets is, and maybe one of Betsy's too (we have long since been divorced and are not in touch)--that we didn't ignore that
advice and stay. But a few hours' talk and we decided to opt for Plan B: Betsy would go home and live with my parents in Manhattan and
finish up her college work at K-State. I would do what the Navy would do with me. I would sail the bounding main.
I was in for an adventure.###
DAY TEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., July 10, 2016
Today is so brimming with things to say about it that I hardly know where to begin. It’s 5 am here in Olympia, Washington, the sky is cloudy
and rain looks imminent and what else is new? We don’t have uncertain weather here: it’s just certain it will almost always be cloudy and
very cool. I am coming to love it.
When I was a kid of eight or ten I wrote lots of letters—why aren’t you surprised?—and sometimes when I was writing to other kids I would
address the letter something like this, believing that I was being quite witty:
455 East Troy St.
United States of America
I’m sure the post office found that amusing. Now, and I’ll never get over being amazed at this, it is not only possible, in some ways it is
unavoidable that when you get on Facebook (for example) you are writing to everyone in the world.
True, when I log onto Facebook I see that there is some anger and hatred being expressed, but 90% of what I see is good stuff, even great
stuff, and it warms my simple heart to see it: people wishing one another a happy birthday, congratulating one another on the beauty of a
new grandchild, a clever joke/cartoon, friends re-connecting after many years…it’s Old Walt Whitman’s America and beyond: I hear the
Adah was on the floor playing with modeling clay. She has learned to take a piece of it and rolling it on the floor and make snakes. Bend
the snake into a circle and she’s made a bracelet. She made little bitsy things and baked them in a pretend oven and took them out after a
minute or so (I guess it was a microwave) and gave Grandma and me a piece of cake. When her daddy came along to take her upstairs to
bed she hugged each of us and with her eyes closed told how much she loved us.
Another thing we used to do as kids, and I’m sure this was appreciated by weary waitresses at soda fountains everywhere, was to take the
gratuitous glass of water that was brought to us by them, put a piece of cardboard from the back of a school tablet on top of it, flip the glass
over on the marble counter, then slowly withdraw the cardboard. I hope that every person who ever waited tables in a drug store will write
to me and tell me how much they appreciated kids doing that. Ah, we were such wits! ###
DAY NINE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., July 9, 2016
I don't know why or how writing came to be the center of my life. Writing is something that some people do...and some people don't. An old
man in a LifeStory Memoir Writing Workshop told me he wasn't going to put anything in writing. He had brought his wife, and she wrote up a
storm, but he sat there, adamant and stared into space most of the day. He perked up a lot when others read, and he seemed to enjoy that.
At the end of the workshop I read a piece by a lady from Minnesota about growing up on a dairy farm, and then he really listened. When it
was all over he came up to me and told me how much he liked that piece, and that he was a retired dairy farmer. "You know," he said,
shaking my hand, "this wasn't half bad!" I hope he went home and maybe one day picked up a pen and wrote at least a little about life on his
own dairy farm.
This might seem like a digression, and it probably is. But telling that story reminds me of the old joke about dairy farming: Dairy farming is
just like being in prison, only when you're in prison you don't have to do the milking. Hahahahaha!
I loved jokes as a kid. I read the comics aloud to my mother and she taught me to read that way. I read Major Hoople (Egad! Harrumph!),
Gasoline Alley, Captain Easy, Alley Oop, Brenda Starr, Reporter, and of course Terry and the Pirates.
This might seem like a digression, too, and it probably is, but when I was in treatment at the great Menninger Clinic as a mere lad of 24, my
house doctor was one Doctor Teresa Bernardez (now, alas, dead), a beautiful woman from Buenos Aires, who often wore sunglasses and so
I took to calling her Dragon Lady, who was the mysterious star of Terry and the Pirates. I didn't call her that to her face, of course, but word
got around and all the patients started calling her Dragon Lady, and eventually she laughingly confronted me about it and wanted to know
who the real Dragon Lady was.
Anyway, I was telling about how I got started writing. In my family everyone loved words. We'd sit around and talk about words the way other
families might talk about sports (but we did that too), my mother especially was very, very word oriented...loved to work crossword puzzles,
read the dictionaries on the end table in the living room, and my father too, not a big talker, rather shy, but he too was fascinated by words.
So be it. Did you know that "Amen" is Latin, isn't it? for "so be it." That's probably a digression too...###
DAY EIGHT OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fr., July 8, 2016
One of the games I play with myself when I can’t get started writing is Time Machine. I go back to ten years ago, twenty years ago…fifty
years ago. And I try to remember where I was then and what I was doing and then I write up a reconstructed/imagined moment from my life
So today let’s go back 40 years. It was July 8, 19…1976. OMG, 1976! A sweet year, a sweet time.
I was 38 years old, young and healthy and certainly in the best physical shape I’d ever been. I had been on the farm for the last three years
and most of my days were made up of hard manual labor. With a kind of grim satisfaction I felt I was more like a horse than a man: I carried a
heavy oak endgate for my truck up steps and fitted into its slots and bolted it into place, I moved fifty concrete blocks from behind the shop
to the house where I was going to build a little wall in the basement, I fixed a flat on the car, I carried in groceries, I carried my nine month
old son into the house from the car and played with him for half an hour while his mother and my wife started supper…I did this, I did that.
And I loved it. I loved the physicality of it all, the feel of my muscles working, the stream of sweat running down my body, the easy flow of
blood in my veins, the can do feelings—I’ll get this, I’ll get that.
I put Ben into the Johnnie Jump Up and gently started him swinging. He squawked for a few seconds when I put him down but then he felt
the easy swinging of his body—his physicality—and stopped and looked around as if examining himself and his world. I clucked to him and
knelt and kissed his sweet head, inhaling the aroma of it—nothing smells sweeter than a baby’s skin—and then I got up and walked over to
where June was standing taking grocs out of the paper sack and grabbed her from behind and pulled her to me and kissed the back of her
neck and hugged her and murmured how I loved her, and she turned slightly and murmured something back.
I let go and went back to Ben, gave him another slight push, said over my shoulder, “I’ll go change that tire,” and marched out the door.
June was lucky to have made it home. The tire was pretty low. Another couple of miles. How would she have walked home, carrying a nine
month old in this heat?
I opened the trunk and got out the jack, assembled it, and raised the car a few inches, got the lug wrench, loosened all the nuts on the
wheel, then jacked it so the tire was completely off the ground…and in another couple of minutes I was all done and dusting myself off and
going back to the real work and I picked up a sack of Portland cement (94 pounds) and carried it to the little wall job I was going to do. ###
DAY SEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Th., July 7, 2016
I was 18 and yes, I had been drinking, when we decided to go to an amusement park in Oklahoma City. It would be fun after an evening's
carousing downtown at the Little White Cloud, a drink and dance club. Remember Johnnie Ray? When your sweetheart sends a letter of
goodbye... remember those days?
It was 1956 and I was young and willing.
Absent the arms of a pretty ladies, four or five of us, all in uniform, and of course being wonderful ambassadors for the Navy, left the Cloud
and embarked on an adventure.
The horror of this is that whoever was driving--it might have been me--well, we were impaired. In those days to the shame of the Republic
laws against driving while drunk were lightly and lamely enforced. It was considered--unless there was an accident--to be a kind of boys will
be boys thing. You were pulled over and if you were with others one of them was encouraged to take the wheel, your license plate was
noted perhaps, and you were told to go straight home.
We weren't stopped. Someone knew where the park was and somehow we got there.
Happy crowds milled around, friends and family, servicemen of every branch with or without their girls, old folks in the tow of their
grandchildren (or maybe vice versa), playing the games and riding the rides and eating cotton candy and drinking sody pop
(Oklahoma does too have its own language, I'm fixin to tell you), and caramel popcorn.
We passed the Ferris wheel, the bumper cars, and stopped...there in front of the rollercoaster. Some laughing dare-you's ensued and one
of us got on, dragged another, and another and another. And away we went. We were ten or twelve cars, little tiny things, easing into
a climb and then suddenly, without warning, rolling and diving and hanging onto one another and perilously close, I believed, to death. In
the timelessness of such a moment (it could be that we were outrunning time) I saw the headline DRUNKEN SAILORS DIE IN
ROLLERCOASTER CRASH, my solemn funeral back home in Manhattan, the slow march of the pallbearers, the creak of the mortician's gears
as my coffin was lowered and cranked into the cold, cold ground.
We went around and around and around. My white hat flew off. I couldn't believe this. My ears popped, my eyes popped out, I dropped my
popcorn--and then oh thank you God, oh I'll be in church Sunday God, really, never again, as we glided into the terminal and then, gasp, we
were looking at one another and laughing and shouting, You should have seen your face! Oh, yeah, and what about you? Some of us were
more wounded by this skirmish than others. Alas, to the great amusement of everyone, I stepped aside and discreetly barfed. Wiping with
my sleeve my slobbering mouth with all the dignity I could muster, I realized that I was cold sober yet somehow sweating and looking at the
laughing world with teenage remorse.###
SIXTH DAY OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., July 6, 2016
I've been wanting to get in touch with myself. The last couple of weeks though I've had moments, even an ever occasional hour, of
serenity, basically my spiritual condition has been lousy. I know why, and it's not very interesting: it's just that I'm trying to write yet another
novel and everyday I'm facing a blank page and a blank brain. All the advice I've given others about writing rattles in my head and mocks
me. I am facing the horror of Blank Resistance.
So I dream. I dreamed last night I was an editor and I was writing a column, and it was going to be a good column--when I got it written. It
was going to be good, oh so good. But I hadn't written it yet. I was sitting at my desk in some big New York newspaper office, and I was
thinking about how great it was going to be. Just write one word, I said to myself. Just write the word the. Okay, I thought: The.
Then write a word to go with it, I said to myself, sitting there in New York in the big newspaper office, an editor. Just write a word to go with
Okay, that's good. What an opening: The rutabaga. Everyone's going to love that. Now you've got two words, just think of it, two words! The
What's the next word? Is. It just has to be is. The rutabaga is.
Okay, good. Keep going: don't lose the momentum. More!
The rutabaga is on the mat.
Whoa! Now you've suddenly got six words, and one of them has several syllables. What a writer!
What the hell is the rutabaga doing on my nice clean mat?
Go, Charley, go!
I just washed that mat. No I mean I scrubbed that mat, and now look. Rutabaga on my mat, and it's all green and slimy and rotten. A rotten
rutabaga on my wonderful mat!
So I've begun. I even have a title: can you guess? THE RUTABAGA!
I'll tell you a story, my Uncle Pete said, bouncing me on his knee. I'll tell you a story about Uncle Tom Dory: and now my story's begun. I'll tell
you another about his brother...and now my story is done! ###
DAY FIVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., July 5, 2016
My mother was born Lillian Mae Isaacs on March 5,1909. Her father was Lewis Clinton Isaacs, a sometime farmer and laborer, and
her mother was Lizzie Lee Knight Isaacs. Gramps, whom I knew very well and thought of as a second father during the War years when my
father was in North Africa, died in 1950; Grandma died in 1943, so I knew her much less well.
She was born in West Port, Kentucky (as I mentioned a couple of days ago) but early on moved upriver to a town called Kosmosdale, now
part of Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky. Gramps evidently went to work at the Kosmosdale Cement plant, and this may account for his
lung problems later in his life and which led him, late in life--80, actually--to such a state of difficulty that he took his own life by shooting
himself through the forehead with his .22 rifle.
Mom grew up in Louisville and Indianapolis. So she was a city girl, but ended up in Manhattan, Kansas--where she lived out her life
and died just one day before her 88th birthday on March 4, 1997.
I don't know where I'm going with this, and thanks to God you don't have to be organized in a journal. In fact, in my opinion, you should NOT
be organized in a journal. A journal should reflect the seemingly random and quixotic if not chaotic state of your own mind. Thoughts come
to us and we write some of them down.
Over the years I have had many, many thoughts about my mother and I have written many of them down here. If I live long enough I may
collect those journal thoughts into some kind of organized memoir of my mother. I would like to do that to honor that and to preserve
something of her legacy to me and to all of us in our family and even beyond. She was a remarkable woman and her life ought to be
Now, it may be that the neuroscientists of the future, maybe even of the near future, will find that one's ancestors are received in genetic
form entirely and passed on. I mean, if we know that one's eye color is genetically transmitted--and of course we do know that--then may it
not be that somehow, someway, the fact that Mom liked fried chicken be in there too? And even that one day in 1978 she made an excellent
peach cobbler and served it to her family at 232 Pine Drive, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502?
After all, if the zybogloptin is truly connected kosmotically to the kyrie platelets...well, isn't it more or less obvious?###
FOUR OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 4, 2016
On July 4, 1947, I decided that I'd heard enough. So I rared back on my nine-year-old feet and threw a Chinese firecracker at nothing in
particular. Those little gems--"Chinesers" we called them--had a very, very short fuse, and this one was maybe even shorter and it
exploded in my right ear. I had for some hours a ringing sound in that ear and for some days sore fingers, maybe even a little bloody--and I
think about 25% hearing loss in my right ear.
I fared better than some of my compatriot celebrants of that time--facial burns from magnesium flares, front teeth gone forever, lost eyes
and I don't know what all. I remember the day too well, so pardon me if I don't grab my packet of punk and get out there and set off the
explosives with you.
I guess the day does have something to do with the independence of this nation and eating fried chicken and potato salad. I'll opt for that.
Today I don't hear much anyway. I have a pair of hearing aids for which I thank the Lord and modern technology, though at times I think the
lower tech ear trumpet works better. I put my hand behind my right ear and lean forward as far as I can and sometimes I actually hear what
is being said.
One day back when I used to get haircuts I went to Junior's in Aggieville and perched in his chair and watched a little TV as Junior buzzed
around my head. To my astonishment little words appeared on the screen and I read what I couldn't hear. "That's called closed captioning,
Charley," Junior (whose real name was Hector and he was a pureblooded Frenchman from up around Clyde, Kansas)--Junior, whose
hearing wasn't all that great, led me into the world of words under pictures, which I hadn't heard of before then.
I ran home and with a lot of effort got my remote to get around to captions and I got them going and have never looked up since. Junior
was one of the pantheon of good guys in my head--in the head of half of Manhattan, Kansas, actually. He cut hair and amiably dispensed
wisdom and advice when asked. He died a couple three years ago in his upper 70s, way too young. He had his station there on the corner
off 11th and Moro for forty or more years. They should actually rename the street for him. Who remembers Moro? I'll bet he couldn't cut
hair for sour apples. But Junior could, and now I can't think of his beautiful French last name. ###
DAY THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., July 3, 2016
My mother was born in West Port, Kentucky, a village on the banks of the great Ohio River not far from the city of Louisville. So far as I
know no one in her family had any religious ideas or inklings or...inclinations. My father was born up north in Platteville, Wisconsin, and
raised in a village called Rewey not far from the great Mississippi River. In that village was an American Lutheran Church which was
sometimes attended. I suppose both of my parents were somehow baptised but it didn't take.
Essentially we were heathens.
Sunday mornings we read the newspapers, slept late, mowed the lawn, had a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs. My father, a doctor, would
go to the hospital to see patients, and sometimes to his office to see someone who had something in his eye or an impacted sinus. After
Sunday dinner he'd sometimes drive out far into the country to make a housecall. I learned to drive by going with him and sitting on his lap
on a deserted road and steering and shifting the gears when he told me to. My feet couldn't reach the pedals.
I was baptised in the largest church in Manhattan, the big Methodist Church downtown because my parents were new in the community
and, no doubt, it would help Dad build his practice. We even attended a few times, I am told. But soon Dad's practice was burgeoning and it
was more important to see patients on Sunday than it was to go to church, and my mother had even less of the fire of religion in her than
my father, if that was possible, so we didn't go at all.
In the late 40s when we still lived in the country I came across a bible story book by one Elsie E. Egermeier, something like that, a name with
a lot of e's. It had some color pictures and was a collection of stories that were, I guess, taken from the Bible. (A copy of which we might
have had somewhere around the house.) I read and liked these stories. If I had any questions about these stories I'd asked my father and
he'd look dubious and suggest I ask my mother. When I asked my mother, she'd suggest I ask my father.
Not that I was that curious. Other kids went to church on Sundays and we read newspapers (we took four daily papers) and Time and Life
magazines. Around the 6th grade or so I got curious about what happened in churches and went on my own a few times--my father would
drop me off on the way to the hospital--but again, it just wasn't compelling.
So when I grew up and got married, it was surprising that in all three of the families I married into (I'm a serial marrier, for sixty years I've
been married to somebody or other)--all of them prayed at the table before a meal. And they meant it. I didn't know how to act. I had never
seen anything like it.###
TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., July 2, 2016
As a sleeper, I am regularly irregular. I'll have five or ten days of blissful nights where I go to bed and 10 or 11 and wake up at 5 and I'm
rested and I feel great.
Then there are nights like this one, and they, too, come in fives or tens. So tonight here I am, middle of the night, and June's softly snoring
and dead to the world and I...oh, my mind is running like a race car in a circus act! The latest thing was, just before I gave up and got
up here to write this, the latest thing was music. In my head I sang On Top of Old Smokey because before bed we watched an old movie,
The Big Country, with Burl Ives in it, and of course that was his song...a ballad about how the singer lost his true lover for courting to slow.
Then I sang (I sing so beautifully in my head) Down In the Valley, you know that one about the valley so low? And then Sewannee River, as in
way down upon, and then I finished that set with a song I don't know the name of, have not heard (aside from in my own head) since I first
and last heard it on the old WBBM Music 'til Dawn Show in the early 50s, this little ditty: Oh Frances, Oh Frances, oh please tell me
whyyyyy/Your mother is calling and you don't replyyyyy. The soup it is boiling and the cow's in the corn! You mother is calling for you to
After repeating all those songs and a dozen others a maddening number of times, I'll have a little riff of money troubles, or no one really
loves me, or why don't I do this or why don't I do that...and then I get disgusted with that so I try meditating and for a minute or two I'll
breathe and breathe and breathe and think of nothing else. And then I get sick of that.
Hmmm, what's next? I'll try a sex fantasy or two..yes, even at my age. Old men never stop thinking about it, never. I'll bet my last thought
is of that good looking babe of a nurse who is putting pennies on my eyelids. Anymore, those thoughts don't usually lead anywhere, so I
revert to all the people I loaned money too over the years who haven't paid me back...that guy in a bar who asked to "borrow" fifty cents,
that kid in high school I earnestly loaned $5 and found out a week later, when he was supposed to pay me back, that he had run off and
joined the Air Force...
Finally somewhere in there, not infrequently when feeble daylight glimmers, God grants me the serenity to fall asleep.###
DAY ONE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., July 1, 2016
I have always been enchanted with words and I have always loved to write. I didn't always want to start, but once I started, I usually stayed
with it until I'd told my story or made my point. So I had to make it a habit to start, and then I was willing and able to go on.
My father went to war in North Africa when I was barely 4, if that, and didn't come back until I was 8, so I don't remember him ever reading to
me. My mother must have, though, and she was largely responsible for my learning to read. My big brother, Hal, might have read to me
some...I don't know, don't remember. At that time, 1942 to 1946, my mother's parents lived with us--well, Grandma died in 1943, but Gramps
may have read to me. We had books, we were literate people, newspaper readers very definitely. I know I read the comic strips and it was
in reading those aloud to my mother that I learned to read. We always had a dictionary around, too, so I learned early on how to look things
Somewhere around 8 or 10 or so, somewhere in there, I got it in my head that I could be a writer. I never thought about being a fireman or a
soldier or a policeman. I may have thought a little about being a doctor like my father was.
But any thoughts about that ended when I helped my father with a patient one Sunday morning when I was 11 or 12. Dad would get calls on
the weekend and people were sick and had to be seen and cared for. This Sunday a young woman--really quite a beautiful young woman
maybe about 30, a lovely brunette, I remember (and I was just getting old enough to appreciate feminine beauty), and she was in terrible
pain with an impacted sinus. Dad had to drain her sinuses going through her nostrils with a huge silver syringe pump kind of thing, and he
asked me to hold one of those kidney shaped white pans against her cheek to catch the fluid as it drained out. Well, the fluid was green
and yellow snot and it really, really smelled awful. The stench filled the room and I was horrified at the sight and the smell too. At the same
moment, this beautiful lady, relieved of her snot was practically jumping out of the little treatment chair because she was free from pain!
Oh, thank you, Doctor. Thank you! Thank you! she shouted even as the green goo was still draining.
So there was thing concatenation (is that the word?) of events--the pretty lady, the snot, the stink--all that came together at once and I
decided I didn't want to be a doctor...the innards of human beings were disgusting!
And so I became a writer. Breakfast, anyone? ###
June 30, 2016 Preparatory information for the 23rd Journalong...
My name is Charley Kempthorne and with my wife, June, I operate The LifeStory Institute. I have done this now since 1991, taking five years
off from 2001-2006 to work on a novel and, well, just to take a breather.
I am a writing coach by training and trade. I started teaching at the University of Kansas in 1964 as an assistant instructor. I got an MA in
writing there and taught a couple of years full time at the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point, then went back to school to the University
of Iowa and got an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in narrative writing from the Iowa Writers Workshop. I taught two or three more years in
Wisconsin and came up for tenure (pretty easy to get in those days) and...I quit. I told everyone I was going to start my own university.
Well, I didn't exactly do that, but eventually I started (and June was right there helping with artwork and layout and comments when I asked)
LifeStory in 1991. With this presence on Facebook, and with our website [www.thelifestoryinstitute.com] and with our pdf version
of LifeStory Magazine we have something going that encourages and enables people to write memoir and family history and autobiography
I am especially interested in coaching journaling because, by journaling myself for more than a half century, I have come to believe that it is
the best way to get the writing done. Over the years I have had thousands of students, some of them quite successful, but many others,
I am depressed to observe, have done very little writing.
The Journalong--where you write along with me every day for 28 days in order to form the habit of writing every day--the Journalong is my
effort to fix that problem of people who want to write are unable to do it. It's not a matter of "Just do it." There are attitudes that need
adjusting, and we do this by writing every day. I earnestly hope you'll try it. It starts tomorrow, July 1, right here.
The best thing you can do today to prepare is find a place and time to write and to make a list of half a dozen or so "prompts," that is,
suggestions to yourself of what to write about. I hope you'll trust me and stay with the process. If you have comments or concerns, please
make them in writing to me at my email email@example.com ###
Wed., June 29, 2016 THE 22ND JOURNALONG IS OVER WITH! CONGRATULATIONS ON SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION!
If I judge what I’m writing, if I even allow myself to think about what I’m writing while I’m writing, I shut myself down. I stop, read and re-read,
and nearly always judge my stuff to be not worth saying. And the more I allow that mentality to persist, the worse I judge it and…of course,
the less willing I am to write, until soon I won’t write at all. The voices in my head will say, Oh, you don’t have anything to say! Oh, you can’t
do it, Oh, you don’t measure up.
So I say Write, and let the world think what it will.
Don’t try to write the last draft first.
It has taken me a long time to learn not to be judgmental of my own writing as I’m writing. I don’t think I’ve escaped it, actually, I’m still
running from it by writing as fast as I can and trying not to look back. I consciously do not try to write the last draft first. I escape my mind
by writing fast. I’m pretty quick on the keyboard, years of practice, even at my advanced age going 120 or more words per minute.
As you might guess, I hate texting. Even the fastest among us has to have all kinds of pop-up thoughts on the way to through any given
I think maybe lots of us want to write that first time out, thinking that it’s less work. It might be less work for the fingers but it’s more for the
head, more worry, less pleasure. Over time, your worries should abate and your pleasure should increase.
If writing is going to be like that—all worry and no pleasure—well why not take up some other line of work? If you just did the 28 day
journalong for the month of June, if you’ve done 300, 400 or 500 words a day and now Day 29 you don’t want to write, if it’s all pain and no
pleasure, then you can honestly say you’ve tried and—well, take a break and ask yourself (in writing) if maybe you’re trying to be perfect, or
are too judgmental, or are asking too much of yourself.
Then come back July 1 and together we’ll start another Journalong. ###
DAY 28 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., June 28, 2016
I went to the doctor yesterday and of course June went with me, as I go to her appointments with her. Two are better than one, we figure. I
had had a barium swallow esophageal exam and I was here to get the results. Knowing we might have to wait, we took reading material in—
June a novel she was reading and I the New York Times, which I get every day and which we’d just picked up out of the blue tube box next
our mail box. I didn’t mind waiting at all if I could read the news of the day. We were beckoned right in but then in the little room we had to
wait to see the doctor. So I read the headlines and one or two articles, munching happily away on the newspaper as I do nearly every
morning of the world, a lifelong habit I have no desire to break.
The doctor came and we talked about dietary and lifestory changes I should make to minimize the effects of GERD, one of the many acronym
conditions I have. Cut down on coffee, no onions, no garlic, and so on. Only the cutting down on coffee bothered me. Coffee drinking is
another lifelong habit I don’t want to break: but I agreed I would.
When we left and got out to the car I realized I’d left my paper behind in the treatment room. Oh my. So I went back for it and asked the
receptionist if she could possibly get it for me. I looked at her earnestly and apologized for troubling her. Oh, no problem, she said
cheerfully and got up and went down the hall to where the treatment rooms are. I looked around at this giant facility that someone
said used to be an Office Depot store. People were waiting, receptionists were asking questions and typing things into computers, people
were coming and going.
Here came the young lady, no paper. They’ve already thrown it away, she said. Oh, I said, a little taken aback. I would happily go look for it,
pick through the trash and then I thought they probably wouldn’t let me do that. It might not be sanitary, bloody bandages and all that. So I
said thanks and sorry for the trouble, and left.
Back in the car I told June about the paper. Knowing how much the paper meant to me, she said a surprised little Oh, and nothing else. Oh,
well, I said. I saw the headlines. But all the way home I felt bereft and, truthfully, undone. I know that no one except a few old people read
the newspaper every day, but I am one such and a good newspaper is important to me.
When I was a boy growing up in the 40s and 50s everybody in my family read the newspaper and we sometimes argued over whose turn it
was. We took four daily papers and read all of them: The Kansas City Times in the morning, the Kansas City Star in the evening; the Topeka
Daily Capital; the Manhattan Mercury and, I almost forgot, while it lasted, the Manhattan Tribune News. Later in college at the University of
Wisconsin I found I was able to buy for fifty cents (!) the New York Times, which then was developing a national edition. This greatly
enhanced my newspaper reading because the New York Times is really a very good newspaper that not only gives the news in depth and
length but also great backgrounders and unexpectedly interesting stories about housebuilding in Tibet, say, or reviews of new books or
plays or…what you will.
Here in Olympia that last time I bought a copy of that illustrious rag, a banner headline—I kid you not, a headline all the way across the
newspaper—declared that the city fathers and mothers had voted to install a new port-a-potty downtown. In an urban area like this,
the state capital and home to about 250K people, a new port-a-potty was the big news for the day. Cut to the crossword puzzle and the
comics and that was it.
Well, I guess we should be glad: no news is good news.###
DAY 26 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., June 26, 2016
I was late getting around this morning, and now it's a quiet Sunday afternoon where you are supposed to take a nap or watch a ball game or,
better yet, play a ball game.
I guess I could read a book. There's nothing on TV. How can there be so many programs on TV and yet there's nothing on?
And books. I have re-read about 2/3 of Oliver Twist but now I'm bogged down in it.
The worst thing one can say about oneself is to say, "I'm bored!" As if it were the job of the universe to find you something to do that you
can call interesting. It's really a terrible comment on one's own imagination--on my own imagination. "I'm bored" = "I'm boring."
Before I do anything I have to write a few more words here just to keep the Journalong going.
Four hundred years ago Shakespeare died. Maybe he was bored, I don't know. A hundred years ago the Irish had an uprising...didn't they?
You know, when I was in school I loved to read but I never would read what I was supposed to read. Especially poetry---arghhh! But I
always read the magazines we had spread out on the coffee table at home, especially the jokes therein. The "Postscripts" page of the
Saturday Evening Post was a favorite. I read a poem there by the late great Richard Armour, a master of doggerel if there ever was one,
and so I memorized and remember to this day at least the first stanza or two of a poem about boredom called "Ho-hum!"
I'm really quite bored
by the famous Lost Chord.
I openly sneer at great art.
I yawn in the faces
of folks at the races--
and don't even watch
when they start.
As I frequently say,
I'm quite, quite blase--
The world and its ways
make me tired.
I'm so little impressed
I seldom get dressed--
And then only wear
It went on like that for three or four more verses. I loved it. I was in the 7th grade. I copied it out and posted it on the inside door of my
locker at school. I was so sophisticated then. I mean, blase. ###
DAY 25 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., June 25, 2016
This is the 66th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. I have written about the late afternoon (Sunday I think) when I was 12 years old
and listening to Terry and the Pirates on the radio and it was interrupted by an announcer who said that President Truman was sending US
troops into Korea for a “police action.”
That did not impact on me directly for eight years, when, as a member of the US Navy and the United Nations Command in Korea, I was a
member of the Military Department of the USNS General LeRoy Eltinge (T-AP 126) ship that transported the 9th Turkish Brigade from Izmir,
Turkey to Inchon, South Korea; and the 8th Turkish Brigade from Inchon to Yokohama, Japan and thence to Izmir, Turkey. We started in our
homeport in Brooklyn, New York in June and would have returned to there a couple of months later but for a small month-long diversion to
Beirut, Lebanon to take some other, US Army troops we picked up in Bremerhaven.
Truly, in my young life I was seeing the world through a port-hole, as we said back then. I couldn’t have had a better education than that the
US Navy gave me. College out of high school—whether Harvard or K-State, it didn’t matter—would have been a huge waste on me. I didn’t
want book-learning, I wanted adventure. And the Navy gave me that, and paid me handsomely too. (Joke.)
Actually in a sense I am still being paid as I get VA Benefits, chiefly my meds, very cheaply. One drug, Spiriva, would cost me about $500 a
month except that the VA gets it for me for $9. So that’s pretty good pay.
Truly, then and now, the Navy did far, far more for me than I did for it. Now and then someone will come up to me, seeing my Navy cap, and
thank me for my service. And I tell them that, that the Navy served me far more than I did it. Of course, that’s no so true now, these young
men and women who are going to Iraq or Afghanistan and actually fighting. The worst wound I got out of my 3.5 years of active duty was a
paper cut or two and I too zealously rolled another sheet into my typewriter.
And, mentioning typewriters, the Navy gave me the most useful gift I’ve ever gotten, bar none: the ability to use a keyboard. When I joined
in 1955, I could only use the “Columbus System,” as we called it then—you discover where the key you want is and then with one finger
extended, go after it.
The Navy fixed that, early on, putting me in a room for a few weeks and making me type several hours a day until I knew the keyboard
without looking. I got up to 35 wpm (words per minute) at that school in Bainbridge, Maryland, and by the time I was out on one of those big
old Underwood standards I could do 60 or 70 wpm, and now, with these wonderful spring-loaded machines we have today, I can type 100+
wpm—faster than I can think. I’m not kidding there, and I value that greatly, being about to outtype my mind. I write best when I write
so fast I don’t know what I’m writing until I write it and look back. That’s a great gift.
Thanks, Uncle! ###
DAY 24 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., June 24, 2016
Good morning from the south end of the great Puget Sound, named for old Peter Puget. I don't really know what a sound is but surely Pete
gave his name to the most irregular looking body of water on earth.
In the stillness of the early morning I am probably the only one awake. Well, not really. My son Rip, aka Zippo, is already in his truck and
booming northward to Tacoma to work on the docks there. Well, no--now that I pause and listen--I hear him walking around upstairs,
hurrying with his coffee and toast...my youngest son. Soon, though, he will be among the millions on the great North/South artery known as
I-5 and heading north to the million-footed megalopolis.
The best thing I've done in my life is sire six children who have all grown to be adults from age 36 to 54. Quite a little population!
I'm not sure sire is the right word, but if it is, could I then qualify to be called Sire? I like that: Good morning, Sire! Will you have your coffee
now, Sire? I wonder if June, my beloved, would start calling me Sire? I don't think I'll push my luck. I am so grateful to be called anything
and to be here with my family, part of it, in good old PS.
An old man once came walking into a LifeStory workshop and we said hello and shook hands and he announced that most of his future was
behind him. I laughed, of course, and he did too: but I have thought of that nearly every day since then. Most of my future is behind me!
The main thing is to be here, and I am happy to be here. The President of the US is in Seattle today, and among other things, he is meeting
with the President of Facebook, young Mark Zuckerberg. They are having a meeting and we're invited. Are you going? Mark has done a
lot for us, and will do a lot more as internet access spreads and covers the earth like a bucket of Sherwin-Williams.###
DAY 23 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 23, 2016
When I was a boy drinker in Aggieville, age about 15, when I started looking old enough to drink--the legal age then in Kansas was 18 for 3.2
beer, the only thing that was sold in a bar at that time--about 15 to 17.5 when I joined the great Canoe Club called the United States Navy--in
those early days of seeing taverns as my new schoolrooms, one of my hangouts was Chappy's Tap Room on Moro Street deep in the
heart of Aggieville.
Some of you may look, if you are kind enough to bother to look at all--some of you may look at my life and wonder why I was so interested in
drinking then at a time when most kids were going out for high school sports and serving on the Hi-Y council. The answer isn't that I had
such a craving for alcohol, but simply that I wanted to grow up, and this was my demented way of thinking I was a grown up. Smoking
cigarets, too--I looked so grown up with a long Pall Mall ciggie in my face.
Anyhow, Chappy's was one of my regular stops. We used to play a game after we had tilted a few that might have been called, if it had to
have a name, The Old Tavern. One of our illustrious number would, finding a smidgeon of space in our vigorous youthful jabber, suddenly
blurt out, There going to tear down the old tavern. Picking it up, we'd say in chorus, Oh, no! And then the guy, the announcer you might call
him, would say, But they're going to build a brand new one in its place. And we'd go, Yayyy! Then he'd go, However (there was always a but
or a however), they're raising the price of a glass of beer to fifteen cents! And we'd chorus, Boo! No! They can't do this, etc.! He'd say,
Scholarships will be available! Yea! Then, but you have to be at least 12! Yea! and so on until we guzzled a few more glasses of Schlitz or
Now I think back on my errant youth--what else can I call it?--and I realize that nestled in those degenerate young lives was a survival
technique that now, in our regenerate decrepitude, serves us well: look on the bright side! Accentuate the positive, as the old Johnny
Mercer song went.
So here I am, maybe too soon old, but not too late smart, trying my very best to wise up. So be it.
Have a good day! ###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., June 22, 2016
"What's your excuse?" my company commander in Navy boot camp would ask me nearly every time he saw me--or anyone else. It was a
Have you stopped beating your wife? kind of question--no good way to answer. For a thin-skinned introspective to a fault kind of guy like
me, the question lingered in my mind, long after boot camp and even long after the Navy. In fact, it's there in my head today, sometimes.
A corollary of that is in my head too, more and more often as I grow older. "Why am I here?" I first heard this early on in LifeStory, maybe
twenty years or more ago, when an old lady of 92 or so took me aside during a break in the workshop I was presenting somewhere--I don't
remember where. She was a sweet and pretty lady who seemed to be in perfect health. She just wanted to know why, after her parents and
her siblings and most all her relatives were gone--other than children and grandchildren and of course greatgrandchildren.
I mumbled something about writing her life story, my stock answer, and she accepted that, but the question haunted me. There must be a
reason...it's around here somewhere.
Yet today is another beautiful sunny day in Puget Sound. At noon we'll drive three miles downtown to visit friends and do a little shopping.
The shopping is excellent here in Olympia, but the merchants seem to have an exaggerated idea of the worth of their merchandise.
I know, I know: old people always complain about prices, and even if not asked, are likely to creak out some words to the effect that, "In my
In fact that may be what really causes us old folks to lose our grip and go south...or north, depending. It isn't disease that causes death...
it's prices. We go around all day remembering vividly when a sizeable candy bar cost a nickel, a phone call was nickel, and a postcard was a
penny and you could send a letter across the country for three cents. Then one day we walk into a store to get a sody pop and a Baby Ruth
and we get a nickel back out of a five dollar bill.
That's it! Thank you, sir! And we gasp and just keel over.###
21 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., June 21, 2016
Probably there are as many reasons for not writing a memoir/family history as there are people who say they want to write it. But usually
they boil down to four or five reasons that can be simply stated: 1, I don't know where to start and I can't get organized; 2, I can't think of
anything to write about; 3, I don't have the time; 4, I can't write; and 5, No one is interested in reading what I might have written, anyway.
I list these in no particular order. Over my long life as a writer I have used every one of these reasons at one time or another. In the last
thirty years, especially, I have been able to overcome all five of these objections through forming and acting daily on the habit of
journaling. In 52 years of more or less daily journaling, I have produced some twelve million words. This is not necessarily something to
brag about, though usually I manage to do it pretty well.
But today at this time in my life I find myself lingering more. I am having trouble thinking of things to write about. This is mostly because I
do not yet have a good index or way of searching all these words, and so I fear I'm writing about something that I've already written about. I
have digitized the Journal and it is in folders year by year from 1964 to 2016. That's a lot of searching. It's the proverbial needle in a
I still labor to generate prompts so that when I sit down here to write I will not have to use my writing time to think of what to write about. I
like to have a list of prompts at hand.
I have lived a long time and I have known, and know still, hundreds and hundreds of people. Thousands, probably. So this morning I'm
going to list a few of them by name--people I've known who have had some impact on my life. In every person I knew there is a story...or
two or three. I'll just rattle off a few of these folks so I have some work cut out for me, so I don't have to sweat and fume in front of a
Julia Bebermeier, Mary Johnston, John Buller, Nick Talarico...all were schoolteachers. Glenn and Elsie Graham, Dave Dallas, Earl (can't
think of his last name), Frank White, Lee Burress, Leon Lewis, Helen Corneli...all were employers or my supervisor. Merrill Beauchamp, W.
L. Llewellyn, Calvin West, Carl Meyer (still living), Julian L. Rutledge, all Navy personnel and my supervisors. Abe and Belle Chapman, Edgar
Wolfe, Dennis Quinn, Franklin Nelick, Art Langvardt, Walt Eitner, Alwyn Berland, Melvin Askew, all professors... I could go on and on.
And so could you. Even if you aren't as ancient as me, you could easily list a hundred people you've known and have had some serious and
lasting influence on you. These can be prompts. They are gifts to us from the God of Stories. Try it...you'll like it. ###
DAY 20 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., June 20, 2016
Here we are 3/4 of the way through this 28 day Journalong, so maybe I'd better say again that the purpose of this thing is to encourage you
to write some words each day, too, so that you cement the habit of writing every day. I just write here, and if it's good writing, that's great,
but if it's not, that's equally great. If you write every day, day in and day out, you'll do some good writing, probably some bad
writing, probably some that's just okay, and no doubt some that's great. Pianists practice every day, gymnasts practice every day, why
shouldn't writers practice every day? The idea that you should write only when you're inspired to do so is just baloney.
And nothing that I say here in the Journalong reflects the opinions of LifeStory, the Institute or the Magazine or the Website--no opinion but
So I'm about to say something about Donald Trump.
What is attractive about this pretty unattractive man is that he is sometimes--sometimes--authentic. That's a very, very important
characteristic and you know what, with old pols like Hillary it isn't always there.
Even so, an authentic boob is still a boob. And I'm not sure I want authenticity when somebody's got his authentic (and impulsive) finger on
the nuclear button. This guy as Prez would be a loose cannon rolling about the deck of a ship that is sometimes on a very stormy sea.
So thanks but no thanks, Don, go back to your reality shows and golf courses and casinos and I don't know what all. And anyhow, it's
time for women to run the world. ###
DAY 19 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., June 19, 2016
I’ll probably come to regret writing this and publishing it throughout the known world via Facebook and the LifeStory website (www.
But alas, I must. This morning I sat here talking to June and realized I hadn’t put my hearing aids in yet, and that’s why I couldn’t hear her.
So I stood up and walked down the hall to the bathroom where I keep my hearing aids in a little jar with a tight lid with a drying agent in it. I
went into the bathroom and peed. Then I left the bathroom and came back here…and realized then I hadn’t done what I went to the
bathroom to do, that is, get my hearing aids.
Okay, that’s commonplace enough, right? People of all ages do things like that now and then. Older people do it more often. They go
outside to prune a tulip or something and then forget why they are there. As you age, stuff like that happens more and more…and more.
Old Buddha, or somebody, some holy guy, said succinctly enough, We are of a nature to get sick.
Well, gee, thanks for the reminder. Of course this is true. Sooner or later we sicken and die. No one ever dies of “old age.” God doesn’t
say, oh, let’s see, you’re 125 now, and you’ve lived too long, boink! But if you’re 125 you’re probably wearing out and you’ll get sick from
something and die soon.
Okay, so be it.
But as we age—note well—as we age, we are, or we are supposed to…. get more spiritual—or to become more intelligent emotionally, if you
prefer to put it that way. At best, it’s a kind of dance. As we give up our physicality, we gain in spirituality, so that finally what we have at
the end is a sick and wasted body but a healthy spiritual mind. In fact the giving up of the physical prowess likely causes much of
the growth of spiritual prowess. Ideally, we would die with equanimity.
That makes sense to me. But no telling about life, I may end up dying a miserable death, shaking my fist at the heavens, pushing back on
my coffin lid and wanting just one more breath.
But I hope not. And hope is a wish, and the wish is father to the deed. So with that, I say happy father’s day! ###
DAY 18 OF THE JOURNALONG
Sat., June 18, 2016
I dreamed and dreamed and dreamed last night. I dreamed about my Houston Street days, the days when I worked for Glenn and Elsie
Graham, the printers with their shop at 324 Houston Street, right next to the State Theater. Houston Street and the adjoining South Fourth
Street, that area, was quite a culture in those days--the 1950s. Glenn and Elsie had no children and I had no grandparents and so we were a
I needed grandparenting. I needed parenting too but it was mostly a case then of Keep your nose clean, Charley (or at least don't call
attention to yourself, don't get caught), and stay out of parents' way. I saw more of Mr. and Mrs. Graham than I did of my own parents during
my teen years. Dad was always at the office or the hospital seeing patients and Mom, especially in good weather, up at the Country Club
playing golf or just hanging out. Like a lot of people they had gone through the 40s and the War and now they needed some time off from
the struggles of life.
School, which up until about age 12 had been the center of my life, was now a distant second or even third. Being a good student wasn't
terribly important to me, though being smart was--but I was becoming more smart ass than smart. I loved to read, always had from age 4
when my mother taught me to read when I read the comics in the Indianapolis Star aloud to her; but I never paid much attention to the junk
we read in school, the ridiculous Dick and Jane stories that were written in order to use all the words of a vocabulary lesson--Dick and Jane
at the seashore, Dick and Jane at the grocery, Dick and Jane, Dick and Jane--who cared about Dick and Jane?
I read Westerns that I got out of the wastebasket in the building where my father had his office--Luke Short, Ernest Haycox, and
mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner and, by then, Mickey Spillane. These books weren't approved reading but I read them avidly and loved
them. Somewhere in there I began to find books on the rack in the cafes--I don't remember ever going to a bookstore--I didn't know they
had bookstores, and libraries--well, libraries didn't have paperbacks, paperbacks weren't respectable enough. I remember buying (or
maybe shoplifting) The Catcher in the Rye, a paperback at Scheu's Cafe, downtown, or maybe at Warren's Bus Depot and Cafe. And I
remember the cover with a picture of Old Holden and the words: This book may shock you, this book may astound you, etc, BUT YOU WILL
NEVER FORGET IT. And I never did. Holden Caulfield and his caring about not being phony--that was what I took to heart, not Dick and Jane
or, by this time, Silas Marner or Ivanhoe or any of those officially sanctioned lit-uh-rary types.
For awhile I helped, just for fun, my pal Lee Teaford fold and deliver the KANSAS CITY STAR in the evening in Leo Marx's panel truck,
and we amused ourselves (Lee was a smart guy) by naming all the brands of whisky we knew, played a game of Flinch where, if some guy
came at you with his fists and took a swing at you, well, if you flinched you had to name five brands of cigarets and whistle while he
pounded away on your upper arm.
That was the schooling I took seriously. The stuff from teachers, mostly boring old people with wrinkles and bad breath (halitosis was
becoming a national obsession then)--well, that was for schoolkids, and there was nothing about school that I liked or found
interesting. But I read four daily newspapers and all the magazines my father brought home from the office after his patients had thumbed
through them as well as the magazines and books in his study like the Journal of the American Medical Association, Time, Life, Look,
Collier's and various other medical journals (some had jokes in the back) and one I remember with the alluring title, Sex Endocrinology,
which had some really neat diagrams of naked women cutaway to show their pancreas.###
DAY SEVENTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., June 17, 2016
I woke. It was early daylight, I guessed it was between five and six. I lay there. Maybe I was depressed. I was. I should try doing some PT. But
then I might overdo it—the hernia is still sore and this is the fifth week only—so I decided not to do it at all. I lay there, looking up at the
ceiling. Then I slowly and painfully pulled myself upright and sat there a split second and then stood up. One day I would not be able to
stand and they would just say, Put him in the box.
I shuffled into the bathroom. One of my night socks had come off and I felt the cold bare tile floor. I peed, a good solid stream of pee. I
flushed the toilet. I dropped off my underpants and the other sock and pulled my long-sleeved shirt on over my head and, naked, stepped
on the scales: 202.8
I put the shirt back on and went back to the bedroom and to the closet and got a fresh pair of underpants. Blue. Blue was okay. I didn’t have
blond pubic hair but blue would do. Who would know? Blue and gray. Actually, looking down now, I realized I didn’t have gray pubic
hair…yet. Would I, someday? Should I live so long? I had gone bald on my legs and arms and chest. I had a bald spot on the back of my head
that June kept telling me about.
I put on my street pants and my fake wool vest—it was cold—and went out to the kitchen and punched the coffee button. I sat down in my
place on the couch I use as a table, mostly, except of course for the place I sit.
I picked up the remote and turned on the television. The red dot indicating power came on, then the screen flickered and came on, the
volume murmured but I quickly pushed the mute button and muted it and the captions appeared under a fiery screen: fire in Sarasota,
Florida. Florida was really getting it these days. I stared. Traffic in Seattle. Weather in Pennsylvania. Obama and Biden lay wreaths. Biden is
wearing sunglasses. Why?
I got up and got my coffee. I used a black cup so in the semi-light here I had to be careful not to overflow the pour. I sat down again. I
sipped at the coffee.
Last night one of the last things I read was half an article in the AARP Bulletin about drinking hot liquids causing esophageal cancer. Dad
used to warn against that, fifty, sixty years ago. He was a good doctor. Now here I was, probably drinking my coffee too hot. 149 degrees,
the article said, and bingo, you get esophageal cancer. I should get a food thermometer. In Kansas we had one in the drawer. In Kansas we
had everything. Now we had very little. Was it better? I don’t know. What if I drank my coffee too hot and because I didn’t know how hot and
then I got esophageal cancer and then I died one day sooner than scheduled?###
DAY SIXTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 16, 2016
Okay, I've loafed around and slept and watched TV and went shopping even in order to avoid writing today. I sat here this morning, nothing
to write, empty as outer space, and couldn't think of anything to write. "I'm taking the day off," I said to June.
We went to a meeting, and afterward we drove over to the west side and while June shopped in a big mall I sat and read the newspaper.
June is looking for a new pair of glasses. This is major. She is a thorough shopper. She shopped for an hour in the Pearle Vision store in
the Mall and bought nothing. "I like the ones I saw first," she said. When I suggested she buy them she looked at me with surprise and
impatience. This is just beginning, she admonished. I should have known.
We bought a Subway sandwich and ate, and then we bought a cinnamon roll and ate that. Our fingers were all sticky. We licked our fingers
and what we couldn't lick off we wiped off with a wet napkin. We came home and I ate some ice cream--a flavor called Death by Chocolate--
and then we took a nap.
Hard day. I got up four hours ago and I've been working like a beaver ever since. I wrote 3,000 words without stopping. Alas, none of them
suitable for the Journalong.
So here I am writing the Journalong out of thin air. My problem lately in writing has been that I feel after 52 years of doing this that I'm
beginning to repeat myself. And of course I am. But the knowledge of that is beginning to pall. I've lived too long. My dad used to say of
people he didn't like, lightly and jocularly, "He's outlived his usefulness."
I'm not ready to pitch in. Everyday is different, everyday is new.
And tomorrow...oh, tomorrow is another day. ###
DAY 15 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., June 15, 2016
An old Johnny Mercer tune sung by Bing Crosby and a lot of others back in the day (about 1945), goes like this:
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene…
A great old tune I remember from my boyhood. I think it was on the Hit Parade--I'm just sure it was--and so thinking positively has been
around for a long time. Interesting that it became popular in a movie (Here Come the Waves) that came out of World War II, the most
negative event of the 20th Century.
Old George Carlin, one of the greatest comedians ever, had a little routine where he'd say he'd read about how great thinking
positively was "but I don't think it'd work for me."
Every morning when I get up I write ten things I'm grateful for, and, you know what, it makes it hard to be pissed off the rest of the day.
1. I'm grateful today for all my old friends in Manhattan, Kansas.
2. I'm grateful for all my new friends in Olympia, Washington.
3. I'm grateful for my family spread all over the country.
4. I'm grateful to live with my son Rip and daughter-in-law Joni and grand-daughter Adah.
5. I am ten times ten grateful for my wife of 43 years, June.
6. I am grateful for the dead ripe cantaloupe that we just ate.
7. I am grateful for our new salt and pepper shakers that we bought the other day for just a dollar.
8. I am grateful for Charles Dickens, who wrote so many wonderful novels and just now I'm re-reading Oliver Twist.
9. I am grateful for the TV show, Law and Order, and Criminal Minds.
10. I am grateful for the wonderful climate here in Washington. ###
Day 14 of the LifeStory Journalong
June 14, 2016
I would say this is one of my favorite photographs of my wife, June. Probably this was taken about 1978 or so, when she was 30 or 32. She
looks younger, but she always looked younger. Today, almost 70, she could be 55 or even 50. Well, there are a few little crow's feet around
her lovely eyes, maybe a wrinkle (or two) around her fair cheeks...I guess I am a little prejudiced.
I always said she couldn't take a bad picture, and she couldn't--she is that photogenic.
She is sitting here in our living room on the farm under an afghan that we snuggled under many, many a winter night. No doubt she is
watching TV and her face is showing her concern and fear about what is happening on whatever show is was.
I used to say I could know what was going on in a given TV show or movie by looking at June's face. She could sit down to watch even
in the middle of a show and in two minutes she would be caught up in the drama as if it were happening right in the room. She is that
At this very moment as I sit here 40 years after this photograph was taken, June is sitting under the lamp nearby and mending some little
garment of our grand-daughter, Adah's, but now just for a moment she looks at the TV and is caught up in the high drama. And it's funny that
as I'm watching her watching TV she looks at me (a break for commercial) and says, "It's funny, I'm sitting here mending clothes, just
what my mother did years ago for our children."
I smile and nod and think, But I bet Lois wasn't watching CRIMINAL MINDS. [To see the photo, please go to Facebook to the LifeStory
Mon., June 13, 2016
THIRTEENTH DAY OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
This is the way my 28,245th day on earth begins. I’m sitting here in the long apartment we have the honor to occupy in Rip and Joni’s long
house on a hillside above Puget Sound just a few miles outside Olympia, Washington.
Get your hands out of your pockets, boy, my dad used to say. Make yourself useful, he’d say mock gruffly. And then he’d laugh, and I’d laugh
with him, but I guess I took it to heart somehow.
How can I make myself useful today? Perhaps cluelessly, merely the creature of habit, I know of no better way than to write these words
and, by the grace of God, publish them to the world.
And I remember.
My brother Hal and I were having a radish battle. It was a warm summer afternoon and we lingered at the lunch table while Mom was putting
the food away and doing the dishes. Gramps, probably, had gone to take a nap. We each lined up our radishes in a row facing the other’s.
With appropriate noises like kew! kew! kew! and uh-uh-uh-uh and rat-a-tat-tat! and of course boom! boom! we faced off. Mom laughed but
admonished us not to waste food, that we’d have to eat every one of those little red fellows from our big garden. Think of all the starving
kids in China, she said.
I am thinking now of all the dead in Orlando.
I did a workshop in Orlando oh, maybe twenty years ago, at a Senior Center, attended by a very small group of ladies who were willing to
write some of their life history. One I remember was Alice Mireault, who had grown up and spent most of her life in New England. She wrote
about one fine Sunday morning there when she and her sister were walking to church and they passed President and Mrs. Coolidge, and
the President tipped his hat and said, Good morning, ladies!
There was no Secret Service in evidence, no crowds. This was their hometown too, and they were just going to church.
And now, the fifty dead in Orlando. Fifty some more wounded.
Alice offered to put me up in her retirement trailer in a park in the nearby town of Kissimmee. How do you pronounce that? I asked her.
Kissimm-eee in the daytime, she said with a laugh, and kiss-uh-me in the night.
So long ago! Alice lived to a ripe old age and died years ago, a very nice lady who left a lot of memories of her life for her grandchildren.
Like the good gray poet, Old Walt, people like us filter everything through ourselves, and leave a history of our life and times, ultimately of
our own mind. Would the world be any different if we had the history of all the minds that have come before ours? Can we learn anything
from history, if we have it there before us, written in stone or parchment or on a flickering screen serviced by a microchip? ###
DAY TWELVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., June 12, 2016
Going back in time seventy years to June 12, 1946.
I don’t really know where we live. We might be in Wisconsin and still waiting for Dad to come home from the Army, or Dad might be there
and we’re loading up to go to Kansas. (Just how we decided to go to Kansas to live I don’t know.) It may be, probably is, that we’re already
in Kansas and living with the Bascom family on Denison Street in that huge house with the four Bascom boys and their mother and father.
Housing is very short. Together there are ten of us living there, six boys and two mothers and two very busy doctor-fathers. I remember
seeing the glass quarts of milk lined up on the porch, brought by the milkman. Ten or twelve quarts in the long-necked old fashioned milk
bottles with the cardboard pressed in caps with the little tab on them and the colored name CITY DAIRY written on the side. Maybe I help
with the dishes—after all, I’m 8 and a half years old—and so I’m familiar with washing the bottles and putting them out to dry.
The Bascom boys, John, George, Charlie and Jim—are all fun and laughing and coming and going all the time. I don’t see a lot of John—he
maybe is still in the Army himself—or George, who may be away at Medical School, but I see Jim and Charlie all the time, and in fact I
sleep in Charlie’s room in bed with him. He’s probably five years or more older than I am, a big boy in junior or maybe senior high. We lie in
bed at night and talk. I adore him.
My mother is around. Mrs. Bascom is around. Both women are experienced mothers and housewives and both are named Lillian. That’s
funny. The men are both doctors, Dr. Bascom is a general practitioner and general surgeon, and Dad of course is an EENT, and eye, ear,
nose and throat specialist. They are good friends from their days working together in North Dakota.###
DAY ELEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., June 11, 2016
I learned to drive on the family car, our only car all through the war and for a few years after. I don’t think we got a new car until 1949…they
just weren’t available. So we had the 1939 Buick Special for ten long years. On Sunday mornings my dad would drive into town to see
patients at the hospital and sometimes at his office—we lived six miles out then in the Deep Creek community—and sometimes, I must have
been 10 or so, he’d let me operate the steering wheel sitting on his lap. Luckily, the road was pretty deserted at 9 or 10 on Sunday
morning. I don’t think my feet would reach the pedals then. I doubt I really did much of the steering, either, but it was a start.
The great day came when I could reach the pedals, and sat in the seat by myself, and doing that, more and more, and then soloing…that was
how I learned to drive. My dad taught me. I don’t think driver education, driving training, was even thought of then.
Maybe since then I’ve driven half a dozen times around the world. I’ve driven a lot. After all, that’s nearly 70 years of driving. In all that time
I’ve not had one accident in which anyone was hurt. I’ve had a few fender benders and once—right in front of the police station in Topeka,
Kansas, I was talking to my girl friend taking her to work downtown and it was a little icy and I had to stop for the car in front of me and I
couldn’t. I skidded into that car. There was no damage, really, but we got out and looked at it, and a policeman who happened to see it came
over and looked too.
It’s not that I’m that great a driver. I’ve just been lucky.###
Fri., June 10, 2016
I showed up at 730 for the barium swallow test. With June at my side. She was asked to wait in a waiting room. I was led away and down a
hallway and into a big room with giant x-ray equipment. It had the anonymity of a slaughterhouse. A huge long gleaming stainless steel table
standing upright. An x-ray tech, couldn’t read her name, instructed me on the barium thing…two different kinds (one strawberry and one
vanilla, it looked like) stood on the table, and a small shot glass I was supposed to swallow first and not, please, do not burp. This is to
expand your esophagus, she said cheerily. Please try not to burp. Are you okay? She said. You’re doing very well, she said. I hadn’t done
anything at all except stand there. She was Chinese-American, I think. Her English was good but the intonation was unmistakably Chinese.
Then another lady came in and said hello and explained that she was an x-ray tech and that she was there to help the doctor, who was,
though not new to being a doctor of course, was new to this hospital and this equipment. She would help. The first lady was busy with fine-
tuning the little table with the various confections on it. She turned to me. The doctor will be here any minute, she said. I’m ready, I said.
Then she came over and told me all that would take place, how I would swallow, and not burp, and turn and swallow again, all the while the
doctor taking pictures of my esophagus. You’re doing very well, she said. Thank you, I said, though I still hadn’t done anything. You’re
welcome! You are doing so very well!
Finally the doctor arrived and introduced herself. I am Doctor Venturanino, she said. She was a short woman, Italian I guess, with some
accent but with pretty good English. Thank you, I said. And she went right to work with the other lady, chattering away, all three of them, and
I just stood there wondering if the big heavy thing with the photograph stuff in it, the camera I guess, was going to come any
closer because if it did I was going to scream. I do have some claustrophobia, I said to no one in particular. Claustrophobia, okay. Don’t
worry. You are doing so well! Thank you, I said. Please don’t move this thing any closer to my face. Do you have to cover my face? The
camera will move back and forth and, yes, it will come just a little closer now, there, that’s all. You are doing fine! But I wasn’t so fine. I was
ready to scream. I walked out of an MRI I said. They were busy talking among themselves and now they had me swallowing things, turning
this way and that, holding it in my mouth, not burping, swallowing now and I heard the camera buzzing and even could see the goo going
down my esophagus on the television monitor. The stuff didn't taste so bad as I’d remembered from eight years ago or so when I had my
first barium swallow, which as I recall had been much less involved, much less daunting, that this one.
We are going to lay you back now, she said, and I thought, Oh God, and out loud I said I’m trying to remember the 23rd Psalm. Someone
giggled I think. Oh, you’re doing so well. Soon to be all over! I laid flat while they fed me more gunk through a straw and I said, Oh, God, The
Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. My cup runneth over. It restored my soul. Please sip just a little more now. You are doing very, very
well. Thank you, I said. You are welcome! I appreciate, I said, anointeth my head with oil, and I took another sip of the stuff. Not please so
fast I said. I’m walking through the valley of the shadow of Death, I said. You’re welcome, the Chinese lady said. The doctor and the techy
muttered to one another about the position of the camera. I fear no evil, I said, and the camera whirred in a little closer. I could scream. I
could scream. HELP ME! And surely they would stop, they would have to. It’s just about over. You’re excellent! Thank you, I mumbled. I
decided to close my eyes and not scream. I would just be flattened like a pancake. The valley of…it’s over. The camera backed off. You can
stand up now. It’s all done! You did so well! Thank you. I shook the hand of the doctor and the nurse. I was led away. She helped me with my
gown. You have a little white on your nose, she laughed, dabbing at me. Go out this door and turn left. Thank you, I said. Oh, thank you so
much. She handed me a slip of paper with all the instructions about constipation. Thank you. I understand. You did so very well! She said.
And there was June.###
NINTH DAY OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 9, 2016
On the farm. I did put in a good wheat crop that first year. I don’t remember where I bought the drill I used. June and I with Benny in
our arms would go to auctions around the area. We read the paper, Grass and Grain, which had great farm news as well as a very accurate
list of all the farm auctions. (G&G was such a good paper that I would subscribe to it today if it weren’t so expensive.)
Anyhow, we’d go to these auctions and that’s where we bought all our farm equipment as well as stuff for canning and maybe a few
items for the table as well. June was and is today a keen shopper for bargains on little arty things that enhanced our lives.
From somewhere I bought a grain drill and somehow I got it to the farm. It needed a few repairs and I made them. I was slowly learning to do
stuff like that. So I got all the little gears together and the tubes working and the disks opening the little furrows and bought some seed
wheat from K-State…and it all worked.
A couple of days after I got it all drilled in we had a little rain and the two fields comprising about thirty acres had little green shoots
all over. It was magical! I couldn’t stop looking at it. Remember how Jet Rink in Giant (played by James Dean) danced around glorying in his
oil gusher? I was like that in the wheat. I would have rolled around in it if I wasn’t afraid I’d damage it. I’m sure I got down on the ground and
looked at it eye to eye and smelled it as heroic music swelled my heart. Nothing is so green as new wheat. It is the US Bureau of Standards
The other thing that ought to be mentioned about farm auctions is the pie. Every farm auction had a meal served, and usually those meals
were fundraisers by the local women’s club or the 4-H or some group like that. The food was usually unimaginative and low-budget stuff like
boiled wieners on white bread buns or sloppy joes on the same thing. Really not much. Iced tea and coffee. Maybe some (ugh!) jello.
Then there were the pies. Here the ladies were simply asked to bake a pie in their own kitchen and bring it along. Now if the Waldorf-Astoria
in New York or Maxim’s in Paris had wanted to try out the Kansas pie instead of cooking out of some Frenchy cookbook, the world would
have been then, and would still be today, a better place. I’m sure. Take my word for it.
They had apple pie, Dutch apple pie, German apple pie, black walnut pie (the Oh My pie, we called it), rhubarb pie, banana cream pie…the
list could go on and on. In those days a slice of the pie would cost 25 cents to maybe 45 cents. Those ladies could make pie. In fact, my own
mother-in-law, Lois Fritz, June’s mom, could make a rhubarb pie that would have mellowed out Donald Trump. It was all in the crust: and the
crust was made from real lard from a real hog…not from motor oil or whatever it is they put in Crisco.###
Wed., June 8, 2016
I spent my last month or so in the Navy in a huge seven storey building in New York called the Brooklyn Amy Terminal. On the 4th floor in
one end was a corner for Navy sailors who were waiting for their ship to come in or, like me, waiting to get out of the Navy. I was almost 21
years old and I had joined when I was 17 and signed for “minority years,” the Navy shipping articles said, meaning I was to get out at
the end of my minority when, I guess, you might say I attained majority and became 21 years old: a full fledged grownup. Somehow the Navy
had decided in its wisdom that I was going to be let go a few days early, on January 16, 1959.
Now I could have had a really good time in that month. I had liberty every night at 430 pm (1630) and I was in the greatest city in the world.
For fifteen cents I could get on the subway up on 2nd Avenue and be in Times Square in an hour. Free tickets to concerts and ball games
and everything from the Metropolitan Opera to the great Museum of Art uptown was free to servicemen in uniform. I could have gone out,
had a good time, gone home with friends for a weekend…it could really have been a wonderful interlude before I went home to Kansas and
next day into a college classroom.
Well of course my life is an illustration of the cynical old maxim, Too soon old, too late smart. I didn’t have a good time. I was so
anxious and worried that I wouldn’t get out that I had the trots. The more I had the trots the more I worried that I wouldn’t get out—
someone would tap me on the shoulder and say You’re not getting out. You’re sick. You’re going to the Navy Yard Hospital until you get
well. And so I agonized about this.
I didn’t have much to do all day. I hung around the barracks and smoked cigarets and looked out the window at the ships coming and going
in the huge harbor. This might have been about the time Elvis Presley got sent overseas with the Army into which he had been drafted a
few months before. He was supposed to be treated like any other draftee but the 20,000 screaming fans who showed up down on
the docks to wave bye-bye to him proved that he wasn’t just another grunt. I remember watching that crowd from the window up there on
the 4th floor with a few other guys. We kept trying to see Elvis but in the throng of course we couldn’t. That was the only fun I had the first
The chow was good. We ate in a cafeteria on the first floor alongside the civil service workers and the Army personnel. But I couldn’t eat
most of the time because of the trots. I went around telling everybody, Only 11 days left, only 5 more days, and so on, pretending elation,
but each day I sunk deeper into my thoughts of, What if there’s a national emergency and the President says, No one gets out. Everyone to
the front! Or something like that.
Years later I had a friend who told me the ultimate discharge horror story. He was awaiting discharge at a base somewhere in
California. He was a Marine, an officer. The big day came and he got up early and went to the discharge office and got his papers. He got
in his car and drove to the main gate. But in that hour, something had happened. When he got to the gate instead of being passed through
the guard came over and said, uh, Are you Lieutenant Fabiano? Dan admitted that he was. Sir, the gate guy said, we have just received a
call and you are to go back to the Administration building. All officers with your line number have been extended for one year.
It was some kind of ridiculous national emergency, and Dan spent the year on that base with nothing to do but make furniture in the base
wood shop. And then he got out.
That didn’t happen. I got out on schedule. I flew home and two days later I was sitting in a classroom at K-State conjugating French verbs
and looking at all the pretty girls. ###
DAY SEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tu., June 7, 2016
Poison ivy is poison! The first experience I had with that was when I was still married to Patsy and we moved to the farm in 1971. When
spring finally came in 1972 Patsy got out one day and did some yard work raking around the big lilac bushes. I’m sure they were in
bloom and the wonderful smell was intoxicating. But a few days later she broke out in rashes all over her legs. It was a bad case. The
problem was that she was still nursing Leslie and didn’t want to take cortisone, which is, or was then—maybe still is—the preferred and
most effective treatment for poison ivy.
There was of course lots of poison ivy in the yard…the house hadn’t been lived in for eleven years and so there was plenty of poison ivy all
over. We didn’t know enough then, babes in the woods that we were, to even know what poison ivy looked like. We got out our books and
found it and the immortal verse, Leaves of three, let it be, and learned to watch for it.
Patsy got better but it took several weeks. She used calamine lotion, a drying agent, and maybe some other home remedy stuff, but her legs
were so infected with the stuff that at night she had to sleep with the sheets propped up so they wouldn’t touch her legs. She suffered
I was apparently more or less immune to it. I got the stuff out of the yard and it didn’t bother me at all. But as the years went by, I became
allergic to it. By this time I knew enough and had been all over our farm enough to know that it was everywhere. Poison ivy is a vigorous
and aggressive plant that tolerates sun or shade, can climb trees as well as run into a patch of grass and take it over, grow also as a free
standing bush. In the fall the leaves turn a beautiful crimson and it is a handsome plant. The berries are an attractive off-white.
Don’t eat them on your cheerios…you won’t be very cheery. Back in the 60s when everything was possible and urbanites took to the
country in joyous naked bands and called themselves back to the land hippies, one poor woman in California decided before she went on a
woodland hike that she would render herself immune to poison ivy, and so she made a sandwich of it, ate it…and died. So it’s virulent stuff.
When we quit cropping the farm I noticed that it spread much, much more. I had mowed paths in and around and through the woods—about
2 to 3 miles of paths—that we walked and kept mowed through the year. There was poison ivy on both sides of the path, worse in some
places than others. We could have sprayed it with an herbicide—I think Round-up is effective—but we didn’t want to kill all the other
vegetation. My plan, which we didn’t stay there long enough to carry out, was that I would spray with an orchard sprayer a little bit at a time,
starting at the edges of the paths and working outward. But it didn’t happen: I grew old and unable to do much of that kind of work,
and then we had to sell out and move.
Maybe someday someone will find a good use for the stuff—maybe it could be used to fight terrorism! Yes! That’s the ticket! Why not? I’ll
just phone Donald and away we’ll go!###
DAY SIX OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., June 6, 2016
About 7 Rip came down with Adah and then Joni came down with a platter of meat. June finished boiling the fresh sweet corn on the cob
and put the steaming corn into a big bowl, and covered it. She put on a small bowl of radishes and a glass with fresh carrots and poured
water. All the while I wrote here and read the newspapers and sat on my duff.
We turned to and ate. Adah wanted to sit in the white chair but accepted the idea that that chair was for her mother, and that she should sit
in the red chair, which was more appropriate for someone her size.
She looked dubious for a moment, but then when I asked her if she wanted some corn on the cob, that diverted her. Yes, she did, she said.
Did she want butter? No, she said firmly. No butter. I eat mine with lots of butter and a little salt, I said. I cut off a square of butter from the
stick on the little plate in front of me and held it on the knife and buttered the ear of corn back and forth. Adah watched and changed her
mind. She would have some butter too. She took hold of the stick of butter with her right hand. Adah! everyone said. No! But she leaned
over as if to lick the stick of butter. Adah! No! Adah no! You can’t lick that! Did you lick that? Adah smiled faintly—I think maybe she was
teasing us—and then sat back while Joni buttered it for her.
Joni and June were talking about working in the garden. I used to love gardening, I said, but I just can’t do it anymore, I said this to no one
in particular. June was talking about tomatoes and how they didn’t freeze well, they had to be canned. Rip was looking up something on his
iPhone. Adah was eating the corn on the cob at a remarkable pace with just one hand while her other hand reached into the bowl of
radishes. She took one and rolled it around on the table and reached for another. No, I said, one radish at a time.
Adah looked at me with that sly knowing smile. As we were finishing up I picked up the dishes and began to carry them to the sink. Can I
help? Joni said. I shook my head. Talk, I said. She and June went on talking, and Rip chimed in, now talking about how they would harvest
the apples. I can’t pick but I can cut them up, June said. I can cut up anything. I’ll cut apples all day long if someone just brings them to me.
Charley! she said sharply, turning to me. You’ve spilled corn all over the floor. I looked down, and she was right. Bits of corn everywhere.
She swatted at my shirt. And all over yourself, too!
I’m an old man, I said, smiling at Adah. I can’t help it.
Adah looked at me, eating now her second—or third—ear of corn, holding it and waving it about like a lollipop. There were bits of food
around her chair, too, and on her pretty little shirt, too. We were in this together, I thought happily.###
Sun., June 5, 2016
In 1956 I was in the Navy and stationed at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma. I was a clerk-typist in the personnel
office in the main administration building. I was a low-ranking Yeoman, 18 years old, and as I was given liberty every day at 1630 (430 pm)
until the following morning at 0745 (745 am), and since I was single and silly, I ran about in town every night. I carried on, as we used
to say. Every evening I was looking for by my own definition, a good time: drink some, eat some, chase around from bar to bar and pretend
that I was looking for a girl to go with the fact that I was a sailor. (I was actually terrified of girls and had been since high school.)
In such a rundown condition after a few months of this I contracted pneumonia and was placed in sick bay for an extended period of time—
nearly a month. I coughed a great deal and to ease the pain of the coughing, I guess, the doctor prescribed a course of a drug called
seconal (secobaritol). I took it and it cheered me up and eased any and all pain, physical and psychological too. When I got well and they
discontinued it I was not happy, and climbed the walls or, as we said in the Navy even when we were ashore, bulkheads. I jumped up and
down on the decks and ran up and down the passageways and climbed the ladderwells and the bulkheads. I was an agitated sailor. I had
become addicted to the drug, the doctor said, and he put me back on the seconal and then withdrew its administration very slowly.
And in due time I was discharged and went back to my regular duties of typing things like In accordance with existing directives issued by
cognizant authorities you are here by ordered to depart this station at 0001 and proceed to… And other such documents as my seniors
directed. The pneumonia was forgotten; the seconal was forgotten. I ate a little better, slept a little more, and went on with my life. I got
married soon after, barely 19, and my wife and I set up housekeeping in an upstairs apartment ($65 a month, bills paid) on Jenkins
Avenue in the fair city of Norman, Okla.
Thus ended my brief period as a drug addict. Years later, one time for recreational purposes (as we say now) I took a dexidrine a couple of
times and that was fun. The idea of taking anything stronger—heroin, cocaine, or whatever—was beyond the pale for me and maybe for all
young people of that time. We had heard and read in the newspapers about the degenerate actor, Robert Mitchum, who had been arrested
in a marijuana den in California. (We pronounced it the way it sounds, with a hard j.) We did not want to end up like him, with
puffy narrowed eyes and general degeneracy written all over our young faces. ###
DAY FOUROF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
June 4, 2016
Another beautiful morning in Olympia in the shade of Mount Rainier. I’m almost ashamed of myself getting such good weather after
spending most of my life in Kansas, where good weather comes in a very small package and very infrequently. If I were a kid today I’d go
outside and play baseball. Not being a kid anymore I can remember.
I wasn’t much of a ball player of any kind of ball. We played work-up on vacant lots and on the schoolground, where it was every man for
himself. If there were teams to be chosen, I was usually the last man standing—that is, it came down to “You take him, I don’t want him,” the
captain of one team would say to the other. It wasn’t that I had bad breath or was a Nazi spy or anything, it was that I was inattentive
and just not a competitor. I was thinking about spelling or what the capital of Bolivia was and the ball would get hit and by the time I
realized it was headed my way I only made a perfunctory lunge for it—I didn’t want to fall down and hurt myself—or it went whizzing past me.
I loved words and I came from a family that loved words. We sat around talking about stuff like was there such a word as irregardless, and
since of course there wasn’t, we chuckled about people who used that word as if it really existed. We had a big dictionary in the living
room—always. We took four daily newspapers and read every line of every one of them.
My mother taught me to read when she encouraged me to read the comic strips aloud to her as I lay on the floor, four years old, and Mom
sat in her chair smoking a Chesterfield cigarette and working a crossword puzzle in the Indianapolis Star.
I was very interested in capital cities and was quite competitive at spelling bees. In high school I memorized the license plate numbers of
my friends’ cars. A blue ’49 Chevy would come down the street and someone would say, Oh, there’s Joe, and I would look at the plate and
say, No, that’s not Joe’s car. His plate is RL 7945. And I was right. It’s a habit. My new license plate here in Washington is AZU7642. I just
can’t help it. I know June’s social security number as well as my own and I do all her spelling, which she is not good at.
You will never read in the papers that at 80 I climbed Mount Rainier. But I knew how to spell Rainier even before I moved out her, which is
more than I can say for a lot of folks who live here. Somehow they think it’s RANIER, and maybe it should be, but it isn’t. I am not the
greatest, that’s for sure—that title, as everyone knows, belongs to the Muhammud Ali, who passed into history yesterday at the age 74. ###
DAY THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
June 3, 2016
I’ve always done the dishes. I stood on a chair to do them when I was a little kid in Indiana and later in our natal village of
Rewey, Wisconsin, and then on the farm in Kansas, the old Docking Place, not two miles from where I did a million dishes on our Letter Rock
Park farm or forty-four years. And now I’m doing them here in the long house in Olympia, Rip and Joni’s house, where we have lived now
for nine months.
And I’ve come to love it. I suppose if you emptied the slop jars every morning for sixty plus years you’d come to love it.
I usually do the dishes every night if I don’t do them right after the meal. When it’s just the two of us, I let them stack up a meal or two. But
when Rip and Joni and Adah all come down I do them at the end of the meal and they’re done and on the drying rack before I go to bed. It
makes me feel good and makes me sleep better.
I’m not talking, obviously, about putting dishes in a dishwasher. That’s a different path. We had one when I was a boy living at 232 Pine
Drive, house built by my parents in 1951, very nice and ultramodern home, had a dishwasher, one of the first in town. People came
over and Mom would give them the tour and always stop at the dishwasher and show how it worked. And it worked pretty well. Of course,
you washed the dishes before you put them in. It was a place to store dishes that might not be perfectly clean. When you turned it on it
made quite a to-do about doing the dishes, heating them dry, all that. But when I moved out, except maybe for the big house Patsy and I
lived in in Stevens Point, Wisconsin—the big five or six bedroom house we bought as a lark, the very house that had so many rooms (just
the two of us lived there) we’d live in three or four of them for a week or two and when it got all messed up we’d move to another 3 or 4,
and so on, forestalling the day when we had to spend all day, a Sunday usually, reorganizing the whole place—anyway, we had a dishwasher
there too and I guess we used it. It was so long ago I don’t remember.
But on the farm I washed the dishes. June did all the cooking. I don’t know how to cook a thing. I couldn’t melt butter or peel a potato.
June did it all, cheerily. It relaxed her to cook, just the way it relaxes and restores me to do the dishes. June gets out there, What do you
want for supper, always wants to know and then fits what I ask for to her own needs—Chicken Kiev becomes a chicken sandwich with chips
on the side, or—well, not really. In the olden days when we lived at Letter Rock, June turned out great meals, huge meals for all of
us, Lamb with Master Sauce, vichyssoise, she’d try anything and do it pretty well. She was and is a great cook. But the days of the elaborate
meals researched days in advance with half a dozen cookbooks from the shelf where we had 500 or so…those days are over. We’re both
happy not to spend so much time at the table and in the kitchen.
But she still does all the cooking and I do all the dishes. ###
DAY TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 2, 2016
I can’t sleep so I may as well write.
Now and then I think about why I’m writing all this, why over the more than one-half a century I’ve been keeping a journal, have I written
about my life in such detail. The answer I have come to hold to is that I am writing a history of my own mind and feelings, a history of my own
sensibility, to use an old word. It is and will always be unique in the history of mankind. I’m not saying my mind is any better (it’s not) than
that of others and therefore of interest generally. I’m just saying I am and will be for x number of years to come part of the history of the
world. We don’t have a true history of the world because 99.99 percent of the humans have lived and left without leaving any history. I
choose to leave mine, and I hope and believe that others will leave more and more of their own.
Does that make any sense, or is it a little too rarefied? I don’t think so. Or, failing any general interest in the history of this smidgen of
collective human experience, this “item of mortality” (Charles Dickens, writing of his newly born Oliver Twist), namely me, may be of interest
to his own immediate progeny. Take the best and leave the rest.
Yesterday after our meeting downtown we ran errands, driving out Martin Way to Winco’s, the grocery, and running through the big store,
we spent about $50 on grocs for the week. We have this down pat: we divide up and have a list and don’t dither. I’ll get the yogurt and milk
and eggs and ice cream, I say, and June says, Okay, I’ll get the prune juice and the batteries, and so on. It doesn’t take long, maybe twenty
Then we hustled back down Martin Way to Goodwill, where we do some recreational shopping and maybe spend five or ten dollars. I buy
books, paperbacks 50 cents and hardbacks a dollar. I bought a beautiful coffee table book called Sacred Places of the World. I don’t really
put it on the coffee table, I put it on the back of the toilet and read it on the john. I don’t like to read on the john, but in my dotage I have to
spend more time there than I want to, so I may as well make it interesting.
I bought a few other books, June bought some odd bits of cloth (she loves cloth the way I love paper) and a couple of new glasses (I break
a few every week washing dishes), and then we were zooming along toward home, out East Bay Drive to Boston Harbor Road.
June was immediately ready for a nap but I said, I’ll be right along and I made an ice cream sandwich from the Caramel Toffee ice cream we
bought. An ice cream sandwich, the way I do it, is a layer of ice cream in between two other layers of ice cream, and it’s pretty good. And
then I laid down for my nappie.###
DAY ONE OF THE 22ND LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., June 1, 2016
I was a lucky kid in that I had aunts. On my mother’s side there were two or three but we never saw them and I barely knew them. I don’t
think I could name them. Bessie was my mom’s older sister but she lived in Indianapolis and after the War we never went there. My Uncle
Les had a wife but she died early on—I think her name was Easter. Mom had another brother and he may have had a wife but I don’t even
know their names. I never met them. We were just not close, and this was partly due to the fact that my father wasn’t very interested in
going back to Indiana to visit and they never came to Kansas where we lived.
But on Dad’s side, I had four aunts who really mattered in my life: Pearl, Matie, Maude and Isabelle.
Pearl was the one I saw the most and knew best. And she was quite a character. She had no children of her own so she was everybody’s
mother. She wasn’t exactly motherly, not the type to be in the kitchen always making cookies or sitting under a lamp darning your
socks. She was married to Gordon Williams, who was a good uncle but for many years he was a drunk and Pearl had to cope with that.
Finally, somehow, he sobered up and helped her manage a store that she had worked in for many years doing alterations for tuxedos and
wedding dresses. It was called the Plass Toggery Shop and it was across from the biggest hotel in Dubuque, a big Iowa river town across
the Mississippi from our ancestral home state of Wisconsin.
Pearl worked for “old Mr. Plass” (as he was always called) for years and when he died he left the store and everything in it to her. So she
had a going business and an income and Gordon helped her. I think he was the counterman, greeting the customers and getting the
garments off the rack and, I guess, handling the money too. Pearl did the sewing and probably the fitting too. Or maybe Gordon helped with
that, I don’t know.
Gordon was always good to me. I remember he smoked a lot and sat and talked about baseball and other sports with all the uncles and
others. One time when we all lived in the ancestral village of Rewey, Wisconsin (population about 300)—where my father greup—I got
slugged by some other kid and I bawled and Gordon said Why didn’t you hit him back? And I said He’d just hit me again, and
Gordon laughed at that. He was a somebody I could talk to: he didn’t ignore me.
During the War years Pearl and my mother became close friends. For about six months, or maybe longer or maybe not so long, we moved to
Rewey from Indiana and rented a house just down the street from her and Gordon. Gordon worked in a mine outside of town—a zinc mine, I
think—but my dad was still overseas and we were waiting for him to come home. ###