|The LifeStory Institute
The writer's workshop for memoirists, autobiographers and family historians.
Founded in 1991 as a how-to newsletter/magazine, LifeStory, 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,
The 5th Journalong, which was to have begun April 1, was unable to be launched due
to technical difficulties. This problem persisted until this morning, and so here I am ...
late. We will have our Journalong, it just won't be a full 28 days. It will run through
April. Here's how it works. I am here to encourage you to journal, that is write in a
journal of your own every day and so you make it into a daily habit that almost
guarantees you will get the writing done that you want to get done. So I write here
every morning sometime before 6 am, you log on, read what I've written and then write
yourself in your own journal at home. It is not my intention to write well here. It is
simply to write. If I write a good line or two, so be it. But just now I'm most interesting
in training people to develop the habit of journaling.
--Charley Kempthorne, editor and publisher.
All material on this website unless otherwise indicated is Copyright 2014 by The LifeStory Institute.
Sat., April 19, 2014 TODAY!
Twelve days left in April: 12 days then to finish NJ. Is that doable? And at the same time get 142 out? Even so, I’m having
great doubts about the saleability of NJ. I know where to market it and I think I can do that, but is the book itself a stupid
idea? The great problem in working all alone is you can go pretty far with a nutty idea. And is a book about journaling using
my own journal entries to illustrate it…is that sensible, saleable?
How else would I do it? Use the journal entries of others? Use fewer entries?
And then how many people are there out there interested in journaling? Books on journaling do sell. Look at the books by
Ira Progoff, the Intensive Journal guy. And now and then I see books on spiritual journaling. Why not one on storytelling
journaling? Telling your life stories one day at a time to result in a full picture of your life and your family’s life?
Spring is here and I now see plainly all the work outside that has to be done: fix the sagging eaves troughs on the Shops
building, fix the door to the Mech Shop, do everything in the Art Shop, fix half a dozen gates that either barely work or don’t
work well; rake everything, and of course all the garden. We better start watering right away…
I was dumb enough to come here and live in 1971, and dumb enough to think that I was smart enough to fix anything and
everything. I did everything from overhauling tractor motors to wiring the house myself. I had no experience working with my
hands and I wasn’t “mechanical” at all. As a result, everything I fixed or built is, well, half-assed.
I didn’t come here back then to live as a country gentleman in a fine house: I came here to fend for myself, to live in the
country and make do. I got my wish. I became a fair carpenter, a fair plumber, a fair farmer and gardener and orchardist; I
became an excellent painter; a fair electrician, a good general laborer…even for a time a fair animal husbandryman, even a
bit of a veterinarian…I became a man for all seasons, mostly summer.
I did what I did with my odd, assorted life. Now I wonder why I did it. But I did it. Doesn’t everyone in certifiable old age, as I
am, wonder about his life? It’s part of the aging process to go through that.
Walmart yesterday was a madhouse. It was Good Friday. The huge building rang with the noises of children screaming
because they weren’t getting what they wanted for Easter or they were screaming for joy because they did. The parents
looked harried and overwhelmed. It wasn’t unusual to see some young family rolling along with four or five children all under
ten hanging from their arms or riding in the cart. I was only an old man trying to find a bedside clock and an oximeter. I
found both, though my wife said I paid too much for the oximeter and I realized myself I got the wrong clock and paid too
much for it, too.
The truth is I’m not a good shopper. I will never be good at it. Everything goes black, and I come home with the wrong
things. I am better than I used to be, and I’m pretty good in the grocery store. But Walmart… I liked it better in the old days
when you went into a store and asked for a clock. The clerk went and got a clock and put it in front of you and you paid for it
I will say this for that clock I bought. It has a blue readout light and when I plugged it in it somehow figured out the time and
started working. Now that’s technology. 663 words, 29 minutes.
Fri., April 18, 2014
Driving in town today and I’m at the stoplight by the Mall, and I see three city workmen standing on the corner leaning on
their spades and gabbing. I smile to see this but inwardly I groan: there’s probably $75 per hour of our tax money going up
while these goof-offs stand there. I begin to seethe a little as I wait for the light to change. One of the guys suddenly leans
back against a pole and starts rubbing up and down, making almost obscene pelvic gestures at all the cars and trucks
waiting for the light. He gets a seraphic look on his face and just before the light turns green I realize: he is scratching his
back against the pole! I just have to laugh, driving off, laughing out loud, crying inside.
Sure sign of spring: an ant races across the keyboard of my laptop.
I didn’t work hard in the Navy. After Boot Camp and Service School, where I was worked pretty hard, I can’t say I did a real
day’s work for the next three years. Well—hold that. When I was on shore duty at Norman, Oklahoma, I worked hard doing
office work. I did it because I liked doing it for a few months, and then I caught on: don’t work so hard, the war was over. I
learned to get a piece of paper and carrying it in my left hand at all times. Get a hot cup of coffee and sip it as you walked
around the building swapping stories about the night before with all the other sailors. As long as you had some paper, you
were all right.
Aboard ship we worked about a quarter of the day and then skylarked the rest of the day. Even the officers, even the CO.
We reasoned that we were paid to be there, to be eternally vigilant (we said with a smile and a wink), just in case the world
ended. I guess if we’d found a post to scratch our back against, we would’ve. As the Soviets used to say, “We pretend to
work and they pretend to pay us.”
I honestly wish that I had stayed on the farm. Well, I guess I have in a way. I’ve spent now more than two-thirds of my life
living rurally, even though I’ve sometimes worked fulltime in town. I lived on the farm in Indiana, in Wisconsin, and for forty-
four years here in Kansas. I love cities, and I’ve lived in New York, Kansas City, and LA for brief periods, as well as four big
university towns: Madison, Iowa City, Lawrence, and Manhattan. But I like getting up in the morning and walking out on the
deck (now that it’s warmer) in my shorts and breathing in the country air.
But I’m not knocking city life or anybody who loves it. When our kids were little we would take our vacation and go to Saint
Louis or Chicago or somewhere like that, get a motel and do all the city stuff, shopping, museums, all that. You can’t shop in
the country. There is nothing out here for sale. I like that. 536 words, 18 minutes.
Thur., April 17, 2014
I’m going to play twenty years ago today! That would be April 17, 1994…
Okay, I lived right here, that’s a sure thing. Probably at this hour I was either still asleep or writing in this Journal. I was of
course doing LifeStory, maybe by this time on about issue no. 30…? I hadn’t yet written my book, For All Time, but I was
probably compiling material for such a book about writing family history. I had quit housepainting as a means of support.
June still did it and had some helpers.
Rip still lived at home. He was just 15. Ben had gone out into the wide world and was working painting for big painting
contractors in cities like Tulsa or Seattle or Indiana…I forget the name of the town. He travelled, painting for a guy who did
work all over.
Well, that was boring. Maybe I’ve told all my stories. I’d probably have to refresh my memory with some of the artifacts from
1994—photographs, objects, talk to June. I think later that year I went to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas where a
friend had invited me to come and speak. And my daughter had brain surgery in Seattle. I flew for the first time in many
years. I flew to Seattle to be with her and then down to Las Vegas and then back home. I didn’t like flying. I always said I
wouldn’t mind it if they would let me drive. Of course I’m not a pilot. I can drive a car and my riding mower. I guess I had a
tractor or two when I farmed back in the 70s.
In the 40s I was still a boy. We lived on a farm not far from here, a couple of miles, and my older brother and I farmed some
of the land, and we had a tractor—first a small Farmall Cub, and then a Ferguson 9N. My brother was very mechanical and
kept everything going; I was allowed sometimes—at the age of 9—to drive the tractors. My parents were if anything too
permissive about that. But all the neighbor kids did the same thing. But they were really farm kids: our dad was an
ophthalmologist and an otorhinolaryngologist…what did he know? He and Mom bought the farm out of nostalgia
and…craziness, I think.
So I was allowed to use the brand new four-gang harrow to work up a wheatfield down by the creek, maybe ten or fifteen
acres of open ground but with a big stump in the middle. I sang when I drove the tractor, of course as fast as it would go. I
sang (no doubt) O! Columbia the gem of the ocean! And maybe even something by old Nat King Cole, maybe The Old
Master Painter from the Faraway Hills! Painted the lilocks and the daffodils! And while singing and turning in the field I
hooked the far right harrow onto the stump and that lifted the entire gang of harrows high into the air and kablooey! Back
down onto the field, a twisted mass of steel that missed me by inches. I swear I saw one of the six inch spikes go past my
I am here today without a spike in my head by the grace of God. 564 words, 18 minutes.
Wed., April 16, 2014
I apologize for being late this morning as I have been for several mornings recently. I am having some insomnia—trouble
getting to sleep, trouble staying asleep and then somehow in the wee hours I fall into a tumbled sleep and oversleep. I don’t
know what a tumbled sleep is, but that feels right.
The good news is that in my dreams I was much younger and I decided to run for the US Senate, and I won. Senator
Charley Kempthorne. When I was even younger than that I actually thought about running for President. I never did, but a
friend of mine did, and he got 159 votes. I might have gotten that many or more if I had run: but as everyone knows, I didn’t
run and I didn’t win. Somewhere in there I decided I didn’t want to be President, after all.
There was a pretty time in our history when every kid was encouraged to grow up to be President and everyone’s parents
encouraged them to. Now I guess the parents want them to be a hedge fund manager or another Elvis or play for the
Houston Oilers or something. Well, fine.
The truth is I would make a lousy congressman. I hate meetings, and that’s all those people do is have meetings. I would
always be the one saying, “Oh, come on, you guys, lets…” And I would always be defeated, because I don’t like to win.
That’s why I wasn’t any good at sports: I wanted the other guy to win. I didn’t like losing, but I didn’t like winning, either.
Story of my life.
Still, I wouldn’t mind winning the Nobel Prize, and I could use the money. Actually the biggest literary prize I ever won was
4th place honorable mention in the Kansas Authors Club poetry contest, and the prize was $4 in cash. People don’t believe
that, but it’s true.
My life is the story of coming in second—or not at all. I almost won a teacher of the year cash prize when I taught at his little
college in Wisconsin. I took 2nd place in a general intelligence contest (I guess you’d call it, for lack of a better name) when
I was in 6th grade. My prize was a plastic comb. I don’t know what they gave the guy who won third place.
I should get a prize from the IRS for paying my taxes on time. I expect something from them momentarily. I hope they spend
Well, anyway, I’m not sending troops into Ukraine. Or Syria. Or even Texas.
It is still cold and my wife just made a fire in the stove. I am having trouble bending over easily and so she has kindly taken
over that chore. It was 59 in the living room this morning. I am sitting here wrapped in an afghan.
The day looms. The sun is up. It is going to be windy and warmer. Why couldn’t it just be warmer, without the wind? 563
words, 22 minutes.
Tues., April 15, 2014
I have to remember to mail off our tax check today. I don’t mind paying it so long as it goes straight to President Obama to
take the day off and have some fun with his wife and kids. Or maybe to pay for an elegant dish of green beans, say, for
John McCain’s retirement dinner, especially if I’m invited to attend. Which honestly, I doubt will happen.
But I will pay. I’m a citizen and it’s an honor.
It is cold. I’m afraid we’re going to lose our pear crop as well as the smaller tree blossoms too—the apples, the peaches
certainly, and the apricots. This is Kansas, land of the spring freezes that come before the scalding summer. June and I are
going to get out there and hose the blossoms down as best we can…three in the morning in the light of a nearly full moon.
We must be nuts. I hope no one sees us.
I just read a prefatory essay in the Norton Reader about keeping journals. I am long, long out of the Academy and very
happy to be so, and read this essay brought it all back.
For twelve years, from 1959 to 1971, I lived the university life (except for a year out to tend to my psychiatric problems at the
great Menninger Clinic, and that place was pretty collegiate too) and I have to say I love every minute of it. I even loved
leaving it, and the truth is that though I did finish my work there in June of 1971, it was many many years before I really let go
of it. Even today I hang onto some of it. Once you get a college degree, you can never really get rid of it. And the more you
have, the harder it is.
What I’m talking about is one part pedantry, one part, probably the biggest part, the ego of being smart, and another
part…what? Something like bathing in the approval of the world. None of these things are good for you. Yes, are. Being
correct is incorrect. High society is low society, etc. I think of old Robert Mitchum, coming out of jail after serving 30 days
for possessing marijuana, and he was asked how it was. “Oh,” he said, “a lot like Palm Springs, only without the riff-raff.”
Here’s where I’m still an academic: I remember that one of the major themes of 19th Century American literature was that
you cannot have both self-respect and respectability.
I bought a pineapple the other day at Aldi’s and last night Melissa cut it up. The four of us sat around that bowl of dead ripe
pineapple with our forks and made quick work of it. That was the sweetest pineapple I’ve ever tasted.
I just hope a few of those thousands of blossoms on our pear tree make it through the night. That tree, now nearly 40 years
old, has produced delicious fruit for us all along. I like them crisp and juicy. I don’t like them when they get mushy. Once
they’re ready, I eat at least one a day. 531 words, 24 minutes.
Mon., April 14, 2014 TODAY!
I awoke in the dark. I sat up. I stood up carefully. I went to the bathroom. The little clock said 5:24. I got my bathrobe off
the hook and went out to the kitchen and pushed the button on the coffeemaker. It was cold.
The fire was out. The thermostat said 62. I went to the door and poked my head outside. Snow on the deck. Oh God. And it
was snowing still. I took the little flashlight from the window sill and looked at the temperature gauge. 29 degrees. I closed
the door and went back inside and sat down here to write.
Just yesterday morning we were working in the garden in short-sleeved shirts. I raked an area smooth and broadcast a
packet of wildflower seeds meant to attract hummingbirds. Now it was snowing. No respectable hummingbird would
come here. The big pear tree is in full bloom. The peach tree, the apricots probably won’t make it through this. Kansas. Why
do I continue to live here?
One time in the late 90s we drove up to Edmonton, Alberta, and did a workshop at the beautiful Provincial Museum there.
The day we arrived, July 11th, it snowed. It didn’t snow a lot and it didn’t accumulate, but it snowed, and everyone laughed
and lived through it. One million people, the largest northern city in the world…and we were there, and it snowed.
Uga-ugaboo-uga-boo-boo uga. This was actually a song I remember from my youth. Phil Harris made it popular, and the
next line was, Bingle-bangle-bungle, I don’t wanta leave the jungle: I refuse to go!
That was the culture I grew up in, the 40s. Then came the Fatuous Fifties, the silver screen dominated by such luminaries as
Doris Day and Rock Hudson. There I was in Manhattan, Kansas, population then about 12,000 people, the home of Kansas
State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. Oh, how we chafed under that name while the University of Kansas down
at Lawrence sneered at us, calling us Silo Tech!
But we beat them at basketball. Yes, we took those basketballs away from them and beat them over the head with them
until they cried and asked for their mother! We laughed at Clyde Lovellette and called KU Solo U. Hahahaha!
That was how I grew up. Beating people with basketballs, watching and falling in love with Doris von Kloppelhoff (aka
Doris Day), and playing on the campus of the College of Aggercultchur.
One friend left town and moved to Oxford, England, where he got his Ph.D. and became the chaplain of the university.
Another went to Chicago and became a famous actor and teacher of comedians and comic actors like Bill Murray and Alan
Arkin. Yet another went down to Kansas City and danced in the burlesque theater and then went to Hollywood and became
the leading lady of the likes of Bing Crosby and Yul Brynner. Still another went to work for CBS and became a national voice
and then a writer on Western history.
And I, what have I done? I have consorted with pigs and sheep here on the farm, the very place where even as I write this
morning, it is snowing.
Uga ugaboo ugabooboo uga! 547 words, 25 minutes.
Sun., Apr. 13, 2014
My mind is unique, just as everybody’s is. But I’ve kept a record of mine, and most people have not kept a written record. That’s what I used to think, but I
just betcha there are hundreds of people out there who are recording somehow their every thought these days. It’s possible to do so, and so I’m sure
some of us are.
How many are keeping a narrative journal, as this one purports to be, I do not know. Maybe the main reason I go on journaling is simply habit and exercise
for my fingers.
Or to keep my memory alive. I am starting to fumble over words. The other day I couldn’t remember the suffix put on the end of a word to mean “lover.” It
came to me later, -phile, as in bibliophile, book lover. Well, who would want to remember something like that, anyway? Only pedants like me.
Also the other day I wrote a letter to a cousin and told him I had been diagnosed with “lumbar ridiculopathy ,” and as I started to click on Send for that letter
my eyes fell on that word and I realized I had misspelled it. Stop everything! I went back to the word and corrected it to radiculopathy because I would not
want my cousin, a doctor, to think that I was unable to spell the names of my various conditions.
Could this be said to be ridiculous? Certainly not radiculous.
When I was in 5th grade I was the last kid standing more than once in spelling bees. They did not have a national spelling bee back then or surely I would
When I taught Freshman English in college years ago I always had a front row filled with students (usually girls) who not only were perfect spellers but also
great sentence diagrammers. I was a good speller but I could not diagram sentences for sour apples. I’d study up the night before and walk in and put
something on the board that made English sentences look somehow like math exercises and I’d make my point and then step back to show the class.
One of those ladies in the front row would slowly and slyly raise her hand and said, “But Mr. Kempthorne, should in the back (or whatever) be a prepositional
radiculopathy? I’d look at the board, blushing to the roots of my then black hair, and I’d be forced to squeak, “Why, Miss Endotulio, I do believe you are
right.” And all the front row would smile maligno-benignly, six little Patty MacCormick’s auditioning for The Bad Seed.
Meantime in the back rows were students in art and engineering demonstrating various states of repose, their lanky boy bodies spread across two or three
vacant chairs as they waited for the bell to ring so they could make a quick escape to fresh air.
These were the said same youth who went out and invented the computer even as their girlfriends in the front row went out and demented the world with
English teachers. And these lads just so they could talk to one another in some mathematical gibberish stumbled across the invention of email, which has
done more to encourage literacy in our culture than a throng of English teachers with fistsful of diagrammed sentences. 556 words, 28 minutes.
Sat., April 12, 2014.
II live in cattle country and they need pasture for their cattle, and it has been ascertained by various scientists in the field of agriculture that the
pastures should be burned every several years to increase the growth of the grass.
And they are burning now. Smoke is everywhere. I and others in our rural neighborhood have lung conditions that the smoke affects in a negative
way. It lasts for a few days. Today it was terrible. I stayed inside as much as I could but it was a beautiful spring day so I went out to work some.
Anyway, you can smell it even inside.
So I live with it. I am not a beef eater, I am mostly vegetarian. I guess if I moved to a city I could breathe exhaust instead. When I lived in Wisconsin I
lived near paper mills and that stuff probably wasn’t good for me, either, and the pissy stench was awful—the entire area smelled like a urinal in a
beer bar about 2 am.
Years ago I raised hogs. We only had a few but the saying was of their manure smell that “it smells like money.”
For some years I earned my living and supported my writing habit by painting houses inside and out. Fresh paint has a smell. I never really looked into
the medical significance or insignificance of that odor. It goes away in a while.
I’ve never lived near an oil refinery (Houston, for example) but I imagine they say the same thing there.
To my knowledge I do not give off any odor. I’m sure that like other humans I occasionally emit a tiny bit of no doubt violet flavored methane but
it…doesn’t bother me! (But it doesn’t smell like money, either.)
Why can’t it be light whenever I get up in the morning? It’s still dark! How disappointing, God. You can do better.
When I was a boy I loved Saturdays and it was always light when I got up. In fact it was broad daylight. Later on I learned that it was possible for it to
be eerily light when I got up. Well, that was okay, just so long as breakfast was ready. Now—no breakfast, no one else is up, and it’s dark. Ugh.
My first bicycle cost $13 and was a used bike with no fenders. Of course it didn’t have any fancy gears or narrow tires or any of that. It was just
someone’s old bike, black color, no name on it that I recall, no bell or light or anything. But I rolled up a pants leg and got on with my dad pushing me
down upper Poyntz Avenue and then he let me go and I was on my own, terrified and joyous. On Saturdays Charlie Kerchner and I would bike all the
way downtown to the State Theatre and for 12 cents we’d get it to watch great movies like The Raiders of the Ridge with Roy Rogers. Roy, whose real
name I learned later was Leonard V. Sly and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio—Roy was my hero. He could do no wrong, though if he spent too much time
smooching with Dale Evans, then I went out to get some popcorn.
Many years later I worked in that theatre taking tickets and making popcorn. 562 words, 23 minutes.###
Fri., April 11, 2014
The worst thing in the world is to sit here and stare at the blinking cursor on a white screen. Better to turn put your computer to sleep and go wash last night’
s dishes. If I could physically do that this morning—the sink is full of dirty dishes—that’s what I’d do. But my back is killing me. I’m going to PT this
morning and have high hopes. Meantime, I’ll write something in praise of washing dishes which, actually, has been and continues to be a big part of my life.
I probably helped my Mom wash the dishes down in Indiana during World War II. I can see myself standing on a stool in the kitchen in front of the tall
windows. Maybe that memory is made up, but I do remember lying on the floor next to the refrigerator (ice box) and counting by fives to 100. I couldn’t have
been more than 4 or 5 years old. Later in Kansas I remember very well doing the dishes and singing. Leaping forward to being in my 20s, married, and
washing the dishes in Wisconsin I broke a glass and cut my hand rather bloodily and had to go to Dr. John Grinde downtown and get it sewed up. After that
I was always careful to wash the glassware first and very carefully.
I still like to do the dishes. It’s something I can do to improve the world and it’s right there and it’s easy. Now in my old age it warms my arthritic hands.
Standing up is getting more difficult.
I remember a song popular during the War that had a line in it about “Leave the dishes in the sink, Ma! Leave the dishes in the sink! Tonight we’re going to
celebrate…leave the dishes in the sink!” This tune was evidently whistled and hummed and sung without the slightest irony in the sure knowledge that
when everybody in the family got through celebrating and came home and went to bed, there Ma would be dealing with the dishes in the sink.
I never saw my father wash a dish. Not once. When I married June forty years ago and she took me home to visit her family we all had Sunday dinner
together. Afterwards I stood up to help with the dishes, as did the women. The men of the family looked at me like I was some kind of traitor to my class. Of
course, I was a long-haired hippie, and what could you expect of such a creature?
Speaking of, it’s been on my mind lately, this hippie thing. And, Reuben Corbin, I’ve been thinking that the Hippie Revolution was the most important
revolution of the 20th Century. The Hippies not only did the dishes, they refused to join the guys down at the bank making money, they refused to do
anything the way their fathers had done things. The insane War in Vietnam had made us all sane, or aware that we needed to struggle to be sane.
And there I was in the thick of it. I didn’t smoke much marijuana, I didn’t do any other drugs, but I sure did let my hair grow and I sure did drop out from my
career track academic teaching job and I came right here to this place on November 18, 1971 and I was among those who went back to the land.
So as soon as I publish this, I’m going back to the kitchen and do the dishes. 592 words, 32 minutes.
Thurs., April 10, 2014
“This is where I came in.” That’s what we used to say when, having entered a movie theater in the middle or at some point other than the beginning of a
movie, we realized we’d already seen what was being shown. It’s hard to believe now, but that’s the way we went to the movies in the 3os, 40s, and 50s.
Now of course it would be unthinkable to be so artistically clueless as to watch a movie from middle to middle rather than beginning to end. But that’s the
way we were.
And now, life, I sometimes feel, I have been living it middle to middle and this is where I came in.
I haven’t written anything any good for days. But I continue to practice. The late Truman Capote, a wonderful writer with a tart tongue, said of Jack Kerouac,
who wrote up to 10,000 words a day on a red-hot typewriter fed paper on a roll of the kind used by Western Union teletypes--Mr. Capote said that Jack was
“a typist, not a writer.” Which may well be my case, though I am not so good a typist as Jack was.
Yet I continue. I practice. I do the scales…do, re, me, fa, do, la, te, do. Isn’t that how they went?
In grade school we had Miss Helen Gerard, surely as long-suffering a lady as ever trod the boards. She would take out her pitch-pipe and toot on it and lead
us in song, or what we called song. Yesterday morning sitting here in a funk with June, both of us droopy and a little depressed truth be known—yesterday
morning I tried to get her to sing O Columbia the gem of the ocean with me. She looked at me blankly. But if all the world got up and sang for fifteen
minutes, then wrote in their Journal, then chatted among themselves about how their night went, and then ate fruitloops and milk or whatever—what a nice
world it would be!
In high school Mr. Elbert Fly prevailed, and Mr. Lawrence Novell. Now Mr. Novell, who was a handsome young man just out of the service, we really liked.
He died maybe five years ago. I used to see him in the grocery store and I would chat with him. Once I asked him about his service in World War II. I don’t
recall just what it was he did, but it was pretty dangerous and brave stuff. Those guys did what they had to do.
Our current generation has…what? Traded the stocks they needed to trade? Opened the coffee bars they needed to open? Climbed every bank
Maybe that’s not only not so bad—that these kids today are obsessed with food and their stocks—at least they’re not killing anyone. Are they? Not directly,
And I went all the way through the Navy—three years, five months, and 28 days—without so much as firing a pea-shooter, emerging at the tender age of 21 a
veteran with callused fingertips from all that typing of such famous Navy phrases as, “In accordance with existing instructions, you shall…”
532 words, 23 minutes.
Wed., April 9, 2014 TODAY!
Maybe I’ve told every single story I have.
That’s hard to believe. More likely I’ve told all the apparent and obvious stories, but the really important ones are still buried. Some of them may be
uncomfortable to bring to the surface of my mind. Some of my life is still obscure to me. Maybe it’s all a dream. After all, how about the song: Merrily, merrily,
merrily, gently down the stream…life is but a dream?
I have no memories before about age 4. I lived in Texas for a few months—Merkel, Texas, near Camp Barkeley, where Dad went to learn how to salute and
stuff like that. I remember vaguely the sun, the house we lived in—a room or two in somebody’s house—and going once to the camp, board sidewalks,
tents. My next memories are of Indiana, and there I remember a number of scenes, and I remember my grandparents quite well. This would be I guess
from 1942 or early ’43 to 1946. I remember the Old Holler, I remember the little “tile house” across from the school near Poland. I remember the Birkbecks,
our neighbors, Mrs. Birkbeck (Gramps called her Mrs. Brickbat), Jimmie Birkbeck—a couple of years older than me—and Babe Birkbeck, a couple of years
younger and my first girl friend.
I remember my brother and I exploring the little 25 acre farm. I remember the farm animals, the big garden, the pond down in the valley, going flower hunting
with Mom and my brother… Reading the comics aloud, Mom reading V-mail from Dad, who was serving in the Army Medical Corps in North Africa.
I was born in Minot, North Dakota. How as a youth I envied people who were born in New York City or Paris or Los Angeles or even Kansas City. When I told
people I was born in Minot, they inevitably said, Where’s that?
I remember nothing of that very northern city. We moved when I was 2 or 3. I guess it was a cold day when I was born (January 24) because that is a cold
place. A couple of years ago I met someone from Minot wearing a sweatshirt that, on the front said, Why not Minot? But on the back it said, Freezin’s the
reason. I have not been back to Minot except for one dark night driving back from Canada and we were tired and got a motel and slept six hours and got up
and left in the dark of the morning. We were in a hurry to get home.
Someday soon I would like to go back and stand in the town square (or circle, or whatever they have) and just look around and see where I got myself into
I don’t know why I am such a nut about this stuff. Some people play golf. Some people like waffles. Life is a mystery. We have to do something while we
wait, don’t we? Don’t we? 500 words thirty minutes.
Tues., April 8, 2014
Writing bad I guess requires you put your education on the shelf and risk seeming to be an idiot. Long ago I decided, at least in the context of writing that I in
fact was an idiot and a snobbish stuffed shirt and it was killing any creativity I might have, killing any chance at writing anything interesting, let alone g-r-e-a-t.
So I let go and let God, in a way, and that saved my life. The idea was, no one would know: I would write this way and let it go and click on delete when I died
and no one would ever know the difference.
I hobble around. I have something the doctor called, with a smile, lumbar radiculopathy, and then he said, “I know, that sounds ridiculous.” Pain in the back
and down my left leg. Because of my COPD, I don’t have the stamina/breath to do a lot of work. But I can sit and write comfortably and for that I am very
I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago. Old age humbles you. The older you get, the more ailments you have, the more living you do, the more you realize
that this body and this earth and everything in it isn’t yours. I know that’s a simple-minded remark that we nodded yes to when we were in Sunday School
seventy years ago; but the knowing of something doesn’t mean you understand it, that you feel it. Now at 76 I feel it.
I heat up the coffee and sit at the couch. It’s not cold. I turn on the news. The plane that went down in the sea west of Australia has not been found. UConn
has beaten Kentucky. Actually, that I knew, because I had stayed up to watch the game. I watched it on our bedroom TV. June didn’t want to watch it so and
she pulled the pillow over her head and finally asked if I could mute it and just watch. Obliging, I did that. The game was about over by then.
When I was a lad of 13…it was 1951 that Kansas State played Kentucky for the national title in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My father and mother decided to
drive up there for the game. This was in March, I guess, and it was snow, snow, snow in Minneapolis. And K-State lost 58 to 68 to Kentucky. My mother
was born in Kentucky but I have never very much liked that wonderful state since that time.
If someone were here with me (and awake), I would invite them to sing with me some of our old grade school songs. I was no singer, but now I look back I
loved singing in grade school. Mrs. Mason would get out her pitch-pipe and toot on it and away we go with O Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean or Down in
Mexico or When Johnny Comes Marching Home.
For it’s hi hi hee in the Field Artilllery/And the caissons go rolling along!
To this day I have no idea what a caisson is. I know it is not something to eat…is it? 526 words, 22 minutes.
Mon., April 7, 2014 Day 1 of 5th Journalong THAT'S TODAY!
I am looking at one of our favorite pictures of Rip. He was about a year old, it’s probably summer of 1980. He is in the living room in some kind of a light
jump suit and he has a hammer tucked in it, weighting it down to waist level so that he looks like a miniature tarzan of carpentry. In one hand he is holding a
huge screwdriver. Half the other hand is stuck in his mouth as he sucks on his fingers. He is looking right at the camera. His brother Danny is behind him,
grinning at the camera. Everybody thought Rip was very cute—he was the youngest by far—and of course he was. Now he is 34 years old, is a journeyman
longshoreman in the Port of Tacoma, Washington, and is a father of a child, very cute also, a little older than he was when this photograph was taken.
I suppose everything young is cute, kittens, piglets, little baby armadillos. Stalin as a young man was quite handsome and debonair. I’m sure he kissed
the girls and made them cry—or maybe scream bloody murder.
Such are my bizarre thoughts early this April morning, March having gone out not quite like the lamb we thought it would: cold and getting colder, a windy
black night that seems to have taken our spring away. Yet I am grateful to be here on this “most weary unbright cinder” as Thomas Wolfe once said of our
dear planet, Earth.
Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar: all for the Earth, Stand up and holler!
But I am grateful. I am grateful that when I got up my son was still up, quietly working in the living room penning some art work and reading a book about art,
and he has made a fire in the stove that changed this room we have lived in now for 43 years.
I am grateful to have the honor this day to start this 5th Journalong, to finish LifeStory no. 141 and begin its printing and mailing, and to work a couple more
hours on my current book project. I will go to town at noon and see friends, and at 2 I will see my Meadowlark friends and we will write together. Maybe I will
have the honor, too, to not eat much and in the evening the others will fix a fine Mediterannean meal of some hearty Moroccan soup and… and I will go to
bed not clutching my abdomen but rather feeling merely full and satisfied.
I did eat today an apple, variety called Crispus Pink, that was nearly a pound and cost me $2.15. Had I known it was going to cost that much, I would not on
principle have bought such a megafruit. I tried to remember as I sat in the Dillons parking lot in my car and carefully ate it that what I was paying for was not
the fruit so much as the transportation cost—possibly from Morocco. 509 words, twenty minutes.