|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 26th 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.
Come journal with me! by Charley Kempthorne
DAY 24 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., October 24, 2016
I remember walking along a certain street in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas when I was in junior high or more probably grade school,
fifth or sixth grade, and I guess to pass the time walking I played Step on a crack, And you’ll break your granny’s back.
Of course the concrete sidewalk had hundreds of cracks, every section of it had a crack and then it was pretty old and there were cracks
going every which way as the sidewalk had buckled over many winters. My job was to avoid the cracks…to avoid breaking my granny’s
My mother’s mother died in 1943 when I was five—we lived down in Indiana then. So we didn’t have to be concerned about her back. My
father’s mother lived still in Wisconsin then, so she was the one I was concerned about.
As for the odd relation between my stepping on a crack in Manhattan and causing thereby her back to break…I didn’t really think that
through. Nor do I know who suggested this game. But I was concerned, and am concerned now, about the belief that I had almost
magical powers—even if in this case, negative ones. I loved my grandmother and didn’t want anything to happen to her, ever, and
certainly not as a result of my stepping on a crack.
So I played it carefully, and didn’t step on any cracks. You had to be fairly nimble.
I didn’t know my grandmother well, not the way my cousins back in Rewey, Wisconsin did. We’d go, at best, once a year for a few days to
see her. She lived in a little house in the little village of Rewey. On the edge of town on the road coming into town was a small white sign
that said simply, Rewey, Pop. 263. This was my father’s hometown. This was where he grew to manhood with his three brothers and two
sisters, and where, he once told me that he and his brothers one night on Hallowe’en put a board across a sidewalk, and an old lady—
somebody’s grandmother, no doubt—came walking along in the dark, tripped and fell, and broke her nose.
I remember hearing this sad little story more than once, but I may have heard it wrong. Maybe my father was just saying that she might
have broken her nose, or maybe she really did. It must surely have been a terrible thing if she did, and surely the boys would have gotten
in trouble. So maybe it didn’t really happen. But maybe it did, and maybe that was one small reason that my father grew up and became a
doctor of medicine and surgery, and, in fact, a specialist in eye, ear, nose and throat—and in the forty some years he was a doctor, must
surely have set many a broken nose.
Grandmother Kempthorne—whose first name was Minnie—Minnie lived to be 80 or so, always had cookies for me and my brother, always
wore a white apron, and always said, You boys. You boys! Eat everything on your plate. If you don’t, you’ll never grow up. You eat like
God bless Minnie Louise Nodolf Kempthorne, my grandmother, who was present on this earth from about 1876 to 1956. I sure would like
to spend an hour again in her kitchen eating a cookie as big as my hand and drinking a glass of cold milk and asking her what she thought
of this weird world.###
Sun., Oct. 23, 2016
In college I was always a serious student. I had been anything but that in high school. In high school I had taken seriously the games of
snooker and billiards and living what I thought was a wild life. School was just something I had to do, more or less, in the course
of getting to do the other things.
I had barely graduated from high school because I ran away from home in my junior year and laid out a year and worked three jobs instead
of going to school.
One of the jobs was working for the movie chain, Mid-Central Theatres (they wanted to spell it the British way in order to give it some
class), and there I met my future first wife, Betsy, and she was in high school, the class I had been in and if we hadn’t started going
together I probably wouldn’t have gone back to high school and finished up.
Aside from dating Betsy and learning to neck and all that—this was the first time I’d dated, really--I was into my work at the theater, it was a
lot of fun, and also at Graham Printers.
In fact I can’t think of a time in my life when I wasn’t serious and “into” my work, though the years that I was a housepainter, the later years
especially, I did it just for the money. Which was good, I had never worked “just for the money, day in and day out, and I needed to learn
how to do that; I still do.
Of course all this time in Lawrence and KU I was still in psychoanalysis at Menninger, driving up to Topeka two to three times a week,
paying $25 an hour for it, a lot of money in those days. I got behind in my bill, and I think my father may have given me some help—not
much. He had paid for the time I was in the hospital and he was tired of that. I did pay Menninger, and they were very patient—it took me
years to pay it down to zero.
It was well worth it, I felt then, and I feel now. My actual recovery from all my emotional problems, which is still ongoing, began that day I
walked into Menninger and met the beautiful and exotic Dr. Bernardez, who astounded me by introducing herself and telling me that she
was going to be my doctor. I thought she was kidding, I really did.
If I ever make a million bucks, I’ll give some of it to Menninger, even though they more or less left Kansas and went down to Houston,
Texas to become part of the Baylor School of Medicine. They saved my life, no doubt in my mind about that.###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., October 22, 2016
With the exception of that incident in the Age of Johnson course at KU, my experience there was wonderful. 1963 to 1966 were three of
the happiest years of my troubled life.
I had more or less succeeded in starting life over and I was, I felt, on the road to a successful career as a young writer, scholar, and
professor. I owed all that to the Menninger Clinic, which at that time was regarded as one of the best places in the world to be for a
patient or, in fact, a psychiatrist.
I had been lucky to go there. I think that I was a native Kansan and that my father was a doctor helped get me in. Maybe even more
important—surely more important—the psychiatrist I saw when I fell apart in late 1961 and 1962, trying to “be” a writer and failing miserably
at it (I felt then) to the point of a painful period of intellectual and creative paralysis—that psychiatrist, one Burritt Samuel Lacy, was a
Menninger graduate and he arranged to send me there. Sam was one of the heroes in my life. He is still around and though well into his
90s, is still active and maybe even is still practicing.
When I went to Menninger on May 14, 1962—a day I still celebrate as a huge red letter day—I was greeted by another of my heroes, Dr.
Teresa Bernardez, a native Argentinian who had gotten her medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires and had practiced
in Paris, who said in her accent, How do you do, Meestair Kempthorne, I am Doctair Bernardez. I will be your doctair. I fell in love with
her—it helped that she was a gorgeous young woman in her early 30s—immediately. She was brilliant, too, and a great doctor who helped
After weeks of struggling to say something here of interest and of use, I am suddenly confronted with having so much to say that I am
skimming over the surface. I am trying to write about my experience at KU and what I learned there. So I’m just going to jump back to that
and write a few words about the great Professor Dennis Quinn and what the French call explication de texte.
Dennis Quinn was a young man then—I think he is gone now—and was one of the most vibrant and popular young teachers in the English
Department. His specialty was 17th Century English poetry, which I knew nothing of. But I was an English major and loving it, and I was
eager to get into it. He came into the classroom, a short and stocky and muscular and handsome man, took off his coat and hung it on a
chair and loosened the knot of his tie and went to work teaching us how to read poetry, using a method invented by the French that
emphasized the overwhelming importance of reading very, very carefully, the text of the poem.
That sounds so obvious a requirement that you’d think, Well, duh! But for generations critics and lovers of poetry had focused on the
poet’s life and times, his or her wonderful imagery and other figurative language and not so much on what the poet was literally saying in
the poem. And Mr. Quinn was out to destroy that kind of reading and to replace it with explication. ###
DAY 21 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., Oct. 21, 2016
I came to Lawrence in early June, 1963, so I could go attend the summer session. I had it figured out that if I did the summer session, the
fall session, and the spring session of 1964, I could graduate. This had become an important goal in therapy: to finally graduate from
college. I had started nine years before, picked up a few hours and then gone into the Navy, where here and there I picked up a credit or
two...or at least one course in English, I think, or maybe I didn't finish. It's been a long time! But anyhow Dr. Bob Menninger, my therapist,
and I decided this was something to work for.
And so I did. I took a course in American history, a big five hour course, half of what I needed, and then I took a 3 hour course in Literature
in the Age of Johnson.
A couple of bad things happened that summer.
The first thing was because I had been honest on my entrance papers and admitted I had been in a mental hospital, some power that was
decided I would have to get clearance (I think that was the word) from Student Health. Being in a hospital in those days was a red flag and
really kind of a disgrace. You were labeled a Mental Patient and were viewed through a whole different lens.
Anyhow I trundled over to Student Health and saw a psychologist of some sort. He interviewed me for about half an hour, asking me the
kind of questions I was by then used to, how did I feel about being in a hospital, how did I feel about this, about that, and so on. It was kind
of humiliating but I wanted to get it over with. Then the guy drew himself up, sat back, and said, "Well, you don't seem violent."
At that moment for the first time in my life I felt like doing violence to another person. I wanted to strangle him. You don't seem violent!
What an insulting creep. Of course I didn't do anything, I just sat there and took it like a whipped dog. And so he signed off on me as a
The other thing happened later in the summer in the 18th Century lit course, the Age of Johnson. At some point we were asked to write a
research paper about Johnson, the windbag who ruled the roost in 18th Century English literature. So I knew how to research and write a
paper--I was pretty much a straight A student in my major, which was of course English--and so I went at it hammer and tongs.
I decided I'd do a psychoanalytic study of Samuel Johnson. In the library at the Menninger Clinic, which I had access to, I was able to find a
study of him by a psychoanalyst and I quoted extensively from that, being careful of course to make sure my quotations were marked and
all that. I cranked out the paper, which I thought was pretty good, and turned it in.
A few days later the papers came back. Mr. Gold, the instructor, handed them back. I was expecting an A with the usual comments about
how excellent my writing was. I got a rude surprise. On the last page was a long and angry comment and a big red F, followed by the curt
words, See me.
I had never had a grade like that in college work, never. I turned red as I walked away quickly, not wanting anyone to ask the friendly
question, What'd you get? I found a corner and sat down and read all the criticisms of it: I had used yellow second sheets instead of white
paper, my assertions about Johnson were not merited, and psychoanalytic studies were spurious...and maybe other stuff too.
When I went to see Gold next day he greeted me coldly and immediately said I'd plagiarized my paper. "Worse than that," he went on, "you
tried to cover your plagiarism by removing the pages of the relevant article in the Psychoanalytic Review." I believe he actually showed
me the journal from the university library with the pages missing. I reddened and stammered and protested that I hadn't used the
university library at all, that I was a patient at Menninger and I had used their library. At this point just admitting that I was a patient was
Gold was surprised but he wouldn't back down. He didn't apologize and in fact said that my paper wasn't good work anyway. The F stayed,
and I remained in the course and got a C for the course ###
DAY 19 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Oct. 19, 2016
When I was a kid in graduate school at Lawrence (the University of Kansas) in 1964 for two years I was trained as a scholar. I was majoring
in English and I learned how to write “papers” that were modeled on the idea of “proving” things. You made some kind of
assertion about (say) a poem, and then you proceeded to examine the “evidence” for that assertion.
Stay with me here, please, I’m going somewhere.
If for example I said that the theme of the poem “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden was alienation in modern life, I had to prove it.
And I had to prove by evidence from the poem itself. It wasn’t any good to try to prove it by saying that Mr. Auden himself was alienated.
That was ridiculed as “biographical criticism” and as such was not a good argument. I had to find evidence in the poem.
Well, honestly, for a while I really found this interesting to do or try to do. I saw myself as a kind of detective trying to crack a case. If I
could track down any of my papers, which call got pretty fair grades as I remember, I’d bring them forth here to prove my case. But they
are not at hand. And anyway this stuff was really, really boring.
But the idea of providing evidence for every assertion that you made stuck with me, and has stuck with me to this day. It’s very much like
the scientific method of making hypotheses and testing them.
For me it has carried over into my everyday life. If my wife says she likes tomatoes, I want to know why. “Defend your thesis,” I tell her.
“Explain your assertion.” “I just like them,” June says. “I like them sliced and diced cold or hot or…” “But why?” I say. “Why?” And she
shrugs and looks at me disdainfully and eats her tomato. She has proven that she likes them, I accept that. But she has not shown why I
should like them, or why anybody else should like them. Get it?
So in politics when someone says, as Donald does every morning promptly at 3 am, that this or that is true, I want to hear some proof. It’s
not okay to make the assertion over and over six ways to Sunday, you have to produce credible reasons for it. You can tweet it or
tweak it or twaddle or diiddle it, but that isn’t enough. You’ve got to bring forth reasons why you believe it.
When nine different women make the charge that Donald groped them and put his hand up their skirt, we need evidence. We need to see
the hand, we need to see the skirt. It’s not enough just for these women to go on TV and say he did x or y, we have to have evidence, at
least a handprint..something tangible.
And so when I say that I am sick to death of this election, that I don’t like politics anymore, that for the next 21 days I am going to crawl
under a rock, I have to prove it. I have to ask and answer, Why?
Well, here’s my proof. I like apple pie. But if I ate 5 apple pies, I would be sick of them. I would almost certainly be physically sick and
throw up. I like politics and political discussion, or at least I used to. I have, for sure, eaten at least five political discussions. And I think I’
m going to throw up. ###
DAY 16 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., October 17, 2016
I died in a dream last night. June and I both died. I didn’t actually see us die, but we were scheduled to die. We were in some kind of
waiting room or lobby. There were other people there but they weren’t scheduled to die. It wasn’t exactly an execution. We were in
some kind of a hospital setting and we were to go down at a certain time. A nurse explained it all to us.
One time when I was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—back when I was still alive—old Kurt Vonnegut came around and talked to
us young writers, and he told us this joke:
A man was about to be executed in the electric chair. He was asked if he had any last words. “Yes,” he said, looking out at the small
audience of reporters and officials. “This will certainly teach me a lesson.”
For me death dreams aren’t all that uncommon, nor are they all that bad. I believe that my dreams have meanings, and usually my dreams
of death signal a significant change in my psychic life. An old self is dying and a new self is being born.
I don’t even know what self died and what new self was born. I don’t know why June was in this one. Unless when she wakes up and tells
me she too has had a death dream where both of us died I’m going to figure this dream is all about me and my perceptions. Maybe June
and I together, our relationship, has undergone some kind of change.
I have voted in general elections in Wisconsin in 1960, in Kansas in 1964, in Iowa in 1968, in Kansas again from 1972 to 2012 and now I will
be voting in Washington in 2016. I’ll be voting this time with a mail in ballot.
I have never seen anything even remotely resembling voter fraud. In 1976 or maybe 1980 I sat on the Election Board in rural Manhattan,
Kansas. Actually the voting was in the tiny town of Zeandale, Kansas. Maybe half a dozen of us arrived in the wee hours of the morning
and worked all day counting and recounting ballots and went home about 12 or 14 hours later, our job done. If I remember we did the
whole thing, set the polls up (paper ballots marked by hand in those early days), ran the election and everything related to it down to
making sure the restrooms were open and functioning.
It was a long day and when I went to sleep I dreamed of counting ballots, not sheep. We must have counted the ballots a thousand times.
Of course it wasn’t that many, but it was a lot, a specified number of times and if there was a miscount we had to do it all over again, of
I think my late friend Irene Bailey was the chairwoman, and my late friend Pete Dempsey was the only Democrat besides me. The Dems got
just a handful of votes, and the precinct went for the Republicans…not surprising.
Voter fraud has been shown again and again through investigations to be a way of suppressing voter turnout.
Dreaming that I died doesn’t take me off the voter rolls. Dreaming is just a dream. And anyway, this whole election is turning into a
nightmare. It would be kind of nice to die, actually, for about 22 days, and come back to life as a human being again on November 9. ###
Sun., Oct. 16, 2016
In 1964 I got an appointment as an assistant instructor in the English Department of the University of Kansas. I was 26 and I was thrilled
as I never had been in my life. Yes, I had gotten a BA at KU a few months before and now I was admitted to the Graduate School and I was
going to work on an MA and I was in training to be a literary scholar and I was writing, a little, not a lot, just enough to keep the dream
alive, but for sure I was reading great literature and teaching.
When I walked into the room where I met my first class I was scared but I was soon confident that I could do this. We had a syllabus to
follow and every morning all of us met with regular faculty, professors, who talked about what to do and what to teach and
other problems, but we were given a lot of freedom to teach as we thought we should--after all, we had been watching teachers teach
now for 16 years, and we should know something from that, shouldn't we?
And so it was. English Composition 1 was a great all-university course. Everyone had to take it. We were teaching not just lit-ra-chuh but
also, and maybe even more, something called "critical thinking." We were supposed to teach these kids how to think. Okay, and part of
that, a big part, was to analyze what was put out there by the media and others in advertising. We taught some logic, a little bit of formal
logic like syllogisms and so on, but mostly we--or at least I--taught these young men and women how to look at an ad, print ads
mostly--that was still the great age of print media in 1964--how to look an an ad and see all the logical fallacies in it.
Smearing, special pleading, reductio ad absurdams and the parade of horribles, post hoc fallacy...all that and more. I wish I could
remember it all. I wish I had my notes from those days, and in fact I may have them, still, yellowing and curling up at the edges, in
some box or other in our storage unit back home.
More than any of these techniques I tried to impart the idea of "fair play." I think this phrase and this concept came--or at least I credited it
to them back then--from the British. The great British idea of play fair, on and off the court. It was one part being a gentleman and one part
being honest and one part believing fervently that, above all, above anything about winning or losing, was the idea of Truth.
Of course those are quaint ideas now. Maybe they were then, come to think of it. As for me, I’m going down fighting against it. I’m going to
battle till I’m done for for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. I just bet you are too. We all know what it is, and we all know how to do it.
As old Nancy Reagan used to say, Let’s just do it. And let the chips fall where they may.###
DAY 15 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., October 15, 2016
I have participated in every US presidential election since 1948. I was only ten years old in 1948 but I read about it in the newspapers and
we talked about it in school and I very much supported Thomas E. Dewey—“the little man on the wedding cake”—in his Republican
candidacy. Of course he lost, rather famously, because he thought he was going to win. In those days it took a long time to get all those
ballots counted—paper ballots of course, all counted by hand.
But enough of them were counted by bedtime election night that he thought he was the winner, and so he trundled off to dreamland.
About midnight it became clear that he had lost, and two reporters went to his mansion to talk to him. They were greeted at the door by a
butler who loftily told them “The President-Elect has retired for the night.” One of the reporters suggested that he waken the “President-
Elect and tell him that he is not the President Elect."
Of course Harry S. Truman won and became one of our best presidents.
I didn’t vote in 1948, of course; nor was I old enough to vote in 1952, when Ike won, or in ’56, when he won again. But by 1960 I was old
enough—22 years old and a veteran too!—to vote and so I voted for John F. Kennedy.
In 1964 LBJ, who had taken over after Kennedy was murdered in late 1963, won handily over Barry Goldwater. I did vote for LBJ. In
1968, it was Hubert H. Humphrey, “the happy warrior,” who ran against Richard M. Nixon, aka “Tricky Dick.” Tricky won, then won re-
election in ’72, but was forced to resign, and Ford became the prez. Carter won against him in 1976 but only served one term. I voted for
Carter in ’76 and again in ’80 against Reagan, who of course won that term and again in ’84. In 1988 Bush Sr. ran and won; then two terms
for Bill Clinton until 2000 when Al Gore very nearly won over George Bush #2, who won two terms without my once voting for him. And
then in 2008 Obama won, and got my vote then and again in 2012.
And that has gotten us to 2016, and here we are. That’s 68 years of American history, 1948 to now. Whew!
In those 68 years we have muddled through, I guess. It could have been a lot better. I guess Hillary is going to win the day in a
few weeks, and I imagine in 2020 she’ll win again, as we will have by then gotten used to having a woman run the show (another whew!),
and the Donald will be starting his own country over near Russia (one guess as to what the country will be called…could it be…Trumpia?);
and I will run then, yes, I hereby declare my candidacy for the nomination in 2024.
I will be 86 and, I predict, in fine fettle. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll run for a second term in 2028. I may retire then. But if the people
DAY 14 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., Oct. 14, 2016
Isn’t everyone happy that we’re having an election? And only three more weeks plus! Well, that gives plenty of time for everyone who
has been a victim of “the Octopus” to come forth.
I am fortunate to live in one of those states of the USA that has voting by mail, so I will fill out my ballot at home in a week or so and drop it
in a box located around the fair city of Olympia, Washington. But I have stood in line and voted with paper ballots and with machines
(which in Kansas unfortunately does not have a paper followup or trail, apparently)…but recently I’ve been hearing about the
phenomenon of "poll watchers," which is really frightening. I heard Pence just this morning encouraging this—volunteers to “watch”
people voting. What would they be watching for? Do they have the authority to walk up to someone and ask why they’re voting, are they
eligible, and all that? I don’t think so. The only reason they’re there, if any are, will be to intimidate.
Obviously if this happens we will have "watchers" from the other side—watchers watching the watchers—and intimidating one another
and the voters and worse. This should be brought out by HRC or DJT at the final debate next Wednesday and both candidates should
discourage such behavior.
Yesterday coming back in the rain from our town errands I came into a roundabout in the righthand lane and I needed to get into the left
lane June told me, so I quickly signaled and tried—I saw a white car behind me—and figured he’d let me in. You signal, and they let you
in. But he didn’t. His horn began blaring and he leaned on it until he pushed past me, forcing me almost to get off the road, coming within
a foot of me…and he roared on.
At first I just figured, well, an unhappy guy, bad day at work and he’s taking it out on me. Road rage. And maybe I shouldn’t be trying to
change lanes as we’re turning.
I still think, probably I was in the wrong. It’s a custom if not a law, don’t change lanes while you’re turning.
But also I think the fact that we had a Hillary 2016 sticker on the bumper probably contributed to the rage. I’m sure it was a man driving, a
big white panel truck…one of those guys who feels impotent and insecure. He could have just muttered a soft curse to himself and let
me in. He knew I was signaling to get in. But he chose to push me aside and barrel past me. He could have let me in.
I was in the wrong, but he could have been understanding and polite and let me in. While we don't need poll watchers, we may all soon
need--I do need--someone to watch over me. ###
DAY 13 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., October 13, 2016
Everyone dreams—little babies, dogs and cats, probably salamanders for all I know. I know I dream. These nights I’m dreaming, it seems,
all night every night until I waken in the morning.
This morning I wakened dreaming about a cemetery that was more like an artistic installation. I was visiting with the curator/artist in
residence as he showed me around the spectacular place. There were ingenious installation/tombs that were a series of
perpetual motion machines, little balls that rolled down a track and dropped onto another and so on around and around. Little cars tooted
and mini-pedestrians, probably friends of the deceased, walked around and around as bells rang in the church steeple…it was quite
I’d like that, I woke up thinking, I’d much prefer something like that to a solemn slab of granite that only gives my name and address.
But of course who would pay for the maintenance of such a thing for eternity? You’d have to charge admission.
Why do people dream and what is the meaning of those dreams? I believe that I dream partly—partly—to relieve stress. I have plenty of
stress. I always have had plenty of stress and always will. I think sometimes I sleep in order to dream and to relieve my stress.
But even so, given that, why do I dream what I dream? Why did I dream about a new kind of graveyard? Well, one guess…I’m an old man.
Remember the dream of the old man in Wild Strawberries? (a movie that every old person should—or maybe should not—see.) The old
guy is walking down a deserted street. There is a clock on a post on the street—remember the kind we used to see in cities? But this
clock has no hands! The old man walks on. The only thing you hear is his footsteps and the beating of his heart.
Suddenly a horse-drawn hearse comes clopping around the corner and by him when the horses stop with a jerk and the rear doors of the
hearse fly open and a coffin slides out and with a clunk lands on the pavement and…the lid opens too because of the impact. The
old man walks over and leans down to look in. A hand reaches out and takes hold of his. It is the dead man’s hand—OMG! The dead man
And he wakens from his dream sweating and scared.
I have seen this movie a dozen times since it came out fifty or more years ago, and to watch this scene still makes the hair on the back of
my neck (where I don’t have any hair anymore) stand up and bristle. I want my mommy!
But we were talking about, I was writing about, why we have the dreams we do. Duh.
Actually and really, all life boils down to two philosophical statements. Duh is one. And the other was uttered by the greatest philosopher
of the last couple of centuries, Popeye the Sailorman: I am what I am. #journaling.
[As always, I hope you'll write along with me and keep your journaling habit going. And your comments here are invited.]
DAY 12 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., October 12, 2016
One hundred years ago today my father was a 13 year old in Rewey, Wisconsin. He was the son of the village blacksmith and it is likely
that after school he went right to the shop to help out.
Maybe for the fun of it he ran from the schoolhouse to the shop—just three or four blocks apart—carrying his schoolbooks over his
shoulder tied up with his belt that he had taken off moments before for just this purpose…and he ran, and he ran, heedless of the books
bouncing against his back, not caring about the pain, a boy lithe and lean and all youth running down the main street and probably racing
with his twin brother to see who got to the shop first.
“There go the Kempthorne kids,” the tavern keeper might observe to his only customer at that time of afternoon. “Look at those kids go.”
The customer turned away from his glass of beer and peered out the door and down the street. “I never ran that fast to go to work, did
you, Erv?” he said. “Maybe their dad is taking them fishing, like as not,” he went on. The bartender nodded. “I hear they’re biting on the
Pecatonica,” he said.
The boys raced on. Both got to the big heavy front doors of the shop at the same time and both claimed to have won. They laughed and
slapped each other on the back and hugged a little and slipped inside the dark shop where they saw their father stoking the forge. “Just
in time, boys," G. R. said. He spat into the fire and the bit of liquid sizzled on the glowing coals, which the boys silently watched,
momentarily transfixed. “What did you learn in school today,?”
They were used to this little routine. “I learned that September has 30 days,” Charlie said, grinning. “Thirty days hath September,” Charlie
said, and his brother Guy picked it up. “April, June, and November,” Guy said. Charlie nodded and said, as their father listened, smiling,
absently stoking the fire again, making coals sparkle and rise as they were drawn to the chimney. “All the rest I can’t remember,” and
then Guy, “Why ask us at all?” and then together they said, laughing as they had when they were racing, “There’s a calendar on the wall,”
and both boys pointed to the big printed calendar tacked to the wall by the great oak desk where their father figured his accounts. And all
three, the two 13 year olds and the man nearly 40 now, all in the bloom of life, laughed merrily.
Or something like that. I have no idea what happened, really. I’m just guessing. It’s an educated guess. Isn’t that what history is, mostly—
an educated guess?
How about a thousand years ago today? That would be October 12, 1016? Except that it wouldn’t be October 12, would it? For sure they
didn’t have a brightly printed calendar hanging on the wall. I don’t think I’m going to go there this morning, a thousand years ago. If I went
there on this dark morning I might not come back.###
DAY 11 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., Oct. 11, 2016
When I was a kid I went to movies on Saturday morning like every kid and we had movies stars who were our heroes. Roy Rogers was my
hero. I went to one of his movies at the State Theater and by buying a ticket (12 cents) I got a free 8 x 10 color photo of Roy and his horse,
Trigger. I pinned it up above my bed in the bedroom I shared with my older brother. When I was falling asleep I would have fantasies
about stuff that me and Roy would do together, riding horses around and busting the bad guys and things like that. But sometimes I’d
need a refresher of just how my hero looked, so I’d pull the string attached to our overhead light bulb and turn on the light and look at the
picture again. Of course, this annoyed my brother, who was trying to fall asleep.
Roy Rogers, in case you don’t know, was one of the three or four great movie star cowboys of all time. His real name was Leonard Slye,
and he was from Cincinnati, Ohio. His competition were guys like Gene Autry (widely known as Gene Artery), Hopalong Cassidy and the
Cisco Kid…I don’t remember the others. Roy was married to Dale Evans, who appeared with him in many of his movies. They were a great
Hollywood couple and I think even today there is a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum somewhere in Southern California. I understand
that Trigger, Roy’s horse, has long since died and a taxidermist stuffed him and he stands in a prominent place in the museum. Someday I’
Well, my admiring fantasies of my life with Roy was about 1948 or so, and I was ten years old.
Now, nearly 70 years later, I still sometimes have trouble falling asleep, and so one of the methods I use is…fantasy. If I think about real
things I get wound up and even sometimes have ideas I turn on the light to write down. This can annoy my wife, though mostly she’s a
good sport about it or she’s fast asleep and doesn’t notice.
Not so much anymore but sometimes I still have what I call ‘master of the universe’ fantasies. I am the President, I become Pope…little
things like that. Or, more often, I am the World’s Greatest Living Writer and I am giving my Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech.
It’s quite a speech, really. Very well written.
Of late—they say Old Mortality is the greatest teacher—of late I have begun to soft-pedal the fantasies and think of myself as a writer
among writers. It’s okay with me and it’s apparently okay with God, too: I haven’t heard any complaints from Him. So all I have to do to be a
writer among writers is work at writing. I like that. It’s a good fit. Maybe I’ll let others win the Nobel Prize, give them a chance. I kind of
like being just an ordinary schmoe. ###
DAY 10 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., Oct. 10, 2016
I never really had the nerve to use the Big Lie technique. I don’t know just where it came from—probably from cave men—but it mainly is
based on the old saying, If you’re going to lie, make it a Big Lie, and tell it with a straight face over and over again. I couldn't do it.
But I did learn how to lie and lie and lie.
One day when I was in high school I took $5 from my mother’s purse. She had several bills in there and I just took the five and left the
rest. I didn’t think she’d even notice, but she did. And she told Dad about it and told him that she was sure I took it because it couldn’t
have been anybody else in the time frame that she had her purse out in plain view in their bedroom.
When I was confronted I lied and said I didn’t take it. The circumstantial evidence was brought up and I baldly continued to lie. Well, I
didn’t take it. I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t. My parents were angry but they finally gave up, knowing that I wasn’t going to back down. I
learned from this: just keep lying and they’ll have to give up on you. Oh, they’ll believe you’re lying but they can’t say, Gotcha.
I had in high school quite a career going on the side as a juvenile delinquent. I shoplifted, I destroyed for the fun of it (oh, it’s so
much fun to hear glass breaking), I lied, cheated, stole…I learned how to do all these things. Luckily they didn’t have videotapes back
There is a movie, Defending Your Life, made at least twenty years ago now, with the great Meryl Streep and Rip Torn, script by Albert
Brooks and he’s in it too. The premise of this movie is that when you die, you go to a place called Judgment City, where you are tried and
either sent to Heaven (Nirvana) or back to earth to live life over again until you get it right. The movie is a scream and it’s instructive too.
I’ve seen it many times and if you told me it was on at a theater near me I’d drop everything and go there and buy a bag of popcorn and be
glued to my chair for the next two hours.
In the trial both the prosecution and the defense have access to a videotape of every moment of your life. So if you get up on the stand
and you assert that you’ve never stolen anything in your life, then the prosecution might well call up Tape no. 13-450 and show you
snitching a yoyo from the Woolworth store. And there you are, caught.
Then the defense might respond with a video of you helping an old lady across the street. And so on, and finally a judgment is rendered
and you go forward or back to earth. Along the way there are delightful side trips to the Museum of Your Previous Lives and to the
restaurant where you can order anything you want, as much of it as you want, and everything is delicious and it’s all free, and best of all,
you’ll never gain any weight. How’s that? ###
DAY NINE OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Oct. 9, 2016
When I went back to Wisconsin and to my teaching job at the University at Stevens Point, we rented a dilapidated old wood frame
farmhouse thirteen miles from campus in an isolated and marshy area called Dewey Marsh. There were only three houses down our road.
Ours, which had been empty for years when the owners, the Gburkek family, pulled up stakes and moved to California.
The house was in the middle of an apple orchard, maybe 8 or 10 trees of various varieties. Some of the trees were old and unproductive,
but enough were still going strong that we ate apples every day and put them up, ate them baked, boiled, broasted and roasted and fried
and fricasseed and, of course, raw.
Every morning in season I would grab and apple or two and eat a crisp apple on the way to work driving the long road through the forests
going right up to the edge of the campus. I got so spoiled I wouldn’t eat a store-bought apple or, God forbid, a cold storage apple. “So
mushy,” I’d say, tossing it into the garbage or setting it aside for cooking or making into sauce. “When I bite into an apple I want to hear
the snap of the bite!” I was arrogant about it. I lived in an apple orchard, after all. I could afford to be.
We also had grape leaves which my wife stuffed with meat and rice in the manner of Greek dolmathes, the fact that the leaves were fresh
made everything taste so very, very good.
As a kid I had grown up on fresh country food but then when we moved to town we ate the same old stuff that everybody else ate. “What
are we having for supper?” would be answered in a word with the name of the meat we were having, because nothing else really counted.
Cheese was Velveeta cheese, cheese of a kind that a young person today—they being gourmets, all—would not allow on their table. We’d
have macaroni and cheese from a box…something called “Kraft dinner,” that we actually loved but my father, a little more sensitive to the
idea, at least, of good fresh food, whole and natural—Dad called it “crap dinner.”
My mother wasn’t an imaginative cook, though she did a good job with certain dishes—peach cobbler, and all the meat dishes, which she
took very seriously. But to her the idea of going out into the yard and gathering fresh grapes leaves for supper—well, that would have
seemed to her bizarre. If she ever served anything like that, any “foreign” foods, it would be in a can—Spanish rice comes to mind—or
frozen green beans cut French style.
Like most mothers (and mothers nearly always did the cooking except maybe when there was an outdoor barbecue), Mom was big on
opening cans and boxes and jars. She had grown up on home-made and country food and having processed foods was, for her, a step
forward in cuisine of such great extent that the idea or reverting to country food was unthinkable.
It was a whole different world then, and the world of today where the young people concern themselves with spices grown in different
places, pairing wines with foods, and discussing food while eating it down to almost the molecular structure of various foods…it is
bewildering to an Old Folk like me. #journaling
DAY EIGHT OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., October 8, 2016
In more than fifty years of coaching writing I have met as much talent as any teacher and maybe more; and the irony is that most of them
aren’t writing, or aren’t writing much. And it isn’t that they don’t have the fire in the belly to do the writing, they do; they have in fact an
aching as well as a burning to do the writing.
They attend the workshops, they buy the books, they subscribe to the magazines, they go online, they talk about it, and most of all they
think about it, obsess about it even. And they still won’t start.
Why don’t they, then? Because they are afraid. They have writer’s block, which is 100% fatal. It is a form of perfectionism. Perfectionism is
making their best the enemy of their good. They think about writing, oh they do, they think about how good it’s going to be, how great they’
re going to feel when they finally—oh, not today, no—when they finally sit down at their computer and open Word and go at it, and the
music begins. A little Rachmaninoff, please, and away we go, into the bliss, writing, oh, writing, oh, ladies and gentlemen…we are so
overcome we have to have another cup of coffee and think about it some more.
There’s a scene in one of my favorite movies, Doctor Zhivago, where Zhivago gets up in the middle of the night and in the fullness of the
moon and the sound of the wolves howling in the subarctic landscape he begins to write his poems, and the words come swirling at him
like the snow all around. And everyone in the audience is swooning at seeing the inspiration, the handsome young Russian doctor played
by old Omar Sharif, oh, it’s just too, too much.
Horseshit. Yes, horseshit! It doesn’t work that way.
It works when you work at it, day in and day out, going to your writing desk and writing stuff you hate, stuff that makes you almost puke at
its banality, that comes sweating out of your pores like: “Uncle Pierre went to the store and bought a clump of bananas.” And then you
shiver and you add: “He went to the store every day for his mom.” And then you read over the 10 or 15 words you have written and you
You are through writing for the day…or the week, or the month. When you do come back, finally, you write the same thing, only this time it’
s Aunt Suzie and it’s about apples instead of bananas. Whatever.
I have a suggestion.
Don’t write well. Turn the music off. Sit down and deliberately write badly. Just let go and write the crappiest stuff you can think of. You
went to the store and bought the bananas, you couldn’t find them at first, and so you…faltered. But you kept on looking for those things
and you finally found—not the bananas, but 500 words about the search.
And so you quit for the day. Don’t read it over to your spouse or your friends. Don’t even read it over yourself. Just save it and close the
program and go on with the rest of your day. Buy some real apples, maybe, or some bananas.
In your writing program, Word or whatever, there is a word counter. Find it and open it and put it on your page, so that every word you
write is counted. Mine is located on the lower left corner of my screen. Right now it reads 14,703 words. That’s how many words I’ve
written in my Journal since October 1.
I go for a minimum of 500 words per day, and in these ancient days I usually write many more than that. But I meet my goal at 500. If I write
499, I have failed. If I add a word in there somewhere to make 500, I’ve succeeded. I call myself a good, working writer. I make no other
The function of the Journal is to get me to write. Nothing more. #journaling
DAY 5 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Oct. 5, 2016
I feel paralyzed this morning. I stare at the blinking cursor. Ideas on what to write come to me and leave me like a mist. I have nothing to
say. Everything I have to say I have written about ad infinitum. With a journal of twelve million words, what can I possibly add? And if so,
In 1948 my brother and I helped put in the wheat crop. I was 10, Hal was 14. Dad was busy with his medical practice in town. Mom had a
new baby, our little sister, Kathy, just born in March, and so she had no time for much else than to care for her and get supper on the
table. My brother, who was a good and willing mechanic, led the way. Dad bought the equipment—a Ferguson tractor with a two bottom
plow, and we went at it, with advice from the neighbors and maybe a little more than advice—maybe Dad paid a neighbor farmer to disk
the ground for us, and maybe even to drill in the wheat. I think we had a harrow for awhile until I wrecked it, caught it on a stump while I
was speeding along and nearly killed myself as the mangled spike-tooth harrow whizzed past my head. I was a follower of The Hit Parade
on the radio and probably I was singing at the top of my lungs There was a boy-- a very strange enchanted boy—they say he came from very
far, very far-- as I remember it, something by Nat King Cole.
So much for the harrow. The hard red winter wheat came up in a few days, then went into its winter, dormant phase, and came back in the
spring bright and green and growing fast until it by May was maturing fast and turning yellow and was ready to harvest—“cut,” the farmers
said—by late June. And a neighbor did that with a combine—so called because it combined several functions: cutting the wheat,
auguring it into the machine where it was threshed (the farmers said “thrashed”) and the grain was elevated into a hopper from which
every fifty bushels or so were augured once again into a waiting truck. I think Hal may have driven the truck a bit, though it wasn’t ours.
Maybe he even drove it into town…kids of 14 drove then, and even younger sometimes.
So we had helped with the wheat and so we got a share of the money from the sale of it. Hal, interested in photography, bought a small
DeJur movie camera; I bought a new Smith-Corona typewriter, my very first typewriter. I had been writing stuff in longhand for some time,
and now I graduated myself to a typewriter. Mostly I wrote letters to people—my friends and family. I got a penpal in England, a kid named
Kent, and we wrote back and forth a few times. I typed a postcard to the King of England, saying Dear King, Please put your autograph
here and I left him a couple lines’ space. But the man never replied.###
DAY 4 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tue., October 4, 2016
For some reason my father, a doctor, didn’t encourage any of us kids to go into medicine. He was himself fascinated by it and earned his living
at it for 45 years. Even after he retired he’d read his medical journals of otorhinolaryngology and ophthalmology and all that; but I was never
interested. My brother became an engineer, he was always interested in mechanical things, how things worked, and he still is, long retired, he
is interested in cars and airplanes and things like that. He loves it. My sister was in the insurance business, and though I don’t think she’s
active in it now, it was apparently interesting to her and her husband: they were in the business together.
As for myself, my long love affair has been with words. We all have these love affairs, these special and even consuming interests. Sports,
cars, politics, words. Last night I talked to a friend who is interested in scientific things, and I asked and he told me a lot about GPS systems,
which I knew existed because of my iPhone; but very little else. It hadn’t occurred to me, or I hadn’t thought about it, that there are satellites
in the sky doing these things. “Satellites,” I said, “they’re like little planets, aren’t they?” Well, no, not exactly, my friend said, and he gave
quite a coherent explanation that, nevertheless, eluded me. I was however very interested in the words he used, scientific terms I knew
It is interesting to me what people are interested in, so I guess I’d have to say I’m interested in people as well as words. I have a tendency to
interview people. One dark night years ago—years and years ago—I was hitch-hiking in northwest Wisconsin and a trucker picked me up. I
picked and picked at his mind, wanting to know this or that, and he was very interested in trucks, as you might guess. He explained that the
truck had many gears forward and quite a few reverse gears too, as I remember. But finally we ran out of conversation as we plunged on into
the night toward the great city of Madison, where I lived then and where he was going to offload his truckload of…I forget what.
My mother was a very good golfer, club champion or co-champion, I think, once or twice, and she loved to talk about golf. Golf was something I
had trouble summoning any interest in---a little white ball, and 18 or so holes…it didn’t matter to me. But of course there are people out there
who love it and make it for them a consuming interest.
When I was in high school I was interested in pool, but I wasn’t interested in geometry. One day, though, my geometry teacher, Mr. Buller—a
nice man with a kind face—took me to the blackboard after class and drew some angles on the board and told me that the angle of incidence
was equal to the angle of reflection. I looked at him, waiting for some kind of punch line. He waited to see if I got it. I didn’t. Well, Charley, he
kindly explained, If you shoot your ball at a 45 degree angle to a rail, it will come off that rail at a 45 degree angle because…the angle of
incidence really is equal to the angle of reflection.
Something lit up. I smiled. I thanked him, and I raced to the pool hall to try out my new knowledge. ###
DAY THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., Oct. 3, 2016
I tell people I started a journal because I was sick of being a wannabe writer and wanted to be a writer, and so it is with a journaler; we are
certifiably writers. But another reason I wanted to start and keep a journal was that every “great” writer I knew of had kept a journal, and I
wanted to be a great writer. In fact it was that desire that kept me from writing outside the journal: everything I wrote had to be great. You
can’t imagine William Faulkner sitting down at his desk and writing, “I went to the store and I bought some bananas”…can you? I couldn’t.
Imagine sending a sentence like that to your editor in New York. So I kept a journal. You don’t send a journal off, you just keep it in your desk
or, now, I keep mine on my hard drive. I normally print it out and put it in a 3 ring binder at the end of every month.
Every day a number of things happen that can be written up and put in my Journal. Yesterday I had a long talk on the phone with my youngest
daughter. June talked to her too. We even put Adah on the phone to happy say hello and wish her a happy birthday on Tuesday.
I worked on LifeStory, late getting it out—and it’s still not out—but enjoying the process of editing stories and laying them out. June and I had
a nice lunch of lima beans and corn bread, one of our favorite meals. I drank milk with mine. I love milk. I probably drink too much. But when
I was growing up we were encouraged to drink at least three glasses of milk a day. It build strong bones, we were told. So my brother and I
became addicted to milk. I’ll have to ask my brother—he lives down in California—if he still guzzles milk (that’s what my dad always called it,
“guzzling” milk) as much as we used to. We’d drink half our glass and then hold it out for topping up.
When we lived on the farm we had a couple of milk cows and we always helped with the milking. We had a cow named Ethel and we had a cow
named Blackie. Both were bad about kicking over the milk pail if we weren’t careful. Assuming we got a couple of pailsful of milk, we took it
up to the house where we had a cream separator set up and often as not it was my job to crank that machine and then to wash it. All the
baffles were a lot of work to wash, and they had to be done carefully.
It seems like we did that all our lives growing up but it was only for a few years and then we moved back to town because—we all said—Dad
lost a patient. He couldn’t get to her in time and she died. So we moved back into town. Maybe that was true, but it was also true that we
were starting to be teenagers and we wanted to be able to see our friends more often.
I tell people I started a journal because I was sick of being a wannabe writer and wanted to be a writer, and so it is with a journaler; we are
certifiably writers. But another reason I wanted to start and keep a journal was that every “great” writer I knew of had kept a journal, and I
wanted to be a great writer. In fact it was that desire that kept me from writing outside the journal: everything I wrote had to be great. You
can’t imagine William Faulkner sitting down at his desk and writing, “I went to the store and I bought some bananas”…can you? I couldn’t.
Imagine sending a sentence like that to your editor in New York. So I kept a journal. You don’t send a journal off, you just keep it in your desk
or, now, I keep mine on my hard drive. I normally print it out and put it in a 3 ring binder at the end of every month.
Every day a number of things happen that can be written up and put in my Journal. Yesterday I had a long talk on the phone with my youngest
daughter. June talked to her too. We even put Adah on the phone to happy say hello and wish her a happy birthday on Tuesday.
I worked on LifeStory, late getting it out—and it’s still not out—but enjoying the process of editing stories and laying them out. June and I had
a nice lunch of lima beans and corn bread, one of our favorite meals. I drank milk with mine. I love milk. I probably drink too much. But when
I was growing up we were encouraged to drink at least three glasses of milk a day. It build strong bones, we were told. So my brother and I
became addicted to milk. I’ll have to ask my brother—he lives down in California—if he still guzzles milk (that’s what my dad always called it,
“guzzling” milk) as much as we used to. We’d drink half our glass and then hold it out for topping up.
When we lived on the farm we had a couple of milk cows and we always helped with the milking. We had a cow named Ethel and we had a cow
named Blackie. Both were bad about kicking over the milk pail if we weren’t careful. Assuming we got a couple of pailsful of milk, we took it
up to the house where we had a cream separator set up and often as not it was my job to crank that machine and then to wash it. All the
baffles were a lot of work to wash, and they had to be done carefully.
It seems like we did that all our lives growing up but it was only for a few years and then we moved back to town because—we all said—Dad
lost a patient. He couldn’t get to her in time and she died. So we moved back into town. Maybe that was true, but it was also true that we
were starting to be teenagers and we wanted to be able to see our friends more often. ###
DAY TWO OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Oct. 2, 2016
I was 22 when I voted for the first time. I was political from age 10 on when Dewey was battling President Truman in 1948, I was right
there when Stevenson ran against Ike in 1952 and ’56, and I couldn’t vote, of course. In those days you had to be 21. I had been waiting to be
21 all my life.
Finally I was 21 in 1959, so by November, 1960, I was itching to pull the trigger. For JFK, of course, who was running against old Tricky Dick. I
had seen Kennedy at the Student Union just a few months before, Jack and Jackie too at a press conference early in the morning. I was a
couple of feet from him as he left the room to catch a plane and I could have reached out and shook hands with him if I hadn’t been so shy; in
fact he was surrounded by Hungarian students, refugees from the recent uprising in Hungary, and they were peppering him with questions
about why didn’t you come to our aid? And so probably Sen. Kennedy would have appreciated my outstretched hand and used it as a way of
getting away from those guys asking hard questions.
Though JFK was not one to avoid the hard questions. I saw him on TV in groups where he was sometimes heckled and instead of turning them
aside or having them removed from the room, he’d ask everyone to give the heckler their attention so the fellow could pose his question or
comment…and Jack took it all very seriously, and he was, indeed, a very serious young man.
I think maybe the Nixon/Kennedy debate or debates—I don’t remember if there was more than one—came up, and Nixon looked sweaty and
pale and to everything that Jack said, He’d say, Yeah, me too, I believe that too, I’m for that too, or…whatever. And Jack laughed and looked so
alive and handsome and capable, and he was, so it was just no contest. Tricky Dick was just eased out to spend the next few years licking his
wounds and saying things to the media like, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” He was a sore loser.
So on January 20, 1961, I had been out of the Navy for a full year and I had transferred from K-State to the University of Wisconsin, and here
we had a new President of the United States, and I like so many others identified with him. I guess I felt young and vibrant and here we had a
new, young and vibrant President. I was ready to go…maybe I could be Prez someday. I had fantasies about it. I really did. In fact, I had lots of
fantasies about being and doing almost everything. There I was, schlumpfing around the campus of one of the largest universities in the
country, and one of the best too, and no one knew that one day I was going to be the President of the United States.###
Sat., Oct. 1, 2016
6 am and it’s dark as a stack of black cats…a sure sign of winter. Short days and long, long nights. Soon the rains will start and everywhere
we go we’ll wear “rain gear.” People don’t carry umbrellas here for the occasional shower. They know it’s going to rain and so they rain what
is called “rain gear.” Oh, well.
When I lived in rural Wisconsin and September rolled around the road folks came along with cane poles ten feet or more long with red flags
tied to the top. These were fastened to the road signs so the snow plows would know to avoid them. And then it began to snow.
In Kansas they just hunker down and wait for whatever weather might come. I have known Kansas winters that were so mild it was scary, and
some so fierce that it seemed we were being singled out for punishment. People went to church and prayed for an end to winter.
So. It is what it is.
I grew up in an Army town—Manhattan, Kansas, just ten miles from the main gate of Fort Riley, a huge Army base—and so naturally when I
turned 17 I joined the Navy. We boys had to join something. Girls were excused then. They did have female branches of the service but most
girls did not even think of joining up. It wasn’t really war time—just the Cold War—and so they went to college or nursing school or got jobs as
secretaries or married early on. Here’s where I’m supposed to say the way it was back in the good old days and I wish we’d go back to that. But
I don’t wish for that. I’m glad to see women demanding their rights. I’m glad to see them in the service, being cops or jumping out of airplanes
and playing sports or whatever they want to do. The so-called Fabulous Fifties, when I grew up, were nothing like it—they ought to be called
the “Fatuous Fifties.” It was a dumb time, in my opinion, a reaction to the tough times of World War II. For a while, everyone just acted silly
and thought about getting a new car or a bigger house or…I don’t know.
But I joined the Navy in 1955 after attending college for about a month and spending most of that time holding down a bar stool at the new
tavern in Aggieville, Kite’s. Kite Thomas had been a ball player for the Philadelphia A’s and so he opened a bar and decorated it with baseball
bats and such. Maybe it was the first Sports Bar ever, I don’t know. He was a nice guy, a big blond fellow with a smile and a wave for me, Hi
Charlie, he’d say as I sat there sipping my bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon (my brand!) and he’d touch my shoulder in a big bear friendly way as he
walked past. He ran a good bar and it was soon the most popular bar in Aggieville.
I wasn’t 18, the legal age to drink, but it was easy enough to pass. I looked 18. I was tall and gawky and lanky and all of that. I could talk. I had
a quarter for a bottle of beer. The police had better things to do than track down underage drinkers of 3.2 beer which, it was popularly said,
you’d drown on before you got drunk on.###
Fri., September 30, 2016
Tomorrow, October 1, we will start another Journalong, our 26th. A journalong is my concocted term for journaling together--me here and you
at home or on your own blog...or wherever you like. The idea is for you to get the habit of journaling. We will do it for 28 days, and at the end
of 28 days I would bet that you have formed the habit and will probably journal for the rest of your life.
If you take writing seriously and want to get some writing done a journal is a great way to get it done. I myself began journaling in 1964 after
some years of being sick and tired of being a wannabe writer. In the 52 years since I have written millions of words at the rate of at least 500
words per day.
If you write 500 words per day--about half an hour or less of writing---you will write something like (500 x 365) 182,500 words in a year, and
that's equal to about three full length books. If you are trying to write about your family's life (for instance), in a few months you'll have a very
significant amount of material.
Why journaling? For several reasons.
One, the way to get better at writing (whatever "better" may mean to you) is to write a lot. Everybody who wants to do anything seriously
practices. Pianists don't walk on stage the night of their scheduled concert and start playing a Chopin nocturne. They practice over and over.
So do artists, actors, bricklayers, bakers and candlestick makers...we practice.
Second, journaling as I do it (the easy way) means you write: I don't sit at the keyboard and bleed. I write. I might write junk or I might write a
great family or personal story. Whatever I do, I don't sit there and stare at a blinking cursor. I write. I keep under my keyboard a list of prompts
to refer to if I don't have something ready at my fingertips. I carry a little notebook with me through the day and when i have an idea for writing
or for anything else I make a note of it. I might remember in the course of a day how when I was a little boy I used to sit at the wheel of the
family car with the engine stopped and the key removed and play with the steering wheel and make a motor sound..."udn, udn, udnnnnn..." Or
whatever. Usually I'll have half a dozen or more prompts for any given day.
Third, I'm not judgmental (as you may have noticed) as to what I write about. I don't try to write about something "important." I write my
everyday life, my parents' life, whatever I see in front of me. And then I let it go. If I have written my 500 words I have achieved my goal.
I have a book on narrative journaling that you might find useful. It costs $20 + 6.45 postage ($26.45) and if you call me at 785.564.1118 and
order it I'll send it to you next day via priority mail. I'll also sign you up for a free magazine I put out twice a month that offers help and examples
of what others like you are doing.
So, see you tomorrow! I try to post by 8 am PST.
DAY 28 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., September 28, 2016
I missed posting yesterday and I missed writing yesterday. I wrote a little bit, a couple hundred words, and then we jumped in the car
and headed for home now. We are home now, 600 miles later, and that's great, but I feel bad about missing a day of the Journalong. I hope
you didn't miss!
If you are writing every day and you miss a day as I just have, I hope you'll do what I'm trying to do today--simply go on and not worry too much
about it. The point of this Journalong is to form the habit of journaling so that you get a lot of wriitng done, and one day missed won't break
I started my journal in 1964 and for years I didn't write daily. It didn't occur to me then that I should. The journal (the word means daily!) wasn't
really a journal for me then in that sense. I'd write when I felt like it. It took years for me to become desperate enough about my writing to learn
to do it daily. I still haven't learned totally to judge my journaling only--only--but whether or not I did it. Even today, after 52 years of
journaling, I still fall victim to judging the so-called quality of my journaling.
Okay, enough of that. Here I am today in Olympia, Washington, looking at what is probably one of the last days of sunny and clear skies. The
rainy season is going to start soon, my son Rip says. I'm just grateful to live in a place where they have a rainy season.
One day in the spring of 1951 a rainy season began in my native Kansas and it rained and rained and rained until the town literally
floated away. Everything that wasn't nailed down from 14th Street south floated down the river. I remember standing on the viaduct across
the Kansas River watching a chicken house, a big one, floating around the bend going toward Kansas City, the chickens all standing on the
gable of the roof, and seeing and hearing a rooster among them cock-a-doodle dooing like mad.###
DAY 26 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., Sep. 26, 2016 on the road in Rock Springs, Wyoming
What can you do as you thump along the Interstate highways?
You can sleep if you’re not driving. You can read if you have a good book. You can chat if you have a willing partner. You can eat if you don’t
mind gaining a few pounds. You can sing if you have a song in you. You can think. You can write.
Or you can just get into a funk and seethe. You can say things like, only 1,013.7 miles to go. Or, will this never end? Or, I hate driving, oh how
I hate driving. I wish I were home. I wish I were home in bed. I wish I were in home in bed and asleep. I wish I were…dead?
The saddest thing about riding the roads is it brings you face to face with yourself at your worst. Oh, the pity of it all: poor me, pour me
No, I don’t want to drink or eat or…most of all…I don’t want to seethe. So today I’m going to be a happy camper. I’m not going to think about
the future. I’m going to think about the present. I’m going to make a list of ten things that will pass the time in an interesting and productive
way! Yes, I am! I am!
I’m going to list my favorite movies of all time and I’m going to remember at least 1 or 2 scenes from each one that live in my imagination. My
1. Shane. Which we happened to see again the other night on teevee.
2. The Killing.
4. The Captain from Koepnik.
5. The Last Detail.
6. Charley Varick.
7. Defending Your Life.
8. Paths of Glory.
9. [now I’m blocking: I need a list of movies to select from. I can’t think of another movie I even liked, let alone would consider as a
So I’m quitting with these 8.
Now I’m going to list my ten favorite songs and sing them as we drive merrily, merrily, gently down the stream.
1. Sewanee River, sung by Pete Seeger.
2. You’re Innocent When You Dream, sung by what’s-his-name, old gravel voice… Tom Waite! (Is that right?)
3. Please come sit by my side little darlin’…whatever the title is.
4. Going home, sung by Paul Robeson.
5. My name is Jan Jansen/I come from Wisconsin…
6. Old Blue (you good dog, you), sung by Joan Baez.
7. Oh, Frances, Oh Frances, O please tell me why you’re mother is calling and you don’t reply (nameless song I heard on the WBBM Air
Theater with Jay Andreas, ca. 1953)
8. Okay, that’s it for songs too.
This is hard. If you’re laughing, you try it.
Okay. The ten noblest moments of my life.
1. With a friend I once pushed a lady in a car out of the snow.
2. I once stopped a man from raping a woman.
3. I once taught an illiterate lady to write her name, and we both cried.
I once…okay, I can’t think of anymore. I’m not in the mood.
So let’s try: the 10 dumbest things I ever did. ###
Sun., September 25, 2016 On the road in North Platte, Nebraska
We are 1,485.9 miles from our home in Olympia, by car, and it is indeed by car we are going…a car stuffed with our stuff from the storage unit
in Manhattan, Kansas, which is 339.3 miles from here. Today we will drive, with any luck, to western Wyoming, meaning we will get 500 miles
or so closer to home. And then we will drive all day Monday and get to Oregon, and then we will drive x miles Tuesday to get home.
I first drove to the West Coast in 1949 with my parents and brother and sister. I was 11. Surely in the ensuring nearly 70 years I have driven to
and from the West from Kansas at least 40 times. It’s about 2,000 miles each way. That computes at 160,000 miles sitting in a car or a
truck…blah, blah, blah. It makes me ill to think about it. All I can say is that I was glad to get there, wherever there was. This is the life of a
traveling man. I drove not to sell refrigerators or fur coats but to get people interested in writing their life story and to write some of it.
This is some of mine.
The longest sustained drive by car I ever made was from Santa Ana, California to Manhattan in something like 22 hours. I stopped in Wichita
and for half an hour tried to sleep. I couldn’t. So I drove on, got home at 2 am and woke June (who had stayed on the farm that trip) and we
danced and ate breakfast and went to bed. I was younger then, a mere 58 or so.
Nearly every morning of the world since 1986, and often every morning of the world before then, I have gotten up in the morning and written at
least 50o words in this Journal. In so doing I would estimate that I have written something like 12,000,000 words. One might fairly ask, Why? I
don’t know. My theory was, or is, that in writing 12,000,000 words I would write at least some good ones. And I have. I have written all the
Great Books, though the words are not always in the right order.
Hahahahaha! My little joke…on myself.
I have heard in recent times a couple of Presidential Campaign jokes. Probably there are more out there. Of course they are politically
incorrect, as all good jokes are—from childhood I remember the Little Moron jokes (Q. Why did the Little Moron put his father in the
refrigerator? Ans. He wanted to have cold Pop.), the Polack jokes (Q. How do you tell an airplane in the Polish Air Force? A. They have hair
under the wings), and all the others that insulted various ethnic groups. One thing I have never heard is White Anglo Saxon Protestant jokes.
Why is that? ###
Day 23 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fr., Sep. 23, 2016
The trip to the University of Kansas yesterday brought back memories. Being in Lawrence, off the highway and in and around the town,
brought back memories—inevitably. The ratty place I lived at 1305 Tennessee with the dirt floor in the kitchen, pallets over it to walk on. It
was packed earth, I guess. The bathroom was a 2 and half foot wide stall with a toilet that flushed uncertainly, and a curtain, not even full
length across it. If a guest came and had to use it, you could not avoid seeing their feet and knowing from the way their feet were turned
whether they were engaged in a number one or number two. $35 a month brought all this, plus a back entrance that actually was a little bit
charming, a curvy stone walk along a short stone wall…and there was the door. There was a tiny rickety desk, a steel two-bunk bed, a lamp,
an overhead light…
The campus itself had lots of new buildings, some of which were named for people I knew or had had instruction from.
I didn’t go to Robinson Hall, if it’s still there, but that was where I taught my first class—in a basement (I think) room that had a sink and a gas
jet at the front where the blackboard was. We had a syllabus we had to more or less follow, and part of it—for maybe a week or even two—we
had, quaintly, to diagram sentences. God help us if they still do that. It was a miserable week or two for me, not having an analytic mind.
After a sleepless night I’d get up there and draw my straight line and put in the subject and verb of a sentence (“The cat is on the miserably
filthy mat,” or something like that) and I’d demonstrate my incompetence by drawing in all the other stuff, and keep at it, back to the class and
then I’d hear the snickering.
“But Mr. Kempthorne,” the pretty and prim girl in the front row would say, “isn’t that actually a preternatural pronomial?” And, clueless,
I would stand back and say, “Oh, why Miss Hargrave, I believe you’re…right?” And then another beauty would raise her hand and without
waiting for me to prompt her, say, “No, I think it’s a conjectural conjunctiva,” and I, stammering and flustered, only too aware of the three
engineering students in the back row, their lanky arms and legs akimbo spread across a couple of chairs, smirking and chuckling, as I
murmured something about “Well, it could be…”
And I would pray for the bell to ring.
The engineering students, all boys then, were the ones see after class and I’d say, You know, if you applied yourself a little you could get an A
in here, and learn something about writing too, and they’d just laugh and say, Oh, we’ll hire an English major to do our writing for us—they
who would go out and first year earn maybe $30,000 a year, 3 or 4 times what an English major would get. These were the guys who went to
work for start-up computer companies and, just so they could write to one another, invented email and other aps that did more to teach
writing skills to the millions than a fieldhouse full of earnest English teachers ever could. ###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY 25TH JOURNALONG.
Thu., Sep. 22, 2016
You’ve gone through I don’t know how many orange lights, June said, as we were driving back to the house.
Would you rather I did red ones?
She didn’t answer. At the house we unloaded our few groceries and went inside. June immediately opened up her laptop and started going
through her emails. I started to say something. Now I’ve got it on the hotspot, she said, so I need you to be quiet. Quiet? I said. Shhh! I said. Now
Charley, she said, I mean it.
So I read the paper I’d just bought. Trump had said something rude and nasty about refugees again, and the head of Wells Fargo was being
fried at a Congressional hearing, and the Royals had lost…again. I looked at a few more headlines and put it down and leaned back and rested
my eyes. It’s hot here in Kansas, I said. 11 am and it’s 90 something. June didn’t say anything. At least we’re saving on our Vitamin D pills, I
June didn’t say anything for a minute. Then, Vitamin D pills? Vitamin D?
For not enough sunshine, I said. Remember? The doctor in Washington had said take them, 95% of the people in Olympia were vitamin D
Oh, June said. Right.
In Washington we vote by mail. We registered when we got our Washington driver’s license. Come election time, we got a ballot in the mail,
which we filled out and then dropped in the mail or in one of the handy drive in ballot boxes around town.
When we lived in Kansas we went to the courthouse to register, and then down to the Zeandale school to vote a paper ballot. Later on
we voted a couple of times at the Riley County Courthouse in Manhattan electronically. I kind of liked the paper ballot (“put an x in the
block for the candidate…”) but I got used to the electronic thing—everything is electronic anymore. When we die we will probably put an x in
the casket of our choice and go south in the twinkling of a spark. But who will press confirm?
Anyhow. Once I was on an election board. That was hard work—7 am to 7 pm, ten minutes to eat a sandwich at lunch, and all day long, count,
recount, and count again. Four of five of us. We talked some, and that was pleasant. I seem to remember free coffee.
I never waited in line more than five minutes anywhere I ever voted. Never. I guess in the cities it can be several hours. Not good.
I remember Home Room elections in school, my first encounter with democracy. We had a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and
Sergeant-at-Arms. I think the candidates had to go into the cloakroom to hide their eyes while the rest of us voted orally. Then when we had
meetings everything had to be done via Roberts’ Rules of Order. Some of the kids really got into it; I wasn’t one of them. I don’t think I was ever
elected anything, and no one missed me being anything other than the class cut-up and clown, which wasn’t an elective office.###
Day 20 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Tu., Sep. 20, 2016 On the Road in Manhattan, Kansas
June and I have come back to Manhattan for a few days to get the rest of our stuff out of the storage unit. We came back to our hometown, in
other words, to move. That was our intention, but it isn’t working out. Our storage unit is stuffed with things we couldn’t take to Olympia when
we moved one year ago this month. So all year we talked about coming back to get it, but when we looked in the unit a couple of days ago, it
was clear we couldn’t possibly take it all back in one trip. We didn’t want to rent a big truck, we couldn’t pull a big trailer with our little car—
and we weren’t about to give up our family stuff—some of it pieces of heirloom furniture from several generations. So we’re now taking just a
carload back and maybe shipping some back.
Our ultimate storage unit, of course, is our two lots six feet deep in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery in the Deep Creek Community where my
parents are buried. We won’t take much with us when we go there.
Our stuff will at some point pass to our children to become part of their stuff. We aren’t talking about stuff that will have utilitarian value to
them. We’re talking about stuff that you hang on your wall or put in your family room or just store away in your attic or basement because it
just can’t be thrown away. Stuff like my dad’s medical degree from the University of Wisconsin; the souvenir of Colorado Springs that June’s
grandmother kept all those years after her visit there; the doll furniture June used as a child; one of our son’s knitted cap he wore as a
newborn, knitted with love and care by a grandparent. This is the stuff you can’t ever throw away. We can make jokes about it, we can turn
up our noses at it sometimes, but when shove comes to push, it is with us forever. It is the stuff that can only be lost by a fire, or the
carelessness of some unnamed but resented forever family member…or a thief.
For instance my father, who was in World War II and overseas for four years without once coming home, wrote V-mails home, some 700
or more of them, and when he got out of the Army they were placed in his army trunk in the basement of a building where he had his medical
office. (I’m not talking about emails but V-mails, the name given to letters that the GI’s wrote home that were photocopied in order to be made
smaller, and flown home.) This was priceless stuff, the history of his life during World War II…and some miserable thief stole the trunk and
probably dumped all its contents into the river. And so that part of my father’s life is lost forever. It’s something that we would never have
thrown away. ###
Day 19 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Mon., Sep. 19, 2016
When I travel and stop somewhere I often just for fun ask the kids at the restaurant or fast food joint we’re eating at why the town is
named…whatever the town is. A couple of days ago in El Dorado, Kansas, doing a workshop and afterward for lunch we stopped at a
neat place called the Dilly Deli and ordered a couple of really interesting spinach wraps with Mediterranean salad stuff inside sandwiches and
some of their wonderful potato soup. The pretty waitress was friendly and cheerful and, as young people are always to us old folks, a sight for
sore eyes. I asked her why El Dorado was called El Dorado. “I used to know,” I said, wondering whether I really did used to know or not, “but I
can’t recall it now. It’s a wonderful word. El of course is there, but…” I looked at her and smiled. She looked blank. “I don’t know,” she
said. “I never thought about it.” “Did you grow up here?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “but I just never thought about it.” I smiled indulgently.
“Maybe I’ll google it,” I said. “It’s a beautiful word, Dorado. It means something.” I left her there, no doubt agonizing about what the word
meant and how could she have she lived 16 or 20 or so years and not known the meaning of the name of her home town.
We ate, stretched, and got back in the car, heading home now, no fog like on the way down earlier that morning and in brilliant sunshine. So
while June drove, I did google it. And here’s what I got:
In the early 1500s, Spanish conquistadores heard tales of an Amazonian king who regularly coated his body with gold dust, then plunged into a
nearby lake to wash it off while being showered with gold and jewels thrown by his subjects. The Spaniards called the city ruled by this
flamboyant monarch El Dorado, Spanish for "gilded one," and the story of the gold-covered king eventually grew into a legend of a whole
country paved with gold. These days, El Dorado can also used generically for any place of vast riches, abundance, or opportunity. It is also the
name of actual cities in Arkansas and Kansas.
Bingo! I had hit the jackpot. What a story! I smiled all the way home, and thought maybe I ought to phone back to the store and tell that young
lady so she could put her mind at ease. But I didn’t. I fell asleep dreaming of being dusted with gold and having jewels and gold showered upon
We had a good workshop in that lovely little prairie town. We sold a bunch of books, got well paid by the library for our work, and so in a sense
we were showered with gold…we were El Dorado’ed! ###
DAY 18 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., September 18, 2016
How do you spell the word MUCH, June wants to know. She looks at me with a comico-painful lamenting look that says, Well, I can’t spell it, she
says. Can you help? Of course this happens a lot because June can’t spell, period, she has dyslexia, and was taught to read whole words
rather than syllables and so only knows, at best, the first and last letters of a word; and it is also her way of letting me know she loves me and
needs me, maybe.
We have this little routine. So I say, M-U-C, and then I pause and she is seriously taking it down…and then I say, Q. And she gives me a
knowing, Charley this is serious look. And so I say, guess? H, she says finally, and I smile. There you go!
This just popped into my head, God-given maybe, I don’t know, but I remember that Ayako and I in the relatively short time when we lived
together back in the early 60s, we’d go dancing at the Laundromat at 2 am. She was a busy, hard worker Ayako was, and I was too, and so very
late we’d take our laundry and go to an all night Laundromat over around the Washburn campus, I think. They had a radio and we’d put our
laundry in the machines and then dance to the music on the radio. Happy days!
Ayako had to return to Japan. She was in Topeka on a student visa and she started working fulltime and the INS got wind of that and so…they
made her go home. We would have had to get married for her to stay, but I had just gotten unmarried and it didn’t seem like a good thing to
jump in again…not just yet. Eventually we lost touch. She was a nice lady and I hope she has had and is continuing to have a good life…Our
time together was more than 50 years ago, 1962 to 1963.
I am back posting on the Journalong (I missed a couple of days when we were driving here) on The LifeStory Institute page, if any of you would
be interested in doing us the honor of reading that. I try and nearly always succeed every morning in writing something there. This is useful
especially to people who want to journal daily, as I have for many years. Sometimes the writing (unrevised and unrehearsed, just what comes
out of the tips of my fingers at that time) is good, somethings okay, and sometimes just plain bad. But I do it...and that is the whole point.
Writers, like pianists and artists and lots of others, practice daily. So if you want to peek in and Like it, that would be wonderful. You don't have
to really like like it, you know, just like it to say hi...I appreciate that.
Some days my Journal is like this…just bits and pieces of things. But when we did the workshop today in El Dorado, people wrote briefly in ten
minutes or so—I was pushing them—and they wrote well, and it’s just amazing how one little paragraph about your life can sometimes
illuminate the whole thing. I’ll be publishing some of this stuff on the LifeStory web page www.thelifestoryinstitute.com and also in our pdf
mag, LifeStory, next issue coming out Oct. 1. By the way, if you don’t subscribe and want to—it’s totally free, just send me or June your email
address, because it comes to your email box as a pdf file. Tips on writing, news of the Memoir Movement and many examples of what others
who are writing memoir are doing. If you don't like it, just send an email back saying Unsubscribe. ###
Day 17 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Sat., September 17, 2016 Manhattan
My father got up every morning of the world and went to work in his medical office here in Manhattan. He went whether he wanted to or not.
He went to keep the wolf from the door, he used to say, with a wry laugh. He went because the patients would be there wanting to see him. He
was an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist. They had bad eyes, they had something in their eye, or they had runny noses, sore throats, or ear
aches…and for years he was the only MD for fifty miles who specialized in the treatment of conditions like that.
I doubt that as a boy he dreamed of draining sinuses or testing eyes or removing cataracts or any of that. I’m not sure that he even thought of
helping others in those ways. I doubt he thought about being rich, which he never really became, but he made a good living. He kept that wolf
away for his wife and three children, and then some. With the money he made his wife, my mother, built a big fancy house that won an
architectural prize for residential design for the whole state back in…1951. He was embarrassed by the house and chafed under having to pay
for it. I think he might have been happier in a nondescript farmhouse in the country with a couple of acres of woods for him to walk around
They did try that. After the War, when every man and soldier who lived to come home (and some women too of course) from it wanted to build
“that sweet little nest/way out in the west/and let the rest…of the world go by,” they did just that. My mother, not an architect by education but
always interested in houses and their design, took to supervising the remodeling of a big old stone house six miles from downtown Manhattan.
Dad had 322 acres to run and play in. Two growing boys, and then in 1948, a daughter. We lived there only four years—not long, really—from
1947 to 1951, when they built that big fancy house in town.
I’m sure he looked back on his life at some point and wondered what the meaning of what he had done with his life was, as I am doing now, and
as my children will do in another twenty or thirty years.
I used to believe, with Macbeth, that life “was a tale told by an idiot/full of sound and fury/signifying nothing.” That not-very-positive view of
life got me into a bad way in my early old age, and it’s taken a serious adjustment to get me turned around and pointed in a better direction. I
would adjust that beautiful poetry now—without Shakespeare’ s permission—and say, Well, for me, life is a mystery, and I have been invited to
enjoy it and to be helpful to others in some way or ways that will allow them to enjoy it too.
So there you go. ###
DAY 16 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
FRI., SEPTEMBER 16, 2016
Along the road through much of eastern Oregon and then Idaho we saw huge dump trucks piled high with…something purple…apples? No,
red onions! Look at those onions, I said to June. Onions, big as croquet balls and round as…an onion, these trucks were taking onions to
wherever onions go once they are harvested…dug from the fields around us. Amazing! Then we began to see onions along the roadside,
onions that had fallen, blown off, I guess, from the trucks. One or two…four or five…beautiful onions, probably ready as anything to slice and
dice and put into a salad. We could have French onion soup, I said to June, if only we found a swiss cheese truck, and then a toast truck. I
smiled to imagine a huge truck loaded with toast. If there hadn’t been any traffic, I think we would have stopped and picked them up.
Remember the Bit o’ Honey truck? I said to June. She smiled and nodded.
Back in the day, forty years ago or so, and we had taken to raising hogs for a living. We had friends, Phil and Kathy, who lived over the
hill from us and they were driving home one day and there was a truck in front of them. Some bump in the road or other, something
jostled the truck and out of the back of it fell a huge cardboard box. The truck drove on. Phil and Kathy stopped to look at the box. It was a
box filled with candy bars in yellow and red wrappers…Bit o’ Honey candy bars. The truck was long gone. They lifted the box—one thousand
candy bars—and put it in the back of their little red International pickup, and drove on home.
They unwrapped a bar or two and took a bite. I’ve never had these, Kathy said, and Phil said he hadn’t either. The things were so hard to eat,
so chewy, that they couldn’t eat them. So they gave them to us, and when we couldn’t or wouldn’t eat them either, we thought of the hogs—
the hogs would eat anything.
So we stood by their pen and unwrapped the candy bars one at a time and fed them to them. The hogs, five of them, happily came to the fence
and swallowed them, I think almost whole, with only a bare minimum of chewing. They snorted and oinked and asked for more. After a few
days of this, supplementing their usual Hog Chow from the Farmer’s Coop, we were one day a little slow unwrapping the bars and one of the
hogs took it from our hands and gulped it down. They didn’t seem to mind their not being unwrapped. So from then on we fed them the things
unwrapped, and watched the bright and cheerful red and yellow wrapped candy disappear into their all-encompassing mouths. We fed them
out and emptied the box.
A friend had told us that he once had a cow he fed a handful of brown sugar to every day, and that cow was “the sweetest meat he had ever
tasted.” When we did the hogs in and ate them, I can’t say for sure that they tasted any sweeter. But we ate them, bacon and pork chops and
roasts and sausage and all, very happily. Had the meat been wrapped in red and yellow wrappers, we probably wouldn’t have cared one little
DAY 13 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tues., September 13, 2016 Pendleton, Oregon.
We left Olympia around 1. We had been going to leave early, but I guess I meant early afternoon instead of early morning. Oh, well. We had to
mail something downtown, and we did that and then got on I-5 South to Portland and dropped down the map to US 14 just as we got to
Vancouver and then turned west on 14 to drive along the Columbia on the Washington –and far less trafficky—side. As Cascade we crossed
the great Columbia River and then got on I-84 and drove it west and then southeast to the fair city of Pendleton, where we were going to stay
the night. It was 7 pm, time for the old folks to quit for the day. And we did.
In Pendleton, however, a rodeo is going on. Crowded, motel prices up there, but we lassoed a Howard Johnson’s downtown that wasn’t too bad,
crawled in bed and went to sleep. It was 8:01 pm but we were bushed.
This morning, however, I am well rested and ready to go. We have partaken of the motel breakfast and here I am writing while June is working
her iPhone. I will probably take the first turn at the wheel, though June would certainly do it if I asked her. We both drive, and we have been
drivers since we were kids. Farm kids learn to drive tractors and other heavy equipment at a very young age, and that was us. I nearly killed
myself pulling a harrow with a tractor when I was maybe 12 or younger. I certainly killed the harrow, which I had caught on a stump while I was
making a turn—and singing at the top of my lungs. It was a, er, harrowing experience and I totally destroyed the implement itself.
When I began farming years later and was going to farm auctions to buy equipment I saw plenty of one-armed men, their right arm, usually,
severed at the elbow. “Those are the guys who were fixing the bales as they went through the baler,” one old timer explained to me. Others,
the tractor accidents, I read about over the years on the obituary page. I nearly did myself in on a tractor teetering on a hillside as I was plowing
one fine morning. I was on a 3 wheeled tractor and got myself into a bad position. And I had killed the motor. I looked around and down. A very
quiet morning, and very lonely up there. I got off the tractor on the upside and tiptoed away, waiting for it to go over.
But it didn’t. I thought about pushing it over and going back to the house telling an heroic story. I contemplated that only for a moment, and
then I got back on the tractor, started it up, and turned the wheels downward and gingerly eased away to safer ground.
We farmed about ten or twelve years. I was glad I’d done that but just as glad to quit and turn my attention to earning a living in the somewhat
safer mode of operating a paint brush.###
DAY 11 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., September 11, 2016
I will forever regret that the two years nearly that I spent in New York City--well, it was my home port, and most of the time I was at sea sailing
the world, but when we came back to the US we always tied up at Pier 58 in Brooklyn, and if we stayed any length of time before sailing again,
we went ashore to be barracked in the Brooklyn Army Terminal at 58th St. and 2nd Avenue. I started to say, what I regret is that I did not take
advantage of my time in that great city to explore it. I was so eager to get out of the Navy that about all I did was sit on my hands on board my
ship or in the barracks and count the days until I could go home to Kansas and go back to college. Dumb me. Well, that was then, this is now.
Speaking of now, or nearly now, just a little more than a year ago June and I were invited to do one of our LifeStory Workshops at the great
public library downtown--"between the two Lions." This is the largest library in America, maybe the whole wide world, and of course we
accepted the invitation, and went.
We stayed with a friend over in Queens and he kindly escorted us to the subway to Manhattan and then to the stop closest to 42nd and 5th
Avenue, where the library was. Then we had to walk a few long blocks in the morning sun carrying all of our books and stuff. It was warm day
and we're old and we were tired.
But we were even more tired after the two hour workshop and had to tote everything back to the subway and, honestly, we were a little
discouraged that so few had shown up for the workshop (our fault, as we had assumed the Library would do the publicizing, and they didn't do
anything except post a notice on their website) and, though we did a good job with those who came and they were happy too--well, here we
were in the humidity and all the traffic, the din of the taxi horns, the shouts and hubbub like no other--and we were trudging along. June was
saying how she disliked the noise and New York generally and we couldn't wait to get out of this wretched heartless town and we were never
coming back, never, and, bushed, we leaned against a lamp post to get out of the crowd of people.
Just then a woman came out of the crowd and walked up to June and said, touching her arm, "Are you all right, dearie?" June, surprised,
thanked her and said she was okay, just resting. And the lady walked on. We were both stunned at this simple act of human kindness, and
decided well, New York was filled with people just like those in Manhattan, Kansas or now, in Olympia, Washington, where we live now.
And on the anniversary of this terrible tragedy, we are all New Yorkers, and all concerned about one another's health, happiness and welfare.
God bless America, God bless New York City, and God bless, especially, that nameless lady who asked June, "Are you all right, dearie?###
DAY TEN OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., September 10, 2016
Dagwood influenced my life. I guess the name of the comic strip was really "Blondie," and Dagwood was Blondie's husband. I learned to read
by reading comic strips like that one aloud to my mother and brother. Dagwood one time was going to be on a radio (no TV then) show. I guess
he sent in his name and his name was picked or something and they called him and said he was going to be on--a quiz show. Dagwood went
right to work studying so he'd answer the questions right and win the jackpot. He studied and studied and came to know about everything and
then on the big day he went on and was called up to the microphone by the emcee. Dagwood was ready for bear. He could have told you
where Aleppo was he was so prepared.
But the guy asked him his name, and he couldn't remember it. He stalled and went speechless. He just stammered and stuttered and said
nothing. After a while the announcer thanked him...and dismissed him.
The lesson is apparent, I guess. Relax, be yourself, don't over-prepare...trust your own judgment. Or...maybe it's really take it easy, or....
That's the story of my life.
I loved spelling bees when I was in school. I don't even know if they have them anymore. Now and then you hear about some kid from
Palookaville winning the national spelling bee by accurately spelling
oxybenzyenglycolonhydride. So maybe schools still have them.
When I was in 5th grade in Miss Julia Bebermeier's class at Woodrow Wilson School. I have to insert here that it was this said same Miss
Bebermeier who taught us that we Kansans spoke English the way it was supposed to be spoken, we were the standard for the world at
pronunciation. We were the only place on earth where we did not have an accent.
Anyhow, I was the last man standing by spelling the word ache correctly. We must have gone almost around the whole room getting stuff like
ake, aike, and ace...and then it came my turn and I rapped it out: ache.
No one shouted Bingo. The teacher smiled and said, That is correct, Charles. Everyone else in the room looked at me like, Who asked you?
But I was right. Look it up. Or as we say today, Google it. Ache is ache. On this the entire world can agree.
Maybe that was the finest moment of my life. I believed that if I could spell all words correctly that the gates of heaven would swing open and I
would be invited into the choir of angels.
So here I am, 530 am PST, Olympia, Washington, 98506. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. ###
Day 9 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Fri., September 9, 2016
Now here's what's weird. I joined the Navy to get away from home and see the world, right? Well, that's what I told everybody. I was going to
join the Navy and sail the seven seas. Yes, I even said that. I believed it the more I said it. I was all of 17 years old.
I went in. As for seeing the world, I first had several months of seeing Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Waukegan, Illinois, fifty or so
miles north of Chicago. Then I saw Bainbridge Naval Training Center near Baltimore, Maryland. When I finished yeoman school there, I was
2nd in my class and so I got 2nd choice of the billets (Navy for jobs), and so I passed up the chance to go on a ship and sail the world. I was sick
of the idea of seeing the world. I wanted to see my hometown and my friends and my folks. I had completely backed off the world tour stuff. So
I chose the closest billet to Manhattan, Kansas (my hometown) I could get, which was the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Norman,
Even worse in terms of not seeing the world, I went home on liberty every chance I got. It was 327 miles and I was happy to drive it, and there
were luckily a pool of other sailors stationed at Norman who, like me, didn't want to see the world anymore and they helped me pay for the gas
it took to drive home.
Sometimes we got a late start leaving the base on Friday and so we were moving right along so we could make our Friday night date, and so it
was that once in Yates Center, Kansas, a burg of maybe a couple thousand people, we were stopped for speeding--I was stopped for speeding.
It happened also that we were getting a head start on drinking too, as we each had a bottle of beer in our hands as we tootled along. Quickly
we put our bottles out of sight and I pulled over and rolled down my windows. In fact we may have all rolled down our windows--there were five
or six of us crowded in there, still in uniform--just to get the brewery odor out of the car.
The cop was the local sheriff, apparently, a guy in civilian clothes with a badge and a tan khaki hat.
"You boys going a little over the speed limit back there," and I immediately said I was sooo sorry and how we were serving our country by going
home for a weekend, and so on, and he nodded and got right to the point. "The fine is five dollars if you pay it now," he said. "Otherwise, I
have to take all of you to jail and impound your car."
We didn't have anything like five dollars, we really didn't. We did come up with forty-five cents. "That's all we've got," I said. He looked
unhappy but finally he nodded and said, after cussing a bit, that that would have to do, and so he took the two dimes and a quarter that
I handed him, cussed a bit again, and told us to get on down the road.
We rolled up our windows and carefully I pulled back onto the highway. One of the guys allowed that the man smelled of whiskey even more
than we did of beer. In the rear view mirror we noted that he was driving a car with a red light on it and all that, so we just laughed and drove
Day 8 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Thu., Sep. 8, 2016
Sometimes it's really, really hard to start writing here. I am going through something like that now. I have a list of prompts but I look at each
one and decide, Oh, not that one...not now. Or I'll just write the first word. I, I write, and then I backspace and delete it. The hope is that God
will give me the next word. Sometimes He does, and then I'm off and running.
I can type fast. I can type sometimes 100 words a minute or more. The best is when I type so fast I can't think--I don't want to think--I don't need
to think. I'm almost in a trance then, a meditative state, a magical state. Time goes by. The words fly by. I am happier, I feel nothing but the
padding of my fingertips on the keys.
I compare myself to your average concert pianist. A pianist practices. He practices every day. He doesn't require of himself that he play well
everyday. He tries, maybe, or maybe like me he just puts in the time and counts the words. He gets to 500 words and stops. Or he gets to a
thousand, or two thousand--or three. I practice every day. Some days go well, some don't. I'm a writer.
Even when I'm starting out the days like this one--when writing words comes slow, word by word, that is much better than my state before
February 24, 1964. Before that date I was a Wannabe Writer. I wanted to be a writer...I read a lot, a book a day for a while, I got up every
morning and I thought about writing every day. I read, I read books about writers, I talked to other wannabes about writing, I went to bed
thinking about writing and dreaming about writing. Next morning I got up and I thought about writing while I was washing my face and shaving
and dressing and eating breakfast and not thinking of anything but what I was going to write.
Then when it came time to write--I'd sit there and watch the clock, thinking okay, when that hour hand gets to 8 and the minute hand get to 12,
8 o'clock, I'll start in. Maybe I'd get over to my desk and sit there and then...then 8 o'clock would come and go. I'd sit there and think and think
and think, How best to start. What if I don't write well? I'd think about winning a big prize for writing, the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the
Hunky Dory Prize...and I'd hate myself for not writing.
The saying we use now is "making the best the enemy of the good." We didn't have that wise saying, or at least I didn't, back then. I knew I
was in the grip of something we called perfectionism, a state where we can't act because our act won't be perfect.
Finally I decided I'd just write a certain number of words, and meeting that standard was the only one I would meet, and worry
about meeting. If I had to write The quick brown fox jumped over five dozen liquor jugs to get my word quota, that's what I'd do. And that's
what I did sometimes. Sometimes I wrote Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. Sometimes I wrote ugga ugga boo
ugga boo boo ugga.###
DAY 7 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Sep. 7, 2016
The family story goes that Uncle Gordon would lie in bed late at night listening to the radio and smoking. In those days, the 1940s, most all
radios shut down for the night around 11 or 12 pm and the station would play the national anthem and everyone would go to bed.
Now in those innocent days it was felt that everyone should stand during the playing of the national anthem, and everyone did, though at night
lying in bed, the Star-Spangled Banner coming in over the radio, no one had ruled on that. So Uncle Gordon, lying in his bed there in Rewey,
Wisconsin, being wide awake, put out his cigaret and stood up as his wife lay sleeping beside him. He put his hand on his heart and stood at
Then, the anthem done, he went back to bed and, one would hope, to sleep. I seem to remember that somewhere in there--I leave it to some
serious social historian to research this, if it has not been done already--somewhere in there, the President, FDR, said it was okay not to stand
up and get out of bed if it was just the radio. If the band playing the anthem was marching by out in the street going past your house well...that
was another matter.
Well, that was then, this is now.
I dreamed last night, and this dream may have wakened me, I can't be sure...I dreamed that I was stuffing myself with Ritz crackers. I like a Ritz
cracker now and then, with cheese, preferably, but in the dream I was simply cramming them into my mouth as fast as I could.
Usually if I have a dream about eating it probably came from the fact that I went to bed hungry, and last night I did in fact go to bed hungry. I'm
trying to cut some weight. Okay. I'm trying to live by the late Adelle Davis' rule (Ms. Davis was a popular nutritionist and writer in the 60s, Eat
Right to Keep Fit, Eat Right to Stay Well, etc.)---her little slogan was, Eat like a king at breakfast. Eat like a prince at lunch. Eat like a pauper
So that's what I'm trying to do. But I'm not going to have Ritz crackers for breakfast. We do have a box, a partial box, in the kitchen cabinet,
but I'm not going to eat them this morning, even if I am a king.
I have never been really fat, but in my middle age my middle thickened a little. Somewhere in the 90s I lost a lot of weight, about 40 pounds,
going from 212 down to 174 (I still remember the numbers, magically!), and I felt better. Sometimes, though, people would look at me and
comment on how sepulchral I looked. Did you want to lose weight? Are you okay?
I'm okay today, okay as anyone is at 78, okay enough, but I'm weighing in at 201.8 this morning, and I'd like to lose 10 or 20, at the same time
build my muscle mass and look trim and sexy...again. If I ever did. It's a little weird, I agree, that an old man pushing 80 would want to
look sexy. I could say to the undertaker, I don't care what you do, when you lay me out, I want to look sexy. I want all the girls of whatever
vintage at my funeral (please come!) to pass by my corpse and say, Man, does he look hot! ###
DAY 6 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., September 6, 2016
How much of my life have I spent putting on my shirt backwards and then, discovering that, have to take it off and put it on right? Depending
on the shirt, of course, it can take two minutes out of my day: one minute to discover it is on backwards (with or without the help of a mirror),
and another minute to remove it, double check the inside tag, and put it on frontwards.
It's quite a process and very disconcerting if you're a busy guy like me. I have places to go and people to meet. I can't go out there with my
shirt on backwards, can I? Can you? Of course not.
Say that happens one day in ten. Two minutes each time. That's 20 minutes every ten days. It doesn't sound like much. But consider other
time wasters, like much, and maybe it isn't in the context of eternity. Maybe I won't worry about it. But I do.
One time when I was in the Navy some shipmate told me that he was on board a ship onetime when the then President, Dwight Eisenhower,
made a surprise visit, and the white hat who had to pipe President came on board and this guy had been in such a hurry to get up topside and
do his job he actually had his jumper on backward. Now that would take some doing. The President walked right past him and took no notice
of the man. The President may well have had his own thoughts, no doubt he did, and possibly he worried that he had his shirt on backward, or
his socks inside out.
The guy was probably BSing me, anyway. I was pretty dubious of the story back then, fifty-some years ago. I doubted it then and I doubt
it now. I don't suppose I could google it. There are some things that you just can't google.
I was once told publicly by a girl who didn't like me that I had food between my teeth. We were in the school cafeteria and we had tuna fish
sandwiches and she said, plain as day in front of everybody, Charley, you have some tuna fish between your teeth. Of course I blushed and
stammered and clammed up and licked and licked and then rinsed with milk and swallowed it all down while everybody at our end of the table
watched. It was a humiliating moment. I didn't like that girl then, and I don't like her now. Yes, I admit I resent her. I remember her. Her name
was Margery, or Marjorie: I don't know how she spelled it. If she happens to read this, well, so be it, she knows who she is.
Resentment is a terrible thing. It means to re-feel, to feel something all over again. So here I am, up there in years, still resenting something
that happened when I was probably 12. How many moments have I spent re-feeling that? Not many, but couple that with all my other
resentments and it adds up.
Resentments, a guy once told me, a resentment is where you drink the poison and you expect the other guy to die.###
Day 5 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Mon., Sep. 5, 2016
A dream has wakened me in the night. It's not one I've had before, exactly, but the motif is the same. I'm in a car and moving and the brakes
don't work. I push them to the floor and just keep on going...and then I wake up. I would guess that the meaning of the dream (and I think my
dreams do have meanings) is something like, my life is out of control...or I can't stop something I've started.
I woke up, and I was afraid, and I haven't been able to go back to sleep. But I'm old enough to know that fear, which I have always in my life,
more or less, is not always a fear of something bad. It may be a fear of something good.
Now if I'd been going over a cliff, I might not think that. Going over a cliff can't be good. But I wasn't going over a cliff, I was just going. And
that may be good. Because my life is going pretty well, really.
Remember the song, Oh, what a beautiful morning/Oh, what a beautful day! I've got a wonderful feeling...everything's going my way!
I wonder what kind of car that guy was driving?
So I'm going back to sleep. I'm going to lie down and think happy thoughts. I'm going to remember happy things. I'm going to remember when
my youngest son got up on Christmas Eve night and went into the living room where the presents were under the tree and he fell asleep there
among the presents. I'm going to remember the day I married my wife. I'm going to keep in mind that she is lying beside me in bed, softly
snoring. I'm going to remember that I'm going to waken in the morning well rested and ready to write and celebrate the Labor Day..
I was always self-employed and June too and so every Labor Day we labored. In 1973, desperate to raise some money I started a handyman
service. My mother and father needed their house painted, and so they hired me--bless them for that! I painted it, did fairly well, and out of
that I got another house, and then another and another...and pretty soon I changed from being a handyman to a housepainter. I read all the
labels on all the paint cans and whenever I found anyone in one of the paint stores or on a streetcorner or anywhere who knew anything about
painting I peppered them with questions. I didn't know how to paint but I did know how to ask questions. In those days, there was no internet,
no google to google, and there were precious few books on housepainting in the library. I did my best. I struggled to be a good housepainter as
I never had struggled to be a good student and a good teacher of English. Being a teacher came very naturally to me, but I had no talent for
housepainting and so I had to struggle.
Luckily the very same lady who is sleeping in the next room pitched in with me and she had talent and so we began, together, a serious
business called Kempthorne Painters & Paperhangers, and June, eventually taking over the business, made it a good one and she was the best
paperhanger around when she finished. ###
DAY 4 of the 25th LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Sep. 4, 2016
I was in the US Navy for about 5 years, maybe a little more--I'd have to look it up. Now that counts active service and active reserve
and inactive reserve. My active service was 3.5 years. That means they had me 24/7 from July 20, 1955 to January 16, 1959. Why the odd
number? Because I was what they called a "kiddie cruiser," meaning I joined before I was 18 and got out before I was 21.
Okay. The point I want to make is that I went that entire time without once saluting an officer.
I used to be very proud of that--I was the rebel, I was the anarchist, I was a one-man Revolution and leveller and peasant extraordinaire.
I doffed my cap to no man!
Now the Navy puts a lot of stock in obedience. The Navy puts a lot of stock in saluting, which is an act of honoring your "superiors." Enlisted
men, of which I was one, salute officers when they meet. I avoided officers--even though I worked among them as a ship's yeoman. Most of
that time I was inside and "not covered." That's Navy gab, or was in my day, for not wearing a hat: the little round white hat that we enlisteds
had to wear. If you were inside, you were not supposed to wear that hat, and so inside you did not salute. When I was working and inside I
didn't salute. I did work hard and was a good enlisted man and made first class in less than four years.
When I was outside and with a white hat on, I managed to avoid saluting in any number of ways. An officer coming toward me--well, turn
around, duck into a doorway or suddenly have to bend and tie your shoe. I would not salute.
Now. I am 78. I get up every morning and I go into the bathroom and do my stuff but early on I look into the mirror at myself and I
salute snappily and say, Good morning, sir!
What's the meaning of that? Well, I was also pretty much a heathen all my life, I did not believe in God. I wasn't exactly an atheist--I just found
the idea of God irrelevant to my life and, I would be happy to tell you back then, to anyone's life. God was an illusion, as old Sigmund Freud
But in the last ten years or so, I have come to believe in God, and that God is represented by a voice in my head. God is a voice in my head.
God squats somewhere behind my eyes and in my heart. I love God. I honor Him. He is not anyone's else's God, He is my God. And I am
honored to salute Him. God is an officer and he is my superior and my commanding officer. So I am honored to salute Him and say, Good
And then I do my best to carry out His orders throughout my day.###
Day 3 of the LifeStory Journalong
Sat., Sep. 3, 2016
A friend on Facebook, joking, said that I was showing my age when I mentioned that I remembered when phone booths weren't made of glass
but of wood, and I replied, Oh, well, aging is better than the alternative to it, don't you think? I go back to when there were no phones on
corners or in private homes. When I lived in the village of Rewey, Wisconsin, where my grandfather was the village blacksmith, there was a
phone office but no one had a phone except them. When my father, coming home from the War, landed in Virginia he called "home," and the
phone central lady, Mrs. Jones, had to yell down the street to my Mom that there was a call from him, and she went up and talked to him. Or
such is my memory. This was 1946, I believe. I was a lad of 8.
The war was over and we celebrated by getting in our cars and riding around and around the little town--Rewey had a population then
and now of less than 300 people. We kids stood on the running boards of the cars while our parents or big brothers drove slowly around and
around. Someone got into the Town Hall and rang the big bell up there while we all cheered. The end of the war meant we could, we thought,
resume our lives as usual. Of course, nothing is ever the same.
My father told me and my brother Hal how much we had grown. He had not seen us or spoken to us in four years. Four years! Now he was in the
living room of the little house we had rented in his home town to await his coming home. I sat on his lap and hugged him, which embarrassed
him, I think--I was too big a boy for that. I was 8 years old. Men didn't hug then.
They kept me out of school for a day or two when Dad came home and we drove around the town and the country to see relatives and tell them
about the war. We were all very, very happy. Life was an adventure and we were starting a new one.
We moved to Manhattan, Kansas where my father would resume his civilian practice of medicine. He was an ophthalmologist and an
otorhinolaryngologist. Kids at school would tell me that their fathers were bricklayers or bakers or candlestick makers, and I would tell them
that my father was an ophthalmologist and an otorhinolaryngologist. This didn't help my welcome at the new school. Sometimes on the
playground during recess a boy would crouch behind me and a boy in front talking to me would suddenly push me over him and everybody
would laugh. They might not know what an ophthalmologist and an otorhinolaryngologist was but they knew how to have some sport with me,
and they did. ###
DAY TWO OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., Sep. 2, 2016
In spite of all the stuff I have done to make sure I have something to write about when I sit down to write as I am now—in spite of all that, I sit
here, cursor blinking in the silence of the still dark morning, and I’m thinking…no, not that—that one’s no good, not that one, not that one.
The reason, I tell myself, is that I’ve kept a journal for so long, I’ve told so many stories so many times, that I cannot find anything new to write
about. I’m doing that right now.
Last night I went to my first poetry reading in maybe twenty years. And I think it might have been my first ever, or at least the first one in
a long, long time, that was an open mic. It certainly was the first one I have been to where open mike was spelled open mic, which latter form I
still mispronounce open mick. I’m working on it.
In fact I’m working on staying in the game…the game called life. I’m rapidly growing irrelevant. Old age, which they tell me is what I’m in, is
like any other stage of life, one in which you learn stuff you don’t want to learn but that you have to learn.
The place was in downtown Olympia in the restaurant/bar district, a place called Ben Moore’s. I drifted in and asked about the poetry reading
and was directed to a lady at a table with a cash box. How much? I asked. Zero to five dollars, your choice, she said. Since you put it that
way, I said, I’d feel like a rat paying zero. So I handed her a five dollar bill. I’m an easy mark. Then she did something almost quaint—she
stamped the back of my hand with a little mark. Some things never change.
I went on in and sat down in the back room with a dozen or so other people, some still coming in, couples, singles, some of them very young,
and some, well, pretty old if not so old as me. This surprised me—old people. I thought I’d stick out like a sore thumb.
A young girl came to the mic (mike? mick?) and introduced herself with great ironic enthusiasm as Rachel, welcomed us, and brought up the
first poet, whose name I didn’t catch. He was a big guy. He began reading very seriously and was well into it before I—turtle slow fellow that I
am—realized that the poem was a phone conversation, real or imagined—where each line began with “I am sorry that…” and it was obviously
a conversation about a man and his girl friend, and she had evidently broken up with him. Each line was part of the narrative of their
relationship and the tension built all the way through to his saying something like, I’m sorry that you dumped me (he said it better), and then
that was he end of it all, and he stopped reading and sat down.
Well, that was pretty good, I thought. I’m just sorry it wasn’t longer. 525 words.###
Thu., Sep. 1, 2016
I loved Gramps and I followed him everywhere on the little farm he had in the Old Holler down in Indiana. There was just my mother,
my brother Hal and I and our grandparents living in that little tarpaper shack on a few acres. We had a hog and some chickens and a mule
named Jackie and we went to town maybe once a week, if that, gas was rationed after all, and we had a radio that worked only when Gramps
would turn it on in the evening to get the news with Gabriel Heater and he would have to beat of the side of it to get it to work. It was battery
powered: we had no electricity. Light in the evening came from a coal lamp, called I think an Aladdin lamp.
Our water came from a well outside the kitchen door. It was 1942 or 1943 and I was very, very happy. The saddest time was once we went up
out of the Holler and to the town of Cloverdale and went to a movie and I saw Lassie, who was taken prisoner by the Germans but escaped.
Three years later, the War was over and we moved to Wisconsin where we met my father and I saw him for the first time in four years,
and then we moved to Manhattan, Kansas, where we were able finally to find a house and we lived at 1819 Poyntz and I went to Eugene Field
School. I made friends with Charlie Kerchner half a block down the street and everyday we walked two blocks to school together. He
was Kerch and I was Kemp. Since we were both Charlies, we couldn’t just call each other Charlie. So it was Kerch and Kemp.
The teacher was Mrs. Mason, a pretty friendly lady with black hair. The principal was first Mr. Orval Ebberts and then Mr. Herb Schroeder. His
full name was Herbert but the other teachers called him Herb.
I was in the third and then the fourth grade and then one day after school was out my folks bought a farm six miles from town in the
Deep Creek community and we moved to the country. Everything was different there. I played with my older brother more, or he had to play
with me. That would be the summer of 1947, I guess. The most important thing in my life then was the creek, Deep Creek, a sizeable stream
that crossed our place, maybe half a mile or more, and we had three or four swimming holes.
Our grandmother having died several years before, our grandfather came to live with us, and he was ailing too. He wasn’t any fun anymore.
He spent a lot of time in bed and it was my job to take his meal tray upstairs to him. His bedroom was next door to mine and across the hall
from my parents. He had trouble breathing and he moaned a lot. He wasn’t happy. One day he took his .22 rifle that stood in the corner of his
room and shot himself through the forehead, right between his eyes. I remember that very well. It was 1950. I was 12. I was in the next room
and I saw him there in bed with the rifle dropped to his chest, still breathing, quite noisily now. 562 words.###
DAY 28 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., Aug. 28, 2016
This is the last day of this Journalong.
The idea of the Journalong is that we'd journal every day together--together or in succession, if you want me to go first. Or you could go first.
You could do it in the morning as I do, or the afternoon, or evening. Whatever works for you. But if you want the habit to be formed, do it
every day, and every day the same number of words.
If you're serious about getting lots of writing about your life and your family done, journaling is the best way to do it. If you do it faithfully for 28
days, you'll form that habit. On the 29th day you'll do it automatically. And so on for the rest of your life. I have written a book that helps with
this, Narrative Journaling: 28 Days to Writing More or Less Happily for the Rest of Your Life. [If you're interested in that go to my website www.
thelifestoryinstitute.com and order it online. Or just phone me at 785-564-1118, leave a voice mail message and I'll phone you back within a
Note that the title of that book is Narrative Journaling. You'll do best in your journaling if you tell your stories--stories of your life as of old, as
of now, the stories of your everyday life.
My brother and I played lots of games together. We lived a good many of our childhood years in rural areas--Indiana and Kansas--so we had lots
of hours when our friends weren't around. Plus we were close enough in age--a little over three years--so that we could play together. Hal, I'm
remembering now, would figure out how to play the game, the rules and all that, and then he'd show me how. He was a naturally good
teacher. In that way he taught me and we played Monopoly, Parcheesi, Rook, board games, card games...lots of stuff like that. He was pretty
patient with me because he wanted to play and he needed a partner. "Do it like this, Charley," he'd say, and he'd demonstrate carefully. I
would follow him and I'd learn and so away we'd go.
A few years later when we moved to town and didn't run around so much together--even then he was a great teacher. What I know about the
internal combustion engine I owe to my brother, who came home from a date one night and I was up and he explained it all to me and, honestly,
I was enthralled at how neat it all was.
I loved words and Hal loved things--planes, cars, electric drills, tractors, radios... Later in life I became a farmer (don't ask me why) and I had to
learn about those things, some, and I did...some. But I never had any talent for it. Hal did. I thought then and I think now that he was a
mechanical genius. Even as I am up here in Olympia, Washington this morning and writing, I'll just bet Hal is down there in his town, Paso
Robles, California and either drawing a plan for something or is out in his shop fixing a carburetor. ###
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., August 27, 2016
I would like to write and print a biography of my mother and one also of my father. I've written a lot in my Journal about both of them, probably
enough that, if I just combed through the entire Journal (about 12,000,000 words) I could take all the entries about them, all the little
narratives, and have more than enough to make a book. I also am lucky to have in my possession a great many photographs of both from their
childhood to old age.
So it's just a matter of taking the time to do it. I think, kind of, and without sounding (or being) too rigid and righteous about it, that it is my
duty...the least thing I could do for my descendants.
Now I have an older brother and a younger sister. Neither of them write as much as I do but they have photographs, probably, that I do not
have. Photographs are important, as well as other documents, because they tell the story too. So I ought to interview them, too.
And then of course I'd need to edit what I wrote. So it's a big project.
The way to do a big project is to whittle it down to doing a little each day until it's done. That's how it works for me. My mom did things all at
once, pushing herself and pushing herself until it (usually a sewing project or the annual Christmas letters) was all done. That way doesn't
work for me. The thing is to get it done, one way or another.
Meantime, I'll think about it a little more.
The making of any book is a big project. I have written six books, I guess, along with everything else. I'm counting my two graduate theses,
each of which took a long time. I'm counting a history of my church that I edited and produced and wrote some of. Each of these things took
time and sweat, and hundreds of hours. So I count those. My professional books, two nonfiction books about writing and one novel, took more
time, lots more.
When I finished my novel, Gary's Luck, my publisher, Bob Joyce, came over to my motel with a bottle of wine and we toasted what we'd done
(editing and publishing a novel is a lot of work too!) and looked at a pile of copies of the book. I ought to write a book about Bob, for that
matter. Bob came late into my life and I late into his--he passed a few years later--but I came to know him well and he came to know me well
and we were close friends and associates. I tear up a little this morning, sitting here in my little corner of the big long couch with my laptop on
my lap and I remember Bob--not a fairer, more decent, friendly and all round good guy have I ever met. Here's to Bob Joyce, my old pal! ###
DAY 26 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., August 26, 2016
I was part of the Great Flood of 1951 in Kansas. I was only 13 and all I did was watch--my brother, 16, actually participated in rescues. Toward
the end I guess I did help out in a very small way by manning (I should say 'boying') the refugee desk at the then-new Ahearn Fieldhouse on the
K-State campus. I was probably in the way as much or more than I was helpful, but I was there, and I tried.
Yesterday we went out to Costco to shop and eat some of their Costcoan Pepperoni Pizza (cheap and good) and violate our vegetarian vows. A
couple sat next to us, older folks like us, maybe a little younger, because the guy had a cap on that said Helicopter Pilot/Vietnam Veteran.
June leaned over and thanked him for his service and that set us all to talking. His wife mentioned that he was shot down three times.
I told him how I was shot down by a bottle of whiskey when I was sent to Beirut in 1958 to be part of the US standby force during a civil war
between two factions of Lebanese. "There was shooting going on in the town," I said, "and I was scared, twenty years old and scheduled to get
out of the Navy in just a couple of months, and a bunch of us went ashore to a little bar and I drank so much I passed out and had to be carried
back to the ship." We both laughed. "That was the extent of my combat service," I went on. "I got a campaign ribbon for it, the American
Expeditionary Force ribbon, or medal, I don't know what. I sure wasn't a hero and I didn't deserve anything. I was just happy to get out of the
Navy three months later and go back to school."
"Well," my new friend said, "you wore the uniform."
He was being too kind. I wore the uniform, all right, lying there on the concrete floor of that ratty bar in Beirut. I took up space. I was the man,
I was there.
I was doing a little better during the Flood. I did even better during the Great Hippie Revolution of the 1960s. I didn't get a medal for that, not
even a ribbon, but I did marry another Hippie, one named June. That was medal enough, the best one I ever got or ever will get.###
DAY 25 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., August 25, 2016
In my ears I have little microphones called "hearing aids," and they do substantially help me to hear. I don't think my father or my mother had
hearing aids, nor does my older brother nor my younger sister--I think my sister may have said she has them but doesn't use them yet. I've had
them about eight or ten years now and I came at them in the same way. I'd just wear them when I absolutely needed them but also I lost a pair
two times...last time when I got them replaced my audiologist said that probably the best place to store the hearing aids that cost more than
$3,000 a pair was in my ears. And so now when I get up I usually put them right in.
I am not an agent nor the relative of an agent for the Farm Bureau Insurance Company, but I have to admire and feel almost emotional about
them because each time I lost my hearing aids I applied to them and they paid for new ones except for the deductible of $250. I honestly didn't
even know they were covered until I was whining to someone about losing them and they said, "Don't you have homeowner's insurance? They
should cover them." I called them up first thing next morning and they did and, whizbang, they had a check made out to me for the whole
amount less the deductible that came via certified mail the next day! I couldn't believe it.
Whenever I get a check for that much money I consider cashing it and fleeing the country. Honest. It's just my nature, I guess, and my
checkered financial career. When I was a little boy I developed a reputation within my family as a spendthrift. Whenever they'd give me a
nickel or a dime (and usually I worked for it, I always worked), they'd say, "Don't spend it all in one place," and when I did, of course, they'd say,
"That money was burning a hole in your pocket, wasn't it?" And--swallowing the last of a big Milky Way chocolate bar I'd grin toothily and
admit that it did.
June and I I didn't go to Mexico. I got my new hearing aids and endorsed the check over to the pretty lady at the audiologist's office. When I
lost them for the second time I called Farm Bureau again and with considerable shame admitted I'd gone and lost them again and I didn't
suppose they'd cover me a second time. But the lady at Farm Bureau said, well, let's see what they do, and bingo, a few days later, there was a
check. And I got my new aids and I have them in my ears right now, this dark morning in Olympia, Washington, at 5 am. I can hear a pin drop
with them...if the pin weighs about three pounds and is dropped onto a cement floor.
I'm so grateful to be able to hear anything at all. I'm so grateful to modern technology and modern medicine for allowing me to extend
the length of my useful life so that I may be able, with the help of God, to get my life to come out okay after all. Now I'm even able to hear those
words of so long ago, Charley, don't let that money burn a hole in your pocket! ###
DAY TWENTY-FOUR OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., August 24, 2016
I have lived in three towns in Kansas: Manhattan, Topeka, and Lawrence.
My first memory of Topeka was from school and it was the capital of Kansas and was so named (the story went) because two Indians were
standing side by side and one looked down and noted in the moccasin of the other that there was a hole and you could see his toe.
"Toe-peka," he said to his friend.
And so they named the town Topeka. Why? I always wondered. Okay, so maybe his moccasin did have a hole in it, and no doubt if it did, his
toe showed through. Okay, fine. But why would that lead to naming the future capital of Kansas after a defective shoe? Why not name it, just
as well, Look Down, or Shoe Need Fixin'? I never figured it out.
Similarly, Wamego, Kansas, was named (the story went) because two Indians (perhaps the same two?) were about to have a foot race. Just
before they did the On your mark, get ready thing, one said to the other, Wa-me-go! Get it? Watch me go! Wamego!
So they stopped the race that never got started right then and there and named the town! Well, how do you like that?
Now this naming story makes more sense: Michael Caine, the eminent actor, was having trouble getting roles. He was just a young fellow
starting out, and there he was standing in his agent's office (the agent hadn't offered him a chair, apparently--he was that unprofitable
a client) half talking to his agent and half staring out the window at the street below, and the agent said, You know, Michael, you have a lousy
He had a point because Michael's name then was Michael Mucklethwaite, a mouthful.
You oughta change your name, the agent said. So young Mucklethwaite was ready for anything. He glanced out the window and saw a theater
marquee, and the movie on was The Caine Mutiny. So he said, Okay, how about Michael Caine? How's that sound?
The agent liked it, and that's what made his career. But what if he had looked down instead of out the window and seen a hole in the end of
his shoe (quite likely for an impecunious actor) and said, Okay, call me Michael Topeka? Where would he be then? Or now? And where
would Topeka be, naming itself for an English actor?
I know. I know. This is silly. This is absurd. Topeka was around long before Michael Mucklethwaite was.###
DAY 23 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., August 23, 2016
So anyhow Jessie wrote her book and gave copies to her kids and grandkids and one to me at my request and one to the local library at my
Twenty years went by. I went back to farming and housepainting and writing in the wee hours and here and there in my journal, mostly. But
eventually I started LIfeStory Magazine and I began looking for ways to promote it. I scanned the newspapers (this is all before the web was big
in all our lives) and started sending letters to reporters I thought might be interested.
One was. Clare Ansberry of the great Wall Street Journal started calling me on the phone and talking about my project, and after a call or two,
talking sometimes for an hour or more, and I could hear her typewriter keys clicking, and so I knew she was going to do a story. I had sent her
some of the books these old folks had written more or less under the guidance of LifeStory, and she was especially interested in the one by
Soon Clare wanted to come out to Kansas and visit with Jessie. I met her at the airport in Kansas City and drove her to Manhattan to Jessie's
little house and introduced these two diminutive ladies to one another: Jessie, by then 97 years old, and Clare, a young woman about 40, and
an ace reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Clare wrote her story and when it appeared it blew the lid off the publishing world. Suddenly this lady who had for 97 years lived a very, very
quiet life was the hottest prospect in the world of publishing, and she was world famous. Her phone never stopped ringing with offers from
publishers. We got her an agent and the agent held a literary auction and by the end of the day Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux had a million dollar
cash advance. ("Well," she said, "that's a tidy sum.")
She lived to be one hundred and died rich. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving person. Her book is in a lot of libraries all over the
world (it was translated into 8 languages) and it is called "Any Given Day." It's an inspiring read.###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Monday, Aug. 22, 2016
Old Samuel Johnson said, or words to this effect, that "if you're going to be hanged in two weeks, that helps you focus." I don't know why this
comes to my mind this morning--or maybe I do--but obviously if you're going bye-bye on a certain date then lots of things that would be fun to
do fall away in favor of the things you just have to get done.
I am very grateful that, so far as I know, I'm not going to be hanged anytime soon. But I'm an old man and I'm thinking about The End, and this
does focus my concentration.
On what? Well, on my children and grandchildren. I am so fortunate to have six biological children and five biological grandchildren and five
more who are, for lack of a better term, step-grandchildren. We are closely related by love and/or biology.
I don't have any real money or property to leave them, I'm sorry to say. I would have liked to have been able to leave them The Farm where
June and I lived and raised some of them back in Kansas. Due to my general financial ineptitude, this didn't work out. Unless a miracle
happens, I'm not going to leave them any money or real estate.
I have tried, and continue to try, to leave them some legacy of having an old man or grandpa they can be proud of, for all that. You can't spend
that, but you can use it in your own life to build something that will be...useful. I have certainly spent and I continue to spend the personal
genetic capital I have inherited. It is a neverending treasure which, the more you spend of it, the more you have to spend.
Getting back to property I may have some intellectual property, as it is called--some words. I have two books about writing that are still
out there and for sale, and I have one novel that is still out there and for sale.
Then I have The Journal. This is where the miracle could happen--most likely it won't, that's why we're using the word miracle here. It could.
If. If I can get it organized, distributed, categories, formulated, hypergranulated or whatever--if I can harvest and put in place enough of it to
make...more and saleable books! Most likely I will not live to make this happen. .Mostly I just add to it everyday, one thousand words, two
thousand, sometimes three thousand. I pile them up. As for harvesting, well...I could. I could.
Oh, I was going to tell about my friend Jessie Foveaux this morning, wasn't I? How Jessie, at 97, took the bit between her teeth and made some
very respectable noise with the story of her life... That will have to wait until tomorrow. Like all of you, it's morning now, and it's time to go
forth and prosper.###
DAY 21 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., August 21, 2016
I met Jessie Foveaux in 1976 with some other old ladies in a group of volunteers that came to the Adult Learning Center in Manhattan, Kansas,
where some others and I started the first reminiscence writing workshop in the country. She was friendly and pretty--a nice looking lady of
nearly 80, and she was willing to write. That's what I remember the most about her: she was willing to write. The other half dozen or so were
there but not so willing. They did write a little. Jessie wrote a lot.
She was either deaf at that time, stone deaf, or a little later. She hadn't been deaf for very long. It was some kind of temporary condition that
came over her and in a few weeks it was repaired and her hearing was restored by a surgery.
Jessie brought her stuff with her and read from it. She wrote in longhand on a Big Chief dimestore tablet, and the pages added up.
We listened and cheered her on, though not everyone was pleased. Jessie was telling it the way it was: a drunken husband that she finally
divorced (in a time when you stood by your man, whether he was an abusive drunk or not), struggling to feed and clothe her eight chIldren by
this man, working at menial jobs--in a laundry at Fort Riley, in a day-old bread store, and various jobs as an assistant in a hospital.
The husband, Bill, would come home at 2 in the morning, drunk and disorderly, sometimes bringing drunken friends with him, waking her up
and getting her out of bed to fix them all breakfast while they sat around the table and cursed and told off color jokes and sometimes wet their
pants. Bill would get all the children up and get them out on the front porch and have them sing the Star Spangled Banner for the neighbors.
It was for her embarrassing and humiliating.
Sometimes on a Saturday night Bill would be arrested and tossed in jail. Eventually he was such an habitual offender that a judge told Jessie
to come to his court and he would give her a divorce. She did, and so became a divorced woman at a time when that in itself was something of
Then she raised the family and held all those feelings in. But when we came along with what we called the Harvest Program and asked her to
write, she did. I told her at the time that she might have a publishable book. Jessie said she wasn't interested in that in "the sunset of my life,"
as she called it. She did consent to having printed enough copies of her manuscript to give to her children and grandchildren, about 35 copies
in all. She gave me a copy--it amounted to something more than 200 pages, typed up, which we helped her do, hiring a typist from our limited
funds and getting it printed up at the college. There were no copy shops then, no computers--none of any of that. This was 1977 or so. The
program died for lack of funding and I went back to farming and hustling for a buck painting houses to support my writing habit.
Jessie's book had to wait another twenty years to see the light of day as a commercial book.###
DAY 20 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., Aug. 20, 2016
I know of no better way to improve your writing than by writing a lot. I've been writing a lot every day for most of my long life. I've
gotten better. Could I have gotten even better than I am by doing it some other way? I don't think so. It has worked for me. I'm comfortable
Along the way to here I did take a lot of writing classes. I "studied" creative writing and I got a bachelor's and a master's in it and then for good
measure I went back after a couple of years of teaching and got another master's in the same thing so I could be permanent faculty with an
MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, which was and is considered the best school out there. That was 1971 and I quit teaching then and
became a farmer, a back to the land hippie.
But I continued to write. I wrote every morning before feeding the pigs. I thought about writing a lot. I talked about writing a lot, and
eventually, as I said, I wrote a lot. What I did not do, was market a lot. To someone wanting to write and sell their work I would say write a lot,
market a lot. Marketing any more is a matter of getting online and relentlessly--I mean really really relentlessly getting your name and your
stuff out there every day.
And, oh, especially at first, read a lot. Read and absorb the classics. I did that too. Any fiction written before 1975 in English or French I
probably read, or tried to. I read from Sophocles to Shakespeare, and from Shakespeare to Shaw in drama, and I read from Aesop to Chaucer to
Hemingway to...my teachers' work, Edgar Wolfe, Richard Yates, Vance Bourjaily...and lots of others. I did sometimes study their work. I started
journaling in 1964 and I have kept at that to...right now. I am journaling right now. My Journal is more than 10,000,000 words long. (Too bad
I'm not paid by the word!)
What I have not done, as I said, is market. I have marketed some, but not much. The marketing possibilities for any writer are almost endless.
Michael Martone, another writer/teacher I learned from by going to my one and only writer's conference maybe fifteen years ago, said that
writer's write letters to a lot of people and rarely get an answer. Most serious writers today make their living as teachers or something else. I
was a teacher in a university and probably should have stayed there. I made good money, had respect, a place to park my car and a little office
with my name on the door. But I chose to branch out, and I became a farmer, a handyman, a housepainter.
Tomorrow, if you're still here and I'm still here I'll tell you about the one writer I've known personally and I guess helped--Jessie
Foveaux--Jessie, who did nothing of what I've suggested above except sit down and write her life story...Jessie, who at the age of 97 received
one million dollars in cash for her one book that she wrote in a class I was teaching way back in 1996, so long ago. But if you can't wait, google
her or, better yet, go to the LifeStory Institute website, www.thelifestoryinstitute.com and you'll find her story there.###
DAY 19 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., August 19, 2016
Life gets longer and longer each day. That seems silly to say--and it really is--but I have to say it to myself this morning in order to realize it
fully. Each day I add to my fund of experience, but it's not every day that I appreciate that fact. Some days just seem to go by without anything
new or teachable in them...pleasant as those days may be. Happiness can be a blur.
My father said once--just once, and a few months before he died at that--that the happiest days of his life were when "you kids were little,"
meaning me, my brother and my sister. And so it may be for lots of us.
Adah, nearly 4 now, loves puzzles and her daddy got her a new one, a map of the USA, and she and Grandma June (my wife) sat out on
the patio by our door yesterday afternoon and chattered happily and put the thing together, most of it, until Adah had to go in for supper with
her parents--my son and daughter-in-law. It's wonderful to live with some of our family. I find it very, very sustaining to be around children. If I
didn't have a live-in grandchild or two, I think I'd go sit with the other seniors and watch kids in a park or school playground.
When I was little down in Indiana during the War when my father was overseas, our grandparents lived with us--my mother's parents. Maybe
it's more accurate to say that we lived with them, for it was in a little shack of three or four rooms that Gramps had built. It was in a place in
Indiana everyone called the "Old Holler." I remember following Gramps everywhere and adoring him, sitting on his lap, his teaching me how to
whittle with a barlow knife, following him as we checked the snares for rabbits, sitting by him evenings by the coal or wood stove and listening
to the battery powered radio news in the light of a kerosene lamp.
Maybe that was the happiest time of my life--so surrounded and protected was I by family. We had no electricity, no running water, none of the
amenities we all appreciate today. We grew our own food, nearly all of it, and had a mule to plough the garden, a mule named Jackie. Maybe I
knew "gee" and "haw" before I understood left and right.
This morning I'm sitting here obviously using my laptop computer, watching television out of the corner of my eye, and also watching my wife
sitting across from me pecking some command or other into her smart phone..it's such a different life, or maybe not. We're still living and
breathing people, we have good days and bad ones...as long as we're around other human beings we are what we are. 18 OF THE 24th
Thu., Aug. 18, 2016
Today my son Mason is 55 years old.
At some early point in my life on the farm that I came to call Letter Rock Park southeast of Manhattan, Kansas about six miles, I enlisted the aid
of two friends, Bob Kelly and Ken Embers, to undertake the digging of a basement. It was in the winter, a more or less mild one up to then; it
might even have been December. It was cold, but there was as yet no serious snow.
We dug the thing by hand. I cannot say why except that we were very anti-technology then, being the early 1970s which were, really, still the
late 60s: the height of the Hippie era. Digging a basement by hand would be, we felt, cheap of course, but also "holy." The basement was to
be the beginning of an addition to the west end of our little house. It was 12 feet long by 24 feet wide by 8 feet deep.
I remember now this was late winter 1975 because our newest son, Benjamin, was a babe in arms. While Bob and Ken and I sharpened our
shovels and dug away, June was inside caring for her first child (I had two children by my previous wife, but they lived with her) and, around
11, making us a wonderful noon meal that we came to live for.
Working together is a wonderful way to get to know people and to respect them. Bob and Ken were from the same town in Kansas (McPherson)
and had grown up together. Both were better men than I, better workers, stabler, more even handed...but I wouldn't have been able to admit
that then. I was mouthy Charley, bluffing my way forward, sometimes funny, sometimes obnoxious and outrageous, though in fairness to me
(and I certainly wouldn't want to be unfair to me) I had a certain puppy-like friendliness and wish to get along. Besides I was paying them
something, I think, maybe all of 2 or 3 dollars an hour. I think both men did it not for the money, I am quite sure of that, but as a lark (and I too),
in some sense for a merit badge, kind of, to wear on our hippie uniforms or at least to tuck away in our spiritual resume.
We dug and dug and dug. Some days it was pretty cold and so we poured gasoline on the ground to thaw it before we started digging. We
laughed about that. It was part of the lark of it all. The dirt piled up. We took maybe a month to do what a man with a backhoe could
have done in a day or even half a day. But that wouldn't have been holy.
At noon we'd drop our tools and run inside and wash up and eat a delicious and huge meal, watching young Ben in his high chair or sitting on
June's lap...I can't remember. This might have been, actually, late 1976, and Ben would have been fifteen months or so...and so he would have
been in a high chair, eating strained pumpkin or something, getting it all over his face and grinning happily while we laughed.
We laid up a concrete block wall. Ken and Bob knew something about building and managed that. I knew nothing. I watched them and
admired the creation. I would tell people that in those days the only thing I knew how to do with my hands was turn the pages of a book. And it
was true, then.###
DAY 17 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., August 17, 2016
Harry Carlson was a happy man, and Harry loved to make popcorn. Harry was laughing and friendly to each and every customer at the State
Theater and for a dime he'd stuff that box to overflowing, not closing the fold-down cardboard lid but rather leaving it up and using it as extra
space to put just another half scoop of the hot buttery stuff for the pleased movie-goer.
It was 1953 and I worked for Mid-Central Theaters in Manhattan, Kansas, my home town. I was 15 years old. I was a ticket-taker, the kid who
stood at the tall box and took the ticket that the cashier in the booth out front had just given the customer. I took the ticket and tore it in half
and gave half back to the customer and dropped the other half into the box and--very important--said Thank you. The theatre held about 800
people so on a busy night I said thank you hundreds of times. I also said Good Evening a lot and smiled a lot.
I received for my efforts something like 75 cents an hour, give or take a nickel. I also got into the movies free and could snitch now and then a
candy bar or a box of popcorn. The best thing about the job, though, was the people I worked with. Harry--Happy Harry--was just one of them.
When Harry came to work, whether it was for the matinee or evening, he'd hike up his pants and go to work filling the popcorn popping booth
with popcorn. It was his job, he was sure, to fill that 10 cubic foot booth with popcorn, no matter what the bosses said. And to lave it all with
real butter so that the stuff was yellow as corn should be. Harry loved it.
The problem was that Harry made more than got sold by the end of the evening. I mean, the buyers were limited. He couldn't go out on the
street and sell it, and if only two hundred people came past and Harry had popcorn for 800, what could he do? He just left it there and went
home. This was called the "overpop."
In spite of the advertising that it was the freshest popcorn in town, the overpop was mixed in with the new stuff. It was conceivable,
even likely, that some of the popcorn went back to the day that the theater opened. ###
DAY SIXTEEN OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., August 16, 2016
Writers' Block is a disease that is 100% fatal.
In 1962 my wife and I broke up and she took our son and moved in with her parents in Topeka. I had been going to K-State but now I dropped
I was heedless, I thought: the only thing I wanted to do was write, and the domestic life was preventing that. College prevented that.
So there I was 24 years old and living now all alone in our--now just my--apartment in Manhattan. I rearranged the furniture. I took the kitchen
table and put it in the middle of the living room. I put my typewriter, my 1938 Smith Corona portable, and put it on the table, and next to it a
ream of paper. Now at last I could write without interruption.
I sat down at the table and lit a cigaret. I rolled a sheet of paper into the carriage of the typewriter. I smoked. I sat and smoked. I wrote nothing. I
thought about what I could write. I could write about...or I could write about... Of course it was going to be a novel, and a novel that would
spread across the literary world like flames in a field of dry grass. I needed a title. I lit another cigaret and thought about the title. I put my
fingers on home row of the typewriter but nothing came. I was very tense. I needed a little music.
I had an album of Verdi's La Traviata, and I put that on the hi-fi. I sat and smoked and listened to the soothing, beautiful music. I stared at the
wall. The music washed over me in wave after wave. Oh, it was lovely.
But of course I didn't write.
This went on for days. My stomach began to churn. I felt like I was digesting myself. I smoked, digested myself, and listened to music. I moved
away from my chair at the table and sat on the couch. I asked my father, an MD, about the digesting--peristalsis, wasn't it? He prescribed me a
new drug, Librium. I took it and nothing happened. Nothing. It was as if I swallowed a crackerjack. My father said there was a medical new man
in town, a psychiatrist--first one in Manhattan. He got me an appointment.
I saw the psychiatrist a couple of times and he suggested that I be hospitalized. At first I thought that was extreme, but soon I began to believe
it was the best thing. It would be a relief from the digestion pains. And so on May 14, 1962, I entered the Menninger Psychiatric Hospital. I took
my typewriter with me.###
DAY FIFTEEN OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., August 15, 2016
I was hitch-hiking to Wisconsin for what reason I don't remember. I had hitched rides in the Navy, and I wasn't too long out of the Navy then.
Maybe it was simply for nostalgia. Probably I was broke. But there I was, somewhere in northeast Iowa, my AWOL bag at my side, thumb out,
big smile to show them I wasn't an ax murderer, waiting. A car came past without even slowing down. Another came past, slowed down, sped
up and away. I was on US 151 feeding into Dubuque, Iowa, a big river town on the Mississippi.
For half an hour I stood there, cars whizzing past. Then a black Chevy sedan came, slowed down, stopped a few yards beyond me. I ran to get
in. Good God! I was in a carload of nuns. In those days, a nun always wore the habit. I was taken aback but I didn't show anything but
friendliness and politeness, my simple formula for being a good hitch-hiker. "Good afternoon, ladies," I said, and they in unison chirped
Maybe they were going to try to convert me. I wasn't a Catholic or a Protestant, really. I was in fact a total heathen. Nobody in our family ever
had a religious thought. On Sundays we slept late or got up early and read the Sunday newspapers--the Kansas City Star, the Topeka Daily
Capital, and the Manhattan Mercury-Chronicle. Silently we all read, absorbed in our own secular church of "the news."
There were four of them. In the back with two others with my bag on my knees, I tried to be as quiet as a...nun and to take up as little space as
possible. But they weren't quiet. After asking me where I was going ("Wisconsin, ma'am," I said, wondering if it was rude to say "ma'am" to a
nun), telling me they'd take me as far as Dubuque, they chattered and chirped happily about the conference they were going to while I
examined my fingernails and realized I should have said Sister.
At Dubuque, less than an hour later, I was dropped off at the foot of the bridge. I thanked them and said, "Goodbye, Sisters." I think several of
them said God bless you, and I smiled and thanked them for that too, again wondering if I had said the right thing. What do you say when
someone tells God to bless you? I smiled. They drove on into the city. I was standing at a busy intersection where no one could stop, not
even if they wanted to, to pick up a smiling young man who had just been blessed by four nuns. I'd have to cross the bridge on foot.
This was a big river and a big bridge. About a hundred feet onto it and looking down through the grid of steel into the roiling water far below,
I realized I was afraid of heights and I was afraid of bridges. Of course no car could stop on the bridge to get me. I had a long walk ahead of me,
and I had to do it. I whistled. I sang. I tried not to look down at the barges filled with grain being pushed along. I looked straight ahead. Traffic
was heavy, and the bridge was...bouncing almost. I was sweating. I was scared. I went into a kind of fear trance. I was going to die, blessed by
God or not. The bridge was going to collapse and I was going to be the lone casualty... "a man in his twenties was found downriver still
clutching his bag... washed ashore a few miles below the site of the tragedy..."
I was now at the halfway point. I was whistling and then I was singing, the words welling up: Whenever you're afraid/just whistle a
happy tune... I couldn't remember the rest.
God bless you, young man! God bless you, Charley. You weren't going to die. Four nuns wouldn't want you to die, Charley!
And I made it across. I was in eastern Illinois, looking for the road north into Wisconsin. "God bless you, nuns!" I said aloud. I was happy. I
was a survivor.###
Sun., August 14, 2016
In 1948, when I was 10 and obviously before I could vote, I was for Thomas E. Dewey, Republican. In 1952, still not old enough to vote, I was for
Adlai Stevenson. Ditto in 1956. In 1960, now old enough to vote, I was for Kennedy. In 1964, I was for Johnson. In 1968, I was for Dick
Gregory...whoa, what's that?
Dick Gregory! Who he?
Well, as many of you may remember, Dick Gregory was a popular comedian and a political activist. He actually ran and he actually got a sizable
number of votes. Did I really want him to win? Yes! I didn't even think about the consequences of having a comedian running the USA and
thereby being the most powerful man in the world. I didn't think twice. I just did it. I voted for a comedian with no political experience.
This year, 2016, I'm not going to vote for a comedian with no political experience. I'm going to vote for Clinton.
My Uncle Gordon was a patrioitic man. He'd be lying in bed at midnight smoking when it was time for the radio station he'd been listening to to
sign off with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. He'd put out his cigaret and stand up while it was being played.
I love this country. Lots of people do. Most of us do. But I ask, What do I love about it? Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of
grain... Well, okay, I love those skies and the grain...but Russia has spacious skies too, and China has, no doubt, amber waves of grain, and
even purple mountain majesties above their fruited plain. We're not unique!
I love the people, but every country has people. We have 300,000,000 or so, China has more than a billion. So we're not unique there, either.
I love the Constitution of the United States and I love the United States Government and the great historical journey that we have been on
since 1776. In that, we are unique. And that's what I love above all about the USA. I love our government. We are the oldest written
constitutional democracy in the world. Does everyone know that?
Entries on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet are made by fools like me, but only God can make a constitutional democracy like that.
Amen, and bring it on. ###
DAY 13 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., August 13, 2016
My first real job was working for an old printer and his wife downtown on Houston Street. Glenn and Elsie Graham, both white-haired and
probably 60 or more--so old!--were the proprietors of a job shop in Manhattan, Kansas, where I grew up. I was 13 years old and I was taking a
junior high class in printing and I fell in love with printing.
To this day I can tell you that "type high" is .918 inches and I'l bet I could still find my way around in a California job case if there was one
around to play with. (Most of them are now knick-knack shelves on people's walls.)
But I came to adore Glenn and Elsie too. By 1951 I had no grandparents in my life. My father was a very busy doctor and my mother was then
playing a lot of golf. Glenn and Elsie had no children, so I became their child. I think in some 13-year-old way I understood then what a great
honor was being paid me.
I certainly felt that it was an honor to have printer's ink in my blood. People talk about God working in their life...! God made me a writer and
to this day I get up in the morning and write and go to bed at night writing and during the night I dream about words.
My mom and dad both loved and respected words and we would sit around the dinner table talking about words. Was there such a word as
"irregardless"? Was it okay to end a sentence in a preposition? Winston Churchill had told the grammarians that ending a sentence in a
preposition was something "up with which we shall not put."
We also talked about politics and other news of the day. We talked at mealtimes! Only when I married did I find that there were families where
talking at the table was not all that common. They prayed, they ate, they wiped their mouths with their napkins and politely left the table. How
could they do such a thing? How could they miss such an opportunity!
So God gave me words, a hand to write them with, and a mouth to say them with. My father in the morning sometimes finishing up his coffee
and getting ready to go to work would look out the window and then suddenly back at me and say, Around the rock the ragged rascals ran! He
never tired of repeating this incantation or some other phrase like How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?--If a woodchuck could chuck
Today I go around thinking in words (can we think without words?), and sometimes I say to myself the things I learned in school, Sheer plod
makes plow down sillon shine! ....Or, Oh, the mind, the mind has cliffs of fall, frightful, sheer, no man fathomed!
I tremble then. I tremble with excitement at this new day. I tremble at the words, oh my god, the words! ###
DAY 12 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., August 12, 2016
48 years ago the USA was in a turmoil. Some would say it's in a turmoil now, but the turmoil of 1968 was much greater than the one we are in
now--or so thinks I.
It was in a terrible war, and a man who would almost certainly have become President was shot down and killed a couple of months earlier in
California by a lunatic. Five years earlier his brother, John F. Kennedy, was murdered. Had JFK lived, he would have been one of our greatest
leaders ever; had his brother lived and been elected, no doubt he would have brought the Vietnam war to a quick end. Then in the same time
virtually--the previous year-- we lost the great Malcolm X, who might himself have been elected our first black President and led us to new
heights of justice for all. We killed the best people of our time.
It was into such a time of turmoil, 48 years ago today, that my son Daniel was born. He was a great gift to us, the first of two children that his
mother and I would have together before we chose to end our marriage in 1973. Every child is, in a way, the Christ child, offering redemption
and renewal to everyone around him. Every child born is the savior of the world.
While I'm thumping the Bible I have to report that I remember also at that time thinking of Daniel in the lion's den. I thought that we had
brought our Danny into a lion's den.
Our Daniel became a musician and song writer and that's what he does today, and he has two wonderful children of his own who will go forth
and do what they will do to save the world.
I don't know if we are exactly in a lion's den today. Maybe we're in a laughing hyena's den...? And maybe God is giving us not what we want,
but what we deserve.
Well, as some old Greek philosopher said (I forget his name), "This is a matter for long discussion; and brief is the span of our mortal lives."
DAY 11 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., August 11, 2016
I had been married to my second wife for one year and we were living deep in the heart of Mexico in a town called Tlaxcala in the mountains, in
the shadow of the great Mount Popo. I was there to write the great American novel, and my wife was there to enjoy and explore the
countryside. But we had gone down there with too little money and we were peso by peso going broke. Somehow I had believed that the
emigre life and my great writing talent would yield an instant income from publishers.
But it wasn't working out, and we were desperately trying to get out of there. I hit on the idea of going back to teaching. No internet then, no
telephone to speak of, so the going was tough. Patsy had gone to a college near Saint Louis that might be small enough, we thought, to
consider a teacher with only an MA and two years of part-time college teaching experience. So I wrote to them and marched down to the
square of Tlaxcala and popped it into the mail and waited.
Nothing came of it.
I remembered that my psychotherapist in Topeka, Dr. Bob Menninger, had once told me that during the War he was CO of a POW camp near
Marshfield, Wisconsin, and that there was a town near there, Stevens Point, with a small state college, So I wrote to them, too: Wisconsin
State College, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and I sent that off and waited.
Amazingly, in a few days' time a letter came back to me from them inviting me for an interview. I'm sure we had no money to buy plane tickets
but we had loving parents who were anxious to have us safely back in the USA, and we must have called or telegraphed--more likely--to them
and they wired us the money.
So, miracle to behold, we flew right to Stevens Point and they hired me on the spot and we borrowed some more money from my parents and
made a downpayment on big white house in a pleasant neighborhood and set ourselves up as academics: I was an instructor of English at
Wisconsin State University at the princely sum of $6,200 a year. ###
DAY 10 of the 24th LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., August 10, 2016
This is how I remember it: my brother Hal and I had come home about nine pm and gone upstairs to see the folks in the living room before we
yawned and said we were tired and went downstairs to bed. Maybe we fooled around for awhile talking and then we really did go to bed,
however excitedly and breathlessly. We waited until all the lights were out upstairs, when all the square patches of light from the big windows
along the back of the house were dark--and then in the dark we dressed and crept out the back door and around the house to the street and
then down the street to where our friend Jack and parked his car, waiting.
We ran around half the night, not really getting into any trouble--no more than usual--but just enjoying the fun of being out on the town in the
middle of the night. I was maybe 13 and my big brother was 16. It was 1951 or 1952.
What kids did in those days for excitement in Manhattan, Kansas was troll up and down Poyntz Avenue (the main street), going downtown and
then on 4th street turning north and going down to Bluemont and west to Aggieville, the student district, then south again on Sunset Avenue
to Poyntz. This big rectangle of non-excitement was the only thing we knew how to do. Sometimes we'd drive up Juliette Avenue to Bluemont
Hill and drive around to where the neckers were parked and see who was who there, sometimes flashing a light or honking a horn just to be
ornery, but that risked sometimes the anger of college guys and their girls, and sometimes a confrontation.
Or we'd drive out to Sunset Park, seeing what was going on there at midnight (nothing), and then back down toward City Park to see what was
going on there (nothing), and then downtown again, and maybe we'd stop at Jensen's or Warren's Bus Depot to have a coke and, if we had the
money, a burger and fries--forty-five cents then.
It must have been four or five in the morning, that magic hour before dawn, when we crept back into the house, no lights, feeling our way, and
then suddenly the lights snapped on and there stood Dad dressed in his pajamas and bathrobe and...with a belt in his hand. "You boys want a
little strap pie," he said, rising, not really interested in our answer but advancing toward us, the belt swinging, smacking whichever backside
was handiest, and uttering a few words. Hal, older, didn't cry but groaned a little; I cried and put my hands back there to shield my rear and for
my efforts got an extra smack or two.
And for a few weeks after that we were good. ###
DAY NINE OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., August 9, 2016
I take life review to be intrinsically good for me. I don't think it's for everybody, that is to say, not everybody is willing to do it. I think everybody
would benefit from it, as I have. A good way to explore one's past is to list the people who were in it--who in some cases may still be in it. In
some cases those people who are not physically in it anymore may still actually be a big part of it.
The most obvious examples are mom and dad. Both my folks are long dead, but they are still in my life, and in some ways more than ever. I talk
to them every day. Nearly everybody has similar feelings about their dead parents.
But it applies to others too. I could make a long, long list. In some sense nearly everybody I've ever known has become to one degree or another
part of my life. Once about thirty years ago I was riding through the West on a Greyhound bus, maybe going to or from Seattle and my
hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, and you know in those old days you'd fall into a conversation with another person and talk for hours, often
sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with them, and then saying so long and getting off the bus and never seeing them again. Maybe
you never even knew their name.
This guy somewhere out of Denver, I think, I sat next to and it was evening and we began talking. He was a little older than me and we liked
one another and we talked and talked for hours. I remember at one point he told me what he thought about "the afterlife," and he said, Oh, life
just goes on and on.
I remember that. Life just goes on and on. He didn't elaborate, didn't say how, didn't say why, he just said it went on and on. Now I don't strictly
speaking believe in immortality, but what that guy said and how he said it, and the context, riding in the night on a bus...somehow that made
an impression on me and, though I'm a skeptic (or was then), that came to be part of me. Life just goes on and on.
Today I believe that life does go on and on through writing and other means of transmission: our thoughts, our ideas, our feelings, our very
essence go on and on. A friend's mother once told me that she told him that everyone had an "unintended legacy" to all the world. That stuck
in my head too. I guess it's fair to say as Whitman did in the great poem, There Was a Child Went Forth, that we go forth into the world and
everything we see and do becomes a part of us, and then in turn we become part of all the others.
It's really quite a responsibility. Or so thinks I. ###
DAY 8 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
August 8, 2016
The only other kid in the first grade was a kid named Whitey. I don't suppose that was the name his mom and dad gave him but that's what we
called him because he had almost white hair. I have a vague picture of him in my mind but that's all. We got along okay, he and I, and in a big
room with grades 2, 3, and 4. Across the hall was another room and another teacher with grades 5, 6, 7, and 8, "the big kids."
This was 1943 near a village in southern Indiana called Poland. I think my teacher's name (this just came to me) was a lady named
Mrs. Archer. More than once I had to sit on her lap while she read to the others because I was so squirmy and maybe once or twice I wet my
pants or something.
I remember reading and being called on to read from a Dick and Jane book. They were pretty dumb stories, I thought, even then. Dick and
Jane went on a picnic and I was asked to read a paragraph or two, which I did well enough--quite well, really--but I read a part where all the
contents of their picnic basket had to be enumerated: "...in their basket they had fried chicken, potato salad, chocolate cake, apple pie,
pudding, and strawberry shortcake..." something like that and at that point I looked up and around the group and said, "Boy, they sure do eat a
lot of sweets," and the others giggled and I went on reading. I knew even then that the only reason they had so many different dishes was the
writer of the Dick and Jane series wanted us to learn new words. I mean, you know, they could have said, "they took with them several fine
wines, including cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and a fine Zinfandel," and it would have been the same thing. This, I knew then, wasn't an
authentic picnic and Dick and Jane were real people.
Recess was authentic. We played in the pile of firewood, a huge pile the men of the surrounding area had made up for us just before school
started in late September. We built a kind of wooden igloo that we could crawl in and hide from the teacher in, we built a huge pile and played
King of the Mountain...this was all great fun. Recess ended when the teacher rang a hand bell and yelled at us.
If you had to pee when class was in session you held up your arm with one finger of your hand; if you had to do more than that, you held up two
fingers. To this day everybody my age understands what a no. 1 is and what a no. 2 is. The reason you had to indicate 1 or 2 was so the
teacher could estimate how long you would be gone. Duh. ###
DAY SEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., August 7, 2016
"Journalong" is my invented term meaning that we journal together, you at home (or on your own blog or wherever) and I right here in this
space. My theory of how to improve your writing is to write more and more and more. Read as widely as you can as your interests and
inclinations may lead you. This system has worked for me; I think it may very well work for you.
I started out my professional life as a Freshman English teacher, and I was under the supervision of the faculty and had to follow a syllabus of
their making. This syllabus involved studying grammar, diagramming sentences, learning about stuff like sentence kernels and other such...
junk. Freshman English didn't mean you wrote a lot. Once a week, at the most, the freshman was asked to write a theme, and themes we
derisively defined as "500 words about nothing by nobody to nobody."
Oh, we studied vocabulary, too. Each student had to buy a good dictionary and use it.
What this course did was teach the students to write basic English, more or less, and to hate it, so that they emerged from college more often
than not, never wanting to write again.
When in my late 30s and some years out of university life--I had left academia to become a farmer, which didn't make enough money--I began
teaching again and I taught seniors to write their memoirs. I started the first Reminiscence Writing Workshop in the country in my hometown
of Manhattan, Kansas. The seniors, mostly old ladies, taught me a lot more than I taught them. Eventually I realized that almost everyone over
the age of 16 knows very good and well how to write and the problem is to get them to do it. Usually it was a matter of un-teaching more than it
was teaching. I have settled on the term coaching. I consider myself today a writing coach. I try to get people to come out for the Writing
Team and we scrimmage happily and write about our lives and the lives of our family.
If I can get people to journal, I figure they're in. The more they do it, they more they'll love it. I wrote a book about that and if you're interested
in it you can write to me about it. It costs $20 plus PM postage ($6.45) and is mailed out the day you order and pay for it. You can reach
LifeStory via email at email@example.com or you can phone us at 785-564-0247.
I didn't mean for this day's entry to be an ad, but this seems like a good time to let people know that there is a book out there that helps me
start a journal and keep on going with it. In this book as right here, I journal along with you.###
DAY SIX OF 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., August 6, 2016
I was three years old, almost four, when the Japanese dropped a lot of conventional bombs one Sunday morning on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But
today is the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, which announced an era of ever more deadly warfare
between nations. I was in 1945 a mere tyke of seven years.
I grew up with that and have lived with that. My earliest nightmares were of German Messerschmitts strafing a field I was running for cover in.
My father was overseas in the North African theater of World War II. When FDR died in April of 1945, I thought my father had died, and I came
home from school--where the President's death had been announced--bawling and bawling because my father had died.
Whatever our age, we've lived lives filled with turmoil and bad news, deaths and wars, and diseases from the fear of polio when I was young to
the zika virus of today. In some ways it's not much different from Medieval times when, as Thomas Hobbes declared, life in a state of nature
was "nasty, brutish and short."
It's easy to look at life bleakly. The only problem with looking at life that way is that it diminishes us, it depresses us, it makes us unhappy and
maybe sometimes it even kills us. A famous movie by a famous Swedish film director, Ingmar Bergman, Through a Glass Darkly, tells the story
of a man who kills himself because of the bleakness of the world situation.
The world situation is always more or less bleak. Bad things happen every day. Even as it gets better, it's easy to think it's getting worse.
If you refuse to believe that and insist that life is good, you may be accused of being a pollyanna, of looking through the world through rose-
colored glasses, of being an idealist instead of a Hard-Nosed Realist.
Early on when I started LifeStory back in the 1990s, I phoned Ruth Hardin, a subscriber in Florida, to talk to her about doing a workshop in New
Smyrna Beach. Her husband, Bob, answered the phone, Good morning! That in itself, I thought, was kind of weird. You didn't answer the
phone that way. I didn't. Nobody I knew up to then did. You simply said, Hello. But this guy not only said good morning, he practically sang it.
Good morning! It still rings, literally, in my ears.
After a lifetime of being one of those--hard nosed realist--I have come over to the side of those who choose to look at the world as a wonderful
place, not because that is the whole truth, but because it is the truth that works. So...what can I say?
DAY FIVE OF LIFESTORY 24TH JOURNALONG.
Fri., August 5, 2016
By way of explanation about this Journalong thing...what I try to do here is to write five hundred words about my life and mind, preferably as a
narrative, in the hope that you will say to yourself, I can do that too (or even, I can do that a lot better than he is!), and so you too will fix in
your life the habit of writing every day...and that will lead you to writing, however randomly, an autobiography and a family history.
I take the writing of autobiography and family history, however haphazardly, as an intrinsic good.
So I write on. For more than 50 years I have tried to write regularly in my Journal. I started in 1964 but I didn't really cement the dailiness of it
until 1986, when I bought a word processor and never really looked back. I have written around 12,000,000 words in that time. If we say the
average hefty book is about 100,000 words, then I have written the equivalent of 120 books.
This is not to brag, it is only to suggest what one can do by writing regularly. If you start writing today and write 500 words a day, in one short
year you will write about 3 ordinary-length books of about 60,000 words each. This is just a number but it suggests forcefully how much you
can do in a year.
If you are just starting or thinking about it, pick, right now, one story from you're life you'd tell is you were alive (say) a hundred years
from now. I don't have a story in mind...I have written so many. But here, now, I'll going to think of one...
My Uncle Les Isaacs was a kind of ne'er-do-well, I think, doing pickup jobs here and there around Indianapolis, where he lived most of his life. I
was barely 12 when he died at about the age of 50 or less, I imagine from liver failure. He was a drunk. He was my one of my mother's brothers,
and I remember him to be a nice looking guy who let me feel the muscle in his arm. He was driving a fruit truck then, from somewhere in the
country into Indianapolis to the fruit market. He stopped where we lived about forty miles southwest of the city on a little farm and he gave us a
case of (I think) nectarines, which may have been a new thing on the market back then.
Their father, my mother and Les's father, and my grandfather, died in 1950 and my father gave Les $50 to buy a suit of clothes for the funeral;
Les showed up at the funeral drunk and in old clothes, and the last time I saw him, he was telling a story to some others at the funeral and
Why he was like that I have no idea. If my mother speculated about that to me, I do not remember. We are what we are, and that was my uncle
Lester Isaacs. ###
DAY FOUR OF THE LIFESTORY 24TH JOURNALONG.
Thu., August 4, 2016
Here I was just bragging the other day to myself about how I was able in these latter days to sleep through the night and now, here I am, wide
awake at 150 AM. I am I guess regularly irregular--about every ten days I become an insomniac for a night or two. So be it.
My mother was likely to be awake any hour of the night, working her crossword puzzles. She was so good at them she did them in pen and ink.
She ran through the ones in the newspaper and then bought books of them. As for me, I've never been good at them. I start out, get a few,
maybe even most of a puzzle and then I run into something like Goober's Mother (sotto voce), and I think, what does this have to do with being
intelligent? And so I quit and go eat a Dagwood sandwich and go back to bed.
No more the sandwich, no more the puzzle. Now I just write and go back to bed and toss and turn until God takes pity on me and somehow
sweet sleep overtakes me.
After I quit teaching in Wisconsin, that would be the summer of 1971, and we hung around the farm we lived on all summer--my wife was
pregnant with our second child--and then as her time came near we went down to Madison and lived in a tent at Kegonsa State Park south of
town and waited our child's arrival. Today this will seem quaint, it seems quaint even to me, but we wanted to have a natural childbirth and no
doctor in Stevens Point (where we had been living, and where I had been teaching) would do that, and so we found a doctor at the UW Medical
School who would allow us to do Lamaze and all that. I forget his name.
So we hung out, went for long walks in the woods and around the lake together with our three year old son, sat in the evening by a campfire
and read Tolstoy or whatever was at hand and then the day came, the pains going into the night, and we knew we were going to be travelling
that night and around one, Patsy's labor intensified and so we got in the car and drove into town, down Johnson Avenue to the hospital and
nearly had the baby on that bumpy street, pulled into the ER at the hospital and went right up to the maternity ward and the doctor got there
just in time to catch our new baby girl--Patsy stood up, Indian style we called it, to let the baby come out easily and she did and we were all
happy oh so happy to have it over and there we were blessed with a new baby girl whom we named Leslie Patricia Kempthorne.
And the wonder of it all is that today, or maybe it's tomorrow, that said same Leslie is coming down here to Olympia with her husband and
children and meeting us all for a family reunion right here in this house--Leslie, now 44 years old and working for many years at a medical
research group at another UW, the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, two thousand miles from the one she was born in so
Isn't life just downright weird that way? ###
DAY THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., August 3, 2016
You know what they say, Too soon old...too late smart. Of course, it's never too late, if not to fix the material things, then certainly it's never too
late to fix the spiritual things. I have more humility today than I did nearly fifty years ago when I turned down the offer of tenure as a professor
of English at the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point.
I'm great at starting things--or I used to be--but I've always been great at quitting things, too. I quit that job, I quit a job teaching and working
on a Ph.D. just a couple of years later at Kansas State Univeristy; I quit a job a few years later teaching in an Adult Learning Center...I have a
lot of regrets. But I'm not going to wallow in them. Learn from them and move on.
A couple of things I quit I don't regret: I quit smoking cigarets in 1982 and I quit drinking in 2008. You may remember with me an old cowboy
song that goes, Cigarets and whiskey and wild wild women...they'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane! Well, it's a dumb song, really...
certainly the part about the wild, wild women. The singer seems to think that all these things came at him and he was the innocent party.
Well, enough of this. Let's get to a story.
My dad wasn't big on opening his heart to me or to anyone, I don't think, though he said little things all the time that gave you a look inside if
you were keen enough to listen and take note. In the morning, many a morning, when everyone was up and going hither and yon to school or
work, Dad mostly likely would be the first to be ready, walking around in his pin-striped suit and looking out the windows at the world and he'd
suddenly turn and say to one and all, "Around the rock the raggedy rascal ran!" or "Stay home, country mouse!" or even more obscure, "Blow
up your B-bag!" or, if we kids were being the slightest bit self-willed or obstreperous, "Boys! Boys! someday you'll be teachers!"
The thing about the B-bag he once explained. A B-bag was something G.I.'s carried some of their stuff in, and in North Africa the
street peddlers would call that out, hoping that the G.I.'s would buy their wares and put them in that bag, thus...blowing up their B-bags. Just
how that related to Dad's inner life I was never quite sure.
But Stay home country mouse was I think evidence of his deep conservatism, i.e., appreciate what you have, don’t make foolish moves...don't
resign a tenured professorship.
And today, everything in my barn having left, I close the door on such folly.###
DAY TWO OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tues., August 2, 2016
It was 1975 or 1976 and I knew I had to start making some money somehow. We had started farming and I was going to make us all rich in the
business of raising wheat, hogs, sheep and milo. June pitched in and we got advice from everybody and a little money in the form of paying for
equipment (all used), and went at it.
But within a year or two that was not working out as speedily as we thought. So I reverted to the trade I was well-trained for and had done
successfully for a number of years: teaching. I had been a college teacher; I had even made assistant professor and they had given me
a tenure year contract—meaning that if I kept my nose clean for another year at the end of it I’d be tenured.
Tenure is nothing to sneeze at. Wisconsin, where I was then, was and is a great university system. Stevens Point, where I was (about
a hundred miles north of Madison), was one of the many branches of the UW sysem, and it was a good place to be. It was said that every town
of any size in Wisconsin has a brewery, a cheese factory, and a university—in that order of importance. We used to laugh about that.
The brewery in Stevens Point made Point Special, a very good beer that the great columnist Mike Royko made famous in a Chicago Sun-Times
column he wrote about inviting all his pals to try various American beers..and Point Special had been chosen as the best American beer. The
first two years I was in Point we lived just a couple of blocks from the brewery. We’d go down with an old case of 24 empty 12 ounce bottles
and set it down on the loading dock and count out $2.40 (usually in dimes) to the man there and they’d give us a new case…so the stuff was a
dime a bottle, not much even back then.
Anyhow, tenure. I was offered that tenure year contract and…I quit. I wanted to be a back-to-the-land hippie. We could say, in retrospect that
this was more than a little stupid. We could say that. Stevens Point was a nice little city; the people were very friendly and warm
and hospitable. I loved the students and they loved me, mostly. I had the offer of a good job for life. Yeah, we could say that was a dumb move.
But I wanted adventure. So I went into a line of work—the farm was an investment property and a sentimental purchase my parents had made a
couple of years before. Mom said, Oh, you can fix the place up. The ratty little house had been empty for eleven years and was quickly
reverting to a hangout for rats, wasps, snakes, a thousand bugs, squirrels and coons. The place had been empty all this time. An old bachelor
man had lived there with his sister and then they died.
So we moved in. We was me and my second wife (only 33 and on my second marriage and with two children who lived with my first wife
but that I had to pay child support for); and by the time we moved she and I had our first child together.
I just hadn’t much sense of responsibility. ###
DAY ONE OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., August 1, 2016
On Sunday mornings when we lived in the country and I was old enough—10 or so—I’d go into town with my dad and he’d let me sit on his lap
and steer the car, a 1939 Buick. After a while I was tall enough to see over the wheel and able to drive, I guess I could reach the pedals, and he
would allow me to sit in the drivers seat and steer and do the whole thing. I can’t believe now that I was that young, but that’s what it was.
At 14 I got a license to drive “to and from school and on errands for my parents.” Which meant, really, you could drive to Timbucktoo. June told
me that she drove an old Model A that belonged to her father and then to her big brother and always kept an egg carton or two on the back
seat to prove that she was on an errand for her parents—delivering eggs.
Of course on the farm and on the roads around it kids of 8 or 9 drove tractors and trucks.
When I was fifteen, I bought my first car, a 1934 Chevy four door sedan. I paid Gene Guerrant $100 for the thing, an old faded red car that ran
just fine and that he called the Red Beetle. So the Red Beetle became my first car. I drove it for a couple of years until the tranny gave out and,
I think, the brakes. My friends Tony Alderson and Larry Brumm helped me roll it down to Julian’s Auto Wrecking on Pottawatomie Street.
Julian came out and looked at it. “The body’s in fine shape,” I said. I told him the obvious about the transmission and the brakes. Julian said
nothing, just looked it over. I probably started it up and showed him how it ran. Still he said nothing. Finally he spoke. “Three dollars,” he said.
“It’s got a full tank of gas,” I protested. I showed him the fuel gauge. “See, it’s full.” He barely glanced at that, but got a stick and took off the
cap to the tank and put it down in there and pulled it out and examined it. It was full. “Four dollars more for the gas,” he said. “Seven dollars.”
He started toward the little shack where he had his office. I followed. Julian counted out seven ones and I signed a slip of paper. My friends
wanted him to give us a ride to Aggieville. Julian shook his head. “You’ll have to hoof it, boys,” he said with a laugh.
And so we did. The seven dollars went quickly at the Hole in One Club, the famous pool hall on Manhattan Avenue in the heart of Aggieville.
I suppose in a short time the Red Beetle was smashed flat and melted down, I didn’t keep track. My next car, which came after a few months,
and which I bought with the money I earned at Graham Printers, was a black 1947 Chevy two-door sedan. I don’t think my parents ever gave
me one red cent (not that I asked) toward buying a car.###
DAY TWENTY-EIGHT OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., July 28, 2016
I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and always expecting a different result.
This is even attributed to Albert Einstein.
Well, this may be true. But you have to look at what is meant by the same thing. The same thing is the exact same thing. I suppose a scientist
like Einstein was probably talking about doing the same experiment over and over. Of course, Albert would be the first to agree that strictly
speaking no two things are the same because some time elapses in between each experiment, or whatever. I have been doing the same thing,
in looser terms, over and over for many, many years.
For many years now every morning I have gotten up and I write a few hundred or a few thousand words. I do not write the same words every
day, of course. If I got up every morning and wrote, Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country, then I would be doing
the same thing—virtually—over and over. But I don’t do this. I write about a memory, a dream, a fantasy I’ve had, what happened the day
before or a thousand or ten thousand days before. Or I write about what I’m thinking.
I do not write the same thing over and over but I am quite sure that, were I to go back through the journal I have now of something like
12,000,000 words that I would find some of the same ideas, the same sentiments, even the same words.
But I am a different man today and I am different in considerable measure because of this journal. I follow the routine. I love my routine. My
routine has enabled me to get a lot of writing done. Some of it is dumb and stupid. Some of it is inspired and, well, brilliant for me.
Actually about a third of my journal is boring and useless to anyone but me—things that I wrote to get from A to B. It is mostly whining and
wishing for things I ought to know better about. About a third, the second, third, is things I think, mostly half baked ideas that I have had, the
value of which is very questionable, especially in that they never really got fully baked.
And then another third, the last third, are scenes from my life that I took the trouble to write up in some more or less considerable detail. Some
of these scenes I have already taken out of the Journal and revised or dusted off or polished a little and published. And some of these, perhaps
the best, remain in the journal and are of interest, or may be, to my six children and their children.
This is my legacy. It has taken me 52 years, and I’m still writing every morning, and I will do so until I drop.
I thank God for my routine. ###
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., July 27, 2016
I believe in words. You know, in the Bible--I'm told--it says In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God...and something. I never
read any further. In the beginning was the Word! That was enough for me.
Even though after some considerable length of time I came to believe in God (I'm waiting for His thank you note) I am still crazy about words.
My family sat around in the evening and read words and spoke words and even talked about words. We had a two volume dictionary on the
coffee table. But my parents weren't scholars or professors--just people who thought words were very, very important.
So when a friend came by once and used the so-called word "irregardless" in front of all of us...well, we were concerned. We knew there was
no such word as irregardless. Irregardless was a double negative! This occupied our thinking for days and is one of the principal moral
lessons from my youth. It wasn't so much that we felt our friend should be cast out and thrown into the pit of Word Hell; it was just that it was
so damaging to...I don't know, the Word Ether maybe, to misuse a word.
Years later when a friend and co-worker who had a great gift for words (and does, I hope, exercise it still) was the first person to ever say in my
earshot, "Oh, that don't make no never mind" --well, hearing that wonderful and satirical use of, what, a triple or maybe a quadruple negative...
that was heaven! At least once or twice a year I think of Phil Spears, who uttered that phrase, and revere him for that. I am still waiting for an
opportunity to use that expression myself in a way that will not seem self-conscious. I aspire to that, but I don't think I can ever do it.
Walt Whitman spoke of loving the "hum of his valved voice." His voice did hum, we all have that capacity sometimes deep within us. I only
hope that I can think of something witty to say for my dying words. Just maybe, if I die right, I can without self-consciousness say with the
proper degree of nonchalance, Oh, that don't make no never mind.
Wouldn't that be wonderful? ###
DAY TWENTY-SIX OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., July 26, 2016
When I used to go to my Manhattan doctor, the great Kevin Wall, and I'd have a headache or something, and we'd laugh as he eased my mind--
literally--by telling me it was just a headache, and not a brain tumor. Whatever I had when I went to see Kevin back in those days when I was
young and healthy was pretty insignificant compared to what I thought I had--brain tumor or, if I had a sore muscle in my chest, imminent heart
attack, you know, or maybe at least a gall bladder explosion-- didn't really know what gall bladders did when things went wrong then or now,
but I was sure something was wrong with mine...
So on the crawling news this morning when I read that late stage Alzheimer's might be detected by an odor given off--I began to sniff and
wonder what I smelled like. That's just the way I am--i.e., a hypochondriac.
Well, you know, even hypochondriacs sometimes get sick. [I just lost the thread of my thinking, so now I am quite sure I should call the doctor--
alas, not Kevin anymore--for an Alzheimer's test.
Actually--and this is the thread I'd lost, oh thank you God!--actually I worried about fifteen years ago that I was losing my memory and so I asked
a psychologist I was seeing (I was always seeing somebody) about my life and hard times if he could test me for Alzheimer's, and he said, yes, he
could give me a little screening test, but he didn't have it in his desk and so he'd bring it next time.
I went home and worried and waited for the next appointment. I was just sure my mind was going south very rapidly. So when the appointed day
and hour came I asked: the therapist grinned and blushed: "I forgot to bring the test."
So we had a good laugh about that and I didn't worry about my memory loss for awhile.
I have always had a very good memory for some things and a very bad memory for other things, like how to get to wherever. Thank the Lord for
Google Maps. I've been lost in every major city and most minor ones in North America. I get lost in Olympia every day, a city smaller than
Manhattan. I get lost sometimes in my own house. Have you ever done that? Get up in the middle of the night and the lights are all off and
you're in the bedroom trying to find the way to the john and it's pitch dark and you turn a certain way and you're totally disoriented? And you
don't want to turn on the lights because you'd disturb your honey, who has the good luck to sleep through every night of her life?
Well, I have. But I'm grateful to be here this morning and if I'm suffering from anything, I don't know it...and what you don't know won't
hurt you, will it? ###
DAY TWENTY-FIVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 25, 2016
In 1948 when I was ten years old I started being political. We used to argue politics on the school bus on the way into town, a six mile ride,
making stops all along the way for other kids. I got to debating my neighbor and older friend, Bill Barr, about who would make the best
President, Harry Truman (who was the sitting Prez and a Democrat), or Thomas E. Dewey, a Republican and once governor of New York. I was a
Bill said Harry Truman was a good man and deserved to be re-elected. Someone on the schoolbus said that the reason they hadn't made
a stamp with Truman's picture on it was that they were afraid people would spit on the wrong side. Truman was reviled by some; I don't know
that I particularly disliked him, and I don't know why I was for Dewey except that my dad was. So Bill and I made a bet of ten cents (a dime) as to
whose candidate would win. If Dewey won, Bill would pay me a dime. If Bill won, I would pay him a dime. It was my first bet on anything.
Of course the election came off without a hitch and the favored Dewey famously lost. He and everybody else, maybe even Harry
Truman himself, thought Dewey would win. Truman campaigned very, very hard, and Dewey did too, I guess. My mom always referred to Dewey
as "the little man on the wedding cake" because Dewey, who was kind of an eastern fancypants, was always depicted in a morning coat
and tie and all that. Truman, who was from Missouri and with a workingclass background, wore just an ordinary business suit.
About midnight on election night it became clear that Truman was going to win. Some reporters went to Dewey's home to ask him for a
comment. The butler answered the door and told the reporters that "the President-elect had retired for the night." The reporters laughed and
said, "Would you please waken the President-elect and tell him he is not the President-elect?"
So I owed Bill Barr a dime. I coughed it up and on the school bus, gave it to him. However, he declined to accept it. Bill had talked it over with
his parents, I guess, or at least they had gotten wind of our bet--everyone on the school bus knew about it, I had such a big mouth even then--
and it seemed that everyone was watching when Bill said that he couldn't accept the dime because his parents told him he couldn't, and that
betting was immoral. Later on I heard that betting on a presidential election was illegal!
Bill Barr was a handsome and happy guy, four years (a generation!) older than I, and I admired him. When he sang the lead in the school play,
Down in the Valley, I thought he was probably destined to become a great singer and actor.
I guess I kept that dime. I probably bought candy with it. I'd like to think I bought a couple of Milky Ways (a nickel each) and gave one of them to
Bill. But I imagine I ate them both. ###
DAY TWENTY-FOUR OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., July 24, 2016
My father was a lifelong Republican and my mother was a lifelong Democrat. Both always voted but neither was active in party politics. I don’t
think they ever contributed any money to either party, and not much over the years to any cause that might be considered political. Of course
never is a long time and I wasn’t always in the know.
We always argued politics and social issues at the dinner table in a more or less good natured way. Occasionally, fending off attacks
from Mom, my brother and myself and maybe even my little sister—we were all Democrats—Dad may have gotten a little cyanotic and blue
around the gills and maybe got up and went out to work in the garden, but still it was all in good fun, really, we all relished the fray more than
the substance of it.
My brother Hal studied logic and even taught it for awhile, and I of course felt I was a serious contender for A’s in argumentation on most any
subject. Mom was no slouch; Dad was persistent and he read what was on the coffee table and made us of it. But his days and sometimes
nights too were taken up with doctoring and he just didn’t have the background or the time.
We used to tease him about always voting for Coolidge who was, I think, the first person he ever voted for. He was 21 in 1924 and that was an
election year and he voted for him. Of course, Coolidge was already the Prez and his Keep Cool with Coolidge slogan easily carried the day and
he won. Bob (“Fighting Bob”) LaFollette was a third-party candidate, the Progressive Party candidate, but he was a distant third behind some
old Democrat named Davis from, I think, West Virginia. LaFollette carried Wisconsin but Dad, even if he was from Wisconsin and lived there
then, did not vote for him.
Mom was younger and couldn’t vote in a presidential election until 1932, and I’m pretty sure she voted for Roosevelt, and I’m very sure that Dad
didn’t and voted for Herbert Hoover, whom he had no doubt supported and voted for in 1928 also.
The year I was born, 1938, wasn’t a presidential election year but FDR was a popular leader and so my middle name is Roosevelt. Now
there’s a story here.
Dad was born in 1903 when Theodore Roosevelt was prez. Dad’s middle name became Roosevelt. So I was named for my father, according to
my father: I was a junior. But according to my mom, I was named for Franklin, a Democrat. That’s why I’m so schiz, perhaps: my mother and
father disagreed even about the origins of my name.
A couple of years ago, after a lifetime of chafing under the moniker Charles Roosevelt Kempthorne, Junior, I took a closer look at my birth
certificate and noticed that I was not a junior: I’m just (and isn’t this enough? Why couldn’t I have been named Charles Ray or Charles
Rutabaga or something similar?)…I’m just plain old Charles Roosevelt Kempthorne. Which, as a matter of fact, I’ve shortened to just Charley
Kempthorne. And that’s the way it’s going to be on my tombstone if I have anything to do with it. ###
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
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 unruly.
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 newsletter/magazine,
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 and
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
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
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 absolute
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 world
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 then.
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 preserved.
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
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
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 come hoooommmme!
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 up.
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 and journaling.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org ###
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 word.
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
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
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 day,
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 haystack.
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 blinking cursor.
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 my
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 perfect fit.
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
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:
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
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
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 empathetic.
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 Institute
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
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 green.
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
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 month.
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
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 through
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 minutes.
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. ###