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