|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.
NOTE: the Journalong will be published on Facebook only for the
next few weeks. See "The LifeStory Institute" page.
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. Leave a message and I will call you back the
same day. This is important if you consider writing your personal and family history important to your descendants.
Come journal with me! by Charley Kempthorne
DAY 28 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Dec. 28, 2016
This is the last day of the Journalong. I think maybe this is the 30th Journalong, something like that…I’ve lost track. I’ve been doing
them for several years and I plan to start another one on Jan. 1. It’s a habit for me, and I hope it has become one for you too. Writing a
few hundred words every day can’t hurt, and might just help. It has certainly helped me. Next year, a few days off, I’m going to try to
write 2,740 words each day so that I can one year from now be looking at having written 1,000,000 words in 2017.
Well, why not?
I hope I can write 10,000 stories of a thousand words each. I hope I can come to really believe that all life is just one story after another.
It was 4 o’clock and we hadn’t been out all day. In another half hour it’d be dark. I hadn’t been down to get the newspaper even. It’s
about a hundred yards there and back, maybe a little more than that. But it was cold, it was gloomy, and I don’t like walking. I just don’t.
Most people like to walk and when I say I don’t like to walk they look at me like I was un-American or something. “Go for a walk
everyday,” all the online medical things tell me, and my doctor tells me that, and everybody says, Go for a walk, Charley.
In the old days on the farm I’d get up in the morning, early, and I’d go out in God’s great outdoors and work. I didn’t work out, I said to
anyone who would listen, I just go out and work. And work I did. Those 2x4s I bought yesterday were still on the truck. I’d unload them
and put them in the storage bay of my big long shed. And I might just as well unload the feed I’d bought too, hoisting the fifty pound
bags on my shoulder and walking to the chicken shed and stacking them neatly by the door. While I’m at it I could stack the firewood
that I’d cut a couple of days ago. I love to see firewood all neatly stacked by the door.
And so on. I loved physical work. I still love physical work. But walking for exercise…(I say) How decadent!
So I got in the car and drove down to get the newspaper. I was back in a couple of minutes, mission accomplished.
“You didn’t walk?” June said. “No, I drove.” “You should walk,” June said, “it good for you.” I smile and nod. I’ve already had this
conversation. I sit down on my butt and open the newspaper and begin to read, and I ask, “Is there any more of that pecan pie?”
In the next world, I am sure, there’ll be plenty of time to walk. My mother hated walking too, and she lived to be 88. True, she played a
lot of golf and bowled a lot. I don’t do either of those things. But I do type a lot, talk a lot, and I’m beginning to get on Rip’s exercise
bike every day for a few minutes. It’s right by a shelf and I’ve put a pen and paper there and I can write while I bike. Well? What’s
wrong with that? What?###
DAY 23 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., Dec. 23, 2016
SIXTY YEARS AGO.
On July 20, 1955, I held up my right hand and enlisted in the Navy. Less than a minute after that, I thought I had made the greatest
mistake of my young life. I stood there in Kansas City, half naked and putting my civilian clothes back on after an arduous hour of
running from station to station in the huge building where various medical people were set up to examine us in jig time. From our toes
to the top of our head we were looked over, laughed at, pinched and pulled like the scared animals that we were until we were
pronounced physically fit. The only thing on me that they lingered over was my blood pressure. Too high, the doctor said. Sit down over
there. So I went over and sat on a bench for a few minutes. He came over and took my blood pressure again. Okay, he said, you’re all
At one point we all stood bare naked in a kind of rough formation. Bend over and spread your cheeks! The man up in front shouted.
One kid, a farm boy from Oklahoma, bent over and put his hands on the cheeks of his face, and everyone laughed. The rest of us
dutifully bent and spread open up our ass for inspection. Two or three medics ran along behind us and checked things out.
“Okay. Okay. Okay. This one’s okay. Okay…”
We were just so many assholes.
Three months later, nearing the end of Boot Camp in Waukegan, Illinois at the GreatLakes Naval Training Center, I made the second
greatest mistake of my life.
The chief petty officer who had been running us all ragged for the past three months noticed that my hand was shaking during some
hellish workout or other. “What’s wrong? Why are you shaking?” “I don’t know, sir,” I mumbled. “I just shake sometimes.” “Shaky Jake,
huh?” “You ought to go to sick bay and get that checked out.”
So that evening I went over to Sick Bay and talked to a couple of Hospital Corpsmen, the only two guys who were there. The two men
were playing darts with syringe needles. “Whatcha want, sailor?”
I explained what my company commander had said. I held out my hands when one of them asked me to. He looked and sniffed. “Do you
want to stay in the Navy?” he said. “Oh, yes, sir,” I said.
In a long career of saying crazy, insane and maniacal things, that was the craziest and dumbest thing I ever said. The reason I said it, I
thought, was that I only had another week of Boot Camp and I would get to go home for two weeks’ leave, and I would then be a “real
“Then get back to your company and forget it,” he said. “All I can do is make you an appointment with a headshrinker, and he’ll boot
your ass out of the Navy.”
Where were you, God? ###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., Dec. 22, 2016
WHY DO I DO THIS JOURNALONG?
What I’m doing here is showing you that someone can write every day, day in and day out. I have journaled for more than fifty years and
I have found it useful. I write every day, usually the first thing in the morning. I am a writing coach, and I have made it my job in life to
help older people write about their lives. I have found that keeping a journal is by far the best way to do it.
Even so I readily admit that it doesn’t work for everyone. But I think everyone ought to try it, and so that’s why I do this: journal along
with me for 28 days and I believe you will find on the 29th day that you want to write that day…and the next, and the next. I wrote a book
called Narrative Journaling: 28 days to writing more or less happily for the rest of your life. I’ve sold a couple thousand copies and
would more or less happily sell you one too, if you want to buy it. But you don’t have to have it—not right this minute, anyway—if you
just follow along here in this space and write every day. I put 500 words here, at least, sometimes a few more, but never less.
JUST PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF ANOTHER.
If you want to make it easier and better for you, write narrative. Just write a little story how how you went to the store, or to the dentist,
or re-arranged your books on a shelf, or had some friends over for dinner. Anything, literally. Write 500 words about this (or 100, or
200, or whatever goal you set for yourself). Don’t try to write well. That’s a killer. Just write.
I got up about 530. I smiled at myself in the mirror. Every day I look grayer, more wrinkled, more like a corpse, which one day I will
surely be. But that’s okay, that’s life…and death. My dad used to say, “You’ll make a good-looking corpse someday.” He had kind of a
dark sense of humor. I do too.
Dad was born in Platteville, Wisconsin on January 7, 1903. In a couple of weeks he’ll be 113. He’s been dead since 1983, though,
staying put in a tall brass urn that I buried myself in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery just south of Manhattan, Kansas. When I lived there I’
d pass him (and Mom, who is next door to him) and wave or cross myself or salute, whatever felt good. He was a good guy, but for a
long time I was angry with him. He was a twin with his half-hour older brother, Guy. Oh, Dad’s name was the same as mine: Charles
Roosevelt Kempthorne. Mom always called him Kempy. I did not once in my entire life hear her call him Charley, though his family all
did, of course. I mean, if you’re name was Kempthorne, you wouldn’t call one another Kempy now, would you? ###
DAY 21 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Dec. 21, 2016
I bought an old plough at an auction, a John Deere no. 44 model. The shares were rusty. My neighbor, Ted Anderson, who farmed with
John Deere equipment, mainly—and who was the only one in the Deep Creek valley who did—Ted said, Just take a soft red brick and
shine those up and you’ll be ready to go.
Everything was new to me. The only thing I knew about ploughing or plowing was that there were two ways to spell it. And I knew the
use of the word in several poems, mainly in Gerard Manley Hopkin’s great poem, the line, “Sheer plod makes the ploughshare down
sillon shine.” I didn’t tell Ted that…he would have thought me crazy. Which of course I was.
I got a soft red brick at the lumberyard. Just one? The counterman at Kansas Lumber wanted to know. Just one brick? I smiled and
explained what I wanted it for. A soft red one. Yeah, I know, he said, and tromped off to some where and soon enough came back and
clunked a brick down on the counter.
Several other men looked at it, then at him, then at me. Anything else? He said. I shook my head. That’s it. How much do I owe you?
Oh, about a hundred dollars.
I looked up sharply from staring at the brick.
What? I said.
He shrugged. Nothin’, he said.
Well, thank you.
Come back when you want some mortar, he said, laughing and waving me off.
I went home, broke the soft brick in two, and began to shine up the rusty ploughshares. It was a two-bottom plough. It went fast, Ted
was absolutely right, old Ted knew what he was doing, a good guy and a good farmer, and in an hour the shares were bright and shining
in the morning sun.
I had already greased the several zerks of the plough, and I had bought a hydraulic cylinder and hoses and had hooked everything
up, a new bright orange clevis to attach the plough to the drawbar of my tractor.
I was ready to go. My heart was racing.
I drove to the field with the whole rig and positioned everything and pushed down the hydraulic lever and saw the ploughshares drop
to the ground.
Oh, God, I thought. Here goes. I put the tractor in low and moved. Looking ahead, I aimed the tractor where I wanted to go. Inside I was
full of music and poetry.
Whoa! Whoa! The tractor groaned, lurched, from somewhere came a whack! And I wasn’t pulling the plough, it was back there halfway
into the ground, just the tips, and I was moving along, ten, twenty, forty feet away. Stop!
The clevis had broken! My brand new hydraulic hoses were stretched out and were about to snap.
Lucky those things didn’t snap on you, You'd a been a human slingshot, Ted said when I asked him to come look. Man! You’ll need to
get new ones, sure. Easy way to spend, what, ‘bout fifty dollars for the pair, I’ll bet.
It’s too dry to plough, Charley. Look at that ground. With the heel of his boot he tried to dig in. It’s like rock. It’ll rain here one of these
days. He looked at the cloudless sky. Then you can get out there and plough your heart out. ###
DAY 20 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tue., Dec. 20, 2016
The world is in a turmoil…or is it? I look out the window and see our backyard shrouded in black night, Puget Sound a few hundred
yards beyond the tall trees. At this time of morning I hear nothing. I turn on the TV and on it are reports of a Russian ambassador being
shot down, of Trump being formally elected, of somebody driving into a crowd of Christmas shoppers in Germany and killing a dozen or
more human beings.
I turn the TV off. It is quiet here in our living room/kitchen. June’s beloved Christmas flowers are quietly growing; the Christmas lights
hanging on the window beside me are being green and red and yellow and blue…you might say that God’s in his heaven and all’s right
with the world.
In the Navy in the summer of 1958 I got assigned to a ship that was going from Brooklyn, my home port, to Izmir, Turkey to pick up some
soldiers and take them to Korea. We would fly under the US Flag, of course, but we would also fly under the UN flag and be a part of UN
operations. I wouldn’t get out of the Navy for another four or five months, at least, and the trip to the Far East was three months
long…so why not? It was an adventure.
After ten days’ steaming across the Atlantic, through the Straits of Gibraltar and all the way across the Mediterranean Sea to the port of
Izmir, a wonderful old seaport and the birthplace of Homer, then known as Smyrna. If I had read Homer at that time I would have gone to
see the monument…or something. We didn’t have much time to fool around, anyway. We just boarded something like 3,000 Turkish
soldiers and all their gear and shipped out through the Suez Canal for Inchon, South Korea.
These soldiers were just kids, really, even younger than me. Nobody spoke English except some of the officers; and nobody so far as I
knew of our group spoke any Turkish. (A few years later I was to have as an advisor and major professor Edgar Wolfe, who was an
expert translator of Turkish poetry and fiction; but that was later.) The soldiers weren’t exactly in the snappiest uniforms I’d ever
seen…they wore greenish- brown baggy rumpled shorts, shirts, and some kind of simple floppy caps, all the same color and the same
cloth. I got to know some of them, one was assigned to help us in the office and somehow we communicated with winks and nods and
grunts and jokes.
Most of them, if not all of them, had been shepherds in the hills—real shepherds of real sheep. They just gave up their shepherd’s
crook and were taken away by the conscriptors and given an old rifle and they were in the Army. They hadn’t had much schooling and
possibly weren’t literate. But they talked, they were happy or sad, there were human beings just like me, and I made some friends. ###
DAY NINETEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., Dec. 19, 2016
On a Saturday morning about 60, 65 years ago I’d be put to work feeding envelopes into a letterpress at Mr. Graham’s print shop. I was
14, 15 years old and I’d arrive at 8 am and Mr. Graham would have the job already on the press—a Chandler & Price platen press—and I’
d start feeding in the envelopes one at a time and eight hours later (less one hour off for lunch) I’d be done—five thousand envelopes
printed with the return address of some lawyer or doctor. Usually the envelopes were “statement envelopes” with a little cellophane
window in them where the statement with the address was on it.
It was a boring, mindless job and I don’t know how I did it. I wanted to be a printer, I thought then, and that was part of it. I was paid 35
cents an hour and I made some pocket money of my own and it made me feel grown up and useful.
I passed the time by thinking, some, but at some point the thinking ran out and I passed the hours by feeling like I was part of the
machine. I was a partner with the machine. I turned on the machine and it had a life of its own, the great flywheel turned and the two
sides of the press parted, I placed the envelope tight in place against the gauge pins and removed my hand, the press closed, thunk,
and I reached in and took out the now-printed envelope while the machine whirred on, opening, closing, opening, closing.
Sometimes that night I would dream of it in my sleep. I made certain very precise movements in response to the machine’s very precise
movements. We were a team. I turned my mind and my body over to the machine.
Is that meditating? It could have been. It was boring beyond belief, but I had to do it, and I did it. Anyone who operates a machine knows
what I’m talking about. Usually today robots do it, or I’d have something clamped to my ears that I could listen to. Then, nothing.
It got me to where I am today. Which is where, exactly?
I’ve got a couple books on meditation and I’m doing a little. When I first wake up in the morning I do some exercises in place in bed,
June asleep next to me. (She says they don’t bother her and she isn’t even aware that I’m doing anything.) I pull my knees up to my
chest to stretch, I guess, my hamstring muscles.
It’s bor-ing, so I began to meditate. It’s still boring. In fact, trying to think of nothing is about the most boring thing in the world to me.
Someone advised me to focus on my breathing. Okay, I do that, and I’m making a little progress about that…so?
Another of my life occupations (it’s been a long life, and still is) was that of a housepainter. Swish, swish went the brush, swish swish
swish. Bor-ing. Dip, slap, slop it on, smooth it out, dip, slap…all day long. Think of the money. Think of the money. Think of the money.
Now…writing, which has been and remains my real occupation since I was about 8, my pre-occupation and my occupation—in writing I
have found a kind of meditation too, that is much more pleasant. For me. I write and lose my mind and I am so focused on what I’m doing
I don’t even know I’m doing it. I am part of the writing process.
Swish swish slap slap. Dip. It’s a beautiful life.###
DAY 18 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Dec. 18, 2016
For the second day in a row I'm late, late posting, and I'm writing here in the Journalong rather than writing it first in my Journal
and then reposting it here. Oh, well. The point is that I'm writing today and I hope you are too.
At the end of Mark Twain's book Huckleberry Finn Huck says that he has "nothing more to write," that his story is told. I know I don't feel
that way, but after 52 years of journaling and something like 12,000,000 words, I am having trouble thinking of more stories. I'm not tired
of writing, not at all, I'm more energized than ever, but I seem to have run out of stories.
Of course I actually haven't: I've just hit a block. William Stafford said that when he encountered writer's block he just lowered his
standards and kept on writing. Good idea.
In my case I'm lowering my standards of what makes a story.
I woke up from my nap yesterday afternoon hearing June and Adah laughing merrily and chattering away in the kitchen. They were
making Christmas cookies. It's a wonderful thing to hear, even to be wakened from a nap, by your wife--the grandmother--and your
granddaughter raucously mixing the flour and kneading the dough and pushing it into the plunger thing that spits out little
cookies onto the pan...and then baking them.
I came out in time to have them out of the over and Adah brought me one. "Here's a cookie, Grandpa!"
Which of course I happily ate.
June is opening yesterday's mail. "Somebody sent you a shirt!" she exclaimed. She held it up. It was black and on the front it said THE
GRANDFATHER. "Oh," I said. "Who from?" "I don't know," June said. "It's from the t-shirt company, some place in North Carolina. "Huh," I
said. "One of the kids." The typography was the same as THE GODFATHER, and so... I laughed. "I'll wear that," I said.
And I will. I don't usually like t-shirts that say things on them, but in this case, I like it. I guess I am a grandfather, though I still think my
own grandfather was The grandfather--I'm still a little kid, especially when somebody gives me a present.
When I was really, really was, a little kid, I couldn't wait to open my presents under the tree. I'd pinch them and poke them and by
Christmas morning they'd be so ratty looking, and of course I had long since identified what the present was--a toy wagon, a book, a
toy... I remember LIncoln Logs. Do they still make those? I wonder.
Well, they have t-shirts now with words on them. I don't even know if they could print words on cloth back in the 1940s. I went all
the way through high school wearing just like all the other boys, a plain white t-shirt. I think they had just invented t-shirts a few years
before. And why "t" shirts? For tea...what? #journaling.
DAY 17 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., Dec. 17, 2016
I'm up, finally, having slept in after a night with trouble going to sleep and then staying asleep. It happens. I feel good. Last night after I
did the dishes I sat down here to write and on came my almost favorite movie ever, The Best Years of Our Lives. That movie about
World War II and the GIs coming home I saw as a little boy when it came out in 1946; maybe I saw it in '47. And I've seen it many times
since and it never fails to move me very, very deeply. Maybe in some sense I feel those years when my father was overseas (1942-46)
were the best years of my life. I don't know. It's a real tearjerker and it worked once again for me.
I cry during movies, and now in my old age sometimes I'm crying during real life. It's good to cry, just don't do it while crossing the
street. And I'm not. But the other day I cried as I finished reading David McCullough's history of 1776 and the early battles of the
American Revolution. I love old George Washington, and I'm so glad to live in a state named for him. They have statues of him all over
the place out here.
I read a biography by Marcus Cunliffe of him years ago, and I thought then, This is a pretty good guy. He is one of those guys who made
a difference. If he hadn't made that daring raid on Trenton that night and crossed the Delaware, we would probably not be the United
States of America.
Meaning, possibly, we would not be contemplating a President Donald Trump--now there's a thought.
I'm stalled. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
Last night when I couldn't sleep I got up and worked. Then I tried to go back to sleep and I couldn't. I was wound up, I guess. So finally I
got up and ate. I reached in the back of the fridge and found a carton of cottage cheese. I've been hungry for cottage cheese and
olives. So I made a bowl of that and ate it. Then I thought a handful of peanuts would be good, so I ate a handful of peanuts. And then,
why not, a little more dairy, and I opened the new carton of Moose Tracks flavor ice cream we bought yesterday and ate some of that.
Then I went back to bed and slept like a baby.
I'll just skip my usual breakfast and in an hour or so, go right into lunch. It's almost noon, anyhow. And then supper. I wonder if I could
calculate how much food I've eaten since I was born?
I did figure out the other day with the help of the calculator on my smart phone how much I'd smoked in the 27 years I smoked cigarets. I
quit in 1982, but I smoked enough to compromise my lungs--that smoke and the wood smoke from heating all those years down on the
farm without an airtight stove, not even knowing for years what an airtight stove was. Anyhow, I figured out that I smoked a cigaret that
was almost four miles long! A four mile smoke! Whoa! I'll never do that again! ###
DAY 16 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., Dec. 16, 2016
Well, this is what is on my mind this chilly dark morning: “It’s them Russians,” Allen Ginsberg tweeted, “it’s them bad Russians.”
Actually he didn’t tweet this, he wrote it and put it in a poem and read the poem to millions—thousands, anyway, back in the day when
he was alive and part of our public life as a kind of unacknowledged poet laureate of the Hippies.
Some of you may remember him today.
I was a young graduate student, or maybe still an undergraduate, at the University of Kansas from June, 1963 to June, 1966. “Three of
the happiest years of my life,” I still tell others (and myself, when I can get a word in edgewise). I was 25 to 28 years old.
Those were heady days. Even as The War heated up and more and more of our boys were being drafted into the Army and sent to
Vietnam, then more and more did the battles on the campus heat up and soon the demonstrations were in the streets all across
America. A losing battle was fought in Vietnam, but a winning battle was fought on the campus and streets of in the Congress and even
in the Presidency of America; and that battle was won.
One day Allen Ginsberg showed up on campus, and came to the Student Union there and gave a poetry reading. It was to be a 4 in the
afternoon in the Grand Ballroom. And he began then, he came in with his lover (now we would say Partner), Peter Orlovsky, who sat
beside the lectern listening quietly, and Allen read all his great poems to us.
But many came to scoff or simply to see this oddity, this creature of the media. It was at first a small crowd. But as Ginsberg’s good
nature and kindness and sincerity showed through his poetry, people began to listen. At first they kind of listened with one hear,
hearing a bit of this, a bit of that, and what they heard made them listen more. They looked at one another with looks they had meant at
first to be dubious, if not jeering; and then they really began to listen, and listen hard. He read part or all of Howl, his masterpiece, he
read his great poem about Walt Whitman, his mentor and the mentor for any American who loved poetry, as I did.
People drifted in. By five o’clock, when the reading was supposed to end, the great ballroom, a huge room as the name implies, was
filled, and still others came, some just to see what was going on. People who had come to jeer stayed to cheer. The reading and Allen’
s exuberance and almost saintly sincerity kept us there until 6 o’clock, when he reluctantly stopped, when we reluctantly left.
It was a great, grand afternoon.
Of course Allen was chiding us about our hatred for the “bad Russians.” One wonders what he would have for us today were he
around—would he only listen to V. Putin hacking away? Or would he remind us of the great Russian people and their almost infinite
suffering? Would he remember Tolstory, Dostoevsky—great Dostoevsky was taken out by his government to be shot, literally, and then
at the last minute called back and allowed to live? ###
DAY 14 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Dec. 14, 2016
The longer I live the stranger my life seems to me.
I’m having trouble connecting with my early life way back when…for example, when I was a kid in the Navy and stationed in New York.
New York—well, Brooklyn—was my home port, but a good deal of the time I wasn’t attached to a ship but was barracked at the Brooklyn
Army Terminal, a big complex of half a dozen tall buildings at 58th Street and 1st Avenue on the docks. There was a little corner on the
4th floor of one of the buildings that was a sleeping/living area for sailors waiting for their next ship.
We didn’t really have anything to do but sit around and wait.
At night we drank. Most of the time we’d go to the NCO club at the other end of the 4th floor and listen to them play Oh, Yes, I’m the
Great Pretender on the juke box and sip our drinks. It wasn’t a big party place. It was just a place where stray sailors and soldiers went
to have a drink or to drown their loneliness. I guess I was the latter group. I was lonely, I wanted out, and I didn’t have enough sense to
make the best of my time ashore in the greatest city in the world.
We had free tickets to ball games, to the operas and concerts…if we went in uniform even the Staten Island Ferry was free. Except for
the ferry—because sometimes my ship berthed at Staten Island—I didn’t take advantage of any of these things. So I’d go down to the
NCO club and drown by listening to the juke box and drinking. I don’t even remember what I drank. Whiskey, I think. And then I’d shuffle
back down the long wide and dark hallway to where we slept, crawl into my bunk, and sleep it off.
Or I’d sit around and read a novel. They had a day room and a TV but usually what was being watched by others wasn’t something I
wanted to watch. On Saturday mornings, I remember, all the permanent Navy people, even the chiefs, would be in there watching
cartoons. I was a short-timer, I was going to go to college…I was too smart for that. Or so I thought.
Most of my life I’ve lived more or less in the present. But not so in the Navy. I lived in the future: When I get out I’m going to college.
When I get out I’m going to have fun. When I get out I’m going to… I just didn’t have enough sense to enjoy the present.
I don’t know what possessed me. Why didn’t someone come along and knock me on the head? Especially the last days while I was
waiting to get out…why didn’t I do something constructive?
I was just overwhelmed with and obsessed by the future. My future as a civilian. My future as a college student. My future as a writer.
Of course I was only a wannabe writer then. I didn’t keep a journal. I didn’t even know what a journal was. I was about as clueless as you
could get. I was waiting to be born. Just waiting. ###
DAY 13 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tu., December 13, 2016
So every morning I write at least 500 words in my journal. Actually the last few years I’ve written several thousand every day. But every
day at least 500. Even if I write bad stuff. Even if I write ugga-ugga-boo ugga boo boo ugga over and over. And over.
I have formed the habit of writing. I practice it every day. For years—in my late teens and early 20s I thought about how I ought to write
this or that. I’d make a one line note, maybe, or just a mental note—love those mental notes (but where are they now?)—that I was
going to write…later. On February 24, 1964, I began this Journal. I said I was going to write every day but I didn’t. I wrote sporadically,
and I got some writing done. I kept the dream alive—I kept the lamp flickering. But it was 22 years later, in 1986, that I really made it do
or die to write daily, and 500 words. Partly that was an act of desperation but, well, what worthwhile act is not an act of desperation?
But also it was the technology. I bought a word processor, a Brother Word Processor. I could write faster…I could write without
thinking. I discovered the less I thought while I was writing, the better I wrote. The easier I wrote, the more fun it was, and even the
quality. My mind got in my way. It still does if I let it. Remember the old Yellow Pages ad, Let your fingers do the walking? Well, I say,
Let your fingers do the thinking. An old writing pal, Calvin Rabon, used to say he sat down every morning and wrote “just to see what
came out of the ends of his fingers.” He was a brother; I understand that.
Most of my life is mental. And most of my mental life consists of little one-act fantasies. I think about how I have to get LifeStory out, for
instance. That thought, those words, go through my mind. Then a little fantasy might come to me, a subscriber out in West Texas, is
wondering. She says to her husband over a fine breakfast of bacon and eggs and fried potatoes, Where is LifeStory? Wasn’t it
supposed to come yesterday? I don’t know, dear, her husband says, pushing back his chair, drinking down the last of his coffee,
getting up. I’m wondering how hot it’s going to be today. Oh, it’s going to be a hot one, his wife says…
And that kind of stuff is a lot of my mental life. I am very interested in the way my mind works. Maybe your mind, God help you, works
differently. My mind is my mind, yours is yours.
Popeye, the greatest American philosopher of the 20th Century, says, I am what I am.
I have no answers. I have only questions. But I do wish I had more stories come to me. At 78, maybe I am out of stories, maybe I have
told all the stories.
The day looms. ###
DAY 12 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., December 12, 2016
I bought an old gray drill that looked to be in pretty good condition for $45. I got it at auction but I don’t remember where. June and I
went together practically every week to one auction or another in our part of Kansas. Somehow the massive thing—sixteen feet wide
with huge steel wheels-- was loaded on an ancient haywagon that I also bought (for about $15). Buying a piece of equipment at a farm
auction was easy, but getting it to our place was sometimes difficult. This drill was really in pretty good condition, it was just old. It had
sixteen drills in it. I had to fix one or two of the tubes through which the grain dropped into the soil, and a few other things, and I was
field ready. I learned to say that from other farmers at the auction: that a piece of equipment was “field-ready.” When I said that, it
made me feel like a farmer.
In the seed box of the drill on the inside of the long door the previous owner had written in pencil the dates and what he’d planted. All
the dates were in the 1940s.
I bought some golden seed wheat from my neighbor, Frank Rudolph, who sold it to me a couple dollars per bushel above the ordinary
price the Mill or the Coop paid. Frank explained that he had to clean the seed and bag it and all that and that’s why it was a little more.
I trusted Frank and I was happy to pay the extra. Wheat was running about $6 and something a bushel and everything looked great.
So in early October, just like the other farmers, I got out there and drilled in my wheat—hard red winter wheat, I forget the name of the
variety. Just as I finished the drilling, which took a couple of days, as if on cue the sky grew cloudy and we had a nice little rain. I
watched it all from a window. I was very excited. I was a real farmer. I took the rest of the day off and watched the rain.
In just a couple of days and to my astonishment, little green dots began to appear all over the three fields where I’d planted wheat.
Hundreds, thousands of them. I learned from other farmers how to talk about my “stand.” Yes, I have a pretty good stand, it looks like
to me, I’d say. I got down on my hands and knees and stared at it. I walked the land. The little things were of the most intense green I
had ever seen. I got in my pickup and drove around and around the fields. There didn’t seem to be any areas where I’d have to
For days I’d stand at the window waiting for June to put dinner on the table and I’d stare at the stand of wheat and watch it growing out
there. And it was good. ###
DAY 11 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., December 11, 2016
Ropeyarn Sunday. I loved terms like this. Ropeyarn Sunday could occur any day of the week in the Navy. It was a time when
the captain declared that the crew could take a few hours off from regular chores and work on repairing their uniforms and other
personal gear. (I don’t imagine this would extend to reconfiguring your smart phone but it might.)
Anyhow this afternoon I’m going to declare it Ropeyard Sunday for me. I’m going to shine my shoes and put an insert in my new pair of
sneakers that helps support my arch so that I don’t have pain from a neuroma on my left toe—or something like that. Maybe I can get
June to sew that button on my favorite shirt so that I can wear it again.
The Navy had so many quaint terms and traditions. Even the uniform, especially the uniform, worn by ordinary sailors had meaning and
utility—once upon a time. The flap on the back of our jumpers in the ancient Navy was detachable. It was there to catch grease from
our hair, and we could change it every few weeks maybe or whenever it was full of grease by just detaching it…then we wouldn’t have
to change our whole jumper.
The white hat was made to unfold and bail water…and, famously, the thirteen button fly on our trousers instead of just a couple three
buttons down the front or a modern zipper—those thirteen buttons were known as “thirteen chances to change your mind.”
About what? I wanted to know when I first got my uniforms, Innocent and virgin that I was at 17/ When it was explained to me, I blushed
and then tried to pretend that I was only joking, laughing and saying Oh, sure, that!
I am sick of writing about the Navy, but it has kept me going. I remember a lot about everything in my life but the wonder to me is that I
don’t remember everything. I guess if I did just to make note of it I’d need another lifetime to do the remembering...and then another to
remember all that, and another…kind of a Sheherazade thing, where they were kept alive one day at a time by telling to be continued
kind of stories…wasn’t that it?
I could write about my years as a college teacher, a professeur… Or my longer career as a housepainter… Life has been so long and
every time I write about it it seems even longer.
When my mother would start to tell a story, which was often, my long-suffering father would say, laughing, Come on, Lil, make a long
story short. And she would shoot him a dirty look and add another line or two or three to her story just to spite him. We kids would
listen and look at one another and smile. Chances were we already knew by heart the story she was telling but we’d listen to hear any
variants she might introduce this time around. ###
DAY 10 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., December 10, 2016
I don’t remember who I went with. Bob Bennett and Jerry Biers, maybe, or maybe an oddball like Chuck—big, tall guy with a lanky
farmboy (which he had been, a south Oklahoma dustbowl guy) walk, Chuck…somebody. It was Chuck who was just finishing his
enlistment and decided to ship over and make a career of it, and then strode around the big personnel office chanting, only 5,838 more
days before I can retire.
Anyhow, Chuck and the others, a weekday night, and somehow we’d heard about this pi-za place. We had never had a pi-za, but were
actually kind of leery of eating anything that was pronounced with letters in the word that weren’t really there.
It was in Soonerville, the little town next to the campus of the University of Oklahoma, and that’s where we went. I remember now, we
had all been standing in the chow line when Bob came over from the barracks where ship’s company (that was us) was billeted and said
to me, Hey, Kempy, let’s go eat some real food.
I had a couple of bucks and so I pulled out of line and said, You’re driving, right? I don’t have any gas in my car. So we started off.
Jerry Biers and Chuck were just coming over to get in line and they joined us and we loaded up in Bob’s old Ford and away we went.
You’re buying, right?
Sure, I’m buying, Bob said over his shoulder. I’m buying with your money, and we gassed and joked about this all the way to this place,
The Village, or something, whatever, that he took us to. We had all heard about pi-za—which Bob called peetza—and we were ready to
The waitress was pretty and friendly and here were four or five sailors in uniform all looking at her and madly in love with her.
We asked her about this pi-za or peetza stuff and she explained it was a kind of pie, a big pie, and we could order one and share it. A
big one with olives and cheese and stuff on it was just four dollars. Four dollars! Chuck said. That’s a month’s pay! The lady, who
couldn’t have been out of high school more than a year or two, smiled—she had beautiful even teeth and fine smooth lips—laughed
and teased back with us until Bob sealed the deal and said, Well, gentlemen, shall we get one of these pies, then?
Pies are for dessert where I come from, Jerry said, but I’m in. I like blueberry, I said. But I’ll try anything once.
She brought us each a saucer and our drinks—cokes, and pepsis all around, and water too—“you’ll need this,” she said, “it’s kind of
hot.” I like ‘em hot, Bob said.
We talked while we waited. We drank all our water and the waitress refilled our glasses and we were listening to Chuck tell a sea story
about his time on the USS Hornet when the lady came out and placed the pizza on the table in front of us. We drew back and looked at
it. It was square. Pies are supposed to be round, somebody said. They’re on order, the waitress said. They’re not in yet. We just
opened. We’ve got a whole bunch of round ones on order.
Round or square, we turned to and ate our first pizza pie. And it was good. ###
DAY 9 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., December 9, 2016
It snowed here in Olympia last night and about two or three inches are on the ground and covering everything this morning. I’m
supposed to say how beautiful it is and how much I love the four seasons and et cetera et cetera. But I’m not going to. I have seen
enough snow: I was born in North Dakota, I lived in Wisconsin and Indiana, was stationed in New York in the Navy, we plied the waters
between New York and Bremerhaven, Germany; and of course I lived most of my life in Kansas. All these places had lots and lots of
I did enjoy snowstorms in Kansas and the aftermath when our kids were younger and we had plenty of firewood and we could sit inside
and June would make cookies and chocolate and we’d all look out the windows at the deer and all the little animals in the snow. In
Kansas it could snow three or four inches and the wind would cause drifts of three or four feet.
We’d just pray for the power not to go out (it usually did, sooner or later) and walk from window to window or go outside to listen for the
sound of a snowplow coming down our long lane. Often we’d have to wait for days. When the power went out things got bleaker and
bleaker. We lived in darkness and it wasn’t too hard to imagine what it was like in one million BC.
But here I am this morning, up and at ‘em in a rather muted way…going forth, doing the work of the world and recovering my life from
the darkness, piece by piece… Yet I have very little to say for myself this morning. In the face of the ten million years of history, I
Enough of that! Sheer plod makes the plough down sillon shine, as old Gerard Manley Hopkins said.
Li’l Abner was having romance problems with Daisy Mae. He sought the advice of the greatest psychotherapist in all Lower Slobovia, a
man so gifted and sought after that he charged $10,000 a word for advice. Li’l Abner saved his money until he had $50,000, and then he
went to see this great guru. He walked into the man’s palatial office and found him sitting behind a massive desk. “Good morning!” the
man said, “How are you?” And that was five words and it cost him his fifty grand.
That passed for humor in America in the late 1940s and early1950s. It wasn’t a time of great sophistication. Everyone was just so happy
the War was over and that we could get back to the business of eating two eggs over easy every morning, going into town on Saturday
night, procreating, and all the other necessary rituals of life.
One of the great popular songs of the time was one in which the women of America were advised to “leave the dishes in the sink”
because “tonight we’re going to celebrate.” Note that no one said anything about we’ll do the dishes for you; this did not happen until
the 1960s, when there were faint suggestions from the obscure corners of the country that, perhaps, just maybe, the men might do the
dishes now and then.###
DAY 8 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., December 8, 2016
I spent I don’t know how many hours at sea in the Navy standing at the ship’s rail and looking down into the sea. The rail was a long
uninterrupted piece of varnished wood that went all the way around the main deck. As a member of the Military Department I had
access to the main deck. Being a member of the Military Department wasn’t really all that great an honor, but it had its perks, and the
run of the ship except for the bridge and the engine room was one. Occasionally I would have an errand calling for a trip down to the
engine room or up to the bridge, where I was all eyes and ears, taking it all in.
The ship I spent most of my time on was the Rose, a large one, sixteen thousand tons and 600 some feet long. Our crew numbered
about 300 or so, and when we were loaded we carried about 3,000 passengers. We were like a small city. Just imagine the town of Clay
Center, Kansas or Reedsburg, Wisconsin or Carpenteria, California underway in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a big deal to me. I took
advantage of my position as a yeoman in the Military Department and explored the ship top to bottom. It had something like six decks
below the waterline and six above. It was like a twelve-storey building sailing along!
The center of this little city in the night, when I prowled about the most, was the mess—the day room and the night pantry, where the
watchstanders, who ran the ship during the night, gathered to drink coffee and tell stories and to ask each other how many days to
wherever the next port was, or what the weather was or…just about anything to pass the time, the hours of boredom at sea.
I can’t say I ever thought about staying in the Navy. I was focused on getting out, going to college, getting back home to my wife and
the exotic humdrummery of Manhattan, Kansas…can you believe that? Now I look back and think, well, okay, I didn’t like the
regimentation of the Navy, but I loved ships, and that morning in Brooklyn when I got out of the Navy I could have turned right around
and walked to the personnel office of the Military Sea Transportation Service, Atlantic Area and filled out an application for a job and—
probably—I would have gotten it. And I could have gone to sea as, say, the Deck Yeoman or at least an assistant to the Deck Yeoman,
at a very good salary and I could have sailed the bounding main for the next forty years and retired, maybe, as the chief of something or
other. Maybe I’d have gone to engineering school and become a ship’s captain.
Not bloody likely. No one wants a captain who sits in his quarters all day typing in his journal. Okay, there was Joseph Conrad and a
few other guys. But mostly people want the captain of the ship to be, duh, the captain of the ship. Writers are not men of action or
women of action. Writers write. ###
DAY 6 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., December 6, 2016
I have a cold and it has gone down into my chest. I imagine it will be with me for many days, and so I’d better get used to working
through it. But today I have to leave here at 645 am and go to the Gastroenterology Associates to have a gastroscopy: they are going to
push a little light into my stomach and check it out. So of course I haven’t eaten for five hours and won’t have eaten for four more by
the time I’m there.
So I have a cold and I’m hungry. Normally with a cold I baby myself a little, some comfort food or other. This morning I have hot water—
no coffee, no nothing, except water. I can have cold water, too…isn’t that just ducky?
Why am I having a gastro? Because I have GERD. And why do I have GERD (gastro-entero reflux disease)? Because I have lived too
I will come home after the gastro—well, June will drive me home, because I will be dopey from the sedative I will have been given for
the procedure. And then we will have some breakfast, and maybe I’ll go back to bed. And then it’s up and at ‘em and get
some LifeStory work done.
So I hope today will be better than yesterday. What was so bad about yesterday besides the cold? Well, poor June, who fell on the
sidewalk the other day right on her face, had to go to the dentist to get her teeth looked at. We went to our regular dentist first, he
looked her over, and then he referred her to a specialist, an endodontist around the corner and up the street. This was at 1 pm.
Meantime I had been fasting since midnight the night before—fasting and sneezing and sniffling—because my original endo
appointment was for 315 that day…but then I couldn’t keep that appointment because it turned out June’s appointment with the
endodontist conflicted with my appointment with the endo…are you following this? I’m not. Let’s just say it was one of those days that
can go unrecorded.
“Let’s do an ‘Oh, well, at least,’” I said to June on the way home—in the dark, by this time it was dark…nearly six pm. “I’ll start off: Oh,
well, at least we’re getting good medical care.”
In the light of an oncoming car I could see her nod slightly. She was numb from the endodontist and her mouth was open from the
wound last Friday. “And we have a wonderful place to say here in wonderful Olympia.” June nodded again. “And…” I went on, but
somehow fell silent. We zoomed along 26th Street past the little South Sound Community Church and then on through the woods and
finally onto Boston Harbor Road and…home.
I didn’t want June to carry anything in her hands. “Give me your purse,” I said. She gave it to me. “Give me that cup.” She gave it to
me. “Now take my arm.” And she did.
And so we septuagenarians tottered along, holding onto each other for dear life, and into the door and then we were sitting around
talking to Rip and Adah and laughing more or less happily. ###
DAY 4 of the LifeStory Journalong
Sun., Dec. 4, 2016
Is anyone else out there over 70 having trouble remembering what happened the day before?
I had trouble remembering where I parked my car when I was a student at the big University of Wisconsin in Madison back in 1960. For
ten bucks a year you could buy a parking permit and bus pass that allowed you to park in any of fifty-some lots scattered around the
huge campus in the big city. I was living north of town and my wife at the time worked in that town, Deforest, as a school teacher, and so
I’d drop her off at work early and then go on into Madison to the campus and spend the day there. By four or so in the afternoon I’d
sometimes forget in which of the fifty lots I’d parked. Sometimes I’d walk to the wrong lot by mistake and by that time it was
growing dark and it would be just starting to snow.
I was then all of 22 years old. I considered it part of my preparation for being an absent-minded professor, and I took a little bit of pride
in it. I could remember that Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616, and how to conjugate
etre in all its tenses, je suis, tu es, il or elle est…and so on. But I couldn’t remember where I parked my car. A badge of honor!
Now at 78 pushing 79, I have trouble remembering what I did the day before. My memory for the minutiae of my life is still keen, though
just now I had trouble remembering how to spell Deforest…or is it DeForest? Does it matter, many would say, but it does if you think
you’re losing your mind.
How do you spell What will be, will be?
My father was a doctor. (Actually he got his MD at the same University of Wisconsin I had trouble finding where I parked my car, nearly
30 years earlier, in 1932—how’s that for remembering?) His favorite joke was this:
A woman went to the doctor for some ailment or other. The doctor determined that she needed a prescription medication and he took
out his pad and started to write. Let’s see, he said to the lady, how do you spell your last name again? And the lady said, J-O-N-E-S.
End of joke. Hahahhaha! Get it? Well, practically nobody did but Dad, or maybe some other doctor who had trouble remembering his
patients’ names. In this case, the doctor couldn’t remember the lady’s name, but was embarrassed to say so, so instead he asked her
how to spell it. And of course it turned out to be the simplest of all names in English, Jones. So, haha.
Anyhow, I’ve forgotten now why I told that joke. Well, no matter. As we used to say when we went to the movies and instead of waiting
for the beginning of the movie, we just walked in and sat down and watched until that same scene came up again and we’d say, This is
where I came in.
I distinctly remember that.
#DAY TWO OF THE 28TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., December 2, 2016
I went to bed early and now I’ve wakened early. So be it. I used to wake up too early and begin the day in anger at myself and in dread at
how I’d gotten myself out of my routine again, and it would take me days to get back into something like sleeping nights and being
awake in the days. Sleep nights, boy, my father would say. Sleep nights! It was some years before I realized that he had trouble sleeping
through the night and, to a far greater extent, so did my mother.
Dad just dealt with it in his working years. I’m sure he spent plenty of time getting up and wandering around a bit, checking the
thermostat, maybe giving the dog or the cats some water, sitting at the kitchen counter and reading the newspapers, maybe even
smoking a half a cigarette…and then going back to bed to lie there and hope and pray (even that, perhaps) for sleep. I’m sure
sometimes he went to work sleepy. Later in life in retirement I think he slept some during the day.
He wasn’t happy in retirement, which only lasted five years before he took his own life after several years of being diagnosed with
Parkinsonism; he took his own life at the age of 80 years and a five months. He had been an eye, ear, nose and throat physician,
narrowing that specialization even further in the last twenty years of practice to ophthalmology. He loved doing eye surgery, but no one
wants an eye surgeon with trembling hands. So he had to a quit.
My mother’s sleep problems were lifelong, probably, even before she met and married my father when she was 25 years old. She slept
during the day sometimes if she had to. It may have bothered her to the extent that it bothered my father to come home from the office
and find her asleep. She was irregular about everything. Supper would generally be late, and it was something my parents bickered
At nearly the age of my father—I will be 79 next month—I do not have Parkinson’s, nor do I have to operate on anyone’s eye today. I do
have my health issues—I still have the anxiety that has influence my life so much all my life, impacting on my physical and emotional
health and even, I realize now, my hearing. I have trouble listening, so jumpy and jittery is my mind. It’s that jumpy and jittery mind that
bothers me the most when I can’t sleep. I lie there trying to go back to sleep and all the little players of my life come out to dance and
sing. I endure them for awhile, and then I get up and do what I am doing right now. (I start to write, “…write now.”)
So here I am, 224 am, wide awake and fully dressed and drinking my first cup of coffee in the day. And writing here in this blessed
Journal. I slept for five hours and now I am given the means to write; what more can I ask for? #Journaling.
DAY 1 OF THE 28TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., December 1, 2016
Every year in my recollection at Christmas, or should I say Dollarsmas, they put up for sale two or three irresistible gadgets that while
priced outrageously, are not so out of reach that every good American cannot look at it being demonstrated and say, I want one of
One year, and this was even before TV, even before prosperity—all the better—my mother bought a comb with a razor
blade ingeniously embedded in it so that you could save that barber’s undeserved fee of $2 for a haircut and cut your children’s hair by
just combing it! They could even do it themselves, a DIY before the phrase Do It Yourself was invented. Oh, and you sent off
somewhere and for $4 or something like that you could cut a son’s or a husband’s hair for free. So at $4 for one comb and say you had a
husband and two sons, that’s three males, and you could cut their hair once each month and if each haircut cost $2, then for a $4
“investment” over a year or 3 x 2 = 6 x 12 = $72 you saved $68 or something like 17 times (Yes, seventeen times!) the initial
investment—and you still had the comb to use until, probably, the crack of doom! Unbelieveable! I mean, really, Quo vadis, or In hoc
signo vinces, or something like that.
So Mom sent off for one. Oh, there was that little S&H charge (Shipping & Handling) of another $2.46, so that messed up the math a bit,
Of course the thing was used once and the pain of having your hair pulled out by the roots was so great, not to mention the danger of
matricide, the thing was chucked into a kitchen drawer and seen but never used again. Cries of Suckah! Went up around the dinner
table that night and telling the story of the thing produced so much laughter that well, it was worth it, it was a lesson in American
Mom laughed too but she was undeterred and, honestly, so were we all. The thing, whatever it was, looked so clever,
so desirable…and it was only whatever dollars, plus, of course, the necessary S&H.
And so we got the electric shoeshine buffer that automatically shined your shoes ($9.98 + S&H) that worked, sort of, as long as
you could bend over like a bobby pin and hold the thing down while it vibrated and skidded across the kitchen floor, resulting in four
visits to the chiropractor at $10 a pop; and then the next year it was the hamburger press (order today and save), and the electric can
opener that actually did work for almost a month, and still would if you bought the new blade that cost twice as much as the original
item…and so on.
This year, and I’ve just seen this on TV (remember when “As shown on TV” was a big selling point?)—well, this year it’s ROBO-TWIST! a
small, only three or four pound, no doubt nuclear powered device that fits atop those pesky pickle jars and does the twisting for you
and opens them just like that! In case you’ve forgotten all the times you’ve tried to open a jar and failed—the tapping of it with a table
knife handle, then a hammer, then beating it upside down—all these failed efforts are graphically illustrated and then, there you are,
Robo-Twist is placed atop the jar and everyone steps back and watches it do its work! Amazing! And just $19.95 plus the S&H, too
small a number to even be mentioned.
I’m going to get me one, of course. Robo-Twist. Remember that. Order it today! ###
DAY 28 (LAST DAY!) OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., Nov. 28, 2016
In the spring of 1971 I was an assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point. I received a memo from the
chairman of the department, Leon Lewis, who noted that the tenured members of the English Department faculty had voted on granting
me tenure and the unanimous vote was to go ahead and offer me the contract for the next year, and at the end of that year I would be
tenured. I refused the offer and resigned. I explained that I was going to go back to the land and I was going to write.
I did both of those things. I left Wisconsin and with my family, my wife and two young children, I moved back to my homestate of Kansas
where my mother and father had purchased a small farm of 80 acres with an old and long-abandoned house on it in serious disrepair.
My mother offered the place to us to live if we would fix it up so it could be rented. I could finish the house and finish the novel I was
working on and then we could move to California or wherever we wanted.
My mother was a dreamer and of course so was I. My novel never got finished. Writing for the first time in years came to occupy only a
small part of my life. Over the next several years although I kept my journal alive, writing sporadically in it, writing fiction stopped
almost altogether. Occasionally I would get a bee in my bonnet and work a few hours but not significantly. When I did write, it was
probably only to remind me that I was, deep down, a writer—the great novels I was going to write were in the future. First I had to
establish this life for all of us on the farm. And in my half-assed zigzagged way, that’s just what I did.
If an independent observer had lifted the lid off me and looked in and asked, What occupation might this fellow be suited for? He would
certainly say I was eminently suited to be a professor of English. I was good at it. The students liked me and I liked them and the faculty
liked me and I liked them. I loved Wisconsin. I had a nice family. I loved my wife and son and, just lately—a few weeks before we left
Wisconsin—our daughter, born in early October of that year.
The very last thing this independent observer would have found me qualified for would be farmer. Now had I kept firmly in mind the
idea that going back to the land wasn’t the same as becoming a farmer—things might have gone more smoothly. But I didn’t. I
immediately equated the two.
This takes a little explaining and even after all these years I’m not sure I can. Certainly I can’t justify dropping the back to the land idea
and choosing the occupation of farmer. I probably would have understood, intellectually, that there was a difference if you had
explained it to me. I would have nodded vigorously and said, Oh, I know. I know. I understand. But I really didn’t.
I was 33 years old—the same age as Christ when he went into the wilderness, I was fond of pointing out, of course with a laugh—I was
33 years old, I had a wife and two children, I had actually two biological children by a previous wife that I had given up for adoption
(though thankfully my parents kept in touch with them down in Texas)…I had—get this—I had three college degrees, including the
terminal degree for my field of creative writing, an MFA, and from what was and is considered the best college program in writing in
America. Somehow I had gotten myself into a situation where I was sitting pretty. And I gave it all up.###
[PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS THE END OF THE 27TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG. THE 28TH JOURNALONG WILL START ON DEC. 1,
just a couple of days away. I hope you'll join me then.]
DAY 27 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., November 27, 2016
I painted my first house in 1973 and my last in 1991. That’s 18 years. In between I suppose I painted houses or parts of houses, inside or
out, maybe a thousand houses. Some I did all by myself. I came, looked the job over, did the estimate, worked out the deal, got the
materials and the tools and came to the job and did it day by day. Some jobs I set up and then I lined out the crew, and only came
back to inspect and collect.
Housepainting wasn’t my occupation of choice, exactly. I had wanted to be (and continued to want to be, even to this day in a modified
way—much modified)---I had dreamed of being a writer from childhood, an adventurer and a write for a time early on, then a
newspaperman and a writer, then an English professor and a writer…then a teacher and a writer which is pretty much what I am
today…what I have been since 1991, when I quit painting and started LifeStory.
Writing, whether a dream or a reality, came pretty easily to me. I was good with words, I was chatty, I was prone to writing things down
from an early age, I was encouraged by my parents and elders along those lines. I had talent--whatever that is-a mix of innate ability and
passion and drive along with a dash of desperation, of a willingness to go to the mat for.
Painting on the other hand I had no talent for, no native ability at, no interest in, no feel for…it was all for money. Oh, along the way
because I had to I learned to enjoy certain aspects of it. It was never much of a part of my bedrock self, my identity. But I had my name
on several trucks, occasionally I ran an ad in the Mercury, we had for a time a sign up in front of our business on the edge of town, we
had a name…Kempthorne Painters & Paperhangers.
But I liked the people, I liked being out in the world driving here, driving there, being greeted and greeting, talking and laughing and
working my way through the day and going home at night with some money in my pocket. Had I not had grandiose ideas about building
not a small business but an industry, a franchise with myself at the top of a kind of Trump Tower directing things…well, then, we might
have made a decent living. We did, finally, make something like that when June took over in 1985 and I learned to listen to her and do
what I was told—we had some good years. June won an excellent reputation as a fine craftsperson and a reliable person.
She had the talent, especially for paperhanging. She had the training—she had been taught to sew by her mother, had made her own
clothes and won prizes in 4-H for her skill, and had gotten an art degree, a BFA, from K-State in printmaking. All three of these crafts—
sewing, printmaking and paperhanging—require patience, great skill and accuracy and forethought—and June had those in abundance.
DAY 26 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., Nov. 26, 2016
At 75, my father quit smoking. Not for health reasons, to hear him tell it, but because the damned things cost 45 cents a pack.
He smoked Camels and had for years. He didn’t smoke a lot by the standards of the time, maybe 5 or 10 cigarets a day. Often as not, he’
d light one and put it in the ash tray and forget it.
He died in 1983, not from COPD or anything smoking related unless you can call tying a belt around your neck and hanging yourself
smoking related. He had Parkinson’s Disease and it was worsening to the point where he no longer wanted to live. The minister who
preached his funeral said he did all of us a favor by taking his own life. Probably that was true, but his mind was still sharp in spite
of the physical debilitation. Yet he was an athletic man, or had been, and seeing his body deteriorate wasn’t something he could
If it comes to something like that for me, I will want to follow his example. I am 78 now. He was 80 when he died. He had had a good long
life, full of family growing up in a mythical and magical village bordered by a trout stream and green meadows with cows grazing; full of
success and a life of helping others as a doctor in World War II and then always an office full of patients, a loving wife and three
children, then grandchildren.
Life ends. His ended. My mother’s ended some fourteen years later. My brother, my sister and I are still alive. My brother did not have
any children but has a large circle of friends where he lives in California; my sister had two children, and these two have five; I have
fathered six, and these have had five and married into another five.
So that’s a lot of family, just do the math; and a lot of genetic material has been distributed, and a lot of living has been done and
remains to be done between now and the end of Time, which we hope will not be soon.
I quit smoking in 1982, a desperate move on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1982. It hadn’t been a good year. I’m going to do one good
thing this year, I proclaimed dramatically, and wadded my pack of Camel cigarets and threw them out the window—
intentionally littering-- as we left a New Year’s Eve party a few minutes before midnight. Coming up on 34 years ago…I haven’t had a
I missed it for a few years. In those early years when I felt stressed I’d reach for my upper breast pocket but the cigarets weren’t there.
Now…it’s hard to remember, almost, what it was like to tap one of those things out of the pack, put it in my mouth, light it, and inhale the
smoke-filled with the nicotine that gave me such a thrill 20 or more times a day.
I did it, no denying that, but can you imagine anything more stupid than that to do for thrills?###
DAY 25 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., November 25, 2016
We left right at 1. Everyone was ready—Joni was already in the truck with Adah strapped in her seat, Rip had the engine running and we
got in, June in the back with Joni and Adah, Rip and I in the front.
I put the roaster with all the mashed potatoes in it on the floor between my feet, and buckled up and away we went, down the gravel
lane, stop, please and thank you so that we can get the Times, then onto Boston Harbor Road, then onto Gull Harbor, Rip zooming along
nicely and then soon enough we were on the freeway and chatting happily we arrived at the ferry slip in Steilacoom.
Adah didn’t remember last year and now she was a big girl and it was a new experience so after we got the tickets Rip took her to the
bathroom on the upper deck and showed her the water and the strange ducks or geese on the pilings and the choppy sea (it was windy
and cold!) and all the cars parked and waiting as the ferry plowed through the water to Anderson Island.
In a few more minutes we were at Leslie and Steve’s place in the woods and we had a great Thanksgiving dinner, and then we went
back and we were home and it wasn’t even 8 o’clock.
I grew up in the landlocked Midwest. Maybe that was why I joined the Navy when I was 17, and though it took me awhile to get to sea,
when I did, I lived on a ship for a year and a half and we steamed constantly so that I figured I traveled something like 150,000 miles on
the sea—six times around the world. I loved ships, loved the sea, but I didn’t love the Navy all that much and so I got out and never
went on the water again until 1967 when my wife at the time and I got on a big ferry in Milwaukee and crossed Lake Michigan to visit
some friends in New Holland, Michigan.
Now here in my dotage I saw ships and the sea every day: I lived 300 yards from Puget Sound. I could get on a boat in ten minutes and
sail to China.
On the other hand, back home in Kansas I could get in my car and drive to, say, Olympia, Washington. What was the big deal? In fact
Manhattan, Kansas, had gotten started back in 1855 because a riverboat loaded with immigrants from the East had run aground in the
shallow waters of the upper Kansas River.
But growing up in Kansas I always felt, somehow, inferior to people who lived in exotic places like the West Coast or the East Coast. We
had no Coast. We were coastless. All we had was a sea of grass around us. It wasn’t romantic enough for me.
Couldn’t I at least be from someplace with an exotic name, like Flin Flon, Manitoba? There is such a place, way up north—I found it on a
map—not all that far from the North Pole. I never made it there. I’ll bet that snow is something to behold.###
DAY 23 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., November 23, 2016
Of course today is the anniversary of one of the most grievous acts in American history, the murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in
Dallas, Texas. I wasn’t there, I was 500 miles north in Lawrence, Kansas, sitting in a class, a small seminar in an barracks-like building
behind the huge Strong Hall administration building on the campus. Someone came down the hall yelling that the President had been
shot and all the people in all the classes, six or seven classes, just came out into the hall and looked at one another in bewilderment.
Classes weren’t dismissed, they just dissolved.
A radio was on in the graduate student’s lounge at the end of the hall. I listened for a bit and then I left the building and walked quickly
to the student union where there was a crowd gathering in the main lobby there, all of us watching, most of us standing up, the
newsman Harry Reasoner saying John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the President of the United States has been assassinated. And of course
the report went on, in fact for the next three days we saw almost nothing on TV except film clips and information about this horrendous
I was in psychotherapy then at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, so I did what I planned on doing after class, I got in my little Renault and
drove the twenty miles to Topeka and met Dr. Bob Menninger at his office on the west side of town. Both of us were almost numb from
the news of this terrible thing. I recall that we talked a lot about how the President was in a way a father figure for the whole nation.
I remembered and Dr. Bob did too the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945. Bob was maybe ten years older than me or a little
more, so he was a young man when that happened. I think he might have been in the Army then. Anyhow, the two of us just sat there
and shared our fears and feelings about the nation. Bob lived to be 95 or so and passed just a few years ago, and I’m sure that every
anniversary of JFK’s death he remembered that he was at work in his office seeing patients. God bless him, and God bless everyone
who does their work, the work of the world.
I had seen Kennedy and his wife Jackie close up just three years before in early 1960 at a press conference in Madison, Wisconsin,
when I was then a student at the University of Wisconsin. He was then Senator Kennedy and a candidate but not yet the nominee of the
Democratic Party. It was 7 in the morning and he was catching a plane to go back to Washington but he gave this little
press conference in one of the meeting rooms at Memorial Union. My wife worked at the U in an office and I was going to classes so
we drove in together and she went to work and I had some time to kill before my first class and so I went to see and hear him. I was just
three feet from him and Jackie in her expensive fur hat and I could have shaken hands with him except that I was, maybe, too
engrossed in what he was saying. In November I voted for him, the first time I was able to vote—in those days you had to be 2l
and here I was 22. ###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., November 22, 2016
I pay attention to my dreams.
I dreamed that June and I were driving a car, a ’49 Pontiac, that had belonged to her when we got married, and we had some trouble
with it. Serious trouble, like clutch or transmission of something that brought us to this car dealer’s garage, and there it was up on the
hoist and you could see where there was a big black oil leak. And we were on the road, I don’t know where. The guy said he couldn’
t fix it, but he would buy it from us, as is. He even made an offer. $1900 as she sits. I turned to June. Hey, that was a good offer. We
could use $1900. It’s your car, I said to June. What do you want to do? You decide, June said. So I decided. Sold, I said to the guy.
And so I woke up happy this morning. Serene. Lying there in the dark looking up at the ceiling. I woke out of that dream. I can’t tell
you what the dream “means,” if it means anything. A dream is a story, it is what it is. We don’t dream in meanings, we dream in stories.
Ever notice that? Is the dream god trying to tell us something, that it never comes to us with advice, but rather only with stories? The
dream god isn’t some your weight and your fate thing, it tells us a story. And the story is the meaning.
In my long life I have owned many cars, starting with the 1934 Chevrolet 4 door sedan I bought in 1953 for $100. It was bright red
and the former owner from whom I bought it used it as a second car and named it the Red Beetle. It ran and it ran pretty well and I
drove it for a year or two before the transmission went out. I sold it to a junk dealer for $7, “four dollars for the gas,” the dealer said,
and “three dollars for the car.” What could I say? The thing ran beautifully but it wouldn’t go anywhere—the tranny was completely
Cars were important. In the kind of town I grew up in you couldn’t get around without a car. So then I bought a ’47 Chevy. Then
(working hard after school and on Saturdays in a print shop) I bought a 1954 Chevy before I joined the Navy in 1955.
Over the next sixty plus years I probably bought and used up or sold sixty plus cars or trucks. Back on the farm we owned half a dozen
cars, trucks and tractors. We even owned at one time two self-propelled combines. I’ll bet every American boy could say about the
same thing. Cars were important to us in those days. It was kind of like an identity. Who are you? I’m a ’34 Chevy, I’m a ’50 Buick, I’m a ’
59 Renault. Now there was a nifty little car.
DAY 21 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., November 21, 2016
What happened last night?
Sometimes it seems that more happens in my dreams (could that be a song?) than in my daylight hours. My longish nap yesterday
afternoon was like going ten rounds with Gorgeous George, rolling around tangled in the sheets as I was, and then last night I had a
calmer, yet active night of dreaming that I was living in a commune of scientists of the past and the present and somehow (I don’t know
how because I’m sure not a scientist) I was accepted as one of them, all of them and others wandering around telling anecdotes about
what Lavoisier said to Einstein, or Madame Curie to a recent Nobel Prize winner whose name I can’ t think of, and there I was, the eye
and ear that took it all in.
Wouldn’t it be fun, or maybe it wouldn’t, to know what is really going on in my febrile brain that occasions all this? I mean, really, here
we are wandering around as if we (note that I’m getting you, not just me, into this picture) knew what we were doing…voting in an
election, marrying or unmarrying, changing jobs, buying a car or a boat…as if we were even semi-rational. But our brains are really just
this mass of toiling, moiling, boiling neurons… truly, as old Matthew Arnold said, or something like this, we are here upon a darkling
plain/where ignorant armies clash by night.
Jeepers creepers. My crazy life has been and remains more like a bumper car in a carnival than anything like a planned experience.
Whatever mass of atoms I hit I react to and they to me, and so we go on until one day, unaccountably, life is over and the jig is up.
Anyhow I woke somewhat more rested than I had been during that disastrous nap, and at 359 am here I am, hard at it in my beloved
Journal, where there’s a wrench to fit every nut. A new day, a new week, and I have places to go and people to meet.
Way back in 1969, May 1 as I recall, some of us who were teaching or studying at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point decided
that we would come together and live in a commune at my rented farm thirteen miles north of the town. It was a happy, crazy time for us
as we met in our living room sitting in a circle on the hardwood floor that I personally had painted a brick red.
I stared at it now in serene silence as I listened to members of our group of thirty or more discuss our Plan for a New World. We were
dropping out of the mad society in which we lived. True, I would go on teaching because I had a contract with the university and
besides, I was only one of the two in the group who had a job and the only one who had a place where we could all live in our group
connubialism. Oh, it was going to be great, we were just sure, it was going to be very, very great! ###
DAY 20 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., November 20, 2016
No one goes to the store and buys humility. You can’t even get it free at a yard sale. Humility comes only at a high price, or so it has
been for me. I only became humble when I was humiliated. Years ago, I remember the young women who resisted my charms, the
colleges that turned down my application, the many magazines and quarterlies that rejected my wonderful stories, the people who
passed me on the street without a glance…the people I thought were waving to me but were in fact waving to someone behind
me—oh, did that pall.
Each time I am brought up short and reminded that I am not the center of the universe, that the world is not Charleyocentric…oh, oh,
the unkindest cut of all.
I had a bad case of ego. I’d have a couple of drinks and sing (if only to myself) a few bars of How Great I Am, parodying the singing of
that wonderful whiskey-voiced baritone of the great George Beverly Shea; when I felt unappreciated and in the depths of despair
writing in my journal I would think—if not write it down and watch the sentence crackle and sizzle like the devil’s laugh on the page—I’d
think, Father, forgive them…for they know not what they do. Yes, I too was INRI, what a friendly Jew once told me stood for I’m Nailed
Right In. I was the ultimate victim, the poor soul, the most misunderstood person on the planet. I was on the cross--or maybe more
likely I was chained to the burning lake.
The great thing about getting old is if you’re lucky—if enough bad things happen to you—you grow in spirit. Yes, even as your
teeth are falling out, even as your hair thins and strand by strand appears on your coat instead of your head, even as your skin wrinkles
and everything heads south, Old Mortality comes along and teaches you a few things if you’re willing to learn.
I was telling an older friend when we were talking about getting old and dying, seemingly a favorite subject of old men (not women, I
don’t know why), and I was telling him how I wanted to die with all my children and grandchildren around me tearfully mourning my
passing, and, much like a Hollywood movie, the music would come up, I would close my eyes, and the curtain would fall.
We laughed. My friend had no children, in his long marriage to the love of his life they had never had children. We were sitting in his
kitchen, a beautiful large kitchen that he was still in the process of remodeling himself. My friend looked around, and then smiled
at me. “That’s not exactly the way I see it,” he said. “My wife will be standing over my deathbed and she will look down at me and say,
‘Does this mean you’re never going to finish the kitchen cabinets?’”###
DAY 19 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., November 19, 2016
I love the taste of the very first cup of coffee every morning. Some days it’s half the reason I get up.
Going through our stuff is an adventure when it isn’t a nuisance. I found an obituary I clipped out or someone sent to me for Scott
Schultz, who was a student back in the 60s when I was a teacher at Stevens Point. Scott was a wonderful kid, great friend in what we
called The Movement then, anti-war, pro everything good. He was a leader among the dissident students, and he went along with us
when a bunch of us in 1969 on spring vacation rode out to Denver and got stuck coming back in a terrible snowstorm in Missouri (I’ve
told that story somewhere around here).
I lost track of him after I left Point in ’71. But he continued to be a politician and he became mayor of Stevens Point for seven years! And
he worked in various social and university capacities, last as director of giving for the University.
He died at 51, a heart attack! I suppose it was sudden and unexpected. How sad, what a loss to all of us, such an able, likeable young
man. I guess he died around 2001 or so.
And so I live on. It’s the obligation of those of us who live on to make the world a better place for those to come. “I alone have escaped
to tell thee,” some guy in the Old Testament (couldn’t they think of a better title?) says to some other guy. Actually it was Job.
I remember when I was married to Betsy and she was in a group called Job’s Daughters. I didn’t know who Job was—I called him Job as
in Steve Jobs—didn’t know about the Bible or any of that. Betsy explained it to me, I suppose, but I still don’t know what the group did. I
have read the Book of Job a few times and found it really pretty good stuff.
Betsy also belonged to a college sorority, Alpha Delta Pi and so we had on the windshield, down in the corner of course, their emblem
or icon. I guess it was a couple of lions standing up and growling the way those things always are arranged and underneath it
said some words in Greek. I asked Betsy what that said. She said it was a secret, and really, she couldn’t tell me, or wouldn’t. I ragged
her a bit about it but she never told me. I suppose I could have learned Greek and figured it out for myself but I never did.
Later when I was teaching though I did learn that if I was backed into a corner by my students and was against the ropes and hoping for
the bell to ring and it didn’t and so in answer to some impossible question (one I remember was an absurd discussion we got into about
whether houseflies could understand and appreciate poetry)—well, then, they’d quiet down pretty quickly if I wrote some Greek on the
blackboard, just a word or two and the ones who were harassing me and thought I was a know-nothing upstart graduate student who
should be back behind the plough, well, I’d put a word or two of Greek, supposed Greek, on the board and they’d fade pretty fast. Oh,
he knows Greek…how intelligent can you be? If I didn’t have a Greek word handy I could just write the word yoyo upside down and
backwards, put in a couple of subtle accents (oh, I forgot the virgule! I’d say) and they would fall into silent group admiration. And then
the bell would ring.###
DAY 18 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., November 18, 2016
I dreamed a happy dream in which I was a singer/performer, a crooner maybe, but I think I played the guitar or something too and I was
in a performance with another guy who was a competitor, but we got along, played music together, and were both acrobats also. It was
something like Dueling Banjos in the movie Deliverance based on the novel of the same name by…can’t think of his name now. Oh,
James Dickey, a poet who became well known when he wrote that novel.
So I dreamed a happy dream, singing and doing acrobatic stunts on the walls and ceilings, crowds all around me, the other
singer/acrobat too. We had a good natured bout. And I woke, a happy dream, first one in a long time.
I try to make journaling a happy experience for me. If I’m not happy doing it—mostly happy—then I’ll drop it. So if I run out of something
to write, as I did just now, above, then I start writing something else. The law (my law, introduced in my own personal legislature and
passed by both houses of me)—the law requires that I write 500 words a day or more. 499 is illegal. If I write 499 words, then I go back
into the entry and find a word to modify. “Very” is a useful word. “And” is good too. Or just maybe adding that one word leads to
another and a whole sentence, a whole paragraph, and a whole new idea and I’m very happy when that happens. But 500 is the
That’s not as silly as it sounds. It’s to protect the habit. I don’t have discipline, I only have the habit. Habit becomes a need,
maybe even an addiction. If I wake up in the morning and know that this is going to be the day that I die, I’m going to do my 500. So far
this morning I have 321 words. Since I wrote that sentence I have 330 words. And so on.
After a deep breath and a long pause I go on. I remember yesterday, a pretty good day in my life. This is my 28,427th day of life.
Yesterday, my 28,426th, we filled up our gas tank, 13 and some tenths gallons. The stuff cost $2.41 a gallon at Fred Meyer. I remember,
back when I was only about 9,000 days old and a student at the University of Kansas, I’d gas up in Lawrence for fifteen cents a gallon
before I drove anywhere out of town because that was the cheapest gas in the state. Some places, like my hometown of Manhattan, it
was almost thirty cents a gallon!
Once I was broke but I had a few dollars in the bank. It was too early in the morning to go to the bank. It wasn’t even light yet. I had to
have gas so I could drive to Manhattan, about 75 miles. In those days cars didn’t do as well on mileage as they do now, so I’d probably
need four gallons to get there, five would be better. I didn’t even have my checkbook with me. I took a scrap of paper from the station’
s wastebasket—it happened to be part of a brown paper sack—and on it I wrote out my check. Yes, the attendant, who happened to be
the owner and thus was giving me the okay—yes, he said, just write out on the sack the name of your bank, the date, and the words pay
to the order of, and write in one dollar, sign it…and I’ll take that.
And he did. And I got home for the weekend. And I got to this story, didn’t I? 627 words.###
17 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., November 17, 2016
I spent a lot of time going to school. Twelve years in public schools, then most all of the twelve years from 1959 to 1971, as student or
teacher, another 12 years. That’s 24 years, nearly a third of my life. Student or teacher—or even counting the one full year I was in the
hospital at the Menninger Clinic, I was a student then too: talking to doctors all day and even taking classes in ceramics, woodworking,
volleyball and something that was called “Project Group,” really a labor gang, all male, where we dug holes in the ground to build
fences, shoveled gravel, and stuff like that.
All life is a school, really, you’re always a student and you’re always a teacher. School is an attitude. That I might learn more from
experience than from sitting in a class or reading a book had, so far, eluded me.
I arrived at Menninger on May 14, 1962. I had a suitcase full of books and a few items of clothing. Only reluctantly did my house doctor,
Dr. Teresa Bernardez, allow me to have all the books I brought, a stack several feet high. I even had my huge 8 inch thick (or more)
Merriam-Webster International Unabridged Dictionary, and when I protested that I just had to have that, that I sat around reading it, she
allowed me to have it in my room. I brought my typewriter with me but she wouldn’t let me have that, which appalled me. How could I
live without a typewriter? I would have to write in longhand. Here I was in what was supposedly the best psychiatric hospital in the
world and they didn’t believe in reading and writing. Or so I told myself.
It didn’t occur to me that it was book learning and writing and all that world I’d been living in had gotten me into a psychiatric hospital,
and that there was, therefore, some irony that I was protesting their being taken from me.
In fact I found myself enjoying volleyball and even Project Group, which was really what in the Navy we had called “shit detail.” Both of
these activities were with other young men like me. We were supervised by an AT, an “adjunctive therapist.” If we wanted to piss them
off we called them “Guard,” as in “Guard, what time is it?” “Guard, Joey’s not doing what he’s supposed to.” But they were all good
guys and most of the time we just called them by their first name, though we were supposed to call each other and everybody Mister.
They were supposed to call us mister, and they did, sometimes, but when we were playing ball (we also played softball) the mister was
dropped. Somehow it’s pretty hard to say, “Mr. Kempthorne, will you catch this ball, please?”
Most of us were pretty inept. There were a few guys, like Jacques, who were really good in sports. He was a good athlete but was
socially inept. Really, none of us were great on or off the field. We weren’t much good at anything, really. That’s why we were there.###
DAY 15 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tue., Nov. 15, 2016
We were going to remember to look at the moon last night, but the clouds forgot, I guess, and so we couldn’t see a thing for
them. When we went to bed it was pouring rain. I think maybe it rained off and on all night. I see raindrops dripping from the eaves this
morning. Oh, well, at least we saw pictures of the supermoon on the Net. It was quite something, huge and golden as a coin.
Years ago June and I used to lie in bed and for pillow talk we’d play a game we called, Oh, well, at least. One of us would think of
something bad in our lives, some little trouble or black cloud or other that kept us from seeing the moon, and the other would respond
with the good side, or the better side.
Usually it was ironic and it’d get us to laughing until we fell asleep in one another’s arms. I’d say, The well is going dry and we’
re running out of water, and June would say, Oh, well, at least we don’t have to fix the pump now, or she’d say, The sheep are getting
out through a hole in the fence over on the Western, and I’d say, We won’t have to feed them so much hay, or something like that.
Now we have graduated to saying how grateful we are, and no jokes or oh wells about it. I get up in the morning and I write down here
some of the things, I’m grateful for. I keep my mouth shut about what I’m not grateful for or what pisses me off, which was what I used to
do. I tell myself I can bring those up later but in fact once I’ve gone through the “gratitudes,” I usually forget all about being pissed off.
I’m grateful for the rain that makes this beautiful place so beautiful—the tall trees, the lakes, the great Puget Sound, the
rivers brimming with salmon and trout.
I’m grateful for my health and well-being, pretty good this morning—breathing easily and happy to go to work and to live another day.
I’m grateful for the breakfast of cereal and nuts I’m going to eat.
I’m even grateful for the prune juice I drink every morning.
I’m grateful for the friends I’m going to run into today as I go through the day.
I’m grateful that all my children and grandchildren are well.
I’m grateful that I have a deep inclination to try to be helpful to others.
I’m grateful that sometimes I am helpful.
I’m grateful to watch the news of the world this morning.
I’m grateful I don’t have to fix every problem in the universe.
So there you go. And so now I’m something like a happy camper. I’m looking forward to this day, I’m happy sitting here in this moment of
the present, which is the only thing that really exists, and whoopsey-daisy, there it goes into the past! ###
DAY 14 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURALONG.
Mon., November 14, 2016
Boot Camp ended. I don’t remember getting home to Kansas for my two weeks’ “boot leave,” as it was universally called. I guess I
took a train or, more likely, a Greyhound bus. I had no other clothing than Navy clothing and I think after leaving Great Lakes I just
hunkered down in the heat—it was late September and still warm—and somehow got home and there I was sitting at the snack bar in
the kitchen talking to my Mom and then my Dad came home and my sister and we all had supper together and I told them about the
horrors of Boot Camp as if I’d returned from a German concentration camp.
My dad wasn’t too sympathetic, and he laughed when I showed him my Navy ID card where I’d been shaved bald and for rank it said in
capital letters NONRATED. But Mom was nice, and she gave me extra roast beef and extra pie and everything.
Next day I made the rounds of my favorite hangouts: the Hole in One Club, a pool hall in Aggieville, Kite’s, a bar where I could pass for
18, and riding around in cars with my old high school pals. But in the three months I’d been gone it was clear that life in Manhattan had
gone on without me, didn’t miss a beat.
In those days—this was 1955—every boy was required by law to serve eight years of military service. Only six months had to be active,
fulltime service, the rest could be reserve duty where you went to meetings one night a week or maybe it was just one night a month, I
don’t remember. I had joined without really thinking things through. I just wanted to get the hell out of Manhattan, Kans-ass, as I called
it, hating it all and wanting to be Don Winslow of the Navy, some friend called it, and I laughed and agreed even though I had no idea
who Don Winslow was. I just knew I wanted to be anybody but Charley Kempthorne of Manhattan , Kans-ass…I was going to see the
world. And in 11 days I had to get on a train and go to some place called Bainbridge, Maryland, for three months of Yeoman school.
I had wanted to be a journalist’s mate but they told me they didn’t need any more journalist’s mates and so much for their promise they
made when I signed up to join. I was going to Yeoman school, and I didn’t really even know what a yeoman was. I think I looked it up in
the dictionary and it said something like “a small farmer who owns his own land.” And then way down there it said, “a rating in the U. S.
Of course I asked around and found out a yeoman was, basically, a typist. I also learned the slang term was “Remington Raider,” for the
Remington typewriters that were so popular then, and, even worse, sometimes a yeoman was called a “titless Wave,” because
really you were just a secretary. Those were the days before women’s liberation was much of anything. Even the word Waves was really
an acronym, WAVES, which meant Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service. ###
Sun., Nov. 13, 2016
Have one, Mom said. She held out the pack of Chesterfields and offered me one. She had caught me trying to smoke one of her
cigarette butts. Go ahead she said, Have a fresh one, a whole one. Uh, no thanks, I said. Go ahead, she said severely. You just take
one and I’ll light it for you.
I took one from the pack and held it in my hand. Go ahead, put it in your mouth, silly. You can't smoke with your hand. Very tentatively I
put it in my mouth. Quickly she held up her lighter and lit it for me. Suck in a little, it won’t light unless you suck in on it. In spite of
myself, I sucked in, and of course I choked and began coughing and the smoke was getting in my eyes too. I put the cigarette in the
Oh, don’t put it down. You’ll get over choking on it. Go on, pick it up and do it again. Go on, go on!
I was crying from her cruelty by then as much as from the smoke in my eyes. Mom, I said, coughing and choking, please Mom.
What? Don’t like cigarets so much? I thought you’d like them. After all, you took that one from the ashtray…I thought you’d like to have
No, Mom, no thanks. My lungs burned. My eyes burned. Smoke was everywhere. Mom was smoking too and she blew some smoke
right into my face. Mom, oh Momma, please, I think I’m going to throw up.
Throw up? Oh, don’t do that. Run to the bathroom if you think you’re going to do that.
I don’t remember whether I threw up or not. Probably not. But for a while the memory of the acrid smoke and painful choking filled my
mind enough to keep me from even thinking about smoking.
Yet in a few years, all too soon, I tried smoking again, and by 15 I was smoking regularly. This was 1953, long before any Surgeon
General made any report, and even those who warned that smoking would stunt your growth were at a loss to explain all those boys
smoking on the street corner in front of school—just off the school grounds—who were already six feet tall.
Besides, everyone smoked in those days. Or so it seemed to me with my selective vision. Our teachers smoked, though secretly.
Ministers and priests smoked. Parents, of course…and cigarets cost less than a quarter a pack. In the Navy and overseas, you could
buy a carton—a carton, 10 packs—of cigarets for eighty cents. Who wouldn’t smoke with a bargain like that?
I quit in 1982, cold turkey. In 2010, after another bout of bronchitis, my doctor sent me to see a pulmonologist. The first question out of
him was, Are you a smoker? No, I said. Still he diagnosed me with COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Caused by?
Smoking, he said. I quit thirty years ago!
But the damage was done, he replied coolly. You smoked for thirty years. The damage is irreversible. ###
DAY 12 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., Nov. 12, 2016
Once, just once, I was on an election committee, you know, the people who count the votes, open up the polls, turn on the lights, make
the coffee, get out the pencils (in those ancient days) and then spend the days showing folks to the little booths with the half curtains
on them, make sure two people don’t go in together. Now and then the newly married couple will try that, or worse, the boy and his
glued-to-him girl friend who will go in there and neck as they vote---no, no! can’t do that! Out, out! And then at the end of the long day
we counted and counted and counted the ballots until we were blue in the face.
This was back home in Kansas and the only reason they had me for one of the pollsters (or whatever we were called, I don’t remember)
was there just weren’t that many Democrats, and they needed a couple of them just for cover and to comply with the law. So my old
buddy Pete and I were the only ones on there. In fact, we were the only two Democratic votes in the whole precinct. Well, Pete and me
and my wife. So the Republicans giggled all day at our count, which we literally had to do ten, yes, ten times, we counted 167
Republican, 1 something obscene scrawled in, and three Democrats.
So on Tuesday night I felt like that as I sat in front of the TV and watched my world once again, go down for the count. Probably this
meant that I would die under the auspices of a Republican administration. Possibly if we had the money we would move to…Cuba,
maybe, though I remember the last time I left America for another country, Mexico then, I was so demoralized that I couldn’t write and
the fact that I wasn’t even able to speak my native language….I just got more and more depressed and functioned less and less.
Then, the unkindest cut of all, my beloved alma mater, the University of Kansas—their Jayhawks—lost in their first real basketball game
last night to the University of Indiana, 103 to 99. Just as Hillary Clinton led most of the way but turned up a loser on election night, KU
led most of the way but in the last quarter of the game stayed on message and perfected this devastating loss.
Now I unfortunately identify with the people I support. I feel Hillary’s loss. A lot of us do, and will all the more as the years go by. (And
they will.) I feel KU’s loss. I didn’t sleep well, and I had unhappy dreams about selling a truckload of grain sorghum at a loss and then
selling the truck at a loss too. I woke and did my PT all the while feeling like and understanding very well the plight of King Lear.
I tell myself when one door closes, another opens. Well, maybe so—if there’s a door left. ###
DAY 11 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., November 11, 2016
Today is Armistice Day or, as they call it now so as to honor all Veterans, and not just the signing of the peace treaty that ended World
War I (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, hence our expression “the eleventh hour,” meaning at the very last)—so it’s a
day to stop and think about what we don’t want, paradoxically, and that is we don’t want any more veterans than we have now. We do
not want any more wars. Let’s thank the veterans past and present and hope—against hope, of course—that there will be no new
veterans of the future.
The Italians have made some great movies. One of my favorites is General Della Rovere, made in the 1950s, and it’s about a guy who
was a con man and a bum who happened to look like one of the great revolutionary heroes of the time, was mistaken for him, and—
enjoying the adulation—he plays the role until finally he becomes like him. It’s a great movie and if I had it right here I’d sit down with
some popcorn for breakfast and watch it once again.
Presidents, it is said, grow in office. Lincoln grew in office, conspicuously so. Others did. I’m sure being suddenly the President of the
United States would make any of us think twice and then again about why we’re here and what God has called upon us to do. It surely
happens at every level. I became a parent at 24 and slowly—and with many trials and tribulations—slowly I grew into the role. I became
a teacher at 26, and I grew into that role. And so on. It happens to us all, probably. Usually.
When I was 15 I got a job as a ticket-taker at the Co-ed Theater in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas. In those days you went to see a
movie at a movie house, a theater, and in 1953 in that town—not a Southern town by any means—even so, it was customary that
Negroes—the word then used to describe those of the Black race—were required to sit in the balcony of the theater. Segregation was
common. I was supposed to tell any blacks that they had to sit in the balcony. I’m sure I was terrified that I would have to say that. So
far as I remember (and I wouldn’t be surprised if I suppressed the memory, if there was one) I was never required to tell anybody to sit
anywhere. I just took the tickets and said thank you and smiled.
Once about the same time—I had already started my drinking career—I was sitting in a bar with some friends, all of us white boys and
under the legal age of 18 to be in a bar and drinking 3.2 beer, which was the only thing you could buy in a bar then in Kansas. The door
opened and two black U. S. Army soldiers came in and started to sit down at the bar. I remember that they were dressed in immaculate
uniforms and comported themselves quietly and in an orderly manner. The bartender and owner went over to them and said something
we couldn’t hear. The men turned and left. When the door closed behind them, some of the men sitting at the bar laughed.###
DAY 10 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., Nov. 10, 2016
I haven’t eaten any alfalfa sprouts lately. I like alfalfa sprouts, they’re fresh and green little thingies and they tickle my nose when I put
them in my mouth. We used to grow our own, back in the days when we had a big garden and raised nearly all our own food. We had
chickens and eggs, and a couple of times a week the kids and I would drive down the road to Harold Bailey’s and buy fresh raw milk that
Harold would pour from the bulk tank into the gallon glass jars that we brought. I made a neat little wooden carrying case with a rope
handle that held three gallons. I would lay $1.50 on the top of the tank and Harold would give me the milk and we’d be on our way.
I don’t have any 60s t-shirts to wear. In fact if I did have them, I probably wouldn’t wear them. All the t-shirts I wear are plain, just
various shades of gray and black. I came from an era when t-shirts were white, and nothing was printed on them. In high school
we had one uniform, and that was blue jeans—with cuffs of course—and white t-shirts. Some of us wore blue suede shoes, and most of
us had a pair of penny loafers. The bizarre gear worn in the 60s was yet to come. This was 1955.
I was never a snappy dresser. I am not now a snappy dresser, and no doubt I will die an unsnappy dresser. Not too long ago I gave a
talk at a state prison here in Washington, and the inmates (we’re supposed to call them offenders now) were much better dressed than
I was. They weren’t wearing the orange sacks we so often see, but instead they were nattily dressed in military style khakis and even
had tan web belts to hold up their pants. I was embarrassed in my old black jeans and black pullover shirt I’d gotten at a
Goodwill. “How do you get such neat uniforms?” I asked them, not really joking but then, realizing it was a joke, sort of, I laughed. They
Remember when they said, Clothes make the man? Well, I haven’t heard anybody say that in a good long while. I don’t wear ties
anymore, when I wear a sportcoat I look around and see I’m the only guy in the room with one, and I can’t remember when I last wore a
I guess our new Prez-elect wears a suit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in bib overalls or even Bermuda shorts. I would guess that he
sleeps in a suit.
Down on the farm back in the early 70s I wore bib overalls. I’d go to a farm auction to buy equipment and I’d wear them. I was about 35
years old then. I noticed that the younger real farmers wore jeans with a belt and all; only the older farmers wore bib overalls.
The days of bibbies were over. After a year or so I switched back to jeans.
I never owned and never wore, not even once, a pair of cowboy boots. June did, and she looked good in them, but I never did. I wore
boots for years but not cowboy boots. I never rode a horse, I never roped a steer, and I couldn’t even sing Home on the Range, really.
I can’t even say yippy-ti-yi-yippy with a straight face. ###
DAY 9 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Nov. 9, 2016
I am grateful that the election is over with and that so far there has been no civil strife. I don't expect any since Hillary has conceded.
Lots of people are in full throated mourning and just a few percentage points more are walking on air. So be it.
I turned 36 in 1974 and I had long promised myself (and anyone else who would listen) that I was going to run for President the next
time the job came open--which was 1976-- but the country was all tied up in knots then from so much civil strife (remember "our long
national nightmare"?) and Jimmy Carter was willing and able so I let him go first. Then by 1980 I was so busy raising hogs and
sheep and children I dropped the whole thing and...well, here I am today.
But I am thinking of running in 2020. I will be 82, but since I'm going to run (if I do) on the Virtual Reality ticket age won't matter. It
probably will, however, be necessary to still be physically alive, so I'm going to keep taking my meds and seeing my staff of doctors
Virtual Reality is really kind of an interesting concept. It's a belief in the spiritual over the material, and as I see more of more of my
material going south I'm only too willing to grab for whatever shred of the material I can manage to take hold of.
Meantime--2020 is a ways off--we have to go on with going on, don't we?
So I'm grateful for my grandchildren and want to be as helpful to them as I can. I'm grateful for my children and want to be as helpful to
them as I can.
And I'm grateful for things around me: the lamp I'm writing by, the handful of pumpkin seeds I'm nibbling one by one and the glass of
milk, the darkness of the dawn and of course Facebook--God bless Facebook!--and to the US Navy for teaching me to type back in 1955
at the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland.
Some of you may be old enough to remember that back in the 1930s there was this French guy, Alfred Couee, a psychologist, who said
that we should all get up in the morning and look in the mirror and say Day by day in every way I am getting better and better. The idea
swept the country and came to be called Coueeism. I guess it worked for some people for a while. I actually like it, and I think it's a
good idea right now:
Day by day, in every way, the world is getting better and better.
It just might work. Positive thinking writ large! It worked for Donald Trump, so maybe it'll work for us. We're going to have a really great
economy, oh, it's going to be so big and so powerful. We going to do such great, great things. People will just be amazed. People will
be amazed. Amazed. People will be...amazed! ###
DAY 8 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., Nov. 8, 2016
Once I finished grade school at Woodrow Wilson School, 6th grade, I no longer ate lunch every day in the school cafeteria. We 6th
graders then went on to Junior High—that’s what they called it then, today I think it’s called Middle School—and at Junior High
you could eat in the school cafeteria or go downtown or wherever and eat on your own.
Some farm kids who were bussed in ate a sack lunch they brought from home. My brother and I didn’t do that, and didn’t eat in the
cafeteria very often, either. So we ate on our own. I don’t know where my brother went. By this time it was uncool (as we say now
but did not then) to hang out with one another. My brother had his friends he went off with them. By 1951 he was 17 so he may well
have driven in, I don’t remember. Funny that I don’t; maybe it will come to me. (I find that the more I write, the more I remember.)
Dad gave me $2.50 a week allowance and with that I was to buy my lunch every day. I went to Scheu’s Café, a three block walk to
downtown, and I think for less than 50 cents I got a hamburger, French fries, and a glass of milk and had a nickel left over. What did I do
with that nickel? Well, that is interesting.
At that time I think Scheu’s was also the bus station and close by the town’s only taxi stand, so there were lots of folks milling around
throughout the café and into the waiting room at the back. It was a busy place from opening early in the morning to late at night
closing—come to think of it, they might even have been open all night, a very rare thing back then.
In the waiting room they had a couple of pin ball machines. These cost a nickel to play. I soon learned how to put the nickel in the slot
and push in on the silver handle and hear and see the thing light up and the bells would ring and things would click and clank and you
had silver balls to shoot and score on the various stops along the way the playing field, you might call it. I loved this.
I learned to tap the machine gently (careful or you’ll TILT it and then you lose your game) this way and that to get the ball to do what I
wanted it to do, which was of course to rack up a big score. If you did that, you’d get a game free. A skillful player could turn a
nickel into pastime for the rest of the lunch hour. If I won games then I might have a moral hazard going, that is, I’d have a game left to
play even at 10 till 1, when I had to run back to school to get into my 1 o’clock class in time.
Sometimes I was late, and that was not appreciated by the teacher, who duly noted in her book that I was tardy. You got a dirty look, and
if you had several tardies in a semester, you were in trouble, at the very least a stern talking to—why were you late? Still having games
on your pinball machine I knew better than to make as an excuse. ###
DAY 7 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., Nov. 7, 2016
A friend out here in Olympia fishes the rivers down in Oregon and he gave us a big chunk of jack salmon he caught and we ate on it for
several days. I never had the patience to fish and probably won't live long enough to develop it. But I like to eat fish... I'm a good
hypocrite. I don't eat much meat, and three or four of my kids and I suppose most all my grands don't eat meat at all. We are flex about it.
But we went to a friend's house for dinner last week and I ate a clutch of meatballs...mmmm, so good. But then today at the grocery
thinking while June was off getting stuff on the list I wandered into the fish aisles and saw a pack of fresh caught frozen cod unskinned
and just out there looking like fish in the river and I thought, Oh, the poor things! But I've eaten cod before, I like cod--maybe those
"meatballs" had some cod in them for all I know...so there you go.
I grew up in the Midwest, a meat and potatoes every meal family. In the morning bacon or sausage and eggs, at noon baloney
sandwiches or those little minute steaks or meat loaf sandwiches, in the evening steak, steak, steak and mashed potatoes. Chicken
sometimes, maybe chicken and steak at the same meal. We called that living well. What's for supper? T-Bone steak. The other dishes
weren't even mentioned. Veggies were just things your mom made you eat so you could have all the meat you wanted.
For years back starting about 1974 and running for ten or fifteen years we raised sheep and hogs and chickens. We actually made a
living at this—sheep we sold direct off the farm to the buyer, often Muslims. Hogs we took to the sale over in Junction City, one of the
best hog auctions in that part of the state of Kansas. And we sold feeder pigs right off the farm to other farmers who wanted to “finish”
them, that is, buy them from us at about fifty pounds and then feed them the milo and corn they’d grown on their farm and then
sell them as butcher hogs.
We raised our kids on lamb-burgers and leg of lamb on Sundays and oftener and on bacon and pork and sausage and pork roasts…and
then they all moved or spent a long time visiting in Seattle and Portland and came home vegetarians. They looked at us,
horrified, when we sat down to dinner. “You’re going to eat the decaying carcasses of our fellow creatures?” they said, frowning.
They didn’t want to hear that meat was what they grew up on. They learned to briing their Bocaburgers and tofu cookies or whatever.
Of course the world has changed too. More and more vegetarians. PETA has grown in influence. In Kansas where beef production is a
huge part of the economy, you see bumperstickers belittling PETA, which of course means People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,
but theirs will say, People Eating Tasty Animals.
When I lived in Kansas I’d joke that Seattle had recently passed a law that you couldn’t eat meat within 20 feet of the city limits and for a
minute people would get wide-eyed and start to say Really and then they’d laugh. ###
DAY 6 OF THE 27TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Nov. 6, 2016
I was born January 24, 1938. And then what happened?
My mother was out cold, anesthetized by ethyl chloride. My father was outside waiting, but possibly since he was an MD in the
community of Minot, North Dakota, a town where then they probably had fewer than a dozen MDs, and they all knew one another,
socialized together—just possibly my father was allowed into the delivery room, or maybe he was busy seeing patients. I was born late
on a Monday afternoon, and he may just have been finishing up his work for the day and someone, probably a colleague, called
him and said, Kempy, come to the hospital, Lillian is giving birth.
This was the era of “knock ‘em out, drag ‘em out,” so I was literally dragged into the world, possibly somewhat anesthetized myself or
maybe by this time crying and screaming at the surprise of birth. I just don’t know. No one who was there is alive today to attest to
anything, except me.
My brother, Hal, wasn’t there. Chances are he was at home watched over by a babysitter or a neighbor or a friend and was making
something with his Lincoln Logs. He was born August 4, 1934, so he was almost exactly 3. 5 years older than me. He was already alive,
and understood that he was going soon to have a sister or a brother. Possibly he was vaguely excited about it, maybe it was to him
something like Christmas just one month after the last Christmas, 1937.
While my father drove in his 1936 Plymouth to the hospital, and while my mother wakened and while I dozed on my mother’s chest to get
some colostrum (whether I nursed to get this or whether it was pumped and fed to me in a bottle I do not know) down me, while this
went on in Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Minot, North Dakota, far away in China a family was getting up to work in the rice paddies, in
Germany Hitler was preparing a speech for the German people, and in New York the very rich were planning their evening out, going to
the latest Alfred Hitchcock movie or just staying home and reading the new novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling.
The Minot State Journal, published daily in the English language, was preparing to report that I had been born, and that others had
died, on that day, and that I was the son of Dr. and Mrs. C. R. Kempthorne.
I screamed. Everyone laughed. I screamed again and my mother laughed too. No one took me seriously, and I was offended. Did they
not understand that I was screaming mad at being born? Didn’t they grasp that I had been perfectly happy in my mother’s
womb, floating in my liquid, a cord connecting me with the world and everything I needed? And now the cord was being severed and
no one asked me a thing about what I wanted. I was furious! ###
Day 4 of the 27th LifeStory Journalong.
Fri., Nov. 4, 2016
When I was in high school, 16 or so, I had a job—one of the many jobs I had, I always had a job after school and on Saturdays, I always
worked because, I said, I had a car to support—working for the local movie houses, a company called Mid-Central Theatres (the –re
spelling was to give the business a little much needed class, so very English, don’t you know).
Mid-Central owned about 30 or so theaters in Kansas and Oklahoma and Nebraska, maybe Missouri I suppose, and three in Manhattan
plus two drive-ins, which were big then. The Campus Theatre in Aggieville, the Coed Theatre downtown at 4th and Pierre, and then
State Theatre one block north. The Campus was our “A” house, showing first run movies, the Coed was also an A house but sometimes
ran older movies, and the State was definitely the C house, an old theater, kind of ratty inside and out, big balcony where a fair amount
of procreation attempts went on, Saturday afternoons filled with screaming kids cheering on Superman in the serials—to be continued
popping up just as Lois Lane strapped down, was about to be sawed in half in a buzz saw and then for the main feature—sometimes two
main features—with Roy Rogers or some third run thing.
The two drive-ins were the Sky-vue on the west side, and the Edgewood, on the east side just off Highway 24, the main route to Topeka
and points east. (There were no interstate highways , they were about ten years away.)
The whole thing was managed and (I think) largely owned by one Mr. Bob Fellers, who had his suite of offices upstairs above the State,
a large brick building that ran half a block down 4th street on one side, and half a block down Houston Street on the
other. Occasionally Mr. Fellers, about as unsmiling a guy as you could imagine, would amble downstairs and walk through the State
where we would all do a kind of attention on deck thing like the Navy and intone, “Good evening, Mr. Fellers,” and he would nod or say
nothing or maybe, if you were lucky, murmur a reply.
He had a son, younger by a couple of years than I was, and not really old enough to work much at the theatres, but who did
come around now and then, a nice enough kid, and he always had a girlfriend with him, some blonde or other, and was, after all, the
boss’s son and probably rich. Billy—his name was Billy. Billy told me a joke I still remember, a little jingle that ran, When you’re neckin
with your honey, and your nose is getting runny, and your honey thinks it’s funny—but it’s snot. This was always good for a hee-hee if
not a haw-haw, the kind of corny joke you could tell your girlfriend or even your folks if they’d listen to anything out of you.###
DAY 3 OF THE 27TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., Nov. 3, 2016
In May of 1962 I went down for the count and saw a psychiatrist for three or four times and he recommended hospitalization. He
arranged for me to go the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, a very good hospital—some said it was the best in the world.
They certainly had a program there, a great staff as well as visiting people like Anna Freud—whom I met, a very sweet little old lady
about ten years younger than I am today, probably—and Margaret Mead, and of course Karl Menninger was then the head of it all
and he was everywhere, shaking hands and chatting and smiling. I met him several times and his son Bob became my therapist for the
next four years. I was very lucky to be in such a fine and caring institution.
I met most all of the other patients. I think they had about 150 from all over the world. The most interesting person I met, patient or
staff, was a guy just my age named Jerry Wallace. We were both writers, both from Kansas (most of the patients were from California or
New York), and we hit it off from the beginning and sat under the trees just outside the door of the hospital and talked Literature
(capital L to us) and smoked and drank coffee or iced tea—it was a hot summer.
That fall we both moved out but continued in the “day hospital,” which meant that we spent the 8 to 5 day on the campus of Menninger.
Jerry took a room at the Y downtown and I rented an apartment on Clay Street not far from the Washburn campus, and for a while we
didn’t see too much of one another. Jerry had a girl friend at Washburn and she had a friend from Japan and that lady and I spent some
time together and almost married. But she had to return to her country and the following year in June I went down to Lawrence, 20
miles away, to go back to college, and eventually Jerry came down there too, though I don’t remember if he attended classes or just
I met another woman and in 1965 we got married. Jerry got married too a little later on and the four of us saw each other sometimes.
Then they moved away—Rosie got a teaching job in Missouri. Then we moved away and went to Mexico to stay—for awhile. Jerry and I
exchanged a couple of letters but then we lost touch and I never heard from him again.
Jerry had a great influence on me. I can’t exactly say what it was—one, he made me a more serious writer just because he was, and he
knew a lot of real writers—people like William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg and maybe even Kerouac and Gregory Corso. He had
spent some time living in Paris and he met them there, I believe.
What I wouldn’t give to be in touch with him again! But time is running out, and probably it will never happen. I don’t even know
whether he’s still alive or not. We are at that age when anything is possible except maybe living forever.###
Tue., Nov. 1, 2016
You little fart, you, the policeman said to me, putting his flashlight beam up to my face. Kempthorne. I know you. If you grow up to be
half as good a man as your old man, you’ll be doing good.
The policeman was the one cop on the Manhattan city force who was designated as the “juvenile officer,” back in the day when there
when we bad kids went from being considered just bad kids to being juvenile delinquents, a big sociological phrase then, early 1950s. I
think his name was MacGregor or MacDonald. He accepted it when we called him Mac.
It was nearly midnight on a warm summer evening and five or six of us had just been caught climbing over the fence and out of the city
swimming pool where we had been skinny dipping. We were barely dressed when the police car came around the curve and into the
pool parking lot, the car sweeping across us sitting there on a bench pulling on our socks and shoes. It’s Mac, Larry said. Don’t run.
So we didn’t. There was no point in it. There was really nowhere to run to, and anyway, he knew all of us. He parked right in front of us
and got out of the car with his flashlight and there we were, buckling our belts, wet hair and all.
Mac loaded us all into the car and drove downtown. What are you going to do to us, Officer? Tony said. I’m going to drive you
downtown and book you for trespassing, Mac said. Will you tell our parents? Tony’s dad was very strict. I think he’d be interested to
know, don’t you? Mac said. Some of us chuckled.
And that’s just what he did. We were logged in, no mug shots or anything like that. The night chief, Mr. Krey, gave us some severe
looks and told Mac to take us home. We looked at one another. Oh, we can walk, sir, Tony said, and Mac laughed. We all laughed at
that, even Tony.
Not only were we given a ride home, at each home, Mac stopped, knocked on the door, and let the angry father or mother in pajamas
know why they had a police car sitting in their driveway. Lucky for Tony, his father was out of town, but his mother stood there in the
doorway looking startled and listened to Mac tell her what her fair-haired boy had been up to. Each of us experienced just about the
same thing. My dad listened, thanked MacGregor and took me quickly inside where I was given a talking to, some “strap pie,” as he
called it, and sent to bed.
That wasn’t the end of it. The mayor was notified by the police and the mayor’s office called each parent and invited them downtown on
Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock for a little meeting, and of course we kids all came along. My father, used to spending Sunday afternoon
taking a little nap and working in his garden, brought me down, helping me along with a little shove into the office of the mayor, which
was just upstairs from the police station where we had been just a few days before.#journaling
DAY DAY 28 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG. (LAST DAY)
Fri., Oct. 28, 2016
I was the Trump candidate in high school when I ran for Vice President of the Junior Class against Pete Lindsay. Pete won. He did a
good job, as I remember, but I’m still thinking of suing him for a recount and, should there be discrepancies, damages. It was 1954, a
long time ago, but even so.
I had access to the media—my little Kelsey printing press I bought for about $60 and set up at home. I printed up some cards that said
vote for Charley Kempthorne for VP and I handed them out. I was the only one who had cards printed up. But Pete had the inside track,
and I wasn’t taken seriously, and so he won. It was all rigged from the beginning, of course.
I think that was the only time I ever ran for any office of any sort. I knew I wasn’t a good meeting guy. It was just a lark. I wouldn’t have
been any good at it, I would have been the clown I was.
In the Navy during Boot Camp I somehow became the Mail Yeoman. I did that job pretty well. It was my job to go down about 4 every
afternoon to the Company Commander’s office to get the mail for our company, Company 400. I loved doing it: I got out of the marching
and all that early, go pick up the mail, and get to the barracks about the time everyone was coming back and I stood on the picnic table
on the quarter deck and I called out the names on the envelopes. For about twenty minutes I was the center of attention and was
treated more or less respectfully: I had the mail, their mail, and so they paid attention.
Sometimes if they didn’t get any they’d be a little verbally abusive, as we might say now. But most of them would just adopt an Aw
shucks attitude and go off to the showers or to take a precious half hour to rack out before evening chow.
I considered running for President of the United States in nearly every election except when Kennedy ran; I didn’t want to defeat him. I
actually thought he might do a better job than I could do. And I guess he did, until of course they assassinated him. I wouldn’t want to
be assassinated, that’s for sure.
The worst thing about being President and the reason I never really ran was, I don’t like meetings. Dressing up, and then sitting down
at a big table with a lot of other blowhards…I don’t think so.
Now I remember when I taught at what is now known as the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point, I was appointed to the University
Curriculum Committee. It was a big deal. I wasn’t too happy about being appointed but the Department Chairman said somebody had to
do it and I was who he picked. “You’ll do fine, Cholly,” he said. Leon was from Boston and he always called me Cholly.
So I went. There must have been twenty or thirty guys there. All guys! And they all wore suits and ties and there I was in my work shirt
and dungarees (it was after all the 60s and I was a hippie). After a while they’d remove their suit jackets and hang them on the back of
their chair so that they could better get at their collection of different colored pens located in their upper breast pocket. They all had
those plastic pocket protectors, you know. And they used different pens for different notes. Red, green, blue, black…I could never
figure it out. I just had one pen and most of the time it didn’t work. I just sat there and twiddled my thumbs and tried to follow the
discussion so when it all came to a vote, I wouldn’t do something stupid. It was pretty hard. ###
DAY 27 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., Oct. 27, 2016
“Want to hear a dirty joke?” the big kid would say.
“Yes,” the little kid would say.
“A little kid like you fell in a mud puddle!” the big kid would say, and he’d then push you over and into a mud puddle, and walk away
roaring with laughter—he and his pals.
Eventually the dirty jokes grew more sophisticated. Here’s one about the Blue Plate Special.
(Most cafes and diners had a dish they called the “Blue Plate Special,” which would come on a blue plate and be the “special meal for
Three or four guys would gather around the “mark” in a circle on a playground. The mark would often be some kid who really
wanted to be in with the other guys but somehow never was. So these guys would gather around him and seem to be befriending him,
at last, and he would be glowing under their seeming appreciation.
“Did you hear the one about the Blue Plate Special?” one of the kids would ask. “No,” others would say, and of course the mark would
too. “No, never heard that one. Tell it to me.”
And so the teller would go to work and tell some story about 3 or 4 guys sitting down at a table in the diner and the waitress comes over
to take their order and one says, “I’ll have the meat loaf.” And the waitress nods and writes that down on her pad. Next guy says he’ll
have the meat loaf too, and the waitress nods again and writes that down. And the next does the same, and the next, until the last guy
says, “I’ll have the Blue Plate Special.”
At this point all the guys in the group would break out into insane laughter, as if this were the funniest joke in the world. Maybe one of
two would fall to the ground and clutch their bellies in laughter. The mark would stand there with a stupid clueless look on his face. He’
d look around at all the others laughing and then, finally, he would begin to laugh too.
Suddenly all the boys except him would stop laughing and look at him, standing there, lamely chortling.
“What’s so funny?” they’d demand.
And then they’d walk away from the mark, nudging one another, pointing at him, and laughing among themselves, not with him, but at
Of course as we grew—up, I hope—we had more jokes. They were a staple of playground/recess talk. Some were cute and quick
enough that they could be shared in between classes—Q. What did the egg say to the chicken? A. Now that you’ve laid me, do you
Some jokes, like that one, actually depended on a certain knowledge about relations between the sexes.
Women rarely tell jokes of any sort. Maybe no one does anymore, but I grew up in an era when men did. You told jokes and
you listened to them and you laughed or smiled wanly and shook your head. Some were clever, some were raunchy, some were just
dumb. No one recently has taken me aside and said, “Have you heard the one about the…?” lately, so maybe something new is coming
to the human condition. ###
DAY 26 OF THE LIFESTORY 26TH JOURNALONG.
Wed., October 26, 2016
Somehow when I was just a little kid of ten or so I got into the game of sending letters off to famous people requesting their autograph.
Mostly politicians and actors. Kissin’ Jim Folsom, then Governor of Alabama, send me a big 8 x 11 photo of himself, as did the secretary
of agriculture, whose name I can’t even remember…and of course I got the governor of Kansas, Frank Carlson, and one of
the senators, Andrew F. Schoeppel, and some biggies like Earl Warren, then governor of California but later to be Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court—the famous Warren Court that blazed the way into the 20th Century.
I wrote to the King of England and got no answer. Winston Churchill’s secretary wrote back and said Winston was just too busy; ditto
with the President of the US then, Harry S. Truman. I got Red Skelton, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante and of course Bob Hope, whose line
“Thanks for the memory” appeared just above his name in his own handwriting, a scribble really, because he too was a very busy guy.
I got all kinds of mail. I loved getting mail, then as I do now. I had a pen pal in England, a kid named Kent somebody. I never knew
anybody named Kent. It seemed like a funny name, Ken with a t on the end. Ken itself wasn’t a common name then—not among the kids
There were three Charleses in my grade school, three Roberts, I don’t know how many Jameses and many, many Williams. There was an
Earl, a Gary, a Donald…not so many Michaels back then, not in my group anyway.
Girls were all Marys and Bettys, but there was a Sylvia, a quiet, pretty girl with gray eyes I had a secret crush on. And there was a
Lenora, who was so painfully shy and pretty and I guess I had a crush on her too because when the teacher would call on her to read
and she’d look down and freeze and I felt so bad for her I wanted to sweep her up in my arms and take her away from all this stupid
school stuff. We’d go to some island hideout I had and I’d take care of her like a princess all day and no one would ever call on her to
read, or if they did, I’d read for her, I was a good reader.
I was a good reader and a good student and I knew about everything. In 6th grade we had to learn all the capitals of all the states and I
knew them cold.
One day the teacher asked for the capital of Missouri and my hand went up and I waved it around like I was a windmill. “Not you,
Charles. We know you know. Put your hand down.”
And so she called on Elmer, in the back row. Poor Elmer didn’t know. He could barely speak. He thought a long time. Finally he said
“Kansas City?” And of course the teacher said no and called on several others and no one got it until I was about to bust up there
in the front row restraining myself. “All right, Charles, what is it?”
“Jefferson City!” I exploded.###
DAY 24 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., October 24, 2016
I remember walking along a certain street in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas when I was in junior high or more probably grade
school, fifth or sixth grade, and I guess to pass the time walking I played Step on a crack, And you’ll break your granny’s back.
Of course the concrete sidewalk had hundreds of cracks, every section of it had a crack and then it was pretty old and there were
cracks going every which way as the sidewalk had buckled over many winters. My job was to avoid the cracks…to avoid breaking my
My mother’s mother died in 1943 when I was five—we lived down in Indiana then. So we didn’t have to be concerned about her back.
My father’s mother lived still in Wisconsin then, so she was the one I was concerned about.
As for the odd relation between my stepping on a crack in Manhattan and causing thereby her back to break…I didn’t really think that
through. Nor do I know who suggested this game. But I was concerned, and am concerned now, about the belief that I had almost
magical powers—even if in this case, negative ones. I loved my grandmother and didn’t want anything to happen to her, ever, and
certainly not as a result of my stepping on a crack.
So I played it carefully, and didn’t step on any cracks. You had to be fairly nimble.
I didn’t know my grandmother well, not the way my cousins back in Rewey, Wisconsin did. We’d go, at best, once a year for a few
days to see her. She lived in a little house in the little village of Rewey. On the edge of town on the road coming into town was a small
white sign that said simply, Rewey, Pop. 263. This was my father’s hometown. This was where he grew to manhood with his three
brothers and two sisters, and where, he once told me that he and his brothers one night on Hallowe’en put a board across a sidewalk,
and an old lady—somebody’s grandmother, no doubt—came walking along in the dark, tripped and fell, and broke her nose.
I remember hearing this sad little story more than once, but I may have heard it wrong. Maybe my father was just saying that she might
have broken her nose, or maybe she really did. It must surely have been a terrible thing if she did, and surely the boys would have
gotten in trouble. So maybe it didn’t really happen. But maybe it did, and maybe that was one small reason that my father grew up and
became a doctor of medicine and surgery, and, in fact, a specialist in eye, ear, nose and throat—and in the forty some years he was a
doctor, must surely have set many a broken nose.
Grandmother Kempthorne—whose first name was Minnie—Minnie lived to be 80 or so, always had cookies for me and my brother,
always wore a white apron, and always said, You boys. You boys! Eat everything on your plate. If you don’t, you’ll never grow up. You
eat like birds.
God bless Minnie Louise Nodolf Kempthorne, my grandmother, who was present on this earth from about 1876 to 1956. I sure
would like to spend an hour again in her kitchen eating a cookie as big as my hand and drinking a glass of cold milk and asking her what
she thought of this weird world.###
Sun., Oct. 23, 2016
In college I was always a serious student. I had been anything but that in high school. In high school I had taken seriously the games of
snooker and billiards and living what I thought was a wild life. School was just something I had to do, more or less, in the course of
getting to do the other things.
I had barely graduated from high school because I ran away from home in my junior year and laid out a year and worked three jobs
instead of going to school.
One of the jobs was working for the movie chain, Mid-Central Theatres (they wanted to spell it the British way in order to give it some
class), and there I met my future first wife, Betsy, and she was in high school, the class I had been in and if we hadn’t started going
together I probably wouldn’t have gone back to high school and finished up.
Aside from dating Betsy and learning to neck and all that—this was the first time I’d dated, really--I was into my work at the theater,
it was a lot of fun, and also at Graham Printers.
In fact I can’t think of a time in my life when I wasn’t serious and “into” my work, though the years that I was a housepainter, the later
years especially, I did it just for the money. Which was good, I had never worked “just for the money, day in and day out, and I
needed to learn how to do that; I still do.
Of course all this time in Lawrence and KU I was still in psychoanalysis at Menninger, driving up to Topeka two to three times a week,
paying $25 an hour for it, a lot of money in those days. I got behind in my bill, and I think my father may have given me some help—not
much. He had paid for the time I was in the hospital and he was tired of that. I did pay Menninger, and they were very patient—it took
me years to pay it down to zero.
It was well worth it, I felt then, and I feel now. My actual recovery from all my emotional problems, which is still ongoing, began that
day I walked into Menninger and met the beautiful and exotic Dr. Bernardez, who astounded me by introducing herself and telling me
that she was going to be my doctor. I thought she was kidding, I really did.
If I ever make a million bucks, I’ll give some of it to Menninger, even though they more or less left Kansas and went down to Houston,
Texas to become part of the Baylor School of Medicine. They saved my life, no doubt in my mind about that.###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., October 22, 2016
With the exception of that incident in the Age of Johnson course at KU, my experience there was wonderful. 1963 to 1966 were three of
the happiest years of my troubled life.
I had more or less succeeded in starting life over and I was, I felt, on the road to a successful career as a young writer, scholar, and
professor. I owed all that to the Menninger Clinic, which at that time was regarded as one of the best places in the world to be for a
patient or, in fact, a psychiatrist.
I had been lucky to go there. I think that I was a native Kansan and that my father was a doctor helped get me in. Maybe even more
important—surely more important—the psychiatrist I saw when I fell apart in late 1961 and 1962, trying to “be” a writer and failing
miserably at it (I felt then) to the point of a painful period of intellectual and creative paralysis—that psychiatrist, one Burritt Samuel
Lacy, was a Menninger graduate and he arranged to send me there. Sam was one of the heroes in my life. He is still around
and though well into his 90s, is still active and maybe even is still practicing.
When I went to Menninger on May 14, 1962—a day I still celebrate as a huge red letter day—I was greeted by another of my heroes, Dr.
Teresa Bernardez, a native Argentinian who had gotten her medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires and had practiced in
Paris, who said in her accent, How do you do, Meestair Kempthorne, I am Doctair Bernardez. I will be your doctair. I fell in love with
her—it helped that she was a gorgeous young woman in her early 30s—immediately. She was brilliant, too, and a great doctor who
helped me enormously.
After weeks of struggling to say something here of interest and of use, I am suddenly confronted with having so much to say that I am
skimming over the surface. I am trying to write about my experience at KU and what I learned there. So I’m just going to jump back to
that and write a few words about the great Professor Dennis Quinn and what the French call explication de texte.
Dennis Quinn was a young man then—I think he is gone now—and was one of the most vibrant and popular young teachers in the
English Department. His specialty was 17th Century English poetry, which I knew nothing of. But I was an English major and loving it,
and I was eager to get into it. He came into the classroom, a short and stocky and muscular and handsome man, took off his coat and
hung it on a chair and loosened the knot of his tie and went to work teaching us how to read poetry, using a method invented by the
French that emphasized the overwhelming importance of reading very, very carefully, the text of the poem.
That sounds so obvious a requirement that you’d think, Well, duh! But for generations critics and lovers of poetry had focused on the
poet’s life and times, his or her wonderful imagery and other figurative language and not so much on what the poet was literally saying
in the poem. And Mr. Quinn was out to destroy that kind of reading and to replace it with explication. ###
DAY 21 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., Oct. 21, 2016
I came to Lawrence in early June, 1963, so I could go attend the summer session. I had it figured out that if I did the summer
session, the fall session, and the spring session of 1964, I could graduate. This had become an important goal in therapy: to finally
graduate from college. I had started nine years before, picked up a few hours and then gone into the Navy, where here and there I
picked up a credit or two...or at least one course in English, I think, or maybe I didn't finish. It's been a long time! But anyhow Dr. Bob
Menninger, my therapist, and I decided this was something to work for.
And so I did. I took a course in American history, a big five hour course, half of what I needed, and then I took a 3 hour course in
Literature in the Age of Johnson.
A couple of bad things happened that summer.
The first thing was because I had been honest on my entrance papers and admitted I had been in a mental hospital, some power that
was decided I would have to get clearance (I think that was the word) from Student Health. Being in a hospital in those days was a red
flag and really kind of a disgrace. You were labeled a Mental Patient and were viewed through a whole different lens.
Anyhow I trundled over to Student Health and saw a psychologist of some sort. He interviewed me for about half an hour, asking me the
kind of questions I was by then used to, how did I feel about being in a hospital, how did I feel about this, about that, and so on. It was
kind of humiliating but I wanted to get it over with. Then the guy drew himself up, sat back, and said, "Well, you don't seem violent."
At that moment for the first time in my life I felt like doing violence to another person. I wanted to strangle him. You don't seem violent!
What an insulting creep. Of course I didn't do anything, I just sat there and took it like a whipped dog. And so he signed off on me as a
The other thing happened later in the summer in the 18th Century lit course, the Age of Johnson. At some point we were asked to write
a research paper about Johnson, the windbag who ruled the roost in 18th Century English literature. So I knew how to research and
write a paper--I was pretty much a straight A student in my major, which was of course English--and so I went at it hammer and tongs.
I decided I'd do a psychoanalytic study of Samuel Johnson. In the library at the Menninger Clinic, which I had access to, I was able
to find a study of him by a psychoanalyst and I quoted extensively from that, being careful of course to make sure my quotations were
marked and all that. I cranked out the paper, which I thought was pretty good, and turned it in.
A few days later the papers came back. Mr. Gold, the instructor, handed them back. I was expecting an A with the usual comments about
how excellent my writing was. I got a rude surprise. On the last page was a long and angry comment and a big red F, followed by
the curt words, See me.
I had never had a grade like that in college work, never. I turned red as I walked away quickly, not wanting anyone to ask the friendly
question, What'd you get? I found a corner and sat down and read all the criticisms of it: I had used yellow second sheets instead of
white paper, my assertions about Johnson were not merited, and psychoanalytic studies were spurious...and maybe other stuff too.
When I went to see Gold next day he greeted me coldly and immediately said I'd plagiarized my paper. "Worse than that," he went on,
"you tried to cover your plagiarism by removing the pages of the relevant article in the Psychoanalytic Review." I believe he actually
showed me the journal from the university library with the pages missing. I reddened and stammered and protested that I hadn't used
the university library at all, that I was a patient at Menninger and I had used their library. At this point just admitting that I was a patient
Gold was surprised but he wouldn't back down. He didn't apologize and in fact said that my paper wasn't good work anyway. The F
stayed, and I remained in the course and got a C for the course ###
DAY 19 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Oct. 19, 2016
When I was a kid in graduate school at Lawrence (the University of Kansas) in 1964 for two years I was trained as a scholar. I was
majoring in English and I learned how to write “papers” that were modeled on the idea of “proving” things. You made some kind of
assertion about (say) a poem, and then you proceeded to examine the “evidence” for that assertion.
Stay with me here, please, I’m going somewhere.
If for example I said that the theme of the poem “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden was alienation in modern life, I had to prove it.
And I had to prove by evidence from the poem itself. It wasn’t any good to try to prove it by saying that Mr. Auden himself
was alienated. That was ridiculed as “biographical criticism” and as such was not a good argument. I had to find evidence in the poem.
Well, honestly, for a while I really found this interesting to do or try to do. I saw myself as a kind of detective trying to crack a case. If I
could track down any of my papers, which call got pretty fair grades as I remember, I’d bring them forth here to prove my case. But they
are not at hand. And anyway this stuff was really, really boring.
But the idea of providing evidence for every assertion that you made stuck with me, and has stuck with me to this day. It’s very much
like the scientific method of making hypotheses and testing them.
For me it has carried over into my everyday life. If my wife says she likes tomatoes, I want to know why. “Defend your thesis,” I tell her.
“Explain your assertion.” “I just like them,” June says. “I like them sliced and diced cold or hot or…” “But why?” I say. “Why?” And
she shrugs and looks at me disdainfully and eats her tomato. She has proven that she likes them, I accept that. But she has not shown
why I should like them, or why anybody else should like them. Get it?
So in politics when someone says, as Donald does every morning promptly at 3 am, that this or that is true, I want to hear some proof. It’
s not okay to make the assertion over and over six ways to Sunday, you have to produce credible reasons for it. You can tweet it or
tweak it or twaddle or diiddle it, but that isn’t enough. You’ve got to bring forth reasons why you believe it.
When nine different women make the charge that Donald groped them and put his hand up their skirt, we need evidence. We need to
see the hand, we need to see the skirt. It’s not enough just for these women to go on TV and say he did x or y, we have to have
evidence, at least a handprint..something tangible.
And so when I say that I am sick to death of this election, that I don’t like politics anymore, that for the next 21 days I am going to crawl
under a rock, I have to prove it. I have to ask and answer, Why?
Well, here’s my proof. I like apple pie. But if I ate 5 apple pies, I would be sick of them. I would almost certainly be physically sick and
throw up. I like politics and political discussion, or at least I used to. I have, for sure, eaten at least five political discussions. And I
think I’m going to throw up. ###
DAY 16 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., October 17, 2016
I died in a dream last night. June and I both died. I didn’t actually see us die, but we were scheduled to die. We were in some kind of
waiting room or lobby. There were other people there but they weren’t scheduled to die. It wasn’t exactly an execution. We were in
some kind of a hospital setting and we were to go down at a certain time. A nurse explained it all to us.
One time when I was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—back when I was still alive—old Kurt Vonnegut came around and
talked to us young writers, and he told us this joke:
A man was about to be executed in the electric chair. He was asked if he had any last words. “Yes,” he said, looking out at the small
audience of reporters and officials. “This will certainly teach me a lesson.”
For me death dreams aren’t all that uncommon, nor are they all that bad. I believe that my dreams have meanings, and usually my
dreams of death signal a significant change in my psychic life. An old self is dying and a new self is being born.
I don’t even know what self died and what new self was born. I don’t know why June was in this one. Unless when she wakes up and
tells me she too has had a death dream where both of us died I’m going to figure this dream is all about me and my perceptions. Maybe
June and I together, our relationship, has undergone some kind of change.
I have voted in general elections in Wisconsin in 1960, in Kansas in 1964, in Iowa in 1968, in Kansas again from 1972 to 2012 and now I
will be voting in Washington in 2016. I’ll be voting this time with a mail in ballot.
I have never seen anything even remotely resembling voter fraud. In 1976 or maybe 1980 I sat on the Election Board in
rural Manhattan, Kansas. Actually the voting was in the tiny town of Zeandale, Kansas. Maybe half a dozen of us arrived in the wee
hours of the morning and worked all day counting and recounting ballots and went home about 12 or 14 hours later, our job done. If I
remember we did the whole thing, set the polls up (paper ballots marked by hand in those early days), ran the election and everything
related to it down to making sure the restrooms were open and functioning.
It was a long day and when I went to sleep I dreamed of counting ballots, not sheep. We must have counted the ballots a thousand
times. Of course it wasn’t that many, but it was a lot, a specified number of times and if there was a miscount we had to do it all over
again, of course.
I think my late friend Irene Bailey was the chairwoman, and my late friend Pete Dempsey was the only Democrat besides me. The Dems
got just a handful of votes, and the precinct went for the Republicans…not surprising.
Voter fraud has been shown again and again through investigations to be a way of suppressing voter turnout.
Dreaming that I died doesn’t take me off the voter rolls. Dreaming is just a dream. And anyway, this whole election is turning into a
nightmare. It would be kind of nice to die, actually, for about 22 days, and come back to life as a human being again on November 9. ###
Sun., Oct. 16, 2016
In 1964 I got an appointment as an assistant instructor in the English Department of the University of Kansas. I was 26 and I was thrilled
as I never had been in my life. Yes, I had gotten a BA at KU a few months before and now I was admitted to the Graduate School and I
was going to work on an MA and I was in training to be a literary scholar and I was writing, a little, not a lot, just enough to keep the
dream alive, but for sure I was reading great literature and teaching.
When I walked into the room where I met my first class I was scared but I was soon confident that I could do this. We had a syllabus to
follow and every morning all of us met with regular faculty, professors, who talked about what to do and what to teach and other
problems, but we were given a lot of freedom to teach as we thought we should--after all, we had been watching teachers teach
now for 16 years, and we should know something from that, shouldn't we?
And so it was. English Composition 1 was a great all-university course. Everyone had to take it. We were teaching not just lit-ra-
chuh but also, and maybe even more, something called "critical thinking." We were supposed to teach these kids how to think. Okay,
and part of that, a big part, was to analyze what was put out there by the media and others in advertising. We taught some logic, a little
bit of formal logic like syllogisms and so on, but mostly we--or at least I--taught these young men and women how to look at an ad, print
ads mostly--that was still the great age of print media in 1964--how to look an an ad and see all the logical fallacies in it.
Smearing, special pleading, reductio ad absurdams and the parade of horribles, post hoc fallacy...all that and more. I wish I could
remember it all. I wish I had my notes from those days, and in fact I may have them, still, yellowing and curling up at the edges, in some
box or other in our storage unit back home.
More than any of these techniques I tried to impart the idea of "fair play." I think this phrase and this concept came--or at least
I credited it to them back then--from the British. The great British idea of play fair, on and off the court. It was one part being a
gentleman and one part being honest and one part believing fervently that, above all, above anything about winning or losing, was the
idea of Truth.
Of course those are quaint ideas now. Maybe they were then, come to think of it. As for me, I’m going down fighting against it. I’m going
to battle till I’m done for for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. I just bet you are too. We all know what it is, and we all know how
to do it. As old Nancy Reagan used to say, Let’s just do it. And let the chips fall where they may.###
DAY 15 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., October 15, 2016
I have participated in every US presidential election since 1948. I was only ten years old in 1948 but I read about it in the newspapers
and we talked about it in school and I very much supported Thomas E. Dewey—“the little man on the wedding cake”—in his Republican
candidacy. Of course he lost, rather famously, because he thought he was going to win. In those days it took a long time to get
all those ballots counted—paper ballots of course, all counted by hand.
But enough of them were counted by bedtime election night that he thought he was the winner, and so he trundled off to dreamland.
About midnight it became clear that he had lost, and two reporters went to his mansion to talk to him. They were greeted at the door by
a butler who loftily told them “The President-Elect has retired for the night.” One of the reporters suggested that he waken the
“President-Elect and tell him that he is not the President Elect."
Of course Harry S. Truman won and became one of our best presidents.
I didn’t vote in 1948, of course; nor was I old enough to vote in 1952, when Ike won, or in ’56, when he won again. But by 1960 I was old
enough—22 years old and a veteran too!—to vote and so I voted for John F. Kennedy.
In 1964 LBJ, who had taken over after Kennedy was murdered in late 1963, won handily over Barry Goldwater. I did vote for LBJ. In
1968, it was Hubert H. Humphrey, “the happy warrior,” who ran against Richard M. Nixon, aka “Tricky Dick.” Tricky won, then won re-
election in ’72, but was forced to resign, and Ford became the prez. Carter won against him in 1976 but only served one term. I voted
for Carter in ’76 and again in ’80 against Reagan, who of course won that term and again in ’84. In 1988 Bush Sr. ran and won; then two
terms for Bill Clinton until 2000 when Al Gore very nearly won over George Bush #2, who won two terms without my once voting
for him. And then in 2008 Obama won, and got my vote then and again in 2012.
And that has gotten us to 2016, and here we are. That’s 68 years of American history, 1948 to now. Whew!
In those 68 years we have muddled through, I guess. It could have been a lot better. I guess Hillary is going to win the day in a few
weeks, and I imagine in 2020 she’ll win again, as we will have by then gotten used to having a woman run the show (another
whew!), and the Donald will be starting his own country over near Russia (one guess as to what the country will be called…could it
be…Trumpia?); and I will run then, yes, I hereby declare my candidacy for the nomination in 2024.
I will be 86 and, I predict, in fine fettle. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll run for a second term in 2028. I may retire then. But if the people
DAY 14 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., Oct. 14, 2016
Isn’t everyone happy that we’re having an election? And only three more weeks plus! Well, that gives plenty of time for everyone who
has been a victim of “the Octopus” to come forth.
I am fortunate to live in one of those states of the USA that has voting by mail, so I will fill out my ballot at home in a week or so and drop
it in a box located around the fair city of Olympia, Washington. But I have stood in line and voted with paper ballots and with machines
(which in Kansas unfortunately does not have a paper followup or trail, apparently)…but recently I’ve been hearing about the
phenomenon of "poll watchers," which is really frightening. I heard Pence just this morning encouraging this—volunteers to “watch”
people voting. What would they be watching for? Do they have the authority to walk up to someone and ask why they’re voting, are
they eligible, and all that? I don’t think so. The only reason they’re there, if any are, will be to intimidate.
Obviously if this happens we will have "watchers" from the other side—watchers watching the watchers—and intimidating one another
and the voters and worse. This should be brought out by HRC or DJT at the final debate next Wednesday and both candidates should
discourage such behavior.
Yesterday coming back in the rain from our town errands I came into a roundabout in the righthand lane and I needed to get into
the left lane June told me, so I quickly signaled and tried—I saw a white car behind me—and figured he’d let me in. You signal, and they
let you in. But he didn’t. His horn began blaring and he leaned on it until he pushed past me, forcing me almost to get off the road,
coming within a foot of me…and he roared on.
At first I just figured, well, an unhappy guy, bad day at work and he’s taking it out on me. Road rage. And maybe I shouldn’t be trying to
change lanes as we’re turning.
I still think, probably I was in the wrong. It’s a custom if not a law, don’t change lanes while you’re turning.
But also I think the fact that we had a Hillary 2016 sticker on the bumper probably contributed to the rage. I’m sure it was a man driving,
a big white panel truck…one of those guys who feels impotent and insecure. He could have just muttered a soft curse to himself and
let me in. He knew I was signaling to get in. But he chose to push me aside and barrel past me. He could have let me in.
I was in the wrong, but he could have been understanding and polite and let me in. While we don't need poll watchers, we may all soon
need--I do need--someone to watch over me. ###
DAY 13 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., October 13, 2016
Everyone dreams—little babies, dogs and cats, probably salamanders for all I know. I know I dream. These nights I’m dreaming, it
seems, all night every night until I waken in the morning.
This morning I wakened dreaming about a cemetery that was more like an artistic installation. I was visiting with the curator/artist in
residence as he showed me around the spectacular place. There were ingenious installation/tombs that were a series of perpetual
motion machines, little balls that rolled down a track and dropped onto another and so on around and around. Little cars tooted and
mini-pedestrians, probably friends of the deceased, walked around and around as bells rang in the church steeple…it was quite
I’d like that, I woke up thinking, I’d much prefer something like that to a solemn slab of granite that only gives my name and address.
But of course who would pay for the maintenance of such a thing for eternity? You’d have to charge admission.
Why do people dream and what is the meaning of those dreams? I believe that I dream partly—partly—to relieve stress. I have
plenty of stress. I always have had plenty of stress and always will. I think sometimes I sleep in order to dream and to relieve my stress.
But even so, given that, why do I dream what I dream? Why did I dream about a new kind of graveyard? Well, one guess…I’m an old
man. Remember the dream of the old man in Wild Strawberries? (a movie that every old person should—or maybe should not—see.)
The old guy is walking down a deserted street. There is a clock on a post on the street—remember the kind we used to see in cities?
But this clock has no hands! The old man walks on. The only thing you hear is his footsteps and the beating of his heart.
Suddenly a horse-drawn hearse comes clopping around the corner and by him when the horses stop with a jerk and the rear doors of
the hearse fly open and a coffin slides out and with a clunk lands on the pavement and…the lid opens too because of the impact. The
old man walks over and leans down to look in. A hand reaches out and takes hold of his. It is the dead man’s hand—OMG! The dead
And he wakens from his dream sweating and scared.
I have seen this movie a dozen times since it came out fifty or more years ago, and to watch this scene still makes the hair on the back
of my neck (where I don’t have any hair anymore) stand up and bristle. I want my mommy!
But we were talking about, I was writing about, why we have the dreams we do. Duh.
Actually and really, all life boils down to two philosophical statements. Duh is one. And the other was uttered by the greatest
philosopher of the last couple of centuries, Popeye the Sailorman: I am what I am. #journaling.
[As always, I hope you'll write along with me and keep your journaling habit going. And your comments here are invited.]
DAY 12 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., October 12, 2016
One hundred years ago today my father was a 13 year old in Rewey, Wisconsin. He was the son of the village blacksmith and it is likely
that after school he went right to the shop to help out.
Maybe for the fun of it he ran from the schoolhouse to the shop—just three or four blocks apart—carrying his schoolbooks over his
shoulder tied up with his belt that he had taken off moments before for just this purpose…and he ran, and he ran, heedless of the
books bouncing against his back, not caring about the pain, a boy lithe and lean and all youth running down the main street and
probably racing with his twin brother to see who got to the shop first.
“There go the Kempthorne kids,” the tavern keeper might observe to his only customer at that time of afternoon. “Look at those kids
go.” The customer turned away from his glass of beer and peered out the door and down the street. “I never ran that fast to go
to work, did you, Erv?” he said. “Maybe their dad is taking them fishing, like as not,” he went on. The bartender nodded. “I hear they’
re biting on the Pecatonica,” he said.
The boys raced on. Both got to the big heavy front doors of the shop at the same time and both claimed to have won. They
laughed and slapped each other on the back and hugged a little and slipped inside the dark shop where they saw their father stoking
the forge. “Just in time, boys," G. R. said. He spat into the fire and the bit of liquid sizzled on the glowing coals, which the boys silently
watched, momentarily transfixed. “What did you learn in school today,?”
They were used to this little routine. “I learned that September has 30 days,” Charlie said, grinning. “Thirty days hath September,”
Charlie said, and his brother Guy picked it up. “April, June, and November,” Guy said. Charlie nodded and said, as their father listened,
smiling, absently stoking the fire again, making coals sparkle and rise as they were drawn to the chimney. “All the rest I can’t
remember,” and then Guy, “Why ask us at all?” and then together they said, laughing as they had when they were racing, “There’s a
calendar on the wall,” and both boys pointed to the big printed calendar tacked to the wall by the great oak desk where their father
figured his accounts. And all three, the two 13 year olds and the man nearly 40 now, all in the bloom of life, laughed merrily.
Or something like that. I have no idea what happened, really. I’m just guessing. It’s an educated guess. Isn’t that what history is,
mostly—an educated guess?
How about a thousand years ago today? That would be October 12, 1016? Except that it wouldn’t be October 12, would it? For sure
they didn’t have a brightly printed calendar hanging on the wall. I don’t think I’m going to go there this morning, a thousand years
ago. If I went there on this dark morning I might not come back.###
DAY 11 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., Oct. 11, 2016
When I was a kid I went to movies on Saturday morning like every kid and we had movies stars who were our heroes. Roy Rogers was
my hero. I went to one of his movies at the State Theater and by buying a ticket (12 cents) I got a free 8 x 10 color photo of Roy and his
horse, Trigger. I pinned it up above my bed in the bedroom I shared with my older brother. When I was falling asleep I would have
fantasies about stuff that me and Roy would do together, riding horses around and busting the bad guys and things like that. But
sometimes I’d need a refresher of just how my hero looked, so I’d pull the string attached to our overhead light bulb and turn on the
light and look at the picture again. Of course, this annoyed my brother, who was trying to fall asleep.
Roy Rogers, in case you don’t know, was one of the three or four great movie star cowboys of all time. His real name was Leonard Slye,
and he was from Cincinnati, Ohio. His competition were guys like Gene Autry (widely known as Gene Artery), Hopalong Cassidy and the
Cisco Kid…I don’t remember the others. Roy was married to Dale Evans, who appeared with him in many of his movies. They were a
great Hollywood couple and I think even today there is a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum somewhere in Southern California. I
understand that Trigger, Roy’s horse, has long since died and a taxidermist stuffed him and he stands in a prominent place in the
museum. Someday I’ll visit.
Well, my admiring fantasies of my life with Roy was about 1948 or so, and I was ten years old.
Now, nearly 70 years later, I still sometimes have trouble falling asleep, and so one of the methods I use is…fantasy. If I think about real
things I get wound up and even sometimes have ideas I turn on the light to write down. This can annoy my wife, though mostly she’s a
good sport about it or she’s fast asleep and doesn’t notice.
Not so much anymore but sometimes I still have what I call ‘master of the universe’ fantasies. I am the President, I become Pope…little
things like that. Or, more often, I am the World’s Greatest Living Writer and I am giving my Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance
speech. It’s quite a speech, really. Very well written.
Of late—they say Old Mortality is the greatest teacher—of late I have begun to soft-pedal the fantasies and think of myself as a writer
among writers. It’s okay with me and it’s apparently okay with God, too: I haven’t heard any complaints from Him. So all I have to do
to be a writer among writers is work at writing. I like that. It’s a good fit. Maybe I’ll let others win the Nobel Prize, give them a chance.
I kind of like being just an ordinary schmoe. ###
DAY 10 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., Oct. 10, 2016
I never really had the nerve to use the Big Lie technique. I don’t know just where it came from—probably from cave men—but it
mainly is based on the old saying, If you’re going to lie, make it a Big Lie, and tell it with a straight face over and over again. I couldn't do
But I did learn how to lie and lie and lie.
One day when I was in high school I took $5 from my mother’s purse. She had several bills in there and I just took the five and left the
rest. I didn’t think she’d even notice, but she did. And she told Dad about it and told him that she was sure I took it because it couldn’t
have been anybody else in the time frame that she had her purse out in plain view in their bedroom.
When I was confronted I lied and said I didn’t take it. The circumstantial evidence was brought up and I baldly continued to lie. Well, I
didn’t take it. I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t. My parents were angry but they finally gave up, knowing that I wasn’t going to back down. I
learned from this: just keep lying and they’ll have to give up on you. Oh, they’ll believe you’re lying but they can’t say, Gotcha.
I had in high school quite a career going on the side as a juvenile delinquent. I shoplifted, I destroyed for the fun of it (oh, it’s so much
fun to hear glass breaking), I lied, cheated, stole…I learned how to do all these things. Luckily they didn’t have videotapes back then.
There is a movie, Defending Your Life, made at least twenty years ago now, with the great Meryl Streep and Rip Torn, script by Albert
Brooks and he’s in it too. The premise of this movie is that when you die, you go to a place called Judgment City, where you are tried
and either sent to Heaven (Nirvana) or back to earth to live life over again until you get it right. The movie is a scream and it’s
instructive too. I’ve seen it many times and if you told me it was on at a theater near me I’d drop everything and go there and buy a bag
of popcorn and be glued to my chair for the next two hours.
In the trial both the prosecution and the defense have access to a videotape of every moment of your life. So if you get up on
the stand and you assert that you’ve never stolen anything in your life, then the prosecution might well call up Tape no. 13-450 and
show you snitching a yoyo from the Woolworth store. And there you are, caught.
Then the defense might respond with a video of you helping an old lady across the street. And so on, and finally a judgment
is rendered and you go forward or back to earth. Along the way there are delightful side trips to the Museum of Your Previous Lives
and to the restaurant where you can order anything you want, as much of it as you want, and everything is delicious and it’s all free, and
best of all, you’ll never gain any weight. How’s that? ###
DAY NINE OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Oct. 9, 2016
When I went back to Wisconsin and to my teaching job at the University at Stevens Point, we rented a dilapidated old wood frame
farmhouse thirteen miles from campus in an isolated and marshy area called Dewey Marsh. There were only three houses down our
road. Ours, which had been empty for years when the owners, the Gburkek family, pulled up stakes and moved to California.
The house was in the middle of an apple orchard, maybe 8 or 10 trees of various varieties. Some of the trees were old and
unproductive, but enough were still going strong that we ate apples every day and put them up, ate them baked, boiled, broasted and
roasted and fried and fricasseed and, of course, raw.
Every morning in season I would grab and apple or two and eat a crisp apple on the way to work driving the long road through the
forests going right up to the edge of the campus. I got so spoiled I wouldn’t eat a store-bought apple or, God forbid, a cold storage
apple. “So mushy,” I’d say, tossing it into the garbage or setting it aside for cooking or making into sauce. “When I bite into an apple I
want to hear the snap of the bite!” I was arrogant about it. I lived in an apple orchard, after all. I could afford to be.
We also had grape leaves which my wife stuffed with meat and rice in the manner of Greek dolmathes, the fact that the leaves were
fresh made everything taste so very, very good.
As a kid I had grown up on fresh country food but then when we moved to town we ate the same old stuff that everybody else
ate. “What are we having for supper?” would be answered in a word with the name of the meat we were having, because nothing else
Cheese was Velveeta cheese, cheese of a kind that a young person today—they being gourmets, all—would not allow on their table. We’
d have macaroni and cheese from a box…something called “Kraft dinner,” that we actually loved but my father, a little more sensitive to
the idea, at least, of good fresh food, whole and natural—Dad called it “crap dinner.”
My mother wasn’t an imaginative cook, though she did a good job with certain dishes—peach cobbler, and all the meat dishes, which
she took very seriously. But to her the idea of going out into the yard and gathering fresh grapes leaves for supper—well, that would
have seemed to her bizarre. If she ever served anything like that, any “foreign” foods, it would be in a can—Spanish rice comes to
mind—or frozen green beans cut French style.
Like most mothers (and mothers nearly always did the cooking except maybe when there was an outdoor barbecue), Mom was big on
opening cans and boxes and jars. She had grown up on home-made and country food and having processed foods was, for her, a step
forward in cuisine of such great extent that the idea or reverting to country food was unthinkable.
It was a whole different world then, and the world of today where the young people concern themselves with spices grown in different
places, pairing wines with foods, and discussing food while eating it down to almost the molecular structure of various foods…it is
bewildering to an Old Folk like me. #journaling
DAY EIGHT OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., October 8, 2016
In more than fifty years of coaching writing I have met as much talent as any teacher and maybe more; and the irony is that most of them
aren’t writing, or aren’t writing much. And it isn’t that they don’t have the fire in the belly to do the writing, they do; they have in fact an
aching as well as a burning to do the writing.
They attend the workshops, they buy the books, they subscribe to the magazines, they go online, they talk about it, and most of all they
think about it, obsess about it even. And they still won’t start.
Why don’t they, then? Because they are afraid. They have writer’s block, which is 100% fatal. It is a form of perfectionism. Perfectionism
is making their best the enemy of their good. They think about writing, oh they do, they think about how good it’s going to be, how great
they’re going to feel when they finally—oh, not today, no—when they finally sit down at their computer and open Word and go at it, and
the music begins. A little Rachmaninoff, please, and away we go, into the bliss, writing, oh, writing, oh, ladies and gentlemen…we are so
overcome we have to have another cup of coffee and think about it some more.
There’s a scene in one of my favorite movies, Doctor Zhivago, where Zhivago gets up in the middle of the night and in the fullness of
the moon and the sound of the wolves howling in the subarctic landscape he begins to write his poems, and the words come swirling at
him like the snow all around. And everyone in the audience is swooning at seeing the inspiration, the handsome young Russian doctor
played by old Omar Sharif, oh, it’s just too, too much.
Horseshit. Yes, horseshit! It doesn’t work that way.
It works when you work at it, day in and day out, going to your writing desk and writing stuff you hate, stuff that makes you almost puke
at its banality, that comes sweating out of your pores like: “Uncle Pierre went to the store and bought a clump of bananas.” And
then you shiver and you add: “He went to the store every day for his mom.” And then you read over the 10 or 15 words you have written
and you retch—and flee.
You are through writing for the day…or the week, or the month. When you do come back, finally, you write the same thing, only this time
it’s Aunt Suzie and it’s about apples instead of bananas. Whatever.
I have a suggestion.
Don’t write well. Turn the music off. Sit down and deliberately write badly. Just let go and write the crappiest stuff you can think of. You
went to the store and bought the bananas, you couldn’t find them at first, and so you…faltered. But you kept on looking for those things
and you finally found—not the bananas, but 500 words about the search.
And so you quit for the day. Don’t read it over to your spouse or your friends. Don’t even read it over yourself. Just save it and
close the program and go on with the rest of your day. Buy some real apples, maybe, or some bananas.
In your writing program, Word or whatever, there is a word counter. Find it and open it and put it on your page, so that every word you
write is counted. Mine is located on the lower left corner of my screen. Right now it reads 14,703 words. That’s how many words I’ve
written in my Journal since October 1.
I go for a minimum of 500 words per day, and in these ancient days I usually write many more than that. But I meet my goal at 500. If
I write 499, I have failed. If I add a word in there somewhere to make 500, I’ve succeeded. I call myself a good, working writer. I make no
The function of the Journal is to get me to write. Nothing more. #journaling
DAY 5 OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Oct. 5, 2016
I feel paralyzed this morning. I stare at the blinking cursor. Ideas on what to write come to me and leave me like a mist. I have nothing
to say. Everything I have to say I have written about ad infinitum. With a journal of twelve million words, what can I possibly add?
And if so, why?
In 1948 my brother and I helped put in the wheat crop. I was 10, Hal was 14. Dad was busy with his medical practice in town. Mom had a
new baby, our little sister, Kathy, just born in March, and so she had no time for much else than to care for her and get supper on the
table. My brother, who was a good and willing mechanic, led the way. Dad bought the equipment—a Ferguson tractor with a
two bottom plow, and we went at it, with advice from the neighbors and maybe a little more than advice—maybe Dad paid a neighbor
farmer to disk the ground for us, and maybe even to drill in the wheat. I think we had a harrow for awhile until I wrecked it, caught it on
a stump while I was speeding along and nearly killed myself as the mangled spike-tooth harrow whizzed past my head. I was a follower
of The Hit Parade on the radio and probably I was singing at the top of my lungs There was a boy-- a very strange enchanted boy—they
say he came from very far, very far-- as I remember it, something by Nat King Cole.
So much for the harrow. The hard red winter wheat came up in a few days, then went into its winter, dormant phase, and came back in
the spring bright and green and growing fast until it by May was maturing fast and turning yellow and was ready to harvest—“cut,” the
farmers said—by late June. And a neighbor did that with a combine—so called because it combined several functions: cutting the
wheat, auguring it into the machine where it was threshed (the farmers said “thrashed”) and the grain was elevated into a
hopper from which every fifty bushels or so were augured once again into a waiting truck. I think Hal may have driven the truck a bit,
though it wasn’t ours. Maybe he even drove it into town…kids of 14 drove then, and even younger sometimes.
So we had helped with the wheat and so we got a share of the money from the sale of it. Hal, interested in photography, bought a small
DeJur movie camera; I bought a new Smith-Corona typewriter, my very first typewriter. I had been writing stuff in longhand for some
time, and now I graduated myself to a typewriter. Mostly I wrote letters to people—my friends and family. I got a penpal in England,
a kid named Kent, and we wrote back and forth a few times. I typed a postcard to the King of England, saying Dear King, Please put your
autograph here and I left him a couple lines’ space. But the man never replied.###
DAY 4 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tue., October 4, 2016
For some reason my father, a doctor, didn’t encourage any of us kids to go into medicine. He was himself fascinated by it and earned his
living at it for 45 years. Even after he retired he’d read his medical journals of otorhinolaryngology and ophthalmology and all that; but I was
never interested. My brother became an engineer, he was always interested in mechanical things, how things worked, and he still is, long
retired, he is interested in cars and airplanes and things like that. He loves it. My sister was in the insurance business, and though I don’t
think she’s active in it now, it was apparently interesting to her and her husband: they were in the business together.
As for myself, my long love affair has been with words. We all have these love affairs, these special and even consuming interests. Sports,
cars, politics, words. Last night I talked to a friend who is interested in scientific things, and I asked and he told me a lot about GPS systems,
which I knew existed because of my iPhone; but very little else. It hadn’t occurred to me, or I hadn’t thought about it, that there
are satellites in the sky doing these things. “Satellites,” I said, “they’re like little planets, aren’t they?” Well, no, not exactly, my friend said,
and he gave quite a coherent explanation that, nevertheless, eluded me. I was however very interested in the words he used, scientific
terms I knew nothing of.
It is interesting to me what people are interested in, so I guess I’d have to say I’m interested in people as well as words. I have a tendency to
interview people. One dark night years ago—years and years ago—I was hitch-hiking in northwest Wisconsin and a trucker picked me up. I
picked and picked at his mind, wanting to know this or that, and he was very interested in trucks, as you might guess. He explained that the
truck had many gears forward and quite a few reverse gears too, as I remember. But finally we ran out of conversation as we plunged
on into the night toward the great city of Madison, where I lived then and where he was going to offload his truckload of…I forget what.
My mother was a very good golfer, club champion or co-champion, I think, once or twice, and she loved to talk about golf. Golf was
something I had trouble summoning any interest in---a little white ball, and 18 or so holes…it didn’t matter to me. But of course there are
people out there who love it and make it for them a consuming interest.
When I was in high school I was interested in pool, but I wasn’t interested in geometry. One day, though, my geometry teacher, Mr. Buller—a
nice man with a kind face—took me to the blackboard after class and drew some angles on the board and told me that the angle of incidence
was equal to the angle of reflection. I looked at him, waiting for some kind of punch line. He waited to see if I got it. I didn’t. Well, Charley, h
e kindly explained, If you shoot your ball at a 45 degree angle to a rail, it will come off that rail at a 45 degree angle because…the angle of
incidence really is equal to the angle of reflection.
Something lit up. I smiled. I thanked him, and I raced to the pool hall to try out my new knowledge. ###
DAY THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., Oct. 3, 2016
I tell people I started a journal because I was sick of being a wannabe writer and wanted to be a writer, and so it is with a journaler; we are
certifiably writers. But another reason I wanted to start and keep a journal was that every “great” writer I knew of had kept a journal, and I
wanted to be a great writer. In fact it was that desire that kept me from writing outside the journal: everything I wrote had to be great. You
can’t imagine William Faulkner sitting down at his desk and writing, “I went to the store and I bought some bananas”…can you? I couldn’t.
Imagine sending a sentence like that to your editor in New York. So I kept a journal. You don’t send a journal off, you just keep it in
your desk or, now, I keep mine on my hard drive. I normally print it out and put it in a 3 ring binder at the end of every month.
Every day a number of things happen that can be written up and put in my Journal. Yesterday I had a long talk on the phone with my
youngest daughter. June talked to her too. We even put Adah on the phone to happy say hello and wish her a happy birthday on Tuesday.
I worked on LifeStory, late getting it out—and it’s still not out—but enjoying the process of editing stories and laying them out. June and
I had a nice lunch of lima beans and corn bread, one of our favorite meals. I drank milk with mine. I love milk. I probably drink too much.
But when I was growing up we were encouraged to drink at least three glasses of milk a day. It build strong bones, we were told. So my
brother and I became addicted to milk. I’ll have to ask my brother—he lives down in California—if he still guzzles milk (that’s what my dad
always called it, “guzzling” milk) as much as we used to. We’d drink half our glass and then hold it out for topping up.
When we lived on the farm we had a couple of milk cows and we always helped with the milking. We had a cow named Ethel and we had a
cow named Blackie. Both were bad about kicking over the milk pail if we weren’t careful. Assuming we got a couple of pailsful of milk, we
took it up to the house where we had a cream separator set up and often as not it was my job to crank that machine and then to wash it. All
the baffles were a lot of work to wash, and they had to be done carefully.
It seems like we did that all our lives growing up but it was only for a few years and then we moved back to town because—we all said—Dad
lost a patient. He couldn’t get to her in time and she died. So we moved back into town. Maybe that was true, but it was also true that we
were starting to be teenagers and we wanted to be able to see our friends more often.
I tell people I started a journal because I was sick of being a wannabe writer and wanted to be a writer, and so it is with a journaler; we are
certifiably writers. But another reason I wanted to start and keep a journal was that every “great” writer I knew of had kept a journal, and I
wanted to be a great writer. In fact it was that desire that kept me from writing outside the journal: everything I wrote had to be great. You
can’t imagine William Faulkner sitting down at his desk and writing, “I went to the store and I bought some bananas”…can you? I couldn’t.
Imagine sending a sentence like that to your editor in New York. So I kept a journal. You don’t send a journal off, you just keep it in
your desk or, now, I keep mine on my hard drive. I normally print it out and put it in a 3 ring binder at the end of every month.
Every day a number of things happen that can be written up and put in my Journal. Yesterday I had a long talk on the phone with my
youngest daughter. June talked to her too. We even put Adah on the phone to happy say hello and wish her a happy birthday on Tuesday.
I worked on LifeStory, late getting it out—and it’s still not out—but enjoying the process of editing stories and laying them out. June and
I had a nice lunch of lima beans and corn bread, one of our favorite meals. I drank milk with mine. I love milk. I probably drink too much.
But when I was growing up we were encouraged to drink at least three glasses of milk a day. It build strong bones, we were told. So my
brother and I became addicted to milk. I’ll have to ask my brother—he lives down in California—if he still guzzles milk (that’s what my dad
always called it, “guzzling” milk) as much as we used to. We’d drink half our glass and then hold it out for topping up.
When we lived on the farm we had a couple of milk cows and we always helped with the milking. We had a cow named Ethel and we had a
cow named Blackie. Both were bad about kicking over the milk pail if we weren’t careful. Assuming we got a couple of pailsful of milk, we
took it up to the house where we had a cream separator set up and often as not it was my job to crank that machine and then to wash it. All
the baffles were a lot of work to wash, and they had to be done carefully.
It seems like we did that all our lives growing up but it was only for a few years and then we moved back to town because—we all said—Dad
lost a patient. He couldn’t get to her in time and she died. So we moved back into town. Maybe that was true, but it was also true that we
were starting to be teenagers and we wanted to be able to see our friends more often. ###
DAY TWO OF THE 26TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Oct. 2, 2016
I was 22 when I voted for the first time. I was political from age 10 on when Dewey was battling President Truman in 1948, I was right there
when Stevenson ran against Ike in 1952 and ’56, and I couldn’t vote, of course. In those days you had to be 21. I had been waiting to be 21
all my life.
Finally I was 21 in 1959, so by November, 1960, I was itching to pull the trigger. For JFK, of course, who was running against old Tricky
Dick. I had seen Kennedy at the Student Union just a few months before, Jack and Jackie too at a press conference early in the morning. I
was a couple of feet from him as he left the room to catch a plane and I could have reached out and shook hands with him if I hadn’t been so
shy; in fact he was surrounded by Hungarian students, refugees from the recent uprising in Hungary, and they were peppering him with
questions about why didn’t you come to our aid? And so probably Sen. Kennedy would have appreciated my outstretched hand and used it
as a way of getting away from those guys asking hard questions.
Though JFK was not one to avoid the hard questions. I saw him on TV in groups where he was sometimes heckled and instead of turning
them aside or having them removed from the room, he’d ask everyone to give the heckler their attention so the fellow could pose his
question or comment…and Jack took it all very seriously, and he was, indeed, a very serious young man.
I think maybe the Nixon/Kennedy debate or debates—I don’t remember if there was more than one—came up, and Nixon looked sweaty and
pale and to everything that Jack said, He’d say, Yeah, me too, I believe that too, I’m for that too, or…whatever. And Jack laughed and looked
so alive and handsome and capable, and he was, so it was just no contest. Tricky Dick was just eased out to spend the next few years licking
his wounds and saying things to the media like, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” He was a sore loser.
So on January 20, 1961, I had been out of the Navy for a full year and I had transferred from K-State to the University of Wisconsin, and here
we had a new President of the United States, and I like so many others identified with him. I guess I felt young and vibrant and here we had a
new, young and vibrant President. I was ready to go…maybe I could be Prez someday. I had fantasies about it. I really did. In fact, I had lots
of fantasies about being and doing almost everything. There I was, schlumpfing around the campus of one of the largest universities in the
country, and one of the best too, and no one knew that one day I was going to be the President of the United States.###
Sat., Oct. 1, 2016
6 am and it’s dark as a stack of black cats…a sure sign of winter. Short days and long, long nights. Soon the rains will start and everywhere
we go we’ll wear “rain gear.” People don’t carry umbrellas here for the occasional shower. They know it’s going to rain and so they rain wha
t is called “rain gear.” Oh, well.
When I lived in rural Wisconsin and September rolled around the road folks came along with cane poles ten feet or more long with red flags
tied to the top. These were fastened to the road signs so the snow plows would know to avoid them. And then it began to snow.
In Kansas they just hunker down and wait for whatever weather might come. I have known Kansas winters that were so mild it was scary,
and some so fierce that it seemed we were being singled out for punishment. People went to church and prayed for an end to winter.
So. It is what it is.
I grew up in an Army town—Manhattan, Kansas, just ten miles from the main gate of Fort Riley, a huge Army base—and so naturally when I
turned 17 I joined the Navy. We boys had to join something. Girls were excused then. They did have female branches of the service but mos
t girls did not even think of joining up. It wasn’t really war time—just the Cold War—and so they went to college or nursing school or
got jobs as secretaries or married early on. Here’s where I’m supposed to say the way it was back in the good old days and I wish we’d go
back to that. But I don’t wish for that. I’m glad to see women demanding their rights. I’m glad to see them in the service, being cops or
jumping out of airplanes and playing sports or whatever they want to do. The so-called Fabulous Fifties, when I grew up, were nothing like
it—they ought to be called the “Fatuous Fifties.” It was a dumb time, in my opinion, a reaction to the tough times of World War II. For a
while, everyone just acted silly and thought about getting a new car or a bigger house or…I don’t know.
But I joined the Navy in 1955 after attending college for about a month and spending most of that time holding down a bar stool at the new
tavern in Aggieville, Kite’s. Kite Thomas had been a ball player for the Philadelphia A’s and so he opened a bar and decorated it with
baseball bats and such. Maybe it was the first Sports Bar ever, I don’t know. He was a nice guy, a big blond fellow with a smile and a wave
for me, Hi Charlie, he’d say as I sat there sipping my bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon (my brand!) and he’d touch my shoulder in a big
bear friendly way as he walked past. He ran a good bar and it was soon the most popular bar in Aggieville.
I wasn’t 18, the legal age to drink, but it was easy enough to pass. I looked 18. I was tall and gawky and lanky and all of that. I could talk. I
had a quarter for a bottle of beer. The police had better things to do than track down underage drinkers of 3.2 beer which, it was popularly
said, you’d drown on before you got drunk on.###
Fri., September 30, 2016
Tomorrow, October 1, we will start another Journalong, our 26th. A journalong is my concocted term for journaling together--me here and
you at home or on your own blog...or wherever you like. The idea is for you to get the habit of journaling. We will do it for 28 days, and
at the end of 28 days I would bet that you have formed the habit and will probably journal for the rest of your life.
If you take writing seriously and want to get some writing done a journal is a great way to get it done. I myself began journaling in 1964 after
some years of being sick and tired of being a wannabe writer. In the 52 years since I have written millions of words at the rate of at least 500
words per day.
If you write 500 words per day--about half an hour or less of writing---you will write something like (500 x 365) 182,500 words in a year, and
that's equal to about three full length books. If you are trying to write about your family's life (for instance), in a few months you'll have a ver
y significant amount of material.
Why journaling? For several reasons.
One, the way to get better at writing (whatever "better" may mean to you) is to write a lot. Everybody who wants to do anything seriously
practices. Pianists don't walk on stage the night of their scheduled concert and start playing a Chopin nocturne. They practice over and
over. So do artists, actors, bricklayers, bakers and candlestick makers...we practice.
Second, journaling as I do it (the easy way) means you write: I don't sit at the keyboard and bleed. I write. I might write junk or I might write a
great family or personal story. Whatever I do, I don't sit there and stare at a blinking cursor. I write. I keep under my keyboard a list of
prompts to refer to if I don't have something ready at my fingertips. I carry a little notebook with me through the day and when i have an idea
for writing or for anything else I make a note of it. I might remember in the course of a day how when I was a little boy I used to sit at the
wheel of the family car with the engine stopped and the key removed and play with the steering wheel and make a motor sound..."udn, udn,
udnnnnn..." Or whatever. Usually I'll have half a dozen or more prompts for any given day.
Third, I'm not judgmental (as you may have noticed) as to what I write about. I don't try to write about something "important." I write my
everyday life, my parents' life, whatever I see in front of me. And then I let it go. If I have written my 500 words I have achieved my goal.
I have a book on narrative journaling that you might find useful. It costs $20 + 6.45 postage ($26.45) and if you call me at 785.564.1118 and
order it I'll send it to you next day via priority mail. I'll also sign you up for a free magazine I put out twice a month that offers help and
examples of what others like you are doing.
So, see you tomorrow! I try to post by 8 am PST.
DAY 28 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., September 28, 2016
I missed posting yesterday and I missed writing yesterday. I wrote a little bit, a couple hundred words, and then we jumped in the car and
headed for home now. We are home now, 600 miles later, and that's great, but I feel bad about missing a day of the Journalong. I hope you
If you are writing every day and you miss a day as I just have, I hope you'll do what I'm trying to do today--simply go on and not worry too much
about it. The point of this Journalong is to form the habit of journaling so that you get a lot of wriitng done, and one day missed won't break
I started my journal in 1964 and for years I didn't write daily. It didn't occur to me then that I should. The journal (the word means daily!)
wasn't really a journal for me then in that sense. I'd write when I felt like it. It took years for me to become desperate enough about
my writing to learn to do it daily. I still haven't learned totally to judge my journaling only--only--but whether or not I did it. Even today, after
52 years of journaling, I still fall victim to judging the so-called quality of my journaling.
Okay, enough of that. Here I am today in Olympia, Washington, looking at what is probably one of the last days of sunny and clear skies. The
rainy season is going to start soon, my son Rip says. I'm just grateful to live in a place where they have a rainy season.
One day in the spring of 1951 a rainy season began in my native Kansas and it rained and rained and rained until the town literally floated
away. Everything that wasn't nailed down from 14th Street south floated down the river. I remember standing on the viaduct across the
Kansas River watching a chicken house, a big one, floating around the bend going toward Kansas City, the chickens all standing on
the gable of the roof, and seeing and hearing a rooster among them cock-a-doodle dooing like mad.###
DAY 26 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., Sep. 26, 2016 on the road in Rock Springs, Wyoming
What can you do as you thump along the Interstate highways?
You can sleep if you’re not driving. You can read if you have a good book. You can chat if you have a willing partner. You can eat if you don’
t mind gaining a few pounds. You can sing if you have a song in you. You can think. You can write.
Or you can just get into a funk and seethe. You can say things like, only 1,013.7 miles to go. Or, will this never end? Or, I hate driving, oh
how I hate driving. I wish I were home. I wish I were home in bed. I wish I were in home in bed and asleep. I wish I were…dead?
The saddest thing about riding the roads is it brings you face to face with yourself at your worst. Oh, the pity of it all: poor me, pour me
No, I don’t want to drink or eat or…most of all…I don’t want to seethe. So today I’m going to be a happy camper. I’m not going to think about
the future. I’m going to think about the present. I’m going to make a list of ten things that will pass the time in an interesting and productive
way! Yes, I am! I am!
I’m going to list my favorite movies of all time and I’m going to remember at least 1 or 2 scenes from each one that live in my imagination. My
1. Shane. Which we happened to see again the other night on teevee.
2. The Killing.
4. The Captain from Koepnik.
5. The Last Detail.
6. Charley Varick.
7. Defending Your Life.
8. Paths of Glory.
9. [now I’m blocking: I need a list of movies to select from. I can’t think of another movie I even liked, let alone would consider as a
So I’m quitting with these 8.
Now I’m going to list my ten favorite songs and sing them as we drive merrily, merrily, gently down the stream.
1. Sewanee River, sung by Pete Seeger.
2. You’re Innocent When You Dream, sung by what’s-his-name, old gravel voice… Tom Waite! (Is that right?)
3. Please come sit by my side little darlin’…whatever the title is.
4. Going home, sung by Paul Robeson.
5. My name is Jan Jansen/I come from Wisconsin…
6. Old Blue (you good dog, you), sung by Joan Baez.
7. Oh, Frances, Oh Frances, O please tell me why you’re mother is calling and you don’t reply (nameless song I heard on the WBBM Air
Theater with Jay Andreas, ca. 1953)
8. Okay, that’s it for songs too.
This is hard. If you’re laughing, you try it.
Okay. The ten noblest moments of my life.
1. With a friend I once pushed a lady in a car out of the snow.
2. I once stopped a man from raping a woman.
3. I once taught an illiterate lady to write her name, and we both cried.
I once…okay, I can’t think of anymore. I’m not in the mood.
So let’s try: the 10 dumbest things I ever did. ###
Sun., September 25, 2016 On the road in North Platte, Nebraska
We are 1,485.9 miles from our home in Olympia, by car, and it is indeed by car we are going…a car stuffed with our stuff from the storage
unit in Manhattan, Kansas, which is 339.3 miles from here. Today we will drive, with any luck, to western Wyoming, meaning we will get 500
miles or so closer to home. And then we will drive all day Monday and get to Oregon, and then we will drive x miles Tuesday to get home.
I first drove to the West Coast in 1949 with my parents and brother and sister. I was 11. Surely in the ensuring nearly 70 years I have driven
to and from the West from Kansas at least 40 times. It’s about 2,000 miles each way. That computes at 160,000 miles sitting in a car or a
truck…blah, blah, blah. It makes me ill to think about it. All I can say is that I was glad to get there, wherever there was. This is the life of a
traveling man. I drove not to sell refrigerators or fur coats but to get people interested in writing their life story and to write some of it.
This is some of mine.
The longest sustained drive by car I ever made was from Santa Ana, California to Manhattan in something like 22 hours. I stopped in Wichita
and for half an hour tried to sleep. I couldn’t. So I drove on, got home at 2 am and woke June (who had stayed on the farm that trip) and we
danced and ate breakfast and went to bed. I was younger then, a mere 58 or so.
Nearly every morning of the world since 1986, and often every morning of the world before then, I have gotten up in the morning and written
at least 50o words in this Journal. In so doing I would estimate that I have written something like 12,000,000 words. One might fairly ask,
Why? I don’t know. My theory was, or is, that in writing 12,000,000 words I would write at least some good ones. And I have. I have
written all the Great Books, though the words are not always in the right order.
Hahahahaha! My little joke…on myself.
I have heard in recent times a couple of Presidential Campaign jokes. Probably there are more out there. Of course they are politically
incorrect, as all good jokes are—from childhood I remember the Little Moron jokes (Q. Why did the Little Moron put his father in the
refrigerator? Ans. He wanted to have cold Pop.), the Polack jokes (Q. How do you tell an airplane in the Polish Air Force? A. They have hair
under the wings), and all the others that insulted various ethnic groups. One thing I have never heard is White Anglo Saxon Protestant jokes
. Why is that? ###
Day 23 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fr., Sep. 23, 2016
The trip to the University of Kansas yesterday brought back memories. Being in Lawrence, off the highway and in and around the town,
brought back memories—inevitably. The ratty place I lived at 1305 Tennessee with the dirt floor in the kitchen, pallets over it to walk on. It
was packed earth, I guess. The bathroom was a 2 and half foot wide stall with a toilet that flushed uncertainly, and a curtain, not even full
length across it. If a guest came and had to use it, you could not avoid seeing their feet and knowing from the way their feet were turned
whether they were engaged in a number one or number two. $35 a month brought all this, plus a back entrance that actually was a little bit
charming, a curvy stone walk along a short stone wall…and there was the door. There was a tiny rickety desk, a steel two-bunk bed, a lamp,
an overhead light…
The campus itself had lots of new buildings, some of which were named for people I knew or had had instruction from.
I didn’t go to Robinson Hall, if it’s still there, but that was where I taught my first class—in a basement (I think) room that had a sink and a gas
jet at the front where the blackboard was. We had a syllabus we had to more or less follow, and part of it—for maybe a week or even two—
we had, quaintly, to diagram sentences. God help us if they still do that. It was a miserable week or two for me, not having an
analytic mind. After a sleepless night I’d get up there and draw my straight line and put in the subject and verb of a sentence (“The cat is on
the miserably filthy mat,” or something like that) and I’d demonstrate my incompetence by drawing in all the other stuff, and keep at it, back
to the class and then I’d hear the snickering.
“But Mr. Kempthorne,” the pretty and prim girl in the front row would say, “isn’t that actually a preternatural pronomial?” And, clueless, I
would stand back and say, “Oh, why Miss Hargrave, I believe you’re…right?” And then another beauty would raise her hand and without
waiting for me to prompt her, say, “No, I think it’s a conjectural conjunctiva,” and I, stammering and flustered, only too aware of the three
engineering students in the back row, their lanky arms and legs akimbo spread across a couple of chairs, smirking and chuckling, as I
murmured something about “Well, it could be…”
And I would pray for the bell to ring.
The engineering students, all boys then, were the ones see after class and I’d say, You know, if you applied yourself a little you could get
an A in here, and learn something about writing too, and they’d just laugh and say, Oh, we’ll hire an English major to do our writing for us—
they who would go out and first year earn maybe $30,000 a year, 3 or 4 times what an English major would get. These were the guys who
went to work for start-up computer companies and, just so they could write to one another, invented email and other aps that did more to
teach writing skills to the millions than a fieldhouse full of earnest English teachers ever could. ###
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY 25TH JOURNALONG.
Thu., Sep. 22, 2016
You’ve gone through I don’t know how many orange lights, June said, as we were driving back to the house.
Would you rather I did red ones?
She didn’t answer. At the house we unloaded our few groceries and went inside. June immediately opened up her laptop and started going
through her emails. I started to say something. Now I’ve got it on the hotspot, she said, so I need you to be quiet. Quiet? I said. Shhh! I said.
Now Charley, she said, I mean it.
So I read the paper I’d just bought. Trump had said something rude and nasty about refugees again, and the head of Wells Fargo was being
fried at a Congressional hearing, and the Royals had lost…again. I looked at a few more headlines and put it down and leaned back
and rested my eyes. It’s hot here in Kansas, I said. 11 am and it’s 90 something. June didn’t say anything. At least we’re saving on our
Vitamin D pills, I added.
June didn’t say anything for a minute. Then, Vitamin D pills? Vitamin D?
For not enough sunshine, I said. Remember? The doctor in Washington had said take them, 95% of the people in Olympia were vitamin D
Oh, June said. Right.
In Washington we vote by mail. We registered when we got our Washington driver’s license. Come election time, we got a ballot in the mail,
which we filled out and then dropped in the mail or in one of the handy drive in ballot boxes around town.
When we lived in Kansas we went to the courthouse to register, and then down to the Zeandale school to vote a paper ballot. Later on we
voted a couple of times at the Riley County Courthouse in Manhattan electronically. I kind of liked the paper ballot (“put an x in the block for
the candidate…”) but I got used to the electronic thing—everything is electronic anymore. When we die we will probably put an x in the
casket of our choice and go south in the twinkling of a spark. But who will press confirm?
Anyhow. Once I was on an election board. That was hard work—7 am to 7 pm, ten minutes to eat a sandwich at lunch, and all day
long, count, recount, and count again. Four of five of us. We talked some, and that was pleasant. I seem to remember free coffee.
I never waited in line more than five minutes anywhere I ever voted. Never. I guess in the cities it can be several hours. Not good.
I remember Home Room elections in school, my first encounter with democracy. We had a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer
and Sergeant-at-Arms. I think the candidates had to go into the cloakroom to hide their eyes while the rest of us voted orally. Then when we
had meetings everything had to be done via Roberts’ Rules of Order. Some of the kids really got into it; I wasn’t one of them. I don’t think I
was ever elected anything, and no one missed me being anything other than the class cut-up and clown, which wasn’t an elective office.###
Day 20 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Tu., Sep. 20, 2016 On the Road in Manhattan, Kansas
June and I have come back to Manhattan for a few days to get the rest of our stuff out of the storage unit. We came back to our hometown,
in other words, to move. That was our intention, but it isn’t working out. Our storage unit is stuffed with things we couldn’t take to Olympia
when we moved one year ago this month. So all year we talked about coming back to get it, but when we looked in the unit a couple of days
ago, it was clear we couldn’t possibly take it all back in one trip. We didn’t want to rent a big truck, we couldn’t pull a big trailer with our
little car—and we weren’t about to give up our family stuff—some of it pieces of heirloom furniture from several generations. So we’re now
taking just a carload back and maybe shipping some back.
Our ultimate storage unit, of course, is our two lots six feet deep in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery in the Deep Creek Community where my
parents are buried. We won’t take much with us when we go there.
Our stuff will at some point pass to our children to become part of their stuff. We aren’t talking about stuff that will have utilitarian value to
them. We’re talking about stuff that you hang on your wall or put in your family room or just store away in your attic or basement because it
just can’t be thrown away. Stuff like my dad’s medical degree from the University of Wisconsin; the souvenir of Colorado Springs that
June’s grandmother kept all those years after her visit there; the doll furniture June used as a child; one of our son’s knitted cap he wore
as a newborn, knitted with love and care by a grandparent. This is the stuff you can’t ever throw away. We can make jokes about it, we can
turn up our noses at it sometimes, but when shove comes to push, it is with us forever. It is the stuff that can only be lost by a fire, or the
carelessness of some unnamed but resented forever family member…or a thief.
For instance my father, who was in World War II and overseas for four years without once coming home, wrote V-mails home, some 700 or
more of them, and when he got out of the Army they were placed in his army trunk in the basement of a building where he had his medical
office. (I’m not talking about emails but V-mails, the name given to letters that the GI’s wrote home that were photocopied in order to be mad
e smaller, and flown home.) This was priceless stuff, the history of his life during World War II…and some miserable thief stole the
trunk and probably dumped all its contents into the river. And so that part of my father’s life is lost forever. It’s something that we would
never have thrown away. ###
Day 19 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Mon., Sep. 19, 2016
When I travel and stop somewhere I often just for fun ask the kids at the restaurant or fast food joint we’re eating at why the town is
named…whatever the town is. A couple of days ago in El Dorado, Kansas, doing a workshop and afterward for lunch we stopped at a neat
place called the Dilly Deli and ordered a couple of really interesting spinach wraps with Mediterranean salad stuff inside sandwiches and
some of their wonderful potato soup. The pretty waitress was friendly and cheerful and, as young people are always to us old folks, a
sight for sore eyes. I asked her why El Dorado was called El Dorado. “I used to know,” I said, wondering whether I really did used to know or
not, “but I can’t recall it now. It’s a wonderful word. El of course is there, but…” I looked at her and smiled. She looked blank. “I don’t
know,” she said. “I never thought about it.” “Did you grow up here?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “but I just never thought about it.” I smiled
indulgently. “Maybe I’ll google it,” I said. “It’s a beautiful word, Dorado. It means something.” I left her there, no doubt agonizing
about what the word meant and how could she have she lived 16 or 20 or so years and not known the meaning of the name of her home
We ate, stretched, and got back in the car, heading home now, no fog like on the way down earlier that morning and in brilliant sunshine.
So while June drove, I did google it. And here’s what I got:
In the early 1500s, Spanish conquistadores heard tales of an Amazonian king who regularly coated his body with gold dust, then plunged into
a nearby lake to wash it off while being showered with gold and jewels thrown by his subjects. The Spaniards called the city ruled by this
flamboyant monarch El Dorado, Spanish for "gilded one," and the story of the gold-covered king eventually grew into a legend of a whole
country paved with gold. These days, El Dorado can also used generically for any place of vast riches, abundance, or opportunity. It is
also the name of actual cities in Arkansas and Kansas.
Bingo! I had hit the jackpot. What a story! I smiled all the way home, and thought maybe I ought to phone back to the store and tell that
young lady so she could put her mind at ease. But I didn’t. I fell asleep dreaming of being dusted with gold and having jewels and gold
showered upon me.
We had a good workshop in that lovely little prairie town. We sold a bunch of books, got well paid by the library for our work, and so in a
sense we were showered with gold…we were El Dorado’ed! ###
DAY 18 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., September 18, 2016
How do you spell the word MUCH, June wants to know. She looks at me with a comico-painful lamenting look that says, Well, I can’t spell it,
she says. Can you help? Of course this happens a lot because June can’t spell, period, she has dyslexia, and was taught to read whole
words rather than syllables and so only knows, at best, the first and last letters of a word; and it is also her way of letting me know she loves
me and needs me, maybe.
We have this little routine. So I say, M-U-C, and then I pause and she is seriously taking it down…and then I say, Q. And she gives me a
knowing, Charley this is serious look. And so I say, guess? H, she says finally, and I smile. There you go!
This just popped into my head, God-given maybe, I don’t know, but I remember that Ayako and I in the relatively short time when we lived
together back in the early 60s, we’d go dancing at the Laundromat at 2 am. She was a busy, hard worker Ayako was, and I was too, and so
very late we’d take our laundry and go to an all night Laundromat over around the Washburn campus, I think. They had a radio and we’
d put our laundry in the machines and then dance to the music on the radio. Happy days!
Ayako had to return to Japan. She was in Topeka on a student visa and she started working fulltime and the INS got wind of that and
so…they made her go home. We would have had to get married for her to stay, but I had just gotten unmarried and it didn’t seem like a good
thing to jump in again…not just yet. Eventually we lost touch. She was a nice lady and I hope she has had and is continuing to have a good
life…Our time together was more than 50 years ago, 1962 to 1963.
I am back posting on the Journalong (I missed a couple of days when we were driving here) on The LifeStory Institute page, if any of you woul
d be interested in doing us the honor of reading that. I try and nearly always succeed every morning in writing something there. This
is useful especially to people who want to journal daily, as I have for many years. Sometimes the writing (unrevised and unrehearsed, just
what comes out of the tips of my fingers at that time) is good, somethings okay, and sometimes just plain bad. But I do it...and that is the
whole point. Writers, like pianists and artists and lots of others, practice daily. So if you want to peek in and Like it, that would be wonderful.
You don't have to really like like it, you know, just like it to say hi...I appreciate that.
Some days my Journal is like this…just bits and pieces of things. But when we did the workshop today in El Dorado, people wrote briefly in
ten minutes or so—I was pushing them—and they wrote well, and it’s just amazing how one little paragraph about your life can sometimes
illuminate the whole thing. I’ll be publishing some of this stuff on the LifeStory web page www.thelifestoryinstitute.com and also in our pdf
mag, LifeStory, next issue coming out Oct. 1. By the way, if you don’t subscribe and want to—it’s totally free, just send me or June
your email address, because it comes to your email box as a pdf file. Tips on writing, news of the Memoir Movement and many examples of
what others who are writing memoir are doing. If you don't like it, just send an email back saying Unsubscribe. ###
Day 17 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Sat., September 17, 2016 Manhattan
My father got up every morning of the world and went to work in his medical office here in Manhattan. He went whether he wanted to
or not. He went to keep the wolf from the door, he used to say, with a wry laugh. He went because the patients would be there wanting to
see him. He was an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist. They had bad eyes, they had something in their eye, or they had runny noses, sore
throats, or ear aches…and for years he was the only MD for fifty miles who specialized in the treatment of conditions like that.
I doubt that as a boy he dreamed of draining sinuses or testing eyes or removing cataracts or any of that. I’m not sure that he even thought
of helping others in those ways. I doubt he thought about being rich, which he never really became, but he made a good living. He
kept that wolf away for his wife and three children, and then some. With the money he made his wife, my mother, built a big fancy house
that won an architectural prize for residential design for the whole state back in…1951. He was embarrassed by the house and chafed
under having to pay for it. I think he might have been happier in a nondescript farmhouse in the country with a couple of acres of woods for
him to walk around in.
They did try that. After the War, when every man and soldier who lived to come home (and some women too of course) from it wanted to buil
d “that sweet little nest/way out in the west/and let the rest…of the world go by,” they did just that. My mother, not an architect
by education but always interested in houses and their design, took to supervising the remodeling of a big old stone house six miles from
downtown Manhattan. Dad had 322 acres to run and play in. Two growing boys, and then in 1948, a daughter. We lived there only four
years—not long, really—from 1947 to 1951, when they built that big fancy house in town.
I’m sure he looked back on his life at some point and wondered what the meaning of what he had done with his life was, as I am doing now,
and as my children will do in another twenty or thirty years.
I used to believe, with Macbeth, that life “was a tale told by an idiot/full of sound and fury/signifying nothing.” That not-very-positive view of
life got me into a bad way in my early old age, and it’s taken a serious adjustment to get me turned around and pointed in a better direction. I
would adjust that beautiful poetry now—without Shakespeare’ s permission—and say, Well, for me, life is a mystery, and I have been invited t
o enjoy it and to be helpful to others in some way or ways that will allow them to enjoy it too.
So there you go. ###
DAY 16 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
FRI., SEPTEMBER 16, 2016
Along the road through much of eastern Oregon and then Idaho we saw huge dump trucks piled high with…something purple…apples? No,
red onions! Look at those onions, I said to June. Onions, big as croquet balls and round as…an onion, these trucks were taking onions to
wherever onions go once they are harvested…dug from the fields around us. Amazing! Then we began to see onions along the roadside,
onions that had fallen, blown off, I guess, from the trucks. One or two…four or five…beautiful onions, probably ready as anything to slice
and dice and put into a salad. We could have French onion soup, I said to June, if only we found a swiss cheese truck, and then a
toast truck. I smiled to imagine a huge truck loaded with toast. If there hadn’t been any traffic, I think we would have stopped and picked
Remember the Bit o’ Honey truck? I said to June. She smiled and nodded.
Back in the day, forty years ago or so, and we had taken to raising hogs for a living. We had friends, Phil and Kathy, who lived over the hill
from us and they were driving home one day and there was a truck in front of them. Some bump in the road or other, something jostled the
truck and out of the back of it fell a huge cardboard box. The truck drove on. Phil and Kathy stopped to look at the box. It was a box filled
with candy bars in yellow and red wrappers…Bit o’ Honey candy bars. The truck was long gone. They lifted the box—one thousand candy
bars—and put it in the back of their little red International pickup, and drove on home.
They unwrapped a bar or two and took a bite. I’ve never had these, Kathy said, and Phil said he hadn’t either. The things were so hard to
eat, so chewy, that they couldn’t eat them. So they gave them to us, and when we couldn’t or wouldn’t eat them either, we thought of the
hogs—the hogs would eat anything.
So we stood by their pen and unwrapped the candy bars one at a time and fed them to them. The hogs, five of them, happily came to the
fence and swallowed them, I think almost whole, with only a bare minimum of chewing. They snorted and oinked and asked for more.
After a few days of this, supplementing their usual Hog Chow from the Farmer’s Coop, we were one day a little slow unwrapping the bars and
one of the hogs took it from our hands and gulped it down. They didn’t seem to mind their not being unwrapped. So from then on we fed
them the things unwrapped, and watched the bright and cheerful red and yellow wrapped candy disappear into their all-encompassing
mouths. We fed them out and emptied the box.
A friend had told us that he once had a cow he fed a handful of brown sugar to every day, and that cow was “the sweetest meat he had ever
tasted.” When we did the hogs in and ate them, I can’t say for sure that they tasted any sweeter. But we ate them, bacon and pork
chops and roasts and sausage and all, very happily. Had the meat been wrapped in red and yellow wrappers, we probably wouldn’t have
cared one little bit. ###
DAY 13 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tues., September 13, 2016 Pendleton, Oregon.
We left Olympia around 1. We had been going to leave early, but I guess I meant early afternoon instead of early morning. Oh, well. We
had to mail something downtown, and we did that and then got on I-5 South to Portland and dropped down the map to US 14 just as we got to
Vancouver and then turned west on 14 to drive along the Columbia on the Washington –and far less trafficky—side. As Cascade we crossed
the great Columbia River and then got on I-84 and drove it west and then southeast to the fair city of Pendleton, where we were going to stay
the night. It was 7 pm, time for the old folks to quit for the day. And we did.
In Pendleton, however, a rodeo is going on. Crowded, motel prices up there, but we lassoed a Howard Johnson’s downtown that wasn’t too
bad, crawled in bed and went to sleep. It was 8:01 pm but we were bushed.
This morning, however, I am well rested and ready to go. We have partaken of the motel breakfast and here I am writing while June is
working her iPhone. I will probably take the first turn at the wheel, though June would certainly do it if I asked her. We both drive, and we
have been drivers since we were kids. Farm kids learn to drive tractors and other heavy equipment at a very young age, and that was us. I
nearly killed myself pulling a harrow with a tractor when I was maybe 12 or younger. I certainly killed the harrow, which I had caught on a
stump while I was making a turn—and singing at the top of my lungs. It was a, er, harrowing experience and I totally destroyed the implement
When I began farming years later and was going to farm auctions to buy equipment I saw plenty of one-armed men, their right arm, usually,
severed at the elbow. “Those are the guys who were fixing the bales as they went through the baler,” one old timer explained to me. Others,
the tractor accidents, I read about over the years on the obituary page. I nearly did myself in on a tractor teetering on a hillside as I was
plowing one fine morning. I was on a 3 wheeled tractor and got myself into a bad position. And I had killed the motor. I looked around and
down. A very quiet morning, and very lonely up there. I got off the tractor on the upside and tiptoed away, waiting for it to go over.
But it didn’t. I thought about pushing it over and going back to the house telling an heroic story. I contemplated that only for a moment, and
then I got back on the tractor, started it up, and turned the wheels downward and gingerly eased away to safer ground.
We farmed about ten or twelve years. I was glad I’d done that but just as glad to quit and turn my attention to earning a living in the
somewhat safer mode of operating a paint brush.###
DAY 11 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., September 11, 2016
I will forever regret that the two years nearly that I spent in New York City--well, it was my home port, and most of the time I was at sea sailing
the world, but when we came back to the US we always tied up at Pier 58 in Brooklyn, and if we stayed any length of time before sailing
again, we went ashore to be barracked in the Brooklyn Army Terminal at 58th St. and 2nd Avenue. I started to say, what I regret is that I did
not take advantage of my time in that great city to explore it. I was so eager to get out of the Navy that about all I did was sit on my hands on
board my ship or in the barracks and count the days until I could go home to Kansas and go back to college. Dumb me. Well, that was then,
this is now.
Speaking of now, or nearly now, just a little more than a year ago June and I were invited to do one of our LifeStory Workshops at the great
public library downtown--"between the two Lions." This is the largest library in America, maybe the whole wide world, and of course we
accepted the invitation, and went.
We stayed with a friend over in Queens and he kindly escorted us to the subway to Manhattan and then to the stop closest to 42nd and 5th
Avenue, where the library was. Then we had to walk a few long blocks in the morning sun carrying all of our books and stuff. It was warm
day and we're old and we were tired.
But we were even more tired after the two hour workshop and had to tote everything back to the subway and, honestly, we were a little
discouraged that so few had shown up for the workshop (our fault, as we had assumed the Library would do the publicizing, and they didn't
do anything except post a notice on their website) and, though we did a good job with those who came and they were happy too--well, here
we were in the humidity and all the traffic, the din of the taxi horns, the shouts and hubbub like no other--and we were trudging
along. June was saying how she disliked the noise and New York generally and we couldn't wait to get out of this wretched heartless town
and we were never coming back, never, and, bushed, we leaned against a lamp post to get out of the crowd of people.
Just then a woman came out of the crowd and walked up to June and said, touching her arm, "Are you all right, dearie?" June, surprised,
thanked her and said she was okay, just resting. And the lady walked on. We were both stunned at this simple act of human kindness, and
decided well, New York was filled with people just like those in Manhattan, Kansas or now, in Olympia, Washington, where we live now.
And on the anniversary of this terrible tragedy, we are all New Yorkers, and all concerned about one another's health, happiness
and welfare. God bless America, God bless New York City, and God bless, especially, that nameless lady who asked June, "Are you all right,
DAY TEN OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., September 10, 2016
Dagwood influenced my life. I guess the name of the comic strip was really "Blondie," and Dagwood was Blondie's husband. I learned
to read by reading comic strips like that one aloud to my mother and brother. Dagwood one time was going to be on a radio (no TV then)
show. I guess he sent in his name and his name was picked or something and they called him and said he was going to be on--a quiz show.
Dagwood went right to work studying so he'd answer the questions right and win the jackpot. He studied and studied and came to know
about everything and then on the big day he went on and was called up to the microphone by the emcee. Dagwood was ready for bear. He
could have told you where Aleppo was he was so prepared.
But the guy asked him his name, and he couldn't remember it. He stalled and went speechless. He just stammered and stuttered and said
nothing. After a while the announcer thanked him...and dismissed him.
The lesson is apparent, I guess. Relax, be yourself, don't over-prepare...trust your own judgment. Or...maybe it's really take it easy, or....
That's the story of my life.
I loved spelling bees when I was in school. I don't even know if they have them anymore. Now and then you hear about some kid from
Palookaville winning the national spelling bee by accurately spelling
oxybenzyenglycolonhydride. So maybe schools still have them.
When I was in 5th grade in Miss Julia Bebermeier's class at Woodrow Wilson School. I have to insert here that it was this said same Miss
Bebermeier who taught us that we Kansans spoke English the way it was supposed to be spoken, we were the standard for the world at
pronunciation. We were the only place on earth where we did not have an accent.
Anyhow, I was the last man standing by spelling the word ache correctly. We must have gone almost around the whole room getting stuff lik
e ake, aike, and ace...and then it came my turn and I rapped it out: ache.
No one shouted Bingo. The teacher smiled and said, That is correct, Charles. Everyone else in the room looked at me like, Who asked you?
But I was right. Look it up. Or as we say today, Google it. Ache is ache. On this the entire world can agree.
Maybe that was the finest moment of my life. I believed that if I could spell all words correctly that the gates of heaven would swing open and
I would be invited into the choir of angels.
So here I am, 530 am PST, Olympia, Washington, 98506. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. ###
Day 9 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Fri., September 9, 2016
Now here's what's weird. I joined the Navy to get away from home and see the world, right? Well, that's what I told everybody. I was going to
join the Navy and sail the seven seas. Yes, I even said that. I believed it the more I said it. I was all of 17 years old.
I went in. As for seeing the world, I first had several months of seeing Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Waukegan, Illinois, fifty or so
miles north of Chicago. Then I saw Bainbridge Naval Training Center near Baltimore, Maryland. When I finished yeoman school there, I was
2nd in my class and so I got 2nd choice of the billets (Navy for jobs), and so I passed up the chance to go on a ship and sail the world. I was
sick of the idea of seeing the world. I wanted to see my hometown and my friends and my folks. I had completely backed off the world tour
stuff. So I chose the closest billet to Manhattan, Kansas (my hometown) I could get, which was the Naval Air Technical Training Center in
Even worse in terms of not seeing the world, I went home on liberty every chance I got. It was 327 miles and I was happy to drive it, and there
were luckily a pool of other sailors stationed at Norman who, like me, didn't want to see the world anymore and they helped me pay for
the gas it took to drive home.
Sometimes we got a late start leaving the base on Friday and so we were moving right along so we could make our Friday night date, and
so it was that once in Yates Center, Kansas, a burg of maybe a couple thousand people, we were stopped for speeding--I was stopped for
speeding. It happened also that we were getting a head start on drinking too, as we each had a bottle of beer in our hands as we tootled
along. Quickly we put our bottles out of sight and I pulled over and rolled down my windows. In fact we may have all rolled down our
windows--there were five or six of us crowded in there, still in uniform--just to get the brewery odor out of the car.
The cop was the local sheriff, apparently, a guy in civilian clothes with a badge and a tan khaki hat.
"You boys going a little over the speed limit back there," and I immediately said I was sooo sorry and how we were serving our country by
going home for a weekend, and so on, and he nodded and got right to the point. "The fine is five dollars if you pay it now," he said.
"Otherwise, I have to take all of you to jail and impound your car."
We didn't have anything like five dollars, we really didn't. We did come up with forty-five cents. "That's all we've got," I said. He looked
unhappy but finally he nodded and said, after cussing a bit, that that would have to do, and so he took the two dimes and a quarter that I
handed him, cussed a bit again, and told us to get on down the road.
We rolled up our windows and carefully I pulled back onto the highway. One of the guys allowed that the man smelled of whiskey even more
than we did of beer. In the rear view mirror we noted that he was driving a car with a red light on it and all that, so we just laughed
and drove on home.###
Day 8 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Thu., Sep. 8, 2016
Sometimes it's really, really hard to start writing here. I am going through something like that now. I have a list of prompts but I look at each
one and decide, Oh, not that one...not now. Or I'll just write the first word. I, I write, and then I backspace and delete it. The hope is that God
will give me the next word. Sometimes He does, and then I'm off and running.
I can type fast. I can type sometimes 100 words a minute or more. The best is when I type so fast I can't think--I don't want to think--I don't
need to think. I'm almost in a trance then, a meditative state, a magical state. Time goes by. The words fly by. I am happier, I feel nothing
but the padding of my fingertips on the keys.
I compare myself to your average concert pianist. A pianist practices. He practices every day. He doesn't require of himself that he
play well everyday. He tries, maybe, or maybe like me he just puts in the time and counts the words. He gets to 500 words and stops. Or he
gets to a thousand, or two thousand--or three. I practice every day. Some days go well, some don't. I'm a writer.
Even when I'm starting out the days like this one--when writing words comes slow, word by word, that is much better than my state before
February 24, 1964. Before that date I was a Wannabe Writer. I wanted to be a writer...I read a lot, a book a day for a while, I got up every
morning and I thought about writing every day. I read, I read books about writers, I talked to other wannabes about writing, I went to bed
thinking about writing and dreaming about writing. Next morning I got up and I thought about writing while I was washing my face and
shaving and dressing and eating breakfast and not thinking of anything but what I was going to write.
Then when it came time to write--I'd sit there and watch the clock, thinking okay, when that hour hand gets to 8 and the minute hand get to
12, 8 o'clock, I'll start in. Maybe I'd get over to my desk and sit there and then...then 8 o'clock would come and go. I'd sit there and think and
think and think, How best to start. What if I don't write well? I'd think about winning a big prize for writing, the Nobel Prize, the
Pulitzer Prize, the Hunky Dory Prize...and I'd hate myself for not writing.
The saying we use now is "making the best the enemy of the good." We didn't have that wise saying, or at least I didn't, back then. I knew I
was in the grip of something we called perfectionism, a state where we can't act because our act won't be perfect.
Finally I decided I'd just write a certain number of words, and meeting that standard was the only one I would meet, and worry
about meeting. If I had to write The quick brown fox jumped over five dozen liquor jugs to get my word quota, that's what I'd do. And that's
what I did sometimes. Sometimes I wrote Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. Sometimes I wrote ugga ugga
boo ugga boo boo ugga.###
DAY 7 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Sep. 7, 2016
The family story goes that Uncle Gordon would lie in bed late at night listening to the radio and smoking. In those days, the 1940s, most all
radios shut down for the night around 11 or 12 pm and the station would play the national anthem and everyone would go to bed.
Now in those innocent days it was felt that everyone should stand during the playing of the national anthem, and everyone did, though at
night lying in bed, the Star-Spangled Banner coming in over the radio, no one had ruled on that. So Uncle Gordon, lying in his bed there in
Rewey, Wisconsin, being wide awake, put out his cigaret and stood up as his wife lay sleeping beside him. He put his hand on his heart and
stood at attention.
Then, the anthem done, he went back to bed and, one would hope, to sleep. I seem to remember that somewhere in there--I leave it to some
serious social historian to research this, if it has not been done already--somewhere in there, the President, FDR, said it was okay not to
stand up and get out of bed if it was just the radio. If the band playing the anthem was marching by out in the street going past your house
well...that was another matter.
Well, that was then, this is now.
I dreamed last night, and this dream may have wakened me, I can't be sure...I dreamed that I was stuffing myself with Ritz crackers. I like a
Ritz cracker now and then, with cheese, preferably, but in the dream I was simply cramming them into my mouth as fast as I could.
Usually if I have a dream about eating it probably came from the fact that I went to bed hungry, and last night I did in fact go to bed hungry.
I'm trying to cut some weight. Okay. I'm trying to live by the late Adelle Davis' rule (Ms. Davis was a popular nutritionist and writer in
the 60s, Eat Right to Keep Fit, Eat Right to Stay Well, etc.)---her little slogan was, Eat like a king at breakfast. Eat like a prince at lunch. Eat
like a pauper at supper.
So that's what I'm trying to do. But I'm not going to have Ritz crackers for breakfast. We do have a box, a partial box, in the kitchen cabinet,
but I'm not going to eat them this morning, even if I am a king.
I have never been really fat, but in my middle age my middle thickened a little. Somewhere in the 90s I lost a lot of weight, about 40 pounds,
going from 212 down to 174 (I still remember the numbers, magically!), and I felt better. Sometimes, though, people would look at me and
comment on how sepulchral I looked. Did you want to lose weight? Are you okay?
I'm okay today, okay as anyone is at 78, okay enough, but I'm weighing in at 201.8 this morning, and I'd like to lose 10 or 20, at the same time
build my muscle mass and look trim and sexy...again. If I ever did. It's a little weird, I agree, that an old man pushing 80 would want to look
sexy. I could say to the undertaker, I don't care what you do, when you lay me out, I want to look sexy. I want all the girls of
whatever vintage at my funeral (please come!) to pass by my corpse and say, Man, does he look hot! ###
DAY 6 OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., September 6, 2016
How much of my life have I spent putting on my shirt backwards and then, discovering that, have to take it off and put it on
right? Depending on the shirt, of course, it can take two minutes out of my day: one minute to discover it is on backwards (with or without
the help of a mirror), and another minute to remove it, double check the inside tag, and put it on frontwards.
It's quite a process and very disconcerting if you're a busy guy like me. I have places to go and people to meet. I can't go out there with my
shirt on backwards, can I? Can you? Of course not.
Say that happens one day in ten. Two minutes each time. That's 20 minutes every ten days. It doesn't sound like much. But consider other
time wasters, like much, and maybe it isn't in the context of eternity. Maybe I won't worry about it. But I do.
One time when I was in the Navy some shipmate told me that he was on board a ship onetime when the then President, Dwight Eisenhower,
made a surprise visit, and the white hat who had to pipe President came on board and this guy had been in such a hurry to get up
topside and do his job he actually had his jumper on backward. Now that would take some doing. The President walked right past him and
took no notice of the man. The President may well have had his own thoughts, no doubt he did, and possibly he worried that he had his
shirt on backward, or his socks inside out.
The guy was probably BSing me, anyway. I was pretty dubious of the story back then, fifty-some years ago. I doubted it then and I doubt it
now. I don't suppose I could google it. There are some things that you just can't google.
I was once told publicly by a girl who didn't like me that I had food between my teeth. We were in the school cafeteria and we had tuna fish
sandwiches and she said, plain as day in front of everybody, Charley, you have some tuna fish between your teeth. Of course I blushed and
stammered and clammed up and licked and licked and then rinsed with milk and swallowed it all down while everybody at our end of
the table watched. It was a humiliating moment. I didn't like that girl then, and I don't like her now. Yes, I admit I resent her. I remember
her. Her name was Margery, or Marjorie: I don't know how she spelled it. If she happens to read this, well, so be it, she knows who she is.
Resentment is a terrible thing. It means to re-feel, to feel something all over again. So here I am, up there in years, still resenting something
that happened when I was probably 12. How many moments have I spent re-feeling that? Not many, but couple that with all my other
resentments and it adds up.
Resentments, a guy once told me, a resentment is where you drink the poison and you expect the other guy to die.###
Day 5 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Mon., Sep. 5, 2016
A dream has wakened me in the night. It's not one I've had before, exactly, but the motif is the same. I'm in a car and moving and the brakes
don't work. I push them to the floor and just keep on going...and then I wake up. I would guess that the meaning of the dream (and I think my
dreams do have meanings) is something like, my life is out of control...or I can't stop something I've started.
I woke up, and I was afraid, and I haven't been able to go back to sleep. But I'm old enough to know that fear, which I have always in my life,
more or less, is not always a fear of something bad. It may be a fear of something good.
Now if I'd been going over a cliff, I might not think that. Going over a cliff can't be good. But I wasn't going over a cliff, I was just going. And
that may be good. Because my life is going pretty well, really.
Remember the song, Oh, what a beautiful morning/Oh, what a beautful day! I've got a wonderful feeling...everything's going my way!
I wonder what kind of car that guy was driving?
So I'm going back to sleep. I'm going to lie down and think happy thoughts. I'm going to remember happy things. I'm going to
remember when my youngest son got up on Christmas Eve night and went into the living room where the presents were under the tree and
he fell asleep there among the presents. I'm going to remember the day I married my wife. I'm going to keep in mind that she is lying beside
me in bed, softly snoring. I'm going to remember that I'm going to waken in the morning well rested and ready to write and celebrate the
I was always self-employed and June too and so every Labor Day we labored. In 1973, desperate to raise some money I started a handyman
service. My mother and father needed their house painted, and so they hired me--bless them for that! I painted it, did fairly well, and out of
that I got another house, and then another and another...and pretty soon I changed from being a handyman to a housepainter. I read all the
labels on all the paint cans and whenever I found anyone in one of the paint stores or on a streetcorner or anywhere who knew anything
about painting I peppered them with questions. I didn't know how to paint but I did know how to ask questions. In those days, there was no
internet, no google to google, and there were precious few books on housepainting in the library. I did my best. I struggled to be a good
housepainter as I never had struggled to be a good student and a good teacher of English. Being a teacher came very naturally to me, but I
had no talent for housepainting and so I had to struggle.
Luckily the very same lady who is sleeping in the next room pitched in with me and she had talent and so we began, together, a serious
business called Kempthorne Painters & Paperhangers, and June, eventually taking over the business, made it a good one and she was the
best paperhanger around when she finished. ###
DAY 4 of the 25th LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Sep. 4, 2016
I was in the US Navy for about 5 years, maybe a little more--I'd have to look it up. Now that counts active service and active reserve and
inactive reserve. My active service was 3.5 years. That means they had me 24/7 from July 20, 1955 to January 16, 1959. Why the odd
number? Because I was what they called a "kiddie cruiser," meaning I joined before I was 18 and got out before I was 21.
Okay. The point I want to make is that I went that entire time without once saluting an officer.
I used to be very proud of that--I was the rebel, I was the anarchist, I was a one-man Revolution and leveller and peasant extraordinaire. I
doffed my cap to no man!
Now the Navy puts a lot of stock in obedience. The Navy puts a lot of stock in saluting, which is an act of honoring your
"superiors." Enlisted men, of which I was one, salute officers when they meet. I avoided officers--even though I worked among them as a
ship's yeoman. Most of that time I was inside and "not covered." That's Navy gab, or was in my day, for not wearing a hat: the little round
white hat that we enlisteds had to wear. If you were inside, you were not supposed to wear that hat, and so inside you did not salute. When I
was working and inside I didn't salute. I did work hard and was a good enlisted man and made first class in less than four years.
When I was outside and with a white hat on, I managed to avoid saluting in any number of ways. An officer coming toward me--well, turn
around, duck into a doorway or suddenly have to bend and tie your shoe. I would not salute.
Now. I am 78. I get up every morning and I go into the bathroom and do my stuff but early on I look into the mirror at myself and I salute
snappily and say, Good morning, sir!
What's the meaning of that? Well, I was also pretty much a heathen all my life, I did not believe in God. I wasn't exactly an atheist--I just
found the idea of God irrelevant to my life and, I would be happy to tell you back then, to anyone's life. God was an illusion, as old Sigmund
But in the last ten years or so, I have come to believe in God, and that God is represented by a voice in my head. God is a voice in my head.
God squats somewhere behind my eyes and in my heart. I love God. I honor Him. He is not anyone's else's God, He is my God. And I am
honored to salute Him. God is an officer and he is my superior and my commanding officer. So I am honored to salute Him and say, Good
And then I do my best to carry out His orders throughout my day.###
Day 3 of the LifeStory Journalong
Sat., Sep. 3, 2016
A friend on Facebook, joking, said that I was showing my age when I mentioned that I remembered when phone booths weren't made of glass
but of wood, and I replied, Oh, well, aging is better than the alternative to it, don't you think? I go back to when there were no phones on
corners or in private homes. When I lived in the village of Rewey, Wisconsin, where my grandfather was the village blacksmith, there was a
phone office but no one had a phone except them. When my father, coming home from the War, landed in Virginia he called "home," and the
phone central lady, Mrs. Jones, had to yell down the street to my Mom that there was a call from him, and she went up and talked to him. Or
such is my memory. This was 1946, I believe. I was a lad of 8.
The war was over and we celebrated by getting in our cars and riding around and around the little town--Rewey had a population then and
now of less than 300 people. We kids stood on the running boards of the cars while our parents or big brothers drove slowly around and
around. Someone got into the Town Hall and rang the big bell up there while we all cheered. The end of the war meant we could,
we thought, resume our lives as usual. Of course, nothing is ever the same.
My father told me and my brother Hal how much we had grown. He had not seen us or spoken to us in four years. Four years! Now he was in
the living room of the little house we had rented in his home town to await his coming home. I sat on his lap and hugged him, which
embarrassed him, I think--I was too big a boy for that. I was 8 years old. Men didn't hug then.
They kept me out of school for a day or two when Dad came home and we drove around the town and the country to see relatives and tell
them about the war. We were all very, very happy. Life was an adventure and we were starting a new one.
We moved to Manhattan, Kansas where my father would resume his civilian practice of medicine. He was an ophthalmologist and an
otorhinolaryngologist. Kids at school would tell me that their fathers were bricklayers or bakers or candlestick makers, and I would tell them
that my father was an ophthalmologist and an otorhinolaryngologist. This didn't help my welcome at the new school. Sometimes on the
playground during recess a boy would crouch behind me and a boy in front talking to me would suddenly push me over him and everybody
would laugh. They might not know what an ophthalmologist and an otorhinolaryngologist was but they knew how to have some sport
with me, and they did. ###
DAY TWO OF THE 25TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., Sep. 2, 2016
In spite of all the stuff I have done to make sure I have something to write about when I sit down to write as I am now—in spite of all that, I sit
here, cursor blinking in the silence of the still dark morning, and I’m thinking…no, not that—that one’s no good, not that one, not that one.
The reason, I tell myself, is that I’ve kept a journal for so long, I’ve told so many stories so many times, that I cannot find anything new to write
about. I’m doing that right now.
Last night I went to my first poetry reading in maybe twenty years. And I think it might have been my first ever, or at least the first one in a
long, long time, that was an open mic. It certainly was the first one I have been to where open mike was spelled open mic, which latter form I
still mispronounce open mick. I’m working on it.
In fact I’m working on staying in the game…the game called life. I’m rapidly growing irrelevant. Old age, which they tell me is what I’m in, is
like any other stage of life, one in which you learn stuff you don’t want to learn but that you have to learn.
The place was in downtown Olympia in the restaurant/bar district, a place called Ben Moore’s. I drifted in and asked about the
poetry reading and was directed to a lady at a table with a cash box. How much? I asked. Zero to five dollars, your choice, she said. Since
you put it that way, I said, I’d feel like a rat paying zero. So I handed her a five dollar bill. I’m an easy mark. Then she did something almost
quaint—she stamped the back of my hand with a little mark. Some things never change.
I went on in and sat down in the back room with a dozen or so other people, some still coming in, couples, singles, some of them very young,
and some, well, pretty old if not so old as me. This surprised me—old people. I thought I’d stick out like a sore thumb.
A young girl came to the mic (mike? mick?) and introduced herself with great ironic enthusiasm as Rachel, welcomed us, and brought
up the first poet, whose name I didn’t catch. He was a big guy. He began reading very seriously and was well into it before I—turtle slow
fellow that I am—realized that the poem was a phone conversation, real or imagined—where each line began with “I am sorry that…” and it
was obviously a conversation about a man and his girl friend, and she had evidently broken up with him. Each line was part of the narrative
of their relationship and the tension built all the way through to his saying something like, I’m sorry that you dumped me (he said it better),
and then that was he end of it all, and he stopped reading and sat down.
Well, that was pretty good, I thought. I’m just sorry it wasn’t longer. 525 words.###
Thu., Sep. 1, 2016
I loved Gramps and I followed him everywhere on the little farm he had in the Old Holler down in Indiana. There was just my mother, my
brother Hal and I and our grandparents living in that little tarpaper shack on a few acres. We had a hog and some chickens and a mule
named Jackie and we went to town maybe once a week, if that, gas was rationed after all, and we had a radio that worked only when Gramps
would turn it on in the evening to get the news with Gabriel Heater and he would have to beat of the side of it to get it to work. It
was battery powered: we had no electricity. Light in the evening came from a coal lamp, called I think an Aladdin lamp.
Our water came from a well outside the kitchen door. It was 1942 or 1943 and I was very, very happy. The saddest time was once we went up
out of the Holler and to the town of Cloverdale and went to a movie and I saw Lassie, who was taken prisoner by the Germans but escaped.
Three years later, the War was over and we moved to Wisconsin where we met my father and I saw him for the first time in four years, and
then we moved to Manhattan, Kansas, where we were able finally to find a house and we lived at 1819 Poyntz and I went to Eugene Field
School. I made friends with Charlie Kerchner half a block down the street and everyday we walked two blocks to school together. He was
Kerch and I was Kemp. Since we were both Charlies, we couldn’t just call each other Charlie. So it was Kerch and Kemp.
The teacher was Mrs. Mason, a pretty friendly lady with black hair. The principal was first Mr. Orval Ebberts and then Mr. Herb Schroeder.
His full name was Herbert but the other teachers called him Herb.
I was in the third and then the fourth grade and then one day after school was out my folks bought a farm six miles from town in the Deep
Creek community and we moved to the country. Everything was different there. I played with my older brother more, or he had to play with
me. That would be the summer of 1947, I guess. The most important thing in my life then was the creek, Deep Creek, a sizeable stream that
crossed our place, maybe half a mile or more, and we had three or four swimming holes.
Our grandmother having died several years before, our grandfather came to live with us, and he was ailing too. He wasn’t any fun anymore.
He spent a lot of time in bed and it was my job to take his meal tray upstairs to him. His bedroom was next door to mine and across the hall
from my parents. He had trouble breathing and he moaned a lot. He wasn’t happy. One day he took his .22 rifle that stood in the corner of hi
s room and shot himself through the forehead, right between his eyes. I remember that very well. It was 1950. I was 12. I was in the next
room and I saw him there in bed with the rifle dropped to his chest, still breathing, quite noisily now. 562 words.###
DAY 28 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., Aug. 28, 2016
This is the last day of this Journalong.
The idea of the Journalong is that we'd journal every day together--together or in succession, if you want me to go first. Or you could
go first. You could do it in the morning as I do, or the afternoon, or evening. Whatever works for you. But if you want the habit to be
formed, do it every day, and every day the same number of words.
If you're serious about getting lots of writing about your life and your family done, journaling is the best way to do it. If you do it faithfully for
28 days, you'll form that habit. On the 29th day you'll do it automatically. And so on for the rest of your life. I have written a book that helps
with this, Narrative Journaling: 28 Days to Writing More or Less Happily for the Rest of Your Life. [If you're interested in that go to
my website www.thelifestoryinstitute.com and order it online. Or just phone me at 785-564-1118, leave a voice mail message and I'll phone
you back within a short time.
Note that the title of that book is Narrative Journaling. You'll do best in your journaling if you tell your stories--stories of your life as of
old, as of now, the stories of your everyday life.
My brother and I played lots of games together. We lived a good many of our childhood years in rural areas--Indiana and Kansas--so we had
lots of hours when our friends weren't around. Plus we were close enough in age--a little over three years--so that we could play together.
Hal, I'm remembering now, would figure out how to play the game, the rules and all that, and then he'd show me how. He was a
naturally good teacher. In that way he taught me and we played Monopoly, Parcheesi, Rook, board games, card games...lots of stuff like
that. He was pretty patient with me because he wanted to play and he needed a partner. "Do it like this, Charley," he'd say, and he'd
demonstrate carefully. I would follow him and I'd learn and so away we'd go.
A few years later when we moved to town and didn't run around so much together--even then he was a great teacher. What I know
about the internal combustion engine I owe to my brother, who came home from a date one night and I was up and he explained it all to me
and, honestly, I was enthralled at how neat it all was.
I loved words and Hal loved things--planes, cars, electric drills, tractors, radios... Later in life I became a farmer (don't ask me why) and I had
to learn about those things, some, and I did...some. But I never had any talent for it. Hal did. I thought then and I think now that he was a
mechanical genius. Even as I am up here in Olympia, Washington this morning and writing, I'll just bet Hal is down there in his town, Paso
Robles, California and either drawing a plan for something or is out in his shop fixing a carburetor. ###
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., August 27, 2016
I would like to write and print a biography of my mother and one also of my father. I've written a lot in my Journal about both of them,
probably enough that, if I just combed through the entire Journal (about 12,000,000 words) I could take all the entries about them, all the
little narratives, and have more than enough to make a book. I also am lucky to have in my possession a great many photographs of both
from their childhood to old age.
So it's just a matter of taking the time to do it. I think, kind of, and without sounding (or being) too rigid and righteous about it, that it is my
duty...the least thing I could do for my descendants.
Now I have an older brother and a younger sister. Neither of them write as much as I do but they have photographs, probably, that I do not
have. Photographs are important, as well as other documents, because they tell the story too. So I ought to interview them, too.
And then of course I'd need to edit what I wrote. So it's a big project.
The way to do a big project is to whittle it down to doing a little each day until it's done. That's how it works for me. My mom did things all at
once, pushing herself and pushing herself until it (usually a sewing project or the annual Christmas letters) was all done. That way doesn't
work for me. The thing is to get it done, one way or another.
Meantime, I'll think about it a little more.
The making of any book is a big project. I have written six books, I guess, along with everything else. I'm counting my two graduate theses,
each of which took a long time. I'm counting a history of my church that I edited and produced and wrote some of. Each of these things took
time and sweat, and hundreds of hours. So I count those. My professional books, two nonfiction books about writing and one novel, took
more time, lots more.
When I finished my novel, Gary's Luck, my publisher, Bob Joyce, came over to my motel with a bottle of wine and we toasted what we'd done
(editing and publishing a novel is a lot of work too!) and looked at a pile of copies of the book. I ought to write a book about Bob, for that
matter. Bob came late into my life and I late into his--he passed a few years later--but I came to know him well and he came to know me well
and we were close friends and associates. I tear up a little this morning, sitting here in my little corner of the big long couch with my laptop
on my lap and I remember Bob--not a fairer, more decent, friendly and all round good guy have I ever met. Here's to Bob Joyce, my old pal!
DAY 26 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., August 26, 2016
I was part of the Great Flood of 1951 in Kansas. I was only 13 and all I did was watch--my brother, 16, actually participated in
rescues. Toward the end I guess I did help out in a very small way by manning (I should say 'boying') the refugee desk at the then-new
Ahearn Fieldhouse on the K-State campus. I was probably in the way as much or more than I was helpful, but I was there, and I tried.
Yesterday we went out to Costco to shop and eat some of their Costcoan Pepperoni Pizza (cheap and good) and violate our vegetarian vows.
A couple sat next to us, older folks like us, maybe a little younger, because the guy had a cap on that said Helicopter Pilot/Vietnam Veteran.
June leaned over and thanked him for his service and that set us all to talking. His wife mentioned that he was shot down three times.
I told him how I was shot down by a bottle of whiskey when I was sent to Beirut in 1958 to be part of the US standby force during a civil war
between two factions of Lebanese. "There was shooting going on in the town," I said, "and I was scared, twenty years old and scheduled to
get out of the Navy in just a couple of months, and a bunch of us went ashore to a little bar and I drank so much I passed out and had to be
carried back to the ship." We both laughed. "That was the extent of my combat service," I went on. "I got a campaign ribbon for it, the
American Expeditionary Force ribbon, or medal, I don't know what. I sure wasn't a hero and I didn't deserve anything. I was just happy to get
out of the Navy three months later and go back to school."
"Well," my new friend said, "you wore the uniform."
He was being too kind. I wore the uniform, all right, lying there on the concrete floor of that ratty bar in Beirut. I took up space. I was the
man, I was there.
I was doing a little better during the Flood. I did even better during the Great Hippie Revolution of the 1960s. I didn't get a medal for that, not
even a ribbon, but I did marry another Hippie, one named June. That was medal enough, the best one I ever got or ever will get.###
DAY 25 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., August 25, 2016
In my ears I have little microphones called "hearing aids," and they do substantially help me to hear. I don't think my father or my mother had
hearing aids, nor does my older brother nor my younger sister--I think my sister may have said she has them but doesn't use them yet. I've
had them about eight or ten years now and I came at them in the same way. I'd just wear them when I absolutely needed them but also I
lost a pair two times...last time when I got them replaced my audiologist said that probably the best place to store the hearing aids that cost
more than $3,000 a pair was in my ears. And so now when I get up I usually put them right in.
I am not an agent nor the relative of an agent for the Farm Bureau Insurance Company, but I have to admire and feel almost emotional about
them because each time I lost my hearing aids I applied to them and they paid for new ones except for the deductible of $250. I
honestly didn't even know they were covered until I was whining to someone about losing them and they said, "Don't you have homeowner's
insurance? They should cover them." I called them up first thing next morning and they did and, whizbang, they had a check made out to
me for the whole amount less the deductible that came via certified mail the next day! I couldn't believe it.
Whenever I get a check for that much money I consider cashing it and fleeing the country. Honest. It's just my nature, I guess, and my
checkered financial career. When I was a little boy I developed a reputation within my family as a spendthrift. Whenever they'd give me a
nickel or a dime (and usually I worked for it, I always worked), they'd say, "Don't spend it all in one place," and when I did, of course, they'd say
, "That money was burning a hole in your pocket, wasn't it?" And--swallowing the last of a big Milky Way chocolate bar I'd grin toothily and
admit that it did.
June and I I didn't go to Mexico. I got my new hearing aids and endorsed the check over to the pretty lady at the audiologist's office. When I
lost them for the second time I called Farm Bureau again and with considerable shame admitted I'd gone and lost them again and I didn't
suppose they'd cover me a second time. But the lady at Farm Bureau said, well, let's see what they do, and bingo, a few days later, there was
a check. And I got my new aids and I have them in my ears right now, this dark morning in Olympia, Washington, at 5 am. I can hear a pin
drop with them...if the pin weighs about three pounds and is dropped onto a cement floor.
I'm so grateful to be able to hear anything at all. I'm so grateful to modern technology and modern medicine for allowing me to extend the
length of my useful life so that I may be able, with the help of God, to get my life to come out okay after all. Now I'm even able to hear those
words of so long ago, Charley, don't let that money burn a hole in your pocket! ###
DAY TWENTY-FOUR OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., August 24, 2016
I have lived in three towns in Kansas: Manhattan, Topeka, and Lawrence.
My first memory of Topeka was from school and it was the capital of Kansas and was so named (the story went) because two Indians were
standing side by side and one looked down and noted in the moccasin of the other that there was a hole and you could see his toe. "Toe-
peka," he said to his friend.
And so they named the town Topeka. Why? I always wondered. Okay, so maybe his moccasin did have a hole in it, and no doubt if it did, his
toe showed through. Okay, fine. But why would that lead to naming the future capital of Kansas after a defective shoe? Why not name it,
just as well, Look Down, or Shoe Need Fixin'? I never figured it out.
Similarly, Wamego, Kansas, was named (the story went) because two Indians (perhaps the same two?) were about to have a foot race. Just
before they did the On your mark, get ready thing, one said to the other, Wa-me-go! Get it? Watch me go! Wamego!
So they stopped the race that never got started right then and there and named the town! Well, how do you like that?
Now this naming story makes more sense: Michael Caine, the eminent actor, was having trouble getting roles. He was just a young fellow
starting out, and there he was standing in his agent's office (the agent hadn't offered him a chair, apparently--he was that unprofitable a
client) half talking to his agent and half staring out the window at the street below, and the agent said, You know, Michael, you have a lousy
He had a point because Michael's name then was Michael Mucklethwaite, a mouthful.
You oughta change your name, the agent said. So young Mucklethwaite was ready for anything. He glanced out the window and saw a
theater marquee, and the movie on was The Caine Mutiny. So he said, Okay, how about Michael Caine? How's that sound?
The agent liked it, and that's what made his career. But what if he had looked down instead of out the window and seen a hole in the end of
his shoe (quite likely for an impecunious actor) and said, Okay, call me Michael Topeka? Where would he be then? Or now? And where
would Topeka be, naming itself for an English actor?
I know. I know. This is silly. This is absurd. Topeka was around long before Michael Mucklethwaite was.###
DAY 23 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., August 23, 2016
So anyhow Jessie wrote her book and gave copies to her kids and grandkids and one to me at my request and one to the local library at my
Twenty years went by. I went back to farming and housepainting and writing in the wee hours and here and there in my journal, mostly. But
eventually I started LIfeStory Magazine and I began looking for ways to promote it. I scanned the newspapers (this is all before the web was
big in all our lives) and started sending letters to reporters I thought might be interested.
One was. Clare Ansberry of the great Wall Street Journal started calling me on the phone and talking about my project, and after a call or
two, talking sometimes for an hour or more, and I could hear her typewriter keys clicking, and so I knew she was going to do a story. I
had sent her some of the books these old folks had written more or less under the guidance of LifeStory, and she was especially interested
in the one by 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
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 spiritual resume.
We dug and dug and dug. Some days it was pretty cold and so we poured gasoline on the ground to thaw it before we started digging. We
laughed about that. It was part of the lark of it all. The dirt piled up. We took maybe a month to do what a man with a backhoe could have
done in a day or even half a day. But that wouldn't have been holy.
At noon we'd drop our tools and run inside and wash up and eat a delicious and huge meal, watching young Ben in his high chair or
sitting on June's lap...I can't remember. This might have been, actually, late 1976, and Ben would have been fifteen months or so...and so
he would have been in a high chair, eating strained pumpkin or something, getting it all over his face and grinning happily while we
We laid up a concrete block wall. Ken and Bob knew something about building and managed that. I knew nothing. I watched them and
admired the creation. I would tell people that in those days the only thing I knew how to do with my hands was turn the pages of a book. And
it was true, then.###
DAY 17 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., August 17, 2016
Harry Carlson was a happy man, and Harry loved to make popcorn. Harry was laughing and friendly to each and every customer at the State
Theater and for a dime he'd stuff that box to overflowing, not closing the fold-down cardboard lid but rather leaving it up and using it
as extra space to put just another half scoop of the hot buttery stuff for the pleased movie-goer.
It was 1953 and I worked for Mid-Central Theaters in Manhattan, Kansas, my home town. I was 15 years old. I was a ticket-taker, the kid who
stood at the tall box and took the ticket that the cashier in the booth out front had just given the customer. I took the ticket and tore it
in half and gave half back to the customer and dropped the other half into the box and--very important--said Thank you. The theatre held
about 800 people so on a busy night I said thank you hundreds of times. I also said Good Evening a lot and smiled a lot.
I received for my efforts something like 75 cents an hour, give or take a nickel. I also got into the movies free and could snitch now and then
a candy bar or a box of popcorn. The best thing about the job, though, was the people I worked with. Harry--Happy Harry--was just one of
When Harry came to work, whether it was for the matinee or evening, he'd hike up his pants and go to work filling the popcorn
popping booth with popcorn. It was his job, he was sure, to fill that 10 cubic foot booth with popcorn, no matter what the bosses said. And
to lave it all with real butter so that the stuff was yellow as corn should be. Harry loved it.
The problem was that Harry made more than got sold by the end of the evening. I mean, the buyers were limited. He couldn't go out on the
street and sell it, and if only two hundred people came past and Harry had popcorn for 800, what could he do? He just left it there and went
home. This was called the "overpop."
In spite of the advertising that it was the freshest popcorn in town, the overpop was mixed in with the new stuff. It was conceivable, even
likely, that some of the popcorn went back to the day that the theater opened. ###
DAY SIXTEEN OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., August 16, 2016
Writers' Block is a disease that is 100% fatal.
In 1962 my wife and I broke up and she took our son and moved in with her parents in Topeka. I had been going to K-State but now I dropped
I was heedless, I thought: the only thing I wanted to do was write, and the domestic life was preventing that. College prevented that.
So there I was 24 years old and living now all alone in our--now just my--apartment in Manhattan. I rearranged the furniture. I took the
kitchen table and put it in the middle of the living room. I put my typewriter, my 1938 Smith Corona portable, and put it on the table, and next
to it a ream of paper. Now at last I could write without interruption.
I sat down at the table and lit a cigaret. I rolled a sheet of paper into the carriage of the typewriter. I smoked. I sat and smoked. I
wrote nothing. I thought about what I could write. I could write about...or I could write about... Of course it was going to be a novel, and a
novel that would spread across the literary world like flames in a field of dry grass. I needed a title. I lit another cigaret and thought about the
title. I put my fingers on home row of the typewriter but nothing came. I was very tense. I needed a little music.
I had an album of Verdi's La Traviata, and I put that on the hi-fi. I sat and smoked and listened to the soothing, beautiful music. I stared at the
wall. The music washed over me in wave after wave. Oh, it was lovely.
But of course I didn't write.
This went on for days. My stomach began to churn. I felt like I was digesting myself. I smoked, digested myself, and listened to music. I moved
away from my chair at the table and sat on the couch. I asked my father, an MD, about the digesting--peristalsis, wasn't it? He prescribed
me a new drug, Librium. I took it and nothing happened. Nothing. It was as if I swallowed a crackerjack. My father said there was a medical
new man in town, a psychiatrist--first one in Manhattan. He got me an appointment.
I saw the psychiatrist a couple of times and he suggested that I be hospitalized. At first I thought that was extreme, but soon I began
to believe it was the best thing. It would be a relief from the digestion pains. And so on May 14, 1962, I entered the Menninger Psychiatric
Hospital. I took my typewriter with me.###
DAY FIFTEEN OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., August 15, 2016
I was hitch-hiking to Wisconsin for what reason I don't remember. I had hitched rides in the Navy, and I wasn't too long out of the Navy then.
Maybe it was simply for nostalgia. Probably I was broke. But there I was, somewhere in northeast Iowa, my AWOL bag at my side, thumb out,
big smile to show them I wasn't an ax murderer, waiting. A car came past without even slowing down. Another came past, slowed
down, sped up and away. I was on US 151 feeding into Dubuque, Iowa, a big river town on the Mississippi.
For half an hour I stood there, cars whizzing past. Then a black Chevy sedan came, slowed down, stopped a few yards beyond me. I ran to get
in. Good God! I was in a carload of nuns. In those days, a nun always wore the habit. I was taken aback but I didn't show anything but
friendliness and politeness, my simple formula for being a good hitch-hiker. "Good afternoon, ladies," I said, and they in unison chirped
Maybe they were going to try to convert me. I wasn't a Catholic or a Protestant, really. I was in fact a total heathen. Nobody in our family
ever had a religious thought. On Sundays we slept late or got up early and read the Sunday newspapers--the Kansas City Star, the Topeka
Daily Capital, and the Manhattan Mercury-Chronicle. Silently we all read, absorbed in our own secular church of "the news."
There were four of them. In the back with two others with my bag on my knees, I tried to be as quiet as a...nun and to take up as little space
as possible. But they weren't quiet. After asking me where I was going ("Wisconsin, ma'am," I said, wondering if it was rude to say "ma'am"
to a nun), telling me they'd take me as far as Dubuque, they chattered and chirped happily about the conference they were going to while I
examined my fingernails and realized I should have said Sister.
At Dubuque, less than an hour later, I was dropped off at the foot of the bridge. I thanked them and said, "Goodbye, Sisters." I think several
of them said God bless you, and I smiled and thanked them for that too, again wondering if I had said the right thing. What do you say when
someone tells God to bless you? I smiled. They drove on into the city. I was standing at a busy intersection where no one could stop, not
even if they wanted to, to pick up a smiling young man who had just been blessed by four nuns. I'd have to cross the bridge on foot.
This was a big river and a big bridge. About a hundred feet onto it and looking down through the grid of steel into the roiling water far
below, I realized I was afraid of heights and I was afraid of bridges. Of course no car could stop on the bridge to get me. I had a long walk
ahead of me, and I had to do it. I whistled. I sang. I tried not to look down at the barges filled with grain being pushed along. I
looked straight ahead. Traffic was heavy, and the bridge was...bouncing almost. I was sweating. I was scared. I went into a kind of fear
trance. I was going to die, blessed by God or not. The bridge was going to collapse and I was going to be the lone casualty... "a man in his
twenties was found downriver still clutching his bag... washed ashore a few miles below the site of the tragedy..."
I was now at the halfway point. I was whistling and then I was singing, the words welling up: Whenever you're afraid/just whistle a happy
tune... I couldn't remember the rest.
God bless you, young man! God bless you, Charley. You weren't going to die. Four nuns wouldn't want you to die, Charley!
And I made it across. I was in eastern Illinois, looking for the road north into Wisconsin. "God bless you, nuns!" I said aloud. I was happy. I
was a survivor.###
Sun., August 14, 2016
In 1948, when I was 10 and obviously before I could vote, I was for Thomas E. Dewey, Republican. In 1952, still not old enough to vote, I was
for Adlai Stevenson. Ditto in 1956. In 1960, now old enough to vote, I was for Kennedy. In 1964, I was for Johnson. In 1968, I was for Dick
Gregory...whoa, what's that?
Dick Gregory! Who he?
Well, as many of you may remember, Dick Gregory was a popular comedian and a political activist. He actually ran and he actually got a
sizable number of votes. Did I really want him to win? Yes! I didn't even think about the consequences of having a comedian running the
USA and thereby being the most powerful man in the world. I didn't think twice. I just did it. I voted for a comedian with no political
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
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! H
e never tired of repeating this incantation or some other phrase like How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?--If a woodchuck could
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 tal
k 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Kempthorne.
And the wonder of it all is that today, or maybe it's tomorrow, that said same Leslie is coming down here to Olympia with her husband and
children and meeting us all for a family reunion right here in this house--Leslie, now 44 years old and working for many years at a medical
research group at another UW, the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, two thousand miles from the one she was born in so
Isn't life just downright weird that way? ###
DAY THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., August 3, 2016
You know what they say, Too soon old...too late smart. Of course, it's never too late, if not to fix the material things, then certainly it's never
too late to fix the spiritual things. I have more humility today than I did nearly fifty years ago when I turned down the offer of tenure as a
professor of English at the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point.
I'm great at starting things--or I used to be--but I've always been great at quitting things, too. I quit that job, I quit a job teaching and working
on a Ph.D. just a couple of years later at Kansas State Univeristy; I quit a job a few years later teaching in an Adult Learning Center...I have a
lot of regrets. But I'm not going to wallow in them. Learn from them and move on.
A couple of things I quit I don't regret: I quit smoking cigarets in 1982 and I quit drinking in 2008. You may remember with me an old cowboy
song that goes, Cigarets and whiskey and wild wild women...they'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane! Well, it's a dumb song, really...
certainly the part about the wild, wild women. The singer seems to think that all these things came at him and he was the innocent party.
Well, enough of this. Let's get to a story.
My dad wasn't big on opening his heart to me or to anyone, I don't think, though he said little things all the time that gave you a look inside if
you were keen enough to listen and take note. In the morning, many a morning, when everyone was up and going hither and yon to school or
work, Dad mostly likely would be the first to be ready, walking around in his pin-striped suit and looking out the windows at the world and
he'd suddenly turn and say to one and all, "Around the rock the raggedy rascal ran!" or "Stay home, country mouse!" or even more obscure,
"Blow up your B-bag!" or, if we kids were being the slightest bit self-willed or obstreperous, "Boys! Boys! someday you'll be teachers!"
The thing about the B-bag he once explained. A B-bag was something G.I.'s carried some of their stuff in, and in North Africa the street
peddlers would call that out, hoping that the G.I.'s would buy their wares and put them in that bag, thus...blowing up their B-bags. Just how
that related to Dad's inner life I was never quite sure.
But Stay home country mouse was I think evidence of his deep conservatism, i.e., appreciate what you have, don’t make foolish moves...don't
resign a tenured professorship.
And today, everything in my barn having left, I close the door on such folly.###
DAY TWO OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tues., August 2, 2016
It was 1975 or 1976 and I knew I had to start making some money somehow. We had started farming and I was going to make us all rich in the
business of raising wheat, hogs, sheep and milo. June pitched in and we got advice from everybody and a little money in the form of paying
for equipment (all used), and went at it.
But within a year or two that was not working out as speedily as we thought. So I reverted to the trade I was well-trained for and had done
successfully for a number of years: teaching. I had been a college teacher; I had even made assistant professor and they had given me a
tenure year contract—meaning that if I kept my nose clean for another year at the end of it I’d be tenured.
Tenure is nothing to sneeze at. Wisconsin, where I was then, was and is a great university system. Stevens Point, where I was (about a
hundred miles north of Madison), was one of the many branches of the UW sysem, and it was a good place to be. It was said that every
town of any size in Wisconsin has a brewery, a cheese factory, and a university—in that order of importance. We used to laugh about that.
The brewery in Stevens Point made Point Special, a very good beer that the great columnist Mike Royko made famous in a Chicago Sun-
Times column he wrote about inviting all his pals to try various American beers..and Point Special had been chosen as the best American
beer. The first two years I was in Point we lived just a couple of blocks from the brewery. We’d go down with an old case of 24 empty 12
ounce bottles and set it down on the loading dock and count out $2.40 (usually in dimes) to the man there and they’d give us a new case…so
the stuff was a dime a bottle, not much even back then.
Anyhow, tenure. I was offered that tenure year contract and…I quit. I wanted to be a back-to-the-land hippie. We could say, in retrospect that
this was more than a little stupid. We could say that. Stevens Point was a nice little city; the people were very friendly and warm and
hospitable. I loved the students and they loved me, mostly. I had the offer of a good job for life. Yeah, we could say that was a dumb move.
But I wanted adventure. So I went into a line of work—the farm was an investment property and a sentimental purchase my parents
had made a couple of years before. Mom said, Oh, you can fix the place up. The ratty little house had been empty for eleven years and was
quickly reverting to a hangout for rats, wasps, snakes, a thousand bugs, squirrels and coons. The place had been empty all this time. An old
bachelor man had lived there with his sister and then they died.
So we moved in. We was me and my second wife (only 33 and on my second marriage and with two children who lived with my first wife but
that I had to pay child support for); and by the time we moved she and I had our first child together.
I just hadn’t much sense of responsibility. ###
DAY ONE OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., August 1, 2016
On Sunday mornings when we lived in the country and I was old enough—10 or so—I’d go into town with my dad and he’d let me sit on his lap
and steer the car, a 1939 Buick. After a while I was tall enough to see over the wheel and able to drive, I guess I could reach the pedals, and
he would allow me to sit in the drivers seat and steer and do the whole thing. I can’t believe now that I was that young, but that’s what
At 14 I got a license to drive “to and from school and on errands for my parents.” Which meant, really, you could drive to Timbucktoo. June
told me that she drove an old Model A that belonged to her father and then to her big brother and always kept an egg carton or two on the
back seat to prove that she was on an errand for her parents—delivering eggs.
Of course on the farm and on the roads around it kids of 8 or 9 drove tractors and trucks.
When I was fifteen, I bought my first car, a 1934 Chevy four door sedan. I paid Gene Guerrant $100 for the thing, an old faded red car
that ran just fine and that he called the Red Beetle. So the Red Beetle became my first car. I drove it for a couple of years until the tranny
gave out and, I think, the brakes. My friends Tony Alderson and Larry Brumm helped me roll it down to Julian’s Auto Wrecking on
Pottawatomie Street. Julian came out and looked at it. “The body’s in fine shape,” I said. I told him the obvious about the transmission and
the brakes. Julian said nothing, just looked it over. I probably started it up and showed him how it ran. Still he said nothing. Finally he spoke.
“Three dollars,” he said.
“It’s got a full tank of gas,” I protested. I showed him the fuel gauge. “See, it’s full.” He barely glanced at that, but got a stick and took off the
cap to the tank and put it down in there and pulled it out and examined it. It was full. “Four dollars more for the gas,” he said.
“Seven dollars.” He started toward the little shack where he had his office. I followed. Julian counted out seven ones and I signed a slip of
paper. My friends wanted him to give us a ride to Aggieville. Julian shook his head. “You’ll have to hoof it, boys,” he said with a laugh.
And so we did. The seven dollars went quickly at the Hole in One Club, the famous pool hall on Manhattan Avenue in the heart of Aggieville.
I suppose in a short time the Red Beetle was smashed flat and melted down, I didn’t keep track. My next car, which came after a few months,
and which I bought with the money I earned at Graham Printers, was a black 1947 Chevy two-door sedan. I don’t think my parents ever gave
me one red cent (not that I asked) toward buying a car.###
DAY TWENTY-EIGHT OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., July 28, 2016
I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and always expecting a different result.
This is even attributed to Albert Einstein.
Well, this may be true. But you have to look at what is meant by the same thing. The same thing is the exact same thing. I suppose a
scientist like Einstein was probably talking about doing the same experiment over and over. Of course, Albert would be the first to agree
that strictly speaking no two things are the same because some time elapses in between each experiment, or whatever. I have been doing
the same thing, in looser terms, over and over for many, many years.
For many years now every morning I have gotten up and I write a few hundred or a few thousand words. I do not write the same words every
day, of course. If I got up every morning and wrote, Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country, then I would be doing
the same thing—virtually—over and over. But I don’t do this. I write about a memory, a dream, a fantasy I’ve had, what happened the day
before or a thousand or ten thousand days before. Or I write about what I’m thinking.
I do not write the same thing over and over but I am quite sure that, were I to go back through the journal I have now of something like
12,000,000 words that I would find some of the same ideas, the same sentiments, even the same words.
But I am a different man today and I am different in considerable measure because of this journal. I follow the routine. I love my routine. My
routine has enabled me to get a lot of writing done. Some of it is dumb and stupid. Some of it is inspired and, well, brilliant for me.
Actually about a third of my journal is boring and useless to anyone but me—things that I wrote to get from A to B. It is mostly whining and
wishing for things I ought to know better about. About a third, the second, third, is things I think, mostly half baked ideas that I have
had, the value of which is very questionable, especially in that they never really got fully baked.
And then another third, the last third, are scenes from my life that I took the trouble to write up in some more or less considerable detail.
Some of these scenes I have already taken out of the Journal and revised or dusted off or polished a little and published. And some of these,
perhaps the best, remain in the journal and are of interest, or may be, to my six children and their children.
This is my legacy. It has taken me 52 years, and I’m still writing every morning, and I will do so until I drop.
I thank God for my routine. ###
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., July 27, 2016
I believe in words. You know, in the Bible--I'm told--it says In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God...and something. I never
read any further. In the beginning was the Word! That was enough for me.
Even though after some considerable length of time I came to believe in God (I'm waiting for His thank you note) I am still crazy about words.
My family sat around in the evening and read words and spoke words and even talked about words. We had a two volume dictionary on the
coffee table. But my parents weren't scholars or professors--just people who thought words were very, very important.
So when a friend came by once and used the so-called word "irregardless" in front of all of us...well, we were concerned. We knew
there was no such word as irregardless. Irregardless was a double negative! This occupied our thinking for days and is one of the principal
moral lessons from my youth. It wasn't so much that we felt our friend should be cast out and thrown into the pit of Word Hell; it was just
that it was so damaging to...I don't know, the Word Ether maybe, to misuse a word.
Years later when a friend and co-worker who had a great gift for words (and does, I hope, exercise it still) was the first person to ever say in
my earshot, "Oh, that don't make no never mind" --well, hearing that wonderful and satirical use of, what, a triple or maybe a quadruple
negative...that was heaven! At least once or twice a year I think of Phil Spears, who uttered that phrase, and revere him for that. I am still
waiting for an opportunity to use that expression myself in a way that will not seem self-conscious. I aspire to that, but I don't think I
can ever do it.
Walt Whitman spoke of loving the "hum of his valved voice." His voice did hum, we all have that capacity sometimes deep within us. I only
hope that I can think of something witty to say for my dying words. Just maybe, if I die right, I can without self-consciousness say with the
proper degree of nonchalance, Oh, that don't make no never mind.
Wouldn't that be wonderful? ###
DAY TWENTY-SIX OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., July 26, 2016
When I used to go to my Manhattan doctor, the great Kevin Wall, and I'd have a headache or something, and we'd laugh as he eased my mind--
literally--by telling me it was just a headache, and not a brain tumor. Whatever I had when I went to see Kevin back in those days when I was
young and healthy was pretty insignificant compared to what I thought I had--brain tumor or, if I had a sore muscle in my chest, imminent
heart attack, you know, or maybe at least a gall bladder explosion-- didn't really know what gall bladders did when things went wrong
then or now, but I was sure something was wrong with mine...
So on the crawling news this morning when I read that late stage Alzheimer's might be detected by an odor given off--I began to sniff and
wonder what I smelled like. That's just the way I am--i.e., a hypochondriac.
Well, you know, even hypochondriacs sometimes get sick. [I just lost the thread of my thinking, so now I am quite sure I should call the
doctor--alas, not Kevin anymore--for an Alzheimer's test.
Actually--and this is the thread I'd lost, oh thank you God!--actually I worried about fifteen years ago that I was losing my memory and so I
asked a psychologist I was seeing (I was always seeing somebody) about my life and hard times if he could test me for Alzheimer's, and he
said, yes, he could give me a little screening test, but he didn't have it in his desk and so he'd bring it next time.
I went home and worried and waited for the next appointment. I was just sure my mind was going south very rapidly. So when the appointed
day and hour came I asked: the therapist grinned and blushed: "I forgot to bring the test."
So we had a good laugh about that and I didn't worry about my memory loss for awhile.
I have always had a very good memory for some things and a very bad memory for other things, like how to get to wherever. Thank the Lord
for Google Maps. I've been lost in every major city and most minor ones in North America. I get lost in Olympia every day, a city smaller than
Manhattan. I get lost sometimes in my own house. Have you ever done that? Get up in the middle of the night and the lights are all off and
you're in the bedroom trying to find the way to the john and it's pitch dark and you turn a certain way and you're totally disoriented? And you
don't want to turn on the lights because you'd disturb your honey, who has the good luck to sleep through every night of her life?
Well, I have. But I'm grateful to be here this morning and if I'm suffering from anything, I don't know it...and what you don't know won't hurt
you, will it? ###
DAY TWENTY-FIVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 25, 2016
In 1948 when I was ten years old I started being political. We used to argue politics on the school bus on the way into town, a six mile ride,
making stops all along the way for other kids. I got to debating my neighbor and older friend, Bill Barr, about who would make the best
President, Harry Truman (who was the sitting Prez and a Democrat), or Thomas E. Dewey, a Republican and once governor of New York.
I was a 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
When my brother and I were acting up or somehow being more or less obstreperous, Dad would laugh and say, Boys, boys! Someday YOU’LL
be teachers. This, he once explained to me, was something that one of his schoolteachers would say to his class when they were unruly.
He was more listener than talker, more doer than contemplater.
He was proud of his athletic prowess. He had been a track star, and in fact in teacher’s college in Platteville, Wisconsin, he had been a four-
letter man in athletics, and he was a good student too. When he decided not to be a career teacher after a couple of years at a rural school
and went to medical school at the University of Wisconsin, he was a good student. He always said he was an average medical student. But
he made a good doctor and practiced for 44 years—from 1932 to 1976, most of it in Manhattan, Kansas. For years he was the only eye, ear,
nose and throat specialist for many miles.
He had a loving wife and three children. I am honored to be one of them.
He retired in 1976 but didn’t really enjoy it. He had defined himself as a doctor and when he was no longer a doctor he felt he had (to use a
phrase that he used to more or less ironically say, with a laugh and a toss of his head)…he had “outlived his usefulness.”
He died by his own hand at the age of 80, what I would call a rational suicide. He had Parkinsonism and had lived with it for about five years
and the medications he had used were not helping that much. He was losing his mobility. He wasn’t happy. He had done his work, he had
provided for his family all these years, and he had provided for his widow. And so he went.
We all mourned him. That was thirty-three years ago, 1983; but we mourn him still. We miss him. He was a brave, kind and
beautiful human being. In my head, which really is where the action is, I talk to him every day. ###
DAY TWENTY-TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., July 22, 2016
We went to Costco for the pizza. Well, not really: obviously we had some shopping to do but they have a food court that has very good pizza
for two bucks a slice, and the slice is about two acres. We got the pepperoni. June also wanted a big diet pepsi. I said go ahead and get us a
table and I'll get it. So I did, came back to the table with everything and promptly knocked over the pepsi, nearly spilling it onto a couple
sitting a few feet away at the same table.
I began apologizing and wiping it all up. The lady gave me her napkins and laughed and June gave me more napkins and I got some
more too. No problem, got it cleaned up in no time and went on eating. We started talking to the folks I'd nearly pepsied, and soon learned
that they'd lived here for years but (I guess June asked them this as I was folding the acre of pizza into my mouth) he had come out here just
stopping on the way to Alaska but the job there fell through and so he ended up staying here in Washington.
They were a nice looking well kept couple maybe in their early 70s. He had been a cosmetics salesman, and he talked about that. He had
worked for Avalon or Revalon, something like that, of which he said, Good company.
We talked about selling and how you had to work at it but it was a good living. I told him one of my sons was a salesman of school buses and
he worked very hard. He seemed to want to talk and so I didn't get into my selling of memoir writing workshops and the newsletter/magazine,
They finished up their eating and stood up and we all said how glad we were to have met one another and they ambled off and we put our
stuff in the trash receptacle and went about our shopping. It's a big wide world, I went away thinking, and everyone has a hustle. We all
have to hustle. We come naked and screaming into this world and eventually we all settle down in a corner of it and make ourselves
more or less useful and live out our lives. That's how it works.
I am grateful to be part of it. That's about all I have to say for myself this morning. I'm a more or less happy camper and I'm grateful to be part
of the great whirling anthill we call earth. ###
DAY TWENTY-ONE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., July 21, 2016 posted at 510 am PST at Olympia Washington...this morning!
There I go, thinking again about what I'm going to write. No no no. I need to write and find out what I think: I don't want to think and then
write. That hasn't worked for me.
And so I launch, I stoop over (painfully) and light the fuse that lifts off the rocket for today.
This is, after all, a journal, and not a stone tablet left on a mountaintop. I'm not writing the Ten Commandments...thank God!
Sixty-one years ago today I was enjoying my first full day as a seaman apprentice in the U. S. Navy. I was 17.5 years old. I weighed 129 pounds.
Today I'm going to be stripped of my civilian clothing and issued a uniform that doesn't fit. I'm going to have all my hair cut off and left on the
floor--er, the deck. People are going to laugh at what I look like. When ten weeks later I went home on what they called "boot leave"
my father looked at my ID card picture and at my stated rank NONRATED and he laughed. I never forgot that. Dad was 39 when he went in
the Army and he started out with the rank of Captain. But still he laughed.
A resentment, we are told, is a poison. In fact, it is a situation where you drink the poison and expect the person you resent to die. That's
about it. It's not really very smart.
Ten or fifteen years ago when I saw for the first time since boyhood my old school pal Jim Bascom I reminded him that he had given me a
friendly laughing push in the 4th grade and called me Four Eyes when I wore glasses for the first time. (Glasses in those days were rare in
children.) Jim looked at me and smiled. "And you've held onto that memory all this time." "Yeah," I said, and gave him a little push but I was
just blustering and trying to save myself from the embarrassment that I felt. It was a spiritual lesson.
Today I'm grateful to be somewhat teachable. My grand-daughter, Adah, teaches me every day with her innocence and willingness. If I say to
her, Look, here's how to make a paper airplane, and she watches my every move with the paper as I fold it and show it to her and sail
it across the room. See? She nods happily and wants to imitate what I did, and she does.
She has the humility to be willing to learn something new. I wish I could say I was like that, but all too often I say quickly, Oh, I know. I know. I
went to Paper Airplane school: I've got a Ph.D. in paper airplane making!
Of course I do not have a Ph.D. in anything. One of the great shames of my life is that I never finished my Ph.D. In fact I barely started: I went
half a semester as a Ph.D. candidate and then I met June and fell in love and together we went to our own private graduate school. It has
worked for us these forty-five years. I'm content. But now and then I'm walking along and someone comes at me out of the crowd and says,
Where'd you get your Ph.D.? and I am ashamed all over again and I peep something about not finishing and I hurry away. ###
Wed., July 20, 2016
To write well, you have to be willing to write badly. Wannabe writers can't do this. Their egos just can't take it, or even the possibility that
they might write badly, so they do nothing. They live day to day in misery and fantasy saying well, when I'm inspired (or some such self-talk
malarkey), I'll write beautifully. Someday. Of course that day never comes.
I know this, because I've been like that. That's what led me into journaling, which is simply defined as writing every day no matter what. And
being satisfied with that. If today I'm bored out of my skull or whatever and I write Uga-uga-boo, uga-boo-boo uga, that's okay. I count the
words there and add them to my daily quota--300 or 500 or whatever goal I've set. And then I move on.
But mostly I don't write uga-uga-boo (which actually are quoted lines from an old Phil Harris song, Bingle bangle bungle I don't wanna leave
the jungle/I refuse to go), instead I just write up something. Usually in the course of the day I've jotted down an idea or two in the little
composition book I carry with me everywhere using the gel pen I carry with me everywhere.
I'm a nut about that. If I start out to town and I find a couple of miles down the road that I don't have my little book (pocket-size) and my pen
with me, I turn around and go back. I can hardly begin to relate how many ideas I've lost because I didn't have paper and pen. No, it's not true
as our teachers and parents said that if it's really important, you'll think of it sooner or later. Not so. In fact it's really important there's a good
chance you won't think of it again because it's too scary an idea--in psychological terms, you'll repress it.
So I go back and get my pen and then I open that little book when I sit down to journal.
I once met and had the opportunity to chat a few minutes with a man who had won the Nobel Prize in physics, and when he said something I
thought very interesting I took out my little book and jotted a note or two, and he said, Oh, you use those too. I love them, don't you? (These
miniature composition books had just appeared on the market a year or so before.) And he showed me his. But I don't think he wrote down
any notes about what I said. #journalong
DAY NINETEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., July 19, 2016
We have gotten a new mattress. Not only did the new mattress cost us a lot of money, it cannot be used for 48 hours after being unpacked so
we have put it in place and took the old mattress and put in on the floor and so we are basically sleeping on the floor, which isn't any fun.
So I woke up kind of grumpy and definitely on the wrong side of bed.
I have had now and then some depression. Depression in old age is probably as inevitable as wrinkles. I haven't had a lot, but I have found a
cure for mine: get up and sing Merrily we roll along, roll along; or Some Enchanted Evening if you think you're Ezio Pinza; or at least get up
and make the coffee and pretend you're not depressed. That relieves me of my depression and soon I am sitting here happily--more or less
happily--writing for all the world to see.
Remember that old song: Lucky, lucky, lucky me...I work 8 hours a day, I sleep 8 hours, that leaves 8 hours for play! Wonderful song!
And so I am lucky. In fact I'm considering changing my name from Charley to Lucky. Maybe it will improve my luck.
Years ago a guy named Alfred Couee, a Frenchman, said you should get up every morning and look in the mirror and say, "Day by day in
every way, I am getting better and better..".and gradually you will. I think Alfie was right: it's a cheap cure.
I think now I mentioned Alfie just the other day. Sorry, but it's been on my mind. Old people are granted the right to repeat themselves now
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
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 writin
g at the big Seattle Central Downtown Library. Now that Library is quite a place...it's a huge ultramodern (as we used to say back in the day)
building downtown that looks like something your ingenious child made with his erector set rather than a staid old library building like the
one Miss Brooks presided over back in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas.
Hers was a Carnegie Library of the kind that old Andy Carnegie caused to be built all over America more than a hundred years ago, a more or
less small and squat stone building with lots of shelves with lots of books and with a lady like Miss Brooks to go around sweetly and firmly
shushing the children and using her pencil with the clever little date due stamp on it. She had a sweet smile as she told you you could only
check out five books at a time, so you had to take that sixth one back and put it on the shelf, and to be sure to put it in the right place so the
next child would be able to find it.
Miss Brooks lived on and on. Her hair got grayer and grayer and one day she was no longer there. Her routine was done. Isn't it wonderful, I
mean isn't it an honor to occupy a place in the world for a certain length of time and then move on? I know that somewhere in some
Manhattan cemetery MIss Brooks has been laid to rest, date stamp and all. Now that is living the routine, isn't it? ###
DAY FOURTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., July 14, 2016
Today is the midway point of this LifeStory Journalong. I hope you are writing along with me, a few hundred words every day. The idea is not
necessarily to write well, the simple idea is to fix the habit of writing.
And so this morning I write to express my gratitude to the Veterans Administration which provides me with some of the several medications I
need to take every day. I am grateful also to the pharmaceutical companies--yes, Big Pharma--for their ability to do the research and
production of these medications that make the quality of my life--and of so many of our lives--better than they would otherwise be.
I write also to express my graditude to the United States of America for the innumerable blessings it has bestowed upon me and millions of
I am grateful for Facebook, which is probably doing about as much for all of us as all of the governments of all the countries in the world put
I am grateful for my maternal grandfather, Lewis Clinton Isaacs--"Gramps"--who stood in for my father when he went overseas from 1942 to
1946 to participate in World War II.
I am grateful to my maternal grandmother who, though she died in 1943 when I was only 5, was a warm and loving force in my young life.
I am grateful to my paternal grandfather, known to all as G. R.,, whom I only met a few times and don't remember physically at all, yet his
legacy of kindness and caring leaves me with warm feelings about all my ancestors.
I am grateful to my paternal grandmother, whom I remember well, who cooked huge family dinners on a wood stove.###
DAY THIRTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., July 13, 2016
I'm not superstitious but today is the 13th and I couldn't get online for the first time in months. I didn't know what to do--I am no techie--so I
waited for June to get up and she went over to some box coming out of the wall and did something and it came on. Still, today is the 13th...
what else will go wrong?
Actually I can't think of anything bad happening on any 13th in my life. My 13th year in life, 1951--well, there was that flood that carried away
half the town but at 13 it was exciting--we didn't live in town and nothing of ours was carried away. What was carried away was a lot of old
buildings that were collapsing anyway and every business downtown needed to be remodelled, anyway. I don't suppose everyone who lived
through the Great Flood of 1951 will agree.
Then too there was that 13th year on the farm, Letter Rock. That would be 1984, and in fact we had kind of given up by then on earning a
living off the farm and we were working in town with our painting and papering biz. We had hired too many people to help us and we were
slowly sinking financially under the weight of taxes and insurances and I don't know what all.
Thirteen years from now I will be 91 years old and there's a good chance I will be dead, so I can count on nothing bad happening to me that
year. Everyone of my six kids will be over 50 by then...I hope they'll be okay.
So much for the number 13.
One Alfred Couee, a Frenchman and a psychologist, about 100 years ago or so developed the idea that if you just look in the mirror every
morning and say to yourself, Day by day in every way I am getting better and better--well, Alfie said, you will get better and better. I think I
believe him...though I don't know just when the better and better part kicks in. I suppose right away. Just imagine looking in the mirror and
saying, Day by day in every way, I am getting worse and worse. That'd be awful!
But that's the way I lived for years. Old Nick, I mean Old Negative, had me by the throat. I was there with the old philosopher, George Carlin,
who said in one of his inimitable routines, "People say that positive thinking really works...but I don't think it'd work for me." ###
DAY TWELVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tu., July 12, 2016
I have learned to write by writing.
There are some tips I've picked up along the way from other writers and even occasionally from books about writing. Next to actually writing,
though, I have learned the most from reading writers I liked.
Today I started out the day wrong. I read something by a complete idiot about learning to write by improving your prepositional phrases.
Honestly. I'm pretty sure the article wasn't satire, but you never know.
When I taught college writing years ago they wanted us to diagram sentences for the students and to teach them how to do that. I was so
embarrassed--not least because there were always six "bright" students in the front row who were experts at diagramming. I would write a
sentence on the blackboard and begin to diagram it, you know, and then one of them would say, extremely politely, "But Mr. Kempthorne,
isn't that word a predicate junctival?" And I would get flustered while they smiled at one another and the rest of the class, hopefully, slept.
I remember it used to be considered very bad form to end a sentence with a preposition. Some wag announced that and said, "This is
something up with which we will not put."
My writing begins with what is in my heart. I come to believe by unpacking my heart that I have something to say. I want to communicate with
you. I don't give a damn about my prepositional phrases, or yours. Just imagine, you're in love and you're proposing to your honey, or
about to, and you search for just the right prepositional phrases to ask her.
Please stop the world: I want to get off here.
Or, as Olde Walt said, "I go bathe and admire myself."
I have written many times about how learning to type helped my writing. I learned to type fast (courtesy of the US Navy) and the faster I typed
the better I wrote because I didn't have the time to think while I wrote. Today I write rapidly and in a kind of meditative mode as I do so. I'm
very grateful for that.#journaling
DAY ELEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 11, 2016
We had been married six months and we were both 19 years old when I got orders to sea duty. I had been in the Navy nearly two years and I
was a Yeoman, Third Class. I was to report to the Military Sea Transportation Service in Brooklyn, New York. Betsy and I had a new 1957 Chev
y and we wanted some adventure, so we drove together to New York.
When we came out of the New York end of the Holland Tunnel and into the traffic we were both stunned. We had never seen traffic like this.
It was like being among bumper cars at a giant amusement park...we just kind of went the way we were forced to by the rest of the traffic.
Everyone honked at us. Policemen blew their whistles. Fists were shaken and death threats were made. We looked at one another
in absolute terror.
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 ha
d 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 then.
So today let’s go back 40 years. It was July 8, 19…1976. OMG, 1976! A sweet year, a sweet time.
I was 38 years old, young and healthy and certainly in the best physical shape I’d ever been. I had been on the farm for the last three years
and most of my days were made up of hard manual labor. With a kind of grim satisfaction I felt I was more like a horse than a man: I
carried a heavy oak endgate for my truck up steps and fitted into its slots and bolted it into place, I moved fifty concrete blocks from behind
the shop to the house where I was going to build a little wall in the basement, I fixed a flat on the car, I carried in groceries, I carried my nine
month old son into the house from the car and played with him for half an hour while his mother and my wife started supper…I did this, I did
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 b
e 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 an
d 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 dro
p me off on the way to the hospital--but again, it just wasn't compelling.
So when I grew up and got married, it was surprising that in all three of the families I married into (I'm a serial marrier, for sixty years
I've been married to somebody or other)--all of them prayed at the table before a meal. And they meant it. I didn't know how to act. I had
never seen anything like it.###
TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., July 2, 2016
As a sleeper, I am regularly irregular. I'll have five or ten days of blissful nights where I go to bed and 10 or 11 and wake up at 5 and I'm rested
and I feel great.
Then there are nights like this one, and they, too, come in fives or tens. So tonight here I am, middle of the night, and June's softly snoring
and dead to the world and I...oh, my mind is running like a race car in a circus act! The latest thing was, just before I gave up and got
up here to write this, the latest thing was music. In my head I sang On Top of Old Smokey because before bed we watched an old movie, The
Big Country, with Burl Ives in it, and of course that was his song...a ballad about how the singer lost his true lover for courting to slow. Then
I sang (I sing so beautifully in my head) Down In the Valley, you know that one about the valley so low? And then Sewannee River, as in way
down upon, and then I finished that set with a song I don't know the name of, have not heard (aside from in my own head) since I first and
last heard it on the old WBBM Music 'til Dawn Show in the early 50s, this little ditty: Oh Frances, Oh Frances, oh please tell me whyyyyy/Your
mother is calling and you don't replyyyyy. The soup it is boiling and the cow's in the corn! You mother is calling for you to come
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
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
Somewhere around 8 or 10 or so, somewhere in there, I got it in my head that I could be a writer. I never thought about being a fireman or a
soldier or a policeman. I may have thought a little about being a doctor like my father was.
But any thoughts about that ended when I helped my father with a patient one Sunday morning when I was 11 or 12. Dad would get calls on
the weekend and people were sick and had to be seen and cared for. This Sunday a young woman--really quite a beautiful young woman
maybe about 30, a lovely brunette, I remember (and I was just getting old enough to appreciate feminine beauty), and she was in
terrible pain with an impacted sinus. Dad had to drain her sinuses going through her nostrils with a huge silver syringe pump kind of thing,
and he asked me to hold one of those kidney shaped white pans against her cheek to catch the fluid as it drained out. Well, the fluid was
green and yellow snot and it really, really smelled awful. The stench filled the room and I was horrified at the sight and the smell too. At the
same moment, this beautiful lady, relieved of her snot was practically jumping out of the little treatment chair because she was free from
pain! Oh, thank you, Doctor. Thank you! Thank you! she shouted even as the green goo was still draining.
So there was thing concatenation (is that the word?) of events--the pretty lady, the snot, the stink--all that came together at once and I
decided I didn't want to be a doctor...the innards of human beings were disgusting!
And so I became a writer. Breakfast, anyone? ###
June 30, 2016 Preparatory information for the 23rd Journalong...
My name is Charley Kempthorne and with my wife, June, I operate The LifeStory Institute. I have done this now since 1991, taking five years
off from 2001-2006 to work on a novel and, well, just to take a breather.
I am a writing coach by training and trade. I started teaching at the University of Kansas in 1964 as an assistant instructor. I got an MA in
writing there and taught a couple of years full time at the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point, then went back to school to the University
of Iowa and got an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in narrative writing from the Iowa Writers Workshop. I taught two or three more years in
Wisconsin and came up for tenure (pretty easy to get in those days) and...I quit. I told everyone I was going to start my own university.
Well, I didn't exactly do that, but eventually I started (and June was right there helping with artwork and layout and comments when I asked)
LifeStory in 1991. With this presence on Facebook, and with our website [www.thelifestoryinstitute.com] and with our pdf version
of LifeStory Magazine we have something going that encourages and enables people to write memoir and family history and autobiography
I am especially interested in coaching journaling because, by journaling myself for more than a half century, I have come to believe that it is
the best way to get the writing done. Over the years I have had thousands of students, some of them quite successful, but many others, I am
depressed to observe, have done very little writing.
The Journalong--where you write along with me every day for 28 days in order to form the habit of writing every day--the Journalong is my
effort to fix that problem of people who want to write are unable to do it. It's not a matter of "Just do it." There are attitudes that need
adjusting, and we do this by writing every day. I earnestly hope you'll try it. It starts tomorrow, July 1, right here.
The best thing you can do today to prepare is find a place and time to write and to make a list of half a dozen or so "prompts," that is,
suggestions to yourself of what to write about. I hope you'll trust me and stay with the process. If you have comments or concerns, please
make them in writing to me at my email email@example.com ###
Wed., June 29, 2016 THE 22ND JOURNALONG IS OVER WITH! CONGRATULATIONS ON SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION!
If I judge what I’m writing, if I even allow myself to think about what I’m writing while I’m writing, I shut myself down. I stop, read and re-read,
and nearly always judge my stuff to be not worth saying. And the more I allow that mentality to persist, the worse I judge it and…of course,
the less willing I am to write, until soon I won’t write at all. The voices in my head will say, Oh, you don’t have anything to say! Oh, you can’t
do it, Oh, you don’t measure up.
So I say Write, and let the world think what it will.
Don’t try to write the last draft first.
It has taken me a long time to learn not to be judgmental of my own writing as I’m writing. I don’t think I’ve escaped it, actually, I’m still
running from it by writing as fast as I can and trying not to look back. I consciously do not try to write the last draft first. I escape my
mind by writing fast. I’m pretty quick on the keyboard, years of practice, even at my advanced age going 120 or more words per minute.
As you might guess, I hate texting. Even the fastest among us has to have all kinds of pop-up thoughts on the way to through any given word
I think maybe lots of us want to write that first time out, thinking that it’s less work. It might be less work for the fingers but it’s more for the
head, more worry, less pleasure. Over time, your worries should abate and your pleasure should increase.
If writing is going to be like that—all worry and no pleasure—well why not take up some other line of work? If you just did the 28 day
journalong for the month of June, if you’ve done 300, 400 or 500 words a day and now Day 29 you don’t want to write, if it’s all pain and no
pleasure, then you can honestly say you’ve tried and—well, take a break and ask yourself (in writing) if maybe you’re trying to be perfect, or
are too judgmental, or are asking too much of yourself.
Then come back July 1 and together we’ll start another Journalong. ###
DAY 28 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., June 28, 2016
I went to the doctor yesterday and of course June went with me, as I go to her appointments with her. Two are better than one, we figure. I
had had a barium swallow esophageal exam and I was here to get the results. Knowing we might have to wait, we took reading material in—
June a novel she was reading and I the New York Times, which I get every day and which we’d just picked up out of the blue tube box next
our mail box. I didn’t mind waiting at all if I could read the news of the day. We were beckoned right in but then in the little room we had to
wait to see the doctor. So I read the headlines and one or two articles, munching happily away on the newspaper as I do nearly
every morning of the world, a lifelong habit I have no desire to break.
The doctor came and we talked about dietary and lifestory changes I should make to minimize the effects of GERD, one of the many acronym
conditions I have. Cut down on coffee, no onions, no garlic, and so on. Only the cutting down on coffee bothered me. Coffee drinking is
another lifelong habit I don’t want to break: but I agreed I would.
When we left and got out to the car I realized I’d left my paper behind in the treatment room. Oh my. So I went back for it and asked the
receptionist if she could possibly get it for me. I looked at her earnestly and apologized for troubling her. Oh, no problem, she said cheerfully
and got up and went down the hall to where the treatment rooms are. I looked around at this giant facility that someone said used to be an
Office Depot store. People were waiting, receptionists were asking questions and typing things into computers, people were coming and
Here came the young lady, no paper. They’ve already thrown it away, she said. Oh, I said, a little taken aback. I would happily go look for it,
pick through the trash and then I thought they probably wouldn’t let me do that. It might not be sanitary, bloody bandages and all that. So I
said thanks and sorry for the trouble, and left.
Back in the car I told June about the paper. Knowing how much the paper meant to me, she said a surprised little Oh, and nothing else. Oh,
well, I said. I saw the headlines. But all the way home I felt bereft and, truthfully, undone. I know that no one except a few old people read the
newspaper every day, but I am one such and a good newspaper is important to me.
When I was a boy growing up in the 40s and 50s everybody in my family read the newspaper and we sometimes argued over whose turn it was
. We took four daily papers and read all of them: The Kansas City Times in the morning, the Kansas City Star in the evening; the
Topeka Daily Capital; the Manhattan Mercury and, I almost forgot, while it lasted, the Manhattan Tribune News. Later in college at the
University of Wisconsin I found I was able to buy for fifty cents (!) the New York Times, which then was developing a national edition. This
greatly enhanced my newspaper reading because the New York Times is really a very good newspaper that not only gives the news in depth
and length but also great backgrounders and unexpectedly interesting stories about housebuilding in Tibet, say, or reviews of new books or
plays or…what you will.
Here in Olympia that last time I bought a copy of that illustrious rag, a banner headline—I kid you not, a headline all the way across the
newspaper—declared that the city fathers and mothers had voted to install a new port-a-potty downtown. In an urban area like this, the state
capital and home to about 250K people, a new port-a-potty was the big news for the day. Cut to the crossword puzzle and the comics and that
Well, I guess we should be glad: no news is good news.###
DAY 26 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., June 26, 2016
I was late getting around this morning, and now it's a quiet Sunday afternoon where you are supposed to take a nap or watch a ball game or,
better yet, play a ball game.
I guess I could read a book. There's nothing on TV. How can there be so many programs on TV and yet there's nothing on?
And books. I have re-read about 2/3 of Oliver Twist but now I'm bogged down in it.
The worst thing one can say about oneself is to say, "I'm bored!" As if it were the job of the universe to find you something to do that
you can call interesting. It's really a terrible comment on one's own imagination--on my own imagination. "I'm bored" = "I'm boring."
Before I do anything I have to write a few more words here just to keep the Journalong going.
Four hundred years ago Shakespeare died. Maybe he was bored, I don't know. A hundred years ago the Irish had an uprising...didn't they?
You know, when I was in school I loved to read but I never would read what I was supposed to read. Especially poetry---arghhh! But I always
read the magazines we had spread out on the coffee table at home, especially the jokes therein. The "Postscripts" page of the Saturday
Evening Post was a favorite. I read a poem there by the late great Richard Armour, a master of doggerel if there ever was one, and so I
memorized and remember to this day at least the first stanza or two of a poem about boredom called "Ho-hum!"
I'm really quite bored
by the famous Lost Chord.
I openly sneer at great art.
I yawn in the faces
of folks at the races--
and don't even watch
when they start.
As I frequently say,
I'm quite, quite blase--
The world and its ways
make me tired.
I'm so little impressed
I seldom get dressed--
And then only wear
It went on like that for three or four more verses. I loved it. I was in the 7th grade. I copied it out and posted it on the inside door of
my locker at school. I was so sophisticated then. I mean, blase. ###
DAY 25 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., June 25, 2016
This is the 66th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. I have written about the late afternoon (Sunday I think) when I was 12 years old
and listening to Terry and the Pirates on the radio and it was interrupted by an announcer who said that President Truman was sending US
troops into Korea for a “police action.”
That did not impact on me directly for eight years, when, as a member of the US Navy and the United Nations Command in Korea, I was a
member of the Military Department of the USNS General LeRoy Eltinge (T-AP 126) ship that transported the 9th Turkish Brigade from Izmir,
Turkey to Inchon, South Korea; and the 8th Turkish Brigade from Inchon to Yokohama, Japan and thence to Izmir, Turkey. We started in our
homeport in Brooklyn, New York in June and would have returned to there a couple of months later but for a small month-long diversion to
Beirut, Lebanon to take some other, US Army troops we picked up in Bremerhaven.
Truly, in my young life I was seeing the world through a port-hole, as we said back then. I couldn’t have had a better education than that the
US Navy gave me. College out of high school—whether Harvard or K-State, it didn’t matter—would have been a huge waste on me. I didn’t
want book-learning, I wanted adventure. And the Navy gave me that, and paid me handsomely too. (Joke.)
Actually in a sense I am still being paid as I get VA Benefits, chiefly my meds, very cheaply. One drug, Spiriva, would cost me about $500 a
month except that the VA gets it for me for $9. So that’s pretty good pay.
Truly, then and now, the Navy did far, far more for me than I did for it. Now and then someone will come up to me, seeing my Navy cap, and
thank me for my service. And I tell them that, that the Navy served me far more than I did it. Of course, that’s no so true now, these young
men and women who are going to Iraq or Afghanistan and actually fighting. The worst wound I got out of my 3.5 years of active duty was a
paper cut or two and I too zealously rolled another sheet into my typewriter.
And, mentioning typewriters, the Navy gave me the most useful gift I’ve ever gotten, bar none: the ability to use a keyboard. When I joined in
1955, I could only use the “Columbus System,” as we called it then—you discover where the key you want is and then with one finger
extended, go after it.
The Navy fixed that, early on, putting me in a room for a few weeks and making me type several hours a day until I knew the
keyboard without looking. I got up to 35 wpm (words per minute) at that school in Bainbridge, Maryland, and by the time I was out on one of
those big old Underwood standards I could do 60 or 70 wpm, and now, with these wonderful spring-loaded machines we have today, I can
type 100+ wpm—faster than I can think. I’m not kidding there, and I value that greatly, being about to outtype my mind. I write best when I
write so fast I don’t know what I’m writing until I write it and look back. That’s a great gift.
Thanks, Uncle! ###
DAY 24 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., June 24, 2016
Good morning from the south end of the great Puget Sound, named for old Peter Puget. I don't really know what a sound is but surely Pete
gave his name to the most irregular looking body of water on earth.
In the stillness of the early morning I am probably the only one awake. Well, not really. My son Rip, aka Zippo, is already in his truck and
booming northward to Tacoma to work on the docks there. Well, no--now that I pause and listen--I hear him walking around upstairs,
hurrying with his coffee and toast...my youngest son. Soon, though, he will be among the millions on the great North/South artery known as I-
5 and heading north to the million-footed megalopolis.
The best thing I've done in my life is sire six children who have all grown to be adults from age 36 to 54. Quite a little population!
I'm not sure sire is the right word, but if it is, could I then qualify to be called Sire? I like that: Good morning, Sire! Will you have your coffee
now, Sire? I wonder if June, my beloved, would start calling me Sire? I don't think I'll push my luck. I am so grateful to be called anything an
d to be here with my family, part of it, in good old PS.
An old man once came walking into a LifeStory workshop and we said hello and shook hands and he announced that most of his future was
behind him. I laughed, of course, and he did too: but I have thought of that nearly every day since then. Most of my future is behind me!
The main thing is to be here, and I am happy to be here. The President of the US is in Seattle today, and among other things, he is meeting
with the President of Facebook, young Mark Zuckerberg. They are having a meeting and we're invited. Are you going? Mark has done a lot
for us, and will do a lot more as internet access spreads and covers the earth like a bucket of Sherwin-Williams.###
DAY 23 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 23, 2016
When I was a boy drinker in Aggieville, age about 15, when I started looking old enough to drink--the legal age then in Kansas was 18 for 3.2
beer, the only thing that was sold in a bar at that time--about 15 to 17.5 when I joined the great Canoe Club called the United States Navy--in
those early days of seeing taverns as my new schoolrooms, one of my hangouts was Chappy's Tap Room on Moro Street deep in the heart of
Some of you may look, if you are kind enough to bother to look at all--some of you may look at my life and wonder why I was so interested in
drinking then at a time when most kids were going out for high school sports and serving on the Hi-Y council. The answer isn't that I had
such a craving for alcohol, but simply that I wanted to grow up, and this was my demented way of thinking I was a grown up. Smoking
cigarets, too--I looked so grown up with a long Pall Mall ciggie in my face.
Anyhow, Chappy's was one of my regular stops. We used to play a game after we had tilted a few that might have been called, if it had to
have a name, The Old Tavern. One of our illustrious number would, finding a smidgeon of space in our vigorous youthful jabber, suddenly
blurt out, There going to tear down the old tavern. Picking it up, we'd say in chorus, Oh, no! And then the guy, the announcer you
might call him, would say, But they're going to build a brand new one in its place. And we'd go, Yayyy! Then he'd go, However (there was
always a but or a however), they're raising the price of a glass of beer to fifteen cents! And we'd chorus, Boo! No! They can't do this, etc.!
He'd say, Scholarships will be available! Yea! Then, but you have to be at least 12! Yea! and so on until we guzzled a few more glasses of
Schlitz or whatever.
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,
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 ever
y 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 perfect fit.
I needed grandparenting. I needed parenting too but it was mostly a case then of Keep your nose clean, Charley (or at least don't
call attention to yourself, don't get caught), and stay out of parents' way. I saw more of Mr. and Mrs. Graham than I did of my own parents
during my teen years. Dad was always at the office or the hospital seeing patients and Mom, especially in good weather, up at the Country
Club playing golf or just hanging out. Like a lot of people they had gone through the 40s and the War and now they needed some time off
from the struggles of life.
School, which up until about age 12 had been the center of my life, was now a distant second or even third. Being a good student wasn't
terribly important to me, though being smart was--but I was becoming more smart ass than smart. I loved to read, always had from age
4 when my mother taught me to read when I read the comics in the Indianapolis Star aloud to her; but I never paid much attention to the
junk we read in school, the ridiculous Dick and Jane stories that were written in order to use all the words of a vocabulary lesson--Dick and
Jane at the seashore, Dick and Jane at the grocery, Dick and Jane, Dick and Jane--who cared about Dick and Jane?
I read Westerns that I got out of the wastebasket in the building where my father had his office--Luke Short, Ernest Haycox, and mysteries by
Erle Stanley Gardner and, by then, Mickey Spillane. These books weren't approved reading but I read them avidly and loved
them. Somewhere in there I began to find books on the rack in the cafes--I don't remember ever going to a bookstore--I didn't know they had
bookstores, and libraries--well, libraries didn't have paperbacks, paperbacks weren't respectable enough. I remember buying (or maybe
shoplifting) The Catcher in the Rye, a paperback at Scheu's Cafe, downtown, or maybe at Warren's Bus Depot and Cafe. And I remember the
cover with a picture of Old Holden and the words: This book may shock you, this book may astound you, etc, BUT YOU WILL NEVER FORGET
IT. And I never did. Holden Caulfield and his caring about not being phony--that was what I took to heart, not Dick and Jane or, by this time,
Silas Marner or Ivanhoe or any of those officially sanctioned lit-uh-rary types.
For awhile I helped, just for fun, my pal Lee Teaford fold and deliver the KANSAS CITY STAR in the evening in Leo Marx's panel truck, and we
amused ourselves (Lee was a smart guy) by naming all the brands of whisky we knew, played a game of Flinch where, if some guy came at
you with his fists and took a swing at you, well, if you flinched you had to name five brands of cigarets and whistle while he pounded
away on your 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
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 empathetic.
At this very moment as I sit here 40 years after this photograph was taken, June is sitting under the lamp nearby and mending some little
garment of our grand-daughter, Adah's, but now just for a moment she looks at the TV and is caught up in the high drama. And it's
funny that as I'm watching her watching TV she looks at me (a break for commercial) and says, "It's funny, I'm sitting here mending clothes,
just what my mother did years ago for our children."
I smile and nod and think, But I bet Lois wasn't watching CRIMINAL MINDS. [To see the photo, please go to Facebook to the LifeStory Institute
Mon., June 13, 2016
THIRTEENTH DAY OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
This is the way my 28,245th day on earth begins. I’m sitting here in the long apartment we have the honor to occupy in Rip and Joni’s long
house on a hillside above Puget Sound just a few miles outside Olympia, Washington.
Get your hands out of your pockets, boy, my dad used to say. Make yourself useful, he’d say mock gruffly. And then he’d laugh, and I’d laugh
with him, but I guess I took it to heart somehow.
How can I make myself useful today? Perhaps cluelessly, merely the creature of habit, I know of no better way than to write these words and,
by the grace of God, publish them to the world.
And I remember.
My brother Hal and I were having a radish battle. It was a warm summer afternoon and we lingered at the lunch table while Mom was putting
the food away and doing the dishes. Gramps, probably, had gone to take a nap. We each lined up our radishes in a row facing the other’s.
With appropriate noises like kew! kew! kew! and uh-uh-uh-uh and rat-a-tat-tat! and of course boom! boom! we faced off. Mom laughed but
admonished us not to waste food, that we’d have to eat every one of those little red fellows from our big garden. Think of all the starving kids
in China, she said.
I am thinking now of all the dead in Orlando.
I did a workshop in Orlando oh, maybe twenty years ago, at a Senior Center, attended by a very small group of ladies who were willing
to write some of their life history. One I remember was Alice Mireault, who had grown up and spent most of her life in New England. She
wrote about one fine Sunday morning there when she and her sister were walking to church and they passed President and Mrs. Coolidge,
and the President tipped his hat and said, Good morning, ladies!
There was no Secret Service in evidence, no crowds. This was their hometown too, and they were just going to church.
And now, the fifty dead in Orlando. Fifty some more wounded.
Alice offered to put me up in her retirement trailer in a park in the nearby town of Kissimmee. How do you pronounce that? I asked her.
Kissimm-eee in the daytime, she said with a laugh, and kiss-uh-me in the night.
So long ago! Alice lived to a ripe old age and died years ago, a very nice lady who left a lot of memories of her life for her grandchildren.
Like the good gray poet, Old Walt, people like us filter everything through ourselves, and leave a history of our life and times, ultimately
of our own mind. Would the world be any different if we had the history of all the minds that have come before ours? Can we learn anything
from history, if we have it there before us, written in stone or parchment or on a flickering screen serviced by a microchip? ###
DAY TWELVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., June 12, 2016
Going back in time seventy years to June 12, 1946.
I don’t really know where we live. We might be in Wisconsin and still waiting for Dad to come home from the Army, or Dad might be there
and we’re loading up to go to Kansas. (Just how we decided to go to Kansas to live I don’t know.) It may be, probably is, that we’re already in
Kansas and living with the Bascom family on Denison Street in that huge house with the four Bascom boys and their mother and father.
Housing is very short. Together there are ten of us living there, six boys and two mothers and two very busy doctor-fathers. I remember
seeing the glass quarts of milk lined up on the porch, brought by the milkman. Ten or twelve quarts in the long-necked old fashioned milk
bottles with the cardboard pressed in caps with the little tab on them and the colored name CITY DAIRY written on the side. Maybe I help
with the dishes—after all, I’m 8 and a half years old—and so I’m familiar with washing the bottles and putting them out to dry.
The Bascom boys, John, George, Charlie and Jim—are all fun and laughing and coming and going all the time. I don’t see a lot of John—he
maybe is still in the Army himself—or George, who may be away at Medical School, but I see Jim and Charlie all the time, and in fact I sleep in
Charlie’s room in bed with him. He’s probably five years or more older than I am, a big boy in junior or maybe senior high. We lie in bed at
night and talk. I adore him.
My mother is around. Mrs. Bascom is around. Both women are experienced mothers and housewives and both are named Lillian. That’s
funny. The men are both doctors, Dr. Bascom is a general practitioner and general surgeon, and Dad of course is an EENT, and eye, ear,
nose and throat specialist. They are good friends from their days working together in North Dakota.###
DAY ELEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., June 11, 2016
I learned to drive on the family car, our only car all through the war and for a few years after. I don’t think we got a new car until 1949…they
just weren’t available. So we had the 1939 Buick Special for ten long years. On Sunday mornings my dad would drive into town to see
patients at the hospital and sometimes at his office—we lived six miles out then in the Deep Creek community—and sometimes, I must have
been 10 or so, he’d let me operate the steering wheel sitting on his lap. Luckily, the road was pretty deserted at 9 or 10 on Sunday morning. I
don’t think my feet would reach the pedals then. I doubt I really did much of the steering, either, but it was a start.
The great day came when I could reach the pedals, and sat in the seat by myself, and doing that, more and more, and then soloing…that was
how I learned to drive. My dad taught me. I don’t think driver education, driving training, was even thought of then.
Maybe since then I’ve driven half a dozen times around the world. I’ve driven a lot. After all, that’s nearly 70 years of driving. In all that time I’
ve not had one accident in which anyone was hurt. I’ve had a few fender benders and once—right in front of the police station in Topeka,
Kansas, I was talking to my girl friend taking her to work downtown and it was a little icy and I had to stop for the car in front of me and I
couldn’t. I skidded into that car. There was no damage, really, but we got out and looked at it, and a policeman who happened to see it came
over and 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
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. Di
d 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
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. ###DAY 8 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.