|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 2017 by The LifeStory Institute.
THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
28 days to writing more or less happily for the rest of your life!
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!
DAY 24 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., April 24, 2017
What happened yesterday? I can’t even remember. I…we…went to the animal fair. The birds and the beasts were there.
Then what happened? I don’t remember.
When I was a boy I had a very good memory. I was especially good at remembering numbers. By the time I was 12 or 14 years old I knew
everybody’s license plate number. People would say, Oh, that’s Ed isn’t? He has a 47 Chevy, black and blue, doesn’t he? I’d look at the
number: RL 1047. Well, no, that wasn’t Ed. I don’t know who it is, I’d say, but Ed’s license plate number is RL 5640. And it’s wasn’t Ed. It
wasn’t anybody we knew, but we could see that it wasn’t Ed. And when we did see Ed, everybody ran to look at the license plate number,
except me. I knew what the number was. They came back and said, well, whaddayuh know, it’s 5640. And they’d look at me and marvel.
I loved that. They started calling me The Brain. I liked it a lot better than what they had been calling me. The Brain. It pursues me to this day. I
go to a class reunion, MHS, class of 1955, and someone for sure will say hello and say, I remember you. You’re the Brain. And I beam.
But life is long, isn’t it?
When I was well out of high school and out of the Navy—I just have to tell you this: I worked in the ship’s office, often with personnel records.
And so I just naturally gravitated to remembering other sailors’ service numbers. Mine was 467 87 08. Seven digits, spaced just like that. So
sometimes guys would come in and of course in the Navy whenever you apply or disapply or do anything, they want to know your service
number. I’d be typing up a form for some guy who just walked in and sat down at my desk and I’d just fill in the service number. If he didn’t
notice that I did that, I’d say, Let’s see, that’s 581 46 90, right? And he’d look astonished, and his lips would move speechlessly in wonder.
Sometimes I’d, just for fun, I’d make a mistake of a single digit. And when the guy said, no, it’s 581 46 91, I’d sort of theatrically slap my
forehead and exclaim, Oh! I knew that? How could I forget that? And I’d look at the guy. 91, of course. (By this time he wasn’t too sure of the
number himself, so thunderstruck was he.) The sailors were less inclined to call me The Brain—they had other names—but often I was
remembered by “the guy who knows your service number.”
Anyhoo, out of the Navy and into college and there I found plenty of things to remember. Not just numbers. Names, whole poems, bits of trivia,
foreign phrases, dates and what happened… I could remember everything that wasn’t important! I could remember a lot of important things
for the tests…I did pretty well and was mostly an A student “in the courses I took seriously.”
Of a certain failed writer it was said, “He had all the talents in the world…except the talent to make use of them.” I remember that, for sure.
And today standing at the other end of the line, I shudder. And try to forget.###
Sat., April 22, 2017
DAY 22 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
When I was stationed at Bainbridge Naval Training Center near Havre de Grace, Maryland, going to Yeoman School, every Friday at 1600 I’d
be with a shipmate or two and we’d walk or get a bus out to the highway and we’ hitch-hike into DC for the weekend. 16oo was 4 pm, and a
Yeoman was a ship’s secretary. Sometimes we were informally called Remington Raiders or, less politely by the more masculine ratings,
Titless Waves—because office work was sometimes considered women’s work. This was back in 1956 and women supposedly had their
work, and men had theirs. But out of a class of about 50, only five were women, and most of the guys were just as manly as any of us.
I had joined the Navy with the idea that I would become a journalist’s mate and I would sail the seven seas and write about it for the Navy
newspapers. That was appealing. I was reading novels then and every other one was by a newspaperman and about the great wild and
wonderful newspaper business then where every newspaperman from copy boy on up had a novel he was working on in his desk drawer,
unfinished of course, because he was too busy chasing ambulances and fire engines around the naked city and reporting the news.
The guy at the Recruiting Office in Manhattan, Kansas, where I joined, assured me that I’d be able to go to journalism school. That was how
they got people in, one of the lures: you were promised a certain job if you volunteered. And I swallowed it all hook, line and sinker.
The promise kept being made until the Moment of Truth came, halfway through bootcamp after we’d been tested for everything imaginable,
and I came up with a very high score on clerical tests, and so they said I was going to go to Yeoman School.
“What’s a yeoman, sir?” I said. I had learned by then to call everyone sir. He didn’t say anything about yeomen being titless waves, he just said
we kept the ship’s records and all that. But they told me I could go to journalist’s mate school, I said. You have to be 21 to go to that school, the
guy said. Why? I dared ask. Because you’ve got to go to all that diplomatic stuff and you’re got to be old enough to drink, the guy said. Then he
turned away. Next man! he called out.
I was crushed, of course, but I knew by then the Navy really didn’t care that I was crushed. So I moved on. At least I was being taught how to
type and being able to type was one step closer to being a newspaperman because you had to type up your stories. I knew that.
So there I was at the roadside, busy traffic into Washington, D.C., just thirty miles away, my thumb out, a smile on my face, America’s future,
headed into the fabled city for a little of the old wine, women and song. #j##
Fri., April 21, 2017
I joined the Navy with the vague goal of seeing the world. Well, no. Not actually. Actually—and I really have to squint to look back sixty years to
July, 1955, when I joined—I joined more for negative reasons than for anything positive, and—more to the point—underneath it all I don’t think I
had any rationality whatever in those days. I was driven by forces I did not understand.
Of course, that’s probably still where I am—at 79 years of age—I am driven by forces I do not understand.
Anyhow, there I was down at the post office at the Navy Recruiting place. I made some vague inquiries. I was told if I wanted to join up I’d have
to get my father to come down and sign for me. I was only 17.
It wasn’t a tough call for my father. He had served four full years and maybe a little more in the US Army in World War II, which had just ended a
few years earlier. It was well established that it was the job of every young man to serve his country. The idea that women should have to, also,
wasn’t even born then. My older brother had joined a few months earlier. I had finished high school and was going to college but everybody
knew, even me, that I wasn’t doing any good there. I was taking three summer school courses, one in French, one called General Psychology,
and one…in…I don’t even remember. The main course I was taking, however, was evenings down in Aggieville and, even later, carousing
around the town with various unsavory pals from midnight till dawn. It was an open ended course with a number of teachers with dubious
So Dad and I went down together and he signed giving his permission, and then I signed what the Navy called the “shipping articles,” also
known as the Enlistment Contract. The contract date was for “minority years.”
A few days later, away I went, off on a train to Kansas City for a day or two where I was “processed,” then another train to Chicago and the US
Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, Illinois.
Today we have the phrase, “buyer’s remorse.” We did not have it then. But oh, my, did I ever have second thoughts once I was in a barracks
with ten thousand other poor devils! My particular barracks was located just across the street from the brig, just in case I had any thoughts
about turning my remorse into action. At night the prisoners—obviously just kids like me—were brought out into the brig’s compound and
under the glare of bright lights, marched up and down, up and down and shouted at in the most unfair and even vile terms!
We non-prisoners weren’t treated much better. We were prisoners too, prisoners of the United States Government.
I was for some days in a state of profound shock. The only consolation was that I was in the company of hundreds of other boys, just teenage
kids really, mere striplings from Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and other central Midwestern states, kids just like me…and then the fact was that
we weren’t given a lot of time to think over our dilemma. ###
DAY 19 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., Apr. 19, 2017
I've made a discovery, I think, about journaling. It may only apply to me, but it may apply to you too. It’s about the power of narrative writing to
Anxiety is a condition I have lived with since I was a small child. I was officially and medically diagnosed in 1962 at the Menninger Clinic:
chronic severe anxiety. I went through four years of treatment there and further self-treatment over the next 50+ years in life, other therapies,
even some medication, and the wonderful anonymous organization sometimes called the “greatest organization in the world that nobody wants
But mostly my treatment has been this journal that I’ve kept for more than fifty years, and the use of it has gotten better and better as I have
done it more and more.
So, what have I “discovered”?
I have found that the simple written narration of a part of my life can be, and usually is, very soothing and anxiety reducing. A psychologist at the
University of Texas, one James Pennbacker, has written several books and devoted much of his career to developing the notion of
“expressive writing.” I have one or two of his books around here though I’ve yet to sit down and read either one. Clare Ansberry, a columnist at
the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article about what I was doing in my journal back in January or February of 2016, and in it she featured also
the ideas and comments of Pennbacker. What I’m saying is a kind of footnote or elaboration to that article.
And so I write this morning:
Rip came home from Tacoma a little early and went right to work outside in the sun on the shelves he’s adding onto the back end of their big
shop. Joni was out in the garden, first dry day in a long time, and starting to work the rich dark soil that she has built up there. So Adah came
around back and down into our place to hang out with us. She rushed to us and hugged each of us, saying, I love you, Grandpa, and I love you,
Grandma. Then she went to Grandma with a book to read to her. You are getting so big, Grandma said as Adah squeezed into the chair with
her to look at the book. I went on writing and half-watching CNN, the sound off, just looking at the pictures and now and then the captions.
Trump this and Trump that, the usual stuff.
Now just writing this and feeling the reality of the scene now gone by is restful to me. I don’t know that it’s restful to anybody else to read it, but it’
s restful to me to write it.
I hope you’ll take a stab at it, right now. Just write a few words, 100 or less, about a plain and ordinary moment from your day and see what it
feels like, post it here as a comment …how about it?###
DAY 18 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tue., April 18, 2017
I am thinking now about clothing stops. I have not thought about clothing stops for maybe sixty years. In the Navy we had to wash our own
clothes. We did this by hand the way Grandma used to: on a washboard. We rinsed them out by hand too of course. Then we hung them up
in a room called “the dry room.” Okay, fine, but how did we hang the clothes up?
With clothing stops, of course. Little pieces of think string with bound ends so that the thing wouldn’t “unlay,” as the Navy puts it when a rope or
string unravels. We bought these clothing stops at the Navy store. Then, say, you want to hang up a jumper that you just washed. You had to
hang it a certain way, and you had to use the clothing stops to tie the jumper to the clothes line.
It didn’t end there. You had to tie the clothing stop a certain way, and God forgive me, I’ve forgotten exactly how, but it involved, of course, tying
it off with a square knot. The knot was dead set on all of us learning to tie a square knot in our sleep. When we had liberty, which only
happened once and for just twelve hours in Boot Camp, we had to wear our black silk neckerchief tied in a square knot.
I remember waking in the night in a barracks full of sleeping boys (the oldest among us was 23, I think, and most were closer to my age, 17)
and looking out the window and down the street at the fully lit compound known as the Brig. You could hear the commands being barked at the
prisoners as they were being marched up and down the road. There it was, 2 in the morning on a hot August night, and other boys—whose
infractions were alarmingly minor, failure to salute, insolent remark, stuff like that—were marched up and down the road. This was called “re-
training.” The boys in the brig, I heard, were treated far, far worse than we were. It was hard to imagine. Why was everybody so cruel. Lying
there, looking out at them, thinking of myself and my own situation, I thought about going AWOL. That means, of course, Absent WithOut
Leave. I knew that I could probably simply walk away and keep walking until I reached, say, Los Angeles, and I could just disappear. I’d
better. I’d have to disappear from the face of the earth, forever.
Gone would be my dreams of being the world’s greatest living writer. I would have to live in total obscurity in wild mountains or some vast
forest, like Tarzan, swinging through trees. I would be glimpsed occasionally by frightened tourists, a sort of human Loch Ness monster. Even
then, say ten years later, the Navy would be hunting me down. The truth would come out. A search party would be sent into the jungle where I
lived and I would be pulled down from my tree and taken back to civilization and sentenced to life in prison. I’d be one of those guys marching
up and down, counting off in the middle of an otherwise peaceful night.
So I decided to stay, and learn to live with clothing stops. Boot Camp didn’t last forever…did it?
DAY 17 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., April 17, 2017
If I had any doubts about being a writer they were dispelled with the reading of a novel by one Harlan Ware called Come, Fill the Cup.
I must have been 14 or 15 when I picked that paperback novel out of the huge trash barrel in the building where my father had his medical
office. It would be fun to say it was therefore a trashy novel, but it wasn’t, really, it was a novel published by Random House, originally, a great
publishing house then and now.
But it wasn’t a great novel—the review by Kirkus says the story line was “handled with assurance rather than distinction,” and refers to the
entire book as “whiskey-soured.” That was enough for me. I read the story and I loved it.
Everything wonderful in life started with the letter w: whiskey, writing, and wild, wild women. I was in love with the drinking life, the
newspaperman life as I imagined it then, and in truth many a writer of that era apprenticed on a newspaper.
But my version of a life that—as one of my psychiatrists later on said—was a life that could end only in dereliction. Luckily he and half a dozen
other psychiatrists over a five year period of close instruction saved me from that kind of life so that today, six decades later, I can say that I
escaped to tell the story.
The last and best straw was that the novel had been originally published under the title—get this—The Kansas City Milkman. And the
provenance of that title, according to the narrator of the novel, was a remark by an editor on the Kansas City Star to the young reporter/narrator
that he should strive to write so that a Kansas City Milkman could understand what he wrote.
I have been striving to write for Kansas City milkmen ever since—long after I left Kansas City and long after there were milkmen. It wasn’t bad
advice. Write clearly and simply. Hemingway, another young man who done a little time in Kansas City working on the then-great Star, had
picked up the same advice there and attributed his learning to write to his apprenticeship on that newspaper. He had probably also learned
something about drinking whiskey there.
It helped also the grandfatherly printer I worked after school and on Saturdays, Glenn Graham, had worked on the Star as a printer and had
known Hemingway, and perhaps had tilted a few shots of whiskey with him at one or more of the nearby bars down at 18th and Grand. My
imagination was on fire.
Kansas City in 1917…just think of it, the gateway then to the Wild West, the city itself two-fisted and rough and tough…ah, the idea filled my 15
year old head as I sat in class in Manhattan, Kansas, a mere 120 miles away, and dreamed of my writing career that would include plenty of
adventure, plenty of wild women, and a little bit of writing, just enough to keep the fantasy alive that that’s what I was: a writer. ###
DAY 16 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Apr. 16, 2017
I hated Saturday mornings in those days. Others loved them and loved the demonstrations, but I hated them. I’m not naturally confrontational, at
least not in that way. I was a coward. I was a lover, I told myself, not a fighter. I hated the War in Vietnam and all the space it occupied in the
The war, the war, the war.
But for my wife, who willingly demonstrated, and for my friends, who seemed to love it, I would probably have dropped out, stayed home,
saying I have to write, something like that. But I went, every time, without fail.
We’d trickle downtown, maybe walk—I guess we did walk, it was only six or eight blocks, and we’d have some signs or we’d just be part of the
rest of the group of twenty or thirty of us, sometimes even fewer, with our signs wagging, the signs we wanted everyone to read and say, Oh,
they’re right. Let’s stop the war.
We demonstrated. We had meetings after every demonstration. Meetings with speeches and counter-speeches and coffee and smiles and
(no hugs in those days, but we were moving in that direction, we just knew it) mutual reassurances of…peace and love. The women made
cookies. Maybe we’d have a potluck. At our big house with the big living room more often than not, or at someone else’s house. Or maybe we’
d all meet at the Union, stacking our signs in the hall like soldiers stacking arms, we were the good soldiers of peace, we were good soldiers
of the war against war. We held up our little V signs. We talked.
We sang,earnestly, sometimes even teary eyed:
Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again
And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands end bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground.
And of course the War went on and on, and thousands died on both sides. Most of the people suffered, the people—people like us—we were
made to suffer.
I do not have any marching boots anymore. I sold them or gave them away years ago.
A few years ago we were at war with…just who I’m not sure. Iraq. I guess we were at war with Iraq. And we marched then, and June and I were
part of it. We just lined up in front of the main campus gate—Kansas State University—and we stood there while the traffic went past, most
people smiling and waving but some honking and giving us the finger.
We smiled and waved back, even at the ones, maybe especially at the ones giving us the finger. ###
DAY 15 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., April 15, 2017
Inchon was just another port to me. I wanted out of the Navy so bad that I could taste it. I had long since learned what I needed to learn from the
Navy…it wasn’t fair that I wasn’t already out and back in college looking at the pretty girls and conjugating etre in all its tenses.
I had put off even the pretense of going ashore to learn something about the country. Everyone had said Inchon was a hole and I was willing to
Of course the war was still on, technically, and so we couldn’t go anywhere, anyway….anyhow.
Plus we had to wear our uniforms. By this time I hated the uniform and wore nothing but dungarees and argyle socks and black penny loafers
and, in the cool of the evening sometimes, my light brown cashmere sweater I’d bought in Germany a couple of years before.
So. Inchon, Korea. It was already dark when we got a cab to go to the NCO club. I remember nothing. No-thing! We drank. I bought two bottles
of Gilbey’s gin for 60 cents each—fifths. For form’s sake I tucked them under my jumper when we re-boarded the ship. Everyone was drunk.
No one cared.
Everyone just kept saying what a hole Inchon was.
I’m going downstairs and go to bed, I said to someone. I always said that, I didn’t want to use Navy lingo anymore. I’d had it with “going below.”
I woke in the middle of the night with a headache. Maybe my bunk was whirling, I don’t remember. I may have been sick and run to the head to
puke. I don’t remember. I splashed some water on my face. I was already dressed: in fact I hadn’t bothered to undress.
I groped my way down the passageway to the galley and the night pantry. Henry was on. Good old Henry. Henry was ancient, white-haired, a
quiet, grandfatherly presence. He had been, it was said, the Chief Salad Chef at the Waldorf-Astoria before he went to sea. He certainly had a
lot of class, always nattily dressed in a crisp white tunic and black gabardine pants.
Several others were there besides old Henry, and they were talking. Henry gave me a black coffee and I smiled my thank you and sat down
and sipped at it. One of the others, a man from the engine room I’d seen but didn’t really know, an older man, was saying that Inchon had the
highest tide of any seaport in the world, and he said he had been in the Navy Reserves on a training cruise and he was the captain, then, of a
small ship, Navy ship of course, and they had come into Inchon late at night, dropped anchor and everyone went to sleep.
Maybe they didn’t even post a watch. When they got up next morning, broad daylight, they found they were stuck in the mud of the low tide and
everyone in the fleet was looking at them and laughing. ###
DAY 14 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., April 14, 2017
Frank dropped me at my car. “I’m going into the club for a minute or two,” he said. “Thanks for the ride,” I said, “I really appreciate it.”
I had worried all during the meeting that I’d left my car unlocked, camera inside, nothing much besides that, but an expensive camera, and I
didn’t want to lose that. I checked the door. Locked—of course.
Back in the day we used to leave our cars unlocked. We’d even leave the key in the ignition. It was pretty rare to have a car stolen in those
days, unless you lived in some big dark evil city like Chicago or New York. So we’d just leave the key in the ignition. And if we were just
running into a store to get a bottle of pop or a pack of cigarets or something, we’d just leave the motor running.
But that was then. This is now. You leave your motor running, you’ll get a ticket. You leave your key in the ignition and it’s stolen, your
insurance company might not pay off. At the very least you’d be called dumb or careless. Parking here on the street in Olympia, not exactly
Chicago, even so, I had learned to lock the car—always.
I felt in my pockets for the key. Not in that pocket. I’d been trying always to remember to put the car key in my right pants pocket. Not there. In
my jacket pocket then—nope. Left pants pocket—an old candy wrapper, my little recorder I used for interviews, and—nothing else.
One more. I reached in my left jacket pocket. My phone, nothing else. Uh-oh. I went through all my pockets again. No key. Oh…I was
carrying a bag with my meeting papers in it. I probably just tossed it in there. I stood by my car and took everything out of my pockets and laid
it on the hood of my car. Then I took everything out of my bag and put that on the hood too. No key.
No key, no get in car, no drive home. Stand there all night, or call June, have her get out of the nice warm comfy house and ask her to get our
son to drive her down here to give ailing and aging old grandpa the key. One more step toward dementia. “Maybe you should drive him
places, Mom,” our son might say. “From now on, you know, he’s nearly 80. Maybe he shouldn’t be out this late by himself.”
One last place. I could have accidentally dropped it, reaching in my pocket for a pen to write something down, and my little pad of paper, I
could have dragged the key out and dropped it on the seat of his car. It was possible. I went inside the club and there was Frank. “Charley,”
he said. “What’s wrong?” I guess my face must have told a story. “I can’t find my car key,” I said. “Can we look in your car?”
“Sure,” Frank said, “I’m just leaving here anyway.” So we looked. Frank looked. And look what he had in his hand. My key! “What’s this?” he
said, smiling. I took the key and clumsily hugged him as he was closing his car door. “Frank,” I said. “Frank, don’t let anyone ever tell you you
aren’t the greatest human being that ever existed.” Frank laughed.
I got in my car and drove happily home, singing. ###
Thu., April 13, 2017
DAY 13 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
The point of the Journalong is not to write well. The point of the Journalong is to learn to write readily every day. That’s all. If you are just starting
journaling and you’re trying to write well, I can only say, Good luck with that.
And quickly. If you’re spending more than an hour writing your words for the day, whether 100 or 500 or somewhere in between, you’ll have
trouble staying with it. Do it quickly; trust your instinct to tell you what to write.
This morning I’m going to write about…what?
I went through the White House once. I was in the Navy and I was stationed north of DC at the huge Naval Training Center at Bainbridge,
Maryland. I was going to service school in order to learn how to be a—what could only be called a ship’s secretary or, less glamorously, an
office worker. I learned how to type, how to file papers, how to fill out forms, how to write letters…and more. I actually liked it.
But on weekends I’d get with one or two other guys and we’d hitch-hike down to DC. Baltimore was along the way but it looked to be a pretty
glum place and, anyway, you had to be 21 to drink. And I was only 17. In DC your could drink beer and wine at 18, and I could pass for 18, so it
was off to DC. We’d get a hotel room downtown at a special rate for sailors and other servicemen, three or four of us staying in one room, and
so we’d check in and then go out on the town.
That meant getting a cab. A bunch of us in a cab each chipping in a dollar or so toward the fare and joshing with the cabby as he drove (wildly
it always seemed) through the dark streets to take us to some dive.
One time I was sitting behind the cabby and there were four or five of us stuffed in the cab and he began to grope me. We didn’t have the word
grope then, and I was pretty naïve anyhow, and for a bit I wondered what the hell was this guy trying to do? He was driving like crazy with one
hand and reaching around with the other in the darkened cab and grabbing at my crotch. I was too scared to say anything. We got to where we
were going and the doors opened and we got out. I don’t think I had enough nerve to even say anything. Why was he grabbing me?
We went to some place called Johnnie’s something or other. We’d drink and talk and pretend we weren’t from places like Manhattan, Kansas,
or Klucksville, Minnesota or maybe if we were from Klucksville and it was 300 miles from Minneapolis, we’d say we were from Minneapolis.
Often as not I said I was from Kansas City, which was more than a hundred miles from Manhattan, the little college town I was from.#journaling
DAY 12 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Wed., April 12, 2017
Sometimes just making a list is relaxing and fulfilling.
1. I was born in Minot, North Dakota in 1938.
2. We moved to Kansas in 1940.
3. Because my dad joined the Army, we moved to Texas for a short time in 1942.
4. When he was sent overseas we moved to the Old Holler in southern Indiana later that same year.
5. Some time later we moved to a small farm Mom bought near the town of Poland, Indiana.
6. In 1946 we moved to the village of Rewey, Wisconsin to await my father’s homecoming.
7. Later that same year we moved to 1610 Humboldt in Manhattan, Kansas.
8. Later we moved to 1030 Bluemont.
9. In 1947 we moved to 1819 Poyntz.
10. Later that year we moved to a large farm of 322 acres southeast of Manhattan in the Deep Creek Community.
11. In 1951 we moved back into Manhattan to 232 Pine Drive, where my parents built a new house.
12. In 1955 I joined the Navy and for the next 3.5 years I was in Great Lakes, Illinois; Bainbridge, Maryland; Norman, Oklahoma, and
Brooklyn, New York from whence I was a member of the Military Department of three different ships, one after another: the Rose, the Eltinge,
and the Darby.
13. In 1959 I was discharged from the Navy at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, 58th St. and 2nd Avenue, Brooklyn, New York; and moved
back to Manhattan and 232 Pine Drive.
14. In 1960 I moved to Rt. 3, Lake Waubesa Road, Madison, Wisconsin.
15. In 1961 I moved to 415 Holum St., DeForest, Wisconsin.
16. Later that year I moved to 519 N. 11th Street, Manhattan, Kansas.
17. In 1962, I moved to the Menninger Clinic, Topeka, Kansas.
18. Later that year I moved to 12 something Clay St., Topeka.
19. In 1963 I moved to 6th & Tyler, Hick’s Block, Topeka.
20. Later that year I moved to 1305 Tennessee St., Lawrence, Kansas.
21. Later that year I moved to 14 something Tennessee St., Lawrence.
22. Still later I moved to a cabin on Lone Star Lake south of Lawrence 16 miles.
23. In 1966 I moved to the Hotel Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala, Mexico.
24. Later that year I moved to 1324 Shaurette St., Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
25. In 1968 I moved to 937 E. Jefferson St., Iowa City, Iowa.
26. In 1969 I moved to a farmhouse in Dewey Marsh, Mosinee, Wisconsin.
27. In 1971 I moved to Rt. 3, Deep Creek Community, Manhattan, Kansas.
28. In 2015 I moved to 4427 Boston Harbor Rd., Olympia, Washington.
Whew! I’m sure I’ve left a place or two out. Listing those places wasn’t just relaxing, it was exhausting! I’m tired of all that moving around. Life
is very, very long. I plan one more move: we own some property, still, in the Deep Creek Community at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, and I
will have a lot there. I will not have to do the packing this time, nor will I ever have to unpack and figure out where to set up to write.###
DAY 11 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., April 11, 2017
I suppose I and others like me (meaning you, probably, because you’re reading this) are emblems of what William Faulkner said: The past is
not dead; it isn’t even past.
I love the past, my past, and I honor the past of everyone else when they honor me by telling about it.
Sixty years ago aboard ship after dinner I’d wander back to the fantail to smoke and watch the sun go down amid the chatter and carryings on
of our civilian crew…and to hear their stories if they would tell them.
One I remember was told by John O’Connor, an old man (probably all of 60!) who bragged that in 40 years of marriage he had never seen his
wife naked and that he grew up on a small farm in Brooklyn with milk cows and chickens and hogs. He sat there telling us his in 1957 when of
course Brooklyn was nothing but city and the crush of millions of people, but he was remembering a time in the early 1900s. They had a
garden, of course, and probably a horse or two.
My father helped his father shoe horses in his blacksmith shop in the village of Rewey, Wisconsin. I myself remember the milkman in the town
where I grew up, Manhattan, Kansas, who worked out of a horsedrawn wagon. The horse knew all the stops. Most people today cannot
imagine the time when milk was delivered to houses, let alone out of a wagon drawn by a horse.
When I started teaching old folks I was a mere lad of 37. One lady who came to the class was close to 100 years old, Lula York, and she told
about having been in the group of “Sooners” who took part in the land rush into the newly opened territory of Oklahoma in the early 1900s. She
was just a little girl in her parents’ wagon…but she was there.
I remember talking to them about the importance of writing to remember their past, and when they were writing they were writing to the future,
that their grandchildren’s children would probably be living on space platforms or even other planets as they talk and (we hope) wrote about
their ancient ancestors who lived on earth. The old folks chuckled, as I suppose their ancestors chuckled about going to a new world in
Yesterday…yesterday I went shopping with June. It was raining hard as we drove along Pacific Avenue and stopped at Verizon to get my
phone “paired” with the Blue Tooth device in our car radio. (Would my grandparents know what I am talking about? I barely know!) A little girl
came out to the car in the rain to show us how to do it. The three of us chatted a minute. She was a pretty little thing, and June and I looked at
one another and were no doubt thinking alike: was she old enough to be working?
With her breathless voice and brown hair she couldn’t have been long out of high school. But no, she said, she was going to be 30 in a week
and was terrified at getting old!###
DAY 10 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., April 10, 2017
In the Navy everything had a special name. Candy was called “pogey-bait.” To the best of my knowledge this was from the old Navy when,
many days and even months at sea, the men turned to the young men or boys on board for sex. Someone who took it in the ass was called a
“pogue.” Hence, candy was offered to lure the lad on, and so was called pogey-bait.
Fair enough. The ship’s store was called a “geedunk.” I have no idea where that word came from. A stairs was a ladder, no matter how
elaborate it was. You could be Scarlett O’Hara coming down a palatial golden curved stairway to meet Rhett Butler and a good sailor would
say, Scarlett O’Hara is coming down the ladder.
Upstairs was called “topside,” as in, “I am going topside to the geedunk to get some pogey-bait.” Downstairs was “below.” “Go below and
fetch me a burger with everything from the galley.” The galley was of course the kitchen, and it wasn’t like anyone there was going to know
about a burger and fries in 1955. Maybe.
There were dozens, maybe hundreds, of other terms, and many of them were required use by boot sailors. That’s what we were, guys like me,
just signed up. We were “boot sailors.” After all our hair was cut off—not fashionable in those days---and it was not accompanied by head
shaving—we had our picture taken and an ID card was issued. In the box for rank it said in capital letters NON-RATED. When after I finished
Boot I went home and I happened to show that to my father, who had been a lieutenant colonel, laughed. It wasn’t our finest moment together.
If you asked your company commander or anyone who was in the real Navy, for permission to go to the bathroom, he would stare at you until
you wet your parents. He would look at you as if you were not from this planet. Finally, if you were speechless and he took pity on you he might
ask, You want to do what? And maybe then you’d get it, and you’d say, I request permission to go to the head, sir. And permission would be
Just why a room (oh-oh, I mean a compartment!) where you sat on your behind was called a head I do not know. There were many things I did
not understand about the Navy. Some eventually were explained, some were not.
As with everything in this life, about the time you caught on and felt at home, everything was changed. When I got out of the Navy I almost had to
take lessons when I went back to civilian life and had to learn to say bathroom, downstairs, hallway (“passageway”), and downtown instead of
“ashore”---well, it was a whole new world.
Actually it was fairly easy to get with it when I went to college. Books were called “books,” libraries were called “libraries,” beer was called
“beer” or, jocularly, “the student’s favorite beverage.”###
DAY 9 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., April 9, 2017
What was I doing fifty years ago today? That would be April 9, 1967. I was living in Wisconsin, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and I was employed
as an instructor at Wisconsin State University there. I was 29 years old and lived in a big house my second wife and I had purchased the year
before when we came to Stevens Point. We lived at 1324 Shaurette Street on the southwest side of town just a few blocks from the Wisconsin
River. It was Sunday, just like today.
I smoked cigarets then, and I probably got up and made the coffee, got the newspapers off the front porch and sat down to read. We took the
Milwaukee Journal, the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Madison Capital Times and the Stevens Point Daily Journal. You
might say I was a newspaper junkie, though I don’t know that we had that phrase then. I would spend several hours going over the papers. I
would smoke cigarets (Camels, probably), and I would drink several cups of coffee.
We did not have any pets or children. Well, I did have two children by a previous marriage, and these children, one 5 and one 4, lived with their
mother, my ex-wife, in Topeka, Kansas. We did not have any pets, not even a goldfish.
I sat in the big living room of the big house and read the newspapers, probably starting with the Milwaukee Journal, at that time one of the great
urban newspapers in the US. We did have a TV somewhere around the house but we rarely watched it.
LBJ was president. I had voted for him, but I was concerned about the war, about race relations, about poverty in America…lots of things.
We lived in a ridiculously large house with five bedrooms, maybe six. I don’t remember. We had a basement with a rec room (oh, that’s where
we kept the TV, I remember now) and a laundry. We had a huge kitchen and a dining alcove in it as well as a dining room with a chandelier
next to it on the other side; we had a living room with a fireplace, stairs up to 2nd floor where we had…one, two, three, four, five bedrooms—
one of which was used as my book-lined study—and then on the 3rd floor we had a full attic where we could have put a couple more bedrooms.
And we were two people, and just ordinary sized at that. What were we doing with all that space? It was an old house and it came on the
market. That was the only explanation we could offer.
So there I sat, turning the pages of the Milwaukee Journal, smoking my Camel cigarette, and drinking my cup of coffee. Perhaps I would make
a few notes on a pad of paper on the coffee table. I was, after all, a writer, the author of Bellissima, a short novel, not yet published but no
doubt one day would be. After all, I was soon to be widely known as one of the coming leaders of my literary generation.
One day, perhaps not till I was dead, English departments across the land would teach courses in me. It was pleasant to consider, sitting
there smoking, the names of the courses: Introduction to Kempthorne, Kempthorne 1, Kempthorne 2—of course—but also The Age of
Kempthorne, Kempthorne and His Times, and so on.
Yes, it was all very pleasant to contemplate.
Perhaps, after a nap that afternoon, I would even do a little writing, an entry in my Journal, a few lines at least. ###
DAY 7 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Fri., April 7, 2017
When I came back to Deep Creek in 1971 it was to fix up and live in an old and long abandoned farmhouse there, close to the Creek but not
on it, a quarter mile from it, but the place—eighty acres, the house and outbuildings in the center of it—the place had a couple of little streams
that came out of the hills above and joined at the middle as one somewhat larger stream that fed into Deep Creek.
Often in mid or late summer in dry years this Y-shaped stream would dry up. But I never knew Deep Creek to dry up. As kids when we lived at
the old Pillsbury place we swam in Deep Creek, had three very nice swimming holes, and it was a big part of our life then.
The house—if I’d known then what I was to know later—should have been quietly burned or simply dismantled and stacked. I was at that time,
as were many others, very much the believer in recycling and reusing. The house basically had four rooms. An old bachelor farmer had lived
there, a man named O. D. Frederick.
He had died about 1960 and since then the house was empty. One of the neighbors stored his combine in the big machine shed. Otherwise
the place was the habitat of packrats and other varmints. The water well, which then was a good enough well, had been laid up with flat
limestones round and round, not mortared so groundwater could seep in, and dozens of huge black snakes laid in there on the rock ledges all
In addition to the rats and snakes and squirrels in the attic, the house had thousands and thousands of wasps. They were quite a nuisance but I
found that if you left them alone and stayed away from their nests, they weren’t bothersome. But of course as I remodeled the place it was
necessary to bother them: it was time to move out, guys, I told them, and I got some spray and occasionally would empty a can on a group. I
got stung more than once. In 44 years there, we never really got rid of them entirely. In the machine shed and the grain bin and the other small
buildings we didn’t bother them at all, knowing that they did more harm than good, killing and eating all kinds of other insects.
For the previous dozen years I had lived in the university world except for one year in the middle of that time I lived in a psychiatric community,
not a lot different—no joke intended—from an academic community.
I had made assistant professor and had been offered a tenure contract and was approved for a solid lifetime career. But it was just at that
point that I decided I wanted to be a hippy and go back to the land. I told the president of the university, who had kindly called me and asked
me if I was sure this was what I wanted to do—“I’m going back to the land and start my own university.” #journaling.
DAY 6 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Thu., April 6, 2017
Every night it’s the same: June heads south (as in going south, just a metaphor) to bed where she may read an hour or more, and I am left
sitting here on the couch in our big living room/dining room/kitchen—and I look over my shoulder at the kitchen counter to see if I’ve done the
dishes. Usually I have not.
I sit there in crisis mode: shall I let the dishes go till morning? Or shall I do the right thing and do them up now?
For in our 40+ years of marriage we have worked out a deal, a deal we implicitly brokered almost from the beginning: June cooks, I do the
dishes. June loves to cook, it relaxes her and she’s good at it. Sometimes she even asks me what I want her to cook, and I will say something
like, I will have the pate de fois gras to start, and then croquetes of lamb with Chinese master sauce with fresh baby peas on the side, and for
dessert, perhaps crème brule? June will nod and go out to the kitchen and rattle dishes and pots and pans around for as much as an hour
while I read the newspaper and watch the news. At length she will call that dinner is served (“Let’s EEEEAAATTT!”) and we will sit down to our
liverwurst sandwich and leftovers.
Sometimes I will clear the table and put the dishes in the sink, more often I only help. But the bottom line, to come back to the evening, is I am
faced with doing the right thing and doing the dishes this night, or doing the wrong thing and quietly turning off the kitchen light and sauntering
down the long hallway to our bedroom.
Over the years I have learned to say to myself as I’m sitting here: Charley, just go out over to the kitchen sink and have a look. So I do. When I’
m standing there looking I say to myself, just stack them and let it go. You can finish in the morning. So I quickly rinse the dishes and stack
them. Sometimes then without thinking further—usually then—I find myself running hot water into the sink and squeezing the bottle of dish soap
to make hot, soapy water that I love to put my arthritic hands in and splash around like a child in his bath, and then, there I am putting in the
Obviously once I have done all that, I’m not going to finish the dishes in the morning. I sigh, half disappointed at the task I’ve taken on, have
happy that—apparently—I’m doing the right thing.
So I slog away at them, putting in the glasses and cups first, then the silverware, and I do these up in jig time. (Oh, of course I do not use a
dishwasher—once in the early 80s we bought a dishwasher at a yardsale for $75, and I duly washed the dishes and put them in the
dishwasher for about a week until we sold the dishwasher for $50 and got on with our lives.)
Then I do the rest of the dishes, stacking everything in the drying rack or neat it, and then I look around at what I’ve done, turn out the light, and
go to bed happy.###
DAY 5 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., April 5, 2017
I had not been a Boy Scout. I had not gone to a camp in my entire life—not 4-H, Boy Scouts…certainly not any military reserve unit. My father’
s army uniform still hung in the front closet of our house, cleaned and pressed and in a clear plastic wrapper, waiting. It was 1955. He had
gotten out of the Army at the end of the War in 1946. I suppose Mom sent his uniforms off to be pressed. He wouldn’t have. He was busy
probably from the moment he started practicing medicine again as a civilian doctor. He wouldn’t have had time had he even had the
inclination. But there it was, all I knew of military life, that and a few fragments of memories of his being in uniform. I had never worn a uniform
of any kind—well, unless you count the uniform we wore for boy’s gym class: white shorts and white t-shirt and tennies.
I had never called anyone sir, nor had I ever been called sir other than by a waiter or a clerk in a store.
It was a whole new world, then, when I joined the Navy on July 20, 1955. I was an enlisted man, a white hat, the lowest of the low, a Seaman
Recruit, an E-1. No one called me sir. I was told to call anything that moved Sir. And so I did. I wasn’t a question of submitting, it was a
question of survival. I learned early on in Boot Camp that if I didn’t do what I was told, I was be executed on the spot. You! Step over here.
Now kneel. Hold your head still. Bang! Someone carry this man away.
And that would be all there was to it. My life as a human being was over.
I was given a number and told to memorize it. I could do that, I was good with numbers. 467 87 08. That was my service number. Not a serial
number, you idiot! Not your girl friend’s phone number! This is your fucking service number, do you understand? Can you possibly fathom
that, you complete dipshit? Can you? Speak up, idiot!
Yes, sir. I understood that.
Nothing in my life had prepared me for this. I had been born into a loving home. My father was an ophthalmologist and an
otorhinolaryngologist. I had an older brother. We were white people. I was white.
No one ever called me any of those names. The worst that had ever been said about me was on my high school report cards when the
teachers wrote, in red ink, “Charles disturbs others,” or “Charles is inattentive in class.”
Now I was a dipshit, an idiot, a number.
Clearly, I had accidentally been dropped into someone else’s life. Soon this would all be cleared up and I would be sent home to the pleasant
little college town of Manhattan, Kansas. I would be sent back to my French I class where I would be politely addressed by the instructor,
Bonjour, Monsieur Kempthorne.
But no. Now it was bonjour, boot camp. Bonjour, dipshit, idiot, 467 87 08. Au revoir, happiness.###
DAY FOUR OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., April 4, 2017
Can I go with you? I said to Dad. Can I, please? Dad looked at me. All right, he said.
I ran to my room to get on my shoes and to get something to read. I came back with my shoes on and with two comic books, Crime Does Not
Pay and Plastic Man. Oh, no, Dad said. Not while we’re moving, he said. It’s bad for your eyes.
I said nothing and followed him to the car. Can I drive? I said.
Oh, sure, he said. Here’s the key. He tossed it to me and I didn’t catch it. I picked it up and looked at him.
He was getting in on the passenger side. Well, come on, Charley. You wanted to drive. He made a shoving motion toward me. Get in, let’s go.
He was laughing, of course.
Da-ud, I said. Da-ud. You know what I mean.
Dad turned and came over to the driver’s side and I got in on the passenger side and Dad pushed the little key into the ignition and started up
the engine. I loved the sound of it when he pressed the gas pedal a couple of times. Let’s get out on the road. Maybe you can steer a little.
Thanks, Dad, I said.
Out on the gravel road Dad looked in the rear view mirror and pulled over. Always look in the mirror before you do anything, Dad said. You
never know what’s behind you. I looked at him looking.
Uh-huh, I said. I know.
Now, he said, slide over here.
I slid across the seat and climbed onto his lap and took hold of the steering wheel.
Both hands, he said. At the top, one on each side. He pushed my left hand a little farther left. There.
The car started to move gently forward. Dad had his hands on the bottom of the steering wheel, only now and then touching the wheel himself,
only when it needed it. We were rolling along.
Look at Mr. Barr’s cows over there, Dad said.
Hey, watch the road! Dad said with a surprised laugh. Always keep your eyes on the road. I laughed too.
My feet can’t reach the pedals yet, I said. I looked down.
Eyes on the road.
I know, Dad.
You know, Dad said. You know. Do you know the cemetery is filled with people who said I know.
I know, I said, and Dad had to laugh too.
He let me drive until we got to the bend leading up to Big Hill. Pull over, he said, guiding my hands and braking to a stop. You did very well. I
almost went to sleep there for a bit, he said. Slide over now.
I slid back onto the passenger side and Dad took the wheel again and pushed on the gas pedal and away we went, faster now. In a few
minutes he had gone up one side of the hill, along the top where you could see the whole valley, the little barns and houses and dots on the
hillside that were cows grazing.
Then we went down the steep side, along through the trees and came out at the stop sign where the main road was. ###
Mon., April 3, 2017
There aren’t too many things in my life where I can say, simply, God told me to do this and I did it. But giving blood has been one.
I suppose I’m too old now, 79, my health compromised some by having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), they might turn me
away. Maybe I’ll go next time I know about a drive, though, just to see if they can still get a needle in.
I don’t have any ten gallon pins, but I did it probably 30 or 40 times over the course of my long life, and I’m proud of that. I think maybe I did it
first in the 1960s at the University where I taught at Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
I was a hippie, and I think everyone thought then that hippies were nothing but self-serving adolescent adults who did nothing but smoke dope
and snap their fingers and say, Hey, man. So I went just to show them. Knowing me and my ways, I probably engaged the Needler in a
conversation about Dostoyevsky and existentialism, 1, in order to take my mind off my fear of impending death, and 2, to demonstrate that not
all hippies were know-nothings.
I’m not an especially brave man and I suspected each time I went that I could very well die on the table. I mean, you know, anything can
happen…right? The phlebotomist might be a vampire, or might accidentally inject me with air like I was a flat tire or something…if the odds are
1,000,000 to 1 that x or y could happen, then I’m the kind of person who thinks hard about being that unfortunate 1: even if they say it’s never
happened well, you know what they say about never: never say never.
I’m a little neurotic, you might say. But I did give blood all those times, and somewhere in there they started giving me free t-shirts. I’m pictured
here with my old friend, Evelyn Wray, whom I haven’t seen or talked to in years…I hope she is doing well.
I’ve never had a blood transfusion. But never say never.
Still thinking about death, and still thinking about being a hippie in Wisconsin in the 60s, and still thinking about virtuous things I willingly did, I
have to mention being in anti-war demonstrations. I was in a lot of them and there was not one single one that I went to willingly or happily. I was
motivated by a desire for peace, of course, but really what got me off my dead ass and out on the street with my little sign I hoped nobody
would notice was the implicit intimidation by all my friends. Where were you, Charley?
So I went.
We had this ongoing demonstration every Saturday morning in front of the US Post Office downtown. It ruined my Saturdays, which used to be
one of my favorite days, for two years. And one time I was standing there with my fellow sacrificial lambs and a car drove past, took a look, and
screeched to a stop. Two guys got out, GIs home on leave from Vietnam, and one came right up to me and put his face in mine and said
something unpleasant and pulled back his fist to belt me one.
I just sort of stood there waiting to be killed when, whaddayuh know, a police car pulled right up by us and a cop jumped out and stopped the
guy, saying, Don’t son, don’t do it. He’s not worth it.
At that moment, I couldn’t have agreed with him more. #journaling
.DAY TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Apr. 2, 2017
After breakfast Mom said I could go with Gramps to feed Miss White, our hog. The slop was on the stove and Gramma was stirring in the rest
of the table scraps left over from last night. Gramps looking in as he patted me on the head. Are you going to help me feed Miss White? I
said yes, I was. She’s getting big enough now that if we aren’t careful she might just eat you too. I braced a little and returned his grin. I won’t
let her do that, Gramps said. Then to Gramma he said, We’ll throw a little corn in with all that. He lifted the heavy bucket from the stove. Watch
out now, boy. Can you open the door?
I ran to open the side door. There was the water pump and then beyond, the pig pen, where Miss White was looking through the slots of the
board fence, waiting, her breath turning to steam in the cold morning air. When she saw us she grunted several times and ran in a circle,
stopping when she heard calling to her. So-wee, Gramps said, so-wee. He made a smacking sound with his lips, and the hog jumped a little
with each smack. She was very excited and danced back and forth, back and forth. She snorted and grunted, the steam coming out.
Last night the book that Mom read to me had the pigs in there saying Oink-oink, but Gramps said real pigs don’t oink, they kind of bark. Like
dogs? I said. And Gramps grinned and made a pig face. I laughed. Arf-foink, he said. Art-foing. And then he opened his mouth and sucked
air through his nose. I laughed. He looked so funny.
Now he spoke to me. Now boy you stay here. Aw, can’t I come in too? No. You stay here. You can climb up and look over the fence. Can
you climb up? He turned, holding the bucket. Miss White was snorting and dancing and pushing with her pink slobbery snout at the gate. Hold
on, little mother, Gramps said. Hold on now. He held the slop while from the wooden barrel beside the pen he took a few handsful of dry
yellow corn pieces and threw them into the bucket and then put the bucket down and mixed it all in with a stick. Miss White was almost crazy
now, snorting and running back and forth, steam coming out of her nose.
Gramps stepped inside with the bucket and quickly walked to the trough. He held the bucket high while Miss White ran along beside him, half
leaping at the bucket. Quickly Gramps poured it all out in the wooden trough, and she instantly ran along sucking it up noisily. I laughed to see
that. I didn’t eat like that. Gramps was speaking to her, calling her Little Mother, and then Miss White, and then while she ate and he had
emptied the slop, he patted her side. I would say very soon she’s going to pig, he said. It could be this week. He looked at me. Then you’ll
have pigs running all around the place. Really, Gramps? I said, watching Miss White gobble up the slop. Really?###
DAY 1 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sat., April 1, 2017
The guy before me had evidently walked off the job. Dishes were stacked up and it was in the middle of the noon rush and the boss, a guy with
short curly red hair, quickly showed me what to do. Scrape the garbage in here, he said, showing me the twenty gallon can. He looked at me
to make sure I saw where. Then put the scraped dishes in this tub. Wash them off, then put them in the next tub and rinse them, then put them
here in this rack and when the rack is full, turn on the washer, and it’ll automatically pull them through. He looked at me again. Got it? What’s
your name again?
Charley, I said.
Okay, Charley. When the dishes are out of the bath and dried, then put them away on these racks up here. He pointed to the racks at the front
of the big kitchen. Okay? He looked at me again. I was eyeing the dirty dishes piled up. I knew how to wash dishes. Now let’s get these
dishes washed, he said..
It wasn’t hard. He had already filled the first tub with hot soapy water. The soap was right there in a big box. I scraped the plates first, maybe
twenty or thirty of them, then put them in the water and so on. It wasn’t hard.
The boss, whose name was Earl, he had told me, was taking orders from the waitresses through the slit window in the kitchen wall looking out
at the customers eating. The place was full, maybe forty people or more out there, all eating or waiting for their food. Some were finishing up,
standing, wiping their mouths with napkins. The lady at the cash register, Nadine, had been introduced to me. She was Earl’s wife. I could
hear her voice saying Thank you, come again! And then she had a kind of funny, loud laugh that went Hoy-yoy-yoy-yoy, and I could hear the bell
on the cash register do ding.
I washed all the plates easily and put them in the next tub for rinsing and then into the dryer. I turned on the little switch that Earl had showed me
and the machine took them through the drying thing. They were already coming out the other end. I ran to get the rest of the dishes, glasses,
saucers, cups, and I gathered up the silverware and dropped that into the deep sink too. I could feel the boss watching me.
It was summer, 1952, and the pay was fifty cents an hour. I came at noon and worked till they closed at 8 pm. So I got $4 every shift. That was
okay for the time for a kid. I was 14. The only catch was, I didn’t get paid for kitchen clean-up. Sometimes that took almost two hours,
washing skillets and pots and pans. Sometimes meat had burned in the big heavy skillets and had to be scraped with a wire brush. The smell
wasn’t too great either. ###
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.