|The LifeStory Institute
The writer's workshop for memoirists, autobiographers and family historians.
LifeStory was founded in 1991 as a how-to newsletter/magazine and also as an over-the-road workshop
travelling North America teaching and coaching new and longtime writers of all ages how to write about
their lives and the lives of their ancestors. The premise is that everyone can, and probably should, write
their life story to pass on to their family,friends,and others interested, including and perhaps especially,
All material on this website unless otherwise indicated is Copyright 2016 by The LifeStory Institute.
Welcome to the 25th LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
PROMPTS are what you need to get past the problem of not having anything to write about. It leads to writer’s block, which is 100% fatal for a
writer. The only cure for writer’s block is to deny you have it and go on writing. Otherwise, you’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe writer. There
are numerous causes to writer’s block but prompts are the way to avoid it.
So make a list, a long list, of prompts to get you going and keep you going and keep it handy at your writing desk. Make the prompts in
advance. Have 10 or 20 at hand when you sit down to write, and don’t walk past the first one and say, Oh, I don’t feel like that one now. Start
writing with the next one that comes up.
Your prompts aren’t always mine. Your best prompts are those that come to you unbidden in the course of the day. Write things down. Make
a note and stick it under your keyboard or clip it to your monitor. Don’t say, Oh, that’s a good one, and then expect to find it there on the tip of
your fingers when you sit down to write. You’ll draw a blank.
I tend to have my ideas for writing come at me at the oddest moments (driving, bathing, always I seem to be doing something that prevents
note-taking), and so I cease what I’m doing just as soon as I can and start writing. The ideas usually come in batches. I have “idea attacks.”
Prompts are specific. They are not things like “write about Mom.” They are things like “write about the time Mom told the policeman she was
going to take his badge number and call the county.” Make a list of these narrative prompts. Make a written list!
Write along with me every day for the next 28 days and you will form the habit of journaling every day, one day at a time. In one
year if you write 500 words a day you will write 182,500 words--the length of three books. If you write 250 words a day, you will
write 91,250 words, the length of one long book. Choose which you want to do, 500 or 250, then start in and stick to it. If you
have any trouble and need some help/support, please call me at 785-564-1118. This is important if you consider writing your
personal and family history important to your descendants.
Come journal with me! by Charley Kempthorne
DAY 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.
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
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
Day 20 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Tu., Sep. 20, 2016 On the Road in Manhattan, Kansas
June and I have come back to Manhattan for a few days to get the rest of our stuff out of the storage unit. We came back to our
hometown, in other words, to move. That was our intention, but it isn’t working out. Our storage unit is stuffed with things we couldn’t
take to Olympia when we moved one year ago this month. So all year we talked about coming back to get it, but when we looked in
the unit a couple of days ago, it was clear we couldn’t possibly take it all back in one trip. We didn’t want to rent a big truck, we couldn’t
pull a big trailer with our little car—and we weren’t about to give up our family stuff—some of it pieces of heirloom furniture from several
generations. So we’re now taking just a carload back and maybe shipping some back.
Our ultimate storage unit, of course, is our two lots six feet deep in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery in the Deep Creek Community where my
parents are buried. We won’t take much with us when we go there.
Our stuff will at some point pass to our children to become part of their stuff. We aren’t talking about stuff that will have utilitarian value
to them. We’re talking about stuff that you hang on your wall or put in your family room or just store away in your attic or basement
because it just can’t be thrown away. Stuff like my dad’s medical degree from the University of Wisconsin; the souvenir of Colorado
Springs that June’s grandmother kept all those years after her visit there; the doll furniture June used as a child; one of our son’s knitted
cap he wore as a newborn, knitted with love and care by a grandparent. This is the stuff you can’t ever throw away. We can make jokes
about it, we can turn up our noses at it sometimes, but when shove comes to push, it is with us forever. It is the stuff that can only
be lost by a fire, or the carelessness of some unnamed but resented forever family member…or a thief.
For instance my father, who was in World War II and overseas for four years without once coming home, wrote V-mails home, some 700 or
more of them, and when he got out of the Army they were placed in his army trunk in the basement of a building where he had his medical
office. (I’m not talking about emails but V-mails, the name given to letters that the GI’s wrote home that were photocopied in order to be
made smaller, and flown home.) This was priceless stuff, the history of his life during World War II…and some miserable thief stole the
trunk and probably dumped all its contents into the river. And so that part of my father’s life is lost forever. It’s something that we would
never have thrown away. ###
Day 19 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Mon., Sep. 19, 2016
When I travel and stop somewhere I often just for fun ask the kids at the restaurant or fast food joint we’re eating at why the town is
named…whatever the town is. A couple of days ago in El Dorado, Kansas, doing a workshop and afterward for lunch we stopped at a neat
place called the Dilly Deli and ordered a couple of really interesting spinach wraps with Mediterranean salad stuff inside sandwiches and
some of their wonderful potato soup. The pretty waitress was friendly and cheerful and, as young people are always to us old folks,
a sight for sore eyes. I asked her why El Dorado was called El Dorado. “I used to know,” I said, wondering whether I really did used to
know or not, “but I can’t recall it now. It’s a wonderful word. El of course is there, but…” I looked at her and smiled. She looked blank.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I never thought about it.” “Did you grow up here?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “but I just never thought about
it.” I smiled indulgently. “Maybe I’ll google it,” I said. “It’s a beautiful word, Dorado. It means something.” I left her there, no doubt
agonizing about what the word meant and how could she have she lived 16 or 20 or so years and not known the meaning of the name of
her home town.
We ate, stretched, and got back in the car, heading home now, no fog like on the way down earlier that morning and in brilliant sunshine.
So while June drove, I did google it. And here’s what I got:
In the early 1500s, Spanish conquistadores heard tales of an Amazonian king who regularly coated his body with gold dust, then plunged
into a nearby lake to wash it off while being showered with gold and jewels thrown by his subjects. The Spaniards called the city ruled by
this flamboyant monarch El Dorado, Spanish for "gilded one," and the story of the gold-covered king eventually grew into a legend of a
whole country paved with gold. These days, El Dorado can also used generically for any place of vast riches, abundance, or opportunity. It
is also the name of actual cities in Arkansas and Kansas.
Bingo! I had hit the jackpot. What a story! I smiled all the way home, and thought maybe I ought to phone back to the store and tell that
young lady so she could put her mind at ease. But I didn’t. I fell asleep dreaming of being dusted with gold and having jewels and gold
showered upon 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
would be interested in doing us the honor of reading that. I try and nearly always succeed every morning in writing something there. This
is useful especially to people who want to journal daily, as I have for many years. Sometimes the writing (unrevised and unrehearsed, just
what comes out of the tips of my fingers at that time) is good, somethings okay, and sometimes just plain bad. But I do it...and that is the
whole point. Writers, like pianists and artists and lots of others, practice daily. So if you want to peek in and Like it, that would be
wonderful. You don't have to really like like it, you know, just like it to say hi...I appreciate that.
Some days my Journal is like this…just bits and pieces of things. But when we did the workshop today in El Dorado, people wrote
briefly in ten minutes or so—I was pushing them—and they wrote well, and it’s just amazing how one little paragraph about your life can
sometimes illuminate the whole thing. I’ll be publishing some of this stuff on the LifeStory web page www.thelifestoryinstitute.com and
also in our pdf mag, LifeStory, next issue coming out Oct. 1. By the way, if you don’t subscribe and want to—it’s totally free, just send me
or June your email address, because it comes to your email box as a pdf file. Tips on writing, news of the Memoir Movement and many
examples of what others who are writing memoir are doing. If you don't like it, just send an email back saying Unsubscribe. ###
Day 17 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong
Sat., September 17, 2016 Manhattan
My father got up every morning of the world and went to work in his medical office here in Manhattan. He went whether he wanted to or
not. He went to keep the wolf from the door, he used to say, with a wry laugh. He went because the patients would be there wanting to
see him. He was an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist. They had bad eyes, they had something in their eye, or they had runny noses,
sore throats, or ear aches…and for years he was the only MD for fifty miles who specialized in the treatment of conditions like that.
I doubt that as a boy he dreamed of draining sinuses or testing eyes or removing cataracts or any of that. I’m not sure that he even
thought of helping others in those ways. I doubt he thought about being rich, which he never really became, but he made a good living.
He kept that wolf away for his wife and three children, and then some. With the money he made his wife, my mother, built a big fancy
house that won an architectural prize for residential design for the whole state back in…1951. He was embarrassed by the house and
chafed under having to pay for it. I think he might have been happier in a nondescript farmhouse in the country with a couple of acres of
woods for him to walk around 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
build “that sweet little nest/way out in the west/and let the rest…of the world go by,” they did just that. My mother, not an architect by
education but always interested in houses and their design, took to supervising the remodeling of a big old stone house six miles from
downtown Manhattan. Dad had 322 acres to run and play in. Two growing boys, and then in 1948, a daughter. We lived there only four
years—not long, really—from 1947 to 1951, when they built that big fancy house in town.
I’m sure he looked back on his life at some point and wondered what the meaning of what he had done with his life was, as I am
doing now, and as my children will do in another twenty or thirty years.
I used to believe, with Macbeth, that life “was a tale told by an idiot/full of sound and fury/signifying nothing.” That not-very-positive view
of life got me into a bad way in my early old age, and it’s taken a serious adjustment to get me turned around and pointed in a better
direction. I would adjust that beautiful poetry now—without Shakespeare’ s permission—and say, Well, for me, life is a mystery, and I have
been invited to enjoy it and to be helpful to others in some way or ways that will allow them to enjoy it too.
So there you go. ###
DAY 16 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
FRI., SEPTEMBER 16, 2016
Along the road through much of eastern Oregon and then Idaho we saw huge dump trucks piled high with…something purple…apples?
No, red onions! Look at those onions, I said to June. Onions, big as croquet balls and round as…an onion, these trucks were taking
onions to wherever onions go once they are harvested…dug from the fields around us. Amazing! Then we began to see onions
along the roadside, onions that had fallen, blown off, I guess, from the trucks. One or two…four or five…beautiful onions, probably ready
as anything to slice and dice and put into a salad. We could have French onion soup, I said to June, if only we found a swiss cheese
truck, and then a toast truck. I smiled to imagine a huge truck loaded with toast. If there hadn’t been any traffic, I think we would have
stopped and picked them up.
Remember the Bit o’ Honey truck? I said to June. She smiled and nodded.
Back in the day, forty years ago or so, and we had taken to raising hogs for a living. We had friends, Phil and Kathy, who lived over the hill
from us and they were driving home one day and there was a truck in front of them. Some bump in the road or other, something jostled
the truck and out of the back of it fell a huge cardboard box. The truck drove on. Phil and Kathy stopped to look at the box. It was a box
filled with candy bars in yellow and red wrappers…Bit o’ Honey candy bars. The truck was long gone. They lifted the box—one thousand
candy bars—and put it in the back of their little red International pickup, and drove on home.
They unwrapped a bar or two and took a bite. I’ve never had these, Kathy said, and Phil said he hadn’t either. The things were so hard to
eat, so chewy, that they couldn’t eat them. So they gave them to us, and when we couldn’t or wouldn’t eat them either, we thought of the
hogs—the hogs would eat anything.
So we stood by their pen and unwrapped the candy bars one at a time and fed them to them. The hogs, five of them, happily came to the
fence and swallowed them, I think almost whole, with only a bare minimum of chewing. They snorted and oinked and asked for
more. After a few days of this, supplementing their usual Hog Chow from the Farmer’s Coop, we were one day a little slow unwrapping the
bars and one of the hogs took it from our hands and gulped it down. They didn’t seem to mind their not being unwrapped. So from then
on we fed them the things unwrapped, and watched the bright and cheerful red and yellow wrapped candy disappear into their all-
encompassing mouths. We fed them out and emptied the box.
A friend had told us that he once had a cow he fed a handful of brown sugar to every day, and that cow was “the sweetest meat he had
ever tasted.” When we did the hogs in and ate them, I can’t say for sure that they tasted any sweeter. But we ate them, bacon and pork
chops and roasts and sausage and all, very happily. Had the meat been wrapped in red and yellow wrappers, we probably wouldn’t have
cared one little 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
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
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
like ake, aike, and ace...and then it came my turn and I rapped it out: ache.
No one shouted Bingo. The teacher smiled and said, That is correct, Charles. Everyone else in the room looked at me like, Who asked
you? But I was right. Look it up. Or as we say today, Google it. Ache is ache. On this the entire world can agree.
Maybe that was the finest moment of my life. I believed that if I could spell all words correctly that the gates of heaven would swing open
and I would be invited into the choir of angels.
So here I am, 530 am PST, Olympia, Washington, 98506. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. ###
Day 9 of the 25th LifeStory Journalong.
Fri., September 9, 2016
Now here's what's weird. I joined the Navy to get away from home and see the world, right? Well, that's what I told everybody. I
was going to join the Navy and sail the seven seas. Yes, I even said that. I believed it the more I said it. I was all of 17 years old.
I went in. As for seeing the world, I first had several months of seeing Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Waukegan, Illinois, fifty
or so miles north of Chicago. Then I saw Bainbridge Naval Training Center near Baltimore, Maryland. When I finished yeoman school
there, I was 2nd in my class and so I got 2nd choice of the billets (Navy for jobs), and so I passed up the chance to go on a ship and sail
the world. I was sick of the idea of seeing the world. I wanted to see my hometown and my friends and my folks. I had completely backed
off the world tour stuff. So I chose the closest billet to Manhattan, Kansas (my hometown) I could get, which was the Naval Air Technical
Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
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 Labor Day..
I was always self-employed and June too and so every Labor Day we labored. In 1973, desperate to raise some money I started a
handyman service. My mother and father needed their house painted, and so they hired me--bless them for that! I painted it, did fairly
well, and out of that I got another house, and then another and another...and pretty soon I changed from being a handyman to a
housepainter. I read all the labels on all the paint cans and whenever I found anyone in one of the paint stores or on a streetcorner or
anywhere who knew anything about painting I peppered them with questions. I didn't know how to paint but I did know how to ask
questions. In those days, there was no internet, no google to google, and there were precious few books on housepainting in the library.
I did my best. I struggled to be a good housepainter as I never had struggled to be a good student and a good teacher of English.
Being a teacher came very naturally to me, but I had no talent for housepainting and so I had to struggle.
Luckily the very same lady who is sleeping in the next room pitched in with me and she had talent and so we began, together, a serious
business called Kempthorne Painters & Paperhangers, and June, eventually taking over the business, made it a good one and she was
the best paperhanger around when she finished. ###
DAY 4 of the 25th LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Sun., Sep. 4, 2016
I was in the US Navy for about 5 years, maybe a little more--I'd have to look it up. Now that counts active service and active reserve and
inactive reserve. My active service was 3.5 years. That means they had me 24/7 from July 20, 1955 to January 16, 1959. Why the odd
number? Because I was what they called a "kiddie cruiser," meaning I joined before I was 18 and got out before I was 21.
Okay. The point I want to make is that I went that entire time without once saluting an officer.
I used to be very proud of that--I was the rebel, I was the anarchist, I was a one-man Revolution and leveller and peasant extraordinaire. I
doffed my cap to no man!
Now the Navy puts a lot of stock in obedience. The Navy puts a lot of stock in saluting, which is an act of honoring your "superiors."
Enlisted men, of which I was one, salute officers when they meet. I avoided officers--even though I worked among them as a ship's
yeoman. Most of that time I was inside and "not covered." That's Navy gab, or was in my day, for not wearing a hat: the little round white
hat that we enlisteds had to wear. If you were inside, you were not supposed to wear that hat, and so inside you did not salute. When I
was working and inside I didn't salute. I did work hard and was a good enlisted man and made first class in less than four years.
When I was outside and with a white hat on, I managed to avoid saluting in any number of ways. An officer coming toward me--well, turn
around, duck into a doorway or suddenly have to bend and tie your shoe. I would not salute.
Now. I am 78. I get up every morning and I go into the bathroom and do my stuff but early on I look into the mirror at myself and I salute
snappily and say, Good morning, sir!
What's the meaning of that? Well, I was also pretty much a heathen all my life, I did not believe in God. I wasn't exactly an atheist--I just
found the idea of God irrelevant to my life and, I would be happy to tell you back then, to anyone's life. God was an illusion, as
old Sigmund Freud said.
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 morning, sir!
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
Three years later, the War was over and we moved to Wisconsin where we met my father and I saw him for the first time in four years, and
then we moved to Manhattan, Kansas, where we were able finally to find a house and we lived at 1819 Poyntz and I went to Eugene Field
School. I made friends with Charlie Kerchner half a block down the street and everyday we walked two blocks to school together. He was
Kerch and I was Kemp. Since we were both Charlies, we couldn’t just call each other Charlie. So it was Kerch and Kemp.
The teacher was Mrs. Mason, a pretty friendly lady with black hair. The principal was first Mr. Orval Ebberts and then Mr. Herb Schroeder.
His full name was Herbert but the other teachers called him Herb.
I was in the third and then the fourth grade and then one day after school was out my folks bought a farm six miles from town in the Deep
Creek community and we moved to the country. Everything was different there. I played with my older brother more, or he had to play
with me. That would be the summer of 1947, I guess. The most important thing in my life then was the creek, Deep Creek, a sizeable
stream that crossed our place, maybe half a mile or more, and we had three or four swimming holes.
Our grandmother having died several years before, our grandfather came to live with us, and he was ailing too. He wasn’t any fun
anymore. He spent a lot of time in bed and it was my job to take his meal tray upstairs to him. His bedroom was next door to mine and
across the hall from my parents. He had trouble breathing and he moaned a lot. He wasn’t happy. One day he took his .22 rifle that stood
in the corner of his room and shot himself through the forehead, right between his eyes. I remember that very well. It was 1950. I was 12.
I was in the next room and I saw him there in bed with the rifle dropped to his chest, still breathing, quite noisily now. 562 words.###
DAY 28 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., Aug. 28, 2016
This is the last day of this Journalong.
The idea of the Journalong is that we'd journal every day together--together or in succession, if you want me to go first. Or you could go
first. You could do it in the morning as I do, or the afternoon, or evening. Whatever works for you. But if you want the habit to be formed,
do it every day, and every day the same number of words.
If you're serious about getting lots of writing about your life and your family done, journaling is the best way to do it. If you do it faithfully
for 28 days, you'll form that habit. On the 29th day you'll do it automatically. And so on for the rest of your life. I have written a book that
helps with this, Narrative Journaling: 28 Days to Writing More or Less Happily for the Rest of Your Life. [If you're interested in that go to
my website www.thelifestoryinstitute.com and order it online. Or just phone me at 785-564-1118, leave a voice mail message and I'll phone
you back within a 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
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
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
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
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 writing habit.
Jessie's book had to wait another twenty years to see the light of day as a commercial book.###
DAY 20 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., Aug. 20, 2016
I know of no better way to improve your writing than by writing a lot. I've been writing a lot every day for most of my long life. I've gotten
better. Could I have gotten even better than I am by doing it some other way? I don't think so. It has worked for me. I'm comfortable with
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
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 LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., Aug. 18, 2016
Today my son Mason is 55 years old.
At some early point in my life on the farm that I came to call Letter Rock Park southeast of Manhattan, Kansas about six miles, I enlisted the
aid of two friends, Bob Kelly and Ken Embers, to undertake the digging of a basement. It was in the winter, a more or less mild one up to
then; it might even have been December. It was cold, but there was as yet no serious snow.
We dug the thing by hand. I cannot say why except that we were very anti-technology then, being the early 1970s which were, really, still
the late 60s: the height of the Hippie era. Digging a basement by hand would be, we felt, cheap of course, but also "holy." The basement
was to be the beginning of an addition to the west end of our little house. It was 12 feet long by 24 feet wide by 8 feet deep.
I remember now this was late winter 1975 because our newest son, Benjamin, was a babe in arms. While Bob and Ken and I
sharpened our shovels and dug away, June was inside caring for her first child (I had two children by my previous wife, but they lived with
her) and, around 11, making us a wonderful noon meal that we came to live for.
Working together is a wonderful way to get to know people and to respect them. Bob and Ken were from the same town in Kansas
(McPherson) and had grown up together. Both were better men than I, better workers, stabler, more even handed...but I wouldn't have
been able to admit that then. I was mouthy Charley, bluffing my way forward, sometimes funny, sometimes obnoxious and outrageous,
though in fairness to me (and I certainly wouldn't want to be unfair to me) I had a certain puppy-like friendliness and wish to get along.
Besides I was paying them something, I think, maybe all of 2 or 3 dollars an hour. I think both men did it not for the money, I am quite sure
of that, but as a lark (and I too), in some sense for a merit badge, kind of, to wear on our hippie uniforms or at least to tuck away in our
We dug and dug and dug. Some days it was pretty cold and so we poured gasoline on the ground to thaw it before we started digging. We
laughed about that. It was part of the lark of it all. The dirt piled up. We took maybe a month to do what a man with a backhoe could have
done in a day or even half a day. But that wouldn't have been holy.
At noon we'd drop our tools and run inside and wash up and eat a delicious and huge meal, watching young Ben in his high chair or sitting
on June's lap...I can't remember. This might have been, actually, late 1976, and Ben would have been fifteen months or so...and so he
would have been in a high chair, eating strained pumpkin or something, getting it all over his face and grinning happily while we laughed.
We laid up a concrete block wall. Ken and Bob knew something about building and managed that. I knew nothing. I watched them and
admired the creation. I would tell people that in those days the only thing I knew how to do with my hands was turn the pages of a book.
And it was true, then.###
DAY 17 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., August 17, 2016
Harry Carlson was a happy man, and Harry loved to make popcorn. Harry was laughing and friendly to each and every customer at
the State Theater and for a dime he'd stuff that box to overflowing, not closing the fold-down cardboard lid but rather leaving it up and
using it as extra space to put just another half scoop of the hot buttery stuff for the pleased movie-goer.
It was 1953 and I worked for Mid-Central Theaters in Manhattan, Kansas, my home town. I was 15 years old. I was a ticket-taker, the kid
who stood at the tall box and took the ticket that the cashier in the booth out front had just given the customer. I took the ticket and tore
it in half and gave half back to the customer and dropped the other half into the box and--very important--said Thank you. The
theatre held about 800 people so on a busy night I said thank you hundreds of times. I also said Good Evening a lot and smiled a lot.
I received for my efforts something like 75 cents an hour, give or take a nickel. I also got into the movies free and could snitch now and
then a candy bar or a box of popcorn. The best thing about the job, though, was the people I worked with. Harry--Happy Harry--was just
one of them.
When Harry came to work, whether it was for the matinee or evening, he'd hike up his pants and go to work filling the popcorn popping
booth with popcorn. It was his job, he was sure, to fill that 10 cubic foot booth with popcorn, no matter what the bosses said. And to lave
it all with real butter so that the stuff was yellow as corn should be. Harry loved it.
The problem was that Harry made more than got sold by the end of the evening. I mean, the buyers were limited. He couldn't go out on
the street and sell it, and if only two hundred people came past and Harry had popcorn for 800, what could he do? He just left it there and
went home. This was called the "overpop."
In spite of the advertising that it was the freshest popcorn in town, the overpop was mixed in with the new stuff. It was conceivable, even
likely, that some of the popcorn went back to the day that the theater opened. ###
DAY SIXTEEN OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tu., August 16, 2016
Writers' Block is a disease that is 100% fatal.
In 1962 my wife and I broke up and she took our son and moved in with her parents in Topeka. I had been going to K-State but now I
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 there,
I love the Constitution of the United States and I love the United States Government and the great historical journey that we have
been on since 1776. In that, we are unique. And that's what I love above all about the USA. I love our government. We are the oldest
written constitutional democracy in the world. Does everyone know that?
Entries on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet are made by fools like me, but only God can make a constitutional democracy like that.
Amen, and bring it on. ###
DAY 13 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., August 13, 2016
My first real job was working for an old printer and his wife downtown on Houston Street. Glenn and Elsie Graham, both white-haired and
probably 60 or more--so old!--were the proprietors of a job shop in Manhattan, Kansas, where I grew up. I was 13 years old and I was
taking a junior high class in printing and I fell in love with printing.
To this day I can tell you that "type high" is .918 inches and I'l bet I could still find my way around in a California job case if there was one
around to play with. (Most of them are now knick-knack shelves on people's walls.)
But I came to adore Glenn and Elsie too. By 1951 I had no grandparents in my life. My father was a very busy doctor and my mother was
then playing a lot of golf. Glenn and Elsie had no children, so I became their child. I think in some 13-year-old way I understood then what
a great honor was being paid me.
I certainly felt that it was an honor to have printer's ink in my blood. People talk about God working in their life...! God made me a writer
and to this day I get up in the morning and write and go to bed at night writing and during the night I dream about words.
My mom and dad both loved and respected words and we would sit around the dinner table talking about words. Was there such a word
as "irregardless"? Was it okay to end a sentence in a preposition? Winston Churchill had told the grammarians that ending a sentence in
a preposition was something "up with which we shall not put."
We also talked about politics and other news of the day. We talked at mealtimes! Only when I married did I find that there were families
where talking at the table was not all that common. They prayed, they ate, they wiped their mouths with their napkins and politely left the
table. How could they do such a thing? How could they miss such an opportunity!
So God gave me words, a hand to write them with, and a mouth to say them with. My father in the morning sometimes finishing up his
coffee and getting ready to go to work would look out the window and then suddenly back at me and say, Around the rock the ragged
rascals ran! He never tired of repeating this incantation or some other phrase like How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?--If a
woodchuck could chuck wood?
Today I go around thinking in words (can we think without words?), and sometimes I say to myself the things I learned in school, Sheer
plod makes plow down sillon shine! ....Or, Oh, the mind, the mind has cliffs of fall, frightful, sheer, no man fathomed!
I tremble then. I tremble with excitement at this new day. I tremble at the words, oh my god, the words! ###
DAY 12 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., August 12, 2016
48 years ago the USA was in a turmoil. Some would say it's in a turmoil now, but the turmoil of 1968 was much greater than the one we are
in now--or so thinks I.
It was in a terrible war, and a man who would almost certainly have become President was shot down and killed a couple of months earlier
in California by a lunatic. Five years earlier his brother, John F. Kennedy, was murdered. Had JFK lived, he would have been one of our
greatest leaders ever; had his brother lived and been elected, no doubt he would have brought the Vietnam war to a quick end. Then in
the same time virtually--the previous year-- we lost the great Malcolm X, who might himself have been elected our first black President
and led us to new heights of justice for all. We killed the best people of our time.
It was into such a time of turmoil, 48 years ago today, that my son Daniel was born. He was a great gift to us, the first of two children that
his mother and I would have together before we chose to end our marriage in 1973. Every child is, in a way, the Christ child, offering
redemption and renewal to everyone around him. Every child born is the savior of the world.
While I'm thumping the Bible I have to report that I remember also at that time thinking of Daniel in the lion's den. I thought that we had
brought our Danny into a lion's den.
Our Daniel became a musician and song writer and that's what he does today, and he has two wonderful children of his own who will go
forth and do what they will do to save the world.
I don't know if we are exactly in a lion's den today. Maybe we're in a laughing hyena's den...? And maybe God is giving us not what we
want, but what we deserve.
Well, as some old Greek philosopher said (I forget his name), "This is a matter for long discussion; and brief is the span of our mortal
DAY 11 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., August 11, 2016
I had been married to my second wife for one year and we were living deep in the heart of Mexico in a town called Tlaxcala in the
mountains, in the shadow of the great Mount Popo. I was there to write the great American novel, and my wife was there to enjoy and
explore the countryside. But we had gone down there with too little money and we were peso by peso going broke. Somehow I had
believed that the emigre life and my great writing talent would yield an instant income from publishers.
But it wasn't working out, and we were desperately trying to get out of there. I hit on the idea of going back to teaching. No internet then,
no telephone to speak of, so the going was tough. Patsy had gone to a college near Saint Louis that might be small enough, we thought,
to consider a teacher with only an MA and two years of part-time college teaching experience. So I wrote to them and marched down to
the square of Tlaxcala and popped it into the mail and waited.
Nothing came of it.
I remembered that my psychotherapist in Topeka, Dr. Bob Menninger, had once told me that during the War he was CO of a POW
camp near Marshfield, Wisconsin, and that there was a town near there, Stevens Point, with a small state college, So I wrote to them,
too: Wisconsin State College, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and I sent that off and waited.
Amazingly, in a few days' time a letter came back to me from them inviting me for an interview. I'm sure we had no money to buy plane
tickets but we had loving parents who were anxious to have us safely back in the USA, and we must have called or telegraphed--more
likely--to them and they wired us the money.
So, miracle to behold, we flew right to Stevens Point and they hired me on the spot and we borrowed some more money from my parents
and made a downpayment on big white house in a pleasant neighborhood and set ourselves up as academics: I was an instructor of
English at Wisconsin State University at the princely sum of $6,200 a year. ###
DAY 10 of the 24th LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., August 10, 2016
This is how I remember it: my brother Hal and I had come home about nine pm and gone upstairs to see the folks in the living room before
we yawned and said we were tired and went downstairs to bed. Maybe we fooled around for awhile talking and then we really did go to
bed, however excitedly and breathlessly. We waited until all the lights were out upstairs, when all the square patches of light from the big
windows along the back of the house were dark--and then in the dark we dressed and crept out the back door and around the house to
the street and then down the street to where our friend Jack and parked his car, waiting.
We ran around half the night, not really getting into any trouble--no more than usual--but just enjoying the fun of being out on the town in
the middle of the night. I was maybe 13 and my big brother was 16. It was 1951 or 1952.
What kids did in those days for excitement in Manhattan, Kansas was troll up and down Poyntz Avenue (the main street), going downtown
and then on 4th street turning north and going down to Bluemont and west to Aggieville, the student district, then south again on Sunset
Avenue to Poyntz. This big rectangle of non-excitement was the only thing we knew how to do. Sometimes we'd drive up Juliette Avenue
to Bluemont Hill and drive around to where the neckers were parked and see who was who there, sometimes flashing a light or honking a
horn just to be ornery, but that risked sometimes the anger of college guys and their girls, and sometimes a confrontation.
Or we'd drive out to Sunset Park, seeing what was going on there at midnight (nothing), and then back down toward City Park to see what
was going on there (nothing), and then downtown again, and maybe we'd stop at Jensen's or Warren's Bus Depot to have a coke and,
if we had the money, a burger and fries--forty-five cents then.
It must have been four or five in the morning, that magic hour before dawn, when we crept back into the house, no lights, feeling our way,
and then suddenly the lights snapped on and there stood Dad dressed in his pajamas and bathrobe and...with a belt in his hand. "You
boys want a little strap pie," he said, rising, not really interested in our answer but advancing toward us, the belt swinging, smacking
whichever backside was handiest, and uttering a few words. Hal, older, didn't cry but groaned a little; I cried and put my hands back there
to shield my rear and for my efforts got an extra smack or two.
And for a few weeks after that we were good. ###
DAY NINE OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., August 9, 2016
I take life review to be intrinsically good for me. I don't think it's for everybody, that is to say, not everybody is willing to do it. I think
everybody would benefit from it, as I have. A good way to explore one's past is to list the people who were in it--who in some cases may
still be in it. In some cases those people who are not physically in it anymore may still actually be a big part of it.
The most obvious examples are mom and dad. Both my folks are long dead, but they are still in my life, and in some ways more than ever. I
talk to them every day. Nearly everybody has similar feelings about their dead parents.
But it applies to others too. I could make a long, long list. In some sense nearly everybody I've ever known has become to one degree or
another part of my life. Once about thirty years ago I was riding through the West on a Greyhound bus, maybe going to or from Seattle and
my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, and you know in those old days you'd fall into a conversation with another person and talk for hours,
often sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with them, and then saying so long and getting off the bus and never seeing them
again. Maybe you never even knew their name.
This guy somewhere out of Denver, I think, I sat next to and it was evening and we began talking. He was a little older than me and we
liked one another and we talked and talked for hours. I remember at one point he told me what he thought about "the afterlife," and he
said, Oh, life just goes on and on.
I remember that. Life just goes on and on. He didn't elaborate, didn't say how, didn't say why, he just said it went on and on. Now I don't
strictly speaking believe in immortality, but what that guy said and how he said it, and the context, riding in the night on a bus...somehow
that made an impression on me and, though I'm a skeptic (or was then), that came to be part of me. Life just goes on and on.
Today I believe that life does go on and on through writing and other means of transmission: our thoughts, our ideas, our feelings, our
very essence go on and on. A friend's mother once told me that she told him that everyone had an "unintended legacy" to all the world.
That stuck in my head too. I guess it's fair to say as Whitman did in the great poem, There Was a Child Went Forth, that we go forth into the
world and everything we see and do becomes a part of us, and then in turn we become part of all the others.
It's really quite a responsibility. Or so thinks I. ###
DAY 8 OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
August 8, 2016
The only other kid in the first grade was a kid named Whitey. I don't suppose that was the name his mom and dad gave him but that's what
we called him because he had almost white hair. I have a vague picture of him in my mind but that's all. We got along okay, he and I,
and in a big room with grades 2, 3, and 4. Across the hall was another room and another teacher with grades 5, 6, 7, and 8, "the big kids."
This was 1943 near a village in southern Indiana called Poland. I think my teacher's name (this just came to me) was a lady named Mrs.
Archer. More than once I had to sit on her lap while she read to the others because I was so squirmy and maybe once or twice I wet my
pants or something.
I remember reading and being called on to read from a Dick and Jane book. They were pretty dumb stories, I thought, even then.
Dick and Jane went on a picnic and I was asked to read a paragraph or two, which I did well enough--quite well, really--but I read a part
where all the contents of their picnic basket had to be enumerated: "...in their basket they had fried chicken, potato salad, chocolate
cake, apple pie, pudding, and strawberry shortcake..." something like that and at that point I looked up and around the group and said,
"Boy, they sure do eat a lot of sweets," and the others giggled and I went on reading. I knew even then that the only reason they had so
many different dishes was the writer of the Dick and Jane series wanted us to learn new words. I mean, you know, they could have said,
"they took with them several fine wines, including cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and a fine Zinfandel," and it would have been the same
thing. This, I knew then, wasn't an authentic picnic and Dick and Jane were real people.
Recess was authentic. We played in the pile of firewood, a huge pile the men of the surrounding area had made up for us just before
school started in late September. We built a kind of wooden igloo that we could crawl in and hide from the teacher in, we built a huge pile
and played King of the Mountain...this was all great fun. Recess ended when the teacher rang a hand bell and yelled at us.
If you had to pee when class was in session you held up your arm with one finger of your hand; if you had to do more than that, you
held up two fingers. To this day everybody my age understands what a no. 1 is and what a no. 2 is. The reason you had to indicate 1 or 2
was so the teacher could estimate how long you would be gone. Duh. ###
DAY SEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., August 7, 2016
"Journalong" is my invented term meaning that we journal together, you at home (or on your own blog or wherever) and I right here
in this space. My theory of how to improve your writing is to write more and more and more. Read as widely as you can as your interests
and inclinations may lead you. This system has worked for me; I think it may very well work for you.
I started out my professional life as a Freshman English teacher, and I was under the supervision of the faculty and had to follow
a syllabus of their making. This syllabus involved studying grammar, diagramming sentences, learning about stuff like sentence kernels
and other such...junk. Freshman English didn't mean you wrote a lot. Once a week, at the most, the freshman was asked to write a theme,
and themes we derisively defined as "500 words about nothing by nobody to nobody."
Oh, we studied vocabulary, too. Each student had to buy a good dictionary and use it.
What this course did was teach the students to write basic English, more or less, and to hate it, so that they emerged from college more
often than not, never wanting to write again.
When in my late 30s and some years out of university life--I had left academia to become a farmer, which didn't make enough money--I
began teaching again and I taught seniors to write their memoirs. I started the first Reminiscence Writing Workshop in the country in my
hometown of Manhattan, Kansas. The seniors, mostly old ladies, taught me a lot more than I taught them. Eventually I realized that almost
everyone over the age of 16 knows very good and well how to write and the problem is to get them to do it. Usually it was a matter of un-
teaching more than it was teaching. I have settled on the term coaching. I consider myself today a writing coach. I try to get people to
come out for the Writing Team and we scrimmage happily and write about our lives and the lives of our family.
If I can get people to journal, I figure they're in. The more they do it, they more they'll love it. I wrote a book about that and if you're
interested in it you can write to me about it. It costs $20 plus PM postage ($6.45) and is mailed out the day you order and pay for it. You
can reach LifeStory via email at 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
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 long ago.
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
Well, enough of this. Let's get to a story.
My dad wasn't big on opening his heart to me or to anyone, I don't think, though he said little things all the time that gave you a look inside
if you were keen enough to listen and take note. In the morning, many a morning, when everyone was up and going hither and yon to
school or work, Dad mostly likely would be the first to be ready, walking around in his pin-striped suit and looking out the windows at the
world and he'd suddenly turn and say to one and all, "Around the rock the raggedy rascal ran!" or "Stay home, country mouse!" or even
more obscure, "Blow up your B-bag!" or, if we kids were being the slightest bit self-willed or obstreperous, "Boys! Boys! someday you'll be
The thing about the B-bag he once explained. A B-bag was something G.I.'s carried some of their stuff in, and in North Africa the street
peddlers would call that out, hoping that the G.I.'s would buy their wares and put them in that bag, thus...blowing up their B-bags.
Just how that related to Dad's inner life I was never quite sure.
But Stay home country mouse was I think evidence of his deep conservatism, i.e., appreciate what you have, don’t make foolish moves...
don't resign a tenured professorship.
And today, everything in my barn having left, I close the door on such folly.###
DAY TWO OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Tues., August 2, 2016
It was 1975 or 1976 and I knew I had to start making some money somehow. We had started farming and I was going to make us all rich in
the business of raising wheat, hogs, sheep and milo. June pitched in and we got advice from everybody and a little money in the form of
paying for equipment (all used), and went at it.
But within a year or two that was not working out as speedily as we thought. So I reverted to the trade I was well-trained for and had done
successfully for a number of years: teaching. I had been a college teacher; I had even made assistant professor and they had given me a
tenure year contract—meaning that if I kept my nose clean for another year at the end of it I’d be tenured.
Tenure is nothing to sneeze at. Wisconsin, where I was then, was and is a great university system. Stevens Point, where I was (about a
hundred miles north of Madison), was one of the many branches of the UW sysem, and it was a good place to be. It was said that every
town of any size in Wisconsin has a brewery, a cheese factory, and a university—in that order of importance. We used to laugh about that.
The brewery in Stevens Point made Point Special, a very good beer that the great columnist Mike Royko made famous in a Chicago Sun-
Times column he wrote about inviting all his pals to try various American beers..and Point Special had been chosen as the best American
beer. The first two years I was in Point we lived just a couple of blocks from the brewery. We’d go down with an old case of 24 empty 12
ounce bottles and set it down on the loading dock and count out $2.40 (usually in dimes) to the man there and they’d give us a new
case…so the stuff was a dime a bottle, not much even back then.
Anyhow, tenure. I was offered that tenure year contract and…I quit. I wanted to be a back-to-the-land hippie. We could say, in retrospect
that this was more than a little stupid. We could say that. Stevens Point was a nice little city; the people were very friendly and warm and
hospitable. I loved the students and they loved me, mostly. I had the offer of a good job for life. Yeah, we could say that was a dumb move.
But I wanted adventure. So I went into a line of work—the farm was an investment property and a sentimental purchase my parents had
made a couple of years before. Mom said, Oh, you can fix the place up. The ratty little house had been empty for eleven years and was
quickly reverting to a hangout for rats, wasps, snakes, a thousand bugs, squirrels and coons. The place had been empty all this time. An
old bachelor man had lived there with his sister and then they died.
So we moved in. We was me and my second wife (only 33 and on my second marriage and with two children who lived with my first wife but
that I had to pay child support for); and by the time we moved she and I had our first child together.
I just hadn’t much sense of responsibility. ###
DAY ONE OF THE 24TH LIFESTORY JOURNALONG.
Mon., August 1, 2016
On Sunday mornings when we lived in the country and I was old enough—10 or so—I’d go into town with my dad and he’d let me sit on his
lap and steer the car, a 1939 Buick. After a while I was tall enough to see over the wheel and able to drive, I guess I could reach the
pedals, and he would allow me to sit in the drivers seat and steer and do the whole thing. I can’t believe now that I was that young, but
that’s what it was.
At 14 I got a license to drive “to and from school and on errands for my parents.” Which meant, really, you could drive to Timbucktoo. June
told me that she drove an old Model A that belonged to her father and then to her big brother and always kept an egg carton or two
on the back seat to prove that she was on an errand for her parents—delivering eggs.
Of course on the farm and on the roads around it kids of 8 or 9 drove tractors and trucks.
When I was fifteen, I bought my first car, a 1934 Chevy four door sedan. I paid Gene Guerrant $100 for the thing, an old faded red car that
ran just fine and that he called the Red Beetle. So the Red Beetle became my first car. I drove it for a couple of years until the tranny gave
out and, I think, the brakes. My friends Tony Alderson and Larry Brumm helped me roll it down to Julian’s Auto Wrecking on Pottawatomie
Street. Julian came out and looked at it. “The body’s in fine shape,” I said. I told him the obvious about the transmission and the brakes.
Julian said nothing, just looked it over. I probably started it up and showed him how it ran. Still he said nothing. Finally he spoke. “Three
dollars,” he said.
“It’s got a full tank of gas,” I protested. I showed him the fuel gauge. “See, it’s full.” He barely glanced at that, but got a stick and took off
the cap to the tank and put it down in there and pulled it out and examined it. It was full. “Four dollars more for the gas,” he said. “Seven
dollars.” He started toward the little shack where he had his office. I followed. Julian counted out seven ones and I signed a slip of paper.
My friends wanted him to give us a ride to Aggieville. Julian shook his head. “You’ll have to hoof it, boys,” he said with a laugh.
And so we did. The seven dollars went quickly at the Hole in One Club, the famous pool hall on Manhattan Avenue in the heart of
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 about life.
When my brother and I were acting up or somehow being more or less obstreperous, Dad would laugh and say, Boys, boys! Someday YOU’
LL be teachers. This, he once explained to me, was something that one of his schoolteachers would say to his class when they were
He was more listener than talker, more doer than contemplater.
He was proud of his athletic prowess. He had been a track star, and in fact in teacher’s college in Platteville, Wisconsin, he had been a
four-letter man in athletics, and he was a good student too. When he decided not to be a career teacher after a couple of years at a rural
school and went to medical school at the University of Wisconsin, he was a good student. He always said he was an average medical
student. But he made a good doctor and practiced for 44 years—from 1932 to 1976, most of it in Manhattan, Kansas. For years he was the
only eye, ear, nose and throat specialist for many miles.
He had a loving wife and three children. I am honored to be one of them.
He retired in 1976 but didn’t really enjoy it. He had defined himself as a doctor and when he was no longer a doctor he felt he had (to use
a phrase that he used to more or less ironically say, with a laugh and a toss of his head)…he had “outlived his usefulness.”
He died by his own hand at the age of 80, what I would call a rational suicide. He had Parkinsonism and had lived with it for about five
years and the medications he had used were not helping that much. He was losing his mobility. He wasn’t happy. He had done his work,
he had provided for his family all these years, and he had provided for his widow. And so he went.
We all mourned him. That was thirty-three years ago, 1983; but we mourn him still. We miss him. He was a brave, kind and
beautiful human being. In my head, which really is where the action is, I talk to him every day. ###
DAY TWENTY-TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., July 22, 2016
We went to Costco for the pizza. Well, not really: obviously we had some shopping to do but they have a food court that has very good
pizza for two bucks a slice, and the slice is about two acres. We got the pepperoni. June also wanted a big diet pepsi. I said go ahead
and get us a table and I'll get it. So I did, came back to the table with everything and promptly knocked over the pepsi, nearly spilling it
onto a couple sitting a few feet away at the same table.
I began apologizing and wiping it all up. The lady gave me her napkins and laughed and June gave me more napkins and I got some more
too. No problem, got it cleaned up in no time and went on eating. We started talking to the folks I'd nearly pepsied, and soon learned that
they'd lived here for years but (I guess June asked them this as I was folding the acre of pizza into my mouth) he had come out here just
stopping on the way to Alaska but the job there fell through and so he ended up staying here in Washington.
They were a nice looking well kept couple maybe in their early 70s. He had been a cosmetics salesman, and he talked about that. He had
worked for Avalon or Revalon, something like that, of which he said, Good company.
We talked about selling and how you had to work at it but it was a good living. I told him one of my sons was a salesman of school buses
and he worked very hard. He seemed to want to talk and so I didn't get into my selling of memoir writing workshops and the
They finished up their eating and stood up and we all said how glad we were to have met one another and they ambled off and we put our
stuff in the trash receptacle and went about our shopping. It's a big wide world, I went away thinking, and everyone has a hustle. We all
have to hustle. We come naked and screaming into this world and eventually we all settle down in a corner of it and make
ourselves more or less useful and live out our lives. That's how it works.
I am grateful to be part of it. That's about all I have to say for myself this morning. I'm a more or less happy camper and I'm grateful to be
part of the great whirling anthill we call earth. ###
DAY TWENTY-ONE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., July 21, 2016 posted at 510 am PST at Olympia Washington...this morning!
There I go, thinking again about what I'm going to write. No no no. I need to write and find out what I think: I don't want to think and then
write. That hasn't worked for me.
And so I launch, I stoop over (painfully) and light the fuse that lifts off the rocket for today.
This is, after all, a journal, and not a stone tablet left on a mountaintop. I'm not writing the Ten Commandments...thank God!
Sixty-one years ago today I was enjoying my first full day as a seaman apprentice in the U. S. Navy. I was 17.5 years old. I weighed 129
pounds. Today I'm going to be stripped of my civilian clothing and issued a uniform that doesn't fit. I'm going to have all my hair cut off and
left on the floor--er, the deck. People are going to laugh at what I look like. When ten weeks later I went home on what they called "boot
leave" my father looked at my ID card picture and at my stated rank NONRATED and he laughed. I never forgot that. Dad was 39 when he
went in the Army and he started out with the rank of Captain. But still he laughed.
A resentment, we are told, is a poison. In fact, it is a situation where you drink the poison and expect the person you resent to die. That's
about it. It's not really very smart.
Ten or fifteen years ago when I saw for the first time since boyhood my old school pal Jim Bascom I reminded him that he had given me a
friendly laughing push in the 4th grade and called me Four Eyes when I wore glasses for the first time. (Glasses in those days were rare in
children.) Jim looked at me and smiled. "And you've held onto that memory all this time." "Yeah," I said, and gave him a little push but
I was just blustering and trying to save myself from the embarrassment that I felt. It was a spiritual lesson.
Today I'm grateful to be somewhat teachable. My grand-daughter, Adah, teaches me every day with her innocence and willingness. If I say
to her, Look, here's how to make a paper airplane, and she watches my every move with the paper as I fold it and show it to her and sail it
across the room. See? She nods happily and wants to imitate what I did, and she does.
She has the humility to be willing to learn something new. I wish I could say I was like that, but all too often I say quickly, Oh, I know.
I know. I went to Paper Airplane school: I've got a Ph.D. in paper airplane making!
Of course I do not have a Ph.D. in anything. One of the great shames of my life is that I never finished my Ph.D. In fact I barely started: I
went half a semester as a Ph.D. candidate and then I met June and fell in love and together we went to our own private graduate school. It
has worked for us these forty-five years. I'm content. But now and then I'm walking along and someone comes at me out of the crowd and
says, Where'd you get your Ph.D.? and I am ashamed all over again and I peep something about not finishing and I hurry away. ###
Wed., July 20, 2016
To write well, you have to be willing to write badly. Wannabe writers can't do this. Their egos just can't take it, or even the possibility that
they might write badly, so they do nothing. They live day to day in misery and fantasy saying well, when I'm inspired (or some such self-talk
malarkey), I'll write beautifully. Someday. Of course that day never comes.
I know this, because I've been like that. That's what led me into journaling, which is simply defined as writing every day no matter what.
And being satisfied with that. If today I'm bored out of my skull or whatever and I write Uga-uga-boo, uga-boo-boo uga, that's okay. I count
the words there and add them to my daily quota--300 or 500 or whatever goal I've set. And then I move on.
But mostly I don't write uga-uga-boo (which actually are quoted lines from an old Phil Harris song, Bingle bangle bungle I don't wanna
leave the jungle/I refuse to go), instead I just write up something. Usually in the course of the day I've jotted down an idea or two in the
little composition book I carry with me everywhere using the gel pen I carry with me everywhere.
I'm a nut about that. If I start out to town and I find a couple of miles down the road that I don't have my little book (pocket-size) and my pen
with me, I turn around and go back. I can hardly begin to relate how many ideas I've lost because I didn't have paper and pen. No, it's not
true as our teachers and parents said that if it's really important, you'll think of it sooner or later. Not so. In fact it's really important there's
a good chance you won't think of it again because it's too scary an idea--in psychological terms, you'll repress it.
So I go back and get my pen and then I open that little book when I sit down to journal.
I once met and had the opportunity to chat a few minutes with a man who had won the Nobel Prize in physics, and when he said something
I thought very interesting I took out my little book and jotted a note or two, and he said, Oh, you use those too. I love them, don't you?
(These miniature composition books had just appeared on the market a year or so before.) And he showed me his. But I don't think he
wrote down any notes about what I said. #journalong
DAY NINETEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., July 19, 2016
We have gotten a new mattress. Not only did the new mattress cost us a lot of money, it cannot be used for 48 hours after being unpacked
so we have put it in place and took the old mattress and put in on the floor and so we are basically sleeping on the floor, which isn't any
fun. So I woke up kind of grumpy and definitely on the wrong side of bed.
I have had now and then some depression. Depression in old age is probably as inevitable as wrinkles. I haven't had a lot, but I have
found a cure for mine: get up and sing Merrily we roll along, roll along; or Some Enchanted Evening if you think you're Ezio Pinza; or at
least get up and make the coffee and pretend you're not depressed. That relieves me of my depression and soon I am sitting here
happily--more or less happily--writing for all the world to see.
Remember that old song: Lucky, lucky, lucky me...I work 8 hours a day, I sleep 8 hours, that leaves 8 hours for play! Wonderful song!
And so I am lucky. In fact I'm considering changing my name from Charley to Lucky. Maybe it will improve my luck.
Years ago a guy named Alfred Couee, a Frenchman, said you should get up every morning and look in the mirror and say, "Day by day in
every way, I am getting better and better..".and gradually you will. I think Alfie was right: it's a cheap cure.
I think now I mentioned Alfie just the other day. Sorry, but it's been on my mind. Old people are granted the right to repeat
themselves now and then.
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
My dad was one of the ten or so doctors in town, an MD specializing in diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat. He was, as I liked to
say—smartass kid that I was—he was an ophthalmologist and an otorhinolaryngologist. My mom was a housewife and mother, as nearly all
married women were then. Later she became a serious amateur golfer, in the summer playing nearly all day long, day in and day out.
But during the War years, like so many women, she did a man’s work (as we used to call it) and bought a house and ran the
household with some help from her own father and mother, who lived with us until they died, first my grandmother in 1943 and then my
grandfather in 1950.
My father’s father, who was called G.R. by nearly everyone, was the village blacksmith in Rewey, Wisconsin. He died in 1943 when I was 5,
and I only met him a few times and do not remember him at all, I am sorry to say. He was a kind and wonderful man, I understand, and a
ready and willing fisherman who, when the fish were biting down on the Pecatonica River, would close up the shop and get his sons and
his pole and go fishing for trout and everything else, fish no doubt a staple in the family diet—the staple, probably—and something my
father wanted for supper as often as possible but that my mother rarely provided, as she didn’t like fish. Whenever we went out
to dinner, Dad always ordered the trout.
And that’s how I was raised. My father wasn’t a drunk, he didn’t beat his wife, we always had food on the table, I had a brother and a sister
and I grew up surrounded by love and family. I was a very, very lucky boy. ###
DAY SIXTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., July 16, 2016
In my junior year of high school I decided I wanted to go out into the wide world and so my pal Johnny Rush and I got into his spiffy 1947
Chevy Fleetwood (two tone blue, midnight blue and royal blue) and in the middle of the night snuck out of our respective houses and left
home. I left my parents a note saying I was running away and not to blame themselves [sic] and that it was time, I was after all, 15 years old.
I have told this story elsewhere, about going down to New Orleans and then somehow making it back home just in time for Christmas. I
have to tell a bit of it here, again, in order to explain why my senior year in high school was only one semester: I was so embarrassed (to
be honest for once) that I had come home with my tail between my legs after I had told everybody I was going to jump ship in NO and sail
the Seven Seas and, of course, write and become world famous like maybe Jack London, only a better writer.
So I wouldn't go back to school. My parents were concerned that I wasn't finishing high school. In those quaint days the thought that you
could be self-educated was too radical to be entertained. And I felt it. Everyone asked me, "And are you in high school?" and I'd hang my
head and try to explain but I just knew they thought I was some kind in ineducable bum. HANDS TIED BECAUSE YOU LACK A HIGH SCHOOL
EDUCATION? was a popular headline on ads in the back of magazines and even, for the love of God, on matchbook covers.
This brought me to write to the American School in Chicago (the ad was theirs) and enroll in a correspondence course. Meantime,
I worked three jobs: I worked for Mr. Graham, the printer, downtown, "after school" and on Saturdays. (I couldn't bring myself to tell Mr.
and Mrs. Graham, who were like grandparents to me, that I had quit school.) I worked for Mid-Central Theaters taking tickets in the
evenings. And I worked 8 to 4 during the day in a small factory that made rubber stamps.
Then at the theater job I met a girl and we started dating and she was in high school and that lured me back to high school at mid-term, in
January, 1955. I had to take a course also from K-State by correspondence in Kansas history and I didn't get the word on finishing
that until about 2 hours before graduation on that rainy and stormy night in May. The power went off during the commencement and
someone broke out candles and we had a candlelight graduation, pretty cool. So I by the skin of my teeth got to graduate with my regular
And that was my senior year at MHS in Manhattan, Kansas.###
DAY FIFTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., July 15, 2016
I love my routine. Some people are bored stiff by their routines but I live by mine. It's the way I get things done, and getting things done is
the meaning of my life. Sorry, Buddha, but that's the way it is: I am here to work.
But I am lucky that I get to define my work myself. I don't have to shower and shave and jump in my car and get on the freeway and hurry to
get to the job on the dot of eight or nine. I don't punch any clock but my own.
Well--not usually. But this coming Monday we'll get up early and do exactly that--we have to go to Seattle and do a workshop in memoir
writing at the big Seattle Central Downtown Library. Now that Library is quite a place...it's a huge ultramodern (as we used to say back in
the day) building downtown that looks like something your ingenious child made with his erector set rather than a staid old
library building like the one Miss Brooks presided over back in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas.
Hers was a Carnegie Library of the kind that old Andy Carnegie caused to be built all over America more than a hundred years ago, a more
or less small and squat stone building with lots of shelves with lots of books and with a lady like Miss Brooks to go around sweetly and
firmly shushing the children and using her pencil with the clever little date due stamp on it. She had a sweet smile as she told you you
could only check out five books at a time, so you had to take that sixth one back and put it on the shelf, and to be sure to put it in the right
place so the next child would be able to find it.
Miss Brooks lived on and on. Her hair got grayer and grayer and one day she was no longer there. Her routine was done. Isn't
it wonderful, I mean isn't it an honor to occupy a place in the world for a certain length of time and then move on? I know that somewhere
in some Manhattan cemetery MIss Brooks has been laid to rest, date stamp and all. Now that is living the routine, isn't it? ###
DAY FOURTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., July 14, 2016
Today is the midway point of this LifeStory Journalong. I hope you are writing along with me, a few hundred words every day. The idea is
not necessarily to write well, the simple idea is to fix the habit of writing.
And so this morning I write to express my gratitude to the Veterans Administration which provides me with some of the several
medications I need to take every day. I am grateful also to the pharmaceutical companies--yes, Big Pharma--for their ability to do the
research and production of these medications that make the quality of my life--and of so many of our lives--better than they would
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 others.
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
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,
I remember it used to be considered very bad form to end a sentence with a preposition. Some wag announced that and said, "This is
something up with which we will not put."
My writing begins with what is in my heart. I come to believe by unpacking my heart that I have something to say. I want to communicate
with you. I don't give a damn about my prepositional phrases, or yours. Just imagine, you're in love and you're proposing to your honey, or
about to, and you search for just the right prepositional phrases to ask her.
Please stop the world: I want to get off here.
Or, as Olde Walt said, "I go bathe and admire myself."
I have written many times about how learning to type helped my writing. I learned to type fast (courtesy of the US Navy) and the faster I
typed the better I wrote because I didn't have the time to think while I wrote. Today I write rapidly and in a kind of meditative mode as I do
so. I'm very grateful for that.#journaling
DAY ELEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 11, 2016
We had been married six months and we were both 19 years old when I got orders to sea duty. I had been in the Navy nearly two years and
I was a Yeoman, Third Class. I was to report to the Military Sea Transportation Service in Brooklyn, New York. Betsy and I had a new 1957
Chevy and we wanted some adventure, so we drove together to New York.
When we came out of the New York end of the Holland Tunnel and into the traffic we were both stunned. We had never seen traffic like
this. It was like being among bumper cars at a giant amusement park...we just kind of went the way we were forced to by the rest of the
traffic. Everyone honked at us. Policemen blew their whistles. Fists were shaken and death threats were made. We looked at one another
in absolute 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 had nearly graduated from college...she was competent. And I'd go to work in the morning on a subway and be a New Yorker
and I'd come home and give her a kiss while she made supper for us and I went into the living room of our cozy little New York apartment
and I'd sit in an overstuffed chair and read the New York Times and watch the evening news on our teevee. Life would be just like it was
in Norman, Oklahoma, where we'd been living since we'd gotten married back in January, except that now and then I'd take a little
But the Mohawk Hotel was a weird, even creepy place. They had a dining room and when we went downstairs to eat dinner everyone
stared at us like we were weird. They were ancient! Everyone was at least 100 years old. It turned out to be a hotel for retired people...
something we'd never heard of. No one was friendly or unfriendly. It was like being in a museum. We talked in low tones. Next morning we
checked out and somehow drove to the base and I reported in while Betsy waited in the car, or maybe went to the cafeteria across the
street from the main entrance to get a coffee. We were playing everything by ear.
They told me then that, no, I would not be doing an 8 to 5 and living off the base, no, I was going out next day on a ship bound for
Bremerhaven, Germany. Further investigation, that is, asking other guys in white hats, revealed that this was in MSTS and we steamed 27
out of 30 days a month. Send your wifie back home, one sailor told me. New York is no place for a woman living alone.
One of my regrets is, and maybe one of Betsy's too (we have long since been divorced and are not in touch)--that we didn't ignore that
advice and stay. But a few hours' talk and we decided to opt for Plan B: Betsy would go home and live with my parents in Manhattan and
finish up her college work at K-State. I would do what the Navy would do with me. I would sail the bounding main.
I was in for an adventure.###
DAY TEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., July 10, 2016
Today is so brimming with things to say about it that I hardly know where to begin. It’s 5 am here in Olympia, Washington, the sky is cloudy
and rain looks imminent and what else is new? We don’t have uncertain weather here: it’s just certain it will almost always be cloudy and
very cool. I am coming to love it.
When I was a kid of eight or ten I wrote lots of letters—why aren’t you surprised?—and sometimes when I was writing to other kids I would
address the letter something like this, believing that I was being quite witty:
455 East Troy St.
United States of America
I’m sure the post office found that amusing. Now, and I’ll never get over being amazed at this, it is not only possible, in some ways it is
unavoidable that when you get on Facebook (for example) you are writing to everyone in the world.
True, when I log onto Facebook I see that there is some anger and hatred being expressed, but 90% of what I see is good stuff,
even great stuff, and it warms my simple heart to see it: people wishing one another a happy birthday, congratulating one another on the
beauty of a new grandchild, a clever joke/cartoon, friends re-connecting after many years…it’s Old Walt Whitman’s America and beyond:
I hear the world singing.
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
So be it. Did you know that "Amen" is Latin, isn't it? for "so be it." That's probably a digression too...###
DAY EIGHT OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fr., July 8, 2016
One of the games I play with myself when I can’t get started writing is Time Machine. I go back to ten years ago, twenty years ago…fifty
years ago. And I try to remember where I was then and what I was doing and then I write up a reconstructed/imagined moment from
my life then.
So today let’s go back 40 years. It was July 8, 19…1976. OMG, 1976! A sweet year, a sweet time.
I was 38 years old, young and healthy and certainly in the best physical shape I’d ever been. I had been on the farm for the last
three years and most of my days were made up of hard manual labor. With a kind of grim satisfaction I felt I was more like a horse than a
man: I carried a heavy oak endgate for my truck up steps and fitted into its slots and bolted it into place, I moved fifty concrete blocks
from behind the shop to the house where I was going to build a little wall in the basement, I fixed a flat on the car, I carried in groceries, I
carried my nine month old son into the house from the car and played with him for half an hour while his mother and my wife started
supper…I did this, I did that.
And I loved it. I loved the physicality of it all, the feel of my muscles working, the stream of sweat running down my body, the easy flow of
blood in my veins, the can do feelings—I’ll get this, I’ll get that.
I put Ben into the Johnnie Jump Up and gently started him swinging. He squawked for a few seconds when I put him down but then
he felt the easy swinging of his body—his physicality—and stopped and looked around as if examining himself and his world. I clucked to
him and knelt and kissed his sweet head, inhaling the aroma of it—nothing smells sweeter than a baby’s skin—and then I got up and
walked over to where June was standing taking grocs out of the paper sack and grabbed her from behind and pulled her to me and
kissed the back of her neck and hugged her and murmured how I loved her, and she turned slightly and murmured something back.
I let go and went back to Ben, gave him another slight push, said over my shoulder, “I’ll go change that tire,” and marched out the door.
June was lucky to have made it home. The tire was pretty low. Another couple of miles. How would she have walked home, carrying a
nine month old in this heat?
I opened the trunk and got out the jack, assembled it, and raised the car a few inches, got the lug wrench, loosened all the nuts on the
wheel, then jacked it so the tire was completely off the ground…and in another couple of minutes I was all done and dusting myself
off and going back to the real work and I picked up a sack of Portland cement (94 pounds) and carried it to the little wall job I was going to
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
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 rutabaga.
What's the next word? Is. It just has to be is. The rutabaga is.
Okay, good. Keep going: don't lose the momentum. More!
The rutabaga is on the mat.
Whoa! Now you've suddenly got six words, and one of them has several syllables. What a writer!
What the hell is the rutabaga doing on my nice clean mat?
Go, Charley, go!
I just washed that mat. No I mean I scrubbed that mat, and now look. Rutabaga on my mat, and it's all green and slimy and rotten. A rotten
rutabaga on my wonderful mat!
So I've begun. I even have a title: can you guess? THE RUTABAGA!
I'll tell you a story, my Uncle Pete said, bouncing me on his knee. I'll tell you a story about Uncle Tom Dory: and now my story's begun.
I'll tell you another about his brother...and now my story is done! ###
DAY FIVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., July 5, 2016
My mother was born Lillian Mae Isaacs on March 5,1909. Her father was Lewis Clinton Isaacs, a sometime farmer and laborer, and her
mother was Lizzie Lee Knight Isaacs. Gramps, whom I knew very well and thought of as a second father during the War years when my
father was in North Africa, died in 1950; Grandma died in 1943, so I knew her much less well.
She was born in West Port, Kentucky (as I mentioned a couple of days ago) but early on moved upriver to a town called Kosmosdale, now
part of Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky. Gramps evidently went to work at the Kosmosdale Cement plant, and this may account for
his lung problems later in his life and which led him, late in life--80, actually--to such a state of difficulty that he took his own life by
shooting himself through the forehead with his .22 rifle.
Mom grew up in Louisville and Indianapolis. So she was a city girl, but ended up in Manhattan, Kansas--where she lived out her life and
died just one day before her 88th birthday on March 4, 1997.
I don't know where I'm going with this, and thanks to God you don't have to be organized in a journal. In fact, in my opinion, you
should NOT be organized in a journal. A journal should reflect the seemingly random and quixotic if not chaotic state of your own mind.
Thoughts come to us and we write some of them down.
Over the years I have had many, many thoughts about my mother and I have written many of them down here. If I live long enough I may
collect those journal thoughts into some kind of organized memoir of my mother. I would like to do that to honor that and to preserve
something of her legacy to me and to all of us in our family and even beyond. She was a remarkable woman and her life ought to be
Now, it may be that the neuroscientists of the future, maybe even of the near future, will find that one's ancestors are received in genetic
form entirely and passed on. I mean, if we know that one's eye color is genetically transmitted--and of course we do know that--then may it
not be that somehow, someway, the fact that Mom liked fried chicken be in there too? And even that one day in 1978 she made an
excellent peach cobbler and served it to her family at 232 Pine Drive, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502?
After all, if the zybogloptin is truly connected kosmotically to the kyrie platelets...well, isn't it more or less obvious?###
FOUR OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., July 4, 2016
On July 4, 1947, I decided that I'd heard enough. So I rared back on my nine-year-old feet and threw a Chinese firecracker at nothing in
particular. Those little gems--"Chinesers" we called them--had a very, very short fuse, and this one was maybe even shorter and it
exploded in my right ear. I had for some hours a ringing sound in that ear and for some days sore fingers, maybe even a little bloody--and
I think about 25% hearing loss in my right ear.
I fared better than some of my compatriot celebrants of that time--facial burns from magnesium flares, front teeth gone forever, lost eyes
and I don't know what all. I remember the day too well, so pardon me if I don't grab my packet of punk and get out there and set off the
explosives with you.
I guess the day does have something to do with the independence of this nation and eating fried chicken and potato salad. I'll opt for that.
Today I don't hear much anyway. I have a pair of hearing aids for which I thank the Lord and modern technology, though at times I
think the lower tech ear trumpet works better. I put my hand behind my right ear and lean forward as far as I can and sometimes I actually
hear what is being said.
One day back when I used to get haircuts I went to Junior's in Aggieville and perched in his chair and watched a little TV as Junior buzzed
around my head. To my astonishment little words appeared on the screen and I read what I couldn't hear. "That's called
closed captioning, Charley," Junior (whose real name was Hector and he was a pureblooded Frenchman from up around Clyde, Kansas)--
Junior, whose hearing wasn't all that great, led me into the world of words under pictures, which I hadn't heard of before then.
I ran home and with a lot of effort got my remote to get around to captions and I got them going and have never looked up since. Junior
was one of the pantheon of good guys in my head--in the head of half of Manhattan, Kansas, actually. He cut hair and amiably dispensed
wisdom and advice when asked. He died a couple three years ago in his upper 70s, way too young. He had his station there on
the corner off 11th and Moro for forty or more years. They should actually rename the street for him. Who remembers Moro? I'll bet he
couldn't cut hair for sour apples. But Junior could, and now I can't think of his beautiful French last name. ###
DAY THREE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., July 3, 2016
My mother was born in West Port, Kentucky, a village on the banks of the great Ohio River not far from the city of Louisville. So far as I
know no one in her family had any religious ideas or inklings or...inclinations. My father was born up north in Platteville, Wisconsin, and
raised in a village called Rewey not far from the great Mississippi River. In that village was an American Lutheran Church which was
sometimes attended. I suppose both of my parents were somehow baptised but it didn't take.
Essentially we were heathens.
Sunday mornings we read the newspapers, slept late, mowed the lawn, had a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs. My father, a doctor, would
go to the hospital to see patients, and sometimes to his office to see someone who had something in his eye or an impacted sinus. After
Sunday dinner he'd sometimes drive out far into the country to make a housecall. I learned to drive by going with him and sitting on
his lap on a deserted road and steering and shifting the gears when he told me to. My feet couldn't reach the pedals.
I was baptised in the largest church in Manhattan, the big Methodist Church downtown because my parents were new in the community
and, no doubt, it would help Dad build his practice. We even attended a few times, I am told. But soon Dad's practice was burgeoning
and it was more important to see patients on Sunday than it was to go to church, and my mother had even less of the fire of religion in her
than my father, if that was possible, so we didn't go at all.
In the late 40s when we still lived in the country I came across a bible story book by one Elsie E. Egermeier, something like that, a name
with a lot of e's. It had some color pictures and was a collection of stories that were, I guess, taken from the Bible. (A copy of which we
might have had somewhere around the house.) I read and liked these stories. If I had any questions about these stories I'd asked my
father and he'd look dubious and suggest I ask my mother. When I asked my mother, she'd suggest I ask my father.
Not that I was that curious. Other kids went to church on Sundays and we read newspapers (we took four daily papers) and Time and Life
magazines. Around the 6th grade or so I got curious about what happened in churches and went on my own a few times--my father would
drop me off on the way to the hospital--but again, it just wasn't compelling.
So when I grew up and got married, it was surprising that in all three of the families I married into (I'm a serial marrier, for sixty years I've
been married to somebody or other)--all of them prayed at the table before a meal. And they meant it. I didn't know how to act. I had never
seen anything like it.###
TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., July 2, 2016
As a sleeper, I am regularly irregular. I'll have five or ten days of blissful nights where I go to bed and 10 or 11 and wake up at 5 and I'm
rested and I feel great.
Then there are nights like this one, and they, too, come in fives or tens. So tonight here I am, middle of the night, and June's
softly snoring and dead to the world and I...oh, my mind is running like a race car in a circus act! The latest thing was, just before I gave up
and got up here to write this, the latest thing was music. In my head I sang On Top of Old Smokey because before bed we watched an old
movie, The Big Country, with Burl Ives in it, and of course that was his song...a ballad about how the singer lost his true lover for courting
to slow. Then I sang (I sing so beautifully in my head) Down In the Valley, you know that one about the valley so low? And then Sewannee
River, as in way down upon, and then I finished that set with a song I don't know the name of, have not heard (aside from in my own head)
since I first and last heard it on the old WBBM Music 'til Dawn Show in the early 50s, this little ditty: Oh Frances, Oh Frances, oh please tell
me whyyyyy/Your mother is calling and you don't replyyyyy. The soup it is boiling and the cow's in the corn! You mother is calling for you to
After repeating all those songs and a dozen others a maddening number of times, I'll have a little riff of money troubles, or no one really
loves me, or why don't I do this or why don't I do that...and then I get disgusted with that so I try meditating and for a minute or two I'll
breathe and breathe and breathe and think of nothing else. And then I get sick of that.
Hmmm, what's next? I'll try a sex fantasy or two..yes, even at my age. Old men never stop thinking about it, never. I'll bet my last thought is
of that good looking babe of a nurse who is putting pennies on my eyelids. Anymore, those thoughts don't usually lead anywhere, so I
revert to all the people I loaned money too over the years who haven't paid me back...that guy in a bar who asked to "borrow" fifty cents,
that kid in high school I earnestly loaned $5 and found out a week later, when he was supposed to pay me back, that he had run off and
joined the Air Force...
Finally somewhere in there, not infrequently when feeble daylight glimmers, God grants me the serenity to fall asleep.###
DAY ONE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., July 1, 2016
I have always been enchanted with words and I have always loved to write. I didn't always want to start, but once I started, I usually stayed
with it until I'd told my story or made my point. So I had to make it a habit to start, and then I was willing and able to go on.
My father went to war in North Africa when I was barely 4, if that, and didn't come back until I was 8, so I don't remember him ever reading
to me. My mother must have, though, and she was largely responsible for my learning to read. My big brother, Hal, might have read to me
some...I don't know, don't remember. At that time, 1942 to 1946, my mother's parents lived with us--well, Grandma died in 1943, but Gramps
may have read to me. We had books, we were literate people, newspaper readers very definitely. I know I read the comic strips and
it was in reading those aloud to my mother that I learned to read. We always had a dictionary around, too, so I learned early on how to look
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
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
I think maybe lots of us want to write that first time out, thinking that it’s less work. It might be less work for the fingers but it’s more for
the head, more worry, less pleasure. Over time, your worries should abate and your pleasure should increase.
If writing is going to be like that—all worry and no pleasure—well why not take up some other line of work? If you just did the 28 day
journalong for the month of June, if you’ve done 300, 400 or 500 words a day and now Day 29 you don’t want to write, if it’s all pain and no
pleasure, then you can honestly say you’ve tried and—well, take a break and ask yourself (in writing) if maybe you’re trying to be perfect,
or are too judgmental, or are asking too much of yourself.
Then come back July 1 and together we’ll start another Journalong. ###
DAY 28 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tue., June 28, 2016
I went to the doctor yesterday and of course June went with me, as I go to her appointments with her. Two are better than one, we figure. I
had had a barium swallow esophageal exam and I was here to get the results. Knowing we might have to wait, we took reading material
in—June a novel she was reading and I the New York Times, which I get every day and which we’d just picked up out of the blue tube box
next our mail box. I didn’t mind waiting at all if I could read the news of the day. We were beckoned right in but then in the little room we
had to wait to see the doctor. So I read the headlines and one or two articles, munching happily away on the newspaper as I do nearly
every morning of the world, a lifelong habit I have no desire to break.
The doctor came and we talked about dietary and lifestory changes I should make to minimize the effects of GERD, one of the many
acronym conditions I have. Cut down on coffee, no onions, no garlic, and so on. Only the cutting down on coffee bothered me. Coffee
drinking is another lifelong habit I don’t want to break: but I agreed I would.
When we left and got out to the car I realized I’d left my paper behind in the treatment room. Oh my. So I went back for it and asked the
receptionist if she could possibly get it for me. I looked at her earnestly and apologized for troubling her. Oh, no problem, she said
cheerfully and got up and went down the hall to where the treatment rooms are. I looked around at this giant facility that someone said
used to be an Office Depot store. People were waiting, receptionists were asking questions and typing things into computers, people
were coming and going.
Here came the young lady, no paper. They’ve already thrown it away, she said. Oh, I said, a little taken aback. I would happily go look for it,
pick through the trash and then I thought they probably wouldn’t let me do that. It might not be sanitary, bloody bandages and all that. So I
said thanks and sorry for the trouble, and left.
Back in the car I told June about the paper. Knowing how much the paper meant to me, she said a surprised little Oh, and nothing
else. Oh, well, I said. I saw the headlines. But all the way home I felt bereft and, truthfully, undone. I know that no one except a few old
people read the newspaper every day, but I am one such and a good newspaper is important to me.
When I was a boy growing up in the 40s and 50s everybody in my family read the newspaper and we sometimes argued over whose turn it
was. We took four daily papers and read all of them: The Kansas City Times in the morning, the Kansas City Star in the evening; the Topeka
Daily Capital; the Manhattan Mercury and, I almost forgot, while it lasted, the Manhattan Tribune News. Later in college at the University of
Wisconsin I found I was able to buy for fifty cents (!) the New York Times, which then was developing a national edition. This greatly
enhanced my newspaper reading because the New York Times is really a very good newspaper that not only gives the news in depth and
length but also great backgrounders and unexpectedly interesting stories about housebuilding in Tibet, say, or reviews of new books or
plays or…what you will.
Here in Olympia that last time I bought a copy of that illustrious rag, a banner headline—I kid you not, a headline all the way across the
newspaper—declared that the city fathers and mothers had voted to install a new port-a-potty downtown. In an urban area like this, the
state capital and home to about 250K people, a new port-a-potty was the big news for the day. Cut to the crossword puzzle and the comics
and that was it.
Well, I guess we should be glad: no news is good news.###
DAY 26 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., June 26, 2016
I was late getting around this morning, and now it's a quiet Sunday afternoon where you are supposed to take a nap or watch a ball game
or, better yet, play a ball game.
I guess I could read a book. There's nothing on TV. How can there be so many programs on TV and yet there's nothing on?
And books. I have re-read about 2/3 of Oliver Twist but now I'm bogged down in it.
The worst thing one can say about oneself is to say, "I'm bored!" As if it were the job of the universe to find you something to do that you
can call interesting. It's really a terrible comment on one's own imagination--on my own imagination. "I'm bored" = "I'm boring."
Before I do anything I have to write a few more words here just to keep the Journalong going.
Four hundred years ago Shakespeare died. Maybe he was bored, I don't know. A hundred years ago the Irish had an uprising...didn't
You know, when I was in school I loved to read but I never would read what I was supposed to read. Especially poetry---arghhh! But I
always read the magazines we had spread out on the coffee table at home, especially the jokes therein. The "Postscripts" page of the
Saturday Evening Post was a favorite. I read a poem there by the late great Richard Armour, a master of doggerel if there ever was one,
and so I memorized and remember to this day at least the first stanza or two of a poem about boredom called "Ho-hum!"
I'm really quite bored
by the famous Lost Chord.
I openly sneer at great art.
I yawn in the faces
of folks at the races--
and don't even watch
when they start.
As I frequently say,
I'm quite, quite blase--
The world and its ways
make me tired.
I'm so little impressed
I seldom get dressed--
And then only wear
It went on like that for three or four more verses. I loved it. I was in the 7th grade. I copied it out and posted it on the inside door of my
locker at school. I was so sophisticated then. I mean, blase. ###
DAY 25 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., June 25, 2016
This is the 66th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. I have written about the late afternoon (Sunday I think) when I was 12 years old
and listening to Terry and the Pirates on the radio and it was interrupted by an announcer who said that President Truman was sending US
troops into Korea for a “police action.”
That did not impact on me directly for eight years, when, as a member of the US Navy and the United Nations Command in Korea, I was a
member of the Military Department of the USNS General LeRoy Eltinge (T-AP 126) ship that transported the 9th Turkish Brigade from Izmir,
Turkey to Inchon, South Korea; and the 8th Turkish Brigade from Inchon to Yokohama, Japan and thence to Izmir, Turkey. We started in
our homeport in Brooklyn, New York in June and would have returned to there a couple of months later but for a small month-long
diversion to Beirut, Lebanon to take some other, US Army troops we picked up in Bremerhaven.
Truly, in my young life I was seeing the world through a port-hole, as we said back then. I couldn’t have had a better education than that
the US Navy gave me. College out of high school—whether Harvard or K-State, it didn’t matter—would have been a huge waste on me. I
didn’t want book-learning, I wanted adventure. And the Navy gave me that, and paid me handsomely too. (Joke.)
Actually in a sense I am still being paid as I get VA Benefits, chiefly my meds, very cheaply. One drug, Spiriva, would cost me about $500 a
month except that the VA gets it for me for $9. So that’s pretty good pay.
Truly, then and now, the Navy did far, far more for me than I did for it. Now and then someone will come up to me, seeing my Navy cap, and
thank me for my service. And I tell them that, that the Navy served me far more than I did it. Of course, that’s no so true now, these young
men and women who are going to Iraq or Afghanistan and actually fighting. The worst wound I got out of my 3.5 years of active duty was a
paper cut or two and I too zealously rolled another sheet into my typewriter.
And, mentioning typewriters, the Navy gave me the most useful gift I’ve ever gotten, bar none: the ability to use a keyboard. When
I joined in 1955, I could only use the “Columbus System,” as we called it then—you discover where the key you want is and then with one
finger extended, go after it.
The Navy fixed that, early on, putting me in a room for a few weeks and making me type several hours a day until I knew the keyboard
without looking. I got up to 35 wpm (words per minute) at that school in Bainbridge, Maryland, and by the time I was out on one of those
big old Underwood standards I could do 60 or 70 wpm, and now, with these wonderful spring-loaded machines we have today, I can type
100+ wpm—faster than I can think. I’m not kidding there, and I value that greatly, being about to outtype my mind. I write best when I write
so fast I don’t know what I’m writing until I write it and look back. That’s a great gift.
Thanks, Uncle! ###
DAY 24 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Fri., June 24, 2016
Good morning from the south end of the great Puget Sound, named for old Peter Puget. I don't really know what a sound is but
surely Pete gave his name to the most irregular looking body of water on earth.
In the stillness of the early morning I am probably the only one awake. Well, not really. My son Rip, aka Zippo, is already in his truck and
booming northward to Tacoma to work on the docks there. Well, no--now that I pause and listen--I hear him walking around upstairs,
hurrying with his coffee and toast...my youngest son. Soon, though, he will be among the millions on the great North/South artery
known as I-5 and heading north to the million-footed megalopolis.
The best thing I've done in my life is sire six children who have all grown to be adults from age 36 to 54. Quite a little population!
I'm not sure sire is the right word, but if it is, could I then qualify to be called Sire? I like that: Good morning, Sire! Will you have your
coffee now, Sire? I wonder if June, my beloved, would start calling me Sire? I don't think I'll push my luck. I am so grateful to be called
anything and to be here with my family, part of it, in good old PS.
An old man once came walking into a LifeStory workshop and we said hello and shook hands and he announced that most of his
future was behind him. I laughed, of course, and he did too: but I have thought of that nearly every day since then. Most of my future is
behind me! Hmmm....
The main thing is to be here, and I am happy to be here. The President of the US is in Seattle today, and among other things, he
is meeting with the President of Facebook, young Mark Zuckerberg. They are having a meeting and we're invited. Are you going? Mark
has done a lot for us, and will do a lot more as internet access spreads and covers the earth like a bucket of Sherwin-Williams.###
DAY 23 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 23, 2016
When I was a boy drinker in Aggieville, age about 15, when I started looking old enough to drink--the legal age then in Kansas was 18 for
3.2 beer, the only thing that was sold in a bar at that time--about 15 to 17.5 when I joined the great Canoe Club called the United States
Navy--in those early days of seeing taverns as my new schoolrooms, one of my hangouts was Chappy's Tap Room on Moro Street deep in
the heart of Aggieville.
Some of you may look, if you are kind enough to bother to look at all--some of you may look at my life and wonder why I was so
interested in drinking then at a time when most kids were going out for high school sports and serving on the Hi-Y council. The answer
isn't that I had such a craving for alcohol, but simply that I wanted to grow up, and this was my demented way of thinking I was a grown up.
Smoking cigarets, too--I looked so grown up with a long Pall Mall ciggie in my face.
Anyhow, Chappy's was one of my regular stops. We used to play a game after we had tilted a few that might have been called, if it had to
have a name, The Old Tavern. One of our illustrious number would, finding a smidgeon of space in our vigorous youthful
jabber, suddenly blurt out, There going to tear down the old tavern. Picking it up, we'd say in chorus, Oh, no! And then the guy, the
announcer you might call him, would say, But they're going to build a brand new one in its place. And we'd go, Yayyy! Then he'd go,
However (there was always a but or a however), they're raising the price of a glass of beer to fifteen cents! And we'd chorus, Boo! No!
They can't do this, etc.! He'd say, Scholarships will be available! Yea! Then, but you have to be at least 12! Yea! and so on until we
guzzled a few more glasses of Schlitz or 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
I know, I know: old people always complain about prices, and even if not asked, are likely to creak out some words to the effect that,
"In my day, sonny..."
In fact that may be what really causes us old folks to lose our grip and go south...or north, depending. It isn't disease that causes death...
it's prices. We go around all day remembering vividly when a sizeable candy bar cost a nickel, a phone call was nickel, and a postcard was
a penny and you could send a letter across the country for three cents. Then one day we walk into a store to get a sody pop and a Baby
Ruth and we get a nickel back out of a five dollar bill.
That's it! Thank you, sir! And we gasp and just keel over.###
21 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., June 21, 2016
Probably there are as many reasons for not writing a memoir/family history as there are people who say they want to write it. But usually
they boil down to four or five reasons that can be simply stated: 1, I don't know where to start and I can't get organized; 2, I can't think of
anything to write about; 3, I don't have the time; 4, I can't write; and 5, No one is interested in reading what I might have written, anyway.
I list these in no particular order. Over my long life as a writer I have used every one of these reasons at one time or another. In the last
thirty years, especially, I have been able to overcome all five of these objections through forming and acting daily on the habit of
journaling. In 52 years of more or less daily journaling, I have produced some twelve million words. This is not necessarily something to
brag about, though usually I manage to do it pretty well.
But today at this time in my life I find myself lingering more. I am having trouble thinking of things to write about. This is mostly because I
do not yet have a good index or way of searching all these words, and so I fear I'm writing about something that I've already written about.
I have digitized the Journal and it is in folders year by year from 1964 to 2016. That's a lot of searching. It's the proverbial needle in a
I still labor to generate prompts so that when I sit down here to write I will not have to use my writing time to think of what to write about. I
like to have a list of prompts at hand.
I have lived a long time and I have known, and know still, hundreds and hundreds of people. Thousands, probably. So this morning I'm
going to list a few of them by name--people I've known who have had some impact on my life. In every person I knew there is a story...or
two or three. I'll just rattle off a few of these folks so I have some work cut out for me, so I don't have to sweat and fume in front of a
Julia Bebermeier, Mary Johnston, John Buller, Nick Talarico...all were schoolteachers. Glenn and Elsie Graham, Dave Dallas, Earl (can't
think of his last name), Frank White, Lee Burress, Leon Lewis, Helen Corneli...all were employers or my supervisor. Merrill
Beauchamp, W. L. Llewellyn, Calvin West, Carl Meyer (still living), Julian L. Rutledge, all Navy personnel and my supervisors. Abe and
Belle Chapman, Edgar Wolfe, Dennis Quinn, Franklin Nelick, Art Langvardt, Walt Eitner, Alwyn Berland, Melvin Askew, all professors... I
could go on and on.
And so could you. Even if you aren't as ancient as me, you could easily list a hundred people you've known and have had some serious
and lasting influence on you. These can be prompts. They are gifts to us from the God of Stories. Try it...you'll like it. ###
DAY 20 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., June 20, 2016
Here we are 3/4 of the way through this 28 day Journalong, so maybe I'd better say again that the purpose of this thing is to encourage you
to write some words each day, too, so that you cement the habit of writing every day. I just write here, and if it's good writing, that's great,
but if it's not, that's equally great. If you write every day, day in and day out, you'll do some good writing, probably some bad writing,
probably some that's just okay, and no doubt some that's great. Pianists practice every day, gymnasts practice every day, why shouldn't
writers practice every day? The idea that you should write only when you're inspired to do so is just baloney.
And nothing that I say here in the Journalong reflects the opinions of LifeStory, the Institute or the Magazine or the Website--no opinion
but my own.
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
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 scales: 202.8
I put the shirt back on and went back to the bedroom and to the closet and got a fresh pair of underpants. Blue. Blue was okay. I didn’t
have blond pubic hair but blue would do. Who would know? Blue and gray. Actually, looking down now, I realized I didn’t have gray pubic
hair…yet. Would I, someday? Should I live so long? I had gone bald on my legs and arms and chest. I had a bald spot on the back of my
head that June kept telling me about.
I put on my street pants and my fake wool vest—it was cold—and went out to the kitchen and punched the coffee button. I sat down in my
place on the couch I use as a table, mostly, except of course for the place I sit.
I picked up the remote and turned on the television. The red dot indicating power came on, then the screen flickered and came on, the
volume murmured but I quickly pushed the mute button and muted it and the captions appeared under a fiery screen: fire in Sarasota,
Florida. Florida was really getting it these days. I stared. Traffic in Seattle. Weather in Pennsylvania. Obama and Biden lay wreaths.
Biden is wearing sunglasses. Why?
I got up and got my coffee. I used a black cup so in the semi-light here I had to be careful not to overflow the pour. I sat down again. I
sipped at the coffee.
Last night one of the last things I read was half an article in the AARP Bulletin about drinking hot liquids causing esophageal cancer. Dad
used to warn against that, fifty, sixty years ago. He was a good doctor. Now here I was, probably drinking my coffee too hot. 149 degrees,
the article said, and bingo, you get esophageal cancer. I should get a food thermometer. In Kansas we had one in the drawer. In
Kansas we had everything. Now we had very little. Was it better? I don’t know. What if I drank my coffee too hot and because I didn’t know
how hot and then I got esophageal cancer and then I died one day sooner than scheduled?###
DAY SIXTEEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 16, 2016
Okay, I've loafed around and slept and watched TV and went shopping even in order to avoid writing today. I sat here this morning,
nothing to write, empty as outer space, and couldn't think of anything to write. "I'm taking the day off," I said to June.
We went to a meeting, and afterward we drove over to the west side and while June shopped in a big mall I sat and read the newspaper.
June is looking for a new pair of glasses. This is major. She is a thorough shopper. She shopped for an hour in the Pearle Vision store in
the Mall and bought nothing. "I like the ones I saw first," she said. When I suggested she buy them she looked at me with surprise and
impatience. This is just beginning, she admonished. I should have known.
We bought a Subway sandwich and ate, and then we bought a cinnamon roll and ate that. Our fingers were all sticky. We licked our
fingers and what we couldn't lick off we wiped off with a wet napkin. We came home and I ate some ice cream--a flavor called Death by
Chocolate--and then we took a nap.
Hard day. I got up four hours ago and I've been working like a beaver ever since. I wrote 3,000 words without stopping. Alas, none of
them suitable for the Journalong.
So here I am writing the Journalong out of thin air. My problem lately in writing has been that I feel after 52 years of doing this that I'm
beginning to repeat myself. And of course I am. But the knowledge of that is beginning to pall. I've lived too long. My dad used to say of
people he didn't like, lightly and jocularly, "He's outlived his usefulness."
I'm not ready to pitch in. Everyday is different, everyday is new.
And tomorrow...oh, tomorrow is another day. ###
DAY 15 OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Wed., June 15, 2016
An old Johnny Mercer tune sung by Bing Crosby and a lot of others back in the day (about 1945), goes like this:
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene…
A great old tune I remember from my boyhood. I think it was on the Hit Parade--I'm just sure it was--and so thinking positively has been
around for a long time. Interesting that it became popular in a movie (Here Come the Waves) that came out of World War II, the most
negative event of the 20th Century.
Old George Carlin, one of the greatest comedians ever, had a little routine where he'd say he'd read about how great thinking positively
was "but I don't think it'd work for me."
Every morning when I get up I write ten things I'm grateful for, and, you know what, it makes it hard to be pissed off the rest of the day.
1. I'm grateful today for all my old friends in Manhattan, Kansas.
2. I'm grateful for all my new friends in Olympia, Washington.
3. I'm grateful for my family spread all over the country.
4. I'm grateful to live with my son Rip and daughter-in-law Joni and grand-daughter Adah.
5. I am ten times ten grateful for my wife of 43 years, June.
6. I am grateful for the dead ripe cantaloupe that we just ate.
7. I am grateful for our new salt and pepper shakers that we bought the other day for just a dollar.
8. I am grateful for Charles Dickens, who wrote so many wonderful novels and just now I'm re-reading Oliver Twist.
9. I am grateful for the TV show, Law and Order, and Criminal Minds.
10. I am grateful for the wonderful climate here in Washington. ###
Day 14 of the LifeStory Journalong
June 14, 2016
I would say this is one of my favorite photographs of my wife, June. Probably this was taken about 1978 or so, when she was 30 or 32. She
looks younger, but she always looked younger. Today, almost 70, she could be 55 or even 50. Well, there are a few little crow's feet around
her lovely eyes, maybe a wrinkle (or two) around her fair cheeks...I guess I am a little prejudiced.
I always said she couldn't take a bad picture, and she couldn't--she is that photogenic.
She is sitting here in our living room on the farm under an afghan that we snuggled under many, many a winter night. No doubt she is
watching TV and her face is showing her concern and fear about what is happening on whatever show is was.
I used to say I could know what was going on in a given TV show or movie by looking at June's face. She could sit down to watch even in
the middle of a show and in two minutes she would be caught up in the drama as if it were happening right in the room. She is that
At this very moment as I sit here 40 years after this photograph was taken, June is sitting under the lamp nearby and mending some little
garment of our grand-daughter, Adah's, but now just for a moment she looks at the TV and is caught up in the high drama. And it's funny
that as I'm watching her watching TV she looks at me (a break for commercial) and says, "It's funny, I'm sitting here mending clothes, just
what my mother did years ago for our children."
I smile and nod and think, But I bet Lois wasn't watching CRIMINAL MINDS. [To see the photo, please go to Facebook to the LifeStory
Mon., June 13, 2016
THIRTEENTH DAY OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
This is the way my 28,245th day on earth begins. I’m sitting here in the long apartment we have the honor to occupy in Rip and Joni’s long
house on a hillside above Puget Sound just a few miles outside Olympia, Washington.
Get your hands out of your pockets, boy, my dad used to say. Make yourself useful, he’d say mock gruffly. And then he’d laugh, and I’d
laugh with him, but I guess I took it to heart somehow.
How can I make myself useful today? Perhaps cluelessly, merely the creature of habit, I know of no better way than to write these words
and, by the grace of God, publish them to the world.
And I remember.
My brother Hal and I were having a radish battle. It was a warm summer afternoon and we lingered at the lunch table while Mom was
putting the food away and doing the dishes. Gramps, probably, had gone to take a nap. We each lined up our radishes in a row facing the
other’s. With appropriate noises like kew! kew! kew! and uh-uh-uh-uh and rat-a-tat-tat! and of course boom! boom! we faced off. Mom
laughed but admonished us not to waste food, that we’d have to eat every one of those little red fellows from our big garden. Think of all
the starving kids in China, she said.
I am thinking now of all the dead in Orlando.
I did a workshop in Orlando oh, maybe twenty years ago, at a Senior Center, attended by a very small group of ladies who were willing to
write some of their life history. One I remember was Alice Mireault, who had grown up and spent most of her life in New England. She
wrote about one fine Sunday morning there when she and her sister were walking to church and they passed President and Mrs.
Coolidge, and the President tipped his hat and said, Good morning, ladies!
There was no Secret Service in evidence, no crowds. This was their hometown too, and they were just going to church.
And now, the fifty dead in Orlando. Fifty some more wounded.
Alice offered to put me up in her retirement trailer in a park in the nearby town of Kissimmee. How do you pronounce that? I asked her.
Kissimm-eee in the daytime, she said with a laugh, and kiss-uh-me in the night.
So long ago! Alice lived to a ripe old age and died years ago, a very nice lady who left a lot of memories of her life for her grandchildren.
Like the good gray poet, Old Walt, people like us filter everything through ourselves, and leave a history of our life and times,
ultimately of our own mind. Would the world be any different if we had the history of all the minds that have come before ours? Can we
learn anything from history, if we have it there before us, written in stone or parchment or on a flickering screen serviced by a microchip?
DAY TWELVE OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sun., June 12, 2016
Going back in time seventy years to June 12, 1946.
I don’t really know where we live. We might be in Wisconsin and still waiting for Dad to come home from the Army, or Dad might be there
and we’re loading up to go to Kansas. (Just how we decided to go to Kansas to live I don’t know.) It may be, probably is, that we’
re already in Kansas and living with the Bascom family on Denison Street in that huge house with the four Bascom boys and their mother
and father. Housing is very short. Together there are ten of us living there, six boys and two mothers and two very busy doctor-fathers. I
remember seeing the glass quarts of milk lined up on the porch, brought by the milkman. Ten or twelve quarts in the long-necked old
fashioned milk bottles with the cardboard pressed in caps with the little tab on them and the colored name CITY DAIRY written on
the side. Maybe I help with the dishes—after all, I’m 8 and a half years old—and so I’m familiar with washing the bottles and putting them
out to dry.
The Bascom boys, John, George, Charlie and Jim—are all fun and laughing and coming and going all the time. I don’t see a lot of
John—he maybe is still in the Army himself—or George, who may be away at Medical School, but I see Jim and Charlie all the time, and in
fact I sleep in Charlie’s room in bed with him. He’s probably five years or more older than I am, a big boy in junior or maybe senior high.
We lie in bed at night and talk. I adore him.
My mother is around. Mrs. Bascom is around. Both women are experienced mothers and housewives and both are named Lillian. That’s
funny. The men are both doctors, Dr. Bascom is a general practitioner and general surgeon, and Dad of course is an EENT, and eye, ear,
nose and throat specialist. They are good friends from their days working together in North Dakota.###
DAY ELEVEN OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Sat., June 11, 2016
I learned to drive on the family car, our only car all through the war and for a few years after. I don’t think we got a new car
until 1949…they just weren’t available. So we had the 1939 Buick Special for ten long years. On Sunday mornings my dad would drive into
town to see patients at the hospital and sometimes at his office—we lived six miles out then in the Deep Creek community—and
sometimes, I must have been 10 or so, he’d let me operate the steering wheel sitting on his lap. Luckily, the road was pretty deserted at 9
or 10 on Sunday morning. I don’t think my feet would reach the pedals then. I doubt I really did much of the steering, either, but it was a
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 green.
The other thing that ought to be mentioned about farm auctions is the pie. Every farm auction had a meal served, and usually those meals
were fundraisers by the local women’s club or the 4-H or some group like that. The food was usually unimaginative and low-budget stuff
like boiled wieners on white bread buns or sloppy joes on the same thing. Really not much. Iced tea and coffee. Maybe some (ugh!) jello.
Then there were the pies. Here the ladies were simply asked to bake a pie in their own kitchen and bring it along. Now if the Waldorf-
Astoria in New York or Maxim’s in Paris had wanted to try out the Kansas pie instead of cooking out of some Frenchy cookbook, the world
would have been then, and would still be today, a better place. I’m sure. Take my word for it.
They had apple pie, Dutch apple pie, German apple pie, black walnut pie (the Oh My pie, we called it), rhubarb pie, banana cream pie…the
list could go on and on. In those days a slice of the pie would cost 25 cents to maybe 45 cents. Those ladies could make pie. In fact,
my own mother-in-law, Lois Fritz, June’s mom, could make a rhubarb pie that would have mellowed out Donald Trump. It was all in the
crust: and the crust was made from real lard from a real hog…not from motor oil or whatever it is they put in Crisco.###
Wed., June 8, 2016
I spent my last month or so in the Navy in a huge seven storey building in New York called the Brooklyn Amy Terminal. On the 4th floor in
one end was a corner for Navy sailors who were waiting for their ship to come in or, like me, waiting to get out of the Navy. I was
almost 21 years old and I had joined when I was 17 and signed for “minority years,” the Navy shipping articles said, meaning I was to get
out at the end of my minority when, I guess, you might say I attained majority and became 21 years old: a full fledged grownup. Somehow
the Navy had decided in its wisdom that I was going to be let go a few days early, on January 16, 1959.
Now I could have had a really good time in that month. I had liberty every night at 430 pm (1630) and I was in the greatest city in the world.
For fifteen cents I could get on the subway up on 2nd Avenue and be in Times Square in an hour. Free tickets to concerts and ball games
and everything from the Metropolitan Opera to the great Museum of Art uptown was free to servicemen in uniform. I could have
gone out, had a good time, gone home with friends for a weekend…it could really have been a wonderful interlude before I went home to
Kansas and next day into a college classroom.
Well of course my life is an illustration of the cynical old maxim, Too soon old, too late smart. I didn’t have a good time. I was so anxious
and worried that I wouldn’t get out that I had the trots. The more I had the trots the more I worried that I wouldn’t get out—
someone would tap me on the shoulder and say You’re not getting out. You’re sick. You’re going to the Navy Yard Hospital until you get
well. And so I agonized about this.
I didn’t have much to do all day. I hung around the barracks and smoked cigarets and looked out the window at the ships coming and
going in the huge harbor. This might have been about the time Elvis Presley got sent overseas with the Army into which he had been
drafted a few months before. He was supposed to be treated like any other draftee but the 20,000 screaming fans who showed up down
on the docks to wave bye-bye to him proved that he wasn’t just another grunt. I remember watching that crowd from the window up there
on the 4th floor with a few other guys. We kept trying to see Elvis but in the throng of course we couldn’t. That was the only fun I had the
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 through it.
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
When we quit cropping the farm I noticed that it spread much, much more. I had mowed paths in and around and through the woods—
about 2 to 3 miles of paths—that we walked and kept mowed through the year. There was poison ivy on both sides of the path, worse in
some places than others. We could have sprayed it with an herbicide—I think Round-up is effective—but we didn’t want to kill all
the other vegetation. My plan, which we didn’t stay there long enough to carry out, was that I would spray with an orchard sprayer a little
bit at a time, starting at the edges of the paths and working outward. But it didn’t happen: I grew old and unable to do much of that kind of
work, and then we had to sell out and move.
Maybe someday someone will find a good use for the stuff—maybe it could be used to fight terrorism! Yes! That’s the ticket! Why not? I’ll
just phone Donald and away we’ll go!###
DAY SIX OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Mon., June 6, 2016
About 7 Rip came down with Adah and then Joni came down with a platter of meat. June finished boiling the fresh sweet corn on the cob
and put the steaming corn into a big bowl, and covered it. She put on a small bowl of radishes and a glass with fresh carrots and poured
water. All the while I wrote here and read the newspapers and sat on my duff.
We turned to and ate. Adah wanted to sit in the white chair but accepted the idea that that chair was for her mother, and that she
should sit in the red chair, which was more appropriate for someone her size.
She looked dubious for a moment, but then when I asked her if she wanted some corn on the cob, that diverted her. Yes, she did, she
said. Did she want butter? No, she said firmly. No butter. I eat mine with lots of butter and a little salt, I said. I cut off a square of
butter from the stick on the little plate in front of me and held it on the knife and buttered the ear of corn back and forth. Adah watched
and changed her mind. She would have some butter too. She took hold of the stick of butter with her right hand. Adah! everyone said. No!
But she leaned over as if to lick the stick of butter. Adah! No! Adah no! You can’t lick that! Did you lick that? Adah smiled faintly—I think
maybe she was teasing us—and then sat back while Joni buttered it for her.
Joni and June were talking about working in the garden. I used to love gardening, I said, but I just can’t do it anymore, I said this to no one
in particular. June was talking about tomatoes and how they didn’t freeze well, they had to be canned. Rip was looking up something on
his iPhone. Adah was eating the corn on the cob at a remarkable pace with just one hand while her other hand reached into the bowl of
radishes. She took one and rolled it around on the table and reached for another. No, I said, one radish at a time.
Adah looked at me with that sly knowing smile. As we were finishing up I picked up the dishes and began to carry them to the sink. Can I
help? Joni said. I shook my head. Talk, I said. She and June went on talking, and Rip chimed in, now talking about how they would harvest
the apples. I can’t pick but I can cut them up, June said. I can cut up anything. I’ll cut apples all day long if someone just brings them to me.
Charley! she said sharply, turning to me. You’ve spilled corn all over the floor. I looked down, and she was right. Bits of corn everywhere.
She swatted at my shirt. And all over yourself, too!
I’m an old man, I said, smiling at Adah. I can’t help it.
Adah looked at me, eating now her second—or third—ear of corn, holding it and waving it about like a lollipop. There were bits of food
around her chair, too, and on her pretty little shirt, too. We were in this together, I thought happily.###
Sun., June 5, 2016
In 1956 I was in the Navy and stationed at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma. I was a clerk-typist in the
personnel office in the main administration building. I was a low-ranking Yeoman, 18 years old, and as I was given liberty every day
at 1630 (430 pm) until the following morning at 0745 (745 am), and since I was single and silly, I ran about in town every night. I carried on,
as we used to say. Every evening I was looking for by my own definition, a good time: drink some, eat some, chase around from bar to bar
and pretend that I was looking for a girl to go with the fact that I was a sailor. (I was actually terrified of girls and had been since high
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
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
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
And I’ve come to love it. I suppose if you emptied the slop jars every morning for sixty plus years you’d come to love it.
I usually do the dishes every night if I don’t do them right after the meal. When it’s just the two of us, I let them stack up a meal or
two. But when Rip and Joni and Adah all come down I do them at the end of the meal and they’re done and on the drying rack before I go
to bed. It makes me feel good and makes me sleep better.
I’m not talking, obviously, about putting dishes in a dishwasher. That’s a different path. We had one when I was a boy living at 232 Pine
Drive, house built by my parents in 1951, very nice and ultramodern home, had a dishwasher, one of the first in town. People came over
and Mom would give them the tour and always stop at the dishwasher and show how it worked. And it worked pretty well. Of course, you
washed the dishes before you put them in. It was a place to store dishes that might not be perfectly clean. When you turned it on it made
quite a to-do about doing the dishes, heating them dry, all that. But when I moved out, except maybe for the big house Patsy and I lived in
in Stevens Point, Wisconsin—the big five or six bedroom house we bought as a lark, the very house that had so many rooms (just the two
of us lived there) we’d live in three or four of them for a week or two and when it got all messed up we’d move to another 3 or 4, and so
on, forestalling the day when we had to spend all day, a Sunday usually, reorganizing the whole place—anyway, we had a dishwasher there
too and I guess we used it. It was so long ago I don’t remember.
But on the farm I washed the dishes. June did all the cooking. I don’t know how to cook a thing. I couldn’t melt butter or peel a potato.
June did it all, cheerily. It relaxed her to cook, just the way it relaxes and restores me to do the dishes. June gets out there, What do you
want for supper, always wants to know and then fits what I ask for to her own needs—Chicken Kiev becomes a chicken sandwich with
chips on the side, or—well, not really. In the olden days when we lived at Letter Rock, June turned out great meals, huge meals for all of
us, Lamb with Master Sauce, vichyssoise, she’d try anything and do it pretty well. She was and is a great cook. But the days of the
elaborate meals researched days in advance with half a dozen cookbooks from the shelf where we had 500 or so…those days are over.
We’re both happy not to spend so much time at the table and in the kitchen.
But she still does all the cooking and I do all the dishes. ###
DAY TWO OF THE LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Thu., June 2, 2016
I can’t sleep so I may as well write.
Now and then I think about why I’m writing all this, why over the more than one-half a century I’ve been keeping a journal, have I written
about my life in such detail. The answer I have come to hold to is that I am writing a history of my own mind and feelings, a history of my
own sensibility, to use an old word. It is and will always be unique in the history of mankind. I’m not saying my mind is any better (it’s not)
than that of others and therefore of interest generally. I’m just saying I am and will be for x number of years to come part of the history of
the world. We don’t have a true history of the world because 99.99 percent of the humans have lived and left without leaving any history. I
choose to leave mine, and I hope and believe that others will leave more and more of their own.
Does that make any sense, or is it a little too rarefied? I don’t think so. Or, failing any general interest in the history of this smidgen of
collective human experience, this “item of mortality” (Charles Dickens, writing of his newly born Oliver Twist), namely me, may be of
interest to his own immediate progeny. Take the best and leave the rest.
Yesterday after our meeting downtown we ran errands, driving out Martin Way to Winco’s, the grocery, and running through the big store,
we spent about $50 on grocs for the week. We have this down pat: we divide up and have a list and don’t dither. I’ll get the yogurt
and milk and eggs and ice cream, I say, and June says, Okay, I’ll get the prune juice and the batteries, and so on. It doesn’t take long,
maybe twenty minutes.
Then we hustled back down Martin Way to Goodwill, where we do some recreational shopping and maybe spend five or ten dollars. I buy
books, paperbacks 50 cents and hardbacks a dollar. I bought a beautiful coffee table book called Sacred Places of the World. I don’t really
put it on the coffee table, I put it on the back of the toilet and read it on the john. I don’t like to read on the john, but in my dotage I have to
spend more time there than I want to, so I may as well make it interesting.
I bought a few other books, June bought some odd bits of cloth (she loves cloth the way I love paper) and a couple of new glasses
(I break a few every week washing dishes), and then we were zooming along toward home, out East Bay Drive to Boston Harbor Road.
June was immediately ready for a nap but I said, I’ll be right along and I made an ice cream sandwich from the Caramel Toffee ice cream we
bought. An ice cream sandwich, the way I do it, is a layer of ice cream in between two other layers of ice cream, and it’s pretty good. And
then I laid down for my nappie.###
DAY ONE OF THE 22ND LIFESTORY JOURNALONG
Tues., June 1, 2016
I was a lucky kid in that I had aunts. On my mother’s side there were two or three but we never saw them and I barely knew them. I don’t
think I could name them. Bessie was my mom’s older sister but she lived in Indianapolis and after the War we never went there. My Uncle
Les had a wife but she died early on—I think her name was Easter. Mom had another brother and he may have had a wife but I don’t even
know their names. I never met them. We were just not close, and this was partly due to the fact that my father wasn’t very interested in
going back to Indiana to visit and they never came to Kansas where we lived.
But on Dad’s side, I had four aunts who really mattered in my life: Pearl, Matie, Maude and Isabelle.
Pearl was the one I saw the most and knew best. And she was quite a character. She had no children of her own so she was everybody’s
mother. She wasn’t exactly motherly, not the type to be in the kitchen always making cookies or sitting under a lamp darning your socks.
She was married to Gordon Williams, who was a good uncle but for many years he was a drunk and Pearl had to cope with that. Finally,
somehow, he sobered up and helped her manage a store that she had worked in for many years doing alterations for tuxedos and
wedding dresses. It was called the Plass Toggery Shop and it was across from the biggest hotel in Dubuque, a big Iowa river town across
the Mississippi from our ancestral home state of Wisconsin.
Pearl worked for “old Mr. Plass” (as he was always called) for years and when he died he left the store and everything in it to her. So she
had a going business and an income and Gordon helped her. I think he was the counterman, greeting the customers and getting the
garments off the rack and, I guess, handling the money too. Pearl did the sewing and probably the fitting too. Or maybe Gordon helped
with that, I don’t know.
Gordon was always good to me. I remember he smoked a lot and sat and talked about baseball and other sports with all the uncles and
others. One time when we all lived in the ancestral village of Rewey, Wisconsin (population about 300)—where my father greup—I got
slugged by some other kid and I bawled and Gordon said Why didn’t you hit him back? And I said He’d just hit me again, and Gordon
laughed at that. He was a somebody I could talk to: he didn’t ignore me.
During the War years Pearl and my mother became close friends. For about six months, or maybe longer or maybe not so long, we moved
to Rewey from Indiana and rented a house just down the street from her and Gordon. Gordon worked in a mine outside of town—a zinc
mine, I think—but my dad was still overseas and we were waiting for him to come home. ###