A Few Things You Need to Know About Me #MondayBlogs

Hello, dear Reader, and Happy Monday (or whatever day upon which you are reading this).  I thought it would be good to share a few things you should know about me.  Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a long time, maybe these items won’t surprise you.  If you’re new to my blog, these items might make or break whether you ever come back.  Such is life.  I do try.

What you should know:

  1.  I’m in the process of knitting a baby set (sweater, hat, and blanket) for a dear friend’s daughter-in-law.  The baby shower is in a couple of weeks.  I started knitting today so my fingers need to fly on the needles, not the keyboard.
  2. As I’ve closed some social media accounts (Tumblr, LinkedIn, Instagram), my presence on others is rather spotty. You might say random.  I don’t know when I’m going to show up on Facebook or Twitter or even WordPress. So if you see me and think to message me, don’t be surprised if your message seems to fall into a black hole.  I’ll try to get back to you, but lately when I do jump off social media, I don’t return for many hours, sometimes even a whole day … or two.
  3. I’ve been reading more.  I finally finished Kingsolver’s Lacuna and started reading Gulp by Mary Roach.  I’ve been having some intestinal troubles lately and think her book might be as informative (or more) as a visit to my doctor.  I’ve also been reading essays in Harper’s and Poets and Writers and Creative Nonfiction.  When I’m reading this much, I’m writing very little.  And yet I feel like I’m writing because these are essays that make me think about writing.
  4. I’m learning a new web-based reporting system at work which is interesting and actually stimulates my little gray cells enough that I sometimes forget about blogging, checking email and other things.
  5. I will be continuing this blog for the foreseeable future. I have plenty of posts in my head; it’s just finding the time to sit down and write them.  For those who know me very well, I don’t like writing off the cuff, as I’m doing with this post.  So Time is important. I try.

I just need to try a little bit harder.

Memories and Music #MondayBlogs #CannedHeat #TheKinks

Dear Reader (and Listener), I’m getting sloppy!  In my haste to extricate myself from the insanity of social media, I’ve neglected to provide proper care and feeding of my blog.  You know, posting without setting the appropriate categories and tags.   Such is the distracted mind.  Next I’ll be forgetting to cross my t’s and dot my i’s.

Adding to my distraction is this song that I had not heard in decades until last week when it aired on a local radio station.  Definitely a good song to calm my usual commute anxiety.

Interestingly (or not), a few weeks ago my husband purchased a greatest hits CD of The Kinks.  One of the cuts:  Victoria, the opening of which we thought sounded a lot like Canned Heat‘s On the Road Again.  Have a listen, and let me know if our aging brains were just conflating old musical memories.

As always, thank you for reading and listening.  I’m still feeling a bit adrift with my writing, hence all the music.  Recently, I had an odd experience with a short story I wrote about 23 years ago.  It’s one that I’m particularly fond of which I suppose is dangerous.  The experience was this:  I found a scanned copy of the story, printed it out and read with an eye to revising and submitting it to some journal.  With that almost pristine read (it having been 20-some years since I last read it), I found myself moved almost to tears by my own writing.  A few weeks go by and I finally get around to typing up the story so I can revise and polish it.  As I typed, my stomach flipped and my heart sunk further with every paragraph.  “What a piece of sh_t” was the steady refrain in my brain.

Now I know we writers can be our own worst critics.  If I had listened to my inner critic, I would not have this blog, I would not be making any claim to being a writer.  But how disappointing to go from feeling really good about a story written so long ago all the way to feeling disgusted by it.  I wonder if it’s more the intention to publish that makes me so critical.  Meaning, if I had only wanted to keep the story for my own personal reading pleasure, a memento of my floundering graduate student days, then I would continue to love it.

This has nothing to do with Canned Heat or The Kinks, but if you’ve read this far, please share your take on this experience.  Have you gone through the same flip-flop with your own writing?  What did you do, if anything?  I won’t give up on this particular story.  But I’d like to be able to stomach the revision process.

Not too old for this: Musical Monday #MondayBlogs #HarryNilsson

Over the last few weeks as I debated whether and how to simplify my social media presence, this song kept playing through my mind.  It’s a particularly apt song for when I open my Facebook feed.

Keeping with the spirit and intent of my last blog post and new mantra, “I’m too old for this,” I’ve closed my LinkedIn and Tumblr accounts.  I went to Facebook and “unfollowed” a slew of “friends” whose obsession with memes made me feel like I was going through some kind of Clockwork Orange intervention.  Slowly, I feel sanity creeping back into my online life.

It’s all perspective, and your comments on last week’s post were validating for me.  Thank you again to everyone who commented and shared your own stories.

Now for a change of topic:  this weekend I watched a documentary on Harry Nilsson, singer and songwriter and sad soul.

Although I was familiar with much of his work, I was still amazed by how productive he was.  I hadn’t realized how many of the songs my teenaged self sang along with on the radio were written by him, if not always sung by him.  And what a sad story: at the height of his success, he set himself on a self-destructive path that would ultimately kill him.  It’s so easy to judge but that’s not what I want to do.  Enjoying his legacy is the best way to honor him.

My New Mantra: “I’m Too Old For This” #MondayBlogs #2old4this

As too many of you know, I struggle with keeping up with social media.  I often feel overwhelmed with the tsunami of memes, messages, Likes, Invites, and other cacophonous clatter that greets me whenever I go to the feed of my Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ accounts.  (Strangely I don’t feel that way when I go to the Reader on WordPress.)  I often think to myself, “I’m too old for this.”  Now I do have some friends older than me who seem to manage their social media threads with grace.  I don’t care.  I still feel “too old” for this.

In yesterday’s Sunday New York Times, Dominique Browning expressed in the most clear (and enviable) prose what I’ve been feeling and why I should embrace that feeling.  In her essay, I’m Too Old for This, Browning celebrates the psychological benefits of getting older, of being able to let go:

The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.

Browning focuses for a bit on women’s perception of their own beauty (or their perception of their lack of beauty) over time.  Until recently, I hated nearly everything about my body:  I’m overweight.  I have fat ankles.  I want straight hair, not hair that waves with a mind of its own.  My skin still breaks out and I’m two years shy of sixty.  Brown advises that we simply reach for the larger sized pants in the closet, the ones we wisely did not give up to Goodwill, and be thankful that we have healthy bodies.  I do try to be thankful even if some of my body likes to roll over the waistband of my yoga pants.

There is a certain freedom in being able to say, “I’m too old for this.”  At my workplace, the atmosphere can be toxic with everyone overworked and each effort to get work done being second-guessed by the politically motivated.  I feel too old for this.  I’ve seen it and heard it all before.  Sometimes I feel like I’m living Groundhog Day every day, except I get the weekends off.  I’m too old for this.

I’m too old to worry myself about social media. If I close my LinkedIn account, will anyone notice?  If I close my Tumblr account, will anyone notice?  If I close my Google+ account, will anyone notice?  More importantly, will I notice?

Now I can spot trouble 10 feet away (believe me, this is a big improvement), and I can say to myself: Too old for this. I spare myself a great deal of suffering, and as we all know, there is plenty of that to be had without looking for more.

I have unwittingly gotten into “trouble” because I was casting about, trying to be involved in an milieu that is better suited to people with short-term attention spans as well as long-term memory loss.  I’m definitely too old to engage in social media dust-ups, innocently or not.

But I do enjoy my blog, particularly the environment created by my blogging community.  It feels like a safe place.  I can be myself knowing that if people don’t like me they simply won’t follow me and that will be the end of that.  And I feel less fragmented when I’m here.

So when I think I’m too old for this, in the context of my writing and blogging, I know that it’s the fragmentation that I struggle with and that I need to correct.  Let’s see if anyone notices when I do.

By the way, Dominique Browning was wrong about one thing:  being too old to have green hair.  Take it from me.  One is never too old to have green, blue, pink, or purple hair.


Course Review: Flash Essay on the Edge #MondayBlogs


I’ve mentioned that Luanne Castle of A Writer’s Site and I recently participated in an online course for flash nonfiction, offered by Apiary Lit.  Well, we’ve survived finished the course and want to share our experience with all you dear Readers.  We put our heads together and created the following list of Pros and Cons.

First, let me share with you Luanne’s lovely shout-out to our instructor for the course:

The course instructor was talented writer and teacher Chelsea Biondolillo. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Passages North, Rappahannock Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Shenandoah, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is a 2014-15 O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University. You can check out Chelsea here http://roamingcowgirl.com/ or do a search for her pieces in online magazines. Her knowledge of the genre and generosity to share that knowledge with her students was outstanding.


  • The teacher prep was outstanding. She provided a wealth of readings, which were useful in showing me what flash nonfiction can look and sound like.
  • The course was only four weeks, so I found that to be very manageable. If it had been longer, I would have been too stressed during the summer and at this time in my life.
  • The instructor generally gave useful feedback, seemed qualified in the subject, and was very nice. She seemed to love her subject.
  • The instructor was accessible, responding within the same day if there was a question or concern.
  • Other than a problem I will list under CONs, the website was pretty easy to negotiate.
  • The online classroom had various forums that enabled you to share your work with the other students and have discussions.
  • The writing prompts were generally interesting, but I didn’t feel tied to them, which was good.
  • The course was not graded. I could focus on what I wanted to turn in, not what I thought I had to turn in in order to get an A.
  • The course got me writing without adding stress to my life.
  • I got more writing done in this past month than I would have otherwise.
  • I feel that I know where to go with flash nonfiction now. It would be ideal to get more feedback down the road on attempts at Flash Nonfiction, but at least I feel much more comfortable with the genre from taking this course.
  • Above all, I had fun with the readings and the writing.


  • Although there were forums available, we had no real discussion of any of the readings. We were not strongly encouraged to interact with each other. We had maybe one discussion prompt during the whole course.
  • The readings and essay examples were available through either some kind of Adobe program that took a bit of time to figure out, or through hyperlinks that weren’t always easy to download.
  • We posted our written assignments privately to the instructor so I had no way of learning from what others had turned in or from reading instructor comments on the work of others. I didn’t care for this method as it diminished what I could learn from the course by a hefty percentage. I suppose this is the difference between the workshop method and a traditional style class.
  • We felt isolated in this class and had little interaction with anyone but each other and the instructor.  In the discussion forum, one other student interacted with us, and another made a couple of independent comments.  Other than that, it was a strangely quiet class.
  • Two platforms were used for the course: an online classroom and a blog,so sometimes I had a little trouble negotiating the course. Sometimes I had to login in two places. This inconvenience turned out to be less of a problem than I first anticipated, but it could be streamlined. The blog material could have been included on the classroom platform.
  • Since I don’t know how many people were in the course, I don’t know the instructor’s workload. My belief is that in a course that is short in length, the instructor should return assignments in short order. The lag time between turning in an assignment/beginning reading for a new lesson and getting the instructor’s feedback on my previous assignment was a little too long for my comfort.
  • The price at $199 was a little steep for four weeks and no discussion/no workshopping.

 My personal riff on the course:

Whether fair or unfair, I kept comparing the structure of this course with one I took on poetry a few months ago.  The poetry course was free, but if I fulfilled certain requirements, I could order a certificate of completion.  Those requirements involved participating in discussion forums as well as providing feedback on other students’ assignments.  I learned a lot from the online discussions and from the feedback I got from other students (many of whom were published poets).  It made for a dynamic learning environment, similar to what one would expect in a writing workshop.

What I missed in the poetry course was having a direct relationship with an instructor/mentor whose purpose was to critique and guide my writing.

So when I heard about this course through Luanne and saw that the instructor would provide individualized feedback, I jumped at the opportunity.  And although $199 was a bit steep for just 4 weeks, Chelsea’s feedback alone was worth every penny.  I also happily “discovered” that creative nonfiction is just as boundary-less as poetry.  There are rules and then there are rules to be broken.  You are limited only by your imagination.


I am still looking for that perfect-for-me online writing course.  My biggest challenges, as always, are Time and Organization.  I complain I have little time but that’s in large part because I’m not very organized.  Hence, my need for structure, for someone/something setting deadlines for me.  I learned that through NaNoWriMo:  if I don’t have a deadline, I don’t write.  I know I would be better at this if I were retired from my day job, but until that happens, when I do have time, I tend to procrastinate. (Although my procrastination takes the form of household chores and errands, which, sadly I have no one to do for me.)

I would consider taking another course with Apiary Lit (and definitely with Chelsea), but I want to try another venue if possible.  If any of my dear Readers have taken an online writing course that you truly found beneficial, please let me know in the comments.

A Musical Monday #MondayBlogs #music

Two powerful voices.  Two powerhouses of music.  Two singers I’ve enjoyed (and still enjoy) for the greater part of my life.  I give you … Aretha Franklin and Tony Bennett.

Your regular programming may or may not return next week.  In the meantime, enjoy :)

And what’s an odd blog post without a gratuitous photo of a cat (thank you, Kevin Brennan, for setting that straight for me).


This is a photo of Junior, our gray DSH, texted to me after his dental surgery last Monday.  The boy is still recovering.  Two teeth were extracted and everything was well until Saturday when an infection started to set in.  Now we have 10 days of antibiotics to go through with ole iron-jaw Junior.  Fun times.

To Be Continued …

Hello, dear Reader, and you may wonder what the heck the title of my post can possibly mean.  Well, I have a confession explanation.  I don’t have a post to post today.  I’ve spent the weekend working on a course that I’m taking with my friend and fellow blogger, Luanne.  It’s an online creative nonfiction course, only 4 weeks long but chocked full of readings.  It’s focused on the “flash essay,” a nonfiction work of 500-750 words.  Yes, I know.  A few months ago it was poetry and now I’m trying another genre.  Am I procrastinating?  Damn right I am but at least I’m learning something in the process.

I’m also thinking about changing my blogging schedule to Wednesdays or maybe Fridays.  I have less time during the work week to spend on my blog and other social media.  So stay tuned if you will and I’ll sort things out eventually.

In the meantime, here’s a gratuitous cat photo, that of Wendy, our rescue from … well, Wendy’s.  This is her favorite spot on our back porch.  We recently purchased new patio furniture but knew we would have to keep this old chair for Wendy.

Wendy stretching her legs.

Wendy stretching her legs.

See y’all next week :)

Living in the Moment: A Mini-Grand Canyon #MondayBlogs #nature

Good morning, Dear Reader.  Well, it’s  morning here and it’s probably morning somewhere else, so “Good morning” even if it’s afternoon or evening or the witching hour where you are now reading this.  I hate to split hairs, especially my own.

Several weeks ago my husband and I made a pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama, my husband’s “tierra” as he occasionally called it.  The city where his mom went to high school.  Where his grandmother might have known Zelda Fitzgerald, known well enough to nod “Good morning” if they happened to pass on the street.  But they came from different social classes and, besides, his grandmother did not “approve” of Zelda so they would not have been friends.  I digress.

On the way home from our mini-excursion, we stopped by a mini-Grand Canyon near Lumpkin, Georgia, about two hours drive from our home.  We’ve lived here in this region of the South for 25 years and yet we had never visited this child-size gorge.  We’d heard about it, had friends who drove up here to take day hikes through the gorge, but we remained fairly oblivious of this little nugget of nature so close to us.

It’s called Providence Canyon and without further adieu, here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.


Yes, that’s the back of my husband. That’s probably about as much of him as you all will ever see. He’s not shy. He’s just anti-social media.



The Visitor’s Center was closed so we just followed signs down to the floor of the canyon. I wasn’t really dressed for a hike. At least my shoes weren’t hiking boots and we had only one bottle of water between us. And it was hot!



We were perplexed by all the trees and foliage that obscured the bluffs. Frankly, we started to wonder why our friends had made such a fuss over Providence Canyon.


It wasn't until we were leaving the park and saw some picnic tables down a wide expanse of lawn.  At the far side of the lawn, we were greeted with these views.

It wasn’t until we were leaving the park and saw some picnic tables down a wide expanse of lawn. At the far side of the lawn, we were greeted with these views.



Granted, Providence is not as impressive as the Grand Canyon, but my husband saw stargazing opportunities here.

Naturally the best spot for stargazing would have been further out on the bluff, past the fence and danger sign. No way will I let him do that.


The Grass Sweeper God by Doug Howery Virtual Book Tour

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Interview with the Author, Doug Howery
(Courtesy of Susan Barton, My Book Tour/eBook Review Gal)

Your mother committed suicide in 1982. How did this affect the story? How did this affect you?

My mother’s suicide is the catalyst for the plot of the story.  In 1982 my mother killed herself after learning that my brother & I were gay.  She did this final act on a Friday after learning that we were gay on a Wednesday.  She left a suicidal note in which she referred to my brother and I as “Gutter rats that could rot in hell.”  This act developed into the obligatory scene and plot for the story line.  I followed the mother’s character through the narrator’s voice, through the character’s pov, through her child’s pov and then through the child’s pov after growing into a young adult.  I showed the mother’s tragic life because of her choices in life whereas the child, then adult, had no choice in  the mother’s final act, had no choice in his sexual identity.  But the mother had choices and she chose to betray her two sons in the end.  The child had tried to protect his mother from herself his entire life and her final act was a form of the cruelest form of betrayal. Two major plots parallel and intertwine through the story: Social change on a national level vs. two rural boys who suffer the cruelty of the time due to their sexual identity. Can two rural characters who brought about national social change (Stonewall Gay Riots of 1969) save their sons’, their kin from the same place and people that had outcast them?

Your first book The Grass Sweeper God was inspired by your life & the real-life Stonewall Gay Riots of 1969. What attracted you to it as a story?

The story is about social change. That’s a big theme to take on. I spent years just trying to figure out the plot; how to intertwine a historical event such as the Stonewall riots around two rural boys who grow larger-than-life to take on societal prejudice, hatred, & bigotry. No story had been told about how rural gay life fit into the scheme of life & gay history…what it meant to grow up in a harsh environment both physically and emotionally…

Growing up gay in the coalfields of Southwest, VA, during the ‘60s & ‘70s, I felt unattached. When I say “unattached,” I mean that I didn’t feel like I was a part of the real life going on around me. It was like being a voyeur into others’ life. This is fodder for the gristmill for a writer. I was very introspective. Young people dated, fell in love, etc. & I knew I could not love because the love I felt was wrong. That is how I was made to feel by society & family at that time period. I perceived myself as “normal” but I knew I couldn’t walk the school halls holding a young boy’s hand. Society sends young people mixed messages to this day. Much has changed, but as the old adage goes; “The more things change the more they stay the same.” The Stonewall Riots created a sea change for that time period just as gay marriage is changing societal views.

A main character in your book, Smiley Hanlon is transgendered. While growing up you had a classmate that wore a woman’s blouse to school & was beat & bullied. How did this affect you? How did this inspire you to write this character’s story?

I was never mean to this person. But my silence made me complicit. I learned that lesson later in life & felt that I was a coward for not taking up for him. That really bothered me on into adulthood. I soon realized that there is power in words. Words are indeed mightier than the sword. So, I penned the story around those that are different, those that have no voice, those that are bullied and made to feel less than, to feel as though they have no identity; that their lives are not valid. I set out to write a story to bring peoples’ lives out of the margins & into the mainstream, out of the dark and into the light.

The descriptions of landscape in the book are striking as a dark and evocative poetry in prose form. How important was the initial setting of Solitude, VA to your book? Did you approach it as a character in itself?

Landscape, descriptions of animals, descriptions of a rural setting that most do not get to experience these days is an effective way to evoke psychology without having to get in the character’s head. For instance, when I describe the moon as, “The fragile pearl moon,” when I describe the moon as, “The dead herring moon,” I’m in that particular character’s head & the reader senses something provocative is about to happen. Makes for great suspense. Describing how a poor farmer toils to make his drinking water safe for his family puts the rural setting into perspective by showing the reader what it means to be poor, to work the land just to survive. And this is the same poor farmer who shows a gay boy how a real father can love his son. This is a type of “duplicity.” Just because one is poor doesn’t mean that one can’t be a responsible, loving and caring parent.

An Amazon author reviewer is quoted as comparing your prose to Steinbeck & describing the transgender character, Smiley: “Yet, this ‘excrement’ feels that there must be better in this world, it is something he feels against all the world is saying, something that comes from the soul, so, ‘For some reason, he imagined an angel’s harp singing in his ear, then remembered a drum roll like the devil talking.’ This duplicity, this contrast between what Smiley’s reality is and what it could be, runs through the whole book. The Grass Sweeper God reminds me of the best passages from Steinbeck, where the stark reality (here also taken up by the rural environment of the first chapters, the attention to animals, what they look, sound and smell like) in a place aptly called ‘Solitude’ (I think the reference to Soledad is clear), and the theme of ‘being different’ is brought into the contemporary world with the same mix of harsh realism on one side and touches of symbolism on the other…”  What does it mean to you to be compared to a Pulitzer Prize author like Steinbeck?

Of course it is flattering to say the least. But more importantly, for a reader to understand the character’s motives and day-to-day reality gives me a sense of accomplishment. As an author, there is no better feeling than to accomplish character’ empathy and, or even sympathy. It is difficult for most of us to walk a mile in others’ shoes. To accomplish this feat through prose is great!

 The Grass Sweeper God by Doug Howery
Paperback: 250 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Date: October 23, 2014
ISBN-10: 1499783493
Being different in America has never been easy; being born different and in the wrong body in Solitude, Virginia in the 1950’s, is brutal. Smiley Hanlon lives day to day trapped in a Coal Miners town, buffeted by the Appalachian’s and generations of hate and mistrust. Any hint of being different, or being a ‘Freak’ is enough to ostracize you, pigeon hole you and make you a target for bullying – or worse. Backed by his best friend and protector, Lee Moore, Smiley made it through the days…until the night everything shattered. Chosen as the lead in a new town production called Dorothy of Oz Coal Camp, it seemed to be the beginning to acceptance and maybe even happiness, but the world is cruel and mankind even crueler. The triumph of the play decayed into a Coal Miners version of “Carrie” culminating in a tragic and horrific moment that would change both Smiley and Lee, forever.
Doug  Howery Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR:
DOUG HOWERY has been writing both fiction and essays since 1990. His essays and familial stories have appeared in The Blue Ridge Lambda Press.In many of his stories, as in “The Grass Sweeper God,” Mr. Howery’s true lode, his font of
inspiration is in the passion and suffering he has experienced.Suspense author, Maggie Grace, with the North Carolina Writers’ Network writes about her cohort Mr. Howery:
“What I like is the riskiness, the cutting edge of the narrative voice we hear. The moments when he lapses into descriptions of the moon, of the horse, etc. are true poetry that offers some relief from the coarseness of the story, and he places them well. He has an ear for the rhythm of the story, a natural sense of when to end–hangs fire with a new way of looking at someone or something, turning the entire chapter on its ear. I like the way he makes it impossible for the reader to stop reading at the end of the chapter.” Mr. Howery lives in Virginia with his partner of 31 years where he is at work on his next novel.











Susan Barton, My Book Tour/eBook Review Gal

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Asking for Forgiveness: A Memoir #memoir #MondayBlogs

Yesterday would have been my father’s 96th birthday.

I think he's rather handsome.

I think he’s rather handsome.

He died in his sleep in November 1992.  The kind of death anyone would want.  At least at the end, someone (God?) cut him some slack.  You see, he hadn’t had an easy life.  Born in poverty.  Never finished high school.  Classified 4-F.  And he couldn’t hold a job.  That, in a weird sort of way, was my good fortune, or so one of my sisters told me once a long time ago.

You see, I’m the youngest of four.  My sisters are 13 and 11 years older than me, my brother 3 years older.  The middle sister remembers our father as working during most of her childhood, not there to take her to matinees like he did for me.  Not there to draw pictures for her on demand like he did for me.  But she forgot that those were the earliest years of my childhood.  By the time I was around 10, he was starting to spend less time at home and more time at Utica State Hospital, formerly known as the New York State Lunatic Asylum.

Not a fun place to visit your father.

Not a fun place to visit your father.

I do agree with my sister that I had some fun times with my dad.  He and I both took perverse pleasure in Grade-B horror films.  You know, the ones produced by Hammer Film and that usually only showed during theater matinees or at 2 pm on the TV.  And, yes, I have a memory of finding him on our neighbor’s porch (because we didn’t have a porch), sitting out the hot summer afternoon, sweat glistening on his dark hairy arms.  But when I handed him a piece of paper and pencil and demanded, “Draw me a man,” he compiled.  Even gave the man a corncob pipe to smoke.

I think my parents were happy once.  Before it all got too much.

Happy Days

Happy Days


My mother told me that Dad had had his first nervous breakdown when he was only 17 and she didn’t know about it until later.  But, she went on, she would have married him anyway.  He was 23 when they married.  She was 19.  Perhaps as far as anyone knew, he was okay.  They had met at a dance.  My mother was one of seven sisters and five brothers growing up on a farm run by a father who was “not progressive.” (My mom’s words, not mine.)  She might have felt a desperate need to leave.  These are all fragments of memory.  And they are all I have.

My father loved to play the piano, although I don’t remember him having much of a repertoire.  I gave my mother a recital once.  She was in the kitchen washing dishes while I banged away happily. I can imagine her standing at the kitchen sink, praying for mercy.  I don’t remember when exactly, but it seemed that soon after, the piano disappeared.

I loved banging on this piano.

I loved banging on this piano.

By the time I was a teenager, my dad was sometimes living at home, sometimes not.  By then I had witnessed two of his nervous breakdowns.  Once when I was about 9 or 10 and I heard, rather than saw, him fall apart over the Vietnam War and the loss of “our boys” and heard, rather than saw, my mother rubbing circles on his back, trying to soothe him.  The second time when I was about 14 and he had just come home from the Village Tavern.  He collapsed on the cot in the dining room, crying and banging on the wall, his back to me.  I couldn’t make out what he was crying about.  Something about not being able to take it, I think.  I called my sister and stayed until she showed up.  I was terrified the whole time.  I was never afraid that he would hurt me.  He had never laid a hand on me, and somehow I knew he never would.  I was afraid of his pain, the utter anguish that poured through his tears.

I can’t tell you what was wrong with him.  No one seems to really know.  My mom and my middle sister have said that he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.  But he didn’t hurt anyone.  He wasn’t suicidal as far as I could tell.  He just cried a lot and blamed himself for things that he couldn’t control.  Like the Vietnam War.  He had it in his head that the war started when he quit the creamery and so there was a connection.  He felt responsible.  I once accused him of thinking he must be God.  When he laughed, slightly chagrined, I thought maybe he was really okay.

He had a fixation on Oral Roberts, a man I came to loathe for the spell he cast over my dad.  He sent money to Oral Roberts and in return got a small plastic plaque that read “Something good is going to happen to you.”  Nothing good happened to or for my dad.  And he blamed himself because, you know, if Oral Roberts said “something good was going to happen to you” and nothing did, you had only yourself to blame.

We went on that way until I was 18 and my mother no longer received Social Security checks for me.  And then she wanted to remarry.  She felt she could finally go ahead and start living her own life.  Whatever had been between her and my dad was no longer there.  It just wasn’t sustainable through all the pain and struggle.  By this time, my dad was well enough to live “independently,” but not at home.  He lived in a “halfway house,” with other men who had had it rough, so to speak. I don’t think, I don’t remember if I ever visited him there.

So my mom and dad divorced, my mom remarried, and my dad start visiting my middle sister when he could.  And then I moved to California.  He became very ill at one point.  Blood clot in his abdomen and we all thought that was it for him.  And no one thought that was fair.  My mother said, “He doesn’t deserve that.”  He had never hurt anybody so why should he suffer?

But he recovered and my sister was able to move him to a facility where he could get round-the-clock care.  It was essentially a hospital.  It smelled like a hospital.  He had a hospital room to live in.  Nurses abounded.  But it was also a five-minute drive from where my sister worked.  On one visit home, I was treated to this.


I think the piano was the one thing, the one constant in my father’s life that gave him pleasure.  You couldn’t count on people, especially your youngest daughter who avoided you whenever possible and rarely brought friends home when you were there.  Then again, that middle daughter more than compensated.


On a visit from California. I don’t think I was ready to see him like this.

I am grateful that for the most part he seemed happy during his last few years.  He was whittled down by God knows what kind of medications he was on and off, by the shock treatments he received in Utica.  He had Parkinson’s as if having mental health problems wasn’t enough.  Yet, his needs and desires were few.  Give him a piano and he’d bang away, play the same song over and over, but be happy.  Smile at him and he’d smile back.  Send him cards with kittens on them and he’d carried them around in the little bag attached to his wheelchair.

He didn’t ask for much, and I gave him very little in return. I spent most of my youth and early adulthood fearing that I would turn out like him.  I cry easily.  Especially when I was a teenager, I did a fair amount of acting out.  If my family had known half of what I did, they might have sent me to Utica too.  It’s taken me a long time to understand that my father’s mental illness was not genetic, that it was more environmental than anything else. Maybe.

My father wasn’t always sick.  I just have few memories of when he wasn’t.

This post is my way (pitiful though it is) of asking my dad for forgiveness.  I wasn’t a good daughter.  I let my sister and my mother do all the heavy lifting.  I want to go back to that night, so many years ago, when I was staying up late because I wanted to watch some stupid horror movie.  I heard Dad come down the stairs and I sighed.  I didn’t want him there, with me.  I wanted to be alone.  But he came into the living room, “What ya watching,” and sat down.  As the movie grew in suspense and we both jumped when a door was suddenly pulled open, we laughed and looked at each other.  I think I said something like, “I’m glad you’re here.”  Code for “this movie is too scary to watch alone.”  He laughed again and we went back to watching the movie.




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