To recall the events of my life accurately, I decided to catalog my story by decades. I learned that the whole big jumble of life had to be divided starting with Learning to Be. From there I move on to Grade School, Junior High, High School. College, Marriage, Children–which is where things got a little fuzzy. As my father once told me, “As soon as your girls were born, everything flowed together; before that, I remember things clearly.” At the time, I was interested in Dad’s statement, however much I didn’t quite get it, except for the slight hint of something being my fault.

Learning to be

Complete safety, my sister and I saying prayers at night by Mom’s chair, where often as not it seems she is darning socks; sitting on Dad’s lap to hear the breathless tales of Rapunzel letting down her golden hair; playing under the trees in the front yard with my constant companion, my older sister, who teaches me all. It rains and we never get wet. This is the metaphor of my pre-schoolness. My innocence evaporates when my brilliant mentor abandons me for Kindergarten.

Grade school

Joy of school. Entrancing glimpses of a little boy on the playground, Blue Birds to Camp Fire Girls, sliding down snow mounds, climbing trees, galloping around town, riding bikes, all with Margo, becoming a library rat and discovering the Silhouette biography series of famous American women and men, wondering vaguely why boys are like they are; otherwise caught up with my girlfriends and our secret clubs. Maude and Mert’s square dancing classes, for which Mon sews darling square-dance skirts and where I get to partner now and then with the boy from the playground who has become my wish-upon-a-star marriage partner; I think this has to do with him finally looking at me.

Junior high

Brief two years of sudden maturing, retreating, being brave and then unsure again, often within the space of 20 seconds, wearing lipstick, still hanging out with girlfriends but eyeing the boys (well, the boy), who hangs out with his friends in our yard of a summer evening; still the joy of school, but with the added attractions of the at-first confusing but-soon cool demand of changing classes, going to basketball games on a bus as a cheerleader with Kathleen and making up a cheer that leaves us helpless with laughter: “A bottle of pop, an old banana, we’re from Southern Indiana; that’s a lie, that’s a lie, we’re from Jefferson Junior high!”

High school

Confusing, embarrassing, but because Junior High is in the same building as the High school, we had been given the opportunity to carefully watch the goddesses above us. We ape their insouciance. We do not quite pull it off, but other things intrigue – the difficult classes and teachers of interest, band and twirling, actual flirting, studying, dreaming, working at the drug store as a soda jerk, beginning to wonder who I am and what I want besides the vague idea that it will somehow have to do with books. Falling completely in love, the bane of my existence because I am too young. It eventually works out, but these years are a trial. Honors and also dishonors (getting stopped by the police with beer in the car gets me kicked off National Honor Society; it is the Principal who explains to me the dishonor of it all). Going to Girls State in Des Moines, not fun except for buying an orange mouton winter coat at Younkers Department Store, dismaying my mother when I arrive home with it. Applying for college, the one my parents want me to attend; I am a pliant young thing--I wanted to go to Notre Dame but get to go to Clarke College, a Catholic girls’ school.


First of all, I am so homesick I can barely breathe. This shocks me, as I have never been in a situation to know this frightful emotion. Besides that, I have to study. This is a serious routine not practiced much in high school. Meeting cool and nice girls and cool and above-it-all girls–the latter from Chicago and Milwaukee and other big cities, sophisticated beyond my little town upbringing; going by train to Chicago to ride the ’’L’’ and walk along State Street, going to Madison with classmates to drink beer in rock ’n roll dancehalls for 18-20-year olds; cutting up a formaldehyded piglet for an entire semester, learning the real history of the Westward Ho migration that was unlike Little House on the Prairie, falling under the spell of the toughest nun in the school, being chosen as literary magazine editor; dating boys I am not interested in.


Too young for this but finding everything thrilling–from going to bed legitimately in a hotel to flying to California with my childhood heartthrob-turned- sailor–the liberation of it intoxicating. I sit on a hill by the library in my new southern California city, the first stop of my new life, and I literally hug myself, laugh out loud at the license to be something I’ve never been: free! I have escaped from rules, tradition, people telling me what to do, family that protected me too much. It is all ready. I can muster the feeling still.


Also too soon, but I realize pretty quickly there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant, so I settle into what is neither difficult nor overwhelming… until of course the actual birth. The brand-new little critter who has colic and cries from midnight to 4am for the first three months of his life has only me; his dad is on a ship to Vietnam. My mother and her role in my life takes on new meaning. She too had been a mom with a husband gone to war 20 years earlier.

What I recall most distinctly from this peculiar status called motherhood that removed me from reality personally and adult society in general is my reentry into my life. After the hiatus of learning a role that involves a baby and sleeping whenever I can, I read a book. I chose Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-tome novel I’d read in college over a Christmas vacation for the paper I had to write for my English professor ; this was pure suck-up to that favorite nun, but it worked; I got an A+, unheard of from her. The second read-through as a young mother is just as depressing as my first reading of it, but it is engrossing. I am depressed already, so it is difficult to tell that the book has anything but a familiar ring to it. I am told I am postpartum, an after-childbirth phenomenon. The book gets me right out of it, Kristin having had it much worse than I do.

We buy our first house, the 30-year mortgage, something we can only laugh at. What is 20 years but an impossible stretch of the imagination. I am now in the rest of my life. What my dad had told me when I was nine is suddenly clear. The edges of my days begin to blur because the focus is no longer me. The distinction of years becomes the first birth and then the second. Soon, but as I recall, not soon enough – really, those preschool years did move like molasses – the entire business of life is now theirs: their vaccinations and doctor appointments, their little friends, their baseball and ballet, their grade school schedules. PTA for heaven’s sake. Because we live in California, they play outside almost exclusively, and I hose them down before I let them in the house for a bath. Summer afternoons, I take the whole neighborhood to the beach at least three times a week. During this period, I write 50 short stories, all of which I sent out 10 times. The result is 500 rejection slips. Talk about depression; although I am strangely unaware of it until years later when my husband tells me that every time I received one of those 500 in the mail, I went into a two-week melancholy. I have no recollection of this.

My husband becomes a deputy sheriff, soon a homicide detective (whereupon I get to call him “my favorite dick”). Twice a year we attend a formal, cop dinner dance--total fun. Otherwise, we slow-dance in the kitchen, the kids at first joining us but soon rolling their eyes and going to their rooms. They are growing up and becoming me, who is still only 10 on most days. Shockingly, both of our fathers die within five months of each other. My beloved and I cling to one another, my husband and I neither understanding nor willing to believe the tragedy of life. I am over it sooner than he; it takes him five years to let it subside; I do not know he’s doing this, I think our marriage is failing, so I take my piano music and my five-year-old and my eight-year-old to my sister’s. I am home in 10 days, we talk; this first adult honesty is the true beginning of our marriage.

Moving away

The children call it “taking us away from the only home we've ever known.” Their dad and I call it exciting and daring. We move out of the increasing problems of over-populated California to other empty vastness of under-populated Nevada, fewer than a million folks in the whole state. He becomes a poker dealer, and I get my first job as a writer. We build a house with our own hands and the kids leap into high school with complicated schedules that busy our lives with dance recitals, long trips to track meets, cheerleading, teen jobs and teens ranging through the house, sleeping over drinking all the milk, at all times yakking, eating, playing music too loud. I love teenagers; interesting age, as well as independent; they can fix their own food.

Children moving away

Our children in college? How this can be happening so soon bewilders me, so I quit thinking about it. I do not have empty-house syndrome because I am busying going back to school myself, their dad in management of the poker room at the Hyatt, a thing he laughs about and sometimes talks about–his regret at retiring from his homicide gig; He goes to school to become a golf club builder, and his other love (besides me, he says) makes him happy. I am happy with the kids goon, happy when they return, happy with my own studies, my jo0b as newspaper columnist and editor for college textbooks. It is a good decade–the 1980s and early ‘90s.

Children having children

This must be how my parents felt–babies married with babies. My kids have bets on what kind of grandmother I’ll be. Knowing my antipathy toward diapers, pablum and reading the same book to a tiny one every night for months. Their dad has long been a baby-cray person, and lo and behold, I become one, falling love with my first grandchild. Happy days, lots of time with and without them, big holiday dinners with friends and family, travel. And then the death of a mom, of a sis of mine, a sister-in-law, divorces among the offspring, poor health in the form of rheumatoid arthritis for me. These things, too, are too soon.

Hitting the road

The kids are living their lives, we sell the house and hit the road in a fifth-wheel, a kind of camper attached to a big pickup truck. Forced to be together all day and all night without jobs, family or friends, we learn things about one another we never knew. We find this absorbing; after all, we’ve known one another since first grade. Life, however, is awkward for us because we are inept at being campers; we never camped prior to this adventure. At campgrounds my mate hangs on the beds of trucks with other guys and talks truck-talk. I sit at picnic tables listening to women wanting to be with their grandkids. We do not last long in the peripatetic subculture of America, learning that we are nesters, not wanderers. We land in a semi-permanent kind of campground for two days and stay five months. We have found a new niche. We live in Florida trailer parks during the winter and in our long-ago hometown for summers. We see the kids and their kids and their homes in ours. Traveling the country is both boring and stimulating, and we like it all.

Death again

We are in retirement for 10 years, and then my heartthrob of 58 years dies. I survive it not because of anything but time. And speaking of time, here I sit, well into my ninth decade, pondering how very far away so much of it seems and how very near.