2017 Reading Challenge, Part 4

I’m still plowing ahead with my promise to read at least 4 books per month throughout 2017… and I’m also trying to expand my horizons, so to speak, by reading some books outside my normal, favorite genres. Here’s a run-down on what I read in April.

 

The Awakening and the Selected Short Stories– Kate Chopin

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Kate Chopin was the author of two novels and approximately 100 short stories, which were originally published in the 1890s. She wrote mostly about race relations in the south, just a few decades after the Civil War. Many of her stories featured independent, free-thinking women protagonists, who questioned societal norms and challenged traditional female roles. At the time, Chopin’s work was considered controversial, even “vulgar.” In particular, critics singled out her novel, “The Awakening,” which was even banned at one point. It was not until five decades after her death, that Kate Chopin’s works were rediscovered by a new generation and praised for their strong feminist viewpoints. Chopin was merely a woman way ahead of her time. Read one of her most powerful short stories, Desiree’s Baby, by clicking on the link.

 

If Loving You is Wrong– Gregg Olsen

loving you

How funny that I was preparing to write this report, only to wake up to the news that Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau have separated after twelve years of marriage. Names don’t ring a bell? Guess you weren’t around in 1997, when the couple made nationwide headlines with their controversial affair. What was the big deal? Well, Mary Kay was married with four children at the time, and Vili was 12 years old. 34-year-old Mary was his teacher. She went to prison twice for her involvement with the manchild and bore him two daughters… the second being born while her mother was incarcerated. A very interesting True Crime read, which delves deep into Mary Kay’s psyche, taking a look back at her childhood and how it may have shaped the desperate woman she became.

 

Breaking Point- Suzy Spencer

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Yes, so I went on a True Crime spree in April… reading-wise, I mean! For those of you who don’t know, I work in a bookstore. A customer purchased this book, and it sparked my interest, as I remember the news story very well. We had another copy in stock, so I was able to read the whole, shocking thing. It is not a book that you should read all at once; it’s barely digestible in small doses. It covers the horrific crime committed by Andrea Yates in 2001. In a fit of post-partum psychosis (or just plain psychosis, maybe), Yates drowned her five children, aged six months through seven years old, in a bathtub. At times I wanted to throw the book against a wall, or abandon it entirely. The portion of this book covering the murder trial is rather tedious. An intriguing read for those interested in abnormal psychology, but too unsettling for most.

 

The Wicked Girls– Alex Marwood

Wicked-Girls-Alex-Marwood

This was a re-read for me. Don’t want my old books to lay neglected, taking up space, after having only been read once! This British thriller centers on Bel and Jade, both eleven years old when they meet for the first and only time during their childhood. On that fateful day, the “wicked girls” accidentally kill a 4-year-old child left in their care. Both are sent to separate juvenile detention facilities, given new identities, and ordered never to see or contact one another again. Fast-forward twenty-five years. The child-killers, now known as Amber and Kirsty, are grown women living normal (although drastically different) lives. It’s purely by accident that they meet again… Kirsty is a journalist covering a string of murders in the area, and one victim happened to be slain in the amusement park where Amber works. Naturally, with all the media attention, someone is bound to recognize one of the women as the “wicked girl” who killed an innocent child so long ago, and now both Amber’s and Kirsty’s lives are in danger. Highly recommended for its fast-paced thrills, and unpredictable ending!

 

The Good, Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood – Sy Montgomery

good pig

 

I don’t normally gravitate towards animal stories (unless they’re about cats), but a Facebook friend made a post asking if anyone wanted to borrow and read this book. Never one to pass up the opportunity for a good (free!) read, I said “sure.” The premise is simple: It’s a true story, about a runt of a piglet who was adopted by a loving family (the author and her husband) and he grew up to be an enormous hog (750 lbs, to be exact)  with an even larger fan following. This was pre-internet, mind you, so Christopher Hogwood never rose to Grumpy Cat heights. He was, however, featured in national publications, such as USA Today and on National Public Radio. Readers will enjoy tales about the pig’s comical antics, as well as heartwarming stories of friendship and humanity. It’s amazing that a pig could bring so many people together. Many lifelong bonds were formed, thanks to Chris.

That sums up my literary adventures for April. I went a little crazy in May… We’ll talk about it in a future post!

Mom: A Mother’s Day Lament

Mom ©2017 Holly E. Gaskin

 

You hated having your picture taken.

I guess that explains why there are only three photographs of us together when I was a baby. One, when I was in your tummy, just days before entering the world.

mom preggers

Mom and me (in utero) in late 1971 or January ’72. I made my debut on 1/31/72

A second picture was snapped when I was just a few days old, snugly wrapped in your bathrobe-clad arms.

newbie me

Seattle Washington, 1972. Check out my full head of hair!

 

And a third, when I was 16-or-18-months old. I was dressed in a bright red jacket with a pointy hood, and you looked beautiful, all made up and donning your best wig.

wig

Greenport, NY, near the locally famous “67 Steps” that lead down to the beach

Looking through the photo album of me growing up, a stranger might assume that you died shortly thereafter that picture was taken. Because you never appeared with me in another photograph until my wedding day, some 31 years later.

I understand now that you were ashamed of yourself, and that makes me sad. I realize that you were a prisoner in a morbidly obese body that so humiliated you, that you chose to lock yourself in your bedroom and hide whenever I had friends over. You wouldn’t meet my friends’ mothers, because you compared yourself to them and you were embarrassed. I guess that’s the same reason you would drop me off at church, but never set foot inside yourself. Instead of engaging with me as a parent, you chose to lose yourself in an alternative world. Namely, the ABC soap opera lineup, and piles of tabloids, like the Star, Globe, and National Enquirer.

 

Even though I was smiling in most of my childhood photos, I was extremely lonely. I was an only child, one with few friends, with an absentee father, and a stepfather whom I feared. You didn’t care. You merely cooked for me, but you nourished yourself and fed your feelings with Suzy Q’s, potato chips, and (once, when you were really drunk), raw hotdogs. Day after day, you were curled up on the sofa, dressed in your nightgown and bathrobe in the middle of the afternoon, watching All My Children and One Life to Live. I’d try to cuddle up next to you, and you LITERALLY  pushed me away.

 

hey there lonely girl

Hey There, Lonely Girl… 1982 or ’83. A candid shot probably snapped by my teacher.

 

By that time (I was about 10 years old), I was writing in a diary, and creating my own stories, plays and poems. But never once did I write about the way you treated me, or how it hurt. At that young age, I did not yet have the words to express such a profound, deep despair.

 

When I got to be a teenager, I suffered the exact opposite affliction as you; I became anorexic. Eventually, I got down to 68 pounds. I was in a hospital in Amityville for four months. You acted like it was a chore to come see me every weekend. Even my counselor confronted you, asking: “How come you never ask about Holly’s treatment plan, and what we’re doing for her here? Do you think we’re working magic to make her better?” You just shrugged and blushed, an imbecilic expression on your face. I felt humiliated and resentful. After all… You LET me get down to 68 pounds!!!! It was only when a dermatologist I saw became alarmed at my skeletal appearance, and insisted that I be admitted to a hospital, that action was taken. Otherwise, I would likely have died. 

 

Years later, I moved 400 miles away to Watertown, NY. After we’d spent a couple of years apart, you moved up here to escape the high cost of living on Long Island. You got into real estate, buying several rental properties. I couldn’t help but notice there was something different about you. You were less shy, more carefree, funnier. You made bold decisions (like buying the income properties) that you never would have done before. You made new friends, especially with Gloria, your gambling buddy. One day I looked at you closely and noticed that one corner of your mouth drooped a little. When I asked you about it, you reluctantly admitted that you “might have had an incident…” A what?  “Maybe a mini-stroke,” you said, and changed the subject.

 

While that alleged mini-stroke did not cause any permanent physical damage, it changed you… for the better. It switched off that part of your brain that caused you to be painfully shy, soft-spoken, and submissive. For the first time in your life, you had spunk and confidence. I really, really loved the New You! For the first time in our lives, we were Friends. In May of 2004, looking glamorous in a royal blue pantsuit, you gave me away at my wedding.

 

mom and me wedding day

Here comes the bride, Mom at her side.

 

I wish I’d been able to spend more time with that fun-loving stranger who gave birth to me, way back in 1972. We enjoyed some cool casino trips and concerts together, and family gatherings with my then-husband and his folks. But, Fate being the cruel monster that she is, robbed you from me in one, heartbreaking instant. A car accident, two weeks before Christmas… and also two weeks after we had our final photograph together.

 

Me and Mom

Thanksgiving, 2006, Adams Center, NY

I love and miss you, Mom. But I’m still angry. Angry at you for taking more than thirty years to be the Mother I’d always needed. Angry at God for taking you away without warning. And angry at myself, for not being able to just “let it go.”

 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom…. wherever you are.

 

Mom's Grave

 

Fail!

I guess I’m just not tech-savvy enough to be a writer in today’s world. I tried creating a “secret page” on my website. I then posted links on my social media accounts. The idea was to draw readers to the secret page on my website. They’d then be able to click on Door #1 or Door #2 to access a short story. If the experiment went well, I was planning on adding more doors, and more stories. But apparently, the link either led to the wrong page, or the doors didn’t lead to the stories they were supposed to. So… I might just post direct links to the stories here. Soon. Meanwhile, here are some artists’ interpretations of three of my shorts. Stay tuned, folks!

 

three stories

2017 Reading Challenge, Part 3

I am still keeping my promise to read at least 4 books a month… I’m just a month behind in posting them. So, without further ado, here are the books I read in March.

My Sister’s Keeper– Jodi Picoult

keeper

Since Picoult’s novel Great Small Things was my favorite book of 2016, I decided to delve into the author’s vault and check out one of her earlier works. This 2004 novel revolves around Anna, a 13-year-old girl who was conceived for the sole purpose of keeping her sister Kate alive. Kate has leukemia, and Anna is a perfect match for a blood and marrow donor. Nevertheless, Kate keeps relapsing. When Anna is told that she must donate a kidney to save her sister’s life, she puts her foot down. In fact, she goes and gets herself a lawyer to prevent her parents from forcing her to donate her kidney. A very emotional and dramatic story, with a hugely unexpected ending.

Misbegotten Son: A Serial Killer and His Victims– Jack Olsen

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I didn’t grow up in Watertown, NY, where I live now, so I’d never heard of Arthur Apparently, he was quite a well-known figure up here. Shawcross murdered two children in 1972. He was only convicted on one murder charge, due to a plea bargain. Sentenced to 25 years in prison, Shawcross was released after spending just 12 years behind bars. He then embarked on a prostitute killing spree in Rochester. He killed a dozen women before he was arrested, and spent the rest of his life in prison.
This book is particularly grisly, even for fans of the True Crime genre, due to its descriptions of what he did with the bodies of some of his victims, and also because of shocking claims Shawcross made about torturing and killing women while fighting in the Vietnam war. However, the book is also an interesting psychological study. Is a killer “made” or born? According to those who knew “Artie” when he was a kid, the boy was never quite right.  

Lincoln in the Bardo– George Saunders

bardo

This historical fiction book recently (albeit briefly) made the New York Times Bestsellers list. It tells the sad story of the death of President Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, who passed away at age 11 from typhoid fever. The elder Lincoln is devastated, and makes nocturnal visits to the boy’s crypt to hold his son’s lifeless body. (I thought that Saunders made this up for the book, but it turns out that newspapers of the day [1862] actually DID report that the president had been seen entering Willie’s crypt on several occasions!)

“Bardo” is a Tibetan term that can be loosely translated as a sort of Purgatory, where lost souls dwell between life and Heaven or rebirth. This is where poor Willie winds up, not realizing he is dead. He meets quite a scary cast of characters who are in similar predicaments, many of whom, in the author’s words, are “disfigured by desires they failed to act upon while alive.” Sounds depressing, but it’s more heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. 

Dolores Claiborne– Stephen King

DoloresClaiborneNovel

I read it a long, long time ago– probably shortly after it came out in 1992. And since I re-read Misery in February (Kathy Bates starred in the movie versions of both books), I decided to give this one another go as well.

This novel is written in a very unique style. The entire book is the testimony Dolores Claiborne gives to police when she is arrested in the suspicious death of the ultra-wealthy Vera Donovan. It basically reads as a monologue, in the sarcastic, blunt, Maine vernacular of Dolores. She insists that she didn’t kill Vera, for whom she was a housekeeper and caretaker for decades. However, there IS something she wants to get off her chest: 30 years ago, she killed her no-good husband. And with good reason.

This is not one of my favorite Stephen King books, as it’s not really a horror story. It’s more of a psychological roller coaster ride… one that sometimes gets stuck, mid-loop. Dolores’s sense of humor saves the book from being completely tedious. 

Stay tuned to my blog for a link to some exclusive original content (very scary short stories) coming soon!

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Happy 77th birthday to my Dad, Adolph Robert Cordova, Jr.  We spent more years apart than together. There’s no making up for that much lost time, especially taking into consideration his Alzheimer’s/ Dementia/ Paranoid Schizophrenia. Also, the physical distance between us. I hope they did something nice for him in his nursing home in Brookline, Massachusetts. A slice of cake, a scoop of ice cream, a “Happy Birthday” serenade. Last visit was so painful. He thought that I was 15 and that he was 58. Dream on, if it makes you happy. I wish my father peace of mind and the realization that he has family that loves him, even though we can’t be there physically to keep him company (most of his family is far out west, in Wyoming and Utah). I send him cards and letters, plus cookies on holidays. I never hear a word back. I pray for him silently, privately, constantly.

I love you, Dad.

 

Happy Birthday Dad

Month #2 of Reading Challenge

I  don’t want my readers to think that I have abandoned my self-imposed challenge to read at least 4 books a month throughout 2017. I posted a pretty extensive report of the books I read in January. I don’t have the time or energy to post as detailed a commentary on the books I’ve read in February and March, but here is Part 1 of my two-month lapse. Thanks for your patience!

  1. Hearts in Suspension, by Jim Bishop with Stephen King This was a birthday gift from my bookstore boss. I was surprised and delighted to receive it… and doubtful as to whether I’d like it or not. I’d heard that it was comprised mostly of essays by old friends and teachers who knew Stephen during his days at the University of Maine. I thought the book would be of regional and scholarly interest, for a very limited audience. Fortunately, I was wrong. The thick tome not only contains essays by Steve’s college professors and buddies, but a lot of words from King himself, as well as his novella Hearts in Atlantis, in its entirety. It made me feel as though I’d lived through the tumultuous 1960s myself!

King Cover 2.jpg

 

2.  Misery, by Stephen King  Most of us have seen the movie with Kathy Bates and James Caan. If you found the movie terrifying, but have not read the book, be prepared to be even more horrified, chilled, repulsed and even traumatized by the novel. NO movie can ever capture the intricacies and grisly details of any of King’s original books.. especially since so much of the text is (literally and figuratively) mental.

stephen_king_misery

 

3. The Buffalo Blizzard of 1977, by Timothy W. Kneeland, A local history book, mostly photographs, but also full of of fascinating historical facts about the world-stopping upstate NY snowstorm of 1977. The title is misleading, as the book also mentions other areas affected by the storm, including my home city of Watertown.

Feb reads

 

4. Annie Oakley Comes to Watertown, by Garmon Lord This one falls loosely into the “historical fiction” category, as it’s 95% a true story about the sharp-shooting legend and the time she really, truly brought her awesome skills to the eager Watertown masses (WOW!). Lord takes the liberty of including an endearing short , fictional story about his Grandma as a young girl meeting Annie and even having breakfast with her idol. The story is so convincing that it wasn’t until I read the disclaimer at the end of the book that I was able to separate truth from fiction.

(Both of the books mentioned above were found in the “Local Authors” section of the bookstore where I work.)

5. Unraveling Anne, by Laurel Saville  I had never heard of Anne Ford or Lauren Saville before when I picked up this book I found l found lying on a bookstore shelf. Anne was a model, beauty queen and fashion designer in the wild & free 1960s. Daughter Laurel paints a devastating, heartbreaking picture of what it was like growing up among eccentric adults, more than children her own age, with a mother who seemingly disapproved of her and was unable to provide compassion and love. As an adult, Laurel set out to find the truth about her mother’s life and sordid death.

anne

6. Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner, A disturbing tale of a long-separated sister and brother, Sharlah and Telly Ray Nash, torn apart by the murder of their parents eight years ago… at the hands of Telly. They haven’t seen each other in all that time. Now, just when Sharlah is in the process of being adopted by an ex-FBI profiler and his wife, more murders start happening, and Telly is a suspect once again.

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Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan, Simply, this was a children’s book I never read as a child, but always meant to. Sweet, quaint, and reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Sarah-Plain-and-Tall

Take Two

I think readers would be surprised to learn that many authors don’t read their own books once they finish writing them. I’m one of those authors. My reason is, I’m always moving on to the Next Big Idea.

However, there’s always exceptions. Since I made the decision to add new chapters to my 2011 book, Finding My Father, I kind of had no choice. And I am cringing through every chapter. I guess I’ve become a better writer (or proofreader, at least) over the past five years. I see a lot of poor sentence structure throughout the book, and just things I could have said better.

So, in short, the new version of Finding My Father will not only contain all-new chapters, but the original text will be improved!

I can’t say I’m bubbling over with excitement, given the sadness of the topic, but I will be personally satisfied and proud when I’ve completed this project.

This one’s for you, Dad.

hugs

Dad and I in 2009

 

 

 

God’s Umbrella

beacon street

Beacon Street, my home away from home

The weather forecast had called for perfect, sunny weather for the four days I’d be in Brookline. When I arrived in the city, however, the scenario changed. Now it looked as though Tuesday (my third day there) was going to be a washout. Since I don’t drive, I was counting on my feet, and Boston’s convenient Public Transportation System to get me around. Granted, there was a T station right across the street from where I was staying, but still… I’d have to walk a couple of blocks from my stop at Coolidge Corners to Park Street, where Dad’s nursing home was. So on Monday, I made sure to pop into a CVS drug store, where I purchased a hot pink umbrella.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning… I brought my trusty new umbrella with me as I walked the few blocks to get breakfast, then back to my rented room. As I sipped my coffee, I reflected on yesterday’s visit with Dad and his care team. It had been a depressing mission; my heart was still heavy from seeing him in such feeble condition. I needed to find some uplifting way to spend the morning before I returned to visit my father again. I opted to make my way across town to Quincy Market, which always bustling with tourists and food vendors, selling delicious wares.

So, I’m standing on the platform, waiting on the Green Line, when I notice that a young man also waiting for the train is holding something in his hand that is missing from mine: an umbrella! DANG! After spending $8.99 on a brand new umbrella, I’d left the stupid thing on my bed! Well, no time to go back for it; the train was coming. It was just starting to drizzle as I got on board.

As my eyes scanned the train car for available seats, I did a double take. Hanging practically in front of me was… an umbrella!

brella

The umbrella that magically appeared just when I needed it.

I looked around, expecting another passenger to grab it, having recognized it as their own. But as the train started moving down the tracks, I realized that some unfortunate commuter must have accidentally left it behind. I felt guilty taking it, but by the time I reached my stop, the rain was coming down steadily. Grateful for the cover, I hurried into Quincy Market. I took my time wandering the length of the building, surrounded on both sides by delicious aromas of every type of food imaginable: Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, and of course, dishes that Boston is famous for, like Boston baked beans and authentic clam “Chowdah.” I smiled as I watched a bunch of kids who were there on a field trip, their excitement apparent in their eyes and smiles.

I exited the busy market and crossed the way to Faneuil Hall, one of the countless historic sites in Boston. I’ve walked the Freedom Trail during previous Boston visits, but my heart wasn’t in it that day, between the rain and my worries about Dad. So, under shelter of my newfound umbrella, I searched for the nearest T station and rode back to the other side of Boston.

As I trudged up the steps of Dad’s nursing home, I felt a sense of doom, like I was walking up the steps of a morgue. I took the elevator up to the third floor. When the doors opened, Dad was right there, his wheelchair parked directly in front of me! There’s no way he could have known I was coming at that exact time! My heart gave a little leap of joy.

“Hi, Dad!” I said, as if I saw him every day, and not for the second time in five years.

He mumbled a greeting. He was just being served lunch… a tray of typically unappetizing-looking hospital food. He had trouble feeding himself. As much food ended up in his lap as in his mouth. He ate less than a quarter of what was on his plate.

His spirits seemed to have declined since the day before. Nothing I said made him smile. I got to talking with some of the other nursing home residents in the rec room, and they, too, tried to cheer him up. Even when the art/ music/ games lady, a vivacious woman named Beverly, whirled into the room and put on some Earth, Wind and Fire, Dad was one of the few patients who didn’t react to the infectious groove. My father had always loved music.

There was no engaging him in conversation. I asked if there was anything he needed, anything I could do for him. He just shook his head “no.” All I could do was tell him I loved him.

“Good!” he said, still avoiding my eyes.

I hugged him as best I could, with him slouched over in his wheelchair. I didn’t say “goodbye.” He already seemed to sense I would not be back.

I was relieved to get out of the gloomy building. Once on the sidewalk, I took a deep breath of fresh air. It was a freedom my father would probably never enjoy again.

By the time I walked to the T station, it had stopped raining. The sun winked down from the cool March sky. I folded my “borrowed” umbrella and hung it on a metal gate next to the train stop. It would be there for the next person who needed it.

dad side

My Dad

Boston Bound

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My father didn’t raise me; he was gone for most of my childhood. Before he disappeared, we made many happy memories together. Trips to the beach, where I could play on the swings and the slide. Getting soft ice cream in a dixie cup at Magic Fountain, and racing to eat it before it melted in the hot summer sun. Dad teaching me to skip while he sang “Skip to my Lou.” (My young ears heard it as “Skip to Maloo.” Maloo? Where’s that?)

One of our favorites destinations was a toy store called Tic Tac Toys, which located on the improbably named Love Lane in Mattituck, NY. Dad bought me a funny-looking stuffed duck, with yellow feathers, eyes that bugged out the sides of his head, and disproportionately short wings. I named him Disco Duck. Mom hated that ugly thing… which only made me love it more.

dad-me-a-few-months-old

Dad moved to Boston when I was six or seven. This coincided with the time my mother married my stepfather. I would get cards on Birthdays and at Christmastime, with personal messages scrawled inside, in Dad’s infamous chicken scratch. I always felt awkward when I opened them, because my mother, Grandma and Grandpa would read them as well, and make fun of whatever he had to say. They referred to him as “Dopey.” They expected me to share their opinion of my father. I didn’t know how I really felt. Eventually, the cards stopped coming.

Fast forward thirty years or so, when my Dad and I were finally reunited, thanks to a 1-800 number I’d heard on the radio: “We can find ANYBODY, or your money back!”

I’d tried to find Dad myself, when I was nineteen and old enough to form my own opinion about the man who was my father. I hit a dozen dead ends. (Although I discovered he– I— had a huge family out west.) So I’d almost given hope of ever finding him.

There was a good reason I had such a hard time tracking him down; he was homeless for many years. He lived in shelters and under bridges. Finally, he was “rescued” by an organization called Pine Tree Inn. They reach out to the homeless population in New England, giving them a place to live, and even job training. Dad was living in one of their rooming houses in the Dorchester area when I found him.

Our reunion was a bittersweet one, full of awkward hugs and long pauses in conversation. I had dozens of of questions bottled up inside me… only to have them scatter like spilled marbles once I was actually face-to-face with Dad.

To make matters worse, I’d learned that my father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. He couldn’t tell me much about his current life or his recent past. He tried to introduce me to friends of his in the neighborhood, but had trouble remembering their names. Yet, he could tell me the detailed story of how he and my mother drove from Seattle to Long Island, NY in the middle of winter when I was just a baby. His long-term memory was excellent, but he had little or no retention of Now.

Besides the Alzheimer’s, my father is afflicted with Parkinson’s. His hands shake so badly, I was amazed he could feed himself. He is unable to write back to me when I send him cards and letters. I’ve begged him more than once to please dictate messages for me, and have a trusted friend write it down and mail it to me. Let’s just say my dad doesn’t trust a whole lot of people. 99% of the communication between me and my father has actually been by way of his care team in the nursing home where he is now. I am his health care proxy. They are obligated to let me know everytime he falls. This happens often, as he’s not supposed to stand up without nurses’ assistance. As soon as their backs are turned, he’s up out of his wheelchair, and down he goes.

I’ve only visited Dad twice since I found him again. My budget doesn’t afford the luxury of traveling from Watertown, NY to Boston often, especially since I don’t drive. The two times I went to see him, it was with my ex-husband. But a recent turn of events has forced me into action. In spite of some pretty huge obstacles, I must make a trip to Boston… all by myself.

I don’t know too many details yet, but it seems Dad recently had a brain aneurysm. I’m not sure how much this latest medical malady has affected his ability to function, but things aren’t looking too good; dad has now entered Hospice care. It felt weird to me, giving consent for this; I’ve always associated Hospice with the end stages of cancer. The small piece of good news in all this is that Dad still remembers he has a daughter. Maybe he doesn’t remember my name, and maybe he he won’t recognize me when I walk into the room, but I must do this. Partly because I didn’t get a chance to say “goodbye” to my mother, who died in a car accident in 2006. Another reason is the guilt I feel for not making an effort to see him more. That guilt would be greatly augmented if Dad passed away before I got there. That’s why I’m not waiting for warmer weather; it had crossed my mind to put it off ‘til his birthday in April. I decided I don’t want to take that risk. Time is precious and fleeting, and tomorrow is never promised.

And so, I will face my phobia of train travel and try to work around my penchant for getting hopelessly lost (If I were a lab rat, I’d never find my way out of the maze), and trust in my Higher Power to keep me safe on this trip. I know I have angels on my side here on earth (they know who the are). Hopefully, I have some “Up There” as well, looking out for me and Dad.

 

dad-book

4 Books a Month? Why Not!

If you followed my Reading Challenge in 2016, you might have noticed I got a little frazzled at times. Some of the topics were challenging for me, especially “Read a book that intimidates you.” There were only twelve categories, and I normally read more than one book per month, so I’m not sure why I had such a tough time.

Nevertheless, I wanted to do it again this year. I toyed with the idea of making up my own categories, like “Read a book of a genre you normally don’t read.” But I decided to do away with silly labels and genres, and instead concentrate on numbers.

I’ve pledged to read four books per month for the rest of 2017. Notice I didn’t say “a book a week.” That would be close to impossible when the books are in the 600- 1300 page range! (And two of my January picks were!) Fortunately, the other two were easy to consume in a couple of days. Here’s what I read this month…

January Reads:

Book 1: It, by Stephen King

it

 

I first read this in the 1980s or ‘90s. When I heard that the movie is being remade, my interest in the book was renewed. Clocking in at 1473 pages, the story flies back and forth between 1957 and 1985. Something bad happened to seven friends (Ben, Bill, Stan, Eddie, Richie, and Beverly) in Derry, Maine, the summer they were eleven years old. A lot of kids died that year, including Bill’s younger brother, Georgie. Most of the dead kids washed up in sewers about town. Only the children know what’s going on, because… well, adults can’t see the evil clown, Pennywise, who’s been murdering young ones for centuries.

Somehow, , in spite of being dubbed “The Losers Club,” the kids survive. Not only to they move on to (mostly) very successful careers in adulthood, they ALL… FORGET… EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED that awful summer!!! Until… IT starts happening again. Children in Derry are turning up dead. Mike Hanlon, the only one of the bunch to have stayed in Derry, phones the others one by one and reminds them of a promise they made, sealed in blood. That if IT ever started happening again, they’d return to Derry and kill IT properly this time, even if it meant losing their own lives. Only then, do the unspeakable horrors of that awful summer slowly come back to them. For one of the old friends, the terror of those memories cause him to promptly end his life in a grisly fashion, rather than go back and face IT.

From the get-go, it is clear that Pennywise is NOT happy to see the return of the old gang of ‘57, as he plays upon their deepest-set fears to create monsters and delusions that will either drive them crazy… or kill them.

For the record, Stephen King says he is afraid of clowns.

 

Book 2: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

 

fault

This 2012  Young Adult novel was both a critical hit and a best-seller among its teenage target audience. I read this book when I was oh, shall we say, old enough to be the parent of a teenager. It kind of just fell into my hands. I work in a bookstore, and often our customers place special orders that get set aside until they pick them up. Well, I spotted The Fault in Our Stars on the shelf and figured it’d be a light, easy read to pass the evening. After all, it was just a kids’ love story, right?

WRONG! The main characters, Hazel and Augustus, meet in a cancer support group. Not exactly typical. Hazel is fighting cancer that has spread to her lungs, while Augustus is a cancer survivor and amputee. (He was a basketball player before he lost his leg.)

I’ll avoid giving any spoilers away for the five or ten people who may not have read the book yet. Suffice to say, after reading half the book in one evening, I was concerned enough about the characters to check it out of the library to finish it. An important part of the plot centers around Hazel’s obsession with a book called An Imperial Affliction. Its main character, Anna, was a young girl with cancer, just like Hazel herself. It torments her that the book ends abruptly, without a clue of what happened to Anna. The author, the reclusive Peter Van Houten hasn’t written anything since and lives in Amsterdam.

Knowing how much it would mean to her to meet Van Houten and get some answers, Augustus arranges a surprise trip for them to Amsterdam. However, when they arrive at the authors house… Things. Do. Not. Go. Well. Van Houten is a mean, abrasive, verbally abusive alcoholic. Hazel and Augustus flee the house in shock.

I won’t tell you what happens after that. I won’t reveal if anyone dies. I will say that Van Houten does try to redeem himself…. Or at least he explains himself, sort of. But after that fateful trip, nothing is ever really the same for Hazel and Augustus. I highly recommend this book for readers of ALL ages.

Book 3: Call Me Anna, by Patty Duke

anna

I’ve never had much interest in Patty Duke as an actress. Her show where she played “identical cousins” was before my time, and I’m not sure I saw any of her movies, other than “The Miracle Worker.” But at the end of 2016, I was reading an article about celebrities who’d passed away that year, and I hadn’t realized she’d died. I vaguely remembered hearing that she’d had a hard life and had struggled with mental illness, so I decided to find out more about this interesting lady.

Born Anna Marie Duke, she was renamed “Patty” at age eight by her managers, the Rosses who bluntly told her: “Anna Marie is dead.” Then they essentially took Patty away from her parents, which may have been a good thing, considering that her father was an alcoholic and her mother was unstable, due to depression. Unfortunately, the Rosses didn’t treat young Patty well either, abusing her, overworking her and eventually stealing the money she earned from her movies and TV shows.

As a result, Duke grew up to battle anxiety and depression herself. She was one of the first well-known actors to speak publically about having manic depression (now referred to as Bipolar Disorder). She remained a Mental Health advocate for the rest of her life. She was an inspiring lady.

Book 4: Helter Skelter, by Victor Bugliosi (with Curt Gentry)

me-reading

Touted as “the Best Selling True Crime Book of All Time,” this thick tome covers the sensational, horrific murders committed by Charles Manson’s appointed “Family” in 1969. I decided to read it after hearing that Manson, now 82, was on his deathbed in prison. (As of this writing, he is still alive.)

The most famous of the string of killings in California, was the mass murder that occurred on August 9, 1969 at the home of movie director Roman Polanski. Among the five dead bodies discovered on the property was that of Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant when she was slaughtered. Bugliosi was the Attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson in the Tate murders (as well as the LaBianca murders)… seven deaths in all.

Besides the extreme violence of the bloody murders themselves– one victim had been stabbed fifty-one times– it is shocking to read how the investigation was so badly bungled. The crime scene was compromised by police who recklessly stomped about the grounds, making it impossible to determine whether footprints had come from the cops’ shoes or the murderers. They also overlooked important clues that linked the Tate murders to those of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, a couple who was murdered in their home in the same shocking fashion the very next day. In both cases, words had been written on the walls in the victims’ blood. Still, the cops did not think the cases were connected!

These atrocious murders shouldn’t have happened at all, because Charles Manson should not have been a free man. In the first place. Since his teen years, he’d constantly been in and out of juvenile detention centers. His crimes included breaking into grocery stores to steal money, stealing cars and burglarizing gas stations. Later on, he made a living as a pimp. At one point, he was under FBI surveillance. So how was it that Charles was free move into an old ranch, owned by an 80-year-old blind man, with roughly a couple dozen of his “followers” and nobody batted an eye?

The fact that this wild-eyed, puny (he stood only five-foot-two) could have so much power over his followers is almost unfathomable. He convinced them (and himself, I guess) that he was Jesus Christ. He had sex with all the girls he wanted. They killed for their “Charlie.” He gave them instructions, but never did the dirty work himself.

Manson was obsessed with the Beatles’ “White Album.” He was convinced that the group had hidden messages in the lyrics relating to the ninth chapter of Revelation in the Bible.

“Helter Skelter” is the title of a track on the White Album. Manson interpreted as a call for a race war. The details are too sickening for me to write about. But if you are intrigued by abnormal psychology, true crime, and the American Justice System, this is the perfect book for you!

Bonus Book 5: (Because I never said I’d read ONLY four books a month. Besides, I found it while cleaning up under the bed.) Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

451

 

I first discovered Ray Bradbury’s writing last year, with “The Illustrated Man.” I’m normally far from a sci-fi fan, but the intertwined short stories had elements of horror, and I made it a point to grab another of his books.

Published in 1953, the story takes place at a time far in the future… the 2000s perhaps? Books have become not only obsolete, but are banned outright by the Government. Their reasoning is that they’re not needed anymore because people have shorter attention spans than they used to and they’re more interested in “new media” than books. (Wow, could Bradbury predict the future or what?) Anyway, the information in those old books is woefully outdated now; of what use are they?

Guy Montag is a fireman. Firemen aren’t the same in the future. They’re into starting fires, not putting them out. And what do they burn? Books, of course. Owning books is illegal, and any resident found in violation of the law has their house torched by the firemen.

One night, Montag is on a routine run… a woman has a stash of books in her home. But things do not go as usual. Instead of stepping away from her home, as ordered, the woman sets herself on fire. If her books are to be burned, she’ll join them in the inferno.

Montag is shocked and emotionally shaken by this event. Oh yeah, and he steals a book from her burning house. (It happens to be the Bible.) HIs boss, the intimidating Captain Beatty suspects Montag has a book and gives him a deadline to turn it over without punishment.

But it turns out that Montag has accumulating a stash of books over the years that he kept hidden, even from his wife, Mildred. She is horrified by the revelation and thinks her husband has gone crazy.

Montag realizes there is no way he can ever go back to being a fireman, and he is too stubborn to surrender his beloved books. He goes on the run to get help from perhaps the only person he can trust, who understands, who maybe… can save him.

Reminds me somewhat of a George Orwell type of book. Creepy and scarily believable..