Junior’s Farm

•September 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Casco Point SaleIn the summer or early autumn of 1980, my late father, Paul J. Maupin, became what my second cousin Karla laughingly called, “a gentleman farmer.”

The house at 2821 Casco Point Road was sold, and a hobby farm at 7321 County Road 15—four miles west of Lake Minnetonka and nearly all of eight acres—was purchased and moved into while I was back at Lakewood Community College.

You see, I barely understood Dad’s legacy. His middle initial, “J,” stood for “Junior.” His father’s name was Paul E. (Edgar) Maupin. Grandma and Grandpa always called Dad “Junior.” I think he hated it, hence the switch to a middle initial.

Dad would turn 49 years old on Jan. 1, 1981. That’s five years younger than I am now. He’d decided to completely reinvent himself and the Family Project, created back in 1957 when he married Mom. That reinvention plan likely began before he sold the house on Casco Point (pictured above and at right).Casco Point Sale 2

Pop had a wooden sign engraved “By His Grace, the Maupin Family,” which hung outside the garage facing the road. I bristled at that, given my agnostic predisposition. But Dad’s spiritual backstory is a complicated one, one I’ll probably never nail down. However, once we’d made the move, he changed the sign to “By His Grace Farm,” and the transformation was nearly complete.

By then, the Project was beginning to fragment. I was finishing at Lakewood and my brother Brian, upon high school graduation, attended a community college in Ely, Minn.

I remember when I first arrived at “the Farm,” probably that autumn. Dad picked me up at the Mound bus stop, since I didn’t at that point own a car. I wish I would’ve recorded that day in a journal.

Two dogs immediately greeted us as we pulled up to the house: Bingo—one of Lassie’s pups, given back to us by neighbors who could no longer keep him, and a steel-blue Australian sheepdog Dad had named Muddy (photo below right). Muddy genuinely frightened me: as she approached she bared her teeth, shook her stubby tail, and sneezed excitedly.

“—She doesn’t bite … right, Pop?” I said.

Then—as if on cue—a swarm of other animals greeted us: geese, chickens, and a tomcat named Teddy.

It was like coming home to a zoo.

The farm soon became Dad’s new major project. Of course he was still working at the University of Minnesota. Later in the 1980s, he’d park his used Dodge pickup at the Mound bus stop and take the city bus in. It was like he was living dual lives.

He didn’t plant crops—hence the “gentleman farmer” epithet. The plan was to raise chickens for eggs. The dogs and geese worked as a “home security alarm system” more than anything else.

Minnetrista FarmInside the farmhouse was a small breakfast nook in the kitchen, a swinging door that lead to a sun-drenched dining room, living room with fireplace, master bedroom, bathroom and den on the main floor.

Upstairs, a small living area housed a sofa, chairs and TV, three bedrooms: the first at the top of the stairs became Mom’s sewing room, another small one next to it (window, top floor in the photo at left) became my bedroom, and baby brother scored the largest bedroom, which had windows overlooking the driveway. There was a tiny bathroom upstairs, too, and an attic crawlspace for storage.

The house was surrounded by pines, mere feet from the back door, and a massive field that led down to woods abutting Whaletail Lake. Just past the corn crib, a dirt path took you straight to the lake, where Dad had installed a dock so he could tether a boat and fish to his heart’s content.

It was idyllic—a natural extension of everything Mom and Dad valued: privacy and independence, and the ability to enjoy their own hobbies. They were determined to retire there.Dad and Muddy

It’s timely to remember this now that Brian and I may have finally sold the place that actually became their retirement home, in southwest Florida. Florida never felt like a home to me, ever. And some of the most bittersweet memories of the 1980s and early 1990s spring from my time on the farm.

So, reinvention. Dad, then; me, now.

The concept of home still evades me, even after living in so many places: Broad Ripple, Indianapolis. Then parts East: Old Baltimore Road, Maryland. In 1971, Minnesota, at the Little Renovated Summer Cottage on Casco Point.

And now, “By His Grace.” A plot of land out in the country.

Secluded, teeming with animals. Soon, an empty nester’s home.

But always, Junior’s farm.

Tell Me a Story

•September 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Once upon a time, there were no stories.Story Time 2

Umm, what?

That’s right. It’s a ridiculous statement to make, because I can’t remember such a time.

If there ever was a true beginning of the world, then that was not it—no stories? No life! No Bambi fleeing a burning forest. No Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on a wicked witch’s spindle. No foot race with golden apples and—terror of terrors—a lovely young woman with a priceless wedding gift, and whose misuse of it is legendary.

It started so simply: “Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle,” “Hickory, dickory, dock!” “Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn,” “Little Bo Peep, lost her sheep…”

Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail… and Peter.

And then Wynken, Blynken… and Nod. Just three dudes sailing off in a wooden shoe, “on a river of crystal light…” I could see it! I could imagine their crazy flight!

Story Time 1My maternal grandparents’ next-door neighbor, Ben Amie, had a daughter who used to read to me. I’ve since forgotten her name, but I’ll always recall her generosity (pictured above and at left, reading “Chicken Little” to me). I loved being told a story, getting lost in the characters, and dreaming about distant places and other times.

Pawing through a copy of Grosset and Dunlap’s The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature, a lot comes back. The copy I have isn’t my original childhood book, but it is from that time. With all the poems, limericks, rhymes, and fairy tales, what was the first story I ever remember being told? I’ve wondered about this. A few things come to mind.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “A Thought” reminds me, somewhat ironically, of the story of “Little Black Sambo,” who, after being taunted by and losing his fine clothes to a mean tiger, later recovers everything as the angry tigers chase each other around a tree so fast they turn into melted butter. I recall being surprised by such an odd transformation. Stevenson imagines a less traumatic world:

It is very nice to think
The world is full of meat and drink
With little children saying grace
In every Christian kind of place.

At my paternal grandfather’s Indiana farm, playing alone in the shimmering water of a creek, building dams with stones and hunting for twigs, Tennyson’s “Song of the Brook” easily could’ve been speaking just to me:

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

It got serious with Jack and the Beanstalk, wondering if young Jack would elude the terrible giant: “Fee-fi-fo-fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman!” Then it came fast and furious with the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen (a scene in the Danny Kaye film, about “The Ugly Duckling,” moved me to tears), and … Disney. Disney took it further.Story Time 3

The first, for me, was probably Sleeping Beauty. I loved the idea of everything frozen in time, just as it was—and then restored with only a kiss. But the wicked witch terrified me like nothing I’d seen before. The princess pricking her finger on the spinning wheel? My reaction was visceral. It went deep.

On Feb. 22, 1965, a televised broadcast of “Cinderella,” starring Lesley Ann Warren, remains burned into my brain. Again, witches or evil step-sisters, there was something I needed to learn about how evil worked in the world, and about how good was forever at odds with it. Sometimes the stakes were so high that the story galvanized me to the core, like the forest fire scene in Bambi.

Later, live-action movies came to the forefront, like The Swiss Family Robinson, or Dick van Dyke and Nancy Kwan in Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. I recall seeing Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines at a downtown Indianapolis theater, probably when it was released in the summer of 1965.

Guido_Reni_AtalantaBut the true beginning, I think, was the Greek and Roman myths I first learned about through cartoons like Hercules, and this. I’ve tried to find an earlier cartoon of the myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes and the race with the golden apples, but couldn’t track it down on the Web.

However, something about that story floored me, made me want to cheer for them both. Maybe he would win her, but also she might overtake him, despite the golden apple ploy, and win the race.

I wasn’t sure. I needed to know.

And therein lies the beating heart of every great story. How will the story end?

Lastly, Pandora. She receives a gift on her wedding day, a beautiful ornate box she’s told not to open. In it the gods had placed all the evils of the world.Pandora

But I’d forgotten they had also placed something else, one thing that could not be removed: hope.

After Pandora peeks into the box, unleashing sorrow and evil into the world, it was the only thing that remained.

Like all the stories I’ve ever been told.

See You in September!

•August 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My beautiful pictureDear Readers:

What a year! And it’s only late August. Completely in the Dark usually takes a hiatus in October, around the time of its anniversary.

But this year, we’re going for a late-summer version. Not so much a “So long, goodbye, that’s all, folks,” but a “hey, thank you for riding along!”

I’ll be back on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, with all-new stories.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Gasshō, Mike

The Basement Tapes

•August 15, 2014 • 2 Comments

When I saw the cassettes I thought, “Oh, wow. This could be the motherlode.”BasementTapes

Or, a big disappointment.

Digging through boxes of photos, letters, and memorabilia, I found something I never expected to find: three cassette tapes that I’m fairly certain contain my voice, along with others, back when we were teenagers in the mid-to-late 1970s.

One C-30 tape likely had the biggest vein of material, while the other two 60-minute tapes probably contained TV programs from the early 1970s, about UFOs and In Search of Ancient Astronauts—real mind-blowers at the time.

So, I just recently had them digitized. You know, before they dissolve into the ether. Then I was itching to hear what they had to say.

Here’s what I uncovered: The earliest tape, the C-30, is shot—completely off the spool. Unless someone out there knows how to repair that, its secrets will be lost forever. The other two tapes have been converted, so I’m sharing clips from them here:

Basement Tape #1

Date: Monday, Feb. 20, 1978; Total length: 11:04 minutes

It was a terrible day.

After smashing up the Dartillac, and probably grounded indefinitely, I was at home listening to the radio and messing around with the tape recorder. Maybe some friends stopped by, or my brother and our neighbor friends recorded with me prior to leaving for the ski slopes.

1970s KidsIt begins with Pink Floyd’s “Money,” then (around 4:26 in) we kids interrupt, goofing around as only teenagers know how to do: “KQ Fireline… oh wow, man. The moon is beautiful today! Hello in there! We’re recording nothing of value!”

“Testing 1, 2, 3…” The date is confirmed at 5:35 in, with a KQRS radio ad for the County Seat (a clothing store that mostly sold Levis) at the six-minute mark. Some Hall & Oates at 6:20, then the slowed-down voiceover from some TV show, likely the UFO program I’d taped over (“Would… you… believe?”).

At 7:15, we switch over to KDWB, where John Denver plays “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”

But you really have to stick around for a hilarious ad spot for the movie The Trial of Billy Jack beginning at 9:49. “He’s coming!”

Who? Billy Jack is back!

Amazing how prescient the dialogue is even today: “One way for the rich, and one way for the rest of us!”

Basement Tape #2

Date: unknown, likely 1978; Total length: 4:32 minutes

KQRS, the album rock station for the Twin Cities, was playing the latest from The Eagles’ Hotel California. So, given that record’s release in February 1977, and mention of Joe Walsh getting But Seriously, Folks in the can, it’s likely this clip was actually recorded in 1978.

Ah, those were the days of sexy, smoky-voiced female DJs, whom I distinctly remember feeling very cozy listening to.

At 00:39 in, there’s an ad for a “CBS All-Stars Show” at the State Theatre, Saturday, Dec. 3, featuring Billy Cobham, Tom Scott, Alphonso Johnson and Steve Khan—tickets were only $7.50 and $6.50!

The opening bars of Kansas’ “Closet Chronicles” bursts in around 1:51, followed immediately by the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” Always loved the wistful tone of that song, like all the old feelings I got while nightwalking.

Basement Tape #3

Date: Thanksgiving 1978?; Total length: 3:08 minutes

Probably from the same time, given The Eagles/Carl Carlton/warbling voiceover on the clip. It’s almost a form of aural art—beamed in directly to you from late 1970s AM radio (KDWB)! Can you dig it?

A “Musk Oil by Houbigant” ad oozes in at 1:44. Hilarious!

“A fascinating fragrance as old as time, as new as you,” and “Pure … and not so pure.”

Remember, it’s a fragrance “for people who give more of themselves!”

Get it? MORE, you horny bastards!

And the DJ banter with three crazy kid listeners? Crazy good.

The clip ends with the rarely played, dreamy-spacey opening to America’s “Tin Man.”

Basement Tape #4

Date: 1977? 1978?; Total length: 10:20 minutes

It’s a long one, but definitely worth listening all the way to the end—the payoff is Rod Serling!

The clip opens with an ad for the latest LP by New Riders of the Purple Sage, Marin County Line, released in 1977. It’s followed at 00:58 by a LaBelles ad for Pioneer stereos, with a jingle that is 1970s cringeworthy: “A word of caution—Prices are limited!”

At 2:12 in, Todd Rundgren’s “The Night the Carousel Burned Down” from his 1972 Something/Anything double-record set, followed by (at 6:26) “I Don’t Know What to Feel,” from A Wizard, a True Star (1973).

Well, space cats, this is the closest you’ll ever get to listening to ’70s music exactly as it was broadcast in the late 1970s.

Then, at 8:46 in, a cataclysmic explosion!

Sodom and Gomorrah. “So complete was the destruction.”

Cue Raiders of the Lost Ark!

Backyard Incinerator

•August 8, 2014 • 3 Comments

MomDad_56Death, then fire.

That’s how my parents went out of this world. And likely I will too.

It’s something I really try not to think about: how my earthly remains will be disposed of. And for good reason. It’s completely out of my hands.

By the time I arrived in Florida in late May 2008, Mom had already been cremated. I was shocked by this, wishing I could’ve seen her one last time.

Then, after Dad died in early September of the same year, a similar regret. Except Pop’s body was still in the morgue when my brother Brian, our aunt, uncle and I met with the doctor.

I asked if I could see Dad’s body.

The doctor wanted me to think carefully about that request since, as he said, “blood had collected, post-mortem, on one side” of Dad’s face.

Did I want that to be my “last image of him?”

The others concurred with the doctor. I was the holdout.

But then Dad, too, was cremated.

I wasn’t even sure if that was his final request. But we purchased simple wooden boxes, into which the ashes of one half of the Family Project were put and kept at my brother’s house until finally, in April 2012, we were able to inter them at the family gravesite in Greensburg, Indiana.

I’ll never forget lowering Dad’s ashes into the ground. They were so much heavier than Mom’s. So like mother’s air-element quality to be light and for Dad’s to be heavy—almost waterlogged, like all the seven oceans were stuffed into that small wooden box, then placed in a tiny plot of earth.

And so the other elements remain: my brother is earth, like the ground into which our parents were laid.

Then there’s me.

Always on fire, burning through life, consuming everything in my path: jobs, money, relationships, you name it.


My Indiana birthplace had an incinerator in the backyard.

While doing research on the previous blog post, I came across this scene and was startled by its effect on me. William Inge’s play Picnic, released as a movie in 1955 and directed by Joshua Logan, shoots me back to a time when three generations passed through our tiny home in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis.

The above left photo, taken in 1956, shows Dad and Mom (right of frame) enjoying a night out with two other couples.

It was a heady time. Post-World War II economic vitality was in the air. Employment was on the rise. All the couples are snappily dressed. They seem relaxed and happy.

For Mom and Dad, it was early in their relationship. In another three years I would be born and—bang—one brand-spankin’ new Family Project, off and running. The house at 1827 East 64th Street was purchased with Dad’s new wages at the Indiana State Highway Department. It was quickly outfitted for all the things the project would need.

Our backyard incinerator at that house resembled the one in Picnic: metal with a concrete base and vented sides. Taking the trash out, lighting the match, burning the trash. Our Cocker spaniel, Taffy, sniffing the grass around us.Edith, Lena Adams

I’d nearly forgotten that Taffy was a gift from Mom’s Uncle Horace. Horace Harter was born in October 1903. He was husband to Grandpa’s only sister Edith (pictured at right with her mother, Lena Adams, who lived well into her 90s and whom my brother and I met many times in Greensburg, Ind.).

All I recall about Edith is a general sadness, so different from her outgoing brother Ray, and who was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1970s. She died in 1973.

Edith’s husband, my Great Uncle Horace, a retired assistant postmaster and Presbyterian, had one hardcore hobby: breeding Cocker spaniels and winning awards at dog shows. I remember his basement shelves were filled with trophies and plaques. He was an honorary member of the American Spaniel Club.

Taffy died in Maryland, shortly after we arrived in the mid-1960s.

Dad buried her in the backyard, just beside the playhouse.


On Friday, Dec. 27, 1991, the Family Project went into emergency mode.

A journal entry on Monday, Dec. 30, tells it in full:

“The folks’ house out in Minnetrista caught fire. The old Zenith TV in the upstairs living room exploded and caught fire, igniting the couch and everything surrounding it. Mom had left the TV on and went downstairs. She heard the explosion and went upstairs, saw the fire, went back downstairs and called the Fire Dept. It wasn’t long before Dad came up the driveway, soon followed by the fire engines. I’d been at work since 10 a.m., as I was supposed to leave at 6:00 p.m. to take them to the Comfort Inn on Highway 494 where they were to stay till their plane bound for Florida left the Int’l Airport at 6 a.m. Sat. I called home at close to noon to tell them I’d be out there earlier than expected and Mom picked up the phone in the garage to say the house was on fire. I left work right away…”

When I made it to the house, it wasn’t as badly damaged as I imagined. But, as the entry continues, “…when I saw the sooty walls upon which were the family photos, I got really angry and took them down.” It was a helpless feeling to arrive so late.

Brian convinced our parents to continue with their Florida vacation plans and deal with the house when they returned.

That’s when, I’m certain, Dad decided he and Mom would retire to Florida.

Two weeks later, after they’d returned, on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 1992, I wrote: “And then, the second fire…”

Workers making repairs from the first fire had left an acetylene torch burning while they took a lunch break.

The remainder of the house went up in flames.


IncineratorLastSo many elemental connections to this, which I’ve explored before: how Mom (an air element) left the old TV on, Dad (water) rushed home to put out the fire, how my brother convinced them to go on vacation (down-to-earth) and I, fiery nature, fire sign Sagittarius and all, felt so unable to be “a good, helpful son.”

You see, Dad abhorred the smell of smoke.

I’m certain my fiery impetuosity often rankled him. I do know that as I entered my teenage years, we had more than our share of misunderstandings.

And I’ve failed at so many things since then.

I’ve been a poor son and brother. Partner, and friend.

I’ve burned through it all, only stopping when everything had been consumed.

No Picnic

•August 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

On Monday, Nov. 17, 1980, my calendar-planner’s entry read: “Meet Jim @ theatre entrance @ 1:30 to go to River Falls until approx. 6 or 7pm. See Kristi.”Picnic1

I have no idea who these people were.

My best guess is former high school newspaper editor Jim Borgheiinck, meeting me at Lakewood to drive to the University of Wisconsin to visit my old high school girlfriend Kristi Peterson.

But why those two?

And why then?

Not having a journal or diary to corroborate has been a frustrating exercise in personal archaeology. But due to a fastidious nature, I was able to unearth copies of letters I wrote to friends while I was at school in White Bear Lake.

On that Monday I wrote a letter to high school friend Terry Hollingsworth. Apparently we’d talked on the phone the previous Friday night, and promised to write letters going forward.

But something happened that Friday that totally knocked me off my feet.

I had to tell someone about it, so it’s likely I called Terry, then followed up with that letter, just so I could better understand my thinking. I’m grateful I kept a copy:

“I went to the Lakewood Community College’s Theater Department’s production of Picnic, set in Kansas, circa 1950. …I was fascinated by one of the leading characters, Millie, played by this Angelette girl who really knew how to smile. She was beautiful, in both character and obvious self. I wanted to know her, find her out, be present during the offstage moments of her life, witness her finesse in pure smiling. I hope to meet her sometime. But I am again doubtful that any relationship I imagine could form. After the performance that night, I was standing outside the auditorium talking with a friend of mine when she flew up out of nowhere, still in costume, and said hello to my friend. I wanted to congratulate her on the show, say something, anything to her, but I stood there nodding and listening like a fool whose eyes possibly betray more than anything his surprise and anxiety and compunction.”

Her name was Angelette McCusker. The letter continues:

“I saw her again today in the hall as I was going down to the cafeteria, and I … thought I caught a look from her, and continued on my way. She seems bubbly and composed at the same time, a girlish mixture of mature lightheartedness and deliberation. So today this is how things stand: I wish I had the same decisiveness that my friends here at Lakewood seem to have in meeting girls. I am directly by nature too shy, and self-conscious of my appearance and mannerisms in a situation of first meeting.”

So, I wrapped up that first letter with the sign-off “Brothers in words, Mike,” and that was that.

After two weeks, I hadn’t heard from Terry, so I wrote a second letter on Monday, Dec. 1, 1980. Four paragraphs in, this:

“I met her today. I met the girl, Angel, I told you about in the last letter, yes, the actress that has stolen my heart. This is what happened: Pat, a friend of mine, and I had just walked upstairs from the first level of the school … when we passed the Business Office upstairs and both of us spotted Angel with two of her friends. One of the girls knew Pat, because on Halloween day he had dressed up very realistically as Bruce Springsteen, and she called to him: “Oh, Bruce!” We both did a kind of about-face and went over to talk to them. Terry, now is when everything in my memory goes just a little hazy. You know when I told you in the last letter about First Meetings? Well it all applies. The general conversation was set on Pat, he was indeed the reason for the meeting at all. The girl who called him over, and who by the way also appeared in the play with Angel, roughly introduced us… I ventured to say to Angel that she was very good in the play (I thought I did pretty good for someone who was nervous as hell and almost in pieces just seeing the girl at a distance), and she replied: “You remember me from that long ago?”

Gulp. Busted.

The letter reports I blathered “something inconsequential” to her, then later went on to muse to Terry about the feeling of being newly in love:

“Have you ever noticed how you act when you’re infatuated/in love? Besides being forever red, hot and all flushed in the face, your love seems to pop up everywhere and the surprise is always fresh and complete. She seems a little different every day; wasn’t her hair dark, chocolate brown? No, now it seems much lighter, with shades and tints of blonde. She is the popular one in a bunch; then she is the lonely one just around the corner. She seems to watch you from afar, and then all of a sudden it seems she sees you the same way you see a crowd, all at once. She is beauty in a glance; frightening to face eye-to-eye. Perhaps most of all she thrives as your beloved object greatest in the lonely hours of your imagination, your momentary flights and touch-downs of fantasy. Her greatest impact on you is out of your sight. Your loved one is about as close as you could come to calling something a Real Ghost.”

Then, on Saturday, Dec. 20—the last letter of 1980—no further mention of Angel. I’d already been home on winter break for nine days. I was feeling lonely and anxious about the forthcoming year. And Terry finally responded to the slew of letters he was receiving.

Picnic2Of course there’s no letter or journal entry to confirm these things, but Angel and I did start seeing one another.

I recall only one date off-campus, with Mark Luebker and his girlfriend Susan, at an Italian restaurant just down the road from the college.

Angel and I held hands, and kissed a couple times in quiet nooks at school. All the while I was burning with desire to take it further.

But after winter quarter began, Angel handed me that dreaded of all things, the Dear John letter: “Mike, I refuse to hurt you any longer by leading you to believe my feelings are more than what they really are. I value your friendship too highly.”

Wham!—color me crushed.

She’d also sent an early draft of the note, signing it: “Millie.”

I quickly realized that the winter of 1981—my last year at Lakewood—was going to be, well, no picnic.

Nursery Birds. Mmmm, Birds.

•July 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Nearly four years ago, I published this second post. All-new stories again next Friday morning. Happy late summer, friends!

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

That’s the first “media” I ever “consumed.” Literally.Nursery birds

Story has it my parents bought a mobile of brightly colored birds and hung it above my crib. You know, something to keep my baby-sized brain occupied.

I vaguely recall them. They had spongy bodies and little floppy wings (photo, at right).

Story also has it I tore the wings off my nursery birds. Probably gave ’em a gnaw or two.

And so, an editor is born.

It was in this little house on East 64th Street, in Broad Ripple, just north of downtown Indianapolis, where we lived until 1966, when Pop landed a plum gig with the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and we packed up and moved East.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

All those things: A baby book, a lock of hair, baby cards with elephants and clowns. Story has it gypsies down the street took care of…

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