•November 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Mom, Me, MamieIt was early, very early.

Friday morning, Sept. 25, 1981.

I would’ve never recalled it if I hadn’t found the death notice in a Greensburg, Ind., newspaper clipping that Mom had kept:

“Mrs. Mamie L. Adams, 75, died this morning at her residence at 313 W. Central Ave., where she had lived for 29 years. She had lived in Greensburg since 1945.”

Appended to it is a letter to the editor of the same paper, published days later, written by my maternal grandfather, Ray Adams:

“I am writing this letter about the ambulance service that I did not get a couple weeks ago.

My wife became very ill at 4 a.m. I called for an ambulance at 4:30 a.m. I live less than a mile from the station. At 5 a.m. they arrived.

The fire department was there, as were the police. The ambulance driver did not know where to go. I don’t know what they use the radio for or the city map they have.

I think it is time they are trained better.”Mamie, Ray

While I knew Grandma Mamie passed away in 1981, I couldn’t find any mention of it in my sparse journal from that year. So the clippings fill in details I wouldn’t have remembered now that Mom and Dad are also gone.

Mamie was born in Spiceland, Ind., on Aug. 18, 1906, making her six years younger than Grandpa. The daughter of William A. and Rachel Elizabeth Magee, she was third of that family, along with brothers Herman, who lived near Cape May, N.J., and Ernest, in Albany, N.Y., and a sister, Clara Matthews, in Indianapolis.

Mamie’s father William died in 1922, when she was only 16. His wife, Rachel Elizabeth, was born in 1876 and died in 1946. While I don’t have further info to confirm it, I recall that brother Ernest was schizophrenic and confined to a mental institution. I also remember being told, probably by Mom, that Mamie had another sister who committed suicide at a young age. So, perhaps that’s the genetic background I can point to as the source of my mother’s clinical depression.

MamieRay31Then along came David Raymond Adams. They were married on Aug. 17, 1931, one day before Mamie’s 25th birthday. The photo at left is from that year, as the handwritten caption reads: “The morning we left Carolina 1931,” so I’m guessing it was taken on their honeymoon, driving back to New Castle, Ind., in what must’ve been Grandpa’s 1928 Model A roadster.

Four years later my mother was born, in New Castle.

However, something happened in those intervening years, between the August 1931 wedding and Mom’s birth on Feb. 10, 1935: another woman. Or so the story goes.

How Mom learned about it years later is anyone’s guess. But as a child I did sense tension between Ray and Mamie whenever we visited in Greensburg. Mamie would snipe at Ray, Ray would slink away (likely out to his garage), often with Dad in tow.Me, Mamie

But Grandma Mamie’s terse nature was sometimes a source of amusement, at least for me. Maybe that was the same with the other Magee children—a sense of fatalism, maybe something that could be called “Irish intensity.” Mamie was not afraid to call out bullshit whenever she encountered it.

So when Dad was dating Mom, I remember later hearing (from Dad I think) that Mamie didn’t care for him and thought Mom could find a better choice for a husband.

If the infidelity tale is true, then it’s easy to see why Mamie felt that way—my father, as a young man, had a devil-may-care, egotistical attitude. His Way or the Highway. Mom might’ve seen Dad’s attitude as confidence. I don’t know. But there must’ve been a clash of wills between the devoted Irish mother and the insouciant French-Germanic ex-soldier.

Mamie’s death sent shockwaves through Mom, and I think she never truly recovered from it. She was close to her mother. And after learning about her father’s infidelity—fundamentally the reason she remained an only child—it only served to deepen her depressive episode, just beginning in late 1981, and continuing for six years.

Mamie Xmas 1980While I spent more time with Grandma Mamie than I did with Dad’s mother, Hazel, I was deeply influenced by Hazel’s reading habit. But I don’t recall attending Mamie’s funeral. I’m sure the Family Project immediately flew down to Indiana. The photo at left was taken during Christmas of 1980—probably the last time I saw her alive.

She wasn’t well, that’s clear from the photo.

But I don’t remember anyone speaking of the congestive heart disease that would claim her life that early September morning back in ’81.

Best Steak House

•November 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Been working on a new post about my maternal grandmother, and this chestnut came to mind. All new post up next Friday, promise!

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

The plaintive mourning dove—that’s a powerful memory.

As a kid, I thought the dove’s “coo-coo-coo” did sound sad. Not specificallysad, more like a meditative sad. It definitely made you stop, listen, and think about things, no matter what you were doing at the time.

And that sound is attached to a place—the very place my brother, his wife, and I are going to during the first week of April: our mother’s childhood home and what will be the final resting place of her ashes alongside those of our father’s. It’s a trip we’d planned to do a year ago, but schedules didn’t quite align.

We leave on Tuesday morning; my brother’s excited. Says he wants to visit our birth home. “Do you remember where that is?” he asks. “Yup. Broad Ripple. North Indianapolis, near the White River. East 64th Street.

After that we’ll visit Dad’s only…

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The Magic Has Gone

•November 7, 2014 • 2 Comments

My beautiful pictureIt had to be the worst moment of Dad’s life.

That morning in May 2008, when he called to tell me Mom had died.

I don’t know why, but I never stopped to imagine what that moment must’ve been like for him, after he was told. I picture him in the kitchen, sipping coffee and looking out past the lanai—another Florida day of humidity and haze only just beginning.

The home hospice nurse—heck, I don’t even know her name—how did she deliver the news to Dad that morning? After she spoke with him, when he walked down the narrow hallway from the kitchen to the sewing room, which then served as Mom’s final bedroom, what was running through his mind?

And that moment he gazed upon her, so still—his wife, the love of his life—my mother, gone. How do you take something like that in?

There I was, 1,655 miles away, in St. Paul, gazing up at a brilliant blue May sky.

Just moments before, a heart full of love for a new woman in my life … now, also, gone.


“Did you bring me back any of the magic?”

—Scratched in the new journal, National 43-571, in blue-black fountain pen at the top of page 7, on Oct. 5, 1981.

It was a Monday, and I was living at the farm in Minnetrista. Baby brother was off at college in northern Minnesota. Things were probably very quiet that day. Perhaps Dad had left for his office at the University downtown; Mom, off working as a school nurse in Waconia, Minn.

“I was just looking through Lisa Tepley’s letters to me,” the entry continues, “feeling very sad. I realized something and I want to be very firm about it: Things have changed…

The “magic” quote was lifted from one of her letters, after I’d returned from Camp Shamineau—my last year ever at camp. I was lurching back to the past, when things seemed simpler and the future less hazy:

“How so? I feel too ill to answer but … the magic has gone. Everyone has grown up and become world-weary & culture shocked & sexually insecure. It’s all very scary and very ugly. [The] last time I saw Lisa Tepley she looked tired, like she wanted to lay down and die. Neither of us could feel excitement about anything. We talked achingly. She seemed wrinkled by emotional scrapes, rubbed red to the raw by day-to-day drudgery—into the evening lies, passionless activities, whatever succeeds at eating away at a young, bright & beautiful girl.”

Lisa and I were in our early 20s—me, turning 22 in November. I wanted to write a collection of short stories about a small town called Dumond. I was also writing letters to two young British women I’d discovered late that summer through a pen-pal service out of Brooklyn, called “Harmony.”

You see, when you’re young and you’ve yet to find a mentor—anyone who has already gone through what you’re going through—it’s easy to believe that inspiration comes before creation. It’s a common question: “Where do you get your ideas?”

Twenty days after that despairing entry, I wrote:

“…earlier today I had some thoughts on Dumond that I wanted to write down but I got home and didn’t think any more about it—I remember that it was a sort of ‘epic’ feeling I get every now and then, about some work I’m at.”

Ah, that epic feeling.

Touched by the magical muse. Inspiration over perspiration.

It’s ironic how the rest of the entry plays out:

“…But it was also more than a full heart and warm feet. I watched the families come out of the church. The sky was gray and snow was lightly coming down. I was complaining to myself: carrying on a sort of fantasy debate between myself and ferocious young Christians. I thought: ‘I don’t want some prefabricated peak experience thrust upon me at the sound of [an] organ prelude. Life will come to me nevertheless…’”

Back in the fold of the Family Project, I was aching to define myself. That day, Oct. 25, 1981, was a Sunday. I’d been at church with the folks. There I spied my high school girlfriend Kim’s younger sister Tracy:My beautiful picture

“I saw Tracy in church and she is looking very pretty. I sat in the car and felt sad. Prettiness is a sad thing. I tried to think of snow lightly falling and prettiness shyly saying hello as very sad things. I felt that down Dumond’s shaggy streets, prettiness and sadness sit in the backseat of a new Lincoln Continental and sift some happiness from the sight of new-fallen snow and the scent of perfume and after shave … I had to write this down.”

Sad, scary things. And there I was, 21 years old, calling out those sad and scary things like Saint George, lance in hand, waiting at the mouth of the dragon’s cave. Only, waiting because I wrongly believed that inspiration always trumps creation, when it’s actually the other way around.

The magic has gone, young man, because you left it.

It’s still around, just waiting for you to begin work.

Neighborhood Kids

•October 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Happy Hallowe’en 2014! Here’s a blast from the distant past. All new post next Friday, Nov. 7.

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

The kid’s name was Peter Alyward.My beautiful picture

He came from a big Irish-Catholic family two houses down from ours.

I remember only two of his siblings—his older brother Matthew, a stocky, square-headed kid, and their older sister Kathleen, who used to babysit my brother and me when our parents went out. Fairly certain there were two younger kids and one girl who was between Matthew and Kathleen in the family tree.

There’s a photo of all the Alyward kids on Hallowe’en shoving through our front doorway in their costumes, mugging for Mom’s camera. I can see that photo in my mind’s eye now. I have that picture—just don’t have it right here, right now.

There is, however, this photo of Peter (above) between me and Brian, who’s reining in our new puppy, which Brian named Lassie—one of the few remaining pictures of Maryland and the late 1960s.

Peter was a…

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National 43-571

•October 24, 2014 • 2 Comments

“Why write at all?”National1

—Was scrawled in pencil on the Wilson Jones daily planner page for Wednesday, June 10, 1981.

Two days before, I’d written a complete entry in blue-black fountain pen. It begins: “Summer life—led in ‘quiet desperation.’”

Back in the fold of the Family Project, I was living at the new farm in Minnetrista, Minn., and just shy of a sheepskin after two years of community college.

It must’ve been something of a readjustment.

Monday, June 8, was “a slow, cloudy day.” I borrowed the family car and drove out to Excelsior where “I applied for a job at the Minnetonka Sailor Newspapers.” It didn’t look good: “…they can’t hire until the end of summer.”

Having not showered for the day and hungry, I then “drove out to the PDQ to look for a quart of milk, a can of Coke & a quick meatball sandwich. Found only a quart of milk. In front of me was … a pretty blonde. After a while & a good look, it turned out to be Kim. We chatted by checkout, my hair unwashed—probably seemed greasy … we walked outside—before we parted I asked her if I could call her …Sure!

The more I thought about reconciliation, the more hesitant I was to follow up. “I am trying to negate those feelings,” the entry reveals.

Three days later, I still hadn’t called her. “I think that I’m afraid to. I think I don’t want to get bogged in the old swamp of misunderstanding I clearly remember we used to get into … I tell myself just to forget her entirely & live on my own, but now I’m in Mound for God knows how long…”

“Perhaps I’m being too introspective lately,” the entry continues. “Is there such a thing? I sleep every chance I get & I dream profusely. Socially sad to say, but I think I’m beginning to like sleeping my life away, being neither here nor there.”

That fall I’d turn 22. So, I could’ve been experiencing depression for the first time, aggravated by all the sudden change. I admitted as much at the time: “The anxiety of finding a job hangs gloomily above my head! Where to work? Mound Printers? Some Factory God Knows Where? Downtown Mpls? I hate that American Capitalistic World out there. It’s like an oppressively bad dream for the free inquisitive mind…”

—and with that the Wilson Jones pages end.

I needed another place to write and think.

So that’s when I turned to a ruled, page-numbered chemistry book produced by National, item number 43-571. It was likely purchased at the Lakewood College bookstore before I left that spring.

The first entry was July 20, 1981—less in a journal format at the start and just more random thoughts, story ideas and, well, generally, whining:

“I can never die. I want to see every corner of the world. I want to write with confidence.”

“The above, while being largely true, again proves me to be a liar. I’m not satisfied with anything.”

“I think about death and dying a lot.”

“Many times I feel I want to say: ‘I do not believe there is a God.’ Or ‘We do not need a God, there is nothing one needs to do with a God…’ but in the same I’m terrified by the thought of no God. No God, no order, no order: no home, no love that lasts.”

Later I returned to the July entries with a pencil and commented: “Don’t be stupid.”

Regarding Charles and Diana’s nuptials, I wrote: “Royalty weds today and the whole thing smacks of romance and innocence. Nevertheless loneliness comically beats against itself and pants like a blind dog for more food—food for its dark soul.”

…Adding, “But this is just words…”

I’d penciled in, “Yep it sure is.”

I wasn’t writing every day, as I had with my earlier diaries. And that was the problem. I’d become the diarist version of flabby. The entries were all in fits and starts—continuing that way through the summer of 1982 and ending on page 20 (of 124 total pages in the book).

As a journal, it was an utter failure.

But I was learning I needed the outlet. I had to write.

And I would eventually buy another National 43-571 and start all over again.

The Wasp

•October 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The WaspA dream.

—And two Saturdays, nearly a month apart: April 25 and May 16, 1981.

Both were noted, absent a formal diary or journal, in a Wilson Jones Daily Reminder book I’d cobbled together during the first half of that year.

The April entry described a dream from that morning, which I titled “The Wasp”:

I was the passive observer of a little tale, a very vivid impression, which seemed to take place on a Polynesian island. …Two huts, side by side, two native families. To my left, two sons; to my right, a mother, her daughter, and a few small children. The daughter is scheduled to be wed to the eldest son of the other family, but she falls in love with the youngest, and he with her.

They stand in the shallows of the ocean together … I watched them [as I was] sitting and leaning back against the wall on the porch of a hut. I looked out at the wide plain of water, which was only a foot or two deep, and could see all the way clearly to the grasses on the sea’s floor.

In the enormous, brilliant sky, a large black cloud bled the sky like India ink spilling upward.

And then a beautiful melody comes into my head, with no effort I sit there and listen to it as one would listen to recorded music in headphones. I knew it came from myself; it was beautiful, not sad, very bright tempo—it ended perfectly. Then another tune swept into my head, not as good as the first. I stopped it.

A wasp comes buzzing along and stings the girl’s mother on the shoulder.

I dive into [the ocean] and lay under the shallow water. Sea grasses caress my face.


On May 16, I met Mom in Minneapolis, where she had agreed to help buy clothes for my forthcoming graduation from Lakewood.

“We didn’t have much luck,” the entry reports. “We had a big lunch at the top of the Dayton’s building, then she bought me a pair of khaki pants and a shirt at Donaldson’s. There was a Scandinavian Parade or something going on in downtown Mpls.”

By 3 p.m. I’d hopped a bus back to St. Paul, then transferred to the Maplewood Mall, not arriving until close to 6 p.m. “I’d missed the 15D to Mahtomedi,” the entry continues, “but a beautiful blonde high school girl from Mahtomedi was in the same boat, so she offered me a ride with a friend of hers named Julie, an equally beautiful brunette, from Julie’s mother.”

I vaguely recall that day.

Bright new changes were ahead that spring: college graduation, then home again to Minnetrista—and likely looking for a job. However pleasant the encounter with the two girls, “I regret to say,” the entry concludes, “I didn’t get the blonde’s name. Julie’s mother dropped me off at Paul’s East Shore Grocery, where I bought a can of Coke and walked the rest of the way home. The blonde and I seemed to say, as I got out of the Honda, a special goodbye.”


There’s something to all this—some connection my subconscious dearly wants to make between a strange dream, a lunch date with my late mother, and a chance encounter over 30 years ago. And maybe a lesson (unlearned?) about the lingering nature of regret.

Who was this “eldest daughter”? Was she the main character in The Green House, my entirely unwritten novel from that time? And what about the two sons, the youngest of which wins her heart? “They stand in the shallows of the water together…” Perhaps they were holding hands and gazing at the ocean. Then that melody begins, after the ominous black cloud appears in the sky.

“A wasp comes buzzing along and stings the girl’s mother on the shoulder…”

Where, I wonder, is Julie’s mother today? Whatever happened to Julie, the brunette, and her lovely best friend? How have their lives turned out?

And how I wish that May entry had more details about the “big lunch” with Mom. What did we eat? What did we talk about? Where was she in her life at that very moment? She would’ve been 46—eight years younger than I am now. Was she happy? Or maybe a bit sad that her eldest son was soon leaving home?

Fleeting moments, pausing in the present—then rushing by like waves above a shallow ocean floor.

Desire, then regret. Hesitation, followed by forgetting.

A face on the bus smiles shyly at you—then it’s gone. Or maybe you’re smiling because you had a moment, and something remained—a name, a phone number or address—to push that fragile moment toward an uncertain future.

Or, climbing out of a Honda in the spring of 1981, an unspoken acknowledgment of desire and regret—maybe stinging like a wasp?

Where did these dreams exist, if they ever existed at all, until now?

Live From the Moon! (Part 2)

•October 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

[Last of a two-part post.]

It was dedicated to my old friend Lisa Tepley.

The Encyclopedia of Necessary Atrocities started with a bang:


Dear Reader! You hypocrite reader!
—my double,—my brother! Your
eyes attend to this fragment,

in the

(and therefore told by the standard
victim six decades after the lost
generation convened in Paris,
delivered in the spirit of all good
dirt bitches’ BIRTH PANGS, post-war
pride and Charles’ love & XXs)

set forth in a modern tongue
with pieces extracted from within
the tow-linen coffee sack, as comical as
the tin mush pot crowning the head of

our mythical father,

Two voices in the wilderness
belting out that Shakespearian Rag
during the supreme madness of the carnival season,
a few taps of the toe,
an American Dream
and this,

(with a few seeds)

Presented for your
edification and amazement


M. Maupin
Author & Printer

Encylo_textJustified text, illustrated drop caps, poetic pullquotes, black and white images and, well, the general look and feel of an encyclopedia. The back cover credits were, to say the least, the height of narcissism:

I would like to thank the following for their help: Ray Bohn, Ken Mackelbergh, Studio 1050…, Theron Hollingsworth, Ed Fisher, Jeffrey Dunne, Joseph Allen Prouse, Pat Ciernia & Art Whores, Ltd., the L&J Café, Jethro’s Saloon & Eatery, the Lakewood Logue, Mr. & Mrs. Paul Maupin, Jr., Fourth Grade Language Arts teachers who saw in me the new James Joyce, and all the myriad others who helped make these atrocities necessarily possible.

On May 16, in a hastily put-together planner-diary, I wrote:

A bad day that, because of a bad, unlucky circumstance, turned out to be okay, had a nice twist to it. First, the reason I haven’t written for so long—I get enormously tired at night and can’t lift a finger, much less write. All my money’s gone. Mrs. Weisbrod’s letting me pay her by mail. I spend most of my time writing, laying out and thinking about The Encyclopedia. Tomorrow I will complete the final draft of the last entry, typeset it and any other errors on Monday and Monday night have a little keylining celebration.

And then, June arrived.

There was a “Mark of Excellence Banquet” on the first Saturday of the month (location unknown, but the extant program reports a 6 p.m. cocktail hour with dinner at 7 and program at 8 p.m.). Executive Editor: Mike Maupin, listed near the top with Editor-in-Chief: Rod Gunsell—which is ironic, since I still have my staff resignation letter from earlier that quarter.

So … it’s likely I didn’t receive any award for excellence.

Graduation followed on Sunday, with another irony. I was a couple credits shy of the Associate of Arts degree I’d been working two years to attain. Still, I’m listed in the Class of 1981 roster. Go figure.

In a way it mattered little to me (the Family Project probably thought otherwise). I’d finally completed The Encyclopedia of Necessary Atrocities (Revised Abbreviated Edition). Coming in at a slim 10 pages (not including front and back cover), with reverse type and fish icon on the cover (swimming off-page on the back), I was proud of the damn thing.LiveMoon_CITD

And one of the last entries, with a cropped-in image of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, “Live From The Moon” on the Family Project’s late-’70s Sony TV, provided the intro to “Gizmo,” here in its entirety:

Gizmo: The weatherman shoots his finger at a low-pressure system on the map.

Late that afternoon the family got back from the baby’s funeral. Marjorie and Tom were a year and a half into their marriage and the baby, Christina, who saw so little of life, had been the couple’s firstborn.

Convened in the young family’s kitchen were the immediate relatives: Marjorie’s mother and father, her sister Audrey and husband Terry, their children Dave, Marcella and Virginia; Tom’s mother, Katherine, sat at the kitchen table and wept. Her youngest son, Marshall, in his late 20s, stood over her, his cold hands resting on her shoulders. Marjorie made coffee for everyone and the children ran into the living room to watch television. The adults mulled over their coffee and shot stiff glances at each other, looking for signs of consolation or hope.

In the living room the television blared away, amid occasional giggles from the children. Marjorie felt horribly uneasy and hollered for the children to turn the set down. Grandmother Katherine heaved faint, squeaky sighs. Still the television howled and the children did not respond. When it seemed that Marjorie would explode into the living room, Marshall jumped ahead of her and took charge of the matter. Instantly upon seeing him stomp into the room, the children leapt to attention and David rushed to the set and lowered the volume.

Little Virginia sat by herself and, with glowing eyes, loudly sang along with an advertising jingle for McDonald’s. Marshall looked at her briefly and, returning to the kitchen, thought, “I just want to say how very sad it is…”

Christina … just a baby. And John Lennon had left the planet. He was only 40.

It was up to the rest of us to dream big.

As they would’ve wanted us to do.


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