In honor of National Independent Bookstore Day

This is an excerpt from my memoir in honor of National Independent Bookstore day. Bits of it have been revised but for these purposes I like it. Thanks goes out to John, my previous boss, who has taken the time recently to speak with me about my days working at his bookstore. Lemuria bookstore continues to be a top independent bookstore in the United States in large part because of John’s dedication and hard work.

The Mousehole Cat

My daughter was five when her stepdad and I meet. After eight magical years in Missoula, MT, I had returned to my Southern hometown of Jackson, MS. Paul and I worked alongside each other at a local bustling bookstore. As a previous frequent customer, he had waited on me for years. Eleven years my elder with his salt and pepper hair, beard and blue eyes staring through wire rimmed glasses he looked the part of a wise, caring bookseller. Here we were sitting and working together at the open circular customer service desk, right in the middle of this beautiful bookstore. 

Lemuria bookstore had just moved to this new location a year before. It had grown out of the small space it previously housed. Now it was nationally known for its first editions collection as well as author events. The first editions had its own room, the children’s section, OZ, was like a little store of its own. Visiting authors would read to a packed crowd from their newest book then situate themselves in a booth tucked away up a couple steps. This allowed readers a moment to say a few words to the author while having their book signed, then walk through and down steps on the other side making for the perfect flow. 
It was an honor to meet writers such as Lorrie Moore, Kaye Gibbons, Jim Harrison, John Grisham, Tim O’Brien, Mark Childress and Tom Robbins. I would assist in the signing, sitting next to the authors in the booth, greeting their fans and getting the books opened to the correct page to sign. As the endearing Willie Morris signed and visited with readers of My Dog Skip, I dutifully kept his coffee cup filled with his favorite whiskey.

Behind our little world at the customer service desk, Paul proved to be nothing but helpful. Each morning for my first week of work, Paul would greet me, look at me as if looking into my soul saying, “Frances, let me know if you need any help finding a book, anything, I’m here to help.”

Since I was a single parent, my parents were helping quite a bit with my daughter. Part of the routine was for them to drop her off at the bookstore just before I would be leaving work. She would come behind the counter, proudly sit in my chair while I balanced the register at closing.  She and Paul struck up a friendship. It was so heart-warming to look over and see the two of them drawing or looking through a book. He was giving her undivided attention while encouraging art and reading. Paul would get downright silly with her at times. Over time, his kindness won me over. I asked him if he would like to spend time with us outside of the bookstore, so my daughter would have a male role model in her life. Her dad lived a thousand miles away. He jumped at the chance. He was married, but his wife traveled often for work. On days off, the three of us would find a local hike, visit the Mississippi petrified forest, hunt down the best shaved ice shop or the best local BBQ for dinner.

It was all innocent enough. I cannot remember the reason, maybe he had a book in his extensive book collection at home to show me. I went by his house. My daughter wasn’t with me. We were alone. As I was leaving through the kitchen door, he kissed me. I was baffled but before I knew it, we were sneaking off for private moments together whenever we could. He wrote me beautiful love notes, bought me tasteful romantic gifts. Including a fused glass heart brooch, which I still have. Other gifts were well thought out and much appreciated. When my coffee maker went on the blink, he showed up with a high-end coffee maker that could be set to make coffee as I was waking up. What more could a girl ask for?

Paul eventually divorced his wife and we moved in together. Our bookshelves were full, our decorating taste matched perfectly, and I had a family to cook for. 

The three of us, Paul, me and my daughter found much comfort in each other. Paul loved finding the perfect book to bring home and read aloud to my daughter. There was one children’s book we loved for the story and the illustrations, The Mousehole Cat. A beautiful black and white cat was the main character. The cover of the book was a sea captain with a full gray beard holding the cat. Paul resembled this sea captain with his kind eyes and full graying beard. We felt it was fate, when on the day before Christmas eve, a woman came in the bookstore and shared that she had a litter of kittens that were looking for homes. One was a black and white tuxedo kitty that looked just like our favorite character. Paul phoned me from the bookstore. We quickly made arrangements to have this kitty as a Christmas surprise on Christmas morning. It was magical. Nick the cat, who loved only us, was with us until the end of our marriage.

*Kaye Gibbons wrote one of my favorite books, Ellen Foster.
*Lorrie Moore came to the bookstore to promote, Like Life. She is a delight.
*Willie Morris’s My Dog Skip is also a movie, a tear jerker, highly recommend.

The Ethics of Silence

“The ethics of silence are just as tricky. Is it ethical to keep the stories hidden?  If I am to be silenced in the name of niceness, are we not also suppressing the whole truth? Half-truths linger silently, a monument to missed opportunities, a quietness of suppression.” Sandra Hager Eliason

I sit drinking coffee this morning feeling somewhat powerless. 

There is nothing I can do. 

My ex-husband who I haven’t seen in twenty years—except for about 30 minutes ten years ago—made a statement for a legal document that determines me being able or not able to see my grandchildren. He stated that I have borderline personality disorder. He is not a professional psychiatrist or counselor by a long shot. In fact, once when faced with looking at his part in our conflicts at a therapist office, he lashed out at me and told me it was my fault. In talking recently with an ex-boss that my ex-husband and I shared, he had similar issues with my ex not being able to take responsibility for his short comings or mistakes. Some of those mistakes cost the business quite a bit of money.

 My ex and I made the commitment to move in together when my daughter was five. That summer I drove her out West to be with her real dad. On my return home, my now ex-husband sat me down and told me he had an affair with his college sweetheart while I was gone. He begged for forgiveness and I granted it. 
There was another woman a few years later. My bad, I forgave him again. 
After ten years together and another discovered betrayal we eventually separated. Not divorced yet and still going to counseling together, he began secretly seeing his college sweetheart again. 

By this time, my alcoholism was in full swing. Alcohol was my coping mechanism, albeit a very unhealthy one. On top of that, after a hysterectomy my hormones were causing me to feel unhinged after surgically onset menopause. It wasn’t pretty. 

When I discovered this secret developing relationship my heart was broken and all trust issues between us were triggered. It was traumatizing. 

On a drunken night I phoned said college sweetheart and called her a whore. 
She is not a whore, probably a lovely person.

I recall my ex-husband telling me after that incident that she had suggested that I might have borderline personality disorder and he should cut me out of his life.
During my daughter’s college years, she spent summers with my ex-husband and his new girlfriend, now wife. They shared this information with my daughter and told her about the time I made the phone call calling her a whore. 

My daughter and I have struggled since our divorce. Without her knowing of his betrayals, she sees me as the one who broke up our happy home. My alcoholism and behaviors while drinking is what she witnessed. She did not witness or experience his betrayals. 

My ex-husband’s strongest feature is that he is a very nice guy. If anyone challenges that they may begin to feel less than behind closed doors—as in a marriage. 

Writing memoir will not change events that occurred. My hope is that it gives some freedom by sharing untold truths and gives a reader the courage to share their untold truths. 

I share with you an essay, Ethics of Silence by Sandra Hager Eliason published on Brevity’s blog

Radio Silence

I might be coming out of radio silence. A little over month ago I got stopped in my tracks due to shocking news.

I have been reconciled with the fact that I likely will not have a relationship with my adult daughter in this lifetime. That acceptance has helped me to get on with my life a bit.

But I had held out hope that I might know my grandchildren who I knew for the first two and a half years of their life. It’s been four years since I have seen them. That hope was diminished at the end of January when I learned my daughter has put it her divorce papers that I am not to have contact with my grandchildren. My ex son in law was wanting me to know them again, but my daughter has made sure that will not happen. It’s heartbreaking. It has set me back. I was writing, I haven’t been writing.

I go to the store, someone asks me, “how are those grandkids of yours?” I say, “I don’t know” as my eyes start to water. This person tells me her cancer is back, her husband just beat colon cancer. She is chipper in her brightly colored clothes. My tears are still there, now for her and the gift of witnessing her strength. I tell her so.

On social media someone is showing off their new grandchild. I click away, happy for them while reminded that I do not have that privilege. I instead go searching for an island vacation.

What I know is that this feeling is temporary. I have to be gentle with myself and everyone involved. I will write again, I am writing now.

What I also know is while the family thing hasn’t worked out so well, I have some of the richest, most authentic friendships a person could ask for. I have kids in my life, a couple of them consider me their stand in grandmother. This does not go unnoticed and is not taken for granted. A therapist of mine says if you have one person you can call during your worst times you are rich in friendship. I have several of those “one” persons. I think they know I am that person for them as well.

In telecommunications, radio silence or Emissions Control is a status in which all fixed or mobile radio stations in an area are asked to stop transmitting for safety or security reasons. I believe it has been a safety issue to not be writing. It’s getting safe again.

Love you all, thanks for reading.

Carry On

You wake up early, determined you will carry on, enjoy your coffee, write, take a walk in the snow.
Something pushes you down when you suddenly remember your daughter has deemed you crazy.
You want to call your mother but she is dead.

The cat comes to sit with you, your heart begins to calm. She will want her treat soon so you can’t stay down for long.

On writing, it’s magic and sharing writing

I love Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. It’s the perfect size book to keep by my bed or carry in my purse for a possible wait. Eudora was born and lived in Jackson, MS, my home town. Once we were buying underwear at the same time in McRae’s department store. That’s the closest I ever got to her. I was in awe. The old Sears building in downtown Jackson eventually converted to a library, The Eudora Welty Library.

The first chapter of One Writer’s Beginnings evokes a sense of peace, looking back at simpler times, her growing up in a home where reading was like breathing. Eudora reflects, “I learned from the age of two or three that any room in our house, at any time of the day, was there to read in, or to be read to.” I am green with envy, wondering what would my life have been like if reading was encouraged, even a part of our everyday lives growing up. I don’t have any memories of books, of being read to. My introduction to books came in high school, from my older sisters who read Kathleen Woodiwiss, The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove. We referred to her books as crotch burners. But I was reading and that got me going.

I was in heaven working at Lemuria bookstore in my late twenties, surrounded by books, overwhelmed with what to read next, meeting and talking with writers who came for readings and signings. Tom McGuane, Tom Robbins, Willie Morris, John Grisham, Jimmy Buffett, Lorri Moore, Tim O’Brien, Rick Bass, Mark Childress, Kaye Gibbons, and Jim Harrison are just some of the writer’s I was blessed to meet. My daughter was lucky to reap the benefits of my time working at Lemuria. Books were what she sleep with, not stuffed animals. I toted the boxes of children’s’ books I had acquired every where I moved to, so she would always have them and could pass them down to her own children. It was somewhat of a relief to hand off those heavy boxes once my twin grandchildren were born.

“It has been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass.” Eudora Welty

This morning I read Chris LaTray’s newsletter, reflecting on the past four years of Presidential office and the new office we are entering. I find him gifted, able to put into words what I am feeling sometimes, a natural wonder. Read and find out for yourself.

I cry at the threat of democracy

I cry at the threat of democracy

I cry that black lives don’t matter

That whites think they are supreme

Democracy was always fragile, if it even existed in my family system

Schedules and decisions were centered around the men, I am a woman

individuality, even if it was shopping, was kept secret

Only certain voices were heard, are heard, some are marginalized, treated as though they never existed or exist now

Human life is not important, being right, being supreme is, mammonism rules

I cry for those who no longer have a voice, whose pleas fall on the ears of those who care but have no power. Those in power say I am too emotional.

Let your voice be heard and begin our return to democracy, power to the people

Honoring Barry Lopez

Many of you know we lost the legendary Barry Lopez on Christmas Day after his struggle with terminal cancer. For lovers of language, this world and it’s people it is a great loss. My heart hurts for those close to him, his wife and daughters. They have endured much loss this sorrowful year. The Oregon fires up the McKenzie River, left their property charred and them unmoored. They received the midnight knock on the door demanding they leave within minutes. They grabbed the cat and left. The house is damaged but fixable.
On Christmas Eve, this piece was published in LitHub, An Era of Emergencies is Upon Us and We Cannot Look Away. A gift to have Barry’s viewpoint that day.
In an All Things Considered interview, March, 2019, Barry shares some of how his cancer diagnosis changed him and created more empathy, “I imagined in everybody I passed there was some story that they carried with them that would break your heart. So how could you have the temerity to approach that person and say, here’s what’s wrong with you?”
A few days ago, Literary Arts: The Archive Project re-aired an interview with Barry. It’s worth a listen, more than once, to glean all he has for us to contemplate. A grown up is someone who no longer needs supervision, “meaning they know immediately how to act in a way that harms no one and takes care of everybody in so far that is possible. We are in a time where we are desperate for grown-ups, people who have gotten over themselves, to come together and using the power of imagination that each of us has, create a landscape that no one has ever seen before.” Barry Lopez
In Barry’s honor donations may be made to McKenzie River Trust.

A note for you: If you are looking for a way to seek connection, inspiration and a consistent practice of journaling, The Isolation Journals is offering journaling prompts free for ten days beginning January 1st. Click here: https://www.theisolationjournals.com/10-day-challenge

I am off to buy black-eyed peas to cook and serve on New Year’s Day in order to bring good luck for this new year.

Yellow lilies for solstice

For the shortest, darkest day of the year I share with you beautiful writing from a friend who also moved West from the South.

On The Solstice: Deep Winter Dreams of the Spring to Come by Rick Bass

“I believe they dream of beauty: of the yellow lilies of Easter, and the wild violets and rank mushrooms and pink flesh of trout; of berries, of stones, of antlers, feathers, moss, fire. And fire’s warmth.”

It was a gift to have this be my first read of the day. Hope it is for you as well.

What I know and what I’m guessing

Here’s what I know, the rest I’m guessing at.

It’s been four and a half years since I have seen or heard from my daughter, fact.
She and I have struggled in our relationship since her teenage years. The struggle intensified when I divorced her step dad after an 11 year relationship. He was a good step dad. I stayed in the marriage longer than I should have because of that. He was a good man, but our marriage wasn’t. We both had a part in that. He and his infidelities, me choosing to stay with him in spite of that. Me drinking to deal, becoming angry, sometimes showing rage that my daughter unfortunately witnessed. It sucked for her. I have days of wishing hard for a redo or an opportunity for understanding and forgiveness.

I’ve read of relationships either strengthening or ending during this Covid time. In the beginning, I thought surely my daughter will want to connect, with all the fear this disease has evoked. Time passed, I got wind she was going through a divorce. As more time passed, the message was clear. She will not be reaching out. She has me blocked on all forms of communication. Covid will not be bringing us together. Nor will it be bringing me together with most of my family of origin. My sisters had a summer visit in the same town I lived in this summer. I didn’t hear from them. I learned on social media one sister has a new grandchild. The message is clear, for whatever reasons, some I am responsible for, divorcing, drinking and suicide attempt our family won’t be coming together. I suppose some things are unforgivable. Sometimes we are seen and defined by our worst actions.

I’m guessing, my family has deemed me crazy, unforgivable, toxic while the diagnosis of varying mental illnesses have certainly been tossed about amoung them. Since we don’t talk, I’m just guessing.
Some days, most days, I realize I have a pretty great life. I’m content really, living in a town I have loved since I discovered it. I’m healthy, have such dear friends, I’m pursuing creative outlets. I’m sober, I’m seeking, will never stop seeking and growing hopefully. I’m not pining to be in a relationship, nor do I feel I need another person to complete me or take care of me.
Some days I miss my daughter so badly, it kinda messes up the entire day. But those days are fewer and they will always happen. I am a mother. I miss my child.
As Dr. Joshua Coleman mentions in his talk here, I chose to feel the pain instead of avoiding it or pushing it away.

Thanks for reading a blog that started as a travel blog turned into a variety of blog posts, favorite shows, podcasts, writings, great places to donate, businesses to support, sometimes it’s sharing the journey of family estrangement. I feel it is an important topic to bring to light and discuss openly.

From Scientific America: “Family estrangement is one of my most requested topics from listeners and readers coping with the loss and isolation they feel when someone cuts family ties. In a way, the grief of family estrangement can be more painful—or at least more complicated—than the grief over a loved one who has died. When a family member voluntarily walks away, you may miss them and feel confused, ashamed, frustrated, and disappointed, especially if the hope of reunification is dashed.”

Love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us. Anne Lamott

“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.” ~@ANNELAMOTT

This holiday season, I’m believing it Anne. Holidays have become so different from what I was brought up to believe they are all about. Lots of decorations, lots of presents, parties, food, family and sometimes drunk daddies. All of that did feel magical at times, the anticipation of Santa and what he would bring was real and exciting. No matter how old I get, I can feel that on Christmas Eve, as ridiculous of an idea that it is. Maybe I kinda like that feeling for a moment though. Is it possible that there is magic, is it possible a gift will be left tomorrow, even if it is a phone call from a loved one?
Even though we did have a pile of presents before us as we entered the living room on Christmas morning, I don’t remember what the presents were, except for the sting ray bike. I still have a picture of me on it. We did some miles together and made some memories. A few fond Christmas memories stick with me: the year we had children from the orphanage over to make cookies and the times we visited the orphanage after that. Our time with orphans was a project my mama was involved in through the Junior League or church. I’m not sure which one, but it was her duty to society none the less. I loved it. I also love the memory of running around Christmas eve day delivering presents of baked goods or the like to friends and neighbors. And Christmas Eve service at church was always calming with the candles lit and carols being sung.
Aside from those memories, it all felt like a lot of show. Once I moved to Montana in the 80’s, my older brother lived here in Missoula as well. Christmas Eve, we shared a meal then geared up for a cross country ski at the neighborhood golf course. Silently sliding across the glistening moonlit snow ❄️ I felt warmth, peace and love.
I have a little bit of Christmas in me this year for whatever reason. I won’t be buying any presents. I will be hiking with friends, gathering greenery to decorate with. Some baking will happen. Baked goods will be delivered to dear friends. There will be warmth, peace and love. Wishing you the same.