How Will We Make Sustainable Families and Communities in the 21st Century?
PRAIRIE WIND PRESS
For Book Clubs
The following is a scene from my novel in progress about a big band singer. The year is 1937. Maggie's parents can't find work, so she's landed a job singing in a nightclub. She's 15 and she hasn't told her parents yet, so she's sneaking out at night and going to school in the daytime. The club's close enough so she can walk home, but there's a serial killer in Cleveland, murdering random people and leaving their dismembered corpses all over Maggie's neighborhood.
Maggie’s about to drop, getting up and leaving the apartment in time for school, then working until four in the morning. It has to stop soon, but she wants just two more nights, until she gets paid. When she leaves the lounge her second Thursday night, she almost runs, eager to drop on her bed and sleep, at least three hours¸ maybe three-and-a-half. One more sleepless day. She can sleep Saturday morning, work her shift, and collect her second check. Then she’ll tell them, quit school and sleep, and sleep, and sleep.
Exhaustion slows Maggie’s usual brisk stride. She wants to hurry, so she can curl up in that inviting bed¸ already laid out, but she just can’t do it. Head drooping, she trudges toward home. She doesn’t see the man pacing behind the stone entrance to the Lake View Cemetery or the dark car parked just inside with the passenger door open. She pays no attention to the deserted sidewalk across the street and gives little notice to the lack of street traffic. Plodding along the edge of the graveyard, she focuses only on getting home, anticipating the warm bed and a few blissful hours of sleep. In her haste, she’s left everything in the dressing room and only stuffed her key into her pocket, so she can move more quickly. She doesn’t even have her purse with its tiny gun tucked away inside.
Rain soaked the streets while she was in the club and damp pavement deadens the sound of her footsteps to a soft, wet whimper. The air feels especially cool and damp as she passes the front gates of the cemetery and she quickens her pace. When the big man’s hand reaches out from behind a stone pillar and grabs her left arm, her forward momentum swings her past him and allows her to jerk away, but she’s been thrown a little off balance and her attacker lunges after her with his arms around her neck and shoulders. The Torso Murderer, she thinks. She hasn’t thought of him in weeks. Before she can yell, he has a hand covering her mouth and nose, grinding her lips into her teeth and gradually smothering her. She tries to break free, but he lifts her off her feet. She kicks wildly, trying to connect with his shins.
“Be still, you little bitch,” he snarls, hot breath warming the back of her neck. As she squirms and struggles, he drags her backward toward the passenger side of the car. In that instant, her body remembers. She grabs the fingers of his left hand—the one across her chest.
“If you don’t shut up and stop fighting me, I’m going to knock you out,” he snarls.
She goes limp, levering his elbow over her head, shaking her head free and ducking under. But he’s reached the car’s open door, fumbling for something inside. She smells a strong chemical, something that makes her eyes water, and she comes back to life, landing the square heel of her shoe on his instep as she falls. Dropping into a runner’s crouch, she takes off for the club with the beast howling and pounding along behind her, following the margin of the cemetery. Sprinting along the cemetery wall, she remembers newspaper images of the killer’s dismembered victims and pushes herself a little harder.
Her assailant paces her. She’s afraid to look, but she can hear him running—close behind her. She tears along for a block, two blocks. He seems to be dropping back a little bit as she starts the third block. She glances over her shoulder. He’s still there, still following. She runs another block and she can’t hear him anymore. She looks again. He’s gone, but she doesn’t slow down. She makes it to the club, pounding on the door and nearly falling into Tony’s arms when he jerks it open. He gathers her up and carries her, still panting and crying, to a table next to the bar. Carefully setting her down, he drags a chair over and gently pushes her into it, then steps behind the bar and pours an inch of drambuie into a glass, bringing it back and setting it down in front of her.
“Drink this,” he says. “Then tell me what happened.”
“Don’t worry. It’ll give you a little buzz, but you won’t get drunk.”
She takes a deep breath and a little sip. “Thanks, Tony. This isn’t too bad.”
“So what gives?” he says. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Somebody tried to . . . tried to . . .”
“Tried to what?”
“I don’t know. This man jumped out from the cemetery and grabbed me. He dragged me to his car . . .” She stops, burying her face in her hands.
“Have another sip,” he commands.
Threshold: A Memoir
Our families and communities serve as the threshold we cross into our lives. Whether it's a metaphorical threshold or the actual physical threshold that marks our front door, the crossing informs who we choose to become. THRESHOLD is a series of eighteen stories, with an introduction and a conclusion, about one ordinary American family's struggle to thrive across race and through time and space. From five-year-old Joseph Swope kidnapped and adopted by a war chief to my father blasting up U.S. Highway 41 with a turtle for a co-pilot trying to save a marriage, this memoir reveals what happens when communities fail and how they thrive. These are the stories of people who worked together and shared resources. There's the smell of wheat dust and sweat and the ozone that precedes a storm and there's the clang of green beans into a metal pot while friends and family sit on chairs dragged out into the yard where it's hard to discern the border between fireflies and stars. I can remember how safe and comfortable it was when everybody knew my name and they may not have always been glad I came, but I knew they wouldn't let me "go under." Perhaps we can find a pattern in these stories that can help us to retrieve that feeling in this new century.
From Picas to Bytes
If you want to know how a newspaper family can support a community, here is how it's done. From Picas to Bytes chronicles more than 100 years of technological innovation, untiring dedication to First Amendment protections and community building. Under Seacrest leadership and Ray McConnell's management, The Lincoln Journal earned the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service recognizing the paper's All-Star Presidential Primary Campaign.
Starting in 1887 with Joseph Claggett Seacrest and ending in 1995 when Joseph Rushton Seacrest signed the mill of sale, the family provided Lincoln and the State of Nebraska with much more than just a newspaper. They provided ideas and tireless dedication to supporting their community and state. Using technology as a linchpin, they built the future for a small town on the prairie that started with no real reason for being.
Gravy is a novel in progress. This linked sample is a vignette from the "healing" chapters as Newell, a World War II veteran, attempts to overcome the aftereffects of PTSD without modern mental health care. See if you can think of other ways he might stumble upon to make himself better. Email me with your ideas (links at the bottom of the page). They may not fit the story line, but I'll name one of my characters after you.
Every day of my life is gravy. That's not because it's been perfect or uncomplicated. I haven't lived a charmed life. In fact, I grew up in a madhouse, certain that my mom was nuts. But I know now that my sheer existence is so improbable as to defy belief. My existence depended upon the displacements of the Great Depression and the Second World War. And it pitted a doctor's sadistic experiment against my mother's unyielding, bullheaded, teeth-clenching tenacity. Mom won, but it was a near thing and we all paid . . . and paid . . . and paid.