Three years ago today I posted my favorite story from childhood about my smoking, Cold Turkey at Nine, on this blog, three days after I opened a WordPress blogging account, near midnight, on my April Fool’s birthday. At the time it was published, I noted in italics at the beginning, “My Inaugural Post, Also My Father’s 97th Birthday”—.
Shortly after my birthday this week, which included a fair amount of April Foolishness, I remembered that Daddy would have been 100 years old today, having been born on April 4, 1914. As I write this now, I also remember that Mother will have soon been 103, since she was born on April 23, 1911.
Their lives ended badly, tragically, and neither of them could have known the effect they would on have on their family members and neighbors long after their deaths. They left positive and negative effects, as nearly all parents and friends do.
I remember my parents with great affection and great sadness. I suspect that my own children will remember their parents with affection and sadness as well. This is the normal way that generations look back on their pasts. Life is a mixture of the good and the bad, of the treasured and the despised, of the easy and the difficult.
My parents had no way of knowing that I would write extensively, fondly, and painfully about them long after their deaths. Neither did my beloved older brother Nolen Robert. He died tragically as well but in a more socially acceptable way than my mother’s unspeakable death for which my father was held legally responsible. His case went all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Years ago I had no way of knowing that I would write extensively about them, and myself, and let the world know about it.
On my birthday this week, I had the rare opportunity to team up with one of my writer friends, Myra Hargrave McIlvain, author of the award-winning Texas historical novel Stein House, to present a seminar to our friends and fellow members of the University of Texas continuing education program, LAMP, or Learning Activities for Mature People. Myra and I were received warmly and had a lively Q & A session following our remarks about our books.
There I spoke publicly in greater detail about the tragedy of my parents, beyond the more veiled remarks I had made about it at earlier book talks and signings. It was not easy to talk about this, but having written about it in my memoir opened the door on the story.
Going public with this dark family secret I had kept from my friends and colleagues for over four decades opened a door that had been closed inside me for all that time. This process has been therapeutic, removing the shame I had felt from the stigma of mental illness in my family and Daddy’s incarceration.
That first blog post I published three years ago today became the main title of my book, Cold Turkey at Nine: The Memoir of a Problem Child. My parents and Nolen Robert are central figures in my book, as they have been in my life.
Daddy would have been 100 years old today. Remembering him reminds me of my family, of my formative years growing up, and of the years since. I look back in gratitude for what my parents did for Nolen Robert and me. Mostly now, I’m grateful for all the good things of life.
Cold Turkey at Nine original blog post