Memoir, Uncategorized

Father’s Day at the Mental Hospital

My grandfather was hauled off to a state mental hospital after he went after my grandmother with a hoe. The story goes my grandmother knocked him out with a bucket and thought he was dead. When the police came, he was taken away to one of the state mental hospitals that existed then. His diagnosis, I believe: clinical paranoia.

I didn’t see Vovô, as we kids called him, very often after that incident, but I recall visiting him at the hospital on Father’s Day. (Vovô was the grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, which included two sisters.)

On that day, my father drove our family to the hospital. My uncle brought his, which included my aunt and two cousins, plus my grandmother. One time, another aunt, my mother’s youngest sister, came.

The family brought Vovô a carton of cigarettes and made a picnic of the visit on the hospital grounds, with food, croquet, and a game of Wiffle Ball. Vovô insisted on taking us kids to the canteen for Hoodsie Cups ice cream and to introduce us to his friends. I felt half-afraid and half-curious by the experience.

By the way, the photo above is a family portrait my mother took on one of those visits. Vovô wears the suit. My grandmother, Vovó, sits on the bench holding my brother. I was only 12 and the girl on the far left.

Let me tell you a little about Vovô. He came over on the boat from Madeira when he was young and married my grandmother, who came from the same island, here. They worked in the textile mills of New Bedford, Massachusetts. A hard worker, during the Depression he bought a home in the small town of Acushnet, where the family grew and raised much of their food, plus took in boarders. He and my grandmother took English lessons and converted to a Protestant religion. Vovô made his two oldest daughters drop out of high school so they could work in the textile mills or watch the house when he and my grandmother were at work.

I don’t recall Vovô being a warm man. But then again, I imagine it was a huge adjustment emigrating to a new country and one so different than the Portuguese island where he once lived. One of my cousins told me recently our grandfather was bullied by his co-workers.

Vovô spent the last years of his life at Taunton State Hospital. He made a life for himself there. He had a job working in the laundry and even a girlfriend, whom we kids met one Father’s Day. She waited beside a tree on the grounds to meet us. My grandmother refused to divorce him.

He tried coming home once but that didn’t last long.

Vovô died while he watched a movie at the hospital. The lights came on and he was already gone. I went to the wake but not the funeral. I was a teenager then.

Years later, I worked and lived in a psychiatric halfway house, which took in patients from state and private hospitals. At that time, Massachusetts was closing its hospitals and placing people in such places. The staff was untrained and inexperienced. We were supposed to be role models and helpful roommates, I suppose. That experience inspired a novel I wrote, The Swanson Shuffle, but have yet to publish.

The halfway house’s staff had a ring of keys that unlocked every ward in the closest hospital, Foxborough State, so we could come and go freely. When I did, I thought of my grandfather and how he got used to living in one.


Remembering Titi Ernie

My aunt’s first name is Ernestina, but I always called her Titi Ernie, a term of endearment I used since I was a small child instead of Tia. She is my mother’s sister, two years younger, the middle daughter of their parents who emigrated to the U.S. from the Portuguese island of Madeira. 

She left us May 31, just months shy of her 99th birthday. That is the photo of her that ran with her obituary.

At her wake Thursday, I shared a few memories, and now I will do that with you.

Titi Ernie was only four feet ten inches tall, so it was always a milestone when my siblings and I were the same height or taller. My own children celebrated that accomplishment.

She and Uncle Louis, and their two sons, Louis and Michael, lived next door to my grandmother Angela, or Avó, their homes separated by a large field that used to contain gardens. We visited them nearly every weekend it seemed, playing with our cousins, mostly Louis for me, since we were only born a month apart. In the summer, we stopped at the ocean-side cottage they owned after spending a full day at the beach.

Titi Ernie was always a gracious and kind person who welcomed us into her home. She remembered us at Christmas and birthdays with cash in a card. Recently, my children, now adults, recalled fondly the pineapple cream puffs she served them, playing on the rocky shoreline of the cottage, and her collection of penguins. I had to remind them to call her Titi Ernie and not Aunt Titi Ernie.

Later in life, when I had moved far away, I tried to visit Titi Ernie when I could, often accompanied by my mother. The sisters were very close.

There is much more I could say about Titi Ernie, but I want to tell you a memory I shared at her wake that no one else knew. I had just graduated from high school and was heading that fall to a state college thanks to the scholarships I received. I was the first of my father’s family to attend college and tied for first with Louis on my mother’s. I was going to major in English because secretly I wanted to be a writer. By the way, neither Titi Ernie or my mother graduated from high school. They were forced to drop out to work in a textile mill or to mind the house so my grandmother could work instead.

That summer, Titi Ernie asked me to tutor my cousin Michael. It was either in French or English, I can’t recall. But I walked to their home or got a ride. I only came a few times. But later that summer, Titi Ernie surprised me with the gift of a new typewriter. I recall it had a light blue plastic cover. The significance of that gift is important because I didn’t have a typewriter to take to college.

I kept that typewriter for many years after I graduated. I even used it when I was a rookie reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, as the correspondent for the hilltown where I lived, Worthington. I wrote my story on that machine then drove it to the newsroom in Northampton for someone else to type into the system. That ended soon when I was given a laptop that transmitted the story via a cord plugged into the phone jack.

I no longer have that typewriter, but I do the memory of that gift and the thoughtfulness of my Titi Ernie.


A Case of Mistaken Identity

For some reason, the guy thought my name was Rose.

Mike and I attended the same college and he was the friend of a friend. Maybe he heard my name correctly the first time and forgot. Maybe he just heard wrong. Maybe he guessed.

But I didn’t correct Mike the first time he called me Rose. I smiled and said, “Yes?”

I kept it going remarkably for two years.

There was nothing romantic between us. We met randomly on campus and at parties. He became a friend’s roommate.

I was always Rose to him.

To everyone else I was Joan, a name I don’t particularly like but have grown to accept. (I’ve written about this before.) I am certain my mother was inspired by some movie star from her youth. I do feel some gratification there have been other famous Joans who are cool like Joan Baez. 

Did I think Rose would laugh more and be less critical than Joan? Would she be smarter and maybe prettier? Nah. I just found it amusing that someone believed I had a different name.

Then there’s that quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”

But, alas, I was found out.

I happened to be standing with friends in the lobby of the college’s auditorium when Mike called, “Hey, Rose.” The friend of a friend turned around. “That’s not her name,” he said. “It’s Joan.” Of course, her name is Rose, his friend argued. 

It was time to fess up. 

Mike was dumbstruck when I confessed. After all, this charade went on for a while. Why didn’t I tell him my real name? The answer was easy. I liked it.

Postscript: We remained friends after that but he called me Joan instead. And, yes, that’s me above when I was Rose.

Frederick Fullerton

Meet The Writer of Unwritten Books

It seems like I’ve known author Frederick Fullerton, or Fred as I call him, forever, well, since we attended the same college. Fred wrote poetry and short stories. But I always knew he had at least one novel in him, and he did — The Writer of Unwritten Books. And now, his debut novel is available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon. Here’s the link.

What’s The Writer of Unwritten Books about? Here’s the book blurb.

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A story within a story … What happens when an author toils to write a book and is plagued by voices inside his head that comment on what he writes?

It is December 2000 in Providence, RI. Christian Williams suffers from writer’s block as he struggles with “W,” a novel he conceived as a young expat.

His friend and mentor, Mick, an alcoholic cantankerous poet and literary critic, designates him “the greatest writer of unwritten books.” Christian’s alter ego, whom he dubs Buttinski, critiques the writing with biting comments, which are also spot on.

To escape Buttinski and Mick, Christian travels to Europe to revisit his past and resurrect memories that provide more material for his novel.

After returning to the States, Christian finishes writing his book, but it remains unpublished.

Retired and in his 70s, he dreams he finally finds a publisher and his book is successful. Does his dream come true?

Like Christian, Fred took the time to write his novel, years actually, and I followed along during that process, even reading the whole book twice. I liked what I read, especially the characters he created. Mick, one of the demons in Christian’s head, deserves his own book. I’ve told Fred that.

I met Fred on his second go-round in college. He had been in the service stationed in Germany before he returned to finish his degree. Then he moved back to Germany, where like his character, Christian, he was an ex-pat. (That’s a photo of Fred after he moved back to Germany.) Eventually, he returned to New England, first Rhode Island, where he was big into kayaking on the ocean, and now Connecticut.

We stayed in touch all those year. First it was via letters, and then email took over. At one time he was only one of two people I knew who had an email address. Yes, that was a long ago.

I would characterize Fred as a heavy thinker with a great sense of humor. He’s also a big reader and writer. And now he’s a published novelist. 

Looking for a good read? I recommend The Writer of Unwritten Books.

Bloodhound Books

Another Door Opens with Bloodhound Books

We authors typically write alone, and these days, promote our works and even publish on our own. So, it is beneficial when we can gain an ally in the publishing world, and that is just what happened to me. I have signed with Bloodhound Books. That’s the company’s logo above.

Now the back story. I actually have another publisher, darkstroke books, which is closing up shop Sept. 30. 

I was one thrilled writer in 2017 when Laurence and Steph Patterson welcomed me to what was then called Crooked Cat Books. The Pattersons believed in my writing, in particular my Isabel Long Mystery Series, when no other publisher did. (I had been hunting for one for too many years and even had two agents who came up empty-handed.) 

It was a pleasurable experience working with Laurence and Steph on the nine books they published But they have decided it’s time to stop after a 12-year run. I respect that decision. 

But with that announcement, it was time to think about what to do next. I absolutely refused to go begging again. What, put my heart and soul into a query submission to a publisher that says if you don’t hear from it in five months, consider it a no? Ugh.

Maybe I should self-publish. With Laurence’s advice and his covers, I figured out how to format and upload the first book in the series, Chasing the Case, for Kindle. I created the format for the paperback. But it was a ton of work that took me away from writing the eighth in the series.

So, I was delighted when Bloodhound Books reached out. Betsy Reavley, Bloodhound’s director and founder, answered all of my questions. For instance, I was curious how a company based in the UK would handle the American English I use. I learned other authors from darkstroke had signed with Bloodhound, and I liked what I read online about the company, its successes and the services it offers authors. I have been impressed with the level of communication.

Betsy offered a contract the day the paperback proof for Chasing the Case arrived. The book looked as good as the one darkstroke published, but as I considered the benefits of having a collaborator, I decided signing with Bloodhound was an offer too good to refuse.

Here’s the link to my section on Bloodhound’s website.

And so, Bloodhound will republish the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series — Chasing the Case, Redneck’s Revenge, and Checking the Traps. The books will be released Nov. 15 with new covers and further editing. (The books in their current state will be on Amazon until September.) Bloodhound will also get first dibs on the rest of the series and anything new I write. 

So, here’s to the start of a creative and hopefully successful partnership with Bloodhound Books. Thanks for opening the door for me.