Caught between a mentally ill mother and a stepfather with undiagnosed PTSD, Author Wendell Affield’s childhood was marked by family dysfunction. In this memoir, which includes nearly 100 illustrations, he recounts growing up on an isolated farm in northern Minnesota in the 1950s.
Musty letters, documents, and sixty-year-old photo negatives conjured memories as Affield pored over them.
In a grainy negative beneath the magnifying glass, Affield saw his mother as the beautiful, mentally ill young woman transplanted in 1949 from her cosmopolitan New York roots. She stands beside the lilac that the author will land next to a few years later after jumping from a second story window to escape her fury.
Memories of a murdered puppy and his stepfather’s rage rose to the surface as Affield studied a blurred image of the corncrib the dogs were tied beneath at the farm.
In another picture he discovered himself wedged between his brothers and sister in a leaky rowboat and flashed back to the summer his mother hid from her abusive husband in a cabin perched above Lake Chelan in the Cascade Mountains. Faded photos and hand-written birth dates on the backs reveal a woman who feared forgetting her children after she was committed to a mental institution, her children in foster homes.
Follow along on this journey as the author researches his own childhood and uncovers brand new details about himself and his family.
About the Chickenhouse Chronicles Series
Wendell Affield’s mother, Barbara, lived an unusual life. He began a series of interviews with her, hoping to tell her story, never suspecting that the key to it lay decomposing in the chickenhouse, seventy feet from where they sat visiting in the old farmhouse. After she died in 2010, Affield and his sister salvaged the chickenhouse treasures, documents dated from 1822-1984. He has spent countless hours over the past several years studying, scanning, and transcribing the documents, turning his family history into the narratives that make up the Chickenhouse Chronicles series.
Affield’s stories are about family history shaded by world events. They take the reader from fortunes built by 19th century timber barons to lost wealth of the Great Depression. From the Carpathian Mountains of southern Poland to the terrors of World War Two. From concert halls of New York and Paris to the back roads of northern Minnesota. In the chickenhouse, Affield discovered the stories behind his mother’s suicide attempts, violence, rage, and eventual commitment to a mental hospital.