SS American Farmer Played Important Role in Family

> SS American Farmer On September 24, 1937, my grandmother, mother, and aunt traveled to Europe aboard the SS American Farmer. My grandmother, Elsie, kept a detailed account in her diary. In this excerpt, Pol, fifteen years old, is my aunt and Bar, seventeen years old, will be my mother ten years later. “Third day …

Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference 2013

This past week I participated in a writing workshop titled “Nonfiction and the Archeology of Memory,” taught by Joni Tevis. Joni’s website, http://www.jonitevis.com/ Joni’s class was a perfect fit for the project I am working on, reconstructing our family’s past from the wealth of primary documents I have. The biggest takeaway was when Joni told …

My Maternal Grandparent’s Wedding at the Fratt Mansion, Everett, Washington, December 10, 1917

The wedding photo is interesting because the painting in the background, titled, “Portrait of a Young Girl,” by Simon Harmon Vedder, 1890, was passed down to my mother. Sadly, it had to be sold to settle her estate debt in 2010.   This weekend as I thumbed through a 1918 address book I realized that it …

Chickenhouse Chronicles: Early Warning Signs of Schizophrenia

My Aunt Polly and Grandmother Elsie Philips, circa 1939, in Darien, Conn. This past week we’ve been studying schizophrenia in the psychology class I’m taking at BSU. Schizophrenia often manifests itself in late teens and early twenties. This evening I was reading some of my grandfather’s letters and discovered this one, where he discusses Polly’s …

Chickenhouse Chronicles: Whidbey Island, Washington

My great grandfather, Calvin Philips, owned several thousand acres on Whidbey Island, Washington in the early 1900s. Over the course of several decades it was sold. Today his original Greenbank Dairy Farm is a community center. http://greenbankfarm.biz/history/ Ironically, I craweled across the the Naval Base land he once owned during my SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) training …

Chickenhouse Chronicles—World War II Memories

Tomorrow I’m invited to speak to residents at a local nursing home. As I reflected on how to present a Vietnam War memoir to a group of World War II era citizens, I decided that I should focus on a formative event from their past. I will mention Muddy Jungle Rivers but then I will read a …

My Grandmother Studying Abnormal Behavior, Circa 1953, New York City College

Sixty years ago my grandmother began attending a psychology class at New York City College, studying abnormal behavior. For over half a century she searched in vain for a cure, trying to understand why her daughters had been cursed with mental illness. She left behind thousands of pages of New York City Mental Health booklets, …

Have You Thanked A Teacher Who Influenced Your Life?

The first paragraph on the Acknowledgements page of Muddy Jungle Rivers reads “This memory journey began with a series of essays I wrote while attending writing classes taught by Dr. Mark Christensen at Bemidji State University (BSU). His suggestions and prompts were instrumental in illuminating those nocturnal conversations I had with “Buddha” Ed Thomas. Mark’s …

Chickenhouse Chronicles/Katyn Forest Massacre

Three years ago, after my mother died, I discovered a time capsule locked in the chickenhouse on our old homestead near Nebish, Minnesota. Some of my siblings wanted to burn what to them appeared to be trash. My two oldest sisters and I rescued the treasure and brought it to my house.   Most biographical …