Meet Jack Molan, A Sea Captain Who’s Seen it All!

Capt. Jack

Have you heard of “The Deadliest Catch” TV show, where fishing crews risk their lives in angry seas to bring fish to our tables? Captain Jack Molan wasn’t on the show, but he’s been captain of some of the show’s vessels and other boats. He knows what it’s like to get caught in a storm in freezing waters and wonder if he’ll get his crew out alive.

With his special brand of leadership that unifies crews, in ten short stories, Capt. Jack shares his adventures in ferocious storms in the book he released in mid-September.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: My Thirty Years in the Bering Sea

Below, with permission, I posted the story he wrote about how tenacity got him the job that would threaten his life at times, but he would truly find his passion. Enjoy!

 

LIFE AT SEA

 

At age thirteen, my mom walked me onto the train in Sacramento, California. “Say, ‘Hi’ to Grandma and Grandpa and my sister,” she said and gave me a quick kiss.

This photo of Union Station is courtesy of TripAdvisor

At Union Station in Portland, I found my grandparents waiting for me. Grandpa shook my hand as Grandma said, “You’d
like to worry me sick, Jack Molan.”  Then she smothered me in hugs.

From the train station, they took me to a Greyhound bound for Seaside, Oregon. In two hours, I got off the bus and inhaled the salt air. My pulse picked up in anticipation. Soon I would see what I came for.

My auntie pulled to the curb in a huge Pontiac LeMans. “Oh, I’m so glad you came to stay with us,” she said, but I didn’t plan to spend much time at her house. Each day, on her way to work, she’d drop me with a sack lunch at my true destination. I’d come to hang out at the south end of Seaside, at the cove where I could watch the surfers ride the waves.

I stood on a boulder the size of a small car, spellbound, after hiking a mile over slick, smooth rocks to Second Point. Spindrift blew off waves two stories high that roared past me like locomotives. The white water exploded like bombs going off, the rocky shoreline rumbling under my feet. Smooth, gray faces pitched in perfect peeling curls. I knew this place would someday either give me the ride of my life or a horrible drowning.

Ancient spruce and fir trees formed a lush green wall behind me. Brilliant white seagulls skimmed the water’s surface, not for food but to play in the rainbow of refracted light in the spray, out-running the thundering breakers. The pulsing ocean both frightened and thrilled me.

“I’ll be a surfer and live by the ocean,” I swore on the rock that day.

By the time I graduated from high school, our family had moved to Tacoma Washington. I left my home in Tacoma at seventeen and moved to Seaside, Oregon. Initially, I flopped on Auntie’s couch but quickly landed a restaurant job. Within a few weeks, I bought a Mercury Comet for a hundred bucks and rented a room in a small beach house with a couple of surfers. A job came up at a fish cannery, so I left the restaurant to work on a clean-up crew.

The slimy, smelly job paid better than dish washing, but the night shift is what I valued most. When I got off work, I could jump in my Comet and go hit the waves. I never once considered college. “I can go to school if there’s something I want to learn,” I would say when people asked about my plans for the future.

At the cannery dock one day, I helped offload a shrimp boat, breaking up the ice and scooping out pink crustaceans with my white plastic shovel. Buzz, a deck hand, sat nearby on a wooden crate against the railing, smoking his Camel non-filters and bragged: “I made twelve hundred bucks this week.”

“What?” I stopped shoveling and squinted into the sun at him. “You made that much in a week?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s been rocking. I’ll bank thirty grand by the end of the season.” He took a long drag on his cancer stick. “I just have to stay out of the bar.”

I’d busted my butt working overtime that week and earned a quarter of what he made in three days. “So, Buzz, what do you do all winter?”

“Ah, the guys with families fish dungy crabs, but I go to Mexico—six months on, six months off.”

I leaned on my shovel, dumbfounded. I’d just found the brass ring. Money and time—time and money. I wanted both. That summer, I turned twenty-one and decided my next job would be on a fishing boat.

When the surf was flat, I walked the docks looking for an opening. One day, I met a captain whose boat reflected his pride. The decks smelled of bleach from a recent wash-down. The ropes were hung up, the nets stacked neatly, and the fishing gear organized. His crew was painting deck boards, joking and laughing as they worked. I knew this boat had a reputation as a top producer and was thrilled the captain would talk to me.

“We don’t need anyone. I’ve had the same guys for years.” The captain pointed across the marina to a derelict scow that had rust stains running down the side of the hull, paint peeling off the wheelhouse, and a crew in filthy clothes. “That pile of crap is looking for help, but be careful, kid. I know you’re hungry for work, but don’t do it. Good boats rarely need help, and bad boats always need help. That boat is a widow maker.”

His advice probably saved my life, more than once. I still quote him when young people on the docks ask me about work.

Later that summer, my big break came. I got hired on Pegasus, a brand-new shrimp trawler. The shiny blue hull and spotless gray decks made the boat a real standout—queen of the Astoria fleet. As a greenhorn, I made less, but I couldn’t care less. I had a job on an awesome new boat.

I worked hard, jumping to do things the out-of-shape deck boss avoided. At twice my age, he’d been passed over as skipper. He felt he should be in the wheelhouse, not on deck, and sometimes he took out his frustration on me. I ran up ladders and crawled out in the rigging to untangle knotted lines. I hopped in the hold and waded through waist-deep ice, stacking fish. Nothing stopped me. I asked endless questions about nets, cable rigging, diesel engines, the shrimp we were catching, the weather, other boats, and how to navigate. The grizzled deck boss started calling me “Grasshopper”, referring to the character who always asked the master questions in “Kung Fu”, a popular TV show at the time—and the nickname stuck.

That fall, when fishing season ended, a rusty Chevy Impala, stacked with new bright orange, red, and yellow Lightning Bolt surfboards from Hawaii, pulled into the surfers’ parking lot. I met the owner, David, who had a wide grin and an infectious laugh. At the campfire that evening, long after the others had left, David and I sat on a big driftwood log, still in our wetsuits, and I marveled at his tales of king crab fishing in the Bering Sea.

“We don’t sleep, and the weather is insane. Boats stacked high with crab pots roll over, and big waves punch in their windows. If you live, you make big bucks,” he told me. “I’m leaving to surf in France in a few days. In January, I gotta be back in Seattle to fly to Alaska to fish on the Royal Viking. The crew made a hundred ten grand on deck last year.”

And I thought: I could buy a house in Seaside for forty-thousand.

When spring came, I saw David in a local restaurant. “Hey, you want to come see my new house?” he asked with that giant grin of his.

I followed him through deep green rainforest where big older homes dot the coastline. David had bought five acres on the Tillamook Head sea cliffs, overlooking the best surf spot in Oregon.

“I take off for Dutch Harbor, Alaska in a few days,” he said, gazing out at the ocean. “Should only take a couple years to pay this off.”

“Take me king crabbing,” I said. “I’m ready anytime.”

David laughed. “You can try Seattle, but no one I know is quitting or hiring.”

I was determined to land a job on a king crab boat. My chances may have been slim, but I paid eight-hundred dollars for a ‘66 VW Bus and took many two-hundred-mile trips from Seaside to Ballard, near Seattle, Washington, where the Alaska crab fleet docked in the offseason. Sleeping in my bus at night, I spent the daylight hours walking the docks, using all the charm and energy I could muster to get a job, but no one would talk to me.

One evening, after a long day shoveling shrimp on the Pegasus, I stopped by my auntie’s for spaghetti dinner. “Oh, honey, some guy named David called,” she said as she passed the salad bowl. “He sounds like a fun guy. He left his number.”

I sprang from the table and grabbed the phone.

“Hey, Jack, I just got a job on a new 123-foot Marco king crab boat, so new, it’s not even built yet, and I’ll be captain,” David told me. “It’s named Columbia.”

“Oh, wow,” I said. “That’s awesome!”

“You told me you wanted to go king crabbing. Were you serious?”

I swallowed hard. “Ah, yeah, absolutely!”

“You need a day or two to think about it?”

“I just thought about it. I’ll go.”

He chuckled. “Good. You’re my only greenhorn. You’ll make less money, but you can work up to full share.”

I was so stoked, I’d have gone for free.

Wife, Joanne, on the beach

Joanne and I had fallen in love, but I needed a real job before I could marry her. “He’s a surfer and a fisherman,” she’d tell her friends. One calm evening as we walked the docks she told me, “Fishing is an honorable way to make a living.” And she had my heart.

My Scandinavian beauty has a strong adventurous spirit, and she looked forward to the fisherman’s life. After my first king crab season, we were married. I had just turned twenty-five, and she was twenty-six.

Joanne loved to come to Alaska with me. We spent months on the Columbia exploring much of the state waters, chasing salmon runs. She cooked for a small crew and took watches. Each summer, we’d venture together, taking in the beauty and magnificence of the Alaskan coastline in a storybook romance.

After three years, many thought Joanne would choose to stay home when our son arrived. “Having a kid isn’t going to slow me down,” she would tell people.

The next summer, she stepped off the plane and strolled over the gravel walkway in Dutch Harbor with our eight-month-old strapped to her back. Aboard the Columbia, our son traveled up and down the inside passage as well as crossed the Bering Sea and northern Pacific Ocean. To prepare meals in the galley, Joanne carried Gustav in his baby backpack. Gus’s favorite game was to be put in the walker, hold up his hands, and giggle with joy as he scooted across the room, banging into walls as the boat rolled. The salmon fishing fleet learned we had a baby onboard, and soon we had fishermen coming to hang out with us and our little boy.

But in the next few years, we had two little girls as well. Joanne decided to stay home with our children in Cannon Beach, Oregon. We had a home built there that her father designed, using cash along the way to pay for materials and labor.

The Columbia, Jack’s first boat as captain

Seven years after David hired me, I became captain of the Columbia. I knew I was made for the position, but the job required me to be away from home for ten months of the year. After so many months away, I worried our son and two younger daughters wouldn’t remember who I was. The thought tore me up. I was good at my job, but I had to prioritize my family.

Gratefully, the boat owners and managers arranged for me to rotate with another captain. I worked two months on and two months off. My original idea to fish, make a good living, and have time off became a reality.

When Gus, our oldest, was eight years old, Joanne and I decided he needed more time with me. Toward the end of third grade, we pulled him from school, so I could take him to Alaska. The school district and some of Joanne’s friends thought we were crazy. “What better thing could a boy do than be with his dad?” Joanne would ask.

Gus was a natural. He loved everything about the fishing life. He learned navigation using paper and electronic charts. He hung with the crew splicing lines and mending nets. He helped scrub the deck, including scraping and painting the bleeding rust. Keeping track of other boats’ movements with me intrigued him. Watching whales and sea-lions thrilled him. Catching huge numbers of fish excited him. He enjoyed everything about those first four months, and every summer afterwards, he begged me to take him to the Bering Sea.

When our daughters were younger, Joanne sent them to cousins’ houses in California. The girls bonded with their relatives while Joanne ventured north for a few weeks in the summers, cooking for the crew and spending time on the Columbia with Gus and me.

Bristol Bay gillnet near the Ugashik River. Credit: Carl Johnson (pewtrusts.org/bristolbay) (PRNewsFoto/The Pew Charitable Trusts)

At thirteen, Gus began gill-netting salmon in Bristol Bay and continued throughout his high school years. When Gus went off to college, he felt trapped and emailed: “Dad, I seriously don’t know what I’m doing here. I just talked to one of my professors, and I make more money than he does.”

I wrote back: “Son, the option to return to fishing is always open. Try to hang in there and finish college.”

Gus did graduate from college. He even got a job on land—and only lasted six months. Gus returned to fishing as a deck boss on a large trawler. Within five years, he earned his master’s license and became an alternate captain on a Bering Sea trawler. (FYI: Gus is the guy pounding the ice on the book cover.)

Our middle child, Ahna, at twenty years old, worked a salmon season on land in Bristol Bay. During the summer months, the office in the town of Naknek is the center of the salmon universe. She helped fishermen with housing, meal tickets, fishing licenses, and travel arrangements. I could call her on the radio and get fish reports, and though I couldn’t visit her, knowing she was close was somehow comforting.

 

Jack, Joanne, daughter Kirdy

Our youngest daughter, Kirsten, first came to Alaska the summer she turned seventeen. She worked in the galley by herself on the Columbia, keeping us all fed. Kirdy also grew into being a good tendering deckhand, offloading the smaller gill-net boats’ salmon into our large holds. She adapted quickly to sea life and became a favorite of the fishermen delivering their catch. I noticed longer lines at our boat as the Columbia provided the only opportunity to exchange a few words with a cute blonde on deck. A few years later, she worked onshore in Naknek at the “egg house” boxing up salmon eggs, spending sixteen-hour-days on her feet. She met some great kids but seemed happy    when the season ended.

After Joanne cooked on the Columbia for twenty-five or more seasons, she joined me aboard a 115-foot Arctic research vessel, the Norseman II, a completely different boat and geographical area for us both. The Arctic was a place I’d always wanted to experience, and I knew the vessel and its owners.

A converted king crabber, the boat housed up to thirty individuals. Two cooks alternated twelve hours on, twelve off. They fed thirty people three meals a day, prepared an additional midnight meal, plus they baked bread, cookies, and made ice cream. The job was hard work, but Joanne loved it.

Norseman II, science vessel

Together, we enjoyed watching ice floes, walrus, polar bear, and whales. I piloted the Norseman II from Point Barrow, the most northerly town in Alaska, east into Canadian waters. We skirted the Russia/United States border for days, maneuvering through the ice. I took the boat four hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, a thousand miles north of Dutch Harbor, into seldom traveled territory, completely new to us.

Joanne’s job was physically demanding, but I dealt with the weight of responsibility for keeping the scientists and crew safe. With endless foggy days and ice floes constantly changing, shifting, stopping, and rotating, I’d monitor ice movement from satellite reports, aerial searches, and a few scant ships’ reports. With daylight 24/7, we worked around the clock. I couldn’t escape the exhausting mental exertion of monitoring and navigating to reach our destinations without getting stuck in the ice, nor could I relax my vigilance. After the two-month season, I felt like the stuffing had been knocked out of me.

Still, Joanne and I committed to a few more summers on the Norseman II. Our final season, our youngest daughter, Kirsten, signed on with us. Joanne and Kirdy both cooked amazing, delicious food for the thirty people aboard the research vessel. Kirdy started in the galley at seven in the evening to relieve Joanne and clean up the dinner dishes. When Joanne came on at seven in the morning, she’d clean up the breakfast dishes and begin preparing lunch. Day after day, no darkness, endless work. In 2016, we declined the offer to run the Norseman II for another summer season.

Nowadays, Gus fishes pollock in the Bering Sea, he’s married, has two children, and they live a mile from Joanne and me in Bend, Oregon. Both Ahna and Kirdy have since moved on to other careers. Ahna lives in Los Angeles, has a job in marketing, and is married to Zach, a cinematographer. Kirdy is a director for kids’ camps in Bend, Oregon and is a gifted video editor, although she is tempted to go back to the sea.

In 2016, instead of the research vessel, I chose to run TV’s world famous “Deadliest Catch” vessel, the Cornelia Marie, from Seattle to Alaska for salmon tendering season. Casey and Josh, the regular captains, wanted to take off the summer months, and I looked forward to beautiful bays full of salmon with Joanne in the galley, rather than dodging treacherous ice floes. But running a famous boat for a season is a story in itself. I recently received a call from Sig Hansen to run his boat, the famous captain of the Northwestern, also a vessel on the “Deadliest Catch” TV show.

“I’d love to help, Sig,” I said. “But I’m committed to speaking on the Princess Cruise ships.”

“Are you kidding me?” He laughed. “Oh man, why would you want to do that?”

I’ll always think fondly of those thirty years as a Bering Sea captain. Recently, though, I’ve chosen a different path, writing and speaking, so others may benefit from my years bouncing around on the ocean, both literally and figuratively.

For now…

If you’d like to read more, you can get the book here.

About the book, one review said:

A compelling read and an unbeatable introduction to the reason servant leadership pays off in high stakes situations. Captain Molan protected his crews, and they performed for him. Everyone did well. This is a book for every manager and business school student. It represents a cool and competent approach to success in an uncertain, high risk, high reward landscape. The only disappointment was reaching the end of this book. The hope is that more of the same is in the offing.

And there are 90-some other 5-star reviews to choose from!

Captain Jack is one of my editing/coaching clients, and he’s been a blast to work with!

Check out his social media sites. He offers free amazing photos of things like bald eagles flying in the wild and lots of other goodies.

www.https://jackmolan.com

https://www.facebook.com/JackMolanPhotography/

 

We love comments! If you’d like to let us know what you thought of the story, please leave a message in the field below. Do you have a personal story to tell?

Stephanie Gave Up Her Land for a Better Life – Now She’s The BeauRam® Babe!

stephanie-on-highwayStephanie Lewis, my favorite yoga teacher here in Bend, Oregon, took a lot of grief along the way, but now she lives a fulfilling life and is on the road to success with her innovative BeauRam® backpack.10923267_624767650984368_6846668314303840610_n

“I grew up in a loving family but with a lot of bullshit,” she confides.

Stephanie grew up on a three-generation family farm that produced deciduous trees in Salem. Her parents both went to North Salem High, the same school she and her younger brother attended. After graduation, her dad left to fight in the Vietnam War, part of his quest to please her unpleasable retired military Grandfather Merriweather (Stephanie’s family are descendants of Merriweather Lewis, as in the explorers, Lewis and Clark). When her father returned to Oregon a former sniper and decorated soldier, her parents were married.

Stephanie admits her upbringing had its high points. She cherishes memories of fishing and hunting trips in Alaska with her dad and him teaching her to shoot. In fact, she won shooting competitions as a kid and thought seriously about joining the U.S. Army Research Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Still today, Stephanie has a permit to carry concealed weapons (her dad’s idea of keeping her safe is packing), though3oewj7te she hasn’t touched a firearm in years.

 “Growing up hunting and fishing, I’m the most un-yogi yogi … [and] the black sheep of the family,” Stephanie admits and then chuckles. “Or the tie-dyed sheep.”

Stephanie also recalls the sumptuous smells of her mother’s homemade pizza; fresh crust baking in the oven and sauce bubbling on the stove. Her mother happily fed Stephanie’s and her brother’s friends. The Lewis’ never went on family vacations, but her mother made their house the go-to place to hang out and have fun.

The community respected her family. No one knew her “upstanding” grandfather was privately vicious to his sons, or that he molested Stephanie at age five or six.

When she was eight, she walked in on her parents making out and said, “I know what you’re doing because Grandpa showed me.”

Her parents didn’t talk about it after that, but Stephanie noticed they kept Grandpa at a distance, which was tricky as they all lived in houses built on Lewis acreage. (Years later, they discovered the family patriarch sexually assaulted another young girl in the neighborhood but was never charged.)

large_3584131250At age 12, Stephanie received her first of what she calls “All I Hate About You” letters from her dad and was devastated.

“[Dad] was coming from a place of unhappiness… [I think] a lot of it was a ripple effect from how he was treated by his father.”

Many more soul-crushing letters later, after graduating high school, Stephanie left the farm to go to Portland State photo-3University. During the summer, going into her sophomore year, she came home to find her dad’s stuff gone. When she asked what happened, her mother burst into tears explaining he’d moved in with the younger woman down the street. Her dad never talked to Stephanie or her brother about his decision – or even her mother. He grabbed his belongings and took off, leaving her mom to find a half-empty closet.

Every time Stephanie and her mom left the house, they had to pass her dad’s new residence. To cope, Stephanie and her mom sneered and made “Dirty Diana” jokes when they drove by. In the end, Diana left her dad at the altar.

Stephanie worked at Nordstrom in Portland in her ladder years of college. When she graduated with a degree in Graphic Design, she worked at Johnson and Walverton for three years as “the go-to-girl” on amazing marketing accounts such as Coca Cola, World Cup, Miller Genuine Draft, and Amnesty International. There she learned how to deal with corporations domestically as well as internationally, and she got to go to London to help manage a large campaign.

lux_660x280_london_housesofparliamentThat trip to London gave Stephanie the traveling bug, and she wanted to make a difference in the world, so she decided to go to work for the Peace Corps. At age 26, after months of interviews and evaluations, the Peace Corps offered her a position in El Salvador. She spoke a little Spanish and happily accepted.

Stephanie quit her job, moved in with her newly remarried mother and step-father, and sold most of her possessions in preparation to leave the country. Then, two weeks before departure, a representative from the Peace Corps called to tell her they no longer needed her in El Salvador, but they had a position available in China. Stephanie couldn’t make the mental switch to another country, a completely different culture, half-way around the world.

“I didn’t want to go to China…I called my mom at work, crying so hard,” she says. “My mom was a medical assistant, totally compassionate. I’ll never forget how reassuring she was.”

Stephanie needed a job, so that same day, she took a trip to Nordstrom.

“They offered me a management position, and I took it. I had my own place within the week.”

By the time Stephanie turned 29, although her dad still sent occasional “All I Hate About You” letters, he also dangled the carrot of taking over the family farm. He’d already set up her brother in an independent nursery, so he told her if she came home to North Salem, as the oldest child, she would inherit the business. But three years into working long hours and learning all there was to know about raising and selling decorative trees, she got another “All I Hate About You” letter.

Heartbroken, she realized her dad never planned to fulfill his promise to let her run the farm. She left for Portland where Nordstrom gladly gave her another management position. A couple years later, when she was 34, Stephanie’s father asked her to come home to discuss the family business. His tone had been upbeat, almost positive. Thinking her family had come to their senses, she met with her parents and her brother in Salem.

But the meeting was anything but civil.

Her brother had become a chip-off-the-old-block and read aloud a scathing letter of his own: how Stephanie thinks she’s “entitled” and accusing her of lying about whatever she’d said to disagree with him. Silence filled the room after her brother’s recital. No one stood up for Stephanie to mention her hard work or her ideas that had made the farm more efficient and profitable.

“I’ve never felt so alone,” she recalls. “Before or since.”

She sold her house in Salem (right before the market tanked) and went to Puerto Rico for six months. When she turned 35, Stephanie returned r59_s45to Oregon, took classes in viticulture, and moved to Bend to be a wine rep/buyer for Ray’s in Sisters, Oregon.

“Bend is a place where people come to heal their souls,” she says.

13686571_10153920283549353_7170499537494372918_nStephanie started practicing yoga in 2009 and began facing her past. She met life coach and counselor, Susan Weisburger, and Suzina Newcomb, the owner of Namaspa. These two women taught Stephanie to come from a place of abundance, love, and conscious compassion rather than poverty. She also kept in touch with her maternal grandmother, now 96, Jean Barry.

13254232_10153780787604353_5090795811865148452_n

“She’s my hero, the most phenomenal Yogi who has never stepped in a studio. [Grandma’s] mindset is of pure love and compassion, total acceptance. She had a tough childhood and rose above it.”

By 2011, Stephanie decided to become a yoga instructor.

“Yoga teacher training is what saved my life,” Stephanie proudly admits. Part of the 200-hour Baptiste methodology includes “peeling away personal [baggage] to own your authenticity in order to help others reach theirs.” It was here that Stephanie truly began to heal.

10915314_624763030984830_2570214685747802784_nTeaching yoga classes at Namaspa, Athletic Club of Bend (which is where Stephanie and I met), at Brasada Ranch, and in La Pine helped her develop a sense of self as well as lead others to discover their authentic selves. Supporting people in accepting and appreciating their bodies and minds led to Stephanie designing the BeauRam® Yoga Survival Pack.

“As a teacher, I wanted to make it easier for people to live healthier lives because I believe that good health uplifts to happiness and contentment.” Stephanie chuckles. “To grab their ‘Beau’ and go.”

BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs come loaded or unloaded, for beginners to 30-year veterans. If you’re just starting out or your gear is getting worn, the loaded packs include:

  • A yoga mat (travel design patent pending)
  • Removable laundry bag
  • Skin care kit
  • Inspiration piece
  • Carabiners (3)
  • Water Bottle
  • Yoga block
  • Yoga strap
  • Towel
  • and Soothing wipes

Stephanie’s BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs got incredibly positive feedback from yoga teachers and students when she showed people her prototype, so she made the nail-biting decision to invest her savings in producing a few hundred.

And her BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs sold out within a couple weeks!

Scared but determined, armed with nurturing friends and her own yoga practice, she took the plunge and sold her house to use the money to manufacture more BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs!

You can find more information HERE🙂

Stephanie’s ultimate goal is to one day have her own BeauRam® Yoga Studio that provides classes and anything yogis at any level might need to enhance their practice – and their lives.

You go, Stephanie! I’m sure, not too far into the future, I’ll be writing another post about your product launch and one day about your successful studio!

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

For more information, go to Stephanie’s BeauRam® Facebook page.

Meet Jayne, Whose Son Saved Her Life, and Running Saved Her Marriage

10500351_541207862712808_5131535543680842341_nJayne Rodosevich grew up in Ridgecrest, California, a small town in the Mojave Desert – mostly on her own. Her dad, a chemical engineer for Searles Valley Minerals, worked a lot of hours, and her mom, a registered nurse, spent much of the time at the local hospital. Until Jayne turned 15, she practically raised her younger brother and sister when she wasn’t training on uneven parallel bars, the vault or balance beam, or learning floor routines for the next gymnastics meet.

Then in her sophomore year of high school, her mom decided to go back to college to become a nurse anesthetist – in Los Angeles, about a three-hour drive from Ridgecrest. Her mom took Jayne’s siblings and invited their grandmother to live with them to take care of the little ones. A refugee from Thailand who didn’t speak English became the housekeeper for Jayne and her dad while Jayne finished high school and competed in gymnastics meets.

Gymnastics and homework kept Jayne out of trouble. She brought home trophies and earned straight As until she graduated from high school and went off to the University of California in Davis. Jayne went from little to no contact with her family, and she no longer had time for sports. At age 19, she worked in a clothing store, back-bussed at a local bar, and poured coffee as a barista to pay for tuition, books, food and rent – and Jayne was exhausted.

Her husband, back then her 21-year-old boyfriend, introduced Jayne to crystal methamphetamine to give her the zip she needed to get through the day.

And she got addicted.

So did he.

They were each other’s bad influence in perpetuating the crystal meth roller coaster of manic highs and devastating lows. Jayne managed to downloadget through six years of college classes, working three jobs, using speed to keep her going. Eventually, though, paying for tuition and living expenses became too much of a burden. Sadly, she quit attending UC Davis 30 units short of graduation, and they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the next 10 years, drug use whittled Jayne’s body down to 90 pounds. Her muscles, once robust from thousands of hours of gymnastics training, atrophied into saggy strands hanging off her bones. One cigarette after the next incinerated between her fingertips. Her teeth became mottled with black rot, a side-effect from crystal meth use, and still she and her boyfriend partied.

“We had one rule,” Jayne says. “You could never [mess] up at work.”

Life had become a cycle of self-induced bipolar disorder. Then three months after Jayne and her boyfriend married, she discovered she was pregnant.

Jayne’s life took a 180 degree turn.

Quitting her drug habits had seemed impossible until fear for her baby’s safety became a factor. For the first time in a decade, she put downWk14_Belly_02 the smokes, turned away the frenzied high she craved, and started eating regular meals that included produce and protein. Soon she plumped into a healthy weight, and eight months later, she delivered a healthy little boy.

(Since their son was born, over the last twelve years, Jayne has spent more than $20,000 to fix her rotten teeth.)

But Jayne continued eating the same after she stopped nursing her baby and gained 80 pounds. Her husband, too, blew past his optimal weight, into jumbo jeans.

“Crystal meth messes up your metabolism,” Jayne explains. “Your body holds onto fat in case you decide to starve it again because you don’t feel like eating when you’re using.”

Her husband cut his drug use way down, but it took a couple years for him to beat his addictions. Jayne focused on being a mom to their son and tried to be patient. After all, her husband never had the urgency of a human life growing inside him to fortify his will power.

Eight years ago, they moved from California to Bend, Oregon, where her husband was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a bi-product of his arrested addiction and current eating habits. He knew if he didn’t do something to improve his health, he would get sicker. Since Bend is known for its mountain trails, and runners populate the bike lanes as often as cyclists, he put on a pair of cross trainers and started logging the miles. His weight began to drop, and he began to feel better.

183122_465327160203974_827085630_nBut Jayne worked graveyard shifts at Village Baker in their son’s early years, so she could be with their little one during the day. Constant sleep deprivation made cat naps more crucial than cardio workouts.

During this time, her mentally ill mother-in-law, estranged from her husband since he was a child, got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had nowhere to go.

So Jayne and her husband brought his mother home to live with them.

Jayne struggled to be a mom to their son, caregiver to her confused mother-in-law, and co-provider for the household for a nightmarish year-and-a-half before the woman passed away.

Jayne needed an outlet, a way to deal with stress, yet she didn’t know how to squeeze physical exercise into her busy life. Knowing her competitive nature, honed from years of competing in gymnastics meets, her husband teased her for two years, saying she couldn’t run for reasons that had nothing to do with time, alluding to her weight. Then Jayne and her husband both changed jobs, switching schedules, him working nights as head chef at a swanky restaurant, and her working days at Whole Foods Market after their son started school.

“I started running because [my husband] told me I wasn’t capable,” Jayne confesses. “I wasn’t going to let him be right.”

Getting regular sleep and living in daylight allowed Jayne to join a runners’ training group for a half-marathon through FootZone, an apparel 13346501_10208477979963824_4632028197835674607_nstore in downtown Bend that cultivates and nurtures the local running community. She made lasting friendships with people who supported each other in reaching their fitness goals. That first year, she not only became an excellent runner, Jayne lost 60 pounds and has kept them off ever since.

Three years ago, Jayne got a call from Christina Stavro, a training group coordinator at FootZone, who asked if Jayne would be willing to mentor other runners in the half-marathon group training for the race in Silver Falls, Oregon. A free pair of running shoes sweetened the deal, and Jayne has been mentoring groups ever since.

10433144_450950215071907_7800429536368401572_nIn fact, Jayne has been my knowledgeable, patient, supportive running mentor in both the Silver Falls Half-Marathon and Bend Marathon training groups through FootZone. I’ll be forever grateful for her gentle motivation, talking me through sore glutes, hips, and hamstrings, encouraging me to the top of steep roads and trails that seemed would never end.

In the meantime, Jayne’s marriage secretly suffered from her and her husband’s opposite work schedules. Last year, they had drifted so far apart, they became little more that roommates.

“I wasn’t afraid for him to leave,” Jayne recounts. “I’m not dependent on him anymore.”

At the brink of separation, they decided to carve out running time together, and their relationship began to grow again.10394615_10152840328548189_2315796588886067072_n

“We’ve realized we do better together,” Jayne acknowledges. “He’s my best friend.”

They’ve finally become a good influence on each other. Since March, they’ve trained for and competed in two races together, and she sees many others in their future. On July 9, Jayne will run her first ultra-marathon, a 50K (31 miles) at Mount Hood in Oregon. But her husband won’t be participating. He and their son will be cheering for Jayne as she crosses the finish line.

Thanks for sharing your story with our Tenacity to Triumph readers, Jayne!

 

Readers, can you relate to Jayne’s story in some way? We’d love for you to leave a comment.

Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

Trish Wilkinson,

Author, Writing Coach, Freelance Editor

Meet Pauline, a Total Bad Ass Who Doesn’t Realize She’s Awesome

Pauline and her dog, Jack
Pauline and her dog, Jack

I meet amazing people to write about for this blog in the most unlikely places. The funny thing is, heroes think they’re normal. Nothing special. Talking people into letting me tell their stories often takes a bit of convincing that others can benefit from their experiences, particularly the life choices that empowered them to become the successes they are today.

For example, Pauline Kinneman, one of my favorite new running buddies in Central Oregon,

Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group
Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group

doesn’t think she’s special at all, but she’s a total bad ass. Due to her peer pressure, I’m training for the Bend Marathon, my first marathon ever, on Sunday, April 24. What kind of crazy people run 26.2 miles, for cryin’ out loud? Apparently, people like me who admire and respect someone like Pauline, a 62-year-old who has won several medals in half and full marathons, a woman nine years my senior who kicks my butt on the roads and trails. She’s also the mother of three amazing adults: Sean Michael Gion, age 32, father, husband, software sales executive; Lauren Elizabeth Frances, M.D., age 30, and Katherine Rose Sylvia, age 26, wife, writer for Human Resources at Columbia University.

A former manager for a Barnes & Noble in Seattle, customer relations officer for Washington Energy, disc jockey back in the day, retail sales person, and model for Frederick and Nelson as a teenager, Pauline now spends much of her time running with her FootZone friends talking, joking, and offering humble encouragement. When she isn’t running, she hits the ski slopes, braves rocky trails on her mountain bike, and takes 200+ mile trips on her road bike with her husband, Michael, of 37 years.

You might guess, with a such a glowing track record (pun intended), she came from a stable, educated family.

You would be wrong.

Pauline’s father, John Kelty, was illiterate. John ran away from home and enlisted in the army in his teens. As a sergeant in World War II, he was one of the last Muleskinners who saved women and children in the Swiss Alps, and he had a fabulous singing voice.

But he could never quiet his inner demons.

220px-Tennis_Racket_and_BallsPauline’s mother, Sylvia Baker, a professional tennis player who competed at the U.S. Open, met John, a soldier 12 years her senior, guarding the tennis courts in Japan where she’d been asked to play in a “Friendlies” match with the Emperor. A whirlwind romance would have the two married several months later.

And her mother would discover her new husband was a mean drunk.

Still, Pauline’s oldest brother Frank came along, Geoffrey followed two years later, and Pauline Sylvia Kelty, named after her English grandmother, arrived a couple years after Geoff. Her mother continued to play tennis, and her dad worked for Boeing as a plumber. They lived in a two-bedroom house in Seattle where little Pauly slept in a crib in the same room with her brothers until she was five years old.

Meanwhile, her alcoholic father had become physically abusive.

By the time Pauly turned six, her parents had split up. Her dad didn’t pay child support, so the family practically starved while her mom struggled to pay the bills on the meager sponsorship from Boeing to play in tennis tournaments and her secretary’s salary.

Pauly didn’t go to preschool or kindergarten. She stayed home with her stuffed animals while her mom went to work and her brothers went to school. When she got hungry, she’d knock at neighbors’ doors, asking for something to eat. In the afternoons, she walked several blocks by herself and waited for her brothers to be let out of class for the day.

Yet when her mom had a tennis match scheduled, Pauly and her brothers bathed and dressed in clean white shirts and behaved as model imageschildren, seen and not heard. At the swanky tennis clubs, servers brought them food and drinks while their mother battled for another tennis trophy.

“People waited on us,” says Pauline. “We were little princes and a princess – until we went home to our hovel.”

Win or lose, Sylvia would take the kids back to their little house to carefully stow their pressed shirts and slacks for the next match. On days when Sylvia didn’t have a match scheduled, she and Pauly would go to the track at the local public high school, where Pauly would watch her mom hit tennis balls against a wall and run laps to stay in shape.

track-shoes-9068173“I’d go to sleep at the side of the track listening to the rhythm of her feet,” Pauline remembers. “[The sound] was comforting.”

In addition to the difficulties of day-to-day living, the family lived in terror knowing her father could appear at any time, wasted and ready to bully them.

“We’d hold our breath hoping Dad wouldn’t show up drunk and violent,” Pauline confides. “Sometimes we had to leave to get away from him, which was fun because the no-tell-motel would have a pool, [but other times] the police would have to come and take him away.”

Single motherhood, a struggling tennis career, and an abusive ex-husband ground Sylvia into deep depression, so she tried to lift her spirits by dating. If Pauly and her brothers came home to hear music playing, they knew to stay out of the house. If the music still played after her date left, they knew their mother’s dark mood would isolate her for the rest of the evening. After such nights, ten-year-old Pauly would coax her mother out of bed, assemble an outfit, and help dress her for work in the morning.

“School was awful,” Pauline admits. “I was always sleepy, and I was super thin because I ate terribly.”

At age 11, Pauly found her mother running around the house with a handful of pills threatening to kill herself. Not knowing what else to do, sheimages (3) called the police. When the cops arrived, she and her brothers hid, and Sylvia told the police there had been a misunderstanding. After the police left, the kids crawled out of their hiding places, and Pauly tucked her mom into bed.

The following morning, Pauly ran late for school, so she awakened her mother, set out Sylvia’s clothes for work, and left the house. That day, Pauly got into trouble with her teacher for falling asleep in class, so she decided to go home for a nap. A priest intercepted her and broke the news that her mom was in the hospital. In a daze, Pauly walked home from school. When she wandered into the bathroom, she found bright red blood splattered on the walls, in the bathtub, and smeared on the floor.

“I can still see it in my mind if I’m not careful,” Pauline confesses. “It was horrible.”

Worse, Frank and Geoff blamed their little sister for their mother’s suicide attempt, saying that calling the police the night before had pushed her over the edge.

images (1)Sylvia was taken to the psych ward at the hospital. At first, people from their church took in the kids, but as days turned to weeks, Pauly and her brothers became wards of the state of Washington. Fifteen-year-old Frank went to live in an orphanage, Geoff spent time at the Griffin Home for Boys, and Pauly lived with the Lazaras family in foster care. The Lazarases had a rifle range in their basement, and they taught Pauly how to shoot. They also generously shared their horses and took her on trail rides. After two weeks, Betty Rae and Bud Gross, the Lazaras’s next-door-neighbors, asked Pauly to live with them.

When Sylvia got out of the hospital, she tried to get her children back, but the neighbors testified that she was an unfit mother, so the state wouldn’t allow Pauly and her brothers to go home. Pauly felt guilty to be relieved because, though the bathroom had been cleaned, whenever she visited the house for her mom’s visitation, vivid flashbacks made her heart race, and she’d have to walk outside.

Her mother felt there was little to live for without her children. Sylvia began to drink heavily and take amphetamines to control her weight, all while playing punishing amounts of tennis. Within months, Sylvia collapsed on the tennis court. Geoffrey, now 14, left the boys’ home to take care of her.

Just before Pauly’s 12th birthday in November, her mother died of liver cancer – and Geoffrey suffered a psychotic break.

“[Geoffrey] was never the same after Mom died,” Pauline concedes. “I think part of it had to do with him having to go to the same psych ward as our mother to recover.”

Pauline remembers her mother treating everyone with kindness. “[Mom] would say, ‘You never know what is going on with people. There is always someone who has had more pain [than we have].’”

Beverly and Vivian, Sylvia’s older sisters from California, came to Washington to attend the funeral. Pauly danced and skipped, excited to see her aunts for the first time, hoping these new-found family members would become part of her and her brothers’ lives. But Aunts Vivian and Beverly left shortly after the memorial service. Pauly didn’t know if she’d ever hear from them again.

A few weeks after the funeral, Aunt Beverly called and explained Frank and Geoff were too old, but 12-year-old Pauly could come to live with her family in California. Pauly’s first time on an airplane, she flew by herself to live with an aunt she scarcely knew as well as an uncle and four cousins she’d never met. Pauly kept up with her aunt’s strict schedule of activities and mealtimes, but she was in pain over the loss of her mother. In her grief, she escaped by burying her nose in books every chance she got.

Two weeks after Pauly arrived, Aunt Beverly sat her down on the bed and said: “This isn’t working out.”

Sylvia’s oldest sister, Aunt Vivian, came to the rescue and offered Pauly a home. Aunt Vivian had a pool, and she set out the funny papers for Pauly to read at the breakfast table. With lots of swimming and reading and easy conversation, her inner-turmoil subsided. Life began to settle into a secure rhythm – until four weeks later when Aunt Vivian said she’d already raised her children and wasn’t prepared to bring up another child.

Pauly was sent back to Washington. She lived in two foster homes before Betty Rae and Bud Gross got licensed to be foster parents and invited her to come live with them again. She was almost 13. For the next four years, Pauly lived with them, but tensions grew in their home after the Gross’s son enlisted in the army and left to fight in Vietnam.

FHSLibrary
Interior Franklin HS Library

In those years, Pauly’s self-esteem steadily declined. Few of her peers knew she was a foster kid. Most

Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington
Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington

people thought of her as the “nice little girl who worked in the school library.”

Then in tenth grade, Philip Quinn, Pauly’s English teacher at Franklin High School, began to tutor her in the library with a group of other struggling kids to help them catch up in their classes. More important, he told Pauly she was smart, praising her for academic and emotional progress. Slowly, her self-image improved.

In her senior year, one fateful afternoon, she got into a shouting match with Betty Rae, and Pauly ran away. Literally. Being on the cross-country team at Franklin High, she ran miles and miles.

Eventually she bumped into a girl from school. Although little more than an acquaintance, the girl took Pauly home, and the girl’s parents let Pauly spend the night. The next day, Pauly went to see the guidance counselor. When Mr. Quinn found out what had happened, he called his pregnant wife, and the couple agreed to take Pauly in for a while. Christopher, the Quinn’s two-and-a-half-year-old son thought his daddy brought Pauly home especially for him as the two of them hit it off the moment she walked into the tiny, two-bedroom house.

Pauly finished her senior year of high school with the Quinn family, and Philip helped her get into the University of Puget Sound. She earned a degree in psychology, met Michael Kinneman through a mutual friend, and began her journey as a successful adult.

To this day, Pauline and the Quinns keep in touch, celebrating accomplishments, sharing in sorrows, or merely catching up. Betty Rae and Pauline have long since made amends, and the Gross family, too, remain precious friends. Sadly, Pauline’s brother Geoffrey died at age 44 struggling with addiction, but Frank lives in Alaska and is the mayor in the small town where he lives with his wife. Frank and Pauline have done their best to heal from the past. They talk on the phone and visit each other whenever possible.

Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family
Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family at Katharine and Tyler’s wedding

Soon Pauline will hang out with her daughter, Katharine Rose, and her son-in-law, Tyler Bischop when she travels east to run in the New York Marathon on November 6. My guess is that she’ll get another medal, but whether she places in her age group or not, Pauline is a hero in my book.

Pauline, thanks for allowing me to share your story as a notable bad ass on Tenacity to Triumph.

Readers, we’d love to “hear” your comments. Hopefully, Pauline’s story struck a chord to give you that extra something you need to get through your personal challenges.

 

If you have a story of grit and determination to share, leave a comment or email me at writetowinwithtrish@gmail.com, and we’ll make that happen.

                                                                                                Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

                                                                                                Trish Wilkinson

 

The Decision that Made LadyDice an Up-and-Coming Hip Hop Star

fcae31d3-71bd-4212-b3ff-5fa9ceb014ddA few short years ago, singer LadyDice, weighed 275 pounds, had never written a song, and suffered from debilitating stage fright. It took an honest, painful look inside herself to break through the obstacles keeping her from her dreams.

 
Growing up in Southern California with her biological father, a mentally and physically abusive addict, she remembers sitting in the courtroom with her mom and dad fighting over who would get custody of her and her sisters. LadyDice’s home life improved after her mom won the custody battle and eventually married a wonderful man.

 
But the damage from those early years had been done.

 
And understanding the source of her self-destructive behavior wouldn’t come until much later.

 
Hitting bottom either kills you or makes you stronger, and LadyDice chose to use that dark, desperate place as her springboard to recreate her life.

“I decided I was ready to become who I always wanted to be,” she says.

Being overweight had always plagued her with self-doubt; that is, until she got serious and dropped 120 pounds.

LadyDice three years ago, before and after she lost 120 pounds.
LadyDice before and after she lost 120 pounds.

“I wish I could give some miracle answer [for how I lost all that weight and have kept it off], but it was just discipline. I LOOOVE food,” she admits, “so I had to figure out yummy ways to stay satisfied. After I got that down, it was easy.”

In a similar way, LadyDice faced her fear of the limelight by forcing her feet onto the stage for the first time three years ago. She’d always wanted to sing, to be heard. No one would stop her, least of all herself. The dreaded shakes and queasiness she’d avoided for so long gave way to joy as her amplified voice filled the room, and the audience moved to the beat. Since then, she has performed in all kinds of venues in several states.

“I pushed myself for almost 2 years, and now I’m doing shows all over the place. I am a model and pursuing my dream in music!!” she exclaims. “You just have to find the belief in yourself.”

12088272_881154771968703_200476865479206303_nLadyDice has discovered her true friends in going after her dream of becoming a hip hop star.

“It’s amazing to see the people who step up and support your career and the ones who don’t,” she confides. “There’s been a lot of good and bad on my journey so far, but the good is definitely starting to outweigh the bad. I’m grateful.”

 

The single mom of a 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, LadyDice finds juggling motherhood and her career challenging at times. “It’s really hard having to be gone and them not understanding why Mommy isn’t home,” she says. Still, her preschoolers root for her success. They love to see her perform on stage, and they sing along and dance to her CDs. Hearing about her travels to faraway places excites them, and LadyDice works hard to be present for her children when she’s home. “Honestly, this is an obstacle I haven’t overcome quite yet,” she acknowledges, “but I believe I’m finding a balance.”

 

Recently, LadyDice left her home in Oregon for a few days to be there for someone else’s little girl in Idaho. Ten-year-old Sophia has struggled with leukemia since birth, and although the treatments have gotten her cancer under control, her kidneys are failing due to the frequent processing of harsh chemicals from chemotherapy. Sophia loves LadyDice’s hip hop, tough-girl music, so her mother contacted LadyDice to set up a meeting to take Sophia’s mind off dialysis and waiting for a new kidney. LadyDice invited Sophia to her recording studio where they experienced a bond neither will ever forget. Not only did they have a great time getting to know each other, Sophia got to see LadyDice record Rachael Platten’s “Fight Song” to accompany Sophia’s video to help raise money to cover medical costs on GoFundMe.com.

 

 

Soon LadyDice will be hearing whether she’ll be opening for a big name act. Fingers crossed. (I’ll let you know the details if this opportunity comes through for her).

In the meantime, here are LadyDice’s five steps for reaching your dreams and goals:

  1. Realize no one is going to do it for you; the only one who can change you is you.
  2. Make a decision and stick with it, consistency is key.
  3. Believe in yourself. Even if there is a long road ahead of you, you absolutely CAN do it.
  4. You will fall over and over again, but you can always get back up and keep going. I refuse to quit until I get where I want to be! We should ALL strive for that within ourselves.
  5. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. This world is ugly, and there will always be people who root for you to fail. You have to know your own worth. None of the other stuff matters.

 

Thanks, LadyDice, for taking the time for this interview. You definitely get our “Tenacity to Triumph” philosophy. You’re a fellow bad ass to the core.
Write questions or comments for LadyDice below, and help her realize her dreams by sharing this post!

Tech Corporal Claude Oliver Davis: An Unsung American Hero

Written on behalf of Claude Davis by Lyle Hicks

IMG_0737The threat of war in the early ’40s made every young man fear entering the service. I got my notice and went to Portland for a physical, but I failed, so I returned to Bend, Oregon to work and forget about the army. I was born July 6, 1921 in Hepner, Oregon, and at age 2, my family moved to Bend, where I will always call home.

Dad and I got jobs hanging doors on army barracks in Corvallis, and when we were done there, they asked us to do the same at an air base in Moses Lake, WA, so we moved the family in Dad’s ’36 Plymouth pulling a trailer.  About half way, both tires blew, and we had to leave the trailer behind with all our belongs. In a week, we’d raised enough money to retrieve it. Fortunately, it was still there.

While in Washington, I got another draft notice. This time, I became a member of the US Army, and I met some good guys whom I got to stay with all the way through the war. The army shipped us to Fort Douglas in Utah and then to Camp Hann in California near Riverside where we became a part of the Coast Artillery Anti-aircraft, 119th Battalion. Given my background, I became the small arms repair man and carpenter.

Basic training was a rough transition from civilian life with its strict rules and every part of the day regimented, but I survived. The army added driving the supply truck to my small gun repair duties, which remained my job throughout the war. After further training, we were given a 12-day furlough before shipping out. I decided to hitch a ride north, back home to Bend. A plump old fellow in a Lincoln Continental drove me up Interstate-5 at speeds of up to 100 mph. I sure got home fast!

The 119th Battalion embarked in New York on the fourth-largest passenger ship in the world, the Mauritania, which held 16,000 soldiers.Wecap_blanche went up and down waves so big, walls of water hid the whole ship. I slept in the top hammock of four that would swing back and forth with the pitch of the ship. Eating was an adventure where we would hang onto a pipe with one hand and eat with the other. Fifty-gallon barrels were placed every few feet for the guys who got seasick.  Man, I was glad I didn’t get drafted into the Navy.

While in England preparing for the trip to France, we set about the task of waterproofing our trucks. A trailer fell on my hand, breaking four fingers. Without a hospital nearby, we wrapped them and kept going. When I finally got to a hospital, the doctor had to re-break my fingers to set them in place, so I headed to Normandy with a cast on my right hand.

maxresdefaultWe left England on four Landing Ship Tanks and landed on Utah Beach 30 days after the initial invasion. At 6 p.m., we waited inside the tanks in pitch dark with planes screaming overhead and gunfire in the distance. When it was safe to disembark, we had to keep our lights off and follow the truck ahead. It seemed hours before we stopped for the night by a bridge we’d been assigned to protect. The Germans bombed and strafed us all night. 

The next morning, I saw my first dead German, not 50 feet away. He wasn’t more than a kid…but then, so was I.  As a scared young man, sleeping under trucks and in fox holes, I wondered why I was there. These guys looked the same as I. The war was a cruel, confusing thing.  

As we neared a farm in France, Germans strafed our battalion, blowing the tires on my trailer containing 500 lbs of TNT. The first time they came at us, I got as far as the ditch. The second wave hit the ditch, bullets flying right by my side, taking out the man next to me — 4 to 6 inches and I would not be here today. I took off running across the farm and into the woods. There, for the first time, it became real that I had to either kill or be killed. When it was over, I ended up dragging that trailer for 35 miles before we stopped for the night.  

Weeks later, our battalion stopped after dark in this lane with trees on both sides. In the middle of the night, the Germans hit us, their 88’s clipping the trees. One shell whistled through the canvas back of my truck. It didn’t take us long to roll out from under the chassis and run down the hill to better protection. Using the hill for cover, we shot back with our 90’s, lobbing shells back and forth.

It was about that time that my hand began to itch and smell bad. I went to see the medics, and the doc got angry. The cast should have come off weeks before. Boy, had my hand and fingers gotten stiff. It was months before I regained full use of them.  

114609-004-1A35CAD9We moved up the Mosselle River in the direction of Belgium where we took part in the liberation of the town of Vendun, where WWI had ended. The name of our outfit is on a monument there. After a 7-day leave, we went to Paris and into Southern France to an old castle called Mount Saint Michael.

We then began shuttling infantry to the front line and prisoners back into France. Most prisoners were happy not to fight anymore.  We did this under the cover of darkness watching the tail lights of the truck ahead. Often it meant that if the vehicle in front went into a ditch, so did I. One truck hit a land mine, killing some and injuring others. We loaded the injured into our trucks and kept going, leaving the dead to be picked up later. That night, my truck broke down and when guys came to help me fix it, they kept my co-driver, so by myself, I had to maneuver in the dark in unfamiliar territory. It was scary but I made it.

We were then sent to the front line during the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans made one last push back to Belgium. It was a hard and dirty fight with some Germans dressing like Allies and driving our rigs.  It was hard to know who the enemy was.  

On one trip, one of our planes was shot down, landing on nearby a motor pool. Since the plane had carried two-thousand pound bombs, the explosion blew a hole in the frozen ground 35 feet across and 15 feet deep. Debris fell all around as I dove under a trailer, and one of the plane’s motors dropped a few feet from me. I helped load the wounded into eight ambulances. It was sickening. When I got back to my truck, I found a bullet lodged in the padding of my driver’s seat. I’ve kept it all these years.  

Under enemy fire, shells all around us, we crossed the Rhine River on pontoon bridges like big rubber rafts. Across the half-mile stretch, the 4-US_Army_crossing_the_Rhine_on_heavy_ponton_bridge_at_Worms,_March,_1945foot metal rails were just wide enough for our tires, and our heavy trucks with big guns nearly submerged the rafts. Somehow we all made it to Germany alive. We crossed the Danube on May Day in 1945 and moved into our last position.

On May 9th, the firing stopped. The war had ended.  

We were given leave, so I went to Austria to do some skiing and then traveled in Italy.

After the war, I didn’t have enough points to go home, so I was sent to Metz, France to oversee a gas station there. Truckloads of dead people were shuttled through that station. I had a detail of German prisoners who were tasked with running water and garbage to and from the kitchen. One the prisoners did not want to be discharged because he had no home to go to.

Finally, I was sent home with four of my buddies. On a Dutch ship headed to New York, 23 guys slept in a room 14 by 30 feet where rows of beds were stacked four bunks high.  At sea, we hit a storm with 118 mph winds. I was not Navy material as I was sick all the way home.  

In New York, we stood in line to go west on a plane, but the line stopped about 35 guys ahead of me. The rest of us were sent by train. We later heard the plane went down by Billings, Montana killing everyone aboard. On Dec 18, 1945, I was discharged from the army and sent home to Oregon.

It was a joyful Christmas being back with my family. After the holidays, I went to work for my dad in construction.  Eventually, two of my brothers and I formed a company building barns. We also built three houses and a motel.  

Black_Butte_Ranch_-_Black_Butte,_Oregon_fsIn May of 1947, Eva and I got married. By 1950, work had become scarce in Bend, so we moved to Portland where I found work building homes for a company for 14 years. One of the houses I built won first place in Sunset Magazine. My wife and I then formed C&E Enterprises, moved to Sisters, Oregon, and built 47 homes in Black Butte Ranch. Health issues forced me to retire, turning over the business to my three sons.I have enjoyed a good retirement of 35 years, though in 2009, I lost my wife of 63 years. At age 94, I continue to struggle with health problems, my hearing and eyesight, but I still live by myself in Snowberry Village with family and friends nearby.

In those three years in Europe, I drove a truck more than 27,000 miles through England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Spain. I had three stripes on my sleeve, one for each year, five battle stars and several ribbons, but the best reward was an honorable discharge.

I am Tech Corporal Claude Oliver Davis, a proud member of the Bend Band of Brothers

Robert D. Maxwell: The Oldest Living Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor

download (2)At age 95, Robert Maxwell is the oldest living recipient of the United States Congressional Medal of Honor, and one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. I had the pleasure to meet him at a Band of Brothers meeting in Bend, Oregon, and he agreed to tell me his story.

Born in Boise, Idaho in 1920, Bob’s parents separated when he was a baby. His mom was a traveling saleswoman, so he was raised by his grandparents on a farm in Quinter, Kansas. His earliest memories are of helping to weed and harvest crops, gather eggs, feeding chickens and pigs, and milking cows.

“My aunts and uncles treated me like a little brother,” he said. “When I was about 10, my uncles found a runnable car. We took off the body, put a bench seat over the gas tank, and rode all over the farm on that thing.” Bob cracks a smile and sits back in his chair at our table in the dining hall at Aspen Ridge Retirement Home.

In seventh grade, Bob had to leave school since his family needed his help on the farm. During the summers, his grandpa kept the farm going while he and his “big brothers” traveled to Willamette and Puget Sound, Oregon where they got paid to pick fruit.

One Sunday in 1937, when Bob was 15, a huge dust cloud blew in from Nebraska through Kansas. Fierce winds blew all day and most of the night. The air was so thick with dust; midday could have been midnight. He and his brothers wore scarves on their faces and held onto a rope to get to the barn to feed the animals. When the ferocious gale finally waned, buildings were buried up to the eaves. All the top soil had gone, leaving bedrock too hard to replant. Along with many Dust Bowl survivors, Bob’s family packed up to find a place where they could make a living.

They decided to go to Oregon, but by the time they made it to Colorado, Bob’s grandpa had fallen ill. The boys worked on a cattle ranch for a year before setting out again for Oregon; however, close to the base of the Rocky Mountains, his grandpa got sick again. They couldn’t continue to travel, so the family found a timber ranch where they supplied railroad ties and support frames for mine shafts, harvested Christmas trees, made fence posts, and bundled scraps to sell as firewood. Then in June of 1941, Bob got a letter telling him to report for service in the United States Army. Raised in the Quaker faith, the army offered Bob “Conscientious Objector” status, but he refused saying it was a privilege to fight for his country.

Used to hard work, Bob underwent 13 weeks of intensive training at Camp Roberts in Central California. He specialized in operating a 30 caliber water-cooled machine gun on three-man crew. From there, he went to Maryland to spend another 14 weeks at Fort Meade to learn advanced infantry tactics.

By February of 1942, Bob had boarded a ship and landed in North Africa at Casablanca, 19 months before D-Day, where he believes World War IIjb_wwii_casablan_2_e actually began. Four months after the Third Infantry seized Casa Blanca from the Germans, Bob joined the advancing company as a wire man. “Because that’s what was needed,” he says. Forget firing big guns the way he’d been trained. Since radios were easily jammed by the Germans, Bob lay wire from the battalion to the switchboard, so the company commander could call in firing orders via telephone.

From Casablanca, the Third Infantry made their way through Italy where they fought under General Patton and took Sicily in 38 days. American divisions and British units fought side-by-side to secure the island. After the victory in Sicily, Bob’s infantry traveled by water and continued to Naples where they fought until the Italians surrendered and joined the Allied forces.

Early 1944, Bob’s infantry landed south of Rome, in Anzio, to establish a beachhead, where Bob would earn his first purple heart. Although the Allies caught the German’s by surprise for another victory, Bob got injured. He was taken to the hospital in Naples on January 29. On June 5, the day before D-Day in Normandy, Bob was released from the hospital to rejoin his battalion when they came back through Naples.

In August of the same year, U.S. troops headed north along the Rhone River, up through southern France to Besançon, where they joined forces with English soldiers who had been traveling south. The night of September 7, 1944, Bob was on a roof, stringing wire from house to house to the battalion commander’s phone line when a German gun crew attacked the Battalion Command Post from a ditch near the railroad track. Bob didn’t bother climbing down; he jumped off the roof to avoid getting shot and frantically continued hooking up phone lines.

He came upon four infantry men and a radio guy crouched below a 4-foot stone wall shooting .45 caliber pistols at the attackers. Bob joined the fray, firing his own gun at the sparks in the dark. A grenade landed near Bob’s feet and rolled. He dropped where he was, hoping to fall on top of it and cushion the blast to save the other five men.

“I must have kicked [the grenade],” remembers Bob, “because it blew a hole in my steel-toed boot and tore up my foot.”

As it happened, the explosion was contained against the wall, and all six men were spared. MOH9Maxwell

Again admitted to the hospital in Naples, doctor’s repaired Bob’s right foot, but shrapnel had hit his temple; he couldn’t see out of his left eye. Hoping doctors in the States could safely remove the shrapnel and restore his eyesight, the U.S. Army sent him home.

Once back in the states, a surgeon removed the metal fragments from Bob’s temple, and his eye regained the ability to see. For his acts of heroism, seven months later, on April 6, 1945, Robert Maxwell  was awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor as well as his second Silver Star and Purple Heart medals in Denver, Colorado. Bob was also awarded the “Legion of Honor” by the French government on a French frigate near Norfolk, VA.

By then, his grandfather had died, and his grandmother had moved to Creswell, Oregon with his two uncles to work another farm.

“I took one look at that farm and turned around and enrolled in vocational school in Eugene,” Bob recalls with a chuckle. “No more farming for me.”

After two years’ training as an auto mechanic, Bob did a two-year apprenticeship for Oldsmobile in Redmond, Oregon. During this time, he met Beatrice who would become his life-long love. After the apprenticeship, he got a full-time job working for Ford, and a year later, on August 12, 1951, he and Beatrice got married at Redmond Christian Church.

While working under a Ford truck, the manager for the new Central Oregon College Mechanics Department (COC) wandered into the shop to offer Bob a teaching position. Bea pushed him to take the job as she thought it would be safer for him to teach than to work on cars. Since Bob’s formal education had ended in the seventh grade, in order to accept the teaching position, he took and passed the test to get his GED. During the winter and spring semesters, he taught, wrote curriculum, collected equipment, and found cars for his students to work on. In the summers, he took classes at Corvallis State College to eventually earn a degree in Industrial Education. Bob also taught auto mechanics classes at Bend High School in the 1950s.

“Bob was my scout leader [in Redmond, 1955],” says Wes Woofhiser, friend and fellow Band of Brothers member. “I damaged a car and Bob fixed it.”

IMG_0630Bob spent nine years at COC and then moved his family to Eugene, Oregon to begin an auto mechanics’ program at Lane Community College. By the time the Maxwells moved to Eugene, Bob and Bea had three daughters, two natural and one adopted. Bea had miscarried their third child, so they fostered Bonnie – and they fell in love with her. They adopted Bonnie in 1968. A year later, they fostered Rosie and decided they couldn’t live without this baby girl either, so at 18 months old, Rosie became the sixth Maxwell family member.

Bob retired from his position at Lane Community College in 1986, but he continued working for two more years until the college could find someone to replace him. Since the girls were grown and on their own, in 1991 he and his wife moved to Boise, Idaho where they established the Medal of Honor Scholarship program at Boise Bible College.

On vacation in Bend, Oregon one summer, they enjoyed themselves so much that they decided to move there in 1995. They lived happily in Bend for almost 20 years. In fact, Bob graduated from Bend Senior High School in 2011 where he is a “Distinguished Alumni”. Sadly, though ten years Bob’s junior, Bea passed away April 10, 2015. She is dearly missed by family and friends – especially Bob. Still he manages to participate in his community.

On October 24 of this year, the day before his 95th birthday, Mr. Robert D. Maxwell, our nation’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient spoke at the Noon Dedication of the Oregon Medal of Honor Exhibit at Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Mc Minnville, Oregon (where the Spruce Goose is on display). Currently, Bob is also Director for the Bend Heroes Foundation.

Thank God back in 1944 Bob kicked that grenade in the dark rather than of landing on top of it. The world is a better place with the four wonderful daughters he and Bea raised together, the hundreds of kids he taught how to work on cars, and the kindness and humility with which he treats everyone he meets.

To Robert D. Maxwell and every other United States Veteran: Thank you for your service.

When an Infection Eats Your Face: An Amazing Story of an Incredible Bad Ass

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Imagine you’re born perfectly normal, but then a virulent infection devours your eyelids, nose and lips. Your parents decide they can’t handle raising such a needy kid, so you become a ward of the state – and a doctor gets permission to do experimental plastic surgery on you. After three years in a cage-like crib at the hospital and myriad painful operations, you, the doctor’s work-in-progress, get placed in foster care. Wherever you go, people stare, and though your foster family does its best to make you feel at home, you feel like an outsider, a freak. People assume your misshapen nose and lopsided lips mean you’re mentally retarded rather than a plastic surgeon’s pet project.

This is Howard Shulman’s story.2D07078A00000578-0-image-a-15_1443824642109

Recently, his memoir Running from the Mirror was released, and it’s riveting. His raw honesty in how he describes growing up the “monster kid” at the mercy of his experimenting doctor and the opportunities he grasps to survive as a young adult (not all of them legal) brought tears to my eyes, caught my breath, and occasionally provoked a guilty grin.

I’m not going to lie. Sometimes this is a painful read, for example, when he describes one of his Frankenstein-like surgeries:

“A large nine-by-eight-inch patch of skin was excised from my chest and shoulder, the graft then rolled up and stitched along the seam to create a headless snake of raw, living flesh. One end was then attached under my chin and the other to the tip of my reconstructed nose. This appendage, left to dangle in front of my face for the next six weeks, was a constant reminder of what I had gone through but one that gave me no idea where I was going. Doctor Gratz literally held my future in his hands.”

2D068F4900000578-0-image-m-4_1443820002253If his childhood memories are gripping and intense, Howard’s irreverence in relaying shady career endeavors to keep food on the table and a roof over his head is equally engaging, possibly even a guilty pleasure (I’d give examples, except I hate when people talk about books and spoil the surprises). Ultimately, Howard’s journey as he learns to accept himself and finds love is extremely gratifying.

I actually got to meet Howard a few months before Running from the Mirror was released by Sandra Jonas Publishing House. Howard called and told me he’d met a friend of mine in line at Starbucks who gave him my number. He wanted to talk to a local fellow author about giving writers’ workshops together. We met at a coffee shop in Chula Vista, California, where Howard shared his experience writing his memoir: cleansing yet uncomfortable, often frustrating, sometimes sad or filled with regret. Still, the satisfaction of knowing how far he has come and the hope his story might give to others made the project worth the effort.

Talk about grit. They don’t make ‘em much more bad ass than Howard.

Now in his 50s, Howard has owned successful businesses and traveled, but what he treasures most is his family.2D068F5100000578-0-image-a-5_1443820009163

“When I turned 50, I experienced two miracles,” he says. “The first was my marriage. It never occurred to me…[I’d find someone who would be] beautiful and caring and love me for who I am. The second miracle was that my wife came with the family I had longed for… [By] helping raise my wife’s twin daughters, [I found] parenting is not a one-way street. I am in a relationship with them that provides more love than I could ever have imagined…We respect and learn from each other. ”

Since Howard and I met, my husband and I moved to Bend, Oregon, to start 94.9 FM Central Oregon’s Sports Radio (which has been a harrowing experience, worthy of a Tenacity to Triumph post, coming soon). Howard and I have become friends, though, and I’ll visit family in San Diego County every few months, so we’ll be doing writers’ workshops together in the near future.

If you’re interested in participating in a writers’ workshop with Howard and me, whether you’re a seasoned writer who could use inspiration and techniques to get you to the next level, or you’re someone who likes to write and has a fiction or nonfiction story to tell, please leave a comment with your contact information, email me at writetowinwithtrish@gmail.com, or call (619) 647-5559.

A portion of Howard’s sales go to Hillsides, an organization that works to recreate the lives of at-risk kids. For more informationhs_logo about Howard’s book or to order Running from the Mirror, click here.

A quick note: The link goes to Sandra Jonas Publishing, which is selling the book for 20% off ($12.00) until October 31. You can also get the book at regular price ($14.95), through Barnes & Noble and Amazon (Amazon erroneously has Running from the Mirror labeled “Temporarily out of stock”, but your order will go through).

Comments are ALWAYS appreciated, whether you’re interested in coming to a workshop, or you have something you’d like to share.

Talk to you soon!

(Lots of great posts will be coming now that the radio station is finally on the air. Sheesh!)

Trish Wilkinson

Writer, Coach, Editor, and Fellow Bad Ass

My Hero! Sharon Cooper, Successful Self-Published Author, is at it Again!

sharon-author-2012My friend, Sharon Cooper, just released her lasted book. You may recall other posts I’ve written about her amazing entrepreneurship as a novelist. She’s made more money self-publishing her work and has had a much more fulfilling career than in her experience of working with a subsidiary of Harlequin. If you like a mixture of action adventure and romance, you’d love Sharon’s books! I’m re-posting her blog post below.

New Release – Operation Midnight!

Hi All!

t’s release day! Woo hoo! OPERATION MIDNIGHT, book 4 of the Reunited Series is now available for your reading pleasure! This is Wiz and Olivia’s story.

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You remember them right? Wiz is the computer guru who has helped some of his Navy SEAL brothers (Quinn and Malik) get their women out of some harrowing situations. And something you probably didn’t know – when Tyler (from Blue Roses) called on Quinn’s help to dig into Dallas’s background, guess who Quinn called. You got it – Wiz!

As for Olivia, she first made her appearance in Rendezvous with Danger (Quinn & Alandra’s story) when the guys (and Alandra) took a trip to D.C. and stayed at Olivia’s townhouse. She had a bigger role in Truth or Consequences (Malik & Natasha’s story) where she befriended Natasha, argued with Malik about calling her Ollie, and when she and Wiz announced that they were getting remarried.

Well, in OPERATION MIDNIGHT, we get to learn more about Wiz and Olivia – their life together before their divorce, as well as how they never stopped loving each other. We’ll journey with them through some trying times as they leap over a few more hurdles in their race to say “I do” one last time.

Blurb:

No bad deed goes unpunished

Former Navy SEAL turned private investigator, Cameron “Wiz” Miller, has loved only one woman, his ex-wife, Olivia. She’s beautiful, talented and the sweetest person he knows. With plans to remarry her, there is nothing she could ask of him that he wouldn’t do except … one thing.

Olivia has loved Wiz since high school. He is her hero. Her protector. She understands his hesitation to search for the woman who left her for dead. Forgiveness has been a long time coming, but Olivia has made peace with what happened. Wiz hasn’t. For him, forgiveness is not an option.

But the sins of the past have come back to haunt Wiz, placing Olivia in danger. He must tap into his military training and every alliance he has formed over the years to save her. But is it too late? Will he and Olivia ever get that happily-ever-after?

Excerpt:

I want you to find my sister.

Wiz stormed into the living room and snatched his pants from one of the chairs. His heart thumped wildly at the words he thought he would never hear. He couldn’t wrap his head around her request. Clearly she had forgotten about all the crap her sister had done.

“It’s like suddenly I don’t even know you.” Olivia’s voice broke into his thoughts when she silently entered the room.

Wiz shook his head and stepped into his slacks, keeping his back to her. “You know me. You know me well enough to understand that I would rather swallow a grenade than to have your sister in our lives.”

She sighed loudly. “Cameron, I didn’t say I want her in our lives. I’d like to connect with her for nothing more than a conversation.”

Fastening his pants, he glanced over his shoulder to find her standing near the bedroom door. The satiny red robe she wore stopped just above her knees, the color bringing out the warmth in her smooth, dark chocolate skin. His breath hitched as his gaze drifted slowly down her shapely body emphasized by the sash cinched tightly around her narrow waist. Damn if a certain part of his anatomy didn’t spring to attention. He knew what lay beneath the thin material. He knew how soft every inch of her skin was to the touch. And he knew that if he stayed in that room much longer, he would tell her whatever the heck she wanted to hear. Everything but the truth that is.

His gaze moved back up to her face and his heart leapt into his throat. The love radiating in her eyes, even after the way he had spoken to her made the vice around his heart tighten even more. He felt like crap for denying her of her request.

Damn Keisha. Even when she wasn’t around, she was still wreaking havoc. Just the thought of her made him want to rip something apart. But then there was Olivia. Staring at her now, the unyielding love he had for her made him want to take the three short steps it would take to reach her, and pull her into his arms. He wanted to come clean and tell her what happened to her sister all those years ago. But the bastard in him stayed rooted in place because he had vowed to take that one secret to his grave.

Copyright © 2015 by Sharon C. Cooper

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OPERATION MIDNIGHT (ebook) is currently only $2.99! It won’t be available at this price for long.

So get your copy today!     Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Smashwords

Note: In paperback soon!

I’m so proud of Sharon! I’m not usually a romance reader, but her books are always a blast to read. If you snap up Operation Midnight and find a cozy spot for some reading recreation, enjoy the ride!

I’ll talk to you soon, especially since I’m planning to write an article about another friend who recently released an amazing memoir you won’t believe.

Until next week…

(Posts will come more frequently since my husband and I have finally settled in a bit after moving from San Diego, California to Bend, Oregon)

Trish Wilkinson

How Valerie W. Found that Minding Her Own Business Could Lead to a Great Life

alcoholism-metaphor-sketch-23920506“Terminally unique.” That’s the term I learned in a 12-step program for those of us who think we’re the only ones trapped in the quicksand of someone else’s addiction. Yes. My story is mine alone, but it is somewhat textbook. We grasp how to operate in relationships early, usually by observing our biological parents. From mine, I learned codependency. I also married my father. Not literally, but my husband was my dad in many respects, and he concealed the Hyde to his Jekyll in those years before we gave birth to two beautiful girls.

My mother endured years of physical abuse from my drunken father before my parents 79166763divorced. I was three years old, and my sister was seven. While I was in college, at age 19, my mom died of cancer. It had formed in her chest around her heart, as if her anger toward my father and her parents literally suffocated her. She was only 48.

After putting myself through college, with the help of student loans, I volunteered with AmeriCorps, a domestic form of the Peace Corps. The organization sent me to San Diego, California to train tutors who would help struggling elementary school-aged children improve their reading skills. Being a small town girl, new to the big city, I filled out a survey that arrived in my mailbox from a dating service.

A few months later, Mike requested a date with me. I accepted after seeing his shy,images humble demeanor in his video. He was classically handsome – resembling Patrick Swayze in the “Dirty Dancing” years. Although Mike wasn’t college-educated – a “must have” on my preference list – he owned his own plumbing business, which meant to me that he was motivated and financially stable. We met the following day and instantly hit it off. By the time he took me home after a holiday party the next evening, I was off the market. I knew I had met the man who was destined to be my partner in life.

We bought a home together before we married and entertained often. Then came the wedding. A year-and-a-half later, we had a baby girl. Our lives together seemed right on track. Except his drinking steadily increased, and his anger would flare. I began walking on eggshells. He raged over what he perceived to be my eyes on other men. My connection with certain friends, even my relationship with my sister set him off.

66When we fought, it often became physical. By then I was teaching high school, and I went to class with bruises and scratches more often than I like to remember. I lived a double-life. At work, I was a dedicated, empathetic teacher. I felt purpose in my work and strove for excellence from myself as well as my students. My friends saw me as a successful career woman, mother, and wife. I wanted nothing more than for everyone to believe that I was juggling my responsibilities with ease. But at home, Mike and I were drowning in our disease.

He drank nightly, and I kept a watchful eye on how much alcohol he consumed. If his mood turned irritable, we sometimes ended up in a brawl. I always fought back. No way would a man beat me the way my father had beaten my mother. I used my fingernails as weapons to push him off me, and I slapped his face. The police were called a few times. Mike was booked for domestic violence twice. The following day I would go pick him up from the downtown jailhouse and tell the police I didn’t want to press charges.

After our second child was born, Mike’s drinking escalated. He passed out on the couch more often than he slept in our bed. He blamed myimages (1) breastfeeding our baby in the middle of the night, but I knew his beer meant more to him than sharing space with me. Sex became routine and uneventful, a chore. As our daughters grew, so did the frequency of drunken nights.

Mike hid bottles of Bacardi in the garage. He drank on his drive home from work to get a beer down before I could see him. I began all the classic co-dependent manipulations to get him to stop – I threatened to leave, I pleaded, I cried, I yelled. I thought if I made his life miserable, surely he would make a change. Which he did. He spent longer days on the golf course with friends and returned home sloshed. More often than not, when he walked in the door after work at 5 o’clock, he was already wasted. When he saw disappointment on my face, he shouted at me and called me names. Our children would cry and tell us not to fight. I would call his mom, who lived six hours north of San Diego, and plead for her to talk with him.

Once, I called to talk with his mother after a fight, and I got his stepfather instead. His stepdad told me to try Al-Anon, a 12-step program for friends and family of alcoholics. Desperate for help, I went to my first meeting in December 2008 with my disease at its height. I was a nervous wreck, trying to control everyone in my life. I vigilantly assessed what everyone else was doing, saying, and thinking. I couldn’t socialize without being hyper self-aware, scanning others to figure out what they wanted me to say and be. Friends told me I was overbearing and pulled away from me.  Everything felt like a chore. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I was only 33 years old.

7_9caa2793658f3cc387f216157300b1ce_mMike allowed me to attend weekly meetings because he saw a positive change in me. He said I had been softer and friendlier. He didn’t know I was trying to practice detachment; that is, learning to keep my attention off others and on myself. This included self-care and how to avoid creating a crisis, while not trying to prevent one either. I got reacquainted with spirituality and was reminded that I had a Higher Power who I could lean on. I came to understand that the alcoholics in my life had their own Higher Power and had to walk their own paths. I learned about humility and how not to take others’ choices personally because it wasn’t all about me, which was a relief as well as a blow to my ego. All these things helped me to let go of trying to control all aspects of my life. It was a 180-degree turn from what I had been taught.

I had always believed the old American adage: “When it doesn’t work, try harder.”

Now I was trying to practice: “Let go and let God.”

I got a sponsor within six months of being in Al-Anon and we worked the steps together. She was kind and gentle and loving. She didn’t wince when I told her my shameful secrets. I learned to trust God and another human being. I learned to trust myself. I made amends with my father who immediately recognized the eighth step. He had also been working a program in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I began to pray for a sign to show me whether I should leave my marriage. Mike’s drinking was getting worse. He kept passing out on the living room floor. I took pictures of his drunkenness, so I could prove in court that he was unfit to take care of our girls if I left him.

IR wireless flash 3The last time I took one of those photos, he was laid out in the hallway, snoring in front our children’s bathroom after a spring day of golf. The flash woke him, so I sprinted to our bedroom and locked the door. He yelled obscenities and threats and banged on the door. Then suddenly it was quiet, and when I mustered the nerve to peek outside the bedroom, I found him on the couch, sleeping off the drunk. The following morning, he was waiting for me on the other side of the door, and he attacked me. I called 9-1-1, reported the abuse and obtained a restraining order. After that day, Mike was no longer allowed in our home without a police escort.

Today, our children are eight and eleven years old, and they call me on a cell phone if they believe their father has been drinking. They know their father loves them, but he has a brain that tells him to consume alcohol as a form of medicine. When our youngest was asked by her counselor whether or not she believes her father might stop drinking if she were a better-behaved child she replied, “Of course not. He has a disease that has nothing to do with me.” When asked if she thought his drinking is a reflection of his lack of love for her, she adamantly disagreed. She knows her daddy loves her; he just has a problem.

I realize my daughters have learned these things from me, but I can’t take credit. These responses are typical of Al-Anon’s teachings and11054852_887171214681896_4915416769333871011_n healing. I would never have discovered these concepts on my own. My children will grow up with a different set of tools than I had before Al-Anon. They will know about the disease of alcoholism and how to not engage in codependent behaviors with alcoholic friends and family members. Hopefully, they will refrain from attracting this kind of relationship in their futures. In the meantime, we pray for their father daily and put him in God’s hands because we have to mind our own business and take responsibility for ourselves.

It seems so simple: “Mind your own business.” We hear those words all the time. Now, I can honestly say I know what they mean.

(If someone reading this post would like to get in touch with Valerie. leave a comment, and I’ll make sure she gets your email address, so she can offer her experience, strength, and hope.)