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In this autobiography focusing on Newark's experiences in the 1960's/1970's, the author entwines her amusing stories of youth and young adulthood with the influence of her mother, a courageous woman whose optimism in the face of personal tragedy becomes an eternal inspiration. An enjoyable coming-of-age story you won't want to miss!



Sections & Chapters


Part One: Oysters                                         


Immaculate Conceptions

Green Poofies and Entrepreneurs

Animal Magnetism

Route 66

Ports O’ Call

The Year of the Frog


Part Two: Currents


Cultivating Calvin

His Place 

Everything I Never Wanted to Know About Sex

Orange Sunshine and Unconditional Love

Searching for a Cause

The Virgin Tomato

The Coronet

Lennon the Lezzie

Blowing the High

Sacramental Sunsets                                        

Part Three: Abrasions


Dinky’s Drive-In and the White Witch

Trout with Tabasco Sauce

Guitars, Diapers, and Auntie Sam

High Stakes

The Gates of Hades

Abyss Navigation 101                                  

Part Four: Pearls


Gidget Goes Rebellious

Chimney Swans and Scorpions

The Hardy Girls


The Phosphorescence of Pearl

(Sneak Preview Sample)


Prologue: Grains of Sand


Her name was Pearl—a woman who, perhaps because she never had the chance to fully enjoy her youth, never outgrew her childhood terrors. Her fears were infinite, her accomplishments miraculous in the face of them. How can one embody such apprehension of literally everything potentially damaging to body and heart—and yet still cling solidly to the most idealistic clichés? Fear lives within the knowledge that there is a lot to be afraid of and so doesn’t seem compatible with unshakable faith—faith in the ship that will come in, hull sparkling, its crew as well as its cargo completely intact. But maybe that is the nature of a pearl, the friction within its oyster of a world creating a shine to brighten even the darkest crevices it inhabits. Such was the Pearl I knew.


As a child, Pearl played Cinderella. Agonizingly shy, she functioned effectively only in the closed world of her household, clinging proudly to her role as surrogate mother. Eldest of nine, with her own mother often ill from continuous childbearing, she nurtured sibling dependence. As the fireworks of World War II exploded above in the Scottish sky, she must have gathered her charges and comforted them, believing for their sake that they could survive war as well as poverty. They did. Perhaps it was then that, in a little girl painfully afraid of people, an optimist was born.


As she grew into an attractive young woman with a thick mane of brown hair and a smile of cute but slightly crooked teeth, she posed for photos in stylish hand-sewn dresses, probably wearing her only pair of nylons. What a stocking run must have meant to a teenage girl in those times is almost incomprehensible. Were there sisterly battles among the older girls for possession of the meager household nylon supply? What happened, I wonder, when there were only two pairs available and three sisters had dates? Or when the rambunctious children accidentally ripped a pair, never realizing the catastrophe they’d caused? Being an only child of better fortune, I can barely guess at the everyday pains of true poverty.


Pearl, however, lived them, escaping into colored-pencil fantasies of glamorous clothes copied from magazines and distinct likenesses of James Dean and Marlon Brando. The American Dream had sunk in early, and despite the fact that her younger sisters practically had to drag her to the local dances, where she self-consciously avoided mingling, Pearl was determined to have it.


I often think now that she consented to socialize only with the hope of encountering Mr. Right. I suppose she sensed that she wouldn’t meet him by staying home. She was petrified of flying because of a prophetic teenaged dream about her favorite uncle’s fiery plane crash, and she dreaded sailing because a boy once pushed her into the community pool’s deep end when she couldn’t swim.


Nevertheless, she took the first step toward the American Dream and the foreign hero she had seen in a vision, following her sister in emigration to Montreal, where young families desiring live-in childcare often sponsored immigrants to get it. Perhaps continuing the surrogate mother role eased the transition for her.


Soon she met her foreign prince at the Scandinavian Club, a popular nightspot for young immigrants. He towered 5’9” over her 5’ flat, sported unruly dark brown hair and a slightly arrogant face of finely crafted features. With a clear, strong, somewhat loud speaking voice, he aspired to be a singer. The night she met him, she told her sister that he was obnoxious and that she never wanted to see him again. Then he courted her, rowed her out onto a lake and sang “Rose Marie” to her, made love to her, and a few months later, after discovering her to be pregnant, married her.


And they lived happily ever after.





Part  One: Oysters 



 Chapter One

Immaculate Conceptions


Late in 1957, six weeks after I was born, Pearl lay strapped to a table, naked from the waist up, a radiation machine aimed at her right side. The doctor instructed a young nurse on a two-minute dosage to reduce a painful tennis-ball-sized cyst that had grown under her arm during pregnancy (and which she refused to have treated until after I was safely delivered). He then specified not to leave the patient alone as he disappeared. Moments later, distracted by a gossiping friend, the nurse trotted out the door to hear the latest and left my mother on the table. The radiation pumped into her until she floated upward and across the room, gazing down helplessly upon her imprisoned body.

When it was over, she rushed from the hospital amidst administrative promises to reprimand the nurse. Grabbing my pram from a waiting friend, she pushed for home. On the way she forgot who she was. Later, when my father saw the searing burns eating away at her flesh, he took her back to the hospital in a rage. The doctors said there was nothing they could do.

In her unpublished manuscript, Glittering Hands, Pearl describes what life was like when I was six years old. In readying herself to leave the house in the morning, she tried to figure out how to get her nylons on. Damage to her right side prevented her from reaching far enough to slide hosiery over her foot, so she invented a wire coat-hanger holder to stretch the nylon open just enough to get her foot in and pull the stocking up closer to her hand. Despite nauseating pain, she was determined to continue with household tasks like vacuuming, hoping to maintain use of her arm, which doctors said she would probably lose. She endured severe depression in which voices dialogued in her head, debating the fault and the why-me of the overdose. She suffered bad gum shrinkage that wobbled her teeth to where she hated to open her mouth.

When I was six years old, Mummy, as I called her then, used to take me for long walks in the flower-filled fields of Montreal. We carried baskets, stuffing them with daisies and buttercups and lupines, occasionally running from bees with shrieks of laughing terror. We rode the train into the shopping district and sauntered for hours through our favorite stores. We both loved the cheap riches of Woolworth’s, where she bought me toy jewelry, miniature animals, and my first record, the Beatles’ “She Loves You.”


On the weekends, Daddy drove us through leaf-spattered country lanes to picnic in total solitude, where Mummy spread out the goodies she’d prepared. Lying on our special picnic blanket, we dozed dreamily to the sound of buzzing insects. And we often we went to Belmont Park, a fair to which we traveled while Daddy was working. We spent whole days drifting through a stall-filled paradise, throwing dimes for shining glassware and waiting in line for exciting rides on flying elephants and wild colorful horses with trailing manes. Once she won me a stuffed monkey almost as big as I was. But when I later became tired and refused the stroller, she carried it, me, and the monkey all the way back to the gate to wait for the bus.

Such was Canada—filled with so many fond reminiscences that for ten years after we left, I wanted to move back. But Canada was only half way to the American Dream, and besides, Mom was probably glad to see the back of it. While I remembered the flowers and fairs, the ice skating, sledding, white Christmases, and an igloo snow house Dad built in the back yard out of bread-pan ice blocks, Mom surely recalled things a bit differently. Not only haunted by close proximity to the hospital that had maimed her, she suffered through summer humidity and winter freezes, both of which set off attacks of radiation pneumonitis (severe feverish chills) that I was then totally unaware of.


In her story about why we immigrated to the states, she always stressed climate and job opportunities for Dad as the reasons. But while I recognize the truth in these, I know that dreams of an easier life don’t make most people just jump up and move thousands of miles twice in ten years. Yet that’s exactly what my parents did. In 1964, we conducted our own version of Lucy’s and Dezi’s 1954 movie The Long, Long Trailer (about the comic mishaps of hauling travel trailer through various obstacles, including the dangerous narrow roads of winding mountain terrain). Renovated and loaded with everything we owned, the 45-footer saw us through our first major road trip and gave us a taste of the lifestyle we would follow for years to come.

I stare in a burst of memory at Mom’s photos of the Grand Canyon, taken when color film was just coming into vogue. To look back at those pictures, to see the spectacular hues of the massive natural wonder in the days before smog clogged the images I took twenty-five years later, is to see our existence in a simpler time, a time when hope, a mode of travel, and gas money were all the assets required to completely change our lives.

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