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Friday, January 11, 2019

Cutting on the lights



I’m listening to the book, Running on Red Dog Road by Drema Berkheimer. It’s a simple memoir of Appalachian childhood. I am selecting this type over and over these days. I don’t remember the names and authors, of course, but in the last couple of months I have read the opinions and recollections of several authors of the meaning of their early years. How their character was formed by the mines, by housing, by nutrition, by money, by education, by prejudice, by religion, by relatives.

In this book the author casually relates entering a building and cutting on the lights. Two friends sprang at once to mind; Nina and Starlett.  You know Nina, of course. Put her name in the search box; it’s worth the detour to read about a town stalwart. I asked Nina why the phrase was cutting on and off for lights. Her explanation involved the electrical circuit and starting and stopping the flow of electricity. I let it go.

Starlett was a child of Appalachia who grew up in its suburb, Akron, Ohio. Child of the post World War II industrial boom, yet enmeshed in her parents’ dream of returning to the homeland, rural Tennessee.  Starlett died this week; she succumbed to the worst of Appalachia.

My sister Jan was the big sister to Star, who grew up on the street behind us. Jan is ten plus years younger than me, and Star probably five behind Jan. I know her birthday was last Thanksgiving, so let’s say Star got sixty years from life. She always was looking for it to be better.

Star’s father worked in the tire factory. Every Friday night he and Shirley put the two kids in the car and drove to Coker Creek, Tennessee. Over the course of Star’s childhood, they built a house there, and retired to it. Starlett and her brother spent every summer in the very big extended family. Jan remained Star’s friend, all her life, and I tagged along for visits.

Star married Donnie while she still lived in Akron. She was the love of his life and his aim in life was to save her from herself. For, Star fell victim to the curse of her age, drugs. When she was sober, she held promising jobs. For the longest time of all she worked for Arbegast, a fly fishing lure manufacturer. Her flies were exquisite; the company gave her a set. But they fired her too, for excessive absence.

Finally Star moved back to Tennessee, where she met Mark. Such a wedding. Her daddy built a bridge across the branch in the yard and shaved his beard to walk her across. Jan and I went into the mountain and cut rhododendrons and azaleas to fill the buckets up each side of the aisle. Mom hemmed the bridegroom’s trousers; I took pictures.

Jan kept in touch. We visited. There was a little boy, Jordan, who grew up in the tin roofed house in a holler. The water to the house was one of the many natural springs in the mountains. Star and Mark both smoked, and Star moved heaven and earth for any narcotic. Then Jan learned Star had moved to Seattle, with a new husband, hoping to make a new life.

Of course they came back, drifted about, settled down on property of her parents. Occasionally Jan heard from Star, or from Shirley. Star was revived more than once with narcan. But her death was a quiet event in her sleep; cutting off the lights.



36 comments:

  1. What a sad story Joanne, and I would guess that in this day and age not necessarily a rare one.

    I am reading a book about the Indian war in America at the moment - I knew nothing about it and am finding it a real eye opener.

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    1. I'm glad you're reading it. Actually, we warred against Indians for five hundred years. Fortunately we did not eliminate them.

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  2. Oh, Joanne, I am so sad to read about this....I know this story is not that uncommon and I feel beyond sad at so many lives cut short and ruined in other ways. My son goes to therapy groups for depression, but many of the people in his groups have heartbreaking stories about drugs. I wonder how Jordan's life went. He wouldn't be a little boy anymore.

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  3. Ah, I just looked up Nina in your search box. She owned the Antique Barn on 303? My friend Penny Myers sold some things there. But that part of my life feels so long ago...

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    1. Yes, the Barn was Nina's. Someday I may get her version again of how she walked into the mayor's office and said "That barn is doing nothing but costing you taxes. Rent it to me."

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  4. Often people don't fit in this world they often cut of bits of themselves but that never works, it's sad but the misfits often give more more to other people than they realise, drugs help them cope but in turn kill the spirit inside.
    Merle.............

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  5. Such a sad life. Star was looking for a better life that seemed to be just beyond her grasp. I am sorry for your loss. I hope she has found her peace.

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  6. What a sad, sad story.
    My own family has its share of lives that could have held so much more. I'm the one person that gene of addiction skipped, but I certainly saw enough of its effects.

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    1. When I was quite young my father said to me "If I drank, I would be an alcoholic". As were many people in his family. It made an impression on me, and I came out one of few not addicted to something.

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  7. The older I get, the less inclined I am to judge. I hate the phrase, "But there for the grace of god go I," because it seems to imply that there is a god who would cherish one of us over another but the gist of it, I understand. Thank you for sharing that story of a woman with the beautiful name of Starlett. I think her life must have had moments of ecstasy along with great periods of huge suffering. I hope she knew she was loved. I am so sorry that she was the victim of that which we often cannot control.

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  8. Such a sad story. I wonder whether she realised just how many lives she touched. And suspect not.
    Memoirs have been the bulk of my reading of late as well.

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  9. Drug addiction is a terrible thing and always leaves a trail of broken relationships and wrecked lives in its wake. This is not a judgment, just a statement of simple fact.

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  10. I expect my nephew to go the way of Star. Narcan has saved his life more than once, but won't always be available. You wrote a moving piece about Star's life. Would that she could have shaken her addiction. x

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  11. Addiction....a beast that haunts and kills....trying not to judge can be hard and you are such a non judgemental person Joanne..really admirable....I try hard not to judge..I work on it everyday. I imagine the rhododendrons and azaleas ...and see how beautiful they must have looked....it is important to just see the good and the beautiful and the hopeful x

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  12. Such a beautiful tribute to a very troubled, yet delightful, person. Her laugh sounded like a wren. She giggled so often as a child. Her eyes were flashing black and her hair was deep chestnut. Her smile will always be something I remember. I don't need a picture of her to remember what she looked like. She was my little sister. I loved her through the good and the bad, and the part where she never kept in touch. I visited her often in Tennessee for many years and lamented on many of the visits with Shirley, her lovely and talented mother about the hopelessness Shirley lived with not being able to save her daughter. I have lived with the awfulness of drugs for much of my adult life. Watching all of my friends become junkies and living through it to seeing my brother succumb to his own bad choices. Fly free little sister and find the peace you never found anywhere. She sure loved her mountain.

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  13. Hari OM
    You have written a wonderful epitaph, Joanne. Now we all have some small fragment of a memory given. YAM xx

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  14. Such a short life but free at last!

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  15. My oldest son, oldest child, in fact, died when he was 39. He was an addict. A confused and troubled soul. Hard to be around for any amount of time, he would overwhelm the space around him, as well as the people. He was the product of my first marriage and as he grew he took on many of his birth father's traits, making it difficult for me for many reasons. He predicted his own death, telling anyone who would listen that he would not live to be 40. He suffered many drug related illnesses, including hepatitis and aids. Not a child one would brag about. I found out too late to do anything that he had molested his younger siblings. We were estranged at the time of his death. Grief for a life that seemed wasted is hard for anyone, but as his mother, it very nearly sent me over the edge of sanity. I still have so many conflicting feelings. I still see the rippling aftermath of his actions and can't help holding myself responsible. My relationship with my children has been damaged in ways that will never be repaired. No matter that I have apologized repeatedly for not being aware of his actions, and my daughters will say they do not hold me responsible, it remains a barrier between us. Life is complicated, and I will always love the little boy I gave birth to, even if I never liked the man he became.

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    1. Yes, it's so complicated. We all hold each other up.

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  16. A very sad story although I am glad she went peacefully at the end. A lovely piece of writing Joanne and a loving tribute to an old friend.

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  17. So sorry for the loss of a friend. What a peaceful way to go though in her sleep. Merciful I think.

    betty

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  18. We're product of our enviroment. I bet any area could have there story told.
    Coffee is on

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  19. "Oh, the damage done" (Neil Young).

    Love,
    Janie

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  20. Addictions come in many forms, some more deadly than others. That was a beautiful tribute, Joanne. -Jenn

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  21. this story has been repeated so many times. I have wondered if addiction is connected to the inability to control impulses, two separate things, the same thing? I know that those who manage to pull back from addiction for any period of time, even 20 years, when they relapse they take off where they left off, no starting over. an addiction counselor once told me that addicts have to hit absolute rock bottom before they can even attempt to free themselves and 90% or more never will.

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  22. Another reminder of the power of privilege and the difficult lives of those who lack it. Life is harder without it.

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  23. Some people have a tough row to hoe in this life. They can't help themselves, and others can't really help them either.

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  24. Drugs, drink , gambling ... the ripples from an addiction affect the whole family.

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  25. You have written a wonderful tribute. Thank you.

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  26. The mother of two of my grandchildren is an addict to marijuana, spending huge amounts of money weekly to stay stoned all day every day. I worry for the kids, but my son seems to be keeping them steady so far.

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  27. A sad history, when and how will we learn.
    And such an apt phrase

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  28. Addicts break my heart. I imagine they want to stop, but can't. Right now I feel bad for her children. Such a loss.

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  29. Oh, I am so sorry. You know I understand. It's so ugly.

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  30. A sad life and a tortured soul, this is such a frequent story. So sad.

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