The Sometimes Daughter

The Sometimes Daughter

3.8 9
by Sherri Wood Emmons

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In this poignant and beautifully written novel, Sherri Wood Emmons, acclaimed author of Prayers and Lies, explores the complex bond between a daughter and her errant mother. . .

Judy Webster is born in a mud-splattered tent at Woodstock, just as Crosby, Stills, and Nash take the stage. Her mother, Cassie, is a beautiful, flawed flower-child who brings her

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In this poignant and beautifully written novel, Sherri Wood Emmons, acclaimed author of Prayers and Lies, explores the complex bond between a daughter and her errant mother. . .

Judy Webster is born in a mud-splattered tent at Woodstock, just as Crosby, Stills, and Nash take the stage. Her mother, Cassie, is a beautiful, flawed flower-child who brings her little girl to anti-war protests and parties rather than enroll her in pre-school. But as Cassie's husband, Kirk, gradually abandons '60s ideals in favor of a steady home and a law degree, their once idyllic marriage crumbles.

Dragging Judy back from the Kentucky commune where Cassie has taken her, Kirk files for divorce and is awarded custody. When Cassie eventually moves to an ashram in India, Judy is grief-stricken. At school, she constructs lies to explain her unconventional home-life, trying desperately to fit in to the world her mother rejected.

Cassie calls and writes, occasionally entering Judy's life just long enough to disrupt it. But little by little, Judy is growing up. As she grapples with her father's remarriage and her own reckless urges, she encounters all the joy and heartbreak that goes with first love, first loss, sex, drugs, and self-discovery. And when Cassie comes home again, Judy, who has tried so long to find a place in her mother's life, must finally decide what place Cassie claims in hers. . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sweet Judy Blue Eyes is born in a Woodstock tent to free-spirited, “blissfully stoned” hippies Kirk and Cassie in Emmons’s second novel (after Prayers and Lies). Cassie has a hard time adjusting to the constraints of motherhood and family, refusing to give up free love and drugs, and alternates between ignoring and lavishing controlling love on her confused daughter. She wants to take Judy to live on a commune, but Kirk wrestles sole custody, leading Cassie to run away. She dodges a bullet by narrowly missing out on a trip to Jonestown, and continues her spiraling search for self. Attempts at connecting with her daughter only show how unstable and selfish, if well-intentioned, she is. Meanwhile, as a teenager, Judy is forging her own awkward way in the world (boyfriend, drugs, unwanted pregnancy) and struggles to find a measure of forgiveness for her mother. Emmons has a keen grasp of the difficulties of mother-daughter dynamics, and the specific struggles of young parents who are still figuring themselves out. She also paints the shifting turmoil of mid-’60s to early-’80s America with complexity, creating a vivid, expansive background for an intimate story. Agent: Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb.)

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The Sometimes Daughter



Copyright © 2012 Sherri Wood Emmons
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-5325-5

Chapter One

I was born at Woodstock.

At two minutes past three on the morning of Monday, August 18, 1969, I made my squalling appearance in a tent pitched on a muddy field at Max Yasgur's farm in rural Bethel, New York.

My mother, blissfully stoned, put me to her breast and nursed me while Crosby, Stills, and Nash opened their now-famous set with "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

And so she named me Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, even though my father told her my dark blue eyes would probably turn to brown, like his. Most babies are born with blue eyes, he said, but usually they turn brown after a few days. She would not be swayed. Sweet Judy Blue Eyes Webster is the name on my birth certificate. Mother: Cassie Skylark Webster. She changed her name from Cassandra Elaine when she married my dad. Father: Kirk Alan Webster. He did not change his name, despite my mother's pleading.

I have a grainy Polaroid photo to record the event of my birth. My mother's blond hair hangs limp around her pale face; her green eyes are heavy-lidded and tired. She looks terrible. I guess that's what three days with no baths and then birthing a baby will do to a woman. My father, wearing a ridiculous dashiki and sporting a scraggly beard, sits beside her on the ground, his arms wrapped around her tiny figure. I am wrapped in a Vietcong flag. My fleetingly blue eyes stare suspiciously at the camera.

A few hours later, Mama took me to the pond to baptize me. My father trailed behind her, fairly certain that dunking a newborn in a cow pond was not a good idea but unable to stop the force of nature that was his wife.

Hundreds of people cheered as my parents waded into the muddy water, then submerged me briefly in the shocking cold. Their yells drowned out my screams. My mother cried, then passed out.

My earliest memories of Mama are in our little apartment on Whittier Place in Indianapolis. Daddy worked at a guitar shop and took college classes at night, so mostly it was just Mama and me.

Our attic apartment was sparsely furnished with threadbare furniture—a faded blue futon, ratty wicker love seat, Formica table, and three red-vinyl chairs. The only new item was a stereo, which constantly blared the music Mama loved—the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Janis Joplin, and of course, Crosby, Stills, and Nash. She twirled me around the living room, dipping and spinning till she fell to the couch, dizzy and laughing. The music of Woodstock filled my days and my nights; the sweet smell of pot was the incense of my nursery.

Mama had lots of friends, who variously lived with us for periods of time. I never wanted for a lap to sit in or a willing playmate. Sometimes we took our games outside, confusing the neighbors with our elaborate entertainments. Mama always made the rules, and she changed them at a whim. Sometimes we played at charades, other times we simply ran for the joy of running, whooping and leaping down the quiet side street, some adult or another stopping to swoop me up as I toddled along behind.

In the summers, Mama set up an inflatable pool in the front yard and let me splash about naked ... until one of the neighbors said she'd call the police if Mama didn't put some clothes on me.

That night, Mama and her friend Derrick made spaghetti for dinner, sitting me in the bathtub naked to eat mine, so she could wash me afterward. I was three years old.

Lifting me from the tub, Mama swayed slightly, her bloodshot eyes sparkling bright.

"Come on then, my Sweet Judy Blue Eyes," she whispered as she wrapped me in a towel. "Let's go have a moonlight swim."

Running naked from the house to the wading pool, carrying me on his shoulders, Derrick laughed as he dropped me into the pool, then plopped down beside me, his black skin shining in the moonlight. Mama, equally naked, joined us, carrying two cans of beer. Derrick lay back and rested his head on the edge of the little pool, Mama lay with her head on his chest, and I rested my head on her stomach. We lay in silence, watching the stars blink in the dark sky.

"Always remember, my sweet baby girl, rules were made to be broken."

Ten minutes later, the police arrived.

I screamed as they hustled us back into the house, screamed as the officers watched Mama and Derrick get dressed, screamed as they handcuffed my mother and pushed her head down as they shoved her into the police car. I screamed as our neighbor from downstairs held me on the porch while we watched the police car pull away, Mama's wide eyes staring at me from the back window. I screamed until Daddy came home from his class and retrieved me from the neighbor's apartment, returning me to our own home, still strewn with the dirty dishes from supper.

Daddy drove me to his parents' house, where I spent the night crying, despite my grandmother's hugs and shushing.

The next morning, Mama arrived, laughing and unrepentant, to collect me. Grandma glared at her as she scooped me into her arms and danced me around the room. My world was safe again. Mama was home.

That night, no music wafted into my room from Mama's stereo. Instead, I lay awake listening to the unfamiliar sounds of my parents' angry voices.

"For God's sake, Cassie!" My father's voice shook. "What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking it would be nice to let our Sweet Judy Blue Eyes play in the water and look at the stars."

Mama's voice was lower, but it had the tinny, sharp tone it sometimes took when she'd had a bad trip ... or a run-in with our next-door neighbor.

"You can't just traipse around naked in public," Daddy yelled.

"Why not? Why the hell can't I traipse naked in public? That's the way God made me! Being naked is the natural way to be."

"Maybe in Borneo, Cassie, but not in Indianapolis! Not with a baby ... and not with another man!"

"God ... poor Derrick." Mama sighed. "I can't believe you couldn't bail him out. He's probably still sitting in that cell."

"Look, it was all I could do to get the money for you. I couldn't very well ask my parents to bail out your lover, too!"

"Not my lover, my friend. Derrick is my friend."

"Yeah, right," Daddy huffed. "The friend you're screwing!"

"Look, Kirk, I'm your wife. That doesn't mean you own me. When we got married, we both agreed ..."

"We agreed when we were eighteen years old, Cassie. We were kids. We didn't have a baby. When are you going to grow up?"


Mama's voice grew louder.

"Not if it means worrying about what the old bag next door thinks. I am never going to grow up, if that's what you mean."

"Cassie!" Daddy was shouting now. "You have to grow up sometime. You can't just keep smoking pot and drinking every day, and sleeping with whoever you want. You're a mother now."

"Hush," Mama hissed. "You're going to wake Sweet Judy."

"Judy?" Daddy laughed. "That child sleeps through the damned music you blare every damned night! She'd sleep through a hurricane."

But Daddy was wrong. I wasn't sleeping.

"Look, I'm sorry you had to come bail me out. I'm sorry you had to borrow money from your parents. I'm sorry you don't like the way I take care of the baby." Mama's voice sounded tired.

"But mostly I'm sorry for you," she said. "What's happened to you, Kirk? You used to be so much fun. Now you're just ... God ... you're getting to be just like your father!"

With that, the angry voices stopped, the front door slammed, and the music began. Soon, I drifted off to the strains of Paul McCartney singing about a blackbird learning to fly.

Chapter Two

Just before I turned four, Daddy graduated from college. The picture Grandpa took that day shows Daddy in a black robe, smiling broadly. His hair is cut short and the scraggly beard is gone.

Mama stands beside him, holding me. She is wearing a skimpy top and a brightly patterned skirt she'd made for the occasion. I'm wearing a dress made from the same fabric. I am smiling at the camera, too. Mama is looking off toward something else.

"You need to put Judy in preschool," Grandma said as we sat in her backyard eating grilled hamburgers after the ceremony. "She's almost four. She needs to be around children her own age."

Mama just laughed, waving a fly away from my sandwich.

"My Sweet Judy is just fine," she pronounced airily. "She's better off at home, with me."

"I don't know, Cassie," Daddy said. "Maybe she should be in preschool."

"I am not turning my daughter over to the thought police. She's too young."

Mama squirted ketchup onto my burger and smiled down at me.

"In fact," she continued, "I might just keep my Sweet Judy Blue Eyes at home ... maybe I'll homeschool her, you know?"

Daddy laughed, but Grandma did not look pleased.

"Cassandra," she began.

"My name is Cassie, Anne." Mama frowned at her motherin-law.

"Whatever." Grandma sighed. "You can't keep the child at home forever. She needs to go to school."

"Why?" Mama demanded, raising a can of Budweiser to her lips. She drank deeply, then wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. "So they can turn her out at eighteen thinking like a damned robot?"

"Come on, Cassie," Daddy began.

"No, Kirk. I'm serious. They take in these innocent children and beat all the creativity and free will out of them, so they can mold them into sheep ... sheep who won't question authority, sheep who will follow their generals into war. That is not going to happen to Sweet Judy."

"You have to send the child to school," Grandma said firmly. "The state says so. Besides"—she smiled at Daddy—"the school system didn't do so badly by Kirk."

"Oh, Kirk." Mama spat. "There's my prime example! Look at how ... conventional he's gotten!"

Daddy laughed, but his eyes looked sad and tired.

"Come on, honey," he said. "A college degree doesn't make me conventional. It makes me educated. And with a law degree I can do a lot more to help people than I could without one."

"You've sold out." Mama rose, lifting me from the picnic bench. "You've sold out to the man."

With that devastating pronouncement, she carried me the four blocks to our little apartment, where she turned on the stereo and lit a joint.

I didn't know who the man was, although Mama spoke about him often. The man held people down. The man squashed people's rights. The man sent people to war. I imagined the man must be like an overseer. Mama had told me all about slavery—how men with dark skin like Derrick had been slaves. And not just grown-up men; women and children, too, had worked for the man. And if they tried to run away, the overseer hunted them down and beat them.

Mama told me all about it one evening, after we'd had a bad experience at the park. Mama had been pushing my stroller and Derrick was singing a Bob Marley song, and then someone threw a beer bottle from a passing car. The bottle crashed on the sidewalk at Mama's feet, and a man yelled from the car, "Nigger lover!"

So that's why Mama told me about slavery and racism.

Now, I couldn't imagine why Daddy would sell anything to the man.

"Don't you worry, sweetie," Mama said, plopping down onto the floor beside me. "I'll always be here. I won't ever sell out."

Later, when Daddy came home, Mama kissed him on the mouth, her arms draped around his neck.

"I'm sorry, baby," she said, smiling up into his brown eyes. "Your mom just sets me off, you know?"

"She means well."

"I know." Mama sighed. "But she worries at me all the time about Sweet Judy. I shouldn't take her to demonstrations. I shouldn't let her stay up so late. I shouldn't tell her about the war and racism. No"—she waved her hands in the air—"according to Anne, I should treat Judy like a china doll and protect her from everything that's going on in the world."

Daddy smiled and sat down on the couch to remove his shoes. I crawled into his lap and he hugged me tight.

"But you know, Cassie, I think Mom's right about preschool. I think Judy would like being with other kids." "Why?" Mama demanded. "So she can learn to be a good little girl? Learn how not to run or laugh too loud or ask questions?"

"No," Daddy said. "So she can make some friends."

"She has friends," Mama said, sitting beside him on the couch. "She has Amy and Rhonda and Derrick."

"Honey," Daddy said, shaking his head. "I mean friends her own age, not grown-ups who act like children."

"Well, she has me," Mama said firmly.

"And she'll always have you, Cassie. But don't you think she might want to play with other children?"

Mama sat quietly for a minute, then smiled at Daddy and said, "Well then, let's ask her."

She leaned down to look straight into my face.

"Do you want to go to preschool, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes?" She watched me carefully.

I sank deeper into Daddy's lap.

All afternoon I'd been thinking about it. I loved playing with Mama and her friends. I loved the charades and the races and the elaborate cardboard playhouses they made.

But sometimes when I watched the other kids heading off for school in the morning, I wondered what it would be like to go with them, to have someone small like me to play with.

I looked up into Mama's beautiful, hopeful face.

"No, Mama," I said firmly. "I want to stay here with you."

And so I did not begin preschool that fall. Instead, I watched from our attic window as the other neighborhood kids left for school with their backpacks, laughing and shoving at each other.

Some kids wore the same clothes every day, the boys in dark blue pants and white shirts, the girls in blue checked jumpers with white blouses. Those children went to Catholic school.

"That's even worse than public school," Mama explained, when I asked her why they were all dressed alike. "They are going to have their poor spirits squashed."

But when they came home from school, laughing and running down the street, they didn't look squashed to me. They looked happy.

Mama loved to bake. She made bread and chocolate chip cookies and soft, chewy brownies. Often when Daddy came home from work, she had a plate of home-baked goodies waiting. He would eat dinner with us, then drive back downtown to his night classes at law school

One afternoon, just as Mama took a pan of brownies from the oven, the front door swung open and Rhonda arrived, carrying a huge bouquet of daisies.

"Aren't they gorgeous?" She grinned.

I liked Rhonda. She was small and thin and freckled, and she read stories in the nicest voice.

She joined Mama in the kitchen while I watched cartoons on the television. Shortly after that, Derrick arrived.

"Hey." He grinned at me. "Who brought my favorite girls those daisies?"

He joined the women in the kitchen, and soon after, the smell of pot filled the apartment.

When Derrick and Mama headed into the bedroom for a nap, Rhonda joined me on the floor in front of the small television. She sat a plate of brownies on the floor.

"Can I have one?"

I loved Mama's brownies.

"Sure, sweetie," she said, not looking at me. She seemed transfixed by the television.

The warm chocolate was wonderful, slightly gooey in the center and crisped at the edges. I chewed each bite slowly, savoring the dark fudge taste.

"Rhonda?" My voice sounded like it was coming from very far away.


"I don't feel good."

Rhonda tore her gaze from the television to look at me.

"What's wrong, baby?" I saw her mouth form the words, but my ears were filled with a high-pitched buzzing. At the edges of my vision, a dark circle was closing in.

"Cassie!" Rhonda's voice pierced the buzzing in my head. "Something's wrong with Sweet Judy!"

The last thing I saw before the dark circle covered my eyes completely was my mother's pale face staring down at me, her green eyes wide. Above her stood Derrick, his dark skin glistening with sweat.

I awoke to the drip of Mama's tears on my face. I lay with my head in her lap. Her hands stroked my damp hair.

"Oh, baby, oh, my Sweet Judy Blue Eyes ... are you okay?"

I turned my head and threw up in her lap.

Derrick laughed then. "She's all right," he said. "Let her get it out of her system."

Mama carried me into the bathroom and put me in the tub. Then she undressed and got into the bath with me.

"I'm so sorry, my Sweet Judy," she crooned, splashing warm water over my body. "I'm so sorry, sweet baby."

After the bath, she put me to bed. My ears still rang with a soft buzzing and the afternoon sun came through the window too brightly. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard Mama yelling at Rhonda.

"What were you thinking, giving her those brownies? I told you I had a second batch in the oven for her. Jesus fucking Christ, Rhonda, you gave my baby pot brownies!"


Excerpted from The Sometimes Daughter by SHERRI WOOD EMMONS Copyright © 2012 by Sherri Wood Emmons. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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