This book will engage you from the beginning by revealing rmemories. from childhood and adolescence,wriitten about in "Fitting In," "My 15 Minutes of Fame" and "The Train Station." The author's marriage and family life is portrayed in "None Other Than Motherhood" and "The Other Side of the Waiting Room".
Midlife substance abuse interrupts the good life where the works turn intense and deeply emotional with "Circling the Drain" and "To and Fro." Our heroine begins her recomvery from her desolation with a lot of help, hence the poem, "Celebration." More of her humerous side is shown in a witty, tongue-in-cheek observation, "The Virgin Commute." Regained spirit and hope are evident in final chapters with "Increasing Fits of Happiness" and her ending, "My Obit."
This book can offer solace and hope to some who have suffered or are still suffering from alcohol abuse and/or depression. Anyone who has lived with or has known the pain of watching one who lives an abusive lifestyle will relate to this story. They may also gain a better understanding of how we think and survive by planning every move around our addictions.
In an imaginative memoir style, the mingling of light and serious essays along with a few poems provokes reflections, a few chuckles and maybe a few fond memories for the reader.
Lee says, " I have dogpaddled through the deep end of life, but now I know it doesn't matter if don't get points for style. I am happy I am able to keep finally swim to shore and remain on solid ground--most of the time!"
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Swimming in Circles is Better Than Drowning
By Leanne Garrett Flanagan
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Leanne Garrett Flanagan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThoughts of Home
In 1952, my parents bought a four-acre estate complete with a large run-down house, barn, chicken coop, apple orchard, areas of rocky hills and overgrown woods. It was to become a lovely home for our family after extensive renovations. The '50s were a prosperous time for my parents. They were most likely very excited by the project they undertook. As a little baby boomer, growing up in what at that time was upper middle class, this family is what shaped my view of the world and my future.
I was four years old when we moved into our new home in northern New Jersey. My brother was ten. Our new home included four acres of land and, being an outdoor kind of guy, my brother was thrilled to have all of that space to play. Since I was a little girl who frequently lived in my own dream world, I quickly scouted out secret play houses and hideaways in the side yards.
Mom and Dad took painstaking care in their monumental renovation project. With great intensity and focus, as was my mother's nature, they conducted an exhaustive search for the best contractors and craftsmen. As vice president of the North Atlantic and Gulf Steamship Company in New York City, Dad could now afford this undertaking. Mom had given up her secretarial position to raise a family. Now the struggling seemed to be over for them. Dad had reached his goal as an executive. He had a beautifully furnished corner office overlooking the East River.
I remember many workmen being at the house for a long time. The small windows along the east side of the living room were replaced with contemporary six-foot-long windows. These expansive new windows opened up that entire side of our house, giving us a spectacular view of a rock garden which my mother designed and planted. Although we had a landscaper and gardener to care for the rest of the grounds, this area was "hands-off" to the professionals. The rocky hillside garden was Mom's special piece that brought her peace. Beyond the rock garden was about an acre of undeveloped hilly, rocky terrain bordered by wooded areas. While we lived there, the acreage bordering that land remained undeveloped. It protected us from the main road (a two-lane highway at that time) which lay about 100 feet below.
The "lower forty," as my father jokingly called the half acre near the road on the other side of the property, was an open field of wild bushes and beautiful wild flowers growing along the main road. Next to the "lower forty" was the beginning of our winding one-quarter-mile, long, single lane driveway. The biggest challenge of Dad's workday was timing his departure for the train station so that he and the bread delivery man or milk man would not collide head on in the middle of the driveway. If they met at all, Dad would need to back up to the house again since the delivery man could not back out into the busy main road. Recalling what I have been told of my father's sense of humor, I imagine some bets were made among the three men about the number of times this happened during a one year period.
I do not remember how long it took to renovate the house and make it a home. I vividly remember, however, the man who handcrafted and installed built-in window seats under the long picture windows on the side of our living room. Mr. Olsen was from Denmark. He came to work in the early morning in his old wood-trimmed Ford station wagon with his favorite companion, his Great Dane, Thor. He ate his breakfast in the car, refusing my mother's invitation to sit in the house with us. He then began work with the dog, and me, at his side. When the dog sat next to me, he was as tall as I was when standing. One day, while Thor and I were quietly watching Mr. Olsen work, Thor turned and licked my face from chin to forehead with one swift, sweeping slurp of his giant tongue. I was astonished by this sudden gesture of love. My face must have shown it (I probably turned beet red), because Mr. Olsen burst into laughter. Sometimes, he told stories about his family and "the old country," but mostly we were silent, he busy with his work and I a fascinated onlooker. Later, I would spend a great deal of time on those window seats, looking out at the garden, the changing seasons and the animals that visited our yard. It was a wonderful spot for daydreaming.
The rest of the living room was also completely redone in the latest '50s style. All of the moldings were handcrafted. Moldings, window seat and furniture were all blond wood, the latest trend in home design. Mr. Olsen also built a curved desk into the wall in an alcove off the main living room. Our piano stood on the wall opposite the desk. There Mom and I spent many hours. There was even a Picasso-style oil painting, displayed above the piano. It was a piece of modern art which was so popular at that time; my mother kept it until she died. In the living room, a black coffee table was custom built to complement the curve of the pumpkin-colored, nubbin couch. Two overstuffed chairs in a modern brown and beige print with pumpkin accents, were placed on one side of the couch. Across the room on the other side of the couch were two low-slung, brown tweed chairs. Those chairs became my favorite TV seats. They were a perfect fit for me. Too close, of course, to the TV, as my mother always scolded.
Opposite the pumpkin couch was a magnificent stone wall with a fireplace. My brother recalls that dad had the mason buy Tennessee stone and hand cut it for our fireplace. It was cut by hand because it was too thick to cut by any machine made in the '50s. On one side of the fireplace was the door leading to our screened-in back porch where we had more casual summer meals. Dad, being a creative creature of comfort, had our carpenter, Mike, build a turnstile on the other side of the fireplace. A platform on the turnstile held our television set. In the summer, we would turn the platform around to the porch so that my dad and brother could watch ballgames there. As a family, we also watched other favorites of the times; The Texaco Hour with Milton Berle and the Ed Sullivan Show. No mosquitoes; we had screens! The only sounds in the quiet, cool summer evenings were the crickets.
My brother and I spent many days fighting over who would watch the favorite children's shows on TV ... Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, or Superman for him. I liked Miss Frances's Ding Dong School and Howdy Dowdy Time. At about age nine, my all-time favorite was Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club, starring the Mouseketeers. The world got put on hold daily at four o'clock when that show came on. Anything else I might have been doing stopped. I remember idolizing all of the preteen Mouseketeers. I wanted so much to become one of them; I loved to perform. My first love was dancing and singing. A large part of my week was spent at dancing and music lessons with many practice sessions. I had great confidence that I could easily pass an audition to be a Mouseketeer. I envisioned myself with the ears on my blonde head, smiling as I introduced myself to the zillions of fans watching every day at four p.m. Then, Bobby and I, dressed in wonderful costumes, would sing and dance. There would be lots of letters from fans all over America. I even begged my parents to move to California so that I too could be on TV with Annette, Darlene, Cubby, Karen, Bobby and the rest of the gang. I was absolutely devastated and truly did not understand when they attempted to explain that such a move was impossible for us.
Because my parents were members of the Country Club set, they held many dinners and cocktail parties in our home. I often stood at the top of the stairway, looking down into the living room. I was mesmerized by the ladies in their elegant cocktail dresses with formfitting bodices and crinoline-supported skirts. Most had a martini glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There was a great deal of noisy conversation and laughter. The background music came from our new stereophonic record player. Evenings usually began with couples conversing in groups. Slowly, the ladies and men would ultimately drift apart: men discussing business, woman their clubs, charities, new recipes and children. At the end of the cocktail hour, the party would move on to a restaurant or perhaps to New York for dinner and a Broadway show. After the party moved on, I sometimes wandered downstairs amid the empty cocktail glasses and dirty ashtrays, sat on the couch and pretended that I, too, wore a party dress and held a martini and a cigarette. I had imaginary conversations with another sophisticated lady or gentleman. Breaking the spell, Grandma ultimately caught me and sent me back upstairs to bed.
Our maternal grandmother lived with us. She had her own room in her own private part of our house off the hallway from the kitchen. She was a very serious person; I don't remember her smiling often. She emigrated from Germany to this country as a child and lived through the Depression, raising six children. Now that she had a lovely family who all lived nearby with their children, I often wondered why she looked so stern most of the time. I do think she believed my mother and father spoiled us. Grandma took care of my brother and me when Mom and Dad went out. We asked Mom to cook for us before she left because Grandma only cooked two ways, overcooked or undercooked. Her hamburgers always ended up like hockey pucks, her spaghetti, crunchy. If Grandma cooked for us, we usually fed it to the dog.
Our family lived in this house for seven years until 1959. A short, sudden illness took my father's life at age forty-six. Our world was turned suddenly, tragically upside down. I was no longer daddy's little girl. My brother was to face his late teen years without his dad. My mother was forced to sell our home and return to work as a secretary after twenty years of homemaking. Being eleven years old, I did not grasp the magnitude of my mother's loss, shock and desolation. When we moved from our wonderful home to the top floor of a two-family home in a new town, I only remember feeling frightened and lonely. It was summertime. My mom would be going back to work. I would have to stay home by myself. I knew no one. I would be starting the seventh grade, so I was full of anxiety about whether I would make friends and fit in with the kids. The new town was very unlike where I came from. I jokingly refer to those years in my childhood home as "The Princess in the Ivory Tower House" years. I was now entering another world – which turned out to be a good one, just different.
A few years after the house was sold, we found out it was sold again to a developer who razed the house and constructed a medical office building with lots and lots of parking.
I know my memories dwell in a place that no longer exists. The home my parents lovingly created, which I once thought would be there forever, was gone, crushed into dust. It illustrated what we all realize as we grow into adulthood; how fragile what we have is on any given day.
My brother and I are called in from play,
We have to fetch Dad from the station.
We're allowed a book or toy for the car,
But the waiting is an abomination!
The trains all chug by us, slow down to a stop,
men in suits getting off one by one.
Off the train, down the steps, tired faces we see;
happy homecoming, workday is done.
Mom, brother and I search the crowd high and low.
"On the next one," mom says with good cheer.
Ten more minutes pass by, the next train pulls in.
Oh please, God, let our dad be here!
As the 5:45 slowly rolls from the station,
we see a familiar sight.
Our dad is asleep in the third row back,
missed his stop yet again tonight!
Home we drive, hungry now, stony silence prevails.
Mom is mad at Dad's napping. We know.
He'll be taking a cab home, arrive very late
and for dinner be eating crow.
Rules of the Day
It seems as if Mommy has been talking to the lady at the hospital desk for an awfully long time. She is trying to tell her to please let me go see my daddy who is very sick on the third floor. I have not seen him in eight days. He was brought to the hospital last week when he fell down walking to his car at the train station, on his way home from working in New York at the North Atlantic and Gulf Steamship Company where he is the Vice President. Sometimes he takes me there and lets me sit at his big desk in his office. He has a chair that spins around and around. His secretary, who is a very nice lady, gets me soda and cookies and lets me have paper and pencils to draw with. I love looking at all the big ships in the East River. I like Uncle Ralph and Uncle John who Daddy works with. They always tell me how cute I am and tell me jokes and make me laugh. Then Daddy and I get to come home on the train together.
Anyway, I wonder what is taking Mommy so long. I think she is crying now. She has been crying a lot this week. It makes me sad to see her crying so much. My big brother Curt is very sad too. He is seventeen and has lots of girlfriends, but I don't really like any of them much, except for Susan; she's nice. He yells at me if I'm not nice to his friends. He makes me practice dancing with him so he can dance really well with the girls. I have fun doing that.
No one will tell me what's wrong with Daddy. They think I am too little, but I am not, I am old enough to know. I am his little girl after all.
I hear Mommy saying to the lady at the desk, "You don't understand, my husband is critically ill. He needs to see his daughter! If we wait, it may be ..." and then she is crying again and I can't understand the rest. The hospital has this rule that children are not allowed to see the sick people because they think children have too many germs. You have to be older to see the sick people, even if they are your father. I think this is a silly rule.
Then my aunt Edie comes in and makes my mommy sit down on a chair next to me. "Mommy, please don't cry," I said. But she can't help it. My aunt talks some more to the lady and asks her to call the doctor and get permission for me to go upstairs to the third floor to see my daddy.
The lady says, "No, I cannot do that. It is against hospital policy to have a child visit a patient."
"Well," my aunt says, "this is a very extenuating circumstance. Can't she just go up for a few moments? She is very well behaved and won't cause any problems."
The lady goes to talk to another lady with a different badge on. Aunt Edie turns around and smiles at Mommy like she is thinking maybe they are going to let me upstairs to the third floor to see my daddy. Then the lady with the different badge comes over to Mommy and leans over her and says, "I'm terribly sorry, dear, but we cannot allow your little girl upstairs. We have a very strict rule here about allowing children to see patients."
"But please," my mommy says, "she loves her daddy so much." But the lady is walking away. Now my mommy has to go upstairs to see my daddy, so I stay with my aunt. I start to cry too because I really miss him and I think if I could give him a kiss and sing a song for him, he might feel better. After all, I'm not sick. Not even a sniffle. I know that we all have germs but since I am not sick at all, how could I have any bad germs that might hurt Daddy?
I don't get to see my daddy that day.
When my granddaughter was born in 2002, her older sister, age four was welcomed as a visitor to the maternity floor of the large hospital where her mother had given birth.
My, my how things change over the years. The advances in modern medicine are truly patient-friendly. I just never realized that the intensity of germs that children carry has lessened over the years.
Excerpted from Swimming in Circles is Better Than Drowning by Leanne Garrett Flanagan Copyright © 2011 by Leanne Garrett Flanagan. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThoughts of Home....................3
The Train Station....................13
Rules of the Day....................14
April 17, 1959....................18
Mother of Mine....................23
The Keys to My Kingdom....................28
My 15 Minutes of Fame!....................50
At First Sight....................55
The Bride's Nightmare....................59
Confessions of a Non-Compliant Convert....................66
None other than Motherhood....................73
Me, Mom and the Family....................81
The Other Side of the Waiting Room - 30 Years as a Medical Support Person....................97
Current Cacophonies or Things that Go Blip and Bleep....................108
The Weekend Wives' Club....................112
Good Reason on any Given Day....................123
Circling the Drain....................125
This Alcoholic's Dream....................134
My Other Demon, Depression....................137
Watch That First Step-It's Amazing....................145
The Virgin Commute....................150
Increasing Fits of Happiness....................157
Letter to a Friend....................162