Chomping at the Book! (Consuming Mafia Memoir)


You’re not alone.

Or rather, I’m not, perhaps.

Like many other long-time bloggers, I, too, face the unfortunate reality that life interferes, too often, with the business of actually, well, blogging.

What’s become of us?

(Yes, like it or not, you’re included in this.  Your complicity lessens the gnawing-at-my-gut guilt and incriminating-as-hell feelings of self-hatred.)

Sure, I live now in the semi-exotic country of Ecuador, a place everyone from Julian Assange to Edward Snowden wants to call home.

And sure, selling a house, packing everything we own, getting married, relocating with two supremely spoiled dogs, finding a home in a new country,  and getting residency visas have all taken time—time away from the blogosphere and the many dear (but neglected) friends I’ve found here—

BUT!

 (Yes, it’s a big “but.”)

It just so happens I’ve also been busy writing.

Actually writing!  (You read that correctly.  You are not hallucinating.)

Imagine that—I’ve been engaged in the honest-to-God act of putting fingers to keyboard, lining up words one after the other like Lincoln Logs, constructing  sentences—even entire paragraphs.

And, yes, (hold your compositionally-crazed, chomping-at-the-book horses)—

EVEN (I swear-to-God) chapters!

Chapters of my memoir, I mean.

That, by the way, has also required a complete reworking of chapter 1, a version of which I just so happened to read at a literary event here in Cuenca last week.

And, yes, I happen, as well, to have a video of the event.

So, below you’ll see (and hear) me reading the new and HUGELY-improved (I hope!) first chapter of Kids Make the Best Bookies.  (Thanks to my blogger buddies and members of the Cuenca writing group I’ve joined for the amazing feedback!)

Hope you enjoy.

(Immediately following is the updated text, in case you’d like to follow along.)

Kids Make the Best Bookies: A Mafia Memoir

Chapter 1—

With two televisions and a radio blaring basketball in the background, Daddy hangs up the second of two phones.

“Who wants Sweet Williams?” he turns to us and asks.  White haired and handsome, my father rubs his hands together, anticipating an ice cream adventure, chilling as this one might be on such a frigid February evening.

“Two scoops on a sugar cone!  How’s that sound?”  He’s been fielding calls from clients for the past hour—ever since we finished my sister Susan’s 13th birthday dinner a while earlier. 

At nearly 16, I, for one, roll my eyes, lean over to Susan on the sectional beside me, and whisper, “As if it isn’t cold enough already?”

“Yeah, now we’ll enjoy a good brain freeze to top it all off,” Susan adds.

“Come on, gang.” Daddy urges my two younger sisters and I up off the couch, nudging us with his stocking feet.

“Coats on.  Time’s a-wastin’.”
Once we’re bundled against the very real possibility of frostbite, my mom manages to remind my dad of the obvious.  The threat of hypothermia notwithstanding, my purportedly warm-blooded mother mentions something else entirely.

“Don’t forget to put those papers away, Tyce.” 

She’s referring to the sheets on which he records in careful columns the bets his clients call in—who has placed how much on which games. We have a door whose top has been hollowed out and lined with tin—the same size needed to hold the folded papers. 

“Oh, Judy!” he dismisses my mother’s suggestion, and adds as he claps his hands to hurry us along, “Let’s get this show on the road.”

With that he snatches his keys from the landing table, sets his papers on the carpeted steps just inside the door, and we’re on our way, Daddy in the lead, my mother and little brother bringing up the rear.

Descending the steep steps from our house to the street below, I shiver in my navy pea coat, Steelers stocking cap, and scarf on top of that—never enough.  It seems Pittsburgh’s a permafrost the winter of ’78, biting with each breath.  It’s dark outside, except for a single street light that brightens our cement steps and shines on Daddy down below—my two sisters close behind him.

Then out of an otherwise quiet night, a brown sedan races up the road, its tires flattening yesterday’s blizzard as it slides to a stop.  Four federal agents jump out, their black rubber boots crunch the clean snow, break its icy surface—a cracking glass.  One man, wearing a black hat, slips on the icy street, nearly falling.  His hat goes flying.  Another grabs Daddy, shoving him against the wall that separates our stairs from the road below.

As it becomes clear what’s happening, my mother, siblings, and I race back toward the house.  This isn’t the first raid we witness, and it won’t be the last.

But once inside the front door, my mom covers Daddy’s papers with her purse and collapses on the carpeted steps.  My brother, only four, cries beside her, as we girls rush in behind them, over-coated FBI agents on our heels.

I can’t make out exactly what the officer bellows at my mom, the wise guy barking at her futile effort to literally conceal evidence beneath a burgundy Gucci bag.  I suppose the charge might be cover-up by pocketbook or some other crime of the coutured-handbag kind.  Sometimes even love is less than legal.

What I do hear, however, even over my brother’s sobs, is someone screaming.

“Don’t you dare try to take my mother!”

I recognize only in an insanely surreal and close-to-comic delay, the screamer has been me. 

My mind goes blank after that, and I feel like I’m floating.  I think we’re hurried into my grandmother’s apartment on the first floor of our house.  We stay there while agents ransack our upstairs space. 

Still later, after we’ve cleaned up the monumental mess, I lie in bed, listening to my sister Lynn’s quiet breathing.  Despite the darkness, I see the sleeves of her Holly Hobby nightgown peeking out beneath the green blanket.

Still not warm enough, the cocoon of my own covers notwithstanding, I review what’s happened.  I can’t sleep.  I can’t stop thinking about it.

Sure, the day has ended in legal limbo, but it started out like any other.

I’d ridden the bus to school that morning as I normally do—the private Baptist one my parents force us to attend.  There teachers drill us in the books of the Bible, teach the tenets of the John Birch Society, and sing the virtues of a free market economy.  There, boys’ hair doesn’t touch the tops of their ears or come close to their collars in the back. There girls are only allowed to wear skirts and dresses and “modest” ones at that, ones whose hems touch the floor when we were kneeling—I’m referring here to those silly, sometimes weekly, skirt-length checks carried out in the chapel just above the basement classroom we tenth graders share with the ninth.

But that reminds me, the school is really mom’s idea.  Sure, in her leather pants and mink coat, she may have looked worldly to the FBI officer, but she is actually a Bible-believing person.  She encourages Christian values, if also, inadvertently, the church’s own version of crazy.  For example, she once warned me that women of God always wear bras, when I’d been tempted to go without my own.  Forget that our education, not to mention our underwear, is funded by mafia money.  It all comes out in the wash.

Then that gets me wondering, as well, why I’d defended my mom so adamantly, when it was my dad agents were obviously after.  Despite the threat, Mommy wasn’t arrested, after all.  Daddy was.

But actually, both parents confuse my thinking about who’s holy and who isn’t—my father especially.  He’s been indicted by several grand juries.  Still, he’s the fun one, consistently kind, generous, witty—the sort of dad most kids would want. I know no one who dislikes him.  I never even hear him curse.

Would the real criminal please stand up?  

 But, what about you?  What have you been chomping at recently? 

And while I have you attention–please follow me on Twitter by clicking below!


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75 thoughts on “Chomping at the Book! (Consuming Mafia Memoir)

  1. Kathy – This post is amazing on oh-so-many levels. Oh So Many!

    Clearly you dove back into the deep end of the writing pool. Obviously you don’t need water wings because your nostrils are well above water and your strokes are clean and life sustaining.

    And girl, I love the video clip, revised chapter, and I just followed you on Twitter.

    • Thank you, thank you, Laurie. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate hearing this from you. I have found an amazing writing group here that has taken me under their wings and nurtured me. They are fine writers who haven’t been afraid to tell me where my work is weak. I’ve needed that! Thanks for following my on twitter!

  2. Congratulations on your chapter and whirlwind wedding. I was totally scrambling to remember if I knew you and Sara had tied the knot. I’m still scrambling. My BRAIN is scrambled. So if I’ve already congratulated you, consider yourself doubly wished well.

    • Thank you, Jessie! I know what that scramble feels like and I don’t even have two kids! LOL And my scramble has made me forget who has and who hasn’t congratulated us, so I’ll take all I congrats we continue to get.

      Also, thanks for noticing the lie/lay error!!!!!!! Truly, thank you. How had we all missed that? Good eye!

    • Thanks, Darla! “Brilliant” is high praise, which I imagine I don’t deserve, but, damn, I love hearing it. I give a lot of credit to writing group I’m a part of here in Ecuador. Great to hear from you.

    • Thank you, Lisa! Sorry to have asked you to read so damn many drafts of this book. I’ll give you credit for the support, should I ever finish and get published. Hope your week is going well.

  3. Your writing group has so impacted your writing! How very exciting and motivating! I love this reworked version.
    Do you find your rewriting/editing is never ending? I feel like I’ll never be done editing, even after the damn thing goes to print!

    • I’m afraid it is never-ending. I’m committed to not working on this chapter any more. I think it’s good enough—at least for a good while. I’m so happy this motivates you. The group has helped me SO much. Miss you, dear Miranda. Keep working on that essay of yours. We’re in this together, Sista!

  4. I’ve been taking care of sick children…dont know if that qualifies for “chomping” but that is everything I’ve been doing. When the cat is away, the mouse will write. And, it is GOOD.

  5. Kathryn, I really enjoyed this — reading the text and listening to you read; I am really enjoying your story, and look forward to hearing more. Keep going on your book. Kudos to you for undertaking to write it.

    I can relate. This past year I published two books based on my blog (you can find them on my website and, of course, on Amazon). My books relate the story of my mother’s and my journey through her dementia (she passed on in April 2012 at 97). As a consequence of writing my books, and to promote them, I have made presentations at local senior centers, reading excerpts from my book (I loved sharing my experiences), so I can relate to your reading your first chapter — and to a writers’ group, no less. I am impressed. You did good.

    And one note — I’ve never met a Pittsburgher I didn’t like. I grew up in Philadelphia and met many Pittsburghers while attending Penn State. Also, my boyfriend, out in Southern California, was from Pgh. Tragically, he died of a brain tumor in the 1990s, but his family still keep in touch with me — his mom and his sister, telling me stories about their children and grandchildren, which my boyfriend would so love to hear. Maybe he’s watching over us.

    Thanks.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Samantha. Can’t wait to check out your site and books. You have an amazing story. Sorry to hear about your boyfriend, but I bet he IS watching over you. And as a fellow Pennsylvanian, I’m sure I’ll enjoy getting to know you, as well. Thanks for sharing a bit of your history. Come back again soon.

  6. So you’re saying give you a good poke every now and then if you clam up, and that’ll bring you out of the woodwork again?

    Good to know. :)

    I’m diggin’ your first chapter. Nice hook, for sure!

  7. Kathy, bravo. I absolutely LOVE how this has evolved since the last time I saw it. Ecuador is a muse for you, I think.

    MTM and I have seriously discussed visiting. With our current schedule, it would be at least the latter half of next year before we could make it happen. He is very intrigued with a number of spots down there, and I would just love to meet you and Sara and give you both a big, happy hug.

    • Thank you, thank you, Andra. This means so much coming from you! I can’t believe how the group has helped me.

      Just let us know when you begin to plan. We’d love to have you. We have two lovely guest rooms in the making–not that you would require two. Just painted one room today. Keep in touch. Can’t wait to give you a big, happy hug, also!

  8. How wonderful to hear that you’ve found your creative spirit in Ecuador! It’s a real boon that you have a supportive group of writers encouraging you at every turn.

    Keep on writing! Hope to see you and Sara again soon!

    • Great to hear from you, Jackie! It truly is a boon–even a blessing. I had forgotten what a difference a good group can make. I’ll keep at it and let you know when I’m ready for editing. Hope you all will make it down here sometime soon!

  9. Fantastic that you are writing the book again! All of this life interfering stuff is important stuff, but you know….so is your writing! ;)

    Off topic….you look SO good. Ecuador seems to agree with you.

    Okay, now I have to go back up and finish the watching of your reading! I couldn’t wait any longer to comment!

    • You are such a sweetie, Colleen! Maybe it’s the makeup that makes me look better, but overall, yes, Ecuador seems to agree with both Sara and me. Hope you enjoy the video. Hugs to you and David!

  10. Terrific! Kathy, I feel like I’ve seen portions of this before and it makes for such an enthralling story and good yarn. Keep going!
    Btw, loved hearing your voice. Now I know a little more about you. Very sweet and easy to listen to. But I didn’t hear much of a Southern accent, which I kind of expected. Maybe because you were reading. Do you have one? Just curious!

    • Thank you, Monica. Yes, it’s the same story that has always been in the first chapter, but it’s been totally rearranged with new parts added and some parts removed. So glad you like it.

      Glad you enjoyed hearing my voice, as well. No, I have no southern accent. Lived too long in the north to develop one, I suppose. And I worked hard to get rid of western PA accent, for sure. It’s an ugly one.

      Take care, my friend, and thanks for reading!

  11. You give good reading, Kathy, and you do seem to be making progress on your memoir. You certainly don’t need to remind me about how hard it is to pull a book together while blogging. Plus, you moved out of the country and I work full time. It’s a challenge to try to do everything so until a day is 30 hours long, when something has to fall by the way side, yeah, it’s the blog. Okay, I’m following you on Twitter so follow me back so you can access my eleven stellar tweets a year.

    • Glad you think I “give good reading.” I was nervous as hell, which I’m normally not in a situation like that.

      It is, indeed, hard to do it all. Plus, I’m not a good multi-tasker. I like to do one thing as a time. Otherwise I find it hard to focus.

      Thanks for following me on twitter. I will definitely follow back. 11 is a lot, or rather would be for me. I’m lucky to do 11 in 6 months. At least your tweets are bound to be funny. Right?

    • Thanks for reading and watching, Lisa. Sometimes I forget that we don’t know what one another sound like. We are doing well. Sara is in the US supervising the loading of our 20 foot container today. So I miss her but otherwise all is well. Take care, my friend.

    • Several folks have mentioned my voice. I keep forgetting that we don’t know one another’s spoken voice, only the written one. Thanks, Sandy. I’m so happy you enjoyed it. Hope you’re doing okay! Any chance you’d ever come visit us in Ecuador?
      Hugs from Ecuador,
      Kathy

  12. Ahhhhh, that is my happy sigh. Loved hearing your voice. Loved reading along! Loved seeing you come up in my e-mail!

    Just, well just … Love Love Love… that you came back to say hello.

    So glad for you, that you are getting the time to write and that you have found a writers group. Wonderful. I truly do believe I am slightly envious of the life you are carving out.

    • It’s a pretty good life so far. You’re right about that. And my group has been amazingly supportive and helpful. I’m finding it hard to get back into blogging with so much going on, but I’m working on it. Glad you liked my revised chapter. It’s so great to hear from you, Val!

  13. Wow you’ve made so much progress Kathy! How many chapters do you have completed? Maybe you needed Ecuador as a good place to write? Also love the twitter feed below! How did you insert that into your post? So good to hear from you!!!

  14. Way to go, Kathy. Look at how proud we all are of you! Perhaps that change of scenery was just what you needed to get you jump-started on the writing of your memoir. Sometimes it’s so easy to get into ruts where we are. Perhaps I need to move out of the woods, lol, not that it’s going to happen in the foreseeable future. One never knows, though. Write on!

    • Yes, I think a change of scenery can make a huge difference, somehow. It makes you see the world from a different perspective, and that “world” includes, for me, my past.

      Hope your mosquitoes have begun to die down up there in Michigan. But I suppose it’s too early for that. God, how I hate those things! One thing I love about Cuenca–NO MOSQITOES!

      Great to hear from you Kathy. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Brava Kathy! I’m so impressed that you’re disciplining yourself to work on your memoir. Its good and you read well :-)
    Interesting that you were able to find a writing group so quickly!

    • Yes, I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference the writing group has made. And actually I discovered the group by accident. But thank God I did. I totally love it. Glad you enjoyed the reading, Rosie. Take care my friend. Hugs to you!

    • Thanks, Debra. I’m so happy you stopped by. I’m hoping to have more to share soon. Hope you’re enjoying your “summer” back home in Australia. Now that I live in the southern hemisphere, I’m remembering that it’s not really “summer” now down here.

  16. I found you via the WordPress Reader (under the ‘You May Like…’ heading — they were right, it turns out!!) and really, really enjoyed the writing you’ve shared here. What a fascinating memoir it will be! Congratulations on your recent marriage and good luck with the writing. I’ll be interested to see more :)

    • I’m so happy that “You may like . . .” lead you to me. Hooray for WordPress. I bet that means I’ll like your blog, as well. Will head over there shortly.

      Thanks for your comment and the congratulations. Glad you enjoyed the writing. Hope you’ll come back soon!

  17. Pingback: Playing for an Audience of One | The Accidental Cootchie Mama

  18. I finally made it here !! And what a great post to land on :) I read your first chapter quite a while ago and do notice the difference between your earlier draft and this one. I enjoyed the previous one but this one is great ! It really gave me a good picture in my head of the scene unfolding as I read it if you know what I mean ;) Looking forward to reading the book when it hits our shelves ! Xx Kel

    • How wonderful to hear from you, Kel! If moving kept me away from blogs, I can only imagine what a new baby must do to ones good intentions.

      So glad you enjoyed the chapter revision. And I’d be honored to have you buy my book when it’s available in stores! Thanks, my friend! Give that baby a kiss for me! Hugs to you, my dear!

    • Thank you, Terri. You are such a sweetie. I have been motivated, but I don’t know why it’s so hard to do both blogging and book writing. Lots of folks seem to manage fine. I appreciate your understanding! Hugs to you, my friend.

  19. Followed you on Twitter and I agree. I too have been too busy to blog lately. Thanks for coming over my blog, sorry the latest post is weeks old. This summer has just been insane. I had my birthday, two weddings, a 90th birthday, brother’s birthday, I’ve got a new job which I start in two weeks and to top it off my boyfriend is leaving tomorrow for three months in Australia. Just trying to get my head round all but I hope to return to blogging soon.

    • Thanks for following Megan. Great to hear from you. You DO sound busy. Sometimes it’s just impossible to blog. I suppose the blogosphere isn’t going anywhere, is it? It will still be here when we return. Good to know you’re doing well. Sorry to hear your boyfriend will be gone for so long!

  20. Awesome to hear that you have been writing again, Kathy. I agree that the flow of the revised chapter works much better than the earlier version– congratulations!

    I have been doing *everything* to avoid writing these days. Resistance has been huge for some reason, even though I know that writing is exactly the thing I need to do to cure my resistance. ;) Oh, well– perhaps there will be a blog post in my near future as well!

    • Thanks so much, Joss. Glad you enjoyed it. When I started reading at these events back in the summer, I was nervous, which surprised me, after years of lecturing college students. I suppose the material was just so personal. Fortunately, I’ve gotten over that in the last few months.

  21. I have only just stumbled across your blogsite, and read through this first chapter. Beautiful flowing writing. I will follow your story, for some inspiration when pursuing my own attempts on my site – 50 Shades of Unemployment.

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