My Runyonesque Father

By Melodee Leven Currier

I wish I had listened when my father told me stories about his life.  I had no idea the fascinating history behind his words.

My father, Harry Levin, grew up in New York City’s lower East side.  His parents immigrated through Ellis Island from Russia in 1897.   He was born in 1904 and went to school only through the third grade when he began working in the garment district.  Despite his lack of a formal education, he became exceptionally sharp and wealthy as a bookmaker and ticket scalper.

He was unlike any other man I’ve ever known.  For one, he always wore a suit.  Dressing casual meant not wearing a suit jacket.  And he often wore a hat – removing it indoors and tipping it to the ladies.  He was a kind and gentle man with a great sense of humor.  He was mostly bald, smoked cigars and always carried an enormous roll of cash.  I can still see him flipping through it.

My parents lived in Flushing, New York when I was born in 1946 and we moved to Miami Beach three months later.  They divorced when I was five and my mother and I moved to a small town in Ohio.  Despite the distance, my father kept in constant touch with me and we visited a few times a year until I moved to New York City to attend The Wood School in 1965 and lived at The Barbizon Hotel for Women.

Many of my father’s New York friends were household names such as Meyer Lansky, head of the Jewish mafia.  They grew up in the lower East side in the early 1900’s and were close in age.  Lansky’s family also immigrated from Russia.  He was instrumental in the development of the “National Crime Syndicate” in the United States and for decades was thought to be one of the most powerful people in the country.  I’ve been told he appears in my home movies lounging around a pool in Miami Beach with my parents.   His son, Buddy, got his first job at the theater ticket agency where my father worked in New York City–where someone was shot and killed in a mafia hit.

Since cell phones hadn’t been invented yet, my father would stop numerous times throughout the day to make telephone calls at pay phones, checking on bets for the horse races.  And at exactly 3:00 p.m. he would dodge into a bar and get a shot of Old Grandad which would be repeated a couple more times before dinner.    His daily activities were planned around the horse races, primarily Aqueduct.

When I was ten, my father took me to a hockey game in Detroit.  While sitting in the lobby of our hotel, I heard a man yell “Harry!”  It was Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I American Ace and President of Eastern Airlines.  They greeted each other like long lost buddies and talked for quite a while.  After we left the hotel for the hockey game, my father told me what an important person I had just met.

On a visit to Lindy’s Restaurant in New York City to meet some of his cronies, he introduced me to Milton Berle.  He was seated at the head of a long table of men having breakfast – reminiscent of Damon Runyon characters — he was just another one of the guys.

Frank “Red” Ritter, another friend of my father’s, set up gambling operations in the Bahamas with Meyer Lansky’s money.  I first met him and his son, Frank Jr. (who was my age), at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach.   When I was living at The Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City, Red, his wife and son, picked me up in his chauffeured limousine and we went to an exclusive Italian restaurant the Ritters frequented and we had dinner in our own private dining room.  I dated his son a couple times and visited their home.  In 1967, Red was under indictment for violating federal anti-racketeering statutes and wasn’t allowed to leave the Bahamas.

My father also mentioned names to me like Bugsy Siegel and Joey “The Greek” Adonis — he knew them all.

He was protective of me as well.  When I lived in The Carleton House on the upper East side, I learned that he slipped the doorman some cash to keep tabs on me.

He had connections for everything.  He would tell me to shop for certain brands of clothes, give him the numbers of whatever I wanted and he would send them to me. When I got married, he used his connections to get a Rabbi in Carnegie Hall to marry us and he used his connections to completely furnish our first apartment and the list goes on and on.

Throughout my life my father told me “When I die, you will be well taken care of.”  Just before he died, however, my mother (divorced over twenty years from him) did the unthinkable.  She took her attorney/lover to my father’s bedside at the hospital and had him sign everything over to her.  I didn’t know until years later when going through her legal documents.

Even though I didn’t inherit anything from my father’s estate, the Universe has taken good care of me and I know my father is watching over me from the big race track in the sky.

© 2017 Melodee Currier

Melodee Currier left corporate America in 2008 where she was an intellectual
property paralegal.  Since then she has devoted her time to writing and has
had numerous articles published on a wide variety of topics.   Her articles
can be read on her website www.melodeecurrier.com. Mel is an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told.

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Army Girl and the Mardi Gras Indians: St. Joseph’s Day, 2006

By Sarah White

St. Joseph’s day, March 19, brought to mind this story, which picks up where this one left off…

It is Sunday, March 19th, 2006. Yesterday was the Pontilly Vision Retreat, facilitated by Bert Stitt. We woke up this morning in a sweet French Quarter hotel. About midday Bert and Linda return from breakfast. Bert hits his cell phone: a plan comes together for Caroline, one of the organizers of the Vision Retreat, to take us on a “windshield tour” of the Seventh Ward and Treme (tre-MAY) neighborhoods, where she grew up. On our way, she tells us about her Creole pedigree and the grandparent who went to the hospital to see how black her grandbabies were.

Hurricane Katrina hit these neighborhoods hard. We drive for blocks and blocks with hardly a person in sight. The rubble of construction debris tells you someone is getting on with his life. The lack of it indicates houses that have become corpses.

The only signs of commerce are the semi-invisible bars. The clues are the signs spray-painted outside a house, the men out front, drinking and talking. The locals call this  “liming.” We come upon a party spilling out of a bar at a crossroad – cars are parking on the boulevard down the middle of Tureaud street, parking up the cross street Dorgenois.

“What’s going on?” Caroline rolls down a window to ask. Someone replies. “The Indians are marching! It’s St. Joseph’s Day.”

“What time?” A shrug. Caroline tells us, “The Indians put the L and the G in Loosy-goosy.” We drive on. Caroline narrates a tour through the landscape of her youth, now in tatters, with a stop to meet with a contractor at a house she owns in Treme. When we return to the bar, it is past 6pm. As we leave the car I pull out my camera. “Never take a picture of an Indian without asking,” Caroline cautions me.

“Liming” outside the Bullet Lounge

The Bullet Lounge. It’s just a dive like on every corner in Wisconsin, the long bar down one side, smaller groupings of tables and chairs. Down the middle is a passage. Now and then I glimpse  a man in partial Indian get-up—face paint, or an elaborate beaded and feathered skirt tied over pants—pass through to a private room.

Caroline says, “I never drink. I never go in bars.” But she orders a Miller Light. A girlfriend from high school spots her, squeals. “Ann!” “Caroline! You! Here?” Someone takes their picture. “Caroline in a bar!”

A woman in the corner is spinning Motown and funk, Tower of Power, and every third or fourth tune, a slower jazz number. One woman and man are dancing just the slow numbers. She is a teenager, pants slung low and exaggerating her long torso, which she undulates for him. He, old and tiny and wiry, is strutting for her like he’s the gorgeous one. This is dirty dancing.

Then that Booty Call song, a staple of Disco Nights in places much whiter than this. Caroline and Ann join the line. And the most delicious young woman I have ever seen. Slim but with a butt that rounds out the army camo pants she is wearing low on her hips. A hint of tattoo peaks out below an olive t-shirt, low on her back. (typographic trivia: you can guess a word from seeing just the top half, but not from seeing the bottom half.) She has us all wanting to lift her shirt and read what’s written there.

This woman knows how to seduce! When the dancers turn, I see that the front of her t-shirt – shrink-wrapped to her gorgeous torso – has a design entirely in rhinestones. “Army Girl” it says, with a graphic of a dog-tag on a rhinestone chain. Above that her sweet, caramel-colored face, and above that, two pompons of Afro’d hair that make me think of Mickey Mouse ears. The dancers turn again and again and now her perfect butt is facing me and she’s working that butt like a belly-dancer.

“That woman is FINE,” I shout in Bert’s ear.

The dance ends and Army Girl joins a friend at the bar. He’s much older, café au lait under a white cowboy hat. But she belongs to us all.

Linda, who has hardly said a word all afternoon, announces she is hungry. (We all must be hungry, we must be! I can’t feel anything but excitement.) Bert responds, “The it’s time we should go. Maybe this was the scene. That dance. Army Girl.”

But once we get outside, we can’t make ourselves leave, because we are catching glimpses of big feather pieces. In the gathering dusk, men are bustling with real purpose now. Bert disappears; reappears with a paper container of barbeque pork chops.

“Where did you get that?”

“I saw somebody and asked him where he got it. He said ‘you can have it.’ “

I see an Indian! More Indians! People are taking pictures so I do too. Not one is good. My camera has no power to see what my heart has taken in this day.

Photo courtesy of /houseofdanceandfeathers.org

We witness the challenge dance, Spy Boy then Flag Boy. But we must find food… do not mess with a menopausal woman’s needs. We hear the Indians’ drummers intensifying their rhythms as we pull away. Army Girl’s performance may be complete, but the Indians’ is just beginning.

We are all performers here: the white Wisconsin tourists, our Creole native guide, Army Girl and her admirers. The Mardi Gras Indians too, Black men celebrating their inner Native Americans. New Orleans’ culture of ambiguity, freedom from fixed identity, has survived the flood.

© 2017 Sarah White

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WanderNWayne Goes to Guatemala

By “WanderN Wayne” Hammerstrom

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

Hearing My Own Story

from WanderNWayne’s LiveJournal November 15, 2007

Preparing for a seven-week journey to Guatemala as my first big step into retirement has led me to discover journals of other vagabond travelers who shared their expectations and experiences in a land of perpetual spring. I’ve catalogued their recommendations and had begun to schedule an itinerary between the bookends of my 2008 Guatemala arrival and departure.

Today, I decided to leave these guides at home. Instead, I want to hear my own story, to discover my own journey – to learn of myself by wandering off-path. How could I have thought that I would be able to recreate the stories of others, to follow trails of their experiences, to know more about myself through them?

By immersing myself into another culture, instead of hearing what others say about it, I might explore that which is NOT me. My life-view has served me well for 60+ years living in the United States, but how might other cultures see me; how do they see themselves.

I’ve been told to think of retirement more as reFirement; loosening the limits of living for work and igniting a personal passion for life itself. This becomes a change in attitude, perspective, and options. My journey begins not with packing my bags, but emptying them for possibilities. I want to open myself to seeking and learning, of self-discovery,

   ~ ~ ~

Don’t Be Chicken

Guatemala 2008

Don’t be chicken—ride the colorful, public buses (camionetas) in Guatemala. You’ll find these transportation services low-cost, entertaining, and an experience to write home about.

Guatemala bus terminal

These former school buses have been brightly painted and decorated inside and out. Locals use them to travel between destinations and the buses are usually packed-full of passengers and cargo. People cram into the small seats designed for children or stand crowded in the isle. Traveler’s luggage and vendor’s wares are secured to storage atop the bus or stuffed inside on racks above the windows. It’s not uncommon for food and drink to be sold inside the bus at stops or as the bus travels between villages. Due to the cramped conditions, purchases and money are exchanged overhead between passengers, row to row throughout the bus. Tickets are obtained from assistants (ayudantes) who muscle their way between passengers as the bus swiftly darts through traffic or passes slower moving vehicles on curvy mountain roads. Each diesel burning vehicle leaves behind a sulfurous black plume as they accelerate through the drive gears.

We sought out our bus to San Marcos by listening to dozens of drivers and ayudantes shouting bus destinations throughout the busy terminal lot. Our packs were tossed up to the roof as three of us squeezed into the child-sized bench seat. With our knees jammed into the back panel of the seat in front of us, the bus lurches forward. We pickup more riders who flag down the bus from anywhere along the route. They had waited patiently for our arrival, but our scheduled time could only be estimated. The isle was now crammed with bodies, fabric bundles, and flower bouquets for market sales in the next village.

Like a ship on the ocean, we are thrown from side to side as the bus swerves around obstacles. We hit our heads on the luggage racks above as the driver launches over speed bumps intended to slow traffic passing through an occasional village. Our knees are now in our mouths and our hands grasp anything not moving.

Drivers pass anything moving slower than themselves, ignoring the yellow decorative markings painted on the road surface. This is frightening at first, until you learn the implied rules of the road. When you are passing a vehicle as another approaches from the opposite direction, the three drivers have the following options: (1) the approaching vehicle can slow down to let you complete your passing action, (2) the vehicle you are passing can slow down to let you complete your pass, or (3) you can chicken out, slow down and fall back behind the vehicle you wanted to pass. The game is played as cooperation, not competition. But I wouldn’t want to try this at home in the United States.

© 2017 Wayne Hammerstrom

Wayne Hammerstrom has been a lifelong traveler who now wanders (WandrNWayne) serendipitously on journeys near and far. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Living Until I Die

 

By Kaye Ketterer

I’m dying.   Not right now, nor tomorrow probably, but someday. We all are dying. From the day we are born, we begin life knowing that someday we will die.

I find it interesting when I talk with friends about my own death or plans for when I die. They are not willing to talk about it and shrug it off as a subject that does not need to be thought about now.  We probably learn our values and beliefs about death from our family of origin and also from religion. The Christian tradition teaches us that in death we receive eternal life.   If you buy into that thinking, it seems that death would be something to embrace and trust that our life in a different way or form would continue.   Other religions help their dead by preparing the body in certain ways so the loved one can transport to the other side; or some cultures build huge temples for the dead rulers or leave food or valuables with the dead person so they have something with them for the “other world”.

Whatever our beliefs, I don’t think we really can know what happens when we die.   If I had to guess, or state my beliefs, I’d say it will be a place where there is peace, good food, and great music!   I believe I’ll be reunited with family and friends that have died before me.   I will look to them to show me the way.

During my growing-up years, death was part of my life.   Living on a farm, animals were born and animals died, and it was never hidden from me. Sometimes there was no explanation why an animal died, it was seen as a natural event.

 

Having a mother who was a registered nurse also helped me know that death was a natural event and something we could talk about over the breakfast table. When my mother was a nurse most people died in the hospital and if they died on her shift I knew they found comfort in her.

Sometimes I would hear my mother on the telephone with a co-worker talking about someone who had died on their shift. Their conversations would often reveal their beliefs that “people always die in threes”, or there was nothing anyone could do, or simply talk about the poor timing of the death and eventually I would hear laughter which meant they worked through their feelings a bit and eased the stress they must have felt while on duty.

I remember when my parents discussed with me their wishes for what would happen when they died. They assured me they weren’t afraid to die and later my mother would say she wasn’t afraid of dying, but of simply getting there. My parents trusted me to abide by their wishes as they faced their own death and knew I could handle it with honesty and compassion, thus I was their power of attorney for health care. Having them as examples and having had conversations with them about death, made it comfortable for me to be with them both as they were dying.   It wasn’t frightening; but it was hard, it was holy, and it was an experience I wouldn’t have chosen to miss.

 

My Dad died in December of 2003. He had been a resident of a dementia unit in a County Nursing Home for three years.   As is usual, weeks before his death he had stopped eating and didn’t have many words left to say. It was fortunate that it was Christmas time as my sister was there and she and I along with my mother stayed with my dad pretty much round the clock for six days until he died. There were other family members who came to keep vigil.   My dad’s sister felt it important to be with him, as did another resident of the dementia unit whose name was Harold. He and my dad had become good friends and knowing my dad was dying, he would sit by my dad’s bedside until a staff member would come and insist that he come to eat a meal.

My dad had a slow death and it seemed as if he fought every minute to remain with us.   My mother said her goodbyes like we all did, and still he lingered.   My mother wondered if he was waiting for my one brother who chose not to come until the funeral; Or was it some unresolved issue about WW II which he seldom talked about?   Whatever the case, he died slowly and hung on to each labored breath.   On December 28th he achieved the peace that dying can bring.

As for my mother, in her nursing role, she would have said she had a good death.   My sister who is also a nurse did say that Mother had a good death.

My mother was in a nursing home from October until February 2010.   In the last month she became more and more confused and the last week of her life couldn’t put a complete sentence together.

I called her on a Wednesday evening and she couldn’t find words to talk, but when I talked with the nurse and was informed that she wasn’t eating and seemed to have difficulty responding verbally, I decided to drive the two hours to be with her and I am so glad I did.   She knew I was with her and I got in touch with the hospice nurse so she would have the right pain medication and assurance that she would be kept comfortable. She received good care. Early on Friday, February 12, 2010, she just drifted away.

It seemed she had no regrets and was a peace.   When the funeral director came I helped him move my Mother to the black body bag and said my final good byes.

 

After my mother’s death I found a book that I had given her years before when she was still active in her profession.   The book is by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who studied and wrote several books on death and dying.

The title of one book, Death the Final Stage of Growth really resonates with me.  Kubler-Ross sees death as the key to the door of life. She writes,

There is no need to be afraid of death. It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive—to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a façade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.

Every individual human being born on this earth has the capacity to become a unique and special person unlike any who has ever existed before or will ever exist again.” (Death the Final Stage of Growth; 1975, p. 164)

I take Elizabeth’s words to heart and have my “death plans” written and cremation paid for.  This brings me comfort in knowing that when I die my friends and loved ones can concentrate on their grief and memories both good and bad instead of having to make arrangements by guessing what I would have liked to have happen. This also brings me comfort so I can live each moment of every day to its’ fullest.

I believe we must have conversations about death with our families and friends so it is not something to be feared, but something to be fulfilled.   If we accept death as the final stage of our growth, we can fully live our lives in the present.

© 2017 Kaye Ketterer

Kaye lives in Monona, Wisconsin, and keeps her country roots close to her heart. Along with writing, her interests include music, traveling, children, and the elderly.

*  *  *

When Kaye read her essay at our January “First Monday, First Person” salon for memoir writers, I encouraged her to share it with readers of TSWT.

 

 

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Reflecting on Reflections

By Ellie Jacobi

reflection-on-water

Opening my eyes before sun-up, lights from an airplane are intruding on the dark peace of my bedroom. With no blinds or curtains on the windows facing the lakeside, it appears very bright, and I can see a second light by reflection on the water. The reflection is broken up by the slow-moving waves until it seems the whole outside space is filled with moving lights. 

Emmy, with her dark fur and white markings, seems almost a reflection of the reflection. She raises her head as her sleep is disturbed and she looks at the lights. She gives a great yawn, smelling a bit like catnip, her drug of choice, and then snuggles back next to my side, under the soft green coverlet, quietly purring. 

As the lights move overhead, the last glimpse of it highlights a picture of Paul on the nightstand. How I miss him. As does Emmy. After he died she went through the whole house looking for him under tables and cabinets, behind desks, in closets, as well as every corner of this room and under the bed. We have bonded strongly in our shared longing for him.

The noise of the airplane has found its way into the room along with the light, getting louder as it goes overhead and then as with the lights, slowly fading as it heads for the airport out of sight. Emmy and I settle back into very welcome sleep, remembering how Paul loved to fly.

© 2017 Ellie Jacobi

Ellie is a native Madisonian, but a world citizen member of the Baha’i Faith.

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Excerpts from “At Home Abroad: Today’s Expats Tell Their Stories”

Last week I posted an interview with Betsy and Mark Blondin, author/editors of At Home Abroad: Today’s Expats Tell Their Stories. This week, they share with you some excerpts from their book.

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“…home is wherever I can find a moment to be still and ask ‘Why?’”      – Earl Goodson

 

But first, a photo from the Blondins’ travels–

Antiqua, Guatemala--Semana Santa art, and volcano

Antiqua, Guatemala–Semana Santa art, and volcano

 

From “Expats in Cambodia” by Skip and Gabi Yetter (from the US and the UK)

…We’d landed in Cambodia with backgrounds in writing, marketing, and business management and soon discovered we were pretty valuable commodities. Work opportunities started coming to us unexpectedly even though we weren’t looking for them, and they all opened doors to new circles of friends, new ways of life and new ways of fitting in in this foreign country which quickly became our home.

The cost of living is extremely low in Cambodia, so our lifestyle included dinners out most nights of the week and plenty of trips for weekends or longer to other parts of the country and Southeast Asia. But the best parts of living in Cambodia were the people and the simplified way of life. Gone were the stresses of monthly bills (everything is cash) and traffic jams (we got around by tuk-tuk and nowhere was farther than 20 minutes). In their place were gentler, kinder attitudes, open-minded tolerance and acceptance. And, after originally landing in a country I first found to be uncomfortable and strange, Skip and I came to crave — and cherish — the strangeness.

While we missed family and friends, we made trips back home, both to the US and England, and used Skype, Facebook and email to keep in touch. We regularly wrote on our blog (www.TheMeanderthals.com) and had several visitors from home who came to join us on our adventures. We maintained a US address at Skip’s sister’s home so we could continue to have a foothold in the States (and a mailing address and address for credit cards) and limited our purchasing of anything that we didn’t consider essential (it took almost four months before we bought a toaster as we felt it would tie us down!).

After living in Cambodia three years, we decided to pull up anchor once again so we could find magic in other parts of the world. We spent four months travelling in Asia — a month in India, a month in China, three weeks in Vietnam and three weeks in Thailand (an unplanned excursion due to Skip landing malaria and having to be hospitalised and recuperate in seaside resorts) — then started house sitting (through www.TrustedHouseSitters.com and www.MindMyHouse.com).

Since December 2013, we’ve “lived” in England (twice), France (twice), Cyprus, Italy, Portugal, Nicaragua, and Greece. We’ve taken care of prize-winning Persian cats in Oroklini, had a houseful of rescue animals in Comigne, become best friends with a woolly Golden Retriever in Lewes and hung out with a feral cat in Gialova. It’s a wonderful lifestyle and one we’ve now become quite addicted to.

 • • •

From Earl Goodson’s “Musings from the Monastery”  (from the US)

…And so my day begins, breath by breath, step by step.

By step…By car trip…By plane trip…By new apartment…By new job.

Now I find myself in Taiwan, holding the wisps of a green memory in my hands. I could say it was time to move on. I could say I was ready to re-tackle the outside world. I could own up to the wanderlust that defines many expats. But who really knows? Stillness is here, in Taipei, much as it is in the pine groves of New Zealand. I will return and I will go, but home is wherever I can find a moment to be still and ask “Why?” Finding one’s place anywhere and nowhere is a double-edged sword in a world seemingly content with stone niches. I have my backpack. And the breath. And so a new day begins, breath by breath, step by step.

 • • •

From “A Polish Girl Who had a Dream” by Barbara Galewska (from Poland)

My name is Barbara Galewska, I am a Polish woman 31 years old, and I am an expat in Argentina.

I think it all started when I was 13 years old and my parents decided to move to a different city. I had to change schools, friends, and routines. I was out of the context I was used to and lost the natural confidence I always had but took for granted. I considered the new place a nightmare, I had no friends, I was bullied at school, I felt lonely like a stranger, like I did not belong, and I hid inside my shell. I began to read hundreds of books, from nonfiction, philosophy, and literature to travel books. I was overwhelmed with my own private world and I had a plan for life — to escape from all that was around me. I knew the only way I could make it was to study hard, get enrolled in a good university, and be financially and life independent.

So I did.

…Then came the moment to start sharing this happiness and my passion for life. I had a new dream and it was as strong as this dream from 17 years ago. I dreamed about love. About a true, strong connection based on loving, caring, and respecting each other.

And here I am, sitting on a couch in Rosario, Argentina, eight months pregnant, married to the love of my life, feeling calm, safe, loving, and loved. I am a Polish expat in Argentina. I don’t know if Argentina is my destination but I know that this term of being an expat is definitely it; and this makes me feel there is nothing like a place I belong to but a state of my mind’s freedom.

I am here in my very own context, smiling to a small baby from my future and to all my adventures and experiences from the past. I am sitting on this couch, feeling my baby move inside me, thinking about all the choices I had to make and situations I had to live through to end up here.

A Polish girl who had a dream.

(c) 2016 Word Metro Press

At Home Abroad is available through Amazon as a paperback or eBook. To contact Mark and Betsy, send an email to blondins@todaysexpats.com. Visit the  At Home Abroad website todaysexpats.com and click on “expat resources” for a listing of helpful expat websites!

Now, enjoy some more of the Blondins’ photos!

Mosque, Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain

Mosque, Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain

Tigre, Argentina

Tigre, Argentina

 

 

 

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At Home Abroad: Today’s Expats Tell Their Stories

– Author Interview by Sarah White – 

Who are today’s “expats”? What motivates people to leave their homes, family, and friends to immerse themselves in unfamiliar places, learn foreign languages, and get to know new people? Betsy and Mark Blondin, expats themselves, wanted to find out. That curiosity led to At Home Abroad: Today’s Expats Tell Their Stories, published in April 2016.

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Betsy and Mark have lived in Mexico, Guatemala, South America and also in parts of Europe, working remotely—Betsy as a freelance editor, Mark in his technology company, Datawise Storage. Betsy had previously published the book, Migraine Expressions, a collection of images, poetry, and essays on that subject, which introduced her to the compilation approach.

I recently chatted with the Blondins about their experience. My questions appear in italics. Next week, I will post an excerpt from At Home Abroad.

 

Mark and Betsy Blondin

Mark and Betsy Blondin

 

How did the idea for this book come about?

Betsy: We’ve been nomads since 2010. The idea came from people we’ve met in our travels who have wonderful stories.

Mark: I was struck by a woman in her 80s we met in San Miguel de Allende. She started telling me about all the places she had visited. I was amazed. Then I asked her where she would like to go next—and she said, “If someone wanted to go to South Africa, I’d go right now.” That started my interest in expats’ stories. Then, as we lived in different places, we met person after person with fascinating stories.

We reached expat writers through expat sites and Craigslist. Responses started coming in from all over. We hadn’t expected it to be so international. It gelled that this story is not just about people from the United States—it’s about people from all over the world who have decided to adopt new homes. .

Betsy: That’s what we enjoyed most about putting the book together: getting a story from a person in Belgium who had resettled in Ireland, and so on.

You received 130 submissions, which you culled to 31 essays. How did you decide which to include?

Betsy: It was based on quality, interest, and a bit by country and age diversity. Originally we assumed it would be mostly retirees who had moved to other countries. That we got so many responses from young people was great. We didn’t edit a lot. We kept the stories as close as possible to their words and sent our edits to them for approval.

Was something revealed to you about the expat experience as you worked with these stories?

Betsy: Yes, that human beings are pretty much the same everywhere. That’s the big lesson—people sing to their babies, people laugh and cry. As you read these stories, that message gets reiterated. Another big message from the stories was, DON’T BE AFRAID. Just go for it. How can you lose?

Mark: People dream about going everywhere, and just never take the plunge. That came through in a lot of the stories. The other overriding theme was that you can be home in lots of different places.

Betsy: You carry it with you. It’s wherever you are. Home isn’t a place, it is in the person. That theme came across a lot.

You managed to work most places you lived.

Betsy: That’s worth thinking about. A lot of people who move abroad have money—they are the travelers who just stay longer in one place or another. Then there are the people who are working freelance and living abroad. It’s a different set-up. You are a part-time tourist. These are the “digital nomads.” People who don’t have money do it by working and scrimping so they can have the experience, which is what we did. That’s why we did it, absolutely.

Who do you see being helped by coming across this book?

Betsy: It isn’t a practical guide like “Move to Portugal, here are the steps.” There are plenty of books like that. It’s more about sharing personal experiences and perceptions.

Mark: I like the inspiration or motivational elements of it. There are so many people who say, “I wish I had done that”—

Betsy: —and here are 31 people who did it and show that you can. I hear from readers who say they really love the book and it has inspired them to travel or live in another place at least for a while.

Mark: People do want reassurance that “others have done this and I can too.”

Betsy: Some of the stories have practical information but it’s not the how-to book. That information is easily available. Readers are looking for confirmation, affirmation, of their idea.

The website for At Home Abroad is todaysexpats.com. Click on “expat resources”for a listing of helpful expat websites!

The Blondins published their book using CreateSpace. It is available online through Amazon (where it has earned a 91% 5-star rating), iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Ingram, and on Kindle as an eBook. So far, they’ve succeeded in getting the book into Powell’s Books in Seattle. The Blondins now draw on their self-publishing experience to help other authors publish their books.

To contact Mark and Betsy, send an email to blondins@todaysexpats.com.

 

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