Chapters, No Verse, but…a little melody?


Today class, we’re going to engage in a little chapter review.

August 5th marked one month on the road so far and the half-way point on this journey, much in the same way the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, New Mexico, the restaurant where I very indulgently ordered a piece of coconut cream pie  yesterday, is the exact geographic middle of Route 66.

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Ever tardy, I realize that I have been remiss in providing details on the road map ahead and the checkered, pothole-laden route which brought me to this juncture in the highway of my life. And, since you all are making a noble effort to follow me on this circuitous route to enlightenment, which I appreciate more than words can say (I’m being 100% sincere here), I will attempt to explain some pivotal plot points in the psycho drama of my life so far, providing context for this high-stakes road trip.

First, here’s a brief review of where we’ve had overnight stays: St. Louis; Springfield; Chicago; Toledo,;Youngstown; Philadelphia; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Waynseboro and Culpeper, VA; Winston-Salem, NC; Asheville, NC; Atlanta, GA; Pearl, MS; Ft. Worth, TX; Graford, TX; and last night, my other most favorite home town, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Just look how excited Libby was to come to the place where her master went to high school, college, launched her journalism career, got married, (twice) and gave birth to 75% of her off-spring! But, let’s take time now to put the car in reverse for just a sec, to help provide the tar to help make the rest of this story stick.

Here’s a handy timeline: San Francisco, 1955 – 58 Jean’s mom Beverly hails a cab to St. Francis Memorial Hospital to deliver her baby girl, the Irish bartender’s daughter. They leave on the train, bound for Texas, when the little girl is three. It’s reported Jeannie said, “I want my Daddy!”

Ft. Worth, Texas – 1958 – 1970. Jeannie lives happily in “Cowtown” from the age of 3 to 15, going to the Fat Stock Show every year. Here’s a little reenactment of a cattle drive I happened upon while in Ft. Worth last week.

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Jean enjoyed hanging out with her best friend Susie Harmon, being a Camp Fire girl, having her first serious kiss, with her next best friend, Winnell Teeter’s big brother at the precise moment Neil Armstrong took his first step on the surface of the moon. She graduated to smoking pot in Trinity Park, where she was very happy, until she was drug by her hair to Albuquerque, New Mexico, because of her step-dad’s transfer with the FAA, where Jeannie became Jean, the boys thinking her Texas accent kind of cute, the girls wanting to kick her ass.

Albuquerque, New Mexico – 1970 – 1990. These are the wonder years of Jean’s young life — evolving from a skinny hippie chick, who got stood up for homecoming, even though she was on the homecoming court, overcoming that trauma to rise to the challenge of her first major public address, Class of ’73 commencement speaker, only less than a month after her first New Mexico boyfriend was killed in a head-on crash in Tijeras Canyon, after leaving a beer bust at the Rock House in the mountains.

Rock House, Sandia Mountains

Rock House, Sandia Mountains, site of millions of keg parties

A misty-eyed bride at 19, she marries her 2nd high school sweetheart, and they embark on a short naval career, where 25% of her offspring is born in Chesapeake Naval Hospital  (this was a three-year absence from New Mexico in the interest of full disclosure) the marriage falters due to gooney birds and immaturity, and Jean becomes a single mom and returning college student at the ripe old age of 26. Waiting tables and interning in the TV newsroom, she lands her first reporting job at the big ass station across the street and scoops up her next husband in the process.

ean interviews Roy Clark, NM State Fair, ABQ, 1986

Jean interviews Roy Clark, NM State Fair, ABQ, 1986

At 29, she marries one of Albuquerque’s most eligible bachelors, (the reason is revealed years later…) a high-profile, successful TV newsman, which ushered in a whirlwind five-year period of producing three more children and thousands of breaking stories. Jean then willingly relocates to Washington, D.C., with successful TV newsman and now four kids,  in pursuit of TV newsman’s short-lived career as a press secretary on Capitol Hill.

Washington, D.C.  1991 – 1992. Ten months. That’s all they lasted, ten months. Jean works as a ghost writer for a famous Capitol Hill columnist for what used to be the definitive on-line community, Prodigy. Do you remember that before AOL? She also works a short stint for C-SPAN. They live in the suburbs.

House in the DC burbs

House in the DC burbs.

Winston-Salem, NC, 1992 – 1996. For five blessed years, Jean and family called North Carolina home. Here it is.

Life on Cavalier Drive, Winston-Salem, NC

Life on Cavalier Drive, Winston-Salem, NC. We loved it here.

Five great years. Jean lands a gig as a full-time anchor for the ABC affiliate, but finds it disconcerting when TV newsman gets fired from his TV news director gig at a competing station. She finds it equally disconcerting that he is suddenly spending hours and hours on the Internet. Odd how he zips the screen closed every time she walks by, telling her he’s wrapped up in his flight simulator. Hmmmm, her gut churns, but her head gives him the benefit of the doubt and mostly she’s too tired to really think about it. Sleep deprivation will do that to a girl, she was getting up at 3:00 A.M. to do the morning show.

St. Louis – 1996 to present day. TV newsman gets a big job offer at a big ass station in St. Louis. Now fully suspicious of something her gut has not been able to intellectualize, Jean tells dude, this is the “last chance” move, thinking to herself “holy shit, I’ve got FOUR kids…” the oldest was just starting college. They move. He promises to spend less time on the computer and more time on the marriage. Ever the eternal optimist, she believes him. Just 12 months later, he’s tossed like smelly leftovers in the fridge, her patience worn to the nub by a near-death, Christmas road trip to New Mexico, in which the Dodge Caravan they were driving throws a rod on Interstate 40, with no hubby in site, because he’s stayed behind to “work.” There’s a blizzard coming, she’s on the highway with four kids, the youngest only seven. She flags down a trucker, who calls a state cop.

Welcome to New Mexico

The van broke down an hour later, just as the sun was going down. NM State line, 1997.

They survive, the marriage doesn’t. Back home, thawed out, Jean’s paying bills and discovers a whopper phone bill with 37 long-distance numbers dialed while she was out of town. Jean rings a few numbers on a slow night in the newsroom (she’s landed an anchor job by now.) Turns out TV newsman was dialing for dates — lots of nice young men at the other end of the line. At least they sounded legal. Four years after they split, in a week in which, (okay, you really need to pay attention here) in the course of four days, Jean travels to New Mexico to deliver the eulogy at her brother Garrett’s memorial, where, she meets a fella, whom she falls for, big time. (Bad idea, love at first sight, but it does happen).

She gets back on a plane to St. Louis, numb with grief, but with promises to see “love at first site” as often as possible, seeing that he’s in Milwaukee and she’s just down the road in St. Louie. And then, the VERY next day,  the VERY NEXT DAY, as Jean is dropping a love letter in the box to “love at first sight” she gets a call that TV newsman, her long-time ex-husband by now, has been arrested for crimes she would find exceedingly difficult to explain to her impressionable children later that night. Especially considering that the teenager he was accused of sexual misconduct with was the same age as their youngest son. This was a challenging day.

Challenging times, we stuck together

Challenging times, we stuck together, December 2002

That night ushered in seven challenging years, in which Jean and her kids would figure out how to get on with their lives, refusing to become poster children for hard-luck stories. They succeeded. They survived, they thrived, through the grace of God, good friends, and a hell of a sense of humor, they’ve grown to become well-adjusted,, kind, contributing members of society, who continue to avoid all things penal.

Along the way, Jean and her motley crew check off benchmark occasions: high school graduations, college graduations, family vacations, dog acquisitions, doggie departures, one wedding and three funerals; her brother Garrett in 2002, her mother Beverly in 2006 and then, her brother Don, in  2010.

Jean and brother Don, June 2010

Jean and brother Don, June 2010

Boom. Down goes Frazier. This was the punch that laid her out.

Libby, NYC, July, 2011

Libby, NYC, July, 2011

She was tired of the rat race, tired of losing the best rats. She needed time to simply think,  to think about ALL of it. The adrenalin had worn off. It was time to set down the car, get behind the wheel of her own life and drive. She sets out to retrace her roots, just like Kunta Kinte,  except across America, not Africa. And she took the dog with her. Libby, The Replacement Dog, the only dog for Jean, companion and confidant.

So, now that I’ve told you that little story, here’s what’s next. I’m on the “home” stretch, 3900 miles behind me, 3700 more to go. I’ll hunker down here in Albuquerque for a few days — lots of folks to see. My two younger brothers, my two sisters-in-law, good friends from my early TV days, my best friend from high school.

Then, Libby and I will head West – Arizona, Nevada, California – back to the place I was born, to see, if there’s a Lester brother there for me.

Y’all still with me?

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About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. So much in my head… One thing that resonates and is certain…
    Through all of this, warrior and wanderer, you have moved forward. Realizing that those four kids are your pillars, your heart, your inspiration and inspired, your compass for all things good, you have moved forward with them always at your side. Though you are learning by traveling from coast to coast and are seeking particular people, places and answers, those four kids are home, no matter where you are. They are the opposite of any confusion.
    That’s what I read.

    • You are so right, oh wise one. BTW, I didn’t have all the video clips loaded the first time I posted….the last one is long, so feel free to dump out at will. No time to edit !
      Thank you for this, Linda.

  2. Although you be may on the go, you are rooted in family. You may have flown the nest a wounded bird, you will return with newfound stamina, a stronger person for having done it. My thoughts and prayers ride with you. You are seeking some thing, but you will be surprised at all that you discover.

  3. I love, love, love that photo of you with Don. Love for each other written is all over y’all…

  4. Jean,

    I feel so behind, and at the same time so in awe. I can’t wait to read this blog from the beginning. Of course you immediately reminded me of Steinbeck and Travels with Charlie.

    Best Wishes to You,

    • Hi Michael,
      What a wonderful surprise! (For the rest of you, Michael was a producer I worked with over eleven years ago at KDNL, ABC 30, in STL) So glad to hear from you and I so very much appreciate your kind words. Tell everybody you know!!!! And you’re in my targeted demo – dog lovers! One of my key goals is to raise my visibility as a writer, so thanks for such kind words on your Facebook page!
      With gratitude,

  5. So happy you are digesting your life and taking a new leap forward. It will work I am sure. So enjoying your adventures.

    • Thanks, Madge! Hope to see you when I get to L.A. Hey the rest of y’all, here’s a quick story on Madge, my #1 groupie. She met me through my writing. Seriously. I think she first became aware of me through my first blog-to-book – A Woman With a Past: The Post-Apocalyptic Approach to Men. And on one of my trips to CA, I went and met her in person. We hit it off famously. How cool is that? Virtual meets reality. Madge is one active, engaged, relevant, interesting woman.

  6. This was a great post – it takes incredible skill to sum up a life, especially one with as many twists and turns as yours! I can’t believe your trip is more or less half over, distance-wise. I hope what remains is even better than the great and fascinating and moving moments, people, and dogs you’ve already encountered!

  7. I’m with you all along the way as so many others are too.
    I hope you find the answers to all of your life’s questions and feel comfort at the end of this
    journey. You are doing it all for us and you could not have a sweeter companion than Miss Libby (Replacement Dog).

    • That means a lot, considering that she has left dog hair all over your house and jumped up on your bed. That said, she has been a good companion guard doggie with Baby Girl.

  8. Jean…what a gas…noticed it was Bonnie Raitt right away…you are not only a back pack journalist with great insight…you love the same things I do…including Bonnie!
    Keep on.

  9. Gerry Mandel says:

    I want a t-shirt that says “I rode 7500 miles with Jean.” Love that video of you and Libby moving down the highway. I swear she’s smiling. Nothing like travels with a dog, right, Jean? Next best thing to sleeping with one. I was intrigued by your capsule bio in your recent post. I knew some of the pieces of your life but had never been able to put it all together. What a picture! I can’t wait for the movie to come out. I told ML about your stay in Graford. Her response was on a level with my interest in knitting. The Texas side of her family left an indelible impression on her, one she’s relegated to the basement of her brain. I, on the other hand, have always been fascinated by road stories like Kerouac’s “On the Road,” “Blue Highways” by Wm Least Heat Moon, Steinbeck of course, and even the movie “Lost in America” with Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty. Yours will be even better because of your incredible sense of humor. Enjoy your time in Albuquerque. (I had to copy the spelling from you post).

  10. Vince Currao says:

    Magnificent journey in so many ways. Take as long as you need on the road with Libby and we can reconnect when you all make it back to Webster Groves. Sorry that we have lost touch, but looking forward to seeing you here again. You are living exactly right, right now – and that is extraordinary for these days. As the saying goes, “Attitude is everything.” Until we see you again please keep writing and we will be sending you good vibes and best wishes.
    -Vince, Stephanie, and Henry (7 years old! OMG!) Currao

    • Vince!

      How wonderful to hear from you! When I saw your name pop up, I was at a Motel 6 in Winslow, Arizona….and of course that song comes to mind, right???? Anyway, you made my day, dude. Thank you so much. I will call you when I get back to STL. Love to Stephanie and Henry!

      • Vince Currao says:

        Met your friend Lynn tonight. She is lovely-transformed my anticipated boring night into a delightful time. Anyway, she told me that you are back in town! Get in touch please. This blog-thing is the only way I know how to reach you . . . can’t wait to catch up. Vince

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  12. Steve Mastin says:

    You don’t know how much I enjoy the stories. I follow up on you every night as I lay, like a father wrapped around his 2 year old daughter’s little finger, on the floor waiting for my baby girl to fall a sleep.
    I always knew I enjoyed you, our comparisons about politics, and just generally working with you; but this is truly amazing.
    Please keep it up and best wishes from me and my little daughter Samantha.
    Ps – Sam enjoys it when I read your posts to her during bedtime, so you can add one more to the fan club.

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