The cover of my memoir Entering the Blue Stone features a photo of my parents soon after they were married, back in the 1940’s during the war. My father, the future general, looks a bit skinny in his lieutenant’s uniform; my mother shows no trace of the strain that the challenges of a nomadic military life would place on her.
They met during the summer at a resort in the Pennsylvania Poconos. My mother, the daughter of an immigrant from Spain, had finished her freshman year as a non-resident scholarship student at Barnard and was working for a vacationing family as a baby-sitter. My father, the son of a Brooklyn physician, was between his sophomore and junior years at Princeton, and staying in his family’s summerhouse. Somehow they struck up a conversation in a candy shop. Unfortunately, I never asked who spoke first and what they said. I do know my mother was considered a “go-getter”—one of those “most likely to succeed” types—whereas my father was shy; so I suspect she was the more vivacious and aggressive. Without question, they both fell head over heels in love.
Their courtship lasted three years—until my mother graduated from college. When my father showed up at the fifth-floor, walk-up apartment in Yonkers where my mother’s family lived, my grandfather would screen himself with the newspaper and grunt monosyllabic responses to my father’s polite overtures.
My mother hinted to me that their premarital romance was passionate but chaste—that she would have been amenable to complete physical intimacy, but my father wanted to do things right. That difference perfectly captures them—my mother, emotional, impulsive, and given to episodes of iconoclasm; my father, rational, deliberate, faithful, and playing by the rules. As happened in many relationships of that generation, the longer they were together and the more they merged, the more polarized they became—my mother doing the emotional and interpersonal work on behalf of both of them, my father keeping the finances, earning the living, and working hard to achieve advancement. Even when his 24/7 military responsibilities absorbed too much of him, the word was that he was doing it all for my mother, and the four children that came along at planned intervals.
Despite their diametric differences, my parents forged a powerful bond in the process of unmaking then remaking their home every couple years. Neither had strong friendships with other adults, and moving all over the world, we hardly ever saw members of our extended family. As Entering the Blue Stone shows, the family created its own world. Meanwhile, there was the constant pressure on all of us to present a flawless front. For if an officer can’t control his own family, how is he effectively going to lead his troops? Thus life became a performance—we acted out the drama of the perfect family. When Parkinson’s disease then Alzheimer’s struck my parents, it’s an understatement to say that no one had any idea what to do.
Entering the Blue Stone
Release: May 2012
Price: $14.95 paperback, $9.99 ebook
What happens when one’s larger-than-life military parents–disciplined, distinguished, exacting–begin sliding out of control? The General struggles to maintain his invulnerable façade against Parkinson’s disease; his lovely wife manifests a bizarre dementia. Their three grown children, desperate to save the situation, convince themselves of the perfect solution: an upscale retirement community. But as soon as their parents have been resettled within its walls, the many imperfections of its system of care begin to appear.
Charting the line between comedy and pathos, Molly Best Tinsley’s memoir, Entering the Blue Stone dissects the chaos at the end of life and discovers what shines beneath: family bonds, the dignity of even an unsound mind, and the endurance of the heart.
Molly Best Tinsley’s Bio:
Air Force brat Molly Best Tinsley taught on the civilian faculty at the United States Naval Academy for twenty years and is the institution’s first professor emerita. Author of My Life with Darwin (Houghton Mifflin) and Throwing Knives (Ohio State University Press), she also co-authored Satan’s Chamber (Fuze Publishing) and the textbook, The Creative Process (St. Martin’s). Her fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been read and produced nationwide. She lives in Oregon, where she divides her time between Ashland and Portland.