Regional Notebooks for April:
“Bless the Birds” by Susan Tweit (she writes the press)
Towards the end of her husband’s two-year battle with brain cancer, Susan Tweit said to him, “I want you to know that you can take the time to let go. You don’t need my permission either. “
“What a blessing,” replied her husband.
“Our love will last if we don’t,” she told him.
Anyone who has experienced the long and painful death of a loved one is tempted to write about it. The idea is to give meaning to death and life. These reports seldom reach the level of poetry. Tweit’s does it. Tweit is known for her essays and transforms the story of her husband, the sculptor Richard Cade, into a moving homage.
Cade’s cancer battle began when he saw hundreds of birds on trees and grass and distant mesas. Only there weren’t any birds out there. This was the start of operations and treatments, sometimes twice a week from her Salida home to the VA Hospital in Denver. In the middle of the battle, the couple embarked on a honeymoon that they hadn’t embarked on when they’d married 30 years earlier. With Susan at the wheel, they drove nearly 4,000 miles to the northwest and through California, visiting family and friends, and stopping to watch birds and scenery.
They returned home to live as normal a life as possible. David continued his career as a giant stone sculptor while Susan, a plant biologist, worked in her garden. But hanging over them was David’s life sentence. Sometimes in a crisis you can only “go on living with as much serenity as we can conjure up,” writes Tweit.
Subtitled “Living with Love in a Time of Death”, “Bless the Birds” is a joyous account of love mixed with the agony of loss to come. In difficult times, how you react is a decision, says Tweit. “Richard and I have chosen to respond with love.”
“Little and Often” by Trent Preszler (William Morrow)
Trent Preszler grew up in a family that never said, “I love you.”
“I wanted to say I love you, but I couldn’t,” Preszler wrote about the last time he saw his father. “I’ve never heard him say those three words in my life.”
Preszler, the CEO of a winery whose Merlot was served at President Obama’s first lunch, returns to South Dakota for Thanksgiving after years of estrangement from his father. The grumpy rancher turned on his son after Preszler admitted he was gay. In fact, the father had even arranged for his son to be excommunicated from the Lutheran Church.
After his father’s funeral just a few days later, Preszler’s mother gave him his inheritance: his father’s toolbox.
Tormented by his broken relationship with his father, Preszler decides to use the tools to make a canoe and launch it on the anniversary of his father’s death. It doesn’t matter that he knows nothing about woodworking.
“Little and Often” is Preszler’s story of his struggle with the past and his attempt to understand his father, who once told him he didn’t have what it takes to be a man. “We had both tried our best, but we were not the man each of us had hoped for the other,” he writes
Despite his bleak beginning, “Little and Often” is full of joy, as Preszler teaches himself the craft of woodworking. While working with his father’s tools, Preszler begins to understand his father, a Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange. Preszler’s sister was born severely disabled. The old man lost the family farm in the 1990s and had to take a job as a welder.
As the canoe takes shape, Preszler also discovers a lot about himself and realizes that he is man enough after all.
“The good hand” by Michael Patrick F. Smith (Vikings)
“I came here to do the hardest thing I could find, to find out if I could do it. … I am revising all of this (expletively), ”writes Michael Patrick F. Smith. He makes a good hand.
During the 2008 recession, Smith, an actor and musician, left New York to move to the Williston, ND oil fields. He’s a greenhorn and some of his staff bet he won’t make it. But Smith stands out and works in 100-degree summer heat and minus 20-degree winters.
He finally exchanges his green hat for the white hat of a good hand. He works 14-hour days, gets drunk and swears like an oil field worker. (The book would have been considerably shorter without an explanation.)
“A good hand is one who does honest work each day to the best of his ability and offers that work to the world as living prayer,” Smith writes. It depicts Williston as a hard living town where crime is rampant. The men he meets share both dangerous working conditions and violent backgrounds. They speak of brutal fathers like Smith’s own father, who raped his daughter and threatened his wife and children.
“The Good Hand” is a personal exploration of an American boomtown and the men who are tearing the earth apart in search of the country’s insatiable demand for oil.
“Go to Trinidad.” by Martin J. Smith (Bower House)
In the 1950s, when Christine Jorgensen returned to the United States in great excitement after her sex change surgery, she said it had become America’s biggest dirty joke. Since then, Americans have felt uncomfortable with gender dysphoria. Many shun those who believe they were born with the wrong body. Religious leaders rail against changing what God has done.
Still, sex reassignment surgery is no longer uncommon. Indeed, Trinidad has been the center of such operations for years, and “going to Trinidad” had a special meaning. Two doctors performed around 6,000 operations there in four decades. “Going to Trinidad” by Granby author Martin J. Smith is the history of the clinic in southern Colorado and the history of sex changes in the United States.
Smith’s story is a sensitive look at the pain and despair faced by transgender men and women. They have trouble finding work, are ostracized by family and friends, and some commit suicide. Before undergoing painful surgery, they must live a year and often longer than their chosen gender. Even after the operation, her problems are not over.
The author covers two transgender topics in detail. One is relatively happy with their change; the other is not. But both of them have already written extensively about their experiences, and it’s a shame Smith didn’t come up with new topics.
Still, “Going to Trinidad” is groundbreaking work on sexual dysphoria and Colorado’s role in treatment.