Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book Review: Moonlight on Linoleum

Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir by Terry Helwig
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group 
Publication Date: October 4th 2011
ISBN: 1451628471
Genre:  Memoir
Book Blurb:  "I invited the child I was once to have her say in these pages. I am the one who came out on the other side of childhood; she is the one who searched for the door."
In the tradition of The Glass Castle comes a debut memoir about a woman’s hopeful life despite the sad results of her mother’s choices. Moonlight on Linoleum is an affecting story of a girl who rose above her circumstances to become an early and faithful caretaker to her five siblings. It is about the power one finds in sisterhood to thrive in a difficult and ever-changing landscape as the girls bond in unconditional love despite constant upheaval and uncertainty. In these pages, Teresa Helwig crafts a moving portrait of a mother she loved completely even as she struggled to understand her.

"Putting myself in Mama's shoes, which were most often white moccasins molded in the shape of her size seven-and-a-half foot, I see an eighteen-year-old girl with two children, one of them still a baby. . . . Her former husband is in Korea, drafted after their divorce; she has a sister who disappears from time to time, leaving yet another child in her care; she has no money, no high-school diploma, and a mother unhappy to have her home." 
Teresa and her sisters, who were added regularly throughout the 1950s and '60s, grew up with with their charismatic, troubled, and very young mother, Carola. Because of their stepfather’s roving job as in the oil fields, they moved frequently from town to town in the American West. The girls were often separated and left behind with relatives and never knew what their unstable mother would do next. Missing her mother became a habit for Teresa; one summer Carola dropped off her two daughters at her ex's family farm.

"If there were an idyllic summer of childhood, it was that summer on the Iowa farm. Yet, if I had to choose a time when I felt most forsaken by my mother, it was also that summer. Even back then, I was acutely aware of the paradox. On the outside, by day, I was like the morning glory vine twining around the back fence. Every day opened to a life I loved on the land. I reveled in and relished the absolute freedom and abandon of being turned loose in Eden.

     "But then, each evening, after the sun set and the dinner dishes had been hand-washed and dried, I became like the moonflower vine climbing up the weathered boards on the side of the garage. The moonflower opens its large fragrant blooms at night; they shimmer like moonlight and sweeten the night air.

     "I evolved a ritual at bedtime before crawling into my bed . . . I held Mama's Polaroid picture to my heart. I love you. Please come get us soon. I want to be with you more than I want to be anywhere else. These were my prayers, my blooms that opened to the night. Then I pursed my lips against the cool glass and kissed her smiling face goodnight."

There were good times too: Carola made fudge for the girls during rainstorms, helped Teresa's cat deliver kittens, and taught her to play "You Are My Sunshine" on a toy piano. But when her husband was out working on the oil fields, Carola, who had married at fourteen, began to fill her time with men she met in the various towns her roving family moved to. She referred to her secret dating life as "going to Timbuktu," leaving Teresa in charge of her siblings. As Carola roamed and eventually developed crippling migraines, Teresa became a replacement mommy before her own childhood was fully in swing. Stress, guilt, and recurring nightmares marked her days and nights.

"In addition to the amphetamines [for weight loss], Mama was now taking barbiturates for her migraines. Her moods began to yo-yo. She became as hard to predict as the weather. When Daddy was out of town and Mama was in one of her fogs, I learned to fend for myself. And, being the oldest, I learned to fend for my sisters, too . . . It was around this time I came to realize a hard truth. Once your sisters begin looking up to you, as if you really could save them from being poisoned, as if you know a way out of a dark cave, there's no going back. You'll draw your last breath, trying to find that door to the Lost City of Enchantment, because you can't bear to let them down."

Yet, even in the face of adversity, Teresa found beauty in the small moments: resting in the boughs of her favorite oak tree, savoring the freedom she found on her grandparents’ farm, and gleefully discovering the joys of dating and dancing. While Carola struggled for an exciting and satisfying life, Teresa faced adolescence and young adulthood, increasingly burdened by Carola's dysfunction. Finally, as the family splintered between colleges, homes, stepfathers, and their mother's disintegrating mental health, Teresa drove Carola to a mental hospital--where at last the mother of five found some peace and order.

Upon leaving the hospital, sadly Carola continued in a downward spiral: more men, a drug addiction, a toddler son's death, and finally her own accidental overdose death in 1974. Though Carola's unhappy life meant Teresa's was marked by hardship and tragedy, Teresa found redemption in writing her mother's story and discovering empathy for the woman continually harmed by her own bad choices. The bonds of sisterhood helped sustain her, and today the girls are still close, still savoring the good in a childhood pocked with pain. Teresa, now a counselor and mother of a daughter, was able to conclude, after visiting her mom's grave and asking her blessing on the book,

I believe joy and sorry rest together, the two sides of love. I have repeatedly uncovered places of joy inside my own heart tucked within the folds of sorrow.  
With enormous skill and sensitivity, Teresa deftly explores the history she shared with Carola and the relentless love of a child for her mother.
 About the Author:  Terry Helwig is the author of Simon & Schuster's “Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter’s Memoir.” In addition to writing plays, articles and other works, Terry has a Master’s degree in counseling psychology. Terry is also the creator of The Thread Project: One World, One Cloth, an artistic endeavor, in which thousands of threads, sent by people from every continent, were woven into seven magnificent tapestries that have hung many places including the UN. 

To learn more about Terry visit her website, like her on her Moonlight on Linoleum facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @TerryHelwig. 

Terry has been married 42 years to her husband Jim. They divide their time between the coasts of southwest Florida and South Carolina.
Goodreads       Website

My Thoughts:  What a compelling and heart-tugging story that Terry Helwig tells of her childhood!!  She allows us a glimpse into her tumultuous life.  She is raised in a dysfunctional family, with a troubled mother, who moves them around more often than not, wherever and whenever it provides her with some gain.  She basically raises her many sisters in the homes of her various fathers and/or grandparents.  

As opposed to many memoirs, I found Helwig's writing to be very refreshing and honest.  Although her life is a roller-coaster, she tells it as it happens, and does not paint her self the victim.  She writes her story as a way of showing how her childhood made her who she is.  She triumphed and did not let everything overtake her, rather it allowed her to grow and become strong because of it.  She introduced us to those that made an impact on her life.  Although her mother caused much of the struggle in her life, rather than resent her, she painted a picture of a child who loved her mother very much.  

As a teacher, I am very happy that I had the opportunity to read this book.  Many times, we have students moving in and out, often not considering what they are going through.  The story Terry Helwig shared of changing schools almost yearly, and sometimes a few times a year, opened my eyes to the possible needs of such students.  

I want to commend Helwig for the strength it had to take to write such an emotionally charged memoir.  Thank you so much for sharing your story!

**I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books, for my honest review.  The opinions expressed here are my own."

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