Abandoned, Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital

I’d come to the MidWest, USA to research events in my father’s life for the novel I was writing, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time. I found very disturbing information while searching online at the public library in Lawrence Kansas. In 1934, my great aunt Jessie Hutchison went to court in Tulsa, Oklahoma to have my father, W. Lon Hutchison committed to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital in Vinita.

The documents Aunt Jessie submitted to have him committed included a letter from the warden at the Federal Medical Center for Defective Delinquents in Springfield, Missouri. After being transferred from the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, my father had served the remainder of his prison sentence for narcotics at the Medical Center in Springfield.

Court document Tulsa Oklahoma certifying W. Lon Hutchison as insane

The letter from the warden was as follows: “Lon is suffering from hallucinations, believes he’s been to heaven and back and is ordained to save mankind. It is necessary to feed him with a tube because he thinks all food is unclean and from the devil, except for milk. It will be necessary for him to go to a mental hospital for further treatment until he can be placed on his own. “

I had heard stories from my mother of my father being in prison for narcotics. That didn’t upset me. When I read the warden’s letter about my father’s delusions and the fact that his own aunt had him committed to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital, I broke down completely.

I was struck down by the terrible pain of being rejected by his family and sent to the mental hospital -a place to dump the indigent, the poor, the aged, the neglected, the unwanted. Most people would never get out. I sat in a comfortable chair in the Lawrence Kansas Public Library and cried. I was shaking all over. No one in the library paid any attention.

The visit to the public library in Lawrence, Kansas was the lowest point in my search for information about my father. How could he have survived? How did he manage to get out of the mental hospital? How much did he have to keep hidden in later life from everyone, including his wife, my mother?

Postcard of Eastern Oklahoma State Mental     Hospital, Vinita, Oklahoma

I left the library and walked up and down in the park, trying to pull myself together to drive back to my friends’ house. I wasn’t sure I could remember the way down the country roads, which had no names or signs. I made it back but until the next day, I couldn’t tell my friends what I had found.

Self-made Man

How can someone reconcile with their father decades after his death? The book I’m working on Tracking the Human: nobody is a long time is fiction based on events in the life of my father W. Lon Hutchison. The only clues I have about his life are documented intersections with the United States legal system. I have followed these clues to come closer to someone I never knew, although I lived with him for 18 years.

When my father died in 1971 in Kansas City, I learned about his death six months later.

I was camping on a beach in Northern California when a friend came running down the hill to our tent. We just received a message from your mother. Your father has died.

My father was an impossible being, a man without a past, without a family, who sprang full grown into Christian Science as a successful businessman. That’s how he presented himself to the world.

He was formidable, tough and unforgiving. No one crossed him. If they did, he never ever forgave them. I felt suffocated by Christian Science, the religion of my father and his constant push to make money.

Unless I accepted his worldview, I was out. So at age twenty, I was cast out of the family by my father.

Why fiction? Because a different truth lies in stories where point of view is acknowledged – where readers can draw their own conclusions and think about what happened or might have happened.

Do you think fiction can reveal truths?

Do you think fiction can reveal more than non-fiction?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It began with a death

Welcome to family and fiction, my blog about the novel I’m writing about my father’s life, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time.

It began with a death. My mother. Death opens up old stories and new possibilities as well as family dissension and conflict. My mother died 1 March 2011, peacefully in her bed, on her sleeping porch, in her house in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

I was with her. She opened her eyes, looked at me. I smiled and said I love you Mom, and she was gone.

Notice the beaded bracelet she’s wearing that spells out KENYA.

After my mother’s death in Kansas City in 2011, I poked around in her attic to see what I could find. Her attic was a secret place, where people didn’t go – too hot in summer, too cold in winter, no insulation. The attic was only accessible through a pull-down ladder in the upstairs hall of her house.

Rummaging around in the attic, I found documents buried beneath keepsakes in a cedar chest. The documents I found started an off and on research project to learn more about my father’s life.

I had heard fleeting words from my mother that my father had been in prison for narcotics.

I went to the National Archives in Kansas City to see what I could find. At first nothing. BUT a document I found in my mother’s attic had listed aliases my father had used. Stephen Spence, an archivist tried to help me trace down my father through the aliases.

My father had been imprisoned at the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth Kansas, but there were no further records relating to his incarceration. Fort Leavenworth was divided into a military fort and a federal prison… establishing an annex which had to be used when there were thousands being picked up by the “war on drugs” in the 1930’s. Spence suggested he could have been in the Federal Penitentiary Annex and gave me contacts for further information.

I tried emails, letters, and phone calls to get more information about my father’s incarceration in the Federal Penitentiary, but it led nowhere. I returned to Nairobi, Kenya (where I was living at the time), and put aside looking for information about my father. The life I was living in Nairobi was more compelling. Let sleeping dogs lie, I thought to myself.

I did start a blog in memory of my mother, BetteHutchisonSilver@ wordpress.com

Nothing more happened for a few years. I just couldn’t face it. I had other priorities at the time. Something made me change my mind. Find out in the next post.

Thanks for reading my blog.  Your comments are always welcome!

Reconciliation with a dead man

Welcome to my blog about the process of writing Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, the book I’m working on.

Before I started this process, I assumed that I could live a self-contained life, within the family I had developed. I thought that I did not, could not, relate to my birth family. I was a “self made” person, who had escaped the limitations of middle class life in the suburban Mid West, USA.

The research and writing process has changed me. Reconciliation is possible and even necessary with my birth family, even after death. The focus of the book is my father. My goal is reconciliation with a dead man, my father, W. Lon Hutchison, who died in 1971.

In this blog I will share paths I follow to change the future of my family by plunging into the past. The journey is painful and challenging.

I hope the blog and the book will inspire people to work for reconciliation in their families. Reconciliation is still possible after death. Dive into it. Don’t be afraid of what you might find out about your family. Acceptance and forgiveness is always possible.

I invite you to share stories about writing and working for family reconciliation or books that have inspired you to work for reconciliation.

Thanks for coming along.

Your comments are always welcome!

Lost without a title

Trying to write a novel without a title overwhelmed me. I was in the process of writing and preparing to publish a novel based on events in the life of my father, W. Lon Hutchison, from his birth in 1907 in Indian Territory, soon to become the state of Oklahoma, to his death in 1971 in Kansas City, Missouri, when the title of my book  Life Expectancy abandoned me.

What had I done so far?

And writing is  always far… in time, in work, in travel, in research… very far.

I researched on location and in libraries in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, the National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri, Oakland, and San Francisco, California.

I wrote and rewrote chapter by chapter with feedback from a monthly writers’ group. I researched small independent publishers of fiction in the USA who accept queries. I was ready to start my blog and send the queries.

When I lost the title Life Expectancy (because it had already been used by best-selling author Dean Koontz), I came to a full stop.

Stuck.

I had to change the title and lost confidence in the book project. The project no longer a part of me and what I was doing. The book felt removed, intellectualized. The writing not good enough for me to continue so better to drop it. The blogs I had drafted were in disarray and out of sequence. My life and thoughts moved on but I had not brought the book and the blogs along with me.

Stuck.

Has this happened to you?

How did you get unstuck?

How will I find a title and the energy to restart this book project?

Did you have difficulty with a title?

How important is a title to a book project?

Your comments are most welcome.

The Truth of Fiction

In my previous post, I said that the posts on this blog would be about the process of researching, writing and rewriting a novel that is and is not the story of my father’s life.

Change of plan.

Instead of presenting myself as a writer, for the next few blogs, let me share some thoughts as a reader.

Some years ago, when I knew I was headed to Pakistan, I tried to read everything about Partition* through novels. Novels written by Muslims, Christians, Hindus, non-believers. Novels written from the Pakistan side, from the Indian side, from the time just before, during and after Partition.

* Note on Partition: the division of the Asian Sub-Continent by the British in 1947, which created India and Pakistan. Partition forcibly displaced over 14 million people on religious lines. The violence of Partition created hostility between India and Pakistan that continues today as an ongoing deeply felt trauma.

To find out about history, culture, values, peoples, heroes and villains of the different countries where I’ve lived and worked, I go to novels.

Why fiction? Because a different truth lies in stories where point of view is acknowledged. Readers can draw their own conclusions and think about what happened or might have happened.

Novels bring us into a different reality. That was always true for me. As a girl growing up in a rather boring Midwestern town in the USA, I read novels constantly. Even after bedtime, under the bed covers, with the aid of a flashlight. Was I trying to escape or to learn? Probably both.

Currently my reading is dominated by the place where I live, that is, Australia. I hear about books and authors interviewed on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National.

Pamela Collett RN 2

                                 This is me with my Radio National umbrella.                  Kangaroos in the background so you know this is Australia.

The next blogs will be about my reaction to books I heard about on the radio and then requested online at my local public library.

Do you think novels have more profound truth that non-fiction?

Where do you go for information about a country or culture where you may be visiting or living?

How do you find out about books you might want to read?