Little Apartment in the Big City

Thanks to Ella for inspiring this. In her post, she talks about moving to a different location and starting a job in a place where she knows no one and has to prove herself. This is daunting for anyone but can be complicated by a disability. In what I’m about to relate, some names have been changed to protect privacy.

In 1987, Fargo, North Dakota, was large compared to my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming. A music therapy student, I was accepted for an internship in a nursing home there. Although I was anxious to be on my own in a new place, I felt some trepidation, as my parents and I drove into the town late one Sunday night in August after being on the road for twelve hours. I was comforted by the fact that my parents would stay with me until I found a place to live and got settled and that my internship wouldn’t start until the middle of September.

We found a motel near the freeway where we spent the night. The next morning, Dad bought a local paper and a city map. He scoured the classified ad section for apartments. After making phone calls and arranging to see a few that he found, we checked out of the motel and ate breakfast before beginning our home hunting adventure.

Because of my visual impairment, it was important to find a place within easy walking distance to the nursing home where I would work for the next six months. We had no luck. The apartments were either not affordable, too small, or didn’t meet my needs for other reasons.

A few hours later, discouraged, we were driving aimlessly, looking for a place to eat lunch when Mother said, “Oh look, there’s a senior citizen high rise like the ones in Sheridan.”

“It’s a little too far for her to walk to the nursing home,” said Dad.

“They probably have a minibus like the one in Sheridan that could take her,” said Mother. “They could also take her to the grocery store.”

“She doesn’t want to live with old folks,” said Dad, as he pulled into the parking lot.

I was thinking the same thing but said nothing. As we walked into the lobby, Mother said, “There’s a bulletin board, and it says which apartments are empty. It looks like there are several.”

In the office, we spoke to the manager. “You really don’t want to live with old folks, do you?” he asked.

Were my thoughts being broadcast to the world? “She’ll be working at Red River Care Center,” said Mother. “It’s a little far for her to walk so maybe your minibus could take her.”

“Our van only takes people shopping and to medical appointments,” said the manager. “Besides, this facility only serves senior citizens.” I was relieved, but where would I live?

After lunch at a nearby McDonald’s, we found several other apartment buildings that weren’t designated for senior citizens, but none of them had vacancies. “What about downtown?” asked Dad. “You could take the bus to the Red River Care Center.”

“Yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” I said, feeling hopeful. “When I went to that stupid rehab center in Topeka several years ago, I learned how to take buses.”

“I don’t know,” said Mother. “You might have to change buses and…”

“Maybe not,” said Dad. “If you get an apartment downtown close to the transfer point, then you’d just have to take one bus. Let’s go take a look.”

We found the city bus transfer station which was right next to the greyhound terminal. “Now you know where to go to catch the bus home for Christmas,” said Mother, as we parked in the lot between the two bus stations.

The holiday season was farthest from my mind, as we entered the city bus center. To my surprise, the gentleman behind the counter was very helpful. When we told him I was looking for a place to live downtown in the hope of having easy access to work, he said, “Oh yeah, if you live close to here, you’ll just take one bus to the Red River Care Center. In fact, there’s a building a few blocks away that might have an opening. It’s an old hotel that was converted into apartments. It’s called Grant Street Place.”

We found a pay phone, and after locating the apartment building’s address and phone number, Dad called and made an appointment for the next day. We then found another motel room.

The next morning at 9 a.m., we arrived at Grant Street Apartments, a six-story structure located on a busy downtown thoroughfare. In the lobby, a woman greeted us and introduced herself as Becky, one of two managers. “We have a lot of young people here,” she said. “There are also quite a few older people. We all look out for each other.”

The two vacant apartments were an efficiency and a one-bedroom. I liked them both, but the efficiency only had a couch that folded into a bed, and I didn’t want to mess with that. Since the rent on both apartments was about the same, I chose the one-bedroom.

The rooms were small but usable. There was a combination living and dining room with a kitchenette, a full bathroom on one side, and a bedroom on the other. The kitchenette had a sink, microwave, two-burner stove, and small refrigerator with freezer under the counter. The main room and bedroom had light gray carpeting, and the bathroom had a white-tiled floor. The apartment overlooked an alley so although there wasn’t much of a view, there wasn’t much street noise, either. It was simply furnished with an armchair, end table, and dining table with lamp in the main room and in the bedroom a double bed, small table, and wardrobe.

My apartment was on the fourth floor, and the basement contained a huge laundry room. All the machines were coin-operated, and I could use them easily despite my limited vision. The basement also had a beauty shop which I frequented several times during my stay.

The building had two elevators: one in the back that tenants could use independently and one in the front that was the old-fashioned kind operated by Andy, a fellow who also picked up our garbage three days a week if we remembered to leave it outside our doors. Mailboxes were located inside the rear entrance near the self-service elevator.

The next few days were a blur of activity, as we got settled in my new home. The first order of business was to get a phone. Once that was working, Mother arranged for a cleaning service to come every other week while I was at work. Dad set up an account with a local taxi company. My parents paid for both these amenities. Since utilities and cable television were included in the rent, the only expenses I had to worry about were the phone and groceries.

We found Leeby’s, a small grocery store a few blocks away, and a supermarket called Hornbacker’s, easily accessible by bus. Buses ran every hour during the week and every two hours on weekends.

My parents stayed in the apartment with me, Mother and me sleeping in the bedroom, and Dad sleeping on the floor in the main room. On Friday night, they left on their long drive back to Sheridan. Once they were gone, I was truly on my own, but I was excited.

Before I left Wyoming, I was given the phone number for the North Dakota commission for the blind in Grand Forks. I called them, and a mobility instructor came and helped me with some routes my parents and I worked out. She also gave me phone numbers for a couple of people involved in blind bowling groups in the area. I phoned them and enjoyed bowling twice a month, and I met some nice people. This was one of few good things about that city.

At first, I rarely used the taxi. It was easy to take the bus to and from the nursing home where I worked 40-hour weeks. On Saturdays, I took the bus to Hornbacker’s and did my weekly shopping. Since I didn’t have to be at work until eleven on Wednesday, I often walked to Leeby’s early that morning if I needed a few things.

Life in my little apartment wasn’t always a bed of roses. Although the building was well maintained, and most of the neighbors I met were nice, the people above me often played loud music and had parties. I called the security officer late at night when it happened and complained to the manager, and the noise subsided for a while but started back up again.

The management had a contract with an exterminator who came every six months. Because of his process of ridding the building of rodents, all cupboards, closets, and drawers had to be emptied. The night before he was scheduled to come, I took clothes, dishes, and other items out of my drawers, cupboards, and wardrobe and laid them on every available surface except the bed. When I came home from work the next day, I put everything back. This was time consuming, and because I never saw one rat, mouse, or termite, I didn’t think it necessary. For the first time, I considered not staying in Fargo after my internship ended.

Late one night, the fire alarm rang, and as we gathered in the lobby, there appeared to be no security personnel or managers in sight. The fire department arrived and found nothing so we returned to our apartments.

Winter came and with it, extreme cold, twenty-foot snowdrifts and freezing rain. One morning during a particularly bad storm, my supervisor called and told me I didn’t need to go to work. I was relieved since the local radio announcer advised against unnecessary travel, and I wasn’t sure if I could get a cab. It was nice having a snow day. After that, I used the taxi more frequently, but since Dad often talked of walking to and from school in such conditions as a kid, I wasn’t sure how he would take the higher cab bills. I needn’t have worried.

In December, I was given two weeks off for Christmas and went home. In January, my parents drove me back to Fargo. On the morning I was to return to work and they to Sheridan, it was 40 below zero. Dad went out to start the car, returning a few minutes later to say, “Dead as a doornail.”

My parents planned to drop me off at the nursing home on their way out of town. Instead, we walked to the nearby terminal and caught the bus just in time. “God damn, it’s cold,” said Dad, as we slogged through the snow from the bus stop to the nursing home. “How the hell do you do this?”

“You’ll see when you get the next taxi bill,” I said.

Several hours later after the car was fixed, they stopped by the nursing home to say goodbye before leaving town. “Don’t worry about the cab bill,” said Dad. “It’s too cold for walking.” I was relieved.

One day, my supervisor said, “I don’t think this internship is working out.”

This was a shock since I thought things were going well, though I had difficulty keeping up with the paperwork, and it took me longer to complete other tasks. I was tempted to tell her that I didn’t like her cold city and would be only too glad to go home, but I wasn’t a quitter. When times were tough, Dad always told me not to let bastards get me down. Close to tears, I said, “I’m sorry you’re not happy with my progress so far, but if you’ll give me another chance, I’ll try harder and hope to do better.”

She gave me a second chance, but I could tell she didn’t think it would work out, and it didn’t. For the next three months, I did my best, but it seemed that almost everyone including my supervisor was against me. Others in our department were cold and came down on me for minor infractions, and one or two nurses snapped at me. The only things that kept me from giving up were the residents, who appreciated my music activities, and the love and support of my parents. My little apartment downtown became a place to which I was glad to retreat at the end of the day and a refuge I hated leaving in the morning.

The staff at the nursing home weren’t the only ones with frozen hearts. Because I was only getting so much from Social Security per month and no salary from my internship, it was hard making ends meet at times. One day when I tried to cash a check Mother sent me, the bank teller said, “There isn’t enough in your account to cover this so I can’t do it.”

At the bank in Sheridan, the employees knew me. This would never have happened. I was relieved when the manager at Leeby’s agreed to cash the check.

In March, the six months of my internship were up. My overall grade was a D. I was anxious to get home, but one of the nurses who supported me asked me to sing for her wedding in April. The day after the nuptials, I was on the bus to Sheridan.

In May when the lease on my apartment was up, Dad and I returned. By then, even the apartment manager’s heart appeared frozen, although the weather was warm. “You didn’t vacuum,” she said when she inspected my apartment. “We won’t return part of your deposit for that.” Dad and I loaded all my earthly possessions into his station wagon, drove away, and never looked back.

It was a depressing six months, and perhaps I should have felt defeated, as we left town, but I did not. I took Dad’s advice and didn’t let those North Dakota bastards get me down. Despite the D grade I received in my internship, I became a registered music therapist. Six months after I moved back to Sheridan, I found a job in a nursing home where I worked for fifteen years. In the earlier part of this century, I met my late husband Bill through a magazine. The rest of the story is in My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

 

What do you remember about your first time on your own after college? Tell me about it in the comments field.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

 

Review: The Paddy Stories: Book One

The Paddy Stories: Book One

by John Justice

Copyright 2016.

 

In Philadelphia in 1947, eight-year-old Paddy Flynn, who is blind, has lost his father as a result of World War II. He is then orphaned when his mother dies after a long illness. He spends time in a children’s home where he befriends a Japanese boy, who teaches him Judo, so he can stand up for himself when confronted by the home’s bully. He also develops a special bond with Lucy, another resident at the home.

Meanwhile, his uncle and aunt in Oakland, California, go through proceedings to adopt him. Once those arrangements are made, Paddy is sent to them by train. Along the way, he relies on the kindness of strangers, who travel with him most of the time. In California, his uncle and aunt, having no children, welcome him with open arms and treat him as if he were their own son. He eventually looks upon them as if they were his parents.

He adjusts to life with his new family, and by some miraculous twist of fate, he’s reunited with Lucy, but they are separated, temporarily, at the end of the book when Paddy is sent to the California school for the blind in Berkeley. The book also contains sub-plots involving other children and staff at the home in Philadelphia, but their stories end more happily than Paddy’s does.

When I first ran across this book, I thought it was for children, but further perusal told me otherwise. It tells the story of a little boy, and parents could read it to their children, but there are scenes that might not be appropriate for younger readers.

I met this book’s author, John Justice, through the Behind Our Eyes writers’ group, to which I belong. This book was produced by David and Leonore Dvorkin of Denver, Colorado, who are also helping me get My Ideal Partner published online. Leonore is quite the publicist. I probably wouldn’t have known about John’s book if she hadn’t mentioned it in almost every email message she sent me regarding my book.

I was prepared for a horror story about a poor little blind boy, beaten and taken advantage of in a society that held little respect for persons with disabilities, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even in the children’s home, where I expected a “Miss Hannagan” like in the movie, Annie, staff and other children were friendly and helpful. I was amazed when a nun showed up at the home and offered to ride with Paddy on the train to Chicago, where a local church formed a network of volunteers, who rode with Paddy in stages the rest of the way, until he reached his destination.

Of course no story would be a good one without conflict, and there’s plenty of that here: one bully at the children’s home, another on the train, and a third in California, not to mention the California school for the blind’s policy that all students must be residents at the school during the week. Paddy, though, is not one to be considered a poor little blind boy. When his mother became ill, she instilled in him the importance of being independent, knowing she wouldn’t be able to care for him much longer. He takes everything in stride, and although he cries himself to sleep in the California school’s dormitory at the end of the book, there’s a glimmer of hope. I’m looking forward to seeing what Book Two will bring.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

Review: The Dance House

Note: I’ve decided to review books as I read them instead of doing them all at once. This will make my life easier, and the additional posts might attract more readers.

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The Dance House: Stories from Rosebud

by Joseph Marshall III

Copyright 1998

 

Since Joseph Marshall was the keynote speaker at this year’s annual Wyoming Writers conference, I decided to read one of his books. The Dance House contains short stories and essays about Indian life. The stories take place during the earlier part of the 20th century. In “Oliver’s Silver Dollar,” a young Lakota Sioux, speaking little English, is sent to a mental institution where he stays for thirty years because of a misunderstanding over one word. In “1965 Continental,” a white sheriff persecutes an Indian man because he believes he stole a fancy car. Other tales are about Native Americans surviving blizzards, dealing with whites who discriminate against them, and sharing wisdom and traditions with their grandchildren. The title story deals with the aftermath of a law allowing white men to claim Indian land. This collection also contains essays about Indians’ heritage, culture, and dealings with white oppressors.

The stories in this book took me back to times and places I hadn’t explored much since I was a teen’-ager in Mrs. Wright’s English class at Sheridan High School in Wyoming. If she were still teaching, I’m sure she would assign this book to her students. We all should read books like this to understand how we, as a nation, did a disservice to Native Americans by forcing them onto reservations, placing their children in government-run boarding schools, and commandeering their land. Remember that Indians were here before any of the first settlers came to this country in the 1600’s.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

March 2016 Book Reviews

Born with Teeth: A Memoir by Kate Mulgrew. Copyright 2015.

 

Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of Kate Mulgrew until I ran across this book on Audible with her reading it for only $5.95. I enjoy reading about the lives of actresses and other celebrities, and this book didn’t totally disappoint.

She starts out by talking about her life growing up in Dubuque, Iowa in a large Irish Catholic family. In a parochial school, the nun who taught fifth grade sparked her interest in poetry and acting by encouraging her to enter a poem recitation contest. In high school, she decided to graduate as early as possible and become involved in local theater. She describes how her younger sister Tessie became a willing slave to her big sister, the star.

After moving to New York, Kate discusses how she studied at New York University and took lessons at the Stella Addler Acting Studio for a year. Stella had a rule that while in her program which usually lasted a couple of years, an actor couldn’t work professionally. However, when Kate had an opportunity to star in a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and in Ryan’s Hope, a television soap opera about an Irish family that runs a pub, she couldn’t resist. She left the studio with Stella’s blessing, and her career took off.

She then describes how she played role after role on TV and stage and her affairs with one man after another. At one point, she became pregnant and decided to give up the baby for adoption. She describes her feelings of guilt, even before she signed the final papers, and how she tried to find out about her baby a year later before moving to L.A. to star in Mrs. Columbo. Her experience was similar to that of Philomena but had a more positive outcome.

She eventually married Robert Egan, a director of an acting company in Seattle where she was working. She describes that and the birth of her sons and how she juggled their care and her career. Someone predicted that she could never be a natural mother, and she wasn’t.

The marriage ended in divorce about five years later, and she describes how she met Tim, a politician who was a friend of her mother’s, in Ireland where she and her sons were vacationing. She then details how she landed the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. She describes how her seven-year stint in this role affected her relationship with her sons and their surprising reaction when she took them to the first season premiere at the Paramount Theater in L.A.

I would like to have known more. When Kate finally met her daughter, whom she gave away at birth, she promised to introduce her to her sons, but how did that pan out? Did her sons throw spit balls at her daughter like they did at the screen during the first season premiere of Star Trek Voyager? By the end of the book, it’s pretty obvious she married Tim, but he had two daughters so I’m wondering if they became a big, happy family. I’m also interested in her role on Orange Is the New Black, but I suppose a memoir must end somewhere. To learn more about Kate Mulgrew, click here.

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Palisades Park by Alan Brennert. Copyright 2013.

 

This novel, based on the author’s experiences with this New Jersey amusement park, spans almost fifty years. In 1922, eleven-year-old Eddie enjoys visiting the park with his family, swimming in the pool, riding the rides, viewing the side shows, and eating his fill of hot dogs, French fries, and cotton candy. Eight years later, he returns to the park to work and meets Adelle. They marry on a carousel, and after having two kids, they eventually open their own French fry stand in the park.

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, Eddie enlists in the Naval Reserve, much to Adelle’s annoyance, but she and the children do their best to carry on while he’s away. At the end of the war, when Eddie returns home after serving in a non-combat position on a Hawaiian island, Adelle, who has always wanted to be an actress, runs off with a magician who was one of the attractions in Palisades Park, leaving Eddie and the children to fend for themselves.

Their daughter Toni aspires to become a high diver after witnessing such acts at the park. At eighteen, she leaves home for Florida where she trains with a lady high diver and soon becomes the Amazing Antoinette, traveling all over the country to different carnivals and amusement parks, diving off a 90-foot tower into a tank filled with six feet of water, sometimes while on fire. Her brother Jack takes an interest in art at first but enlists in the Army during the Korean War, returns home traumatized by battle, and becomes a writer. Eddie, inspired by his years of service in Hawaii during World War II, opens a restaurant specializing in food and drinks from the islands. The book ends in 1971 after Palisades Park is bought by a real estate conglomerate and turned into high-rise apartments. The author leaves us with the impression that life goes on.

This book reminded me of two amusement parks I visited when I was younger: Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, and Elich Gardens in Denver. I liked faris wheels and carousels but wasn’t too fond of roller coasters or haunted houses. I didn’t get much out of side shows due to my limited vision but would probably have been able to see someone diving off a 90-foot tower into a flaming tank while on fire. To learn more about Alan Brennert’s books, click this link

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On My Own by Diane Rehm. Copyright 2016.

 

In a memoir by this National Public Radio talk show host, she discusses her husband’s death, their life together, and how she manages without him. She starts by talking about how her husband John died in an assisted living facility after years of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. When it was clear no more could be done for him, he decided, with the support of his doctor, to starve himself. After ten agonizing days without food, water, or medication, he died peacefully in June of 2014.

Diane describes the memorial service and then shares many aspects of her life with John: how they met and married and lived together and raised two children, how her radio broadcasting career took off, and how John supported her through that and other trials and tribulations. She expresses guilt for moving John to an assisted living facility instead of giving up her career to care for him at home. After John’s death, she became involved in a movement to pass legislation to allow patients to die with the help of a physician. When NPR executives expressed ethical concerns, she was compelled to cut back on such activities. She also talks about her work to raise money for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research. She reflects on grief and her eminent retirement from broadcasting.

I downloaded this book from Audible and enjoyed the author’s narration. I could identify with the agony Diane felt in the ten days leading up to John’s death. Fortunately, my late husband Bill only lasted three days after it was determined the end of his life was near. Even with oxygen, he struggled. Many times during those three days, I wished he would just die so we both could be at peace. It wasn’t until he heard me play my guitar and sing his favorite songs for the last time that he felt he had permission to go.

Diane Rehm plans to retire from broadcasting sometime this year. Once free of National Public Radio’s ethical constraints, she plans to become more of an advocate for a patient’s right to die with a doctor’s help. Six states have already passed such legislation, and I hope that someday, all fifty states will allow residents to die with dignity. To learn more about The Diane Rehm Show, click here.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Little Houses

Today’s poem was inspired by the NaPoWriMo prompt at http://www.napowrimo.net/day-twenty-nine/ . Click on the Dropbox link below the poem to hear me read it.

 

LITTLE HOUSES

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder, the little girl

who lived in the big woods, grew up,

got married, had a daughter,

Rose Wilder Lane, wrote about

her life with Rose’s help.

Her tales delighted me and other children.

 

Now, Susan Wittig Albert

writes about Rose and Laura’s lives during the Depression,

how Rose and Laura collaborated

on the Little House books,

still fascinating to me, but do today’s young people

want to know about life over a hundred years ago?

Do they care about a family on the prairie,

struggling to stay alive through harsh winters, drought?

This book should encourage mothers to read to their daughters,

as mine did, about the little girl in the big woods.

 

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/little%20houses.mp3

 

Do you remember reading the little house books when you were a child? Did you have any favorite books in the series that you read more than once? Mine was Little Town on the Prairie, in which Laura, a teen-ager, starts working to support her family and launches her teaching career. I hope to finish Susana Wittig Albert’s book in time to blog about it next week so stay tuned.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

 

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

 

Order That’s Life from Amazon.

 

Vote for my new book idea.

Unbroken

During World War II, you’re a crew member of a fighter plane that crashed in the Pacific Ocean. You and two others are the only survivors, marooned on two rafts floating in Japanese territory. Suddenly, a Japanese bomber appears out of the sky, aiming right for you. If you jump in the water, the sharks, waiting for just such a moment, will eat you alive. If you stay on the raft, the aircraft’s ammunition will kill you. This is the story of one such crewman, former Olympic track star Louis Zamperini, who survived weeks on a raft before being picked up by the Japanese and enduring years of torture, starvation, and other hardships in prison camps before being liberated by the war’s end.

Unbroken: The World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is not something I would normally read, but it was an audiobook my uncle and aunt chose to listen to while we made the long drive to Colorado last week. Despite my dislike of anything with a lot of violence, I found myself fascinated by Louis Zamperini’s story.

He was born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, New York. He died at the age of 97 in Los Angeles, California, on July 2nd, 2014. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1941 to 1945. His highest rank was captain. He was awarded a Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Prisoner of War Medal. To learn more about him, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Zamperini .

In Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand starts out by describing Louis’s early life in Olean, New York, and then in Torrence, California, where the family moved when he was two. Louis was a wild child, delighting in running away, stealing, playing practical jokes, and many other undesirable activities. His Italian immigrant parents didn’t know what to do with him until as a teen-ager, he took an interest in track. Hillenbrand then describes how he made it to the U.S. Olympic team and participated in the winter games in Germany in 1936. Although he didn’t win a medal, he caught Hitler’s attention by attempting to steal the dictator’s personal flag. I couldn’t help wondering what might have happened to him if he’d been captured by the Germans instead of the Japanese. In 1938, he set a collegiate mile record despite opponents’ attempts to spike him during the race. This record gave him the name “Torrence Tornado.”

In September of 1941 before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Zamperini enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces where he eventually became a second lieutenant. He was deployed to the Hawaiian Islands as a bombardier. Hillenbrand’s fascinating description of the planes in which he flew and bombed islands inhabited by Japanese military operations brought back memories of my younger brother’s interest in World War II aircraft as a child.

In the spring of 1943, he and other crew members were searching for a lost plane and its crew, using a defective B-24. The plane developed mechanical difficulties, and they were forced to crash land in the Pacific Ocean. Hillenbrand vividly describes the crash that killed all but three of the crew members. Zamperini and two others were the only survivors who ended up on two rafts 850 miles west of Oahu.

Hillenbrand then goes on to detail the 47 days spent on the rafts. The men survived by catching and eating raw fish and drinking rain water. They were attacked many times by a Japanese bomber which damaged the rafts, but no one was hit. One man died after 33 days. When they eventually reached the Marshall Islands, they were captured by the Japanese, and their situation went from bad to worse.

Hillenbrand then describes the two and a half years Zamperini spent as a prisoner in several camps where he was starved, tortured, and forced to do hard labor. At one facility in Tokyo, he was offered a job broadcasting propaganda in exchange for better living conditions, but he refused. One of his constant Japanese tormenters was Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed “The Bird.” Zamperini had beaten many schoolyard bullies as a kid but was no match for this one. Nevertheless, although “The Bird” came close, he didn’t break Louis Zamperini.

In the last few chapters of Unbroken, Hillenbrand describes Zamperini’s transition at the end of the war from being a prisoner to civilian life after being reunited with his family in the fall of 1945. In 1946, he married Cynthia Applewhite and stayed married to her until she died in 2001. Plagued by flashbacks and nightmares, he vowed to return to Japan and find and kill “The Bird,” but this plan was never carried out. He was also consumed by alcoholism. He tried many business ventures, but they all failed.

In 1949, his wife became a born again Christian, and one night when she dragged him to a Billy Graham revival, he remembered a promise he made to God while stranded in the Pacific Ocean and in the prison camps. After that, he stopped drinking, and the nightmares and flashbacks disappeared. In 1950 after becoming an inspirational speaker, he returned to Japan on a peaceful mission to visit and forgive the guards who mistreated him.

Laura Hillenbrand is also the author of the acclaimed Seabiscuit: An American Legend and several magazine articles. She lives in Washington, D.C. Unbroken is the #1 New York Times bestselling author hailed by Time Magazine as the best nonfiction book of the year. For more information about Laura Hillenbrand’s books and to hear an audio sample of Unbroken, visit http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com/ .

As I said before, I didn’t think I wanted to read Unbroken but found myself compelled by Laura Hillenbrand’s narrative. She touches on the lives of others Zamperini knew during his service in the Air Force, his surviving other crewmate on the rafts, and fellow prisoners in the camps. She also describes what his family went through after being notified that he was missing. When he was declared dead, his parents, brother, and sisters believed he was still alive. When Seabiscuit came out, I didn’t want to read it, either, but now, after reading Unbroken, I’m suddenly interested in horse racing.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Pre-order That’s Life Today!