Chapter 13: Stacy, 1999

As the 20th century draws to an end, big changes are afoot for Stacy and her family. For one, her widowed mom Evelyn has been “living la vida loca”—she’s become a hoarder who isn’t taking care of herself. The family finds her an assisted-living facility that provides a lot of choices for its active residents, but Evelyn isn’t cooperating and spends all her time closed up in her room.

Meanwhile, Stacy is busy fixing up Evelyn’s house for sale and finds that she loves selling her mom’s unused possessions at the local flea market/auction. Close friend Mona also has a table nearby, and Don and his new wife sell antiques and clothing there as well. Stacy loves the multicultural hustle and bustle of her weekly days spent at the flea market.

After a busy day selling junk and defending the local Amish from the complaints of upper-middle-class interlopers, Stacy arrives home to find 11-year-old Sophie has been bitten by a loose pit bull and needs medical attention. Afterward, Stacy and Greg meet Mr. Jennings, a neighbor who helped Sophie, and try to find the dog so their daughter will not have to undergo a series of painful rabies shots. Sophie shares her awareness that part of the neighborhood has been overrun by drug dealers and other shady characters, whose landlords turn a blind eye to their activities. Stacy worries about how to sell Evelyn’s house in such a climate.

The director of the assisted-living facility shares a bit of good news: Evelyn joined in a bridge game and later had tea with one of the other participants, a doctor’s widow. Stacy is excited for her mom and offers to help Evelyn reciprocate with an elegant tea party of her own. But Evelyn is strangely reluctant to follow up on her new friendships—and when Stacy finds out why, it shatters their relationship.

Meanwhile, other bombshells are going off: Mary and JC are moving away, and Greg has a tempting job offer in Philadelphia. Stacy fears everyone, including her own family, is abandoning Arboria Park in its hour of need.

The auction house where Stacy is selling Evelyn’s household goods is based on Spence’s Bazaar, a local institution in Dover, Delaware. Unlike Evelyn, who sees the farmer’s auction and flea market as dirty, my parents were huge fans of Spence’s, and biweekly trips there were a staple for our family for many years. I still own and use a lot of housewares my mother and I bought there during my early adult years. Along with basics and junk, you can stumble across some beautiful and even valuable items. During the spring, summer, and fall, there are always tables full of fresh produce. Inside, you can find fresh meat and baked goods, as Stacy does. These pictures show Spence’s as it is nowadays:

And this one, taken by a photographer friend of my mother’s, shows the original Spence’s building, which burned down not long after the photo was taken:


Spence’s remains a hub of diversity in Dover; many races and nationalities are represented as customers and sellers. You will often see horses and buggies hitched up in the parking lot, as the local Amish and Mennonite communities are a strong presence. There’s not much you can’t find there, if you look hard enough. But local fans of the business often worry about how much longer it can keep going, as more and more area farms go out of business and are developed for housing and shopping.

Music isn’t discussed too much in this chapter (though Sophie has followed in her mom’s and cousins’ footsteps and started playing guitar). But a few songs from 1999 will suffice to illustrate Stacy’s confusion, as she navigates the hard changes confronting her family and neighborhood,

her own fight-or-flight desires,

and even the loss of her relationship with her mom.

Chapter 12: Ruby, 1993

It’s 1993 in Arboria Park, but although 16-year-old Ruby has learned from her dad to love all kinds of music, she’s not really into grunge, like her peers, or hip-hop, like her brother Jason. Like her older sister Autumn and Aunt Stacy, she likes to go to basement punk shows. Her life changes when new neighbor Duke (an older man who has been making noise complaints about Ruby’s favorite basement venue, Syrup Space) is invited to catch a show featuring a punkabilly band.

The show turns into a late-night jam session with Duke, who turns out to have been a 1950s rockabilly artist who toured with country with the likes of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. As Ruby sings and plays guitar with the other kids at the show, Duke singles her out and compliments her voice. Soon Ruby and her pal, Chris, are spending all their free time with Duke and his wife, soaking up lessons in music and history. She’s especially interested in women singers like Janis Martin, Wanda Jackson, and Lorrie Collins.

But as Ruby dives deep into the 1950s scene and introduces Duke to her family, she realizes that he is a product of the racism of that era. Musicians of color and women’s voices were exploited for hit records, but ultimately white men ruled the charts and reaped the benefits. She realizes she can’t face Duke again until she and her dad have researched the real roots of the music she loves and figured out her place, as a mixed-race woman, in the scene.

This chapter was the most challenging and the most fun to research and write. If I had time to become part of another scene, rockabilly would be it. Like Ruby, I especially enjoyed learning about the women and black musicians whose names are no longer household words but who helped build rock’n’roll from the ground up. Starting with Rosetta Tharpe:

Ike Turner, with his Kings of Rhythm band (credited on the record as Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats), made what was arguably billed as the first rock’n’roll record:

Janis Martin, the “female Elvis” was a teenage girl who wrote and sang rockabilly in the mid-1950s. Her career was wrecked after a secret teen marriage led to pregnancy and exile from the business.

Wanda Jackson is still going strong as a rockabilly singer:

Lorrie Collins performed with little brother guitar whiz Larry as the Collins Kids and as a solo artist:

Ruby discovers black performers like Ruth Brown:

And Ray Sharpe:

And of course there would be no rock’n’roll without Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Fats Domino. Ruby confronts Duke with her research, and he acknowledges the debt owed to all these musicians—and his regrets about the past.

Ruby and Jason begin to build their own musical alliance when he makes her a birthday mixtape containing his loves and hers, along with all the music their parents have taught them about through the years. Ruby’s still ready to take on the rockabilly world—but on her own terms.


Chapter 11: Stacy, 1987

Stacy’s happily married now and expecting a child. She and Greg have moved to the section of Arboria Park near the creek, the area that was Evelyn’s dream back when Stacy was a child. But now Evelyn’s upset because Stacy isn’t living in the elegant new neighborhood Olga has moved to with her wealthy second husband.

It’s hardly the only thing Stacy and Evelyn are at odds about. Matt and Jeff are together, also living in Arboria Park. Evelyn blames Stacy, and right when Stacy would most like her mom’s help and guidance, they’re not getting along.

Stacy has found a new friend and mother substitute in neighbor Mona, JC’s aunt, who teaches Stacy how to garden. And she continues wandering the neighborhood and making new friends, so she’s not lonely. But it still stings that she can’t count on her mom.

On a walk one day, Stacy finds herself drawn to passing by the old Ramsey farm. She stops to admire a riot of colorful azaleas, when out marches Edith Ramsey, the “witch” who chased Stacy and her friends away nearly a quarter century before. But this time, Stacy finds yet another mother figure and true friend in Edith, whom she helps with plans to keep her farm from ever being developed.

Stacy’s new friendships help pass the time until her eagerly awaited daughter, Sophie, is born. And she wants Sophie to grow up knowing the area’s history, appreciating the farm, and ready to try anything.

This chapter was based a lot on the real farms around Dover, Delaware, that I wrote about in a previous post. Many of those local farms ended up being developed for housing or commerce, a few still exist as farms, and even fewer are being preserved.

Music doesn’t play a huge role in this chapter, although Stacy is still dropping in on the latest local punk house and presumably trying to expose Sophie in utero to her favorite songs. 1987 ran the gamut from debuts by Whitney Houston and Guns’N’Roses to U2’s The Joshua Tree and The Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me. Here are a few songs from the year Stacy might be listening to that reflect her life during months of waiting:

Take a ride down the road that inspired Arboria Park!

The road that inspired Arboria Park recently opened in Dover, Delaware. It’s called the POW/MIA Parkway. This gives me mixed feelings since my late father was a POW during World War II. He’d be happy that he and his fellow POWs were being honored but dismayed at how the project destroyed part of our former neighborhood.

Here’s a video that takes you from Rt. 13 (“the highway” in the book), past the shopping center (in the book, the road project was more elaborate and the shopping center was torn down). You next pass the neighborhood that inspired the book. On that road used to be 13 houses, two of which I was familiar with as a child (one a home of schoolmates and the other of my mother’s best friend). It then passes a farm I used as inspiration for both the Ramsey and Oakley farms. The road terminates at an existing road near the Kraft Foods plant (Fine Foods in the novel). It was General Foods when I grew up, and our air often smelled like chocolate.

It’s odd that after so many years of construction that the road is only one lane in each direction (there currently is a discussion of this on a Facebook page I belong to that is about downstate Delaware–everyone thinks it’s a mistake). It seems like a project designed to relieve congestion and that no doubt will spark more excessive development along its path should be four lanes, at least. My guess is that within a few years, it will need to be expanded and there will be more disruption and destruction along the route.,-formerly-known-as-the-West-Dover-Connector?utm_content=bufferff157&utm_medium=social&

Chapter 10: Stacy, 1983

It’s a happy though stressful year for Stacy, who is finally fulfilling her childhood dreams of planning a wedding. Though there are still a few holdovers from her days as a nine-year-old spying on her sister (like a tall, tiered wedding cake), she’s adding some updated, personal touches (inviting some punk friends, for instance). And naturally Evelyn is not happy about them.

The rest of the family are excited about their own lives: Tommy has recently married a photographer, and Autumn lands a scholarship to film school. As the family celebrates the latter event at a premiere of her latest movie at the local punk house, it becomes evident that Autumn’s success has triggered her dad Don (who has mostly patched up his life but periodically falls off the wagon). He and Stacy have another one of their knock-down, drag-out arguments/heart-to-heart talks that ends with Don both sorrowful and reflective–and Stacy realizing once again she has to make some changes of her own lest she end up like him.

Stacy and Greg meet one of Autumn’s fans at another house show, a gay journalist named Jeff who uses a wheelchair after a sports accident. On impulse Stacy decides he and her brother Matt might hit it off (and they do). So when Stacy invites him to the the wedding, Evelyn is beside herself. As Stacy’s “dream wedding” unfolds, full of music and dancing and love, Evelyn punctures her joy by accusing her of staging a “spectacle” and humiliating the family. Though hurt, Stacy responds in her own way–fulfilling another dream by having her wedding party “parade through the village” of Arboria Park. Everyone joins in, even her dad and Greg’s family–except Evelyn, who is left alone by choice.

As the festive part of the day ends with a champagne toast, Stacy and Greg end up on the playground gazing at a sunset, their honeymoon and  new life ahead. Like Matt, who is now “out of the closet” despite his mother’s dismay, she chooses to move on ahead rather than dwell on the one blot on her “perfect day.”

Stacy has hired a DJ for her wedding reception to play a wide variety of songs for family and friends to listen and dance to, and they have all made their own requests. Autumn and the punks organize a mosh, and even Don (happily attending with a girlfriend and hanging out with ex-wife Mary and JC) arranges a dance with Stacy to “I Knew the Bride.”

If the DJ wanted to draw from the top songs of 1983, he would have a lot of interesting choices. The MTV era is in full swing, with all kinds of songs and videos hitting the charts. Michael Jackson is at his best with “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” There are one-hit wonders with fun videos, like Men Without Hats, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and After the Fire; ’80s heavy hitters like Duran Duran, the Human League, Culture Club, and the Eurythmics; classic stalwarts like David Bowie, Joe Jackson, Hall & Oates, and the Kinks. Eddy Grant dances down “Electric Avenue”; Don Henley airs some “Dirty Laundry.” Thomas Dolby blinds us with science, and the Police have the number 1 hit of the year with the anthem of the stalkers, “Every Breath You Take.” There’s something for everyone, and with one sad exception, Stacy’s wedding succeeds in providing a universal good time both for her invited guests and the larger neighborhood.







Chapter 9: Stacy, 1980

Back to Stacy for 1980, and it’s turning out to be a big year for her. She’s filling in on rhythm guitar for Autumn’s punk band, The Parkers, when she sees a man she recognizes enter the basement show. It’s almost as if he were drawn in by the sound of her guitar (and that Dead Kennedys T-shirt, in honor of the band’s first full album arriving that month). And suddenly ten years disappear and she’s back on the Arboria Park playground stargazing and talking all night with her soulmate. Now all she has to do is get over her fears of “screwing up” a hot-and-heavy relationship and figure out how to get her mom Evelyn to accept the “Puerto Rican airman” she’s bringing home for dinner. And listen to that bootleg tape he’s made of a Black Flag EP.

It’s obvious both Stacy and Autumn have gotten deeper into punk rock, which is still going strong in 1980. Aside from the burgeoning hardcore of Black Flag, there are EPs galore from new bands like The Weirdos, the Minutemen, and the Angry Samoans. X and the political protest punks Dead Kennedys make their debuts. There are albums from punk stalwarts like the Damned and Stiff Little Fingers, and The Clash come up with the triple-disc Sandinista. The mainstream music charts once again are pretty dull, save for some sparks from Blondie, The Pretenders, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. New wave is making waves, though, and Elvis Costello is brimming over with new material. So it’s a reasonably promising time musically a year before MTV comes along, paralleling the promise of Stacy’s new relationship. But the dawn of the 1980s is also confusing and politically dangerous. As Autumn and her friends plan to film a series of horror movies built around the titles of Ramones songs, they recognize the peril surrounding their everyday lives and the need, especially for women, to fight back.  Film director Autumn wants to upend horror film conventions by having her female heroine triumph because “all the guys get killed first.” Though Stacy’s only role in the movie is to “run and scream” as a bystander, she’s doing much more than that in real life, by reclaiming another part of her destiny. And perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Evelyn, on the other hand, is losing control and feeling left out of an increasingly multicultural family and neighborhood. Maybe that feeling leads her, like many Americans, to vote for Ronald Reagan in an attempt to bring back an idealized past, even as  her children and grandchildren embrace the present and future, however scary they may seem.





Chapter 8: Autumn, 1979

It’s 1979 in Arboria Park, and this time it’s 14-year-old Autumn’s turn to narrate. She’s a latchkey ’70s kid with some problems: Though she likes stepfather JC and new siblings Ruby and Jason, she doesn’t feel she “fits in” with them, or the endless parade of friends and extended family who troop in and out of Mary and JC’s house. And because she’s ostracized at school for reasons “nobody even remembered,” there’s no comfort there. Her last remaining friend is Brenda, with whom she has almost nothing in common anymore, so most of her time is spent drifting: through the lonely halls at school, the half-vacant shopping center, and the streets of Arboria Park.

On a solo Saturday walk she encounters Kip Vanderwende, a 21-year-old who’s the first person she’s ever seen with a mohawk and a vest covered in studs, pins, and band patches. Though “every part of me knew” not to go off with a stranger, Autumn accepts Kip’s invitation to listen to some punk music with him and meet his roommates, Sylvie and Nox. The music is a revelation to Autumn, and Kip and his friends give her a place to finally belong.

Her newfound joy and friendships, however, obscure the fact that Kip has some serious problems and that their “relationship” is probably headed for disaster. It’s a good thing Aunt Stacy (now a social worker) is around for advice. And to Autumn’s surprise she finds a place within her family (as they dance to Santana while cleaning the house), a way to honestly relate to Brenda, some new punk friends her own age, and a couple of goals her family and friends support.

In addition to obvious bands like the Clash (who were crossing into the mainstream) and the Ramones, Kip introduces Autumn to groups like the Avengers (San Francisco), the Germs (Los Angeles), and Sham 69 (England). There were punk scenes all over the world still thriving and expanding, though much of the world’s attention had moved on. Autumn’s excitement over what’s she’s hearing even gives her a new way to connect with JC, whose musical background and knowledge make him a bit more sympathetic to her interests than her Woodstock-mired mom. And she begins to understand how Mary’s desire not to repeat her own mother’s mistakes may have led her to misinterpret Autumn’s needs and problems.

Here’s a playlist that Autumn’s family may have listened to during their family cleaning day:

Soul Sacrifice      Santana

Low Rider           War

See                         The Rascals

Birdland               Weather Report

School Days         Stanley Clarke

Feelin’ Stronger Every Day       Chicago

Them Changes       Buddy Miles


And here are some of the songs Kip played for Autumn: