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Chasing Normal

You can take many paths to get to the same place.
–An old Apache saying

With divorce, the Etch-a-Sketch is turned upside and family life, as children know it, disappears.
The aluminum powder picture that re-emerges often casts dads in minor roles.
Sometimes, he’s left off the credits altogether.
It’s a tragedy Gen-Xers have been exposed to so long, we’re no longer shocked by it.

Purple Hearts

Many years ago, my brother, who was a single dad, told me a story about a house in Hollywood, California that was covered with purple hearts – one for each day the owner had not seen his son. Separated from his only child via a bitter custody battle, Christopher Robin, Sr. eventually painted more than 900 purple hearts on the house.

Apache Woes

When my brother and I were living in Colorado Springs, the neighbors next door had an Apache pop up trailer. Every summer, they hitched it up and headed out of town to camp as a family. We were woefully envious.

Then we moved away.

We moved to West Texas and a family at the church my father pastored had an Apache pop up trailer. Every summer, they hitched it up and headed out of town to camp as a family. We were woefully envious.

Then we moved away.

Bitter Weeds

In 2000, I drove out to California to see my brother. He told me he wanted to buy a camper and take his daughter to see all the national parks. Alas, it did not happen. The bitter weeds of custody battles too often choke out the most humble possibilities. The knobs on the Etch-a-Sketch twist hard and fast, and the dark gray lines of agenda make the truth indecipherable.

Chasing Normal

Just the other day, my brother, who is now 47 (my Gen X comrade), sent me an email with a link to a 1977 Apache trailer on Craig’s List. Later, we talked on the phone about the church camp in New Mexico we went to as kids. He talked about buying a camper and meeting up outside of Ruidoso every year – a tolerable destination between Oklahoma City and L.A.

Aren’t we all just chasing normal?

Once, when reflecting on his experience with fatherhood, Billy said that maybe he could have a relationship with my kids, and I said, of course, it will happen, Sully looks so much like you. A thousand memories filled the moment of silence that followed.

Pushing through the Drought

As I hung up the phone with Billy, I wondered if I should take $600 out of savings and send it to him. He could put $600 with it and buy our Apache trailer. Maybe his daughter, who is a young woman now, will join us one of these days.

I believe in pushing through the drought, planning for the harvest. This is what living in the Heartland for 25 years has taught me. As sure as there is a drought dramatically receding a lake from its shore, torrential downpours over a period of hours can crest it far above normal.

Wichita Wildlife Refuge

After my divorce 10 years ago, I spent many weekends hiking in the Wichita Wildlife Refuge near Lawton. Somehow, being alone on a prairie with a bunch of Buffalo and an occasional wasp (you could hear me scream for miles) made nights alone in my house without my daughter not seem nearly as bad.

Sometimes, I’d go the long way just to pass through Anadarko. There was a house I’d spotted once – a small white bungalow on the main street – and I liked to drive by it. It was nothing special, but it inspired me. It reminded me how nothing in the world dulls the shine of worldly possessions like loneliness. And, it reminded me of how much I was willing to give up just to sit on that porch at night with someone I loved who loved me and my daughter back.

This is why the 1977 Apache will always be big enough.


At least once a year, I make the trek to the Wichita Wildlife Refuge. So much can change in 10 years. Robert is beside me reminding me that Teddy Roosevelt made all this happen for me. And, I have my Sully and my Bridgy, and my firstborn who made me a mother, my Juliette. I haven’t driven by that house in Anadarko in ages. I think it’s a part of normal I don’t have to chase anymore because I carry it with me all the time.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. 6p00e55029da208834

    Beautiful post.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. wildbillyelliott

    I really enjoyed reading this post! A full range of emotions raced through my body as I read, and re-read your words.

    I never watched JON & KATE + 8 even once, but I always felt sorry for thier kids (and still do). Those two always seemed to me to be miserable personified X2. Now that Jon is gone from his family and thier show, it is no surprise to me that he is LITERALLY “out of the picture”. Fathers are routinely dismissed from the lives of thier children after divorce.

    The comment from GLYNIS was sadly a common perspective, when adult chilren ponder what thier Dad’s side of the the story was~ “…I wonder what it was?”.

    A couple of decades later, it really doesn’t matter, does it?

    The part about the APACHE pop up trailer brought back alot of memories, too. They towed small, but they camped BIG.

    And the comment from my old high school friend Kathleen touched my heart.

    The PURPLE HEART HOUSE was an interesting concept, and a fitting tribute to his son. You know, if you cut off circulation to a any part of the body, it will quickly turn purple. I thought the symbol of the PURPLE HEART was a great metaphore for the intense pain and injustice Christopher Robbins must have felt at the time he conceived the idea of the purple heart house.

    The PURPLE HEART also is awarded by the Military for wounds sustained in combat…

    Those PURPLE HEARTS on his house represents the open wound in his own heart, whose blood flow had been inturrupted.

    I like to think he and his son have had a reunion.

    Great post, sis. I had to re-read a couple of lines to fully absorb what you had written. Wow.

    You rock, sis.

  3. Debra W

    Ah, dear one…Once again my Springsteen loving brother sent me to you. Those purple hearts…I am about to enter a battle that many have not entered before. But it’s okay because I have been “chasing normal” for most of my life, so ending up in a different kind of a battle is not so unusual for me.

    You are such a good soul, Jen. I just wanted you to know that.


  4. Lorrie Veasey

    Stunning post: how an opening about John & Kate and the image of an etcha sketch could bring me full circle to trying to read the end through tearing eyes-man, you are good Jen….

    E-me about your giveaway. It is on like Donkey Kong.

  5. jenX

    @ALEXANDRE – Thank you so much! It’s great to connect with you across the continents. Nothing you said sounds dumb. Not at all. Tell us more about you! Do you still live in France? What has been your Gen X experience growing up French?

  6. jenX

    @GLYNIS – I did not realize you grew up in a single parent family. I understand what you mean – about wanting to know his side of the story. I wish for you that. Maybe it will come someday, somehow.

    @LOFOLULU – Girl, you can write. You need to blog. TR told me you were considering it. If I can help you, will you let me know.

    @BERLINKAT – Having read your blog, I appreciate your comment all that much more. I know you’ve tried so hard, and even though I’ve tried, too, I was STUNNED by your recent post of taking your son out with your ex. I know I’ve said it a lot on your blog, but you really are something special. I hope anyone reading this comment will go check out your blog.

    @KATHLEEN – I always forget that you remember – that we share these important connections of the same people and time and place. This means so much, and your comments always lift me to a level where I no longer doubt myself so much or my own memoir or its value. I hope we can stay in touch Kathleen, and grow our friendship after these 30+ years.

    I remember canvassing your neighborhood in Kermit with my father. I remember visiting your house and inviting you all to church. I remember that house just like it was yesterday. Down the way was a cinderblock wall, which someone had spray painted X-MAS on. My father was offended. He said X mas took Christ out of Christmas. Then, I went to college and found out that X was Hebrew for Christ, and I wondered why my father, who knew so much, never knew that. He loved you and your sister so much.

  7. Kathleen

    I was one of the summer inhabitants of that west Texas Apache pop up trailer. It made my then shambles of a life seem more bearable as we hit the road and stayed over night in one KOA campground after another all the way from Kermit to Portland, Oregon and back again. I also spent a few summers in that pop-up at Bonita Park outside Ruidoso. That church camp ground was the nearest thing to heaven on Earth I’ve ever found.

    I was chasing normal all those years ago. I still am.

  8. Berlinkat

    Jen, this piece blew me away. It’s going to take me a while to process it, having been on this path myself and now experiencing some major healing. Thank you!

  9. glynis

    Coming from a single parent home, where dad was missing, your story touched me. Now as I walk this path of alzheimers with him, you made me stop and think about his side of the story. I wonder what it was? Thanks again…

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