Mary Beth Writes


The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

But the biggest event of all was on Friday. Most of the family members of our son and daughter-in-law and a lot of their friends met at family court in Milwaukee to finalize, complete, seal, and celebrate the adoption of their kids. People drove from Madison, Oak Creek, Chicago, Waukesha, Minnesota, and Fond du Lac to be in Milwaukee at 8AM. There were handmade signs and balloons and two boxes of donuts and so much love it was thick in the air like an old grandma’s wisteria perfume.

As ever, I’m not here to tell their stories and show their faces but I would like to tell some of my story of becoming one of the grandmothers of these two kids. I have two other beloved kids who arrived the regular way and I would do anything for any of these four. But it’s been an adventure to love these kids. They arrived at ages three and five already strongly impacted by patterns and incidents toxic enough to cause them to be removed from their mother (who, from the little I know, sounds like a sweet and utterly overwhelmed person). It’s now two years later and these kids are not and never will be easy-going or no-issues. Then again, are any of us?

My Madison kids decided years ago that when they would get around to having kids they would adopt. They told us this before they even married. Our response was, “Dynasties are for TV shows.” Respect and love whatever kids come into your life as best you can for as long as you can.

Friday, when the judge pronounced that their adoption was now legally complete and the kids belong to their mom and dad and their mom and dad belong to them - our grandson turned to wrap his skinny arms around his mom and she wrapped her arms around him. Our son hugged his daughter who was trustingly leaning back in his lap. Pretty much all thirty of us in that court room at that moment cried as we clapped and hooted.

Then the judge invited the kids up to her seat. “You know how a judge bangs their gavel at the end of a court session?” They didn’t know that but they figured it out fast. “So you two want to bang the gavel?” Yes, they did.

It’s a done deal. Those kids are ours and we are theirs until death do us part.


After which we all drove to Madison to eat the venison chili, vegetarian chili, pulled pork sandwiches, and the four pies our son had made. (You didn’t ask but I’m telling anyway: cherry crumble, chocolate silk, Twix, and blueberry custard) After that we pulled stuff out of the kids’ rooms, shoved their furniture (my grandson has the same dresser I had as a kid!) into the middle of their rooms and painted the walls two hues of blue. They now each have their own personally chosen “theme” room. While this was going on more friends and neighbors stopped by to eat, give presents, help paint, play with the kids, and/or sit on the driveway to drink beer. It was the calmest and most chaotic party I’ve ever been to. It was amazing.

Last week I (also) read ‘Wandering Stars’ by Tommy Orange. I highly recommend this new novel if you, too, wonder about the violence, suffering, loss, talent, beauty, coping, and love that are the building blocks of our families. Particularly families of color in the US.

Tommy Orange is native Cherokee and Arapaho who grew up as an urban kid in Oakland, CA. He didn’t fall in love with reading and writing until he was 20. He says his purpose is to write about the modern urban life of modern indigenous people who seldom see themselves in contemporary culture.

In ‘Wandering Stars’ he continues stories of characters he introduced in ‘There There’. He references the Iroquois saying that adults should choose how to act by considering impacts that go “seven generations forward.”

Orange goes seven generations backwards. The Sand Creek massacre was a massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho people by the U.S. Army in that occurred November 29, 1864, when a 700-man force attacked and destroyed a Cheyenne/ Arapaho village close to the modern boundary of Colorado and Kansas. Most sources estimate the Army killed and mutilated 150 people. Most of the victims, who had been sleeping when the Army attacked, were women and children.

‘Wandering Stars’ begins at Sand Creek. The young teenage boy who was there and who will become our first narrator, Jude Star, says this. “Everything that had been before what happened at Sand Creek (he is referring to his good life with his family) went back inside the earth, deep into the singular stillness of land and death.”

The novel pulls us through the seven generations that follows the holocaust that happened to Jude. There are all the horrible things we know and don’t know about how White Americans regarded and treated indigenous people in our history. There are also the particulars of the music, art, dancing, writing, names, and strengths of this family. Most don’t realize that the ways they are coping are inheritances from their ancestors who came before them.

This is a novel, not a “how to parent or grandparent kids who come from a legacy of racism and injustice” manual. But it moved me. Better than affecting my feelings, it gave me ways of looking at the stories we come from. Some of the characters live with White people who adopt them. The White adopters are patronizing and self-serving and careless. Too many are relating to the young people on the basis of stereotypes instead of seeing the kids who are in front of them.

In every generation these bright, talented, lonely, enduring characters eventually discover alcohol or drugs. Those encounters are among the first times the characters feel release, feel as if they know who there are, feel motivated to write or make music. Being high feels like coming home to a self-knowing they never knew. The boys of the sixth generation carve some sanity and sense from this. It’s powerful.

This is at the end of the book and is in a letter written by one of the boys who had disappeared for years. “This is the last thing I’ll say here. I want to try to find a way for us all to be together again. I want to come home. That I even have one took me a long time being away to know.”





Thinking of you and your new grands! So wonderful for you all.
Mary Beth's picture

Ahhh... the adventures of family.

So happy for all of you on the adoption!

I just wanted to send my congratulations to Mom and Dad, the new son and daughter, the new or should I say legal (Although I know that they stole your hearts years ago) Grandparents, and to all the uncles, aunts, etc etc.. We aren't always blessed with the parents/families we need, but sometimes Miracles happen and those parents/families find us.. I'm so happy that you all found each other, till death you part..

I am so very glad to hear your family has grown by two - making those relationships of heart and soul official!

Family - I’ve said before. It’s everything! Love hearing your story.

Congrats on new grandkids !! Just finished There There. Impactful. Sad. But I would recommend it to everyone to get closer to the truth of the awfulness of our history. VOTE today.
Mary Beth's picture


Raising my glass in celebration and joy! Congratulations! Patricia


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Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders


This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)


Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

Sorrow. Scarf. Story.


Last Sunday 25-year-old Air Force serviceman Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire and then died in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. He said he was protesting "what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers." He declared he "will no longer be complicit in genocide."

I don’t even know where to go with this commemoration but this young person seems, to me, familiar and precious so I would like to say something.

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