Saturday, February 16, 2019

Man you oughta see her fly…

One of my all time favorite songs is “A Broken Wing” by Martina McBride.  It speaks to my heart and soul.  Early this morning it came to me that it seemed everyone in my life had been trying to break my spirit down, everyone but my beloved Grandmother, Olive Carlton and my one true love, David Swankie.  They were the only ones who believed I could fly and encouraged me to do so.  And they were right, I am flying now.  Here are all the lyrics… and I will insert thoughts about my life.

She loved him like he was
The last man on Earth
Gave him everything she ever had
He'd break her spirit down
Then come lovin' up on her
Give a little then take it back

Yes, everyone (you define everyone) seemed to let me take a step forward but then push me back two steps.  As a child, I always wanted to become a veterinarian but was told… “We don’t have money for college… learn to type, you can always get a job.”  I was told, “you can’t wear horizontal strips… it makes you look fatter.”  I was told “You can’t buy that white suit… it makes you look like an ice cream vendor.” The verbal abuse just never ended… and as a child and a teenager, I cried myself to sleep most nights.  I cried for my absent father because surely life with him would be better.  I felt suicidal… but could not tell anyone.  I was not even allowed to take an aspirin for a headache and I suffered from migraines from a very early age.  At 15, I walked into a doctors office right off the street, a doctor I didn’t know… and begged for help as the migraine made me feel like I was loosing my mind.  Within my family, there was no help to be found… we were “Christian Scientists.”

She'd tell him 'bout her dreams
He'd just shoot 'em down
Lord he loved to make her cry
You're crazy for believin'
You'll ever leave the ground
He said only angels know how to fly

Yes, they made me feel like I would never leave the ground. As soon as I got out of high school… I was off to the Dakotas to find my absent father… because surely he would love me and let me fly.  But once there, an in-law of his said… “Why don’t you go back where you belong, you are causing trouble here.”  Go back where I belonged… where was that?  I felt that surely I had been switched at birth.  It never felt like I belonged anywhere, except at my Grandmother’s kitchen table… and she had her own family and her own life… I could not be a burden to her.  So, broken-hearted once again, I left… keeping my eye over the sky.  There must be a place for me… surely someone would love me.

And with a broken wing
She still sings
She keeps an eye over the sky
With a broken wing
She carries her dreams
Man you oughta see her fly

Dreams???  What dreams could I have?  No money for college, no family support, no skills or training.  I can’t even remember how, but I got a job (working for Layne Bryant as an inventory clerk) and began night school. I believed getting an education would turn things around for me.  I rented a room near my school.  I met a man in night school… and a few months later we were married in my Grandmother’s living room… cost $25 for the preacher, a sheet cake, my high school prom dress. Two years later, his job took us away from my hometown… we had our first child and began to travel the world… I was finally flying.  From Indiana to Florida, to Europe, to Iran (where our second child was born), to the American West, to West Africa… I was flying.

One Sunday morning
She didn't go to church
He wondered why she didn't leave
He went up to the bedroom
Found a note by the window
With the curtains blowin' in the breeze

But something went wrong with my marriage and we broke up, and I crashed to the ground.  Now I was uneducated, no skills, no training, no job… and the single mother of two little boys.  I had a broken wing, my spirit felt crushed. Suicidal thoughts returned but I could not bear to leave my sons with such an image… so I kept flapping my wings.

And with a broken wing
She still sings
She keeps an eye over the sky
With a broken wing
She carries her dreams
Man you oughta see her fly

I kept flapping wings, and singing and dreaming… I guess it was a bad time for my sons… they don’t have good memories of their childhood.  But I kept going to college, got degrees… and somehow in the meantime… they grew up and left home.  By the time I earned my master’s degree, they were married and off on their own.  How did all that happen?  Where did all the flowers go???  Where had my little boys gone?  Suddenly, I was a Grandma… but not the kind I wanted to be… not the kind my Grandma was to me.  It felt like ….I'd tell them 'bout my dreams and they would just shoot 'em down.  I asked, “Can I come watch the child open presents Christmas morning?”  I was told… “Christmas morning was only for family.”  Lord they seemed to love to make me cry.  But…

With a broken wing
She carries her dreams
Man you oughta see her fly

So, I flew away from them all… I could not bear anymore heartache… so I flew away.  If you don’t have a reason to stay, you must have a reason to leave. The void left in my heart by not being a part of the lives of my children and grandchildren would take some huge larger-than-life-itself kind of goals to survive… so I got a van… and set out to kayak America.  In the process, I regained my sanity (I think?), regained my health, and began finding my true self.  I was learning what it really meant to fly and set my spirit free.

I found a new family… vandwellers, who do support my dreams and even cherish them. They even call me an Inspiration.  My vanily (van-family) gives me all the love and support I always thought my bio-family should give.  Many of us out on the road feel that way, estranged. I am NOT alone.

I reached one dream to kayak America, all 50 states, on my 70th birthday… Hawaii.  It was a grand day but only one of my sons celebrated that day with me.  Now at 75, I am recovering from a total reverse shoulder replacement (a real broken wing?) and I am seeking a new dream, yet to be defined. 

In spite of the heartaches of the past, I have somehow… become a star!!!

First, I was only one of many people interviewed for Jessica Bruder’s book, NomadLand (

Image result for nomadland

I took that photo of Jess on top of her van, the year she interviewed me for her book.

Second, then magically, a major movie role fell in my lap, in the fictionalized movie version of Jessica’s book, to be released in probably 2020, NomadLand, the Movie.  The first news releases refer to me as a “star.” I thought it was just going to be a bit part as I never had any aspirations to become an actor. I guess I have finally learned to fly. This is requiring a major re-evaluation of my self-image.  Major.

The film follows McDormand’s Oscar-winning role in Searchlight’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” David Strathairn, Linda May, and Charlene Swankie also star.

Imagine that, my friend, Linda May and I, are sharing top billing with greats like Frances McDormand and David Strathairn???   What the heck?  Will wonders never cease?

Image result for nomadland
Frances McDormand on set in Quartzsite, AZ – January 2019.

Never give up. When one door shuts, maybe another will open. 
If a door opens, go through it and set your spirit free.

Press Release Feb. 2019:


Songwriters: James House / Phil Barnhart / Sam Hogin

A Broken Wing lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Who is Swankie?

My photo
Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles? Maybe. Still healing from shoulder and trying to decide.