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Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir

Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir

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Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir

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Oct 4, 2011


Now in paperback—in the bestselling tradition of The Glass Castle and The Liar’s Club comes the captivating memoir of a young girl forced by her mother’s instability to care for her siblings.

Even if others abandon you, you must never abandon yourself.

This simple truth became Terry Helwig’s lifeline as she was forced to grow up too soon.

Terry grew up the oldest of six girls in the big-sky country of the American Southwest, where she attended twelve schools in eleven years. Helwig’s stepfather Davy, a good-hearted and loving man, proudly purchased a mobile home to enable his family to move more easily from one oil town to another, where Davy eked out a living in the oil fields.

Terry’s mother, Carola Jean, a wild rose whose love often pierced those who tried to claim her, had little interest in the confines of home and motherhood. In Davy’s absence, she sought companionship in local watering holes—a pastime she dubbed “visiting Timbuktu.” She repeatedly left Terry in charge of the household and her five younger sisters.

Despite Carola Jean’s genuine attempts to “better herself,” her life spiraled ever downward as Terry struggled to keep the family whole. In the midst of transience and upheaval, Terry and her sisters forged an uncommon bond of sisterhood that withstood the erosion of Davy and Carola Jean’s marriage. But ultimately, to keep her own dreams alive, Terry had to decide when to hold on to what she loved and when to let go.

Unflinching in its portrayal, yet told with humor and compassion, Terry Helwig’s luminous memoir, Moonlight on Linoleum, explores a family’s inner and outer landscapes of hope, despair, and redemption. It will make you laugh, cry, and hunger for more.
Oct 4, 2011

Sobre el autor

Teresa Helwig graduated with an MA in counseling psychology and for many years was a human development specialist, writing, lecturing, and leading workshops on personal growth and spiritual development. She is the founder and curator of The Thread Project and she and her husband currently divide their time between South Carolina and Florida.

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Moonlight on Linoleum - Terry Helwig


on Linoleum

Howard Books

A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020


In consideration of their privacy, the names and identifying details of some people have been changed.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Helwig

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof

in any form whatsoever. For information address Howard Books Subsidiary

Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

First Howard Books hardcover edition October 2011

HOWARD and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For

more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers

Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

Designed by Davina Mock-Maniscalco

Manufactured in the United States of America

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

Library of Congress Control Number: 2011016818

ISBN 978-1-4516-2847-0

ISBN 978-1-4516-2866-1 (ebook)


Carola Jean, my mother,

and Amanda Jean, my daughter




Chapter 1: Emerson, Iowa 1950

Chapter 2: Fort Morgan, Colorado

Chapter 3: Glenwood, Iowa

Chapter 4: Elkhart, Kansas

Chapter 5: Amarillo, Texas

Chapter 6: Alvin, Texas

Chapter 7: Ozona, Texas

Chapter 8: Grand Junction, Colorado

Chapter 9: Fort Stockton, Texas

Chapter 10: Ozona, Texas Revisited

Chapter 11: Odessa, Texas

Chapter 12: Grand Junction, Colorado Revisited

Chapter 13: Denver City, Texas

Chapter 14: San Luis Obispo, California

Chapter 15: Odessa, Texas Revisited



Q & A with Terry Helwig


YEARS AGO, WHILE walking on a South Carolina beach with Terry Helwig, I had what turned out to be a propitious conversation. Close friends for over twenty years, we often walked the corridor of sand on Isle of Palms, talking about our lives and our work. On this October day, we were discussing the peculiar fact that many readers of my then recently published novel, The Secret Life of Bees, sometimes believed the story was based on my own childhood. They assumed that like my fourteen-year-old character, Lily, I had been forced to kneel on grits, had lost my mother when I was four, and had run away with the housekeeper to escape an abusive father. Of course, my childhood was nothing at all like Lily’s.

After listening to my bemusement about this oddity, Terry said, "If I wrote the story of my childhood, it would be just the opposite. The story would be completely true, but no one would believe it."

We laughed at this little irony.

I knew the saga of Terry’s childhood, which rivaled the sorrow and crazy-making adversity I’d invented for my own fictional Lily. Yet Terry had managed to arrive in adulthood with her soul beautifully intact, without a trace of victimhood, cynicism, or bitterness. Indeed, she was one of the most remarkable, loving, and utterly together persons I’d ever met.

Walking beside Terry that day, marveling at how such a mysterious transaction as that occurs in the human spirit, I almost missed the tacit suggestion in her comment: If I wrote the story of my childhood.

My pace slowed till I was at a standstill. Have you thought of writing it?

I’ve thought of it, she said. But—does the world really need another memoir?

It was just like her to ask that question. It would not occur to Terry to write a memoir just because she could. In her mind, it needed to exist for a larger reason; it needed to be the sort of story that served something worthwhile; it needed to be needed.

The world needs your story, I told her.

I’ll think about that, she said.

We can all be glad she did.

It soon became apparent that Moonlight on Linoleum had been lying innate, dormant, and fathoms deep inside of Terry for most of her life, waiting for the right culmination of time and realization. For years, I watched from the periphery as she worked on the book, laboring to render her story with unflinching honesty, bringing to it her indomitable humor and humility, and filling it with her deep and luminous vision of life.

The book is both a tender recollection and an unblinking portrayal of a heartbreaking yet heart-stirring childhood, one that unfolds among the little oil towns of the American West. The transience, privation, abandonment, abuse, anguish, and havoc in Terry’s young world is, startlingly enough, met with equal portions of hope, dignity, resilience, ingenuity, funniness, and love.

The story reveals a family hovering on the unraveling edge of life: Carola Jean, a complex and unforgettable mother whom you may want to rage at one moment and hug the next; a good-hearted, oil-drilling stepfather, plus an array of other colorful men held in Carola Jean’s thrall. Terry’s five younger sisters fall under her tutelage, in the formation of an uncommon sisterhood that transmutes suffering into salvation. And at the center of it is Terry, a girl clinging to hope in the face of crushing realities, a girl determined to stay connected to her dreams, determined to save her sisters, as well as herself.

If I were asked to explain the statement I made on the beach that day when I told Terry the world needed her story, I could probably come up with a whole panoply of reasons for why it’s true. But I will simply give you one. . . .

Remember that mysterious transaction in the human spirit that I marveled at where Terry was concerned? The one that allows one person to transcend life’s hardships, becoming stronger, wiser, and larger in spirit, while another person succumbs to life’s injuries, growing hardened, contracted, or stuck? Well, there are no explanations for that, there are only stories. The world needs Moonlight on Linoleum because it is just such a story. It is what redemption looks like.

—Sue Monk Kidd


Riverside Cemetery


I COULD NOT FIND my mother’s grave.

The caretaker thumped a large brown ledger onto his desk. What’s your mom’s name?

An easy enough question, except for those five or six marriages. I should know her last name. My face reddened as I stood momentarily speechless in the caretaker’s office at Riverside Cemetery in Fort Morgan, Colorado.

She might be under Carola Jean Vacha, I said. I remembered letters spelling THE VACHAS running vertically down a post on the front porch of her marigold-colored house before she died.

The caretaker’s finger ran the length of the page. Nothing under that name.

In the fifteen years since Mama’s death, I had not been back. I was unsure what name had been etched onto her headstone. Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember being consulted about a headstone at all.

What about Carola Jean Simmonds? I asked.

He shook his head.

She married a lot, I offered. How about Wilton or Redding?

He raised an eyebrow and continued his search. Here’s Carola Jean Redding. Died April 29, 1974. Lot 398, Block 10, he said and flipped the ledger closed.

I followed him as he wound his way through a maze of weathered gravestones variously carved with lilies, roses, and angels. The graves didn’t all look alike to him; he knew about lots and blocks. He reminded me of the ferryman on the river Styx, overseeing the dead.

When he came to a stop in front of a flat cement marker, barely larger than a brick, I was confused. Then I saw it: Mama’s name crudely etched into cement. She had no headstone—only the plain dull marker the county had provided, which had begun to flake and crumble, surrendering to the surrounding grass.

She has a pauper’s grave, I thought as I knelt and laid down the pink rose I had bought. I wrestled a clump of grass, trying to reclaim a corner of the marker. The cement felt cool to my touch. Wiping the smell of grass and dirt onto my jeans, I turned to the caretaker. I know it’s a little late, but what if I wanted to order a headstone?

People do it all the time, he said. He turned and walked away, leaving me to my thoughts.

*   *   *

I WAS forty years old, the same age my mother had been when she died. I stood at the juncture of the second half of my life, at precisely the place where Mama’s footprints ran out. The years ahead of me would be virgin territory, unexplored by the woman who had ushered me into the world. The only thing I understood with any certainty was just how young Mama had been when she died.

During her graveside service fifteen years earlier, I had gazed up into the branches of a nearby tree, startled to see the juxtaposition of sunlight so near death. The beauty of pink blossoms punctuating the blue sky had taken my breath away. The colors of the world had never looked more vivid, my senses had never been more alive. It was as if death’s razor had cut away the veil separating me from holy mystery, exquisite wonder blazing with sorrow.

Mama’s casket had not yet been covered with earth. I had no idea then, being only twenty-five, what burial entailed. Mama’s funeral was my first. My knees had buckled when I first saw her lying in the casket, her wax-like hands holding a single rose. The ink-blue bruise of ruptured blood vessels on her left temple, resulting from the overdose, had been camouflaged under a layer of caked makeup. Long sleeves hid the thick purple scars on the undersides of her wrists—scars that had been fresh wounds once, bleeding a river of red onto white sheets.

I had wanted to shield my younger sisters from the sight of Mama’s blood that day, to spare them that memory above all others. That’s how I summoned up enough strength to shove the dresser in front of the door, to rip the sheets into bandages, to shoulder the weight of Mama staggering down the hallway. I alone washed Mama’s sticky blood from my hands. I had wanted it that way.

But now that I had a daughter of my own, I understood just how bereft I had been. Picturing myself as a young girl, flipping a crimson-splotched mattress, I wished I could have spared her, too.

FOR THE headstone, I selected a pinkish slab of granite and instructed the stonecutter to cut a single word for her epitaph: Selah.

The word Selah is an enigma, which describes my mother perfectly. Some think Selah refers to a musical instruction, meaning a pause or stopping to listen. It may also have been used similarly to the word amen. Now that I was the same age as Mama had been when she died, I wanted to stop and listen to what her life had meant; I wanted to say amen to her, as if she had been a prayer.

The next thing to determine was Mama’s last name. Dare I change it to one of her earlier names? After the funeral, her fifth or sixth husband, Lenny, only two years my senior, took all of Mama’s old photographs, because he loved her so. Lenny thought his year and four months with Mama trumped all the years my sisters and I had spent with her. I was even more offended when I learned, years later, that Mama’s marriage to Lenny may have been null and void. Mama may not have been legally divorced from Tom. But Mama would have considered this legality nothing more than a pesky technicality, a minor inconvenience that had to be negotiated.

I was my mother’s daughter.

I concluded that the legality of the name on Mama’s headstone was a minor inconvenience that could be negotiated, so I chose the married name that my sisters and I loved best, the once-legal name that had defined Mama the longest, the name that belonged to a man I call Daddy, still to this day.

In addition to Selah, Carola Jean Vacha was etched into stone.

I Invited the child I once was to have her say in these pages. I am the one who came out on the other side of childhood; she is the one who searched for the door.

My dad holding Vicki; Mama holding me

Emerson, Iowa 1950

I LEFT YOUR DAD, Mama told me more than once, because I didn’t want to kill him."

She wasn’t kidding.

Mama said she stood at the kitchen counter, her hand touching the smooth wooden handle of a butcher knife. In an argument that grew more heated, Mama felt her fist close around the handle. For a brief moment, she deliberated between slashing our father with the knife or releasing it harmlessly back onto the counter and walking away.

My sister Vicki was ten months old; I was two. Mama was seventeen.

By all accounts, Mama and Dad loved each other, even though Mama lied about her age. Mama told my dad that she had celebrated her eighteenth birthday; Dad, twenty-two, believed her. But the state of Iowa insisted on seeing Mama’s record of birth before granting them a marriage license. Only then did Mama confess her lie. Dad broke down and cried. Mama was fourteen, not eighteen. Still, despite the deceit and age difference, on Wednesday, May 26, 1948, Carola Jean Simmonds and Donald Lee Skinner said, I do. Mama’s mother signed her consent.

Mama definitely looked older than fourteen. She had thick black hair that fell around her face, accenting the widow’s peak she inherited from her mother. Her hazel eyes reflected not a shy, timid girl but a womanly gaze that belied her years. Physically, she was curved and full-bosomed. But she was not pregnant. According to my birth certificate, I came along a full eleven months after they married, proving their union sprang from something other than necessity.

Part of Mama’s motivation may have come from her eagerness to leave home. Her older brother, my uncle Gaylen, witnessed the difficult relationship Mama had with their mother.

This is hard to tell, he said. When your mom was just a baby, I remember walking alongside her baby carriage with our mom. I must have been about eight. Carola was crying and crying and Mom got so mad. She stopped the carriage, walked to a nearby tree, and yanked off a switch. She returned to the carriage and whipped your mom for crying. I couldn’t believe she was whipping a baby.

Uncle Gaylen fumbled for words, attributing his mom’s state of mind to my grandfather Gashum’s infidelity. I think Mom took out all her frustrations on Carola, he said.

I wish I could scrub that stain from our family’s history. I wish I could reach back in time, snatch the switch from Grandma’s raised fist, and snap it across my knee. It might have made a difference. Mama’s life might have taken a different turn.

She might not have been so desperate for tenderness.

By the time Mama turned fourteen, she had fallen for my dad. Instead of protesting when Mama asked to marry him, Grandma extolled my father’s family, told Mama she was lucky to have him, and readily signed permission for Mama to marry. With the words I do uttered in the sleepy town of Glenwood, Iowa, Mama became the fourteen-year-old wife of a tenant farmer.

Around that time, Mama wrote a couple of jingles and sold them to Burma-Shave as part of its roadside advertising campaign. Mama liked to drive by a particular set of red-and-white signs posted successively along the highway near Glenwood. The words on the signs, which built toward a punch line farther down the road, were Mama’s words, right there in plain daylight, for the whole world to see.

His cheek

Was rough

His chick vamoosed

And now she won’t

Come home to roost


It’s impossible to know which jingles Mama wrote, but all her life she loved the word vamoose.

DURING THE first year of their marriage, my parents moved into a house without running water, off County Road L-45 not far from the Waubonsie Church and Cemetery outside Glen-wood. Dad, a farmer, loved the land and spent long hours plowing, planting, and tending the livestock. His mother, my grandma Skinner, lived four miles down the gravel road. Grandma Skinner had raised six children while slopping the pigs, sewing, planting a garden, canning, baking, and putting hearty meals on the table three times a day. I think Dad assumed all women inherited Grandma’s Hestian gene.

But not his child bride, Carola Jean. She could write a jingle, but she knew nothing about cooking, gardening, cleaning, or running a household—not even how to iron.

Your mom couldn’t keep up with the house or the laundry, Aunt Dixie, my dad’s sister, said years later. If she ran out of diapers, she’d pin curtains or dish towels on you, anything she could get her hands on.

I doubt Mama knew what to do with a screaming colicky baby, either, one who smelled of sour milk and required little sleep. In a house without running water, I must have contributed to a legion of laundry and fatigue. The doctor finally determined that I suffered from a milk allergy and switched me to soy milk, which cured my colic, but not my aversion to sleep.

In desperation, Mama recounted many times, I scooted your crib close enough to the bed to reach my hand through the slats to hold your hand. Finally you’d settle down, but—Mama would draw in a long breath here—if I let go, you’d wake up and start crying all over again. You always wanted to be near me. Sometimes I cried, too.

Without fail, the next part of her story included a comparison between me and my sister Vicki, born fourteen months later.

Now, Vicki was just the opposite, Mama marveled. I’d have to keep thumping her heel just to keep her awake long enough to eat.

Mama’s retelling of that story during our growing-up years made me feel like thumping Vicki, too, and it had nothing to do with her staying awake. I pictured Vicki sleeping peacefully and wished I had been an easier child. More than once I wanted to shout, I can’t help what I did as a baby! But I held my tongue; I was good at that.

By the time Vicki joined our household, we lived in a former rural schoolhouse near Emerson, Iowa. It was here that Mama broke.

She was sixteen.

No matter how you do the math, the equation always comes out the same: Mama was little more than a child herself. The rigors of marriage, farm life, and two girls under the age of two finally came crashing down on her.

Mama had adopted a kitten, much to my delight and my dad’s dismay. Dad did not want animals in the house. But Mama stood her ground; the kitten stayed. Mama loved watching it pounce on a string and lap milk from a bowl. She loved hearing it purr and worked with me to be gentle with it.

One afternoon, in the driveway, Dad ran over the kitten. Mama could not stop crying.

He said it was an accident and he was sorry, Mama told me years later. But I never believed him. She jutted out her jaw. He didn’t want that kitten in the house.

I find it unlikely that my dad intentionally ran over a kitten. He had a reputation for being soft when it came to killing animals, even to put food on the table. But I do believe some part of their marriage died with that kitten.

When Mama found herself clutching the butcher knife, she said she thought about me and Vicki, what using the knife would mean, how it would carve a different course for each of us. I’ll be forever grateful that Mama fast-forwarded to the consequences. She released her grip on the handle and chose divorce over murder.

I have only a single flash of memory of leaving Iowa.

I’m sitting on the plush seat of a train, the nappy brocade scratching my thighs. I’m not afraid, because I’m pressed against Mama’s arm; I can feel the warmth of her against my side as she rocks rhythmically. She holds Vicki (who no doubt was sleeping). I repeatedly click my black patent shoes together and apart, together and apart, noticing the folded lace tops of my anklets hanging just over the edge of the cushion. The world is a blur passing by the train window. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Watch your back. We are headed west to Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Vicki, me, and Mama

Fort Morgan, Colorado

WHY CAN’T I ask for money?" I asked. I was three at the time.

Because it’s not polite, Mama answered.

Nancy does, I countered.

I know, Mama said, but only when Aunt Eunice is around.

Mama seemed to think this explanation made some kind of sense.

Much to my chagrin, whenever Mama and her sister, my aunt Eunice, had friends over, especially men friends, my cousin Nancy fetched her piggy bank. She sidled up to her marks, balanced her bank on one of their knees, batted her eyes, and asked if they wanted to drop some money into it, as if she were offering them a rare opportunity. Invariably they laughed at her spunk, dug deep into their pockets, and pulled out most of their spare change.

I knew a good thing when I saw it, which had prompted me to ask for a piggy bank, too. Mama’s admonition that I couldn’t ask for money seemed highly unfair. Why could Nancy ask? It aggravated me even more when Nancy shook her bank next to my ear so I could hear how rich she was.

I was five months older than Nancy. Neither of us had a daddy who lived with us anymore. Part of the reason Mama had headed west on the train to Fort Morgan was to be near her sister, Eunice. Mama’s mother had also moved to Fort Morgan with her second husband.

Grandma could not have been thrilled with the prospect of her two divorced daughters and their children moving in with her and her husband. Maybe that’s why Mama and Aunt Eunice rented the three-room, faux-brick, asphalt-sided house near the railroad tracks in town.

Turning the one-bedroom rental into two bedrooms required nothing more than Mama’s nailing a white sheet to the wall and ceiling to block off one end of the living room. I envied Aunt Eunice and Nancy for being the lucky ones to sleep in the tent bedroom, while Mama, Vicki, and I shared the

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  • (5/5)
    WOW. A powerful story of hurt and hope and healing. A fascinating coming of age novel and memoir. Terry Helwig's story begins in Iowa, where she and her sister live with their biological father and teenage mother. Their mother eventually abandons them and leaves them with their father and his parents. Later, she comes back and takes them to Texas to live with her new husband- the man they would come to think of as Daddy. Two girls eventually become six as they travel from town to town in Texas, Colorado, and eventually California following their step-father's job. Living with their mothers dependence on pain pills and numerous infidelities, the sisters become self-sufficient and band together to survive. Their story is sad at times, heart warming at times, and always hopeful. I truly enjoyed this book.Read this book of...*you enjoy memoirs*you love stories that take place in the 1960,s*you love stories of family*you love stories about sisters
  • (5/5)
    This memoir is very emotional because it's about children in a family. Terry is the oldest sister. There are many siblings. This family had so many heartbreaking problems It's hard to know where to start the review. I think it is possible to read about a dysfunctional family without placing blame on one adult's head. There are no perfect families. There are no perfect individuals. These two thoughts allow me to think with empathy and compassion for the whole family. However, these feelings do not an excuse the behavior of the adults especially physical abuse. According to TERRY HELWIG, her father was the strongest and most dependable of the two. Still, in my head I felt he was somewhat weak. What did he not give Terry's mom? What caused her to run from him over and over again? She would always run to the arms of another man. Why??? Does all the blame land on her hideous illness?Well, I can with happiness applaud the children. Growing up under such stress I wondered how they could make it from day to day. For example, they moved from Colorado to Texas over and over again. Then, they were moved to California. The girls never knew when they would be pulled out of school by the school teacher and principal because their parents had decided to move somewhere else. I can only imagine what it must feel like trying to make new friends so often and trying to pick up your studies without falling behind. One time Terry told a best friend I am "from everywhere and nowhere."The children also had to live with their mother's impulsive behavior. She divorced their father. Then, remarried, broke up, remarried. So many marriages so many times I couldn't keep count. Their mother also left the children to the care of Terry. It seemed like she couldn't wait for Terry to grow big enough to carry the babies, feed the babies, iron the clothes, fix the meals, etc."In addition to the driving and grocery shopping, Mama put me in charge of signing our report cards and writing notes for excused absences."While reading the book I realized that children are so vulnerable. Whatever their parents do or how their parents act is what they have to live with for many years. The children grow up in a world of confusion. Children are silent. They have no voice. They can only obey the orders of the big people. This is a fascinating memoir. There are pages and pages of pain. There are also pages of family love between the sisters. TERRY HELWIG'S MOONLIGHT ON LINOLEUM is a fascinating memoir. I think the author sums up the inability to see clearly in such a family by writing the following words.terryhelwig"The moon had climbed into the sky and was now shining inside the trailer window. I looked to where it spilled across the waxed linoleum floor....I stared at it for a long while. How was it possible that moonlight on linoleum, washed with my tears, could be so achingly beautiful?"
  • (4/5)
    Moonlight on Linoleum is Terry Helwig's memoir about growing up with an unstable mother and a house full of younger siblings. I guess the most notable fact is the way Terry stayed positive and nurtured her siblings to protect them from the hurts she herself had had to endure. Terry also maintained her feelings of love for her mother, Carola, throughout her life, although at best she was a negligent parent, more honestly, she was abusive. Still, in the memoir we are given tiny glimpses of Carola's kindness and humanity, like the time she pretended that her alcoholic sister sent Christmas gifts for her niece and her daughters, making sure that they were the most beautifully wrapped of all the gifts given that year. In contrast to self-centered Carola, her stepfather, Davy, whom Terry thought of as "Daddy" her whole life, was kind, honest, and compassionate. I particularly liked Terry's description of a Thanksgiving dinner that the family celebrated." ... Thanksgiving fell on the wrong side of payday. We couldn't afford to buy a turkey. Daddy didn't apologize; he merely bought a package of ground hamburger meat and molded it into the shape of a meatloaf turkey, complete with drumsticks on the side and a meatball for a tail...Daddy placed the meat-loaf turkey on a platter and lowered it onto the table beside the other steaming bowls. The seven of us bowed our heads and Daddy offered up a simple prayer. He thanked God for our family, for our food, and for the opportunity to be together."Moonlight on Linoleum is an unsentimental telling of triumph over a very difficult childhood.
  • (5/5)
    Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir Author: Terry Helwig Published by: Howard Books Age Recommend: 16+ Reviewed By: Arlena Dean Raven Rating: 5 Blog Review For: GMTA Review: Review: "Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir by Terry Helwig was a indeed an interesting read. Terry really did a wonderful job in telling her story... not only of the bad times, but also the good ones too. The story is of Terry who was the the oldest and responsible and her relationship with her... sisters(5), cousin(1) whose mother was terminally ill from cirrhosis of the liver, her mom (Carole Jean), dad (Daddy Davy..stepfather) his parents, ....her biological father from Iowa.... his mom, dad ...his wife Cathy and son Lanny, and his sister (Aunt Betty). Carola Jean had been a teen bride and the most important thing was that Carole Jean was concerned only for how she was living and not caring enough to take care of her children. Carole Jean left this mainly to her daughter, Terry! Carole Jean made the list and it was Terry's job to see that it was done.. This was indeed a dysfunctional family. Terry was the one that kept things going as they should, cooking and cleaning... ironing and watching over the girls to keep them safe. Terry was definitely the mother figure. When Terry would ask about her natural father from Iowa her mom told her that she could look him up when she was 18. The reason behind this was that Carole Jean thought since he sent no support he should not have any dealings with his daughters (Terry and Vickie). However, they would have some dealing with the Aunt Betty as long as her brother was notinvolved. Later Terry found out that her baby bother Lanny at 11 had cancer. I can say at this point I believe Carole Jean suffered from bipolar and that a lot of the time she was simply out of control. This family was noted from moving from place to place due to the fact that Terry's stepfather, Davy who worked from a oil rigging job that kept him on the move and he wanted to keep the family together. Davy was indeed a good person for he loved and showed it to this family. Terry accepted the love of her stepfather. Terry loved school even though she was from everywhere and nowhere.... Terry attended twelve schools in eleven years and she did graduate. All of this while Terry still managed to take care of herself, her sisters and even at times her mom. Terry was able to triumph over all of the pain and through all of this she not only loved her sisters but also her mom. Still trying to help her mom while Carole Jean is in the hospital supposing getting help from her suicide attempt... Carole Jean quietly leaves the Colorado State Hospital and doesn't come for the girls until Terry insist she comes and gets Joni and Brenda. Carole Jean married twice more and had another child, a son named Jodie. Definitely Carole Jean had problems that in the end through prescription abuse and the death of her son Jodie(2), her toddler overdosed on her sleeping pills and later died of pneumonia that lead to her suicide attempts and her death in 1974 from accidental drug overdose. Now.... The Sisters: Nancy, Vicki, Patricia, Brenda, Joni and Terry all live in four different states are still very close and doing well. They have a reunion every year with their children. In the end of the story Terry goes to her Mom's grave to ask for her blessing on the book "Moonlight on Linoleum." Letting her know things like Terry going to Africa. This was one thing she wanted to do. There was a lots of "Remember When" with the sisters ... and we learn that later Terry and Vickie's father from Iowa took his life. Terry had written this book for her shelf and her mom. I enjoyed the "Moonlight on Linoleum: a Daughter's Memoir" and I would definitely recommend it as a excellent read.
  • (4/5)
    Terry Helwig has written a memoir about growing up as the oldest daughter of a young, unstable mother. The story is reminiscent of Jeanette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle, but is much more believable because Helwig's writing is less fantastic. At the same time, Helwig uses language and metaphor to communicate the depth and breadth of feelings she experienced at the hand of a mother she loved but could not trust.I won't go into the details of her story, but it is a story worth reading. And as I reflect on some of the children that moved in and out of my life in small town in the '60's, I suspect her story is more common than many of us would like to believe.
  • (5/5)
    An achingly brilliant memoir of an eldest daughter growing up with a mother whose dreams and desires were bigger than her own reality. For all those who grew up watching Leave it to Beaver or Father knows best and knew their own family never quite matched the TV ideal, this story will tear at your heart while striking chords of recognition in the truths. As her biological father once said, "Life is hard to understand at times" yet in her own life Terry not only survived but she excelled at finding joy and love which she shares with us through this memoir.
  • (3/5)
    I really enjoyed this autobiography about the author growing up with her five sisters, her unstable mother and her step-father, whose loving presence was often the only stability that she experienced. I thought that Helwig was able to bring impressive detail to the dusty Texas towns that she lived in, moving often more than once a year, because of her step-father's work in the oil fields. I particularly was struck by Helwig's descriptions of her connection to the natural world, which seemed to comfort her when her life was like a tornado spinning around her.

    The only drawback for me was that the last third of the book seemed to be rushed, with far less detail given to Helwig's senior year of high school, which was spent living alone with her two oldest sisters in California, and to her time immediately after graduation, when she returned to Texas to care for her two youngest sisters. She reached a point when she was comfortable differentiating herself from her difficult, mentally ill mother, no longer feeling the need to take care of her or to pick up the slack in caring for her younger sisters, but the details of this decision, which would have been the most interesting part of her relationship with her mother to me, were lacking.
  • (4/5)
    Posted on Book Chelle.When I read the synopsis, I was drawn to the story. A lot of women I know do not have easy relationships with their mothers. Naturally, I wanted to know how Helwig’s own relationship with her mother differed from min. I read the forward from Kidd and was even more intrigued. And then, I read the the prologue and my heart broke. She had me during those few pages.In Moonlight Linoleum, Helwig writes an emotional memoir that details her childhood. Helwig did not just recount the events that took place in her life. Instead, she beautifully wrote the story of her childhood, filled with description and detail that I couldn’t believe it was real. Her story-telling abilities are so amazing that you are captivated by each memory that fills each page.With these memories, Helwig presents a life that is filled with sad and unfortunate events. Her life has become a story of strength, overcoming every obstacle that has been thrown her way. She has had to mature earlier than she has ever needed to be.Helwig’s mother is Carola Jean Vacha, a young teen who wanted to escape her own family and life. She married young, lying about her age to assure escape, and quickly had Helwig. After a short while, Carola left her husband, taking her baby to find a better and brighter life. Unfortunately, that is not the story for Carola, or for Helwig. The story continues moving from one city to another, adding children and husbands, one by one, with the dream of something more.The intimacy of detail that Helwig includes has only intensified the impact that Moonlight on Linoleum has had on me. Abuse, depression, and infidelity is only a few of what Helwig has had to endure throughout her childhood, and all while being the responsible one for her six sisters.But this book wasn’t just filled with sorrow and sadness. Helwig has a lot of love that she shares. While her mother was not the ideal parent, Helwig wholeheartedly loved her mother. If that isn’t a perfect example of unconditional love, then I don’t know what is. Helwig loved her mother, for what I think is the idea of who she could be.Helwig also loved her sisters like no one else. She realized the unrealistic situations and sometimes became the parent that they only had. Helwig also loved a man she called Daddy. Daddy Davy was Carola’s second husband, and was the only man that played a constant in her life. My heart broke for him. He loved and wore his heart on his sleeve. While he was content on being naive and in denial, I don’t think he deserved what was done to him.Moonlight on Linoleum is painfully reflective yet ultimately hopeful. Helwig is a fantastic story-teller and wrote this sad tale impeccably. This was a story told through the eyes of a young, little girl who believed in family and togetherness. She conquered physical and emotional pain and clearly thrives. It is clear that the hope of Helwig will lead to a happy ending, not just for Helwig, but for the reader as well.
  • (4/5)
    Forced by her mother’s instability to care for her five siblings, Helwig crafts a moving story of a mother she loved and struggled to understand. Summary BPLSome readers have criticized the simple, linear narrative style, others the chore of reading about a truly awful childhood. I read the memoir because I wondered if Terry Helwig could clarify how she not only survived but, once she gained independence, actually thrived. I still don’t understand how she did it. I am all admiration for her objective comments about a mother who told her children when she was going out with other men while her husband was away that she was going to Timbuktu. The number of schools Terry and her sisters attended constitutes child abuse: Terry never spent an entire academic year at the same school. Mom had travelling feet and was always moving her daughters—or leaving them—somewhere.Terry Helwig writes with charity,compassion and clarity. No self-pity or payback here. An intelligent, warm human being with a story most of which should never have happened but which gave the world a beautiful woman.8 out of 10. Recommended to readers who enjoy reading about mother-daughter relationships, dysfunctional families and extraordinary people in a non-fiction genre.
  • (5/5)
    Welcome to the 50's.....Grandma and Grandpa taking care of children, Mom gone, only Dad. Doesn't sound like the 50's to me....sounds more like the way families are today.Moonlight on Linoleum is a nostalgic trip back to a life that should have been filled with stable families, but it had two sweet girls who were left with their father and grandparents in Iowa while Mama fulfilled dreams of her own.And…..Mama wasn't done fulfilling her dreams...more sisters arrived and more new schools. Mama liked to go out and leave Terry in charge. One year the girls were in their third school, but at least with this move they had a house to live in instead of a cramped apartment. That didn't last too long, though. They moved again, and Mama kept on with her antics and with Terry in charge of the girls.Wow...what an outstanding memoir. This memoir definitely held my interest and made me feel for the children and how they had to endure their childhood as always the new kid at school and not really a kid at home since they always had to do chores that were an adult's. It is hard to believe how resilient we are as children.This sentence stuck with me: "How was it possible that moonlight on linoleum, washed with my tears, could be so achingly beautiful?" Page 218 I shed and shared Terry’s tears as I read this incredible book.I have to call you marvelous, Terry. Being able to live like you did as a child and to turn out like you did is truly amazing. You are such a goodhearted person and such a good daughter and above all a WONDERFUL, loving sister.