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Prologue to Secrets Unveiled

Yesterday one of my Donna friends shared with me her impressions of reading Hawai‘i Calling, my first book. Donna loved my stories, especially the style of my storytelling with my explicit descriptive command of words. “Really well done; right up there; an A.” She had one cautionary bit of feedback. “Sometimes I felt that I was reading some intimate personal details that maybe I shouldn’t know.” When I pressed her, she alluded to some of the painful experiences of family. She was sorry that I had to live with those kinds of dynamics.

In reply, I thanked Donna for her honest feedback. (I am learning how rare a gift it can be when a good friend shares a critique or some unsettling detail about my writing.) I assured Donna that there would be more of the same in the second book, An American in Palestine. I cautioned her that she may want to skip book #3 entirely.

In that moment, I realized that I need to write this—that I need to place it in the front of Secrets Unveiled—Stories of Forgotten Memories. Perhaps I need to post what follows on the back cover.

A caution to readers: This book contains graphic and intimate detail. Details of explicit sexual encounters of a gay man. Details of a tangled twisted picture of a family mired in dysfunction and abuse. But above all, naked, soul-searching, lay-it-out-plain details of a man, who is emerging and freeing himself from a seventy-some-year whirlpool of his core psyche.

These pages contain light-hearted stories of joy and pleasure. These pages unveil family secrets buried behind impenetrable masks of happy-face. These pages pull down the veiled curtain, lay bare the myth, and step into the light of healing and wholeness.

I write this book for myself. The eternal optimist, I aim to sail out of the eddy of my whirlpool. I share the book publicly, primarily in the hope that other LGBTQ folks (especially those trapped behind the veil of middle-class normality) might find hope—perhaps even reach for a current at the edge of their personal eddy and make peace with their own “forgotten” memories.

Caution: Only the brave of heart need enter.

When 1/8 Should Equal 1/3

In the mind of an eight-year-old kid, the eight-hour trip from Hudson, Iowa to Herbster, Wisconsin had three divisions. First lap, one hour north to Aunt Hattie’s at New Hampton. Second stop, Spooner, Wisconsin, where rolling farm fields yielded to the flat north woods. Third, that agonizing last stretch to grand Lake Superior—at last.

As adults, we can spot the flaws in a kid’s logic. The potential for frustrating hours of anticipation is apparent. While in my young mind, Aunt Hattie’s ought to mean ⅓ of the way there, it only clicked off one of the eight hours of driving time. The lapse in logic invited endless, “Mom, are we there yet?” “Dad, how much longer?”

But that first stop on the farm outside New Hampton, Iowa did have its reward—Aunt Hattie’s apple pancakes! Eggs, milk, flour and butter—no baking powder for lift. A cast-iron skillet on the stove, sizzling with a generous layer of shortening. And a generous number of apple slices in each ladle of batter. Can’t you hear it sizzling in the hot fry pan? Smell it as the edges turn brown and crispy?

Delivered one at a time fresh from the fry pan to the plate, topped with butter and Karo syrup. The tension of three hungry boys waiting their turn. Aunt Hattie couldn’t possibly keep up with empty plates and eager pleas for “one more.” 

My mouth is watering today, 63 years later.

Excuse me. I need to go fix breakfast. Enjoy your day!  

Aunt Hattie’s Apple Pancakes

2 Eggs

1-½ c. Milk

1 t. Salt

1 T. Sugar

1 c. Flour

2-3 Apples

Butter

Karo syrup

Mix all ingredients down to apples. Slice apples and add. (A few lumps will not hurt.)

Using a heavy fry pan (cast iron) with a lid, melt 1 T. shortening and a mixing spoonful of batter. Cover (helps keep moist and tender.) Flip once and serve hot with generous portions of butter and Karo syrup. (Recipe calls for light. I prefer dark.)

Note: I prefer to leave uncovered, which makes the pancakes crispy on the edges.

Getting the heat in the pan just right takes a pancake or two. I usually burn the first one and toss it. You do need to have the pan and the oil hot. But not burning black scorching hot.

Last note, it helps to have three hungry boys sitting at table, waiting for their pancake (or two or three).

It Gets Better

I wrote this piece this morning, after writing stories about two friendships in my youth, both of which should/ could have been young lovers. But they weren’t. In those years, I lived in a closet—closed tight with not even a door to open and escape my own prison.

//

It will become a repeated tenor of my story through this section of Secrets Unveiled. For thirteen years between the ages of thirteen and twenty-six, I repeated this emotional roller coaster. These stories are at once exhilarating and loaded with thrills and anticipation while at the same time excruciating in the suspension of any desired culmination or outcome.

I need to pause and acknowledge the mood—the fraught emotion.

These stories are painful to tell. As always, I am reliving the memories as I put ink to paper. This stuff is real. Remembering it is real. Telling the story is real. And it hurts.

This is book #3. I now have more than 400 short memoirs in my notebooks. My writing craft is improving as I continue to do this. And with the improvement, I feel more acutely. The memories don’t simply poke up from the recesses of my mind and zip onto the page. I relive each and every memory as though it happens all over again in my “Now.”

My entire youth is so tortured by my existence in this straight closet where I lived and breathed—all the time trying to hold my breath. Time and again, I fell in love—or at least into lust. Time and again, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t act.

So here I am today, telling my story—reliving the torture of desire and wanting and loving; then halting at the edge of fulfilling the wish. It hurts. It pains me today as much or more than it did then. 

Today, I am a whole and loving gay man. Today, I can feel what I repressed and hid back then. Today, I shed the tears that should have been shed so long ago.

I also realize in my “Now.” I am putting you through this with me. I am asking you to ride this tortured roller coaster through a decade of my life, when I could not be Ric d. 

I want to apologize, but I’m not sure that’s appropriate. If I really didn’t wish you to experience this with me, I could simply not write about it. 

But that would be a lie. And I don’t live a lie. And I won’t ask you to live a lie with me.

So, I will simply acknowledge that I feel like I should apologize. But I won’t. I ask you, “Please, stay and walk this with me. It gets better. Gloriously, deliciously, sensually, sexually so much better.

9/11/2021

How to remember twenty years—9/11/21…

My final draft of An American in Palestine is in the hands of Saqib Arshad, my best-in-the-world formatting pro. If everything goes according to plan, I will self-publish on Amazon and Kindle on September 11.

“Why 9/11?” My friend Nikki asked me a couple days ago. “I don’t get the connection.”

Here is my reply. And, yes, it may stir some emotions, positive and negative.

Yes, 9/11/2001 was one day of infamy in American history. On that morning, I was in the refectory of Julian House Monastery in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It was my week to cook for the community of monks and nuns. I was preparing noon meal.

Sister Scholastic entered the room and announced to me the news of planes striking the Twin Towers in New York City. Normal activity was suspended for the morning. At noon, we gathered in the chapel for our precious Noonday Prayer for Mother Julian. Prayer was earnest. Tears were abundant. Scant portions of my noonday meal were eaten. Who could think or pray or share about food on that day?

In the twenty years since 9/11, America has responded with anger and aggression. For twenty years we have been fighting back—getting even with “them” for what “they” did to “us.”

My An American in Palestine chronicles two visits and three months that I lived in West Bank Palestine in 2013/2014. I shared life and food and comaraderie with a people, who are perpetual victims of Israeli aggression, hostility and oppression. Israel does this with the aid of U.S. tax dollars. It is “WE” who oppress Palestine.

Remembering 9/11, America has spent twenty years playing victim on the world stage. How dare they do that to us!

On 9/11/2021, I will publish An American in Palestine. In touching and heart-felt stories, I will ask, “How dare WE do that to THEM?”

Your thoughts….???

My Mommy Memories

Mom planted several “memories” in my brain. Things of note that she remembered from my early childhood. She told these stories often enough that they have become memories in my own mind.

//

Age eighteen months. Realizing that Ricky was uncharacteristically quiet, Mom walked from the kitchen into the living room to investigate. There I was, happy at play with a new toy. I had found a sprung mouse trap and was petting the thoroughly dead mouse that had ventured for the wrong bite of cheese. Soft; fuzzy; still warm—a perfect toy for a naive little boy!

//

Age two. We lived in Peoria, Illinois. Mom heard some unusual clinking sound on the back steps. Coming to inspect, Mommy found me in a moment of proud display. I had collected three or four quart milk bottles. One was chocolate milk—my favorite.

“Ricky, what are you doing? Where did you get all these milk bottles?”

“From the neighbors.” My reply was innocent but affirmative.

It took Mom a good half hour to walk the block and apologize and return the milkman’s deliveries to their rightful homes.

//

“Ricky, come eat your breakfast.” I obliged with my usual enthusiasm and clean-your-plate attitude. 

One morning Mom was hanging laundry in the back yard. Spying Mrs. Rouch in her yard three doors down the block, she waved and bid a “Good morning, Ruth.”

A friendly conversation ensued. In the middle of talk, Ruth Rouch exclaimed, “We so much enjoy your son.”

“Thank you, Ruth. He’s a  handful, I tell you.” Mom’s reply was telling.

“Oh, not for us. We simply love him. Almost every morning he shows up early on our back porch and asks if he can join us for breakfast. It’s such a joy to have a little boy to feed.”

My mother aghast, “You mean…?”

After that morning, I was on a tight leash in the hour before breakfast—at home.

//

Doorbell in the middle of the afternoon. 

Mom interrupted her housework task to answer the door. Surprised… no, shocked. There was a policeman with Ricky at his side.

“Ma’am, is this your son?” The blue inquired with a smile.

“Oh, my goodness. He was playing in the back yard. Where on earth did he go to?” My mom finds the alarm that had not yet caught up with her.

“He was at the corner grocery four blocks away. Wanted to know if the grocer had chocolate milk.” A chuckle from the blue. Blushed embarrassment from the mom.

I do remember Mom mentioning tying a leash to the clothesline. I don’t know whether it was a joke or her measure of last resort.

Hey, I was headed for Hawai‘i from age two!

Food—Hawaiian Style

Okay, I am still too upset to write about Texas and the un-Supreme Court.

An American in Palestine is off in the hands of a formatter, who will finalize my book for submission to Amazon press. (Translation: I need a break.)

It’s Sunday and I don’t want to do “heavy” on Sunday.

So let’s try this:

I have lived in #Hawaii for thirty-four years now and I have to declare that the #food here is some of the best in the world. (Hey, all the world’s foods are here!) If you want #fresh #homecooked meals, then Hawaii is da place for you. Check out this article on #hawaiimagazine and let me know which one of the #dishes catches your eye! (I want to try #17 mac n cheese pancakes.) https://www.hawaiimagazine.com/20-hawaii-dishes-you-must-try-when-traveling-to-the-islands/

Prologue to An American in Palestine

This evening I have been “followed” on Instagram by Said Khatib, the photographer from Gaza, Palestine. One photograph by Khatib will be the cover of my second book, An American in Palestine. I am honored to share correspondence with a man, whose photo journalism is bringing the struggle of Palestine to the headlines. I aim to match his photographic image with my memories of two Palestinian families in West Bank Palestine.

The prologue to An American in Palestine:

Wake Up, Ric d. Stark!

“I wish that people would listen to the Palestinian voices on the ground,  talk to the mothers who try to put their children next to them, because, if they die, they want to die together… These are the kinds of stories that need to be told behind the bombing [of Gaza by Israel in May 2021.”]

On MSNBC on May 17, 2021, I heard Rashida Tlaib, the sole US Congressperson of Palestinian descent, bemoan about the distorted view that Americans have of Palestinians. She lamented that Americans don’t hear the personal stories of common Palestinian people. Speaking to Joy Reid, Tlaib spoke with passion.

Sitting in my rocking chair in Ewa Beach, Hawai‘i, working on my Hawaiian quilt as I listened to Congresswoman Tlaib, I cried, “Hey! I can tell those kinds of stories.”

//

On May 10, 2021, an escalated outbreak of violence commenced in the ongoing Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. Sparked by earlier disturbances in East Jerusalem, aerial bombings were exchanged by Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu until a ceasefire came into effect on May 21. 

As a result of the violence, at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, had been killed. In Israel, at least 13 people had been killed. The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that more than 1,900 Palestinians were injured, at least 72,000 Palestinians had been displaced. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

On May 17, when Rashida Tlaib bemoaned that no one was sharing stories of the common Palestinian people, she could not have known that her words would awaken the voice of one American, who could indeed tell just those sorts of stories.

//

In 2013 and 2014, I had the rare and clandestine opportunity to visit West Bank Palestine. During my extended three-month stay in Beit Laim (Bethlehem,) I spent time and enjoyed the company of two Palestinian families. Renting a small apartment on the ground floor of the home of a four-generation Christian family, I observed daily family life up close. Through my sponsor, Farouk Al Jaabari, I joined his Muslim family each week on Holy Day (Friday) for an extended-family gathering of a shared meal and social time.

My visits profoundly impacted my worldview. When I returned to Hawai‘i in late 2014, I was simmering with thoughts and emotions that I wished to share. These people and their plight needed advocates. Living under abhorrent conditions, Palestinians were being subjected to social and cultural genocide. American financial aid to Israel made us U.S. citizens complicit in this reprehensible policy. But how could I speak? I had no platform and I lacked an audience. My stories were small and lacked the kind of powerful impact of someone like Richard Engel, reporting from war fronts in the Middle East.

On that day of May 17, 2021, I had opened a Facebook page to promote my new venture as an author of literary non-fiction. My platform is largely undiscovered. I can count my audience on my ten fingers and ten toes. But I do have stories to share. So I will do so. 

I don’t have stories of assassination and murder. I don’t have documented evidence of Israel’s continued illegal annexation of Palestinian homelands. I do have personal and intimate stories of Palestinian people. I do have touching stories of encounters with people whose lives are so human and poignant. 

When we experience these kinds of stories, things can change. (Oh, that such a simple statement was really true and valid!) Change the world? Probably not. But share my stories? That, I can do.

Ric d. Stark

…an American with memories and a voice.

From a Friend

Who Knows Me Well

Aloha Ric,
Well, it’s your fault that my floor is dirty & there are dishes in the sink. I got your book today, came home from the post office, sat down & read the whole thing.

I so recognized that awareness of Hawai’i being my rightful home. From my first step at Kona airport until now I have never doubted or regretted being here. I know I will always be a haole, fortunate to have been accepted by the people of this land & that’s the next best thing to actually having Hawaiian blood. “On the voyage”.


Your book is wonderful & I was sad to have it end. Glimpses of young Ric & his family; laughs; learning things – I didn’t know about your time with a clothing line! – poignant, thought provoking, just a joy to read. Already wanting to read it again, slower instead of gobbling every word. Underlining some things.
It’s just you. Wonderfully you.

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Wendy

Ric: That’s a pretty damn nice book review, no?!!!!

My reply to Wendy: “Wow! Thanks… Btw, the dishes in the bottom of my sink are two days old. I’m lost in the final edits of book #2, “An American in Palestine.”

Wendy’s reply to that: “Don’t worry about the dishes, just keep working on the next book.”

Only “Us”

“We act in Gaza according to our interests.”

“There is no ‘them; there is only ‘us.’”

Two quotes I heard on public radio this morning while driving to my Honolulu Write Team workshop. It’s hard for me to imagine two more contradictory quotes, uttered about two minutes apart and sending my eardrums (and heart) into spasm.

Yes, I will elaborate. That’s why I’m here. I need to elaborate. I HAVE to elaborate—make some ??? of this. (I was going to write the word “sense” there, but I already know—there won’t be any sense to this.)

//

It was the on-the-hour news break. Remember? Yesterday, the new Israeli prime minister met with Joe Biden at the White House. The sound bites are about “establishing a personal relationship” and “affirming our common interests.” This morning Israel fired rockets into Gaza. That killed how many innocent, nameless (Who cares?) Palestinians? 

And today as prime minister Bennett was preparing to board his plane, he spoke, “We act in Gaza according to our interests.”

//

Before leaving home to attend my Sunday writers’ workshop, I had determined to write a short memoir about Palestinians. I am weeks away from publishing my second book, An American in Palestine. So the topic is in my face—seething inside my heart.

Here were the kernels of thought I had determined to share:

Question to American Jews: So are you comfortable knowing that the millions/billions of dollars contributed by your fellow people are used to commit a new genocide against Israel’s “them?”

Question to American Christiians: So are you even aware that in today’s world, saving the Holy Lands means wiping out and eradicating the “them” of Palestinian blood?

Question to American Democrats: So are we comfortable knowing that our beloved (thank God for Joe!) president is cozying up to Israel’s new mass murderer?

Question to Americans All: So are we sitting cozy with the knowledge that our nation’s #1 recipient of foreign aid is Israel?  That Israel is using OUR money and OUR power and OUR influence to disenfranchise, impoverish, and exterminate an entire people? A people that they (and by association, WE) label the bad “them?”

//

A minute after the news played Bennett’s murderous quote on air, “On Being” began a morning interview with Mexican writer, ​​Luis Alberto Urrea. The program opened with a quote by the author, “There is no ‘them;’ there is only ‘us.’”

//

…which means that this morning in Israel/ Gaza, WE lobbed bombs into Gaza, killing OURSELVES. If there’s only “us,” then we committed murder and were murdered today in Gaza. Happy Sunday worship, America. Happy Sunday cruise/ picnic/ baseball/ mall shopping/ couch potatoing, America.

My dark side, yes. I’m pissed. At the same time, I embrace Urrea’s impassioned wish that “it really could be.” I’m gonna play John Lennon’s “Imagine” now. Be well, my friends.

Love Life—It’s What We Got

“Retreat cancelled.” I got a big disappointment in yesterday’s emails. My friend Diane Farrar notified the group of quilters from Big Island’s Ka Lae quilter group that our much-anticipated 2021 KMC Quilters’ Retreat will be cancelled—due to Covid 19 surge in recent weeks. From the years 2012 until 2019, this annual retreat has been my treasured time of productive quilting, priceless camaraderie, blessed renewal, and too much ono (good) food. Since we all missed last year’s retreat, we were holding intense enthusiasm and commitment in knowing that this year, we would gather and feed our souls.

But…not to be.

Yesterday morning when I got the news, I sighed and replied with a joke about folks soothing their let-down feelings by buying a good read (and I just might have a good suggestion!!!) A day later in this evening hour, I am swimming in some different emotions.

//

I am “done” with this virus and its hold on our lives.

1). I am empathetic of the folks, who honestly don’t know and don’t trust and have too much valid history with reason not to trust. These folks are hurting; I hurt too. Not “in their shoes”—that would be presumptive and dis-ingenuous. I hurt because I want them not to hurt—so that I don’t have to hurt. See, it really is about being selfish, isn’t it?

2). I am angry with the millions, who are lapping up the disinformation and who really believe this is about politics and vaccination is on the wrong side of that political divide.

* How many of them have that perfect little circular scar on one arm in the middle of their deltoid muscle? That saved the lives of 1/3 to 1/2 of us. Because of that little scar, we don’t have a smallpox pandemic.

* How many of those nay-sayers drank that little paper cup of polio vaccine in kindergarten? That prevents thousands/ millions of us from living lives with paralysis and deformity.

* How many of those (dammit!) hard-headed creeps refuse to get the necessary vaccines when they travel to foreign countries? Answer: None!

* How many of the non-vaccers realize that it’s only because the rest of us say, “Sure, yes!” that THEY can live healthy lives? Answer: All of them but they refuse to acknowledge it.

3.) I am outraged at the right-wing media tyrants and self-serving politicians, who sell this load of manure (bull***). 

They KNOW better. They all got the vaccine! They all mask in their work hallways! They all do everything they can to avoid moving among or sharing space with the folks in category 1. I honestly believe they should ALL be behind bars for their lies and their perpetration of a pandemic, which could be going in a different direction.

//

Okay, I let out the anger and the outrage. We need permission and space to do that. I found the time and took the space. Now—that’s done.

//

I am living a pretty fine chapter in the life of one Ric d. Stark. I have found a way to light my flame and a place where I can put my candle on top of a hill, rather than hide it under a basket. It’s really really really a gooooooo good time in a life.

At seventy-two, I am more enthused and on fire than almost any other time in life.

* I have nine Hawaiian quilt masterpieces and another nine to design and sew.

* I have published my first book! Hooooooray!

* I have Book #2 on the far end of the editing floor, near the finish line, and almost ready for print.

* Book #3 is splayed out in a clutter of unorganized memoirs and just begging for my devoted attention.

* I have a job that is meaningful, rewarding, and that gives me rent.

* I have a doggy who demands that I back away from the keyboard or the quilting needle to take time for him.

* I have gardens that are growing and winning heaps of compliments from appreciative neighbors.

* I have a wellness coach (I call Kevin my shrink!) who inspires me and helps me to remain my own best cheerleader.

* I have good friends, who insist (by their very being) that I open and share my heart and my life.

* …and I have MEMORIES, my new and latest “husband,” the life companion who nurtures me and who feeds my soul and who gives me more than enough reason to bounce out of bed and “just do it” every day.

I told my BFF Nikki today, “That damn virus may cause my death,… but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let this thing poison my life.”

//

Every morning at 6:00 a.m. when Heno (my doggy) and I go for a walk, I pick a flower and bring it back home to sit at the base of my new iMac. Each day for the whole day, that flower reminds me, 

Life is beautiful.

Time may be fleeting.

“NOW” is the best thing in this universe.

So, smell the aroma; appreciate the beauty; be kind to one (or any number) of folks today; and love life. It’s what we got…