Monthly Archives: May 2013

Daddy Care: Setting His House in Order

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My father Erwin A. Thompson

Photo by Gerry Mandel








My father at 97  has set a lifetime record for nearly dying. He’s done this at least 10 times in the last 6 years since I’ve come back home to live, not just visit. We have partnered during these years to preserve his legacy and prepare in every way imaginable for as smooth a passing as possible. The business of death is never easy, no matter what. But we’ve attacked the project with the strong will we Thompsons are famous for.  I wrote “Setting His House in Order”  a few years back during one of these scurrying downturn times

Setting His House in Order
by Janet Grace Riehl
for my father Erwin A. Thompson

Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Isaiah 38:1

Like a woman readying for delivery from pregnancy
he scurries between books, barn, and basements
to set his house in order.

For he is pregnant with the news of his life
and the coming of his death
when he will meet a new life.

What news he will learn in this new life
when the roll is called up yonder
he knows not.

He has charted the lead boat of a flurry of small skiffs
across so many troubled waters, wracked by waves
bigger than the lapping current and flooding of his beloved Mississippi.
He knows the turbulence of heavy waters
we must navigate in our small skiffs
when he is safely on the other side.

He knows he’ll be there, and we’ll be here, trying to sort it all out.

He sets us to sorting.
He wants to clear his space.
He wants to clear his mind.

And so, he sorts.
He sorts to clear a path to the canning jars in the root cellar.
He sorts to make categories of couplings in the antique basement.
He sorts the gardener’s lair, the old potting basement, stripping it back to basics.
He sorts metal scrap in the barn—a tractor steering wheel and a groundhog trap seeing how these things could be art.

He sorts and catalogues books, then stores them up high.
He sorts and types old family letters for the university archive.

He pours his memories out on paper.
He sorts his papers and book manuscripts.
He readies his new books for printing.

He passes on the bigness of himself in music, whittled wood, poetry, and prose.

He dreams of documenting the craft of generations of women in his family,
found in the cloth of quilts and comforters he helped his wife tie on the old  frame.

He is a farmer.
He knows these rhythms of the seasons as surely as
he knows his own heartbeat and rasping breath.

He knows what it is to sort the seeds for planting.
He knows what it is to plow the field and plant these seeds.

He continues to farm himself and to plow our fields
so we shall be ready when the last of his seeds are flung
from his hands, and we are left to farm on our own
in fields cultivated and disked by the lessons of his life.

It’s Time!

It’s time! The day has come. At last, writers can respectably self-publish our own books. Gone are the days of being at the mercy of publishers about content and book title. The two-year waiting period from publisher’s contract to a place on the shelves is over. And we can earn closer to our due for months or years of hard work instead of being paid $1 a book — the usual royalty.


But with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility. To self-publish a quality book we have to hire an editor, a copy editor and a proofreader. We’re in charge of getting the ISBN and related legalities. We need a professional cover designer for the print book and another for the e-book. The interior needs to be designed and the content uploaded to the several digital formats we’ll use for e-publishing. Then there’s distribution and publicity, advertising, review copies to send out, and more. We’re running a business while we’re getting that next book written; you don’t publish a book then rest on your laurels. Successful authors keep an interested audience satisfied.

I faced these facts when I decided to self-publish my book, “100 Years in the Life of an American Girl: True Stories 1910 – 2010.” I turned to Kickstarter, a world-famous online platform for crowdfunding creative projects.

My Kickstarter will help me publish this collection of over 50 first-person stories about the life and times by girls under 13 in each of the last 10 decades. This book is the culmination of my almost 20 years of teaching memoir and the recognition of all the potential there is in our stories. The diverse stories in the book come from all around the country and show a fascinating cultural path. It’s the stuff you’ll never find in history books and what life’s all about.

If funding is successful this book will the first published in the “100 Years in the Life” series. Everyone will have a chance to submit their own stories to future books — about the life and times as a teenager, a woman, or a man — illustrating life as it was in every decade from 1910 to 2010.

And that’s one of the challenges of a Kickstarter. The big “if.”

Kickstarter is an all or nothing funding platform, which means I have to meet my goal by June 24 for any pledges to be paid. It’s fund completely or fold.

I hope you’ll check out my short video at Kickstarter and learn all about this amazing collection of first-person stories about a girl’s life through a century and the series it could launch. For the price of a couple double lattes you can be a part of our great story of changing culture.

In advance, I offer my heartfelt thanks.


Suzanne Sherman is an author, editor, memoir teacher, consultant and blogger. See for her free newsletter and more.