Adoption Reunions: Another Perspective

We’re so pleased to have Tom Bateman as our guest blogger today. Tom, besides being Kathy’s cousin, is a 1983 graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, the Choral Director of New Hope-Solebury High School and Middle School and the Organist and Choir Director of Saint Martin of Tours in New Hope, PA. Here’s his experience of our reunion. 

-Julie and Kathy

Wisler gathering 1979
Wisler Family gathering, 1979

From the time I was a little boy, I knew I had a very large extended family.  My grandparents had five of six children survive to adulthood, and they were all prolific when it came to increasing the family numbers. When all was said and done there were 28 grandchildren, and for a spell there were 30.  Each of the five families had as few as three and as many as seven children.  As a result, I had 21 first cousins on my mother’s side. 

All of my cousins were fantastic, but Kathy and her two brothers were extra special because they lived 1,000 miles away in Florida. Each summer they would head north to Philadelphia for a lengthy visit, and we were beyond thrilled. In fact, our summers together top some of my fondest childhood memories. 

When we eventually learned Kathy and her brothers were adopted, it meant little to us;  they were our cousins, tried and tested through years of camaraderie and closeness.  Although the news intrigued my siblings and me, it didn’t change the way we felt about them.  They were family, and nothing could change that — not even genetics (or lack thereof). 

Tom’s siblings and Kathy’s siblings. (Kathy all in white.)

Over the years, we not only celebrated the big events, such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, and reunions, but we also relished in the more commonplace exchanges, such as letters, phone calls, and shared spring breaks. We were cousins, yes – but on many occasions, our relationship has felt like that of siblings. And like any other family, our lives were not just filled with joyous events; we also experienced great loss.  Ours seemed to happen all in the span of one decade.

The 1990s took away our Wisler grandparents, two aunts, and three uncles (one of which was my father, and another was Kathy’s father). In addition, we lost many great aunts and uncles with whom we were equally close. It was a painful time, and often there was no time to grieve one family member passing before we faced the news of another loved one’s terminal diagnosis. We were beaten down, but we faced life and death together, as a family, and knew that the ones who had left us would have encouraged us to go on with the same spirit and zest for life that they bestowed upon us when we were children.

In 2008, when Kathy first shared with me the news of her possible connection to her birth family, I was thrilled for her.  I encouraged her to follow her heart and to not be afraid— no matter the outcome.  My deep fondness for her and desire for her happiness was key in the way I advised her, but I admit that I had tremendous fear that in some way a reunion could diminish the closeness we shared all our lives.  However, in this case, I knew I had to put my fears aside and encourage her to move forward with her quest.

The night Kathy first spoke to Julie and Frank on the phone, she called me to share her news. And I– her impulsive and protective cousin– decided to send a letter to her mother exalting Kathy’s qualities and expressing my joy that they had found each other. I emphasize impulsive because it mortified Kathy and probably scared Julie to death!  Here they were, after decades of wondering, trying to decide how to proceed, and this dolt (me) intercedes to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings!

Kathy and her daughters, Kathryn and Amanda, with their uncle Tom.

However, in the long run, I believe that all parties involved realized what I had were all good intentions. 

As for my fears– they were unwarranted.  I have met most of Kathy’s birth family and adore them. I admire what they do for their existence, for I, too, am in the fine arts.  I fondly remember her sister Danielle and I coaching my niece on a paper she had to do on Benjamin Britten. I cherished when Kathy’s parents not only came to my hometown where they had rekindled their forbidden love, but also stopped to have dinner with my family and to visit my home. 

When I met Kathy’s birth family, the von Zernecks, what I discovered was a family, much like my own, that loved one another unconditionally and that there was nothing more important in life than that. If Kathy and the Von Zernecks are living happily ever after, so too, are the Wislers. I look forward to when I will see the von Zernecks again, and I know that there are still many Wisler relatives who look forward to meeting Kathy’s family.  Throughout this whole reunion process, all of our lives have been enriched– and blessed.  For this I am most grateful. 

I think the big questions have been answered: 

Was Kathy loved and cared for?  – Yes! 

Do the von Zernecks care for Kathy as much as we? – Yes!   

Divine intervention, in my opinion, is the catalyst for this newfound family relationship.  I think this whole reunion took place because those we have lost, including the Mannix family and Wisler family, have sent their blessings from their resting places.  I cannot ask for more.

-Tom Bateman

“Be Kind…

…for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

This morning, I was on my way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to light candles for my children and grandchildren, as I always do when in New York. IMG_7965I happened upon the funeral procession of Cardinal Edward M. Egan, and followed it. For some reason, one of the policemen mistook me for a reporter and allowed me closer than most other onlookers. The sky was gray, preparing itself to rip open and pour. The mourners were somber, the music elegiac, the air sweet with incense.

During the homily, much was made of the Cardinal’s humility. Rather than focus on adulating him, the funeral focused on what Cardinal Egan loved more than himself: God and the church. And that was my favorite part. While a Catholic myself, to me it makes little difference what religion we are, if humility and the fact that our own individual lives are but a part of a vast, interconnected consciousness are what we

Just because the mailboxes have to be locked for security, doesn't mean our hearts do, too.
Just because the mailboxes have to be locked for security, doesn’t mean our hearts do, too.

value above all else.

One of the many ways of valuing these is to always remain open. The eyes, the ears, and the heart. Later in the day, I had reason to stop by an Apple store to get a device fixed. I was led to a woman in blue, who greeted me with an infectious, beaming smile. The kind of smile you simply can’t leave unreciprocated. As she looked through my gadget, she commented on the great number of digital and audio books it contained. “Yes,” I answered, “I have trouble sleeping at night, so I read.”

“I understand,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night, either.” I asked her why that was. Without revealing any more about her than I have the right to, I’ll say that her reason is that her boyfriend was murdered six months ago. She has since founded and runs a charity in his honor. The details were awful. And I found myself wondering how she could have smiled at me, and probably everyone else she sees throughout the day, with such energy, so much light.

And I was instantly reminded of a quote I love, whose author I cannot remember: “Only the heart that’s had enough stays shut.” I believe in that because it gives me hope. It should give us all hope. When we think we’ve had enough, often we find that we’ve underestimated ourselves.

I’ll probably never see her again, and who knows if Cardinal Egan is looking down and approving of his tasteful, pious funeral. What matters is that my eyes and ears were open. So my heart was filled.




Finding My Place in My Family, Part II

Read Part I here

As I said, I am very lucky. Whenever I get to missing my mother and father, I can just look them up. I can look up everyone in my immediate family: my two daughters, my son, my grandchildren, and my husband, too.

Frank at White Barn Theater
Frank at White Barn Theater

The things that pop up under my husband’s name, which is Frank von Zerneck, make me very pleased indeed. From the moment I met him in the sizzling summer of 1963 I knew he was ferocious with importance and bursting with self-belief. He was a cyclone, a tempest, and a great force of nature. And he sent me soaring one tranquil day, high into the great blue yonder, spoiling me forever from all that was ordinary and dull.

But wait a minute. I might be getting ahead of myself. Maybe you need to know a little more about him before I show you what he became. Perhaps I need to explain to you that when I met him, he was all bluster and gusto, with humongous dreams.

Possibly, I should clarify that he was just a kid from the Bronx with delusions of grandeur, before I show you what pops up on the internet under his name. And maybe I ought to explain where he came from first.

He was the first-born of immigrant parents—his mother a Sephardic Jew, his father the son of a baroness from Austria-Hungry. He was a child who learned to avoid the grass between the Bronx pavement stones, lest it leave its green tint on him. He grew up smart as a whip. He grew up on a cot hidden behind the family couch in the living room, so all his toys had to be small enough to fit under it. And he grew up looking out the window of the one-bedroom apartment, four flights up, imagining what it would be like if there were no telephone poles or buildings blocking his view.

The High School of Performing Arts, circa 1950
The High School of Performing Arts, circa 1950

As a child he acted on live TV and in the theater, selling drinks and programs in Broadway lobbies. Spending most of his summers as a teenager at White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut, he stage-managed and learned to light plays, and design and build sets. The White Barn was a small theater founded by Lucille Lortel, which premiered numerous plays that went on to successful Broadway and Off-Broadway runs. Miss Lortel aimed to present unusual and experimental plays, promote new playwrights, composers, actors, directors and designers, and help established artists develop new directions in ways they might not have been able to do in commercial theater. From the age of thirteen on (claiming he was older,) Frank became Lucille Lortel’s go-to guy, living in a small trailer behind the theater for seven summers, and then

Theater de Lys, 1955
Theater de Lys, 1955

eventually moving to work at her other theater in New York City, Theater de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel Theater) in Greenwich Village. That was where The Threepeny Opera by Bertolt Brecht played from 1955 until 1961, which was then a record-setting run for a musical in New York City. In between all that, he attended the High School of Preforming Arts in Manhattan, and then he went to Hofstra College on scholarship.

When I first met him he was selling tickets in the box office of a tented summer theater in Westbury, Long Island. From there, that winter, he would go to The Phoenix Theater, the first American repertory company on and off-Broadway, until he went to manage the Martin Beck

Martin Beck Theatre
Martin Beck Theatre

Theater (now the Al Hirschfeld Theatre) on Broadway, where The Ballad of The Sad Café by Edward Albee was opening in October. By the age of twenty-three there wasn’t one thing he didn’t know about the theater. He knew it inside-out, upside-down and backwards.

We were polar opposites. Where he was dark, I was light. Where he was outgoing and spontaneous I was held-back and shy. I had grown up in an insulated world on Philadelphia’s Main Line. He, on the other hand, had grown up in a world full of so many dimensions it boggled the mind.

Here is some of what the internet has to say about him:

Frank von Zerneck, born 1940 in New York City, is an American television producer. His career began as a theater producer in Los Angeles, but moved to television in 1975 in collaboration with Robert Greenwald, which resulted in the Emmy nominated docudrama 21 Hours at Munich. Of the company’s most notable productions are four Native American films produced for Turner Network Television which included the Emmy winning Geronimo, nominated Crazy Horse, and Golden Globe nominated Lakota Woman. Tecumseh, which concluded the series, was also critically acclaimed. During a career in entertainment that has spanned more than 40 years, Frank von Zerneck has been responsible for theatrical motion pictures, several Broadway plays and numerous highly rated television movies. His many credits as a producer include the Emmy-nominated mini-series Dress Gray, written by Gore Vidal and starring Alec Baldwin; and Queenie, starring Kirk Douglas and Mia Sara.

Among the many other highly successful projects which von Zerneck (and his partner, Robert Sertner) are proud of: Too Young to Die?, starring Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis; Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid, starring Val Kilmer and Wilford Brimley; the record-shattering drama, The Pregnancy Pact

Frank, bottom left, on the set of Armstrong Presents' "Teenage Junkie"
Frank, bottom left, on the set of Armstrong Presents’ “Teenage Junkie”

Gracie’s Choice, a depiction of drug and alcohol abuse, starring Anne Heche in an Emmy–nominated performance; a miniseries adaptation of Scott Turow’s best-selling novel, Reversible Errors, starring Tom Selleck and William H. Macy; The Mystery of Natalie Wood, a miniseries for ABC directed by Peter Bogdanovich; the critically acclaimed and highly-rated We Were the Mulvaneys, based on the best-selling Oprah Book Club novel by Joyce Carol Oates, which was nominated for three Emmy Awards; and Within These Walls, starring Academy Award winners Ellen Burstyn and Laura Dern.

Over the years, Frank von Zerneck has produced over 150 movies for television, some of television’s most successful films, enjoying both critical and commercial success. As an independent long-form producer, von Zerneck is second to none.

He has just finished filming Cleveland Abduction, a Lifetime Original Movie, the true story of Michele Knight, a 21-year-old whose life was irrevocably changed after she was abducted by Ariel Castro in Cleveland on August 22, 2002, and held as his prisoner in his home for over 11 years. Taryn Manning, of Orange Is the New Black, stars as Knight, the woman who refused to be broken by Castro.


Yep, that’s him, all 5 feet 10 inches of him. My husband, who went from rags to riches, as they say. But I hold that he was rich from the start, for he has always been a man of dreams. I saw those dreams the first day I met him. I saw them in the sparkle of his hazel eyes and the manner in which he walked. It was, and still is, a jaunty walk, a gentle swagger of a sort. I have, however, watched him fall hard a couple of times over the years, too. But always he picks himself up and starts all over again. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, even when you are following a dream. He is still a cyclone, a tempest, and a great force of nature. And he still sends me soaring high into the great blue yonder. I am spoiled forever from all that is ordinary and dull.

Despite all, there was a shadow between us for many years. It was not a shadow that could be lain down upon or even reached for, although we tried. The shadow was out of our reach and because of that it brought us much pain and suffering. The shadow was that of a baby, our baby. The baby I was forced to give away before we were married.

To be continued…


The Dress that Broke the Internet and What it Teaches Us About Reunions

juliekathweddingThe dress that broke the internet got me thinking. The age-old question, “is your red the same as my red?” applies to so much more than color perception. In some ways, it’s the true foundation of all our relationships: negotiating a dance between one’s own perception of the world and another’s. If I perceive nighttime as the time when I wake up, have breakfast, and live my life, and I have a husband for whom the same is true only of daytime, chances are we won’t get to grow old together. That’s an outlandish example, of course, but it stands in for countless subtler perceptive differences that we often don’t even notice compromising on. More importantly, it’s what illustrates the true breadth of blind faith we all must have in order to function in the world. When we hear the words I love you, for example, we have no guarantee that the word love represents the same feeling in the person professing it as it does in us. We just have to trust that it does.

This is heightened and even more extraordinary when thinking, as Kathy and I are wont to do, about adoption reunions. The meeting between, in our case, an adoptee and a birth mother, is a meeting between relatives who are strangers to one another. While we recognized each other as family the moment we set eyes on one another, that had little bearing on the kind of relationship we would have. Kathy still had no idea what kind of person I was. Just because she recognized her own children’s features in mine did not mean that she could expect her values to be in harmony with mine. Or that I was an affectionate person. Or empathetic, or kind. Because these assessments can only be made with time. For example, she may have asked me, are you an affectionate person? To which I would have responded, thinking about what affectionate meant to me, yes, and by doing so created in her an expectation of me. We lived thousands of miles apart. What are the chances that the way I expressed affection would be in keeping with the way she expected me to express it?

This is just one small factor that complicates reunions. As we research reunions for our next book (stay tuned for more information about that!) we are more and more convinced of the wisdom in slowly getting to know each other rather than jumping in headfirst, spurred on by the euphoria of the ‘honeymoon period’.

Because sometimes all it takes to break up a fledgling relationship between reunitees is, “No, you’re wrong. It’s obviously black and blue. And I can’t be around a person who insists it’s white and gold!”


Finding My Place in My Family: Part I


I am very lucky. Whenever I get to missing my mother and father, I can just look them up. Actually, in this world-at-our-fingertips, I can look us all up — everyone in my immediate family: my two daughters, my son, my husband, and my grandchildren, too.

The first thing that pops up under my mother’s name, which is Jule Mannix, is this, from Kirkus Reviews:

Magazine articles, lectures and even moving pictures may have made the Mannix-styled actual history-ing familiar to quite a Unknownfew but many more will discover a great deal of entertainment in the curious goings-on this husband and wife traveling team stir up. For in these twelve years of marriage, Jule discovers that she can take care of eagles, a cheetah, assorted small pets; can cope with pneumonia-producing Capri weather and housing; can go all out for an African expedition (in connection with Hunter) and can really mean it when she says goodbye to her dreams of an acting career. And that she can get along with a husband whose writing and love of animals impose strange and unexpected demands. The bald and golden eagles lead them to Mexico and, in turn, to manta and diving ducks; the cheetah’s hunting in the west, to California; there are bats and their caves to be investigated; there’s the story of Grace Wiley and her remarkable ability with snakes which led to tragedy; and there are the rhino, hippo and elephants and lions which John Hunter and others showed them in Africa. This is careening careering that’s fun and free from the workaday, humdrum world.

Julie VonZerneck_Page_13Yep, that’s my mom, all 5 feet 4 inches of her. There is so much I want to find out about this woman that I don’t yet know. I have papers of hers, phone numbers and receipts from all over the world, that go back to the 50s. Hopefully they will tell me about her life. That is, when I can bring myself to lay them all out on the floor in some kind of order, instead of just peek at them now and then. After all, she did leave them for me to see. Did she want me to write her story? She was a shadow in my life. A shadow I find in my closets sometimes. And sometimes I find it under my bed. I have stretched her shadow out flat on the floor and lain down on it, trying to make myself fit. But it is too vast for me. It spreads out way beyond my frame. I feel undersized when I lie down on it. I do not walk in my mother’s shoes trying to find her. I lie on her shadow instead. 

The first thing that pops up under my father’s name, which is Daniel P. Mannix, is this, from Wikipedia:

Daniel Pratt Mannix IV was an American author, journalist, photographer, sideshow performer, stage magician, animal trainer, and filmmaker. His best-known works are the 1958 book Those About to Die, which remained in continuous print The_Fox_and_the_Houndforthree decades, and the 1967 novel The Fox and the Hound which in 1981 was adapted into an animated film by Walt Disney Productions.

The Mannix family had a long history of service in the United States Navy, and Mannix’ father, Daniel P. Mannix, III, was an American naval officer. His mother would often join her husband on his postings, and the Mannix children would stay at their grandparents’ farm outside Philadelphia. It was there that Mannix began to keep and raise various wild animals. In time, the cost of feeding them led him to write his first book, The Back-Yard Zoo.

Mannix covered a wide variety of subject matter as an author. His books ranged from fictional animal stories for children, the natural history of animals, and adventurous accounts about hunting Unknown-4big game to sensational adult non-fiction topics such as a biography of the occultist Aleister Crowley, sympathetic accounts of carnival performers and sideshow freaks, and works describing, among other things, the Hellfire Club, the Atlantic slave trade, the history of torture, and the Roman games. In 1983, he edited The Old Navy: The Glorious Heritage of the U.S. Navy, Recounted through the Journals of an American Patriot by Rear Admiral Daniel P. Mannix, 3rd, his father’s posthumously-published autobiographical account of his life and naval career from the Spanish-American War of 1898 until his retirement in 1928.

According to Martin M Winkler’s book, Gladiator: Film and History, Mannix’s 1958 non-fiction book, Those about to Die (reprinted in 2001 as The Way of the Gladiator) was the inspiration for David Franzoni‘s screenplay for the 2000 movie Gladiator.

Mannix was also a skilled stage magician, magic historian, and collector of illusions and apparatus. In 1957, he was one of the 16 charter members who co-founded the Munchkin Convention of the International Wizard of Oz Club. He contributed numerous articles to The Baum Bugle.

Mannix and his wife and sometime co-author Jule Junker Mannix travelled around the world and raised exotic animals. From 1950 onward, Daniel and Jule Mannix lived in the same house in East Whiteland, near Malvern, Pennsylvania. Mannix died on January 29, 1997, at the age of 85.

Yep, that’s my father, all 6 feet 4 inches of him. He, too, was a shadow in my life. A shadow I find behind doors sometimes. I find it inside an old Navy khaki coat of his that I have hanging in my closet. I have stretched his shadow out flat on the floor and lain down on it, as well, attempting to make it fit, exasperated. But it is way, way too big for me, and blows out way beyond my puny frame. I feel insufficient when I lie down on it. I feel small and hungry for the sound of his voice, and the days when I was six, seven and eight, and he would read to me. Authors like Kipling and Dickens and my favorite, The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I do not walk in my father’s shoes, trying to find him. I lie on his shadow instead. 


There was a time when I did not fit my own shadow. A time when I was so undersized that when I lay down on it, I was positive my shadow was not mine. At a very young age I was aware of not being capable of remembering certain things. It must have beenIMG_1585 in my brain somewhere, I figured. But possibly it was locked behind a door and someone else had the key? I could not remember names. I could not read, spell, or add up numbers. Nor could I learn by rote. I thought, from a time in the beginning that I couldn’t remember, that there was something wrong with me. That I was dim-witted, silly, and lacking intelligence. I was nothing like my parents, who could do anything. And no matter how much I looked like my mother or my father, I knew I was not like them at all. My forgetting made me unrelated to them. I loved them so much and I wanted to make them proud. And it hurt me when I couldn’t.

And then, I did.

The first thing that pops up under my name is this, from Philadelphia Weekly:

Motherhood, Interrupted: How a 1960s Debutante Lost Her Daughter for 44 Years. Before Julie Mannix von Zerneck grew up and became a TV actress, she was a scared, pregnant Bryn Mawr teenager whose parents had her institutionalized till the baby could go away. Four decades later, that baby, Kathy Hatfield, would finally find her.


In this exquisite memoir, Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield recount the stories of their lives. Deliciously strange, surprising and sweetly funny…

Then, there is this:

Julie and Frank von Zerneck are the owners of Portrait of a Bookstore— a tiny, independent bookstore, which is now nestled 24630007_Fotor_Collageinside Aroma Cafe in Studio City, CA.

Here you will find the best of the best in literature. As this is almost certainly the world’s smallest bookstore, our hand-picked selection is always vibrant, current, and worthy of the praise of any astute bibliophile.

In addition to books, we carry the best greeting cards in town, children’s books and toys, jewelry, gifts for the home, gifts for readers and writers, gifts for the heart and soul, even gifts for people who have no more use for gifts.

Julie takes several unenviable and arduous trips throughout the year to New York, England and France. She returns trailed by exquisite antique books, vintage jewelry, antique china sets, typewriters, Victorian writing slopes, paintings… the list goes on. The most amazing thing, however, is that they all fit inside this cozy little haven— a home away from home for so many.

Yep, that’s me, all 5 feet 4 inches of me. I have stretched my shadow out flat on the floor and laid down on it. And it finally fits. It spreads out perfectly around my frame. How did I learn to wrap myself up in my parents’ shadows, whether they overawed me or not? How did I learn to fasten my seat belt and be brave enough to take my first wild ride? I’ll tell you how. Someone fell in love with me. And he fell in love with me, just as I was.

To be continued…


Oliver Sacks and the Art of Healing

In the middle of writing an entirely different guest post at Julie and Kathy’s request, I received news that Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer. For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a neurologist and writer, famous for books that contain incredibly interesting case studies of some of his patients. The 1990 film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, called Awakenings, was based on his book of the same name. It recounted his efforts to help patients suffering from a debilitating disease called encephalitis lethargica, which rendered them effectively comatose, to regain neurological function. Sacks dedicated the book to W.H. Auden, and included these lines from Auden’s poem, The Art of Healing: 

Papa would tell me,
is not a science,
but the intuitive art
of wooing Nature.

I know, through his books, (most notably, Hallucinations The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Musicophilia) that Oliver Sacks mastered “the intuitive art of wooing Nature.” I know this intuitively. While his realm of study and practice is neurology, and the kind of healing Kathy, Julie, and all those with similar stories, must engage in has more to do with OSackspsychology, his insights are no less relevant. He is an incredibly intelligent, accomplished scientist and clinical professor. His appeal as an author is an uncanny ability to explain complex neurological concepts and conditions in a way that is interesting and accessible to the layperson. He is able to demystify sanity and insanity both, and plunge into depths of the mind in a way that reminds one of a mountain climber scaling a steep cliff. But what has always struck me more profoundly than all of that, are his relationships with people.

In his NYTimes essay, “My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer”, he writes,  “…I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.” This is what I love most about him. I suppose it’s what I love most in all humans. Their humanity– unmasked, untamed, untethered. I love that Oliver Sacks is a man of Science without a white coat. I appreciate his ability to listen in a way that makes you feel what you have to say is all that matters in the world. I appreciate that his understanding of the workings of the mind serves his humanity, and not the other way around.

He writes:

I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight. This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

To My Valentines

Whatever your personal feelings regarding this day, it does have meaning. As a culture, we come together and, despite the part FullSizeRender (9)about buying stuff, we all find ourselves with something to say about love. It is, after all, whether we admit it or not, human beings’ favorite thing in the world. It is the source of our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. In its many shapes and forms, it’s what drives us, what fulfills us, what, however temporarily or not, assures us that our existence is not in vain, that our living has meaning. If we have it we struggle to keep it, if we don’t, we struggle to have it. Not only is love the vessel that connects us to others, it is what ensures that our lives do not go unnoticed. Unwitnessed.

When I gave birth to Kathy and had to say goodbye, it was my love for her that gave me the strength for it. When I spent the subsequent years pining for her, it was Frank’s love that gave me the strength to go on. When I was racked with guilt and pain, it was my love for my other children, Danielle and Frank, Jr., and their love for me, that gave me the strength to be a good mother to them.

I’ve been married to the love of my life for fifty years now. Love has evolved as we have evolved. What has remained constant, however, is the strength it has infused in us to face life, and bear all it gives and takes away. Today, because of love, because of the hope that love wouldn’t allow us to give up, we are great-grandparents to a little boy born to the daughter of our long-lost daughter. It feels a bit like a miracle. Like a dream. Like magic.

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Today, Valentine’s Day, I want to thank my daughter, my co-author and partner in crime, for finding us. For making our family whole. For giving us so much to celebrate.

And Danielle and Frank, Jr., for being my greatest source of pride and joy.

And my children’s children (and their children), who are gifts I cherish every moment of my life.

And my friends, and our supporters, and the readers of Secret Storms, whose own stories inspire Kathy and me every day.

And, of course, my Valentine. Frank, the love of my life.



Jupo the Spider Monkey, Part III

Part I

Part II

As Jupo grew, so did her personality. She went from being a loving little angelic tangle of shy, brown fur in my arms into a two-year-old with the pluckiness and strength of Godzilla. All arms, legs and tail now, she swung her way through our old farmhouse. From chandeliers to bookshelves, from standing lamps to picture frames on the wall that fell and shattered to the floor, she dangled, swung and swerved to her heart’s content. That is, until I’d finally manage to capture her again with a bribe of fruit.

Julie VonZerneck_Page_40

She ran loose about the farm the summer of her second year, and established a blockade around the house—no one was allowed in or out without enticing her with treats. Deliverymen who came carrying milk, bread, vegetables and fruit, trembled in their boots as they got out of their trucks, looked around, and then ran for our shed door. Cleverly though, Jupo learned to conceal herself in the drainpipe above the door by laying flat as a pancake when she heard a vehicle come up our long gravel drive. Hidden from sight when deliveries were made, all she had to do was reach down with her long spidery arm, grab a loaf of bread, a bottle of milk, a peach, a cucumber, or her favorite, a banana or two, speedily seize what was to her liking, and then scuttle across the rooftop before anyone knew.

My father had always had wild animals as pets when he was growing up. His father was a captain in the Navy and during the many years he spent on active service, he and my grandmother, Pretty Polly Perkins, were often away. “I lived with my grandparents on Philadelphia’s Main IMG_5073Line on a huge estate called The Hedges,” my father, Daniel P. Mannix, IV, writes in his book All Creatures Great and Small (published by McGraw-Hill). “I didn’t have many playmates as the other estates around were mainly inhabited by regal dowagers and grim old gentlemen who lived in seclusion among their horses, formal gardens and shooting preserves. We had only one car, a venerable Pierce Arrow which no one could drive except the chauffeur and which was only produced on formal occasions such as going to church or IMG_5074an occasional wedding. To employ this stately vehicle for such frivolous purposes as driving a boy to a friend’s house was virtually unthinkable.  Nor did the boy particularly want to be driven. By the time I was fourteen I was six feet two inches tall and gangling; a wretched athlete, and a nonconformist. From the end of school in June until September I seldom saw another youngster my own age.”

My father began collecting wild animals from an early age and kept them at the very far end of his grandparent’s estate. His summer days were IMG_5071filled with the pleasure and joy of collecting animals that he found on the property or that people gave him. He started out simply with a pair of rabbits. Then he found a nest of baby skunks whose mother had been killed by a neighbor’s dog.  After that, he acquired a tiny porcupine, a crow that rode around on his shoulder, a great horned owl, a raccoon, an opossum family, several falcons and snakes, one of them being a rattle snake whose venom her learned to extract by reading a book in his grandfather’s vast library. He also had a six-foot alligator called Daisy, who swam in the pool at The Hedges twice a day. So it was no surprise to my father or my mother when my dear little monkey, Jupo, began to behave like King Kong.

“You can’t leave her alone anymore,” my parents both told me in no uncertain terms. “She’s your responsibility. Either she’s in her enclosure or she’s with you. And no more letting her run free outside, unless you are watching her closely.”  Sadly, I agreed.

There was still a problem, however. Although Jupo might be in my arms one second, the next she would jump out. If, for instance, I was passing though our kitchen, she might hurl herself onto the kitchen counter where a set of small ramekin bowls of custard was settling. And more often Jupo-inIceBoxthan not, she would stick her head into each one, and race away, her face covered in pudding, causing our housekeeper, Anna, to wave her hands in frustration. In an attempt to control her, my father took me to our local pet store one fine day, where I found a snazzy miniature red-plaid collar and matching leash. Now, when Jupo attempted to bolt, I could very gently pull her back. The first few days she hated her new collar and she whined and complained bitterly and tried to take it off.  But by the end of the week she became accustomed to it. And I do believe that in fact she began to like it because it made her feel safe.  No one likes to be totally out of control. Not even a rambunctious two-year-old monkey.

Jupo loved me dearly. She would sit in my lap when I was doing my homework and make a chattering noise when she thought it was time for me to pay attention to her. She rode around on my arm, her tail wrapped securely around my waist when I did my chorus morning and night. When my friends came over my parents suggested I put her in her enclosure just in case one of them has a cold and might pass it on to her.  Truth be told, though, as time passed, Jupo became very possessive and protective of me. One day, when my younger brother and I were wrestling outside, in between raking leaves, Jupo came down from one of the trees she was in, and, afraid he was hurting me, she took a bite out of his hand, requiring seven stitches.

Julie VonZerneck_Page_09Soon after that, my parents began talking about the fact that animals need a mate. I was sixteen by then and I had a boyfriend, so I understood. Jupo did not like him at all. She barked at him all the time, and once threw excrement at him.  My boyfriend got the hint and never went near Jupo again.

In my father’s book, All Creatures Great and Small, he describes what happened soon after the incident with my brother. “After the stitches, Jupo went to live at the zoo—the first animal I have ever consigned to a life behind bars. Julie visits her there once a week with a present of fruit. Jupo now has a husband, a male spider monkey called Butch, even bigger and tougher than she.”

It broke my heart when the enclosure in my room was disassembled and a chest of drawers took its place. I couldn’t sleep for weeks because I missed the soft sound of Jupo’s snoring at night. I also longed for the way she would reach out her little hand and search around in the dark until I took a hold of it in mine.


“I love you, little baby,” I would say.  And she would make a gentle cooing sound back. That was how we’d both fall asleep at night.


Jupo the Spider Monkey, Part II

When my baby monkey, Jupo, jumped out of my arms and onto the branches of the 80-foot tree, my heart stood still. She had never left my side before, except to go into her enclosure some nights, or when I went to school during the day. She had never been out in the wild aloneInfants rely, the encyclopedia said, completely on their mothers until they are twelve months old. Jupo was barely nine months. This was far too soon for her to be leaving me.

I watched in horror as she agilely made her way from the outside branches towards the center of the tree. Then, without any hesitation, she began to climb up the thick trunk. Seconds later, she was at the top. I let out a blood-curdling scream, and within minutes both my parents came running.


Spider monkeys, my encyclopedia told me, have prehensile tails that serve as a fifth hand. When a spider monkey walks, even a baby one, its arms are so long they practically drag on the ground. Their hands are long and narrow, too, and they have no opposable thumbs. They are highly agile, and, when they reach a certain age, can easily jump from tree to tree.

“Call the fire department,” my parents both screamed when they reached my side and saw what the situation was. “Call them immediately!”

“Jupo is on the highest branch and it’s too light to hold her safely,” my father added, as he began to climb up after her.

“Oh no,” my mother cried. “Dear baby Jupo. I don’t want her to fall.”

While my parents both watched Jupo, who was now tilting back and forth on the top of the tree, I ran into the house and called the fire department.

“Hello,” I said, trying to keep calm. “We have an emergency. Please come right away.”

“What is it?” the fireman who answered asked. “And tell me where you live.”

“Sunny Hill Farm,” I answered. “It’s my baby monkey. She is stuck at the top of a tree.”

There was a brief silence, and then the phone went dead.

I had to call back several times before anyone at the firehouse would take me seriously. But when they finally did, they came running. Three fire engines came, in fact, with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Since none of them had ever seen a monkey except at a zoo, and especially a monkey stuck in a tree, all the firemen at the firehouse had decided to come along for the occasion.  It was the two youngest ones, trainees probably, who were sent to climb to the top. The others climbed up too, but separated themselves so they were each five feet apart.

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According to the encyclopedia, when a spider monkey sees a human approaching, it barks loudly, much like a dog. It climbs to the end of the branch it is on and shakes it vigorously to scare away the possible threat. It shakes the branches with its feet, hands, or a combination of the two, while hanging from its tail.

When Jupo saw the two men climbing up after her, and all the others behind them, she was so terrified that she let out a piercing howl. Then she began to bark. Leaning out to the edge of the branch she was on, just above one of the firemen’s head, she began to shake it fiercely, while still hanging on to the narrow trunk with her tail. I was so afraid that she was going to let go and fall, I had to close my eyes and bury my head in my mother’s arms. But before she let go, the top of the tree was hastily clipped off. Clinging tightly to her branch, she was carefully handed down from fireman to fireman, until she was finally safe in my arms again.

The following morning, my mother, Jupo, and I went out into the orchard, picked dozens of apples, and made half a dozen pies, which we delivered to the fire station just in time for lunch.


Jupo’s first time out in public was when my mother and I took her to the Acme supermarket. I had her all wrapped up in a soft pink baby blanket, which had a triangle flap at one end that I used to cover her face. Pushing the shopping cart with one hand, I held her very carefully with the other. It was on aisle three, I remember, just as my mother was asking if I thought we needed more pickles for the hamburgers we were going to grill that night, when a sweet little old lady came over with a big smile on her face.

“Oh my,” she said sweetly. “Would you mind if I saw her face?”

My mother was a few feet away reading labels on the pickle jars. Smiling, I answered, the sweet old lady, “Certainly.” And as I did, I proudly lifted the triangle flap aside so she could get a good look.

Spider monkeys have coarse hair and it ranges in color from ruddy gold to brown and black; their hands and feet are usually black. Their heads are small, their nostrils very far apart, and they have hairless faces. Mostly, their eyes are blue. With her twinkling blue eyes, the same color as mine, Jupo stuck her head out from the blanket and smiled happily.

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My mother had moved back in time to catch the dear old lady, who was on the verge of fainting. “Oh dear,” the lady mumbled, her face as white as a ghost. When she was steady on her feet again she looked at my mother and me.

“Oh dear me,” she said, shaking her head. “I am so, so sorry.” Then, putting her quaking hand over her mouth, she all but ran away.

To be continued…