Mothers of Mine

This is how I remember it all… (But memories are mischievous things. The winds of time have a way of upsetting them, twisting and warping them, distorting and contorting them. And in some cases, changing them entirely. So, what I remember, may not, I
regret, be true.)

We are playing on the great, green lawn in front of Grandmother Rose’s home. I am four and have no fear. We are running in circles, around and around. We are having so much fun. Out of breath, I want to stop for a moment. But before I have a chance, her claw, her dewclaw— an additional claw used to trip and catch fleeing prey, typically gazelles on the wide plains of Africa—inadvertently flies out and catches my arm. I hear the long rip as I fall, in slow motion, to the ground.
Japanese John—as he was called then—who is hanging the wash nearby, stops what he is doing. Scuffling over in his slippered feet—they had been badly burned during the First World War—he kneels beside me. Rani, our baby cheetah, owner of the dewclaw, begins to lick my wound, an instinctive response surely, as saliva promotes blood clotting and defends against infection. “Mmm,” old, wrinkled John whispers. “Mmm.” He nods. “You good. You okay.” John’s few words—John knows very little English even though he has been working for
my grandmother for decades—serve to keep me at peace. I don’t feel pain. I don’t feel frightened. It isn’t until Grandmother Rose comes rocketing out of the house, her long, red hair wild and streaming out from its usually-neat knot on top of her head, her blue eyes on fire, that any of these ideas begin to occur to me.

I, of course, still have the scar today, many years later. Therefore, I know this memory to be true. It begins above the inner fleshy part of the elbow of my left arm, and goes up a good five inches. It’s wide, white, and jagged.

As you can see, I had a lot of mothers growing up. I had, of course, our cheetah, who mothered me quite well, and possibly saved my life immediately after almost taking it. I had Japanese John, whose gentle composure contrived to keep me more reasonable than I might have been had I grown up without him. I had my Grandmother Rose, the first woman to receive a speeding ticket in the United States, on a ride through Fairmont Park—an inspiration that speaks for itself. I also had the nuns, called Mothers, at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, where I boarded for many years. They wrapped me securely in their black-habited arms when I needed to be contained, and sang hymns to me with sweet, angelic voices. My mother, Jule Junker Mannix, who actually gave birth to me, was possibly the most influential mother in my life because, due to work, she traveled around the world a lot. I, too, have a travel bug within me that takes me far and wide as often as I can get away with it.

I know what I remember may not be true. But, truth be told, my life is a magnificent, crazy and wild ride. So anything I remember that makes me feel a burst of ecstasy has to be seized and cherished. For I am, after all, the product of some very brilliant, if unorthodox, mothers.


For My Mother

Mother and Daughter
Mother and Daughter

It is late morning

We sit together

At the white marbled table

In your chic NYC 17th floor apartment


We discuss our manuscript


The subject changes

To the occasion of our dinner

The night before

The dinner at Trattoria Dell’arte

Where you met

for the very first time

“My Family”


We laugh

We smile

We are glad for the experience


“It’s time for me to leave,” I say

Go home

Home to Florida


You take my hand

Your countenance changes

Your eyes reshape

A seriousness

A tear

Which you hold back


“I have thought of you as mine,” you say

“After meeting them,” you pause

“I realize you’re not”






In your pain

I feel






And then I realize

This is the bond



This is the bond


Every mother and child


A bond formed




That child may feel







In this moment

I see it

I feel it

I live it


In this moment

I know


I am yours

I’ve always been yours

I will always be yours

All my love,


Motherhood and Miracles

I always wanted to be a mother. Ever since my first doll was put into my arms, I never played dolls for some strange reason. I played mother instead. I changed diapers on a small wooden dresser, gave all my babies baths in the sink, standing on an old wooden stool, and put them to sleep all around my room under blankets my grandmother crocheted for me. I set a small table with linen from my grandmother’s cabinet, put leaves and flowers into tiny vases and set out a real miniature blue and white china tea set. My babies sat around it on pillows collected from all over the house.  Every day, I took my babies for a stroll up and down the sidewalk in a navy-blue carriage, making certain they were all tucked in safely. Most times, there were at least half a dozen of them, each sent to me by my parents from a different country on my birthday or Christmas or other holidays. I had lots of baby clothes made by my grandmother, that I kept in a box under my bed. Since all my dolls were about the same 14782844084_c299a5c302_osize, what one wore on a certain day could easily be put on another, the day after.

I was a very busy mother. There was always something to do. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. As a mother, my days were long and full.  At age five, when I went off to a convent boarding school, I packed all my babies to take with me. “Girls big enough to go to school don’t need dolls,” the Mother Superior told me, as she reached to take my basket of babies away. I looked at her, astonished “You can’t do that!” I told her in no uncertain terms. “I am their mother. They need me. Who will take care of them if I don’t?” Without a word, the white-faced woman in the long black habit snatched my basket of babies away. When I tried to grab them back she held them high over my head. I tried to jump up to get them, but my attempts to regain my status as Mother was thwarted when she turned her rigid back on me and walked away.

I will always remember the sound of the long rosary beads at her waist swinging briskly as she disappeared out of sight. I would never see my babies again. Since I was the youngest of the boarders it was arranged that I would go to bed ahead of the others. “Your dolls will be sent to starving-orphans-in-China,” I was told that night by one of the younger nuns, as I cried myself to sleep in the unfamiliar white metal bed, one of twenty in a long, narrow hallway-room. I ached for my babies and I knew that they ached for me. Never, I promised, would such a thing ever happen to me again. As long as I lived no one would ever take my motherhood away from me again.

But they did. When I was eighteen the same thing did happen again. But it was one baby. A daughter. And she was real. She would not be sent to starving-orphans-in-China, however. Instead, she would be adopted by a family who would nourish and love her very much. Unbeknownst to her, as she grew up, she would have two mothers: the mother who would kiss her sweet, pink baby cheeks and sing her to sleep at night; and the other mother, me, her birth mother, who would yearn for her and love her, too.

Today, fifty years later, I am happy to share my daughter’s love with another mother. And happier still that she grew up so treasured. It is a miracle that she found me, that we have come to love one another and that we were able to write Secret Storms together. My cup truly does runneth over.

To all of you mothers out there in the world, I send you my deepest congratulations on this Mother’s Day. Creating life is a miracle. Nurturing life is a miracle. Love is a miracle. I believe that tomorrow is a miracle, too.


…the invisible line pulled taut…

287759_3732717509143_1043569453_o_FotorMy husband, Bryan, is the president of the Backcountry Fly Fishing Association of Brevard. He writes a “President’s Message” for their monthly newsletter, The Backcast. Below is this month’s message. I simply had to share it with you.


Presidents Message (by Bryan Hatfield)

Last week, my wife and I booked a fishing trip to Pine Point Lodge, a remote fishing resort on the Minnesota/Canadian border. No roads, no cell phones, no emails to return– just a week of Smallmouth Bass on a popper, and if I’m lucky a tango with a 40” Pike or even a 50” Muskie. July can’t come soon enough!

Yesterday, my youngest daughter Kathryn called; she’s a Writing, Editing, and Media major at Florida State University.

“Dad, I’ve decided to take the summer semester off, so I’ll be home for the months of June and July,” she said.

“Perfect,” I responded, “you can join your mother and me in Minnesota! I’ll get your rods ready.”

Her response: crickets– and I’m not talking bait; her silence said she wasn’t interested, but her good manners said, “Okay, Dad, thanks.”

An hour ago, I received this email from Kathryn:

“Dear Dad,

I came across this poem about a year ago. Just wanted to share.

Love, Kathryn”

A. E. Stallings

The two of them stood in the middle water,
The current slipping away, quick and cold,
The sun slow at his zenith, sweating gold,
Once, in some sullen summer of father and daughter. Maybe he regretted he had brought her—

She’d rather have been elsewhere, her look told— Perhaps a year ago, but now too old.
Still, she remembered lessons he had taught her: To cast towards shadows, where the sunlight fails And fishes shelter in the undergrowth.

And when the unseen strikes, how all else pales Beside the bright-dark struggle, the rainbow wroth, Life and death weighed in the shining scales,
The invisible line pulled taut that links them both.

Source: Poetry (July 1998) 

Finding My Place in My Family: Part III

Read Part I, Part II

Yes, there was a shadow between us, between my husband and me.  It separated us for many years. It was not a shadow that could be lain down upon or even reached for, although we did try. The shadow was that of a baby, our baby. The baby I was forced to give up for adoption before we were married. Her birth date is engraved in my gold and emerald wedding ring. An emerald, they say, is divine. It is thought to possess phenomenal powers of healing, luck and love. I’d named her Aimee. I only saw her once. She was perfect in every way, ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. She looked at me from five feet away when I told her I loved her and wished her a good life. When I turned and left, there was a tear in my heart that I knew would never mend. 

Julie, Frank, and the emerald ring.
Julie, Frank, and the emerald ring.

It’s said that it is not until a mother actually gives up her child for adoption that she experiences the five stages of grief. According to Wikipedia:

Denial: The overwhelming nature of the mother’s emotions allow her to feel numb to the situation. Essentially, reality has not set in.

Anger: This emotion is a manifestation of reality, the understanding of how devastating an impact the mother’s decision has made on her and her understandable vulnerability. This may cause the mother to lash out to those closest to her or on herself.

Bargaining: The mother begins to rethink the decision she has made. She feels the need to regain control of her emotional state by attempting to bargain with a religious or psychological figure to rid her of her sense of guilt.

Depression: This is a more secretive emotional state, where the mother feels alone. She feels that she is the only one who knows what she is going through, and feels it is best to vent and reflect by herself.

Acceptance: There is no real timetable as to when or if a mother will ever be able to accept her decision, but at this stage she begins to feel at peace with her decision…The eventual acceptance of the loss of her child does not mean that a birth mother has forgotten the child, but instead means that she has integrated the loss into her life.

Although I did eventually begin to integrate the loss of my little Aimee into my life, I did struggle with great depression and guilt. Eventually I went to a therapist with whom I shared my extreme melancholy. But because my growing-up years had been so complicated and unstable, I came to think that my depression and despair were a result of the instability, and not about giving up Aimee. I had, I thought, dealt with her loss in my life.

For many years I was very, very happy and very, very sad. When I rose each morning, I never knew which I would be. I was IMG_8244afraid to open my eyes when the sun came up. Under the covers of my bed, my eyes still closed, I would listen to the sounds around me. The stirring of my husband as he got up and went to shower and shave; the movements of my two other children, a daughter and a son, whom I had given birth to after Aimee, and who gave me such joy. “Dear God,” I would pray, “let this day be free of despair so I can be a good wife and mother. Let me be a part of the light in their life.” But the decision of how I would be when I opened my eyes never seemed to be mine. It never appeared to be a choice I was able to make, no matter how hard I tried. It felt that the verdict of how I would feel that day was solely a throw of the dice. It was never anything I had control over.

I could sense immediately, if the day would be up or down for me, the second my feet hit the floor. Sometimes there would be a surge of such bliss that I would have to hold onto the bed to keep steady. My body would, it felt, take on a radiance and glow. My brain would whiz with delight and my heart would overflow with passion and the desire to be the best I could be that day. Other times though, I would rise with a gush of agony pouring through me that was so sharp and intense that I would have to catch my breath hard and hold it for as long as I could. I dreaded these days. I was so afraid of these days that some nights I didn’t sleep. I was so fearful of these days that I prayed sometimes never to wake up at all. When those days came, the first thing I would do was to step into the shower my husband had vacated, let the ice-cold water run over me until the pain was anesthetized out of me, and, for a while, was hidden.

No one knew. If you asked my husband, my children now, today, to look back at those days, far, far ago, they would most probably—at least I hope that they would— say that they never really knew. They had lives that they were living and I got so skilled at hiding my ecstasies, my suffering, that sometimes even I didn’t recognize them after a while. 

As years passed and life went on, I learned to wrap myself in a protective shadow, but I always turned my face to the sun. I knew someday—maybe it was a fantasy, maybe an instinct, I don’t know— that a time would come, when the daughter that I had been forced to give up, would somehow be mine to see again. I never gave up hope. I always knew.

Kathy, who was once Aimee.

And I was right.


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

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…


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…


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.


The Rabbit Feeder

I have had several professions in my years here on earth. But my very first job was that of a rabbit feeder. My parents had lots of them. They were not pets. They were food for the many wild animals we had on our farm, animals about whom you can read here.


My job in the mornings, before I got dressed to go to school, was to go out into the fenced-in area behind the barn, where the rabbits were housed, and give them water and food. This was not an easy job, because there were eight pens, three to four rabbits in each. The pens were painted dark green. One half of the pen was open to the air and the sun, and the other half had a roof and sides, so New Imagerabbitthey had a place to sleep and keep dry and warm. I would trudge out to the rabbit garden— that’s what we called it— at six o’clock every morning. Dressed in my nightclothes and boots, my hair still in tangles from sleep, I would give them a tomato can each of fresh pellets, a handful of alfalfa, and fill up their water dishes to the top. In our kitchen we kept a rabbit pail that we threw all the leftover greens into. I would take that out also, telling them that it was their desert. I would talk to each one of them as I fed them. I told them about victorian-easter-farm-girl-rabbits-thumb-572x350the weather forecast for the day, and whom it was I was planning to play with at school during recess. I jabbered away about anything that came to mind. The job took twenty minutes and I don’t think I ever stopped talking.

Some of the rabbits were white, some brown, and some were grey. I tried not to have favorites, as that wouldn’t be fair. I gave them all equal love and affection, and each got scratched behind the ear, because I never knew who would still be there when I returned home from school in the afternoon.

When it rained, I wore a trench coat with a hood that I pulled up over my head. When it snowed, I added gloves and a scarf. Sometimes when it was very cold and their water froze, I had to crack the top of it off with a hammer. Every so often they had babies and I got to 35028-The_Pet_Rabbittake them out, when they were old enough and had grown fur, and hold them under my chin and kiss their warm pink baby ears. Sometimes, in the summer, when I had lots of time, I made a run for them out of wire on the side lawn, where the grass was green and deep. I would stretch it out in a large wide circle and then, one by one, I would take them out and let them run and play and nibble. I would lie back on the lawn myself, with my hands behind my head, and look up at the sky above and think about my life and what I wanted to be.

When rabbits went missing from their cages, and they always did, day after day, I never questioned it. It never occurred to me, then, that it should be otherwise. It never hurt me then. It never troubled me, because it was part of life on a farm that was also a zoo. I was eight when I had this job, and I was paid a quarter a week for my work.