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Finding My Place in My Family: Part I

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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.

And:

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…

-Julie

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