Introduction – THE BLOOK!

Every once in a while, you have to do something to shake things up. Like, say, pack up your kids and stuff and move 7000 miles away to a tiny island just off the equator where Margaret Mead used to hang out.

Which is what my family did in 1964. There was a lot going on that year— the Civil Rights Act, miniskirts, the premiere of Jeopardy!— watch Season Four of Mad Men to get a feel for all that. I was eight years old, and my three sisters and I had never been farther from our suburban Detroit home than Canada, which involved driving through a tunnel for a few miles. Years later, when pressed for an explanation on why we went, my father said, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

During our years in American Samoa, it was difficult to stay in touch with family back home. A phone call was reserved for death, and the internet hadn’t even occurred to Al Gore yet. So my mother and father wrote letters, faithfully, once a week, that would be sent out on the Saturday plane to the states. For four years, they chronicled every event, every feeling, every pot roast that occurred and sent this weekly serialized adventure story home to the two sets of grandparents who were still reeling from this act of lunacy by their usually level-headed children.
When we finally returned from the jungle, my Polish grandmother (who never once in her life threw anything away), presented my parents with an amazing collection. Each letter had been pored over, shared, discussed and then carefully preserved in a shoebox. This loose leaf journal with Thom McAn on the cover was later xeroxed four times by my mother and distributed to each daughter, a history of a remarkable time captured in a binder.


The binder gathered dust for years as we lived our lives and went on to other adventures. Then about eight years ago, watching my mother, Jean, fade away from a degenerative brain disease called PSP that robbed her of her ability to speak, I found it on my bookshelf. Looking for a way to communicate with her, I started reading some of the letters out loud to her, letters that she and my father had written over forty years ago that chronicled a golden time in our lives. Much of the content was mundane – you would not believe the amount of typewriter ink wasted on what we had for dinner – but buried in between the narrative about what the kids did and how humid it was is a diary that tells a story of an ordinary family who were changed in ways they would not have believed possible.

This project is a memoir-ish, travelogue-like, stand-up comedy routine mash-up. It’s not exactly a blog but isn’t really a book—hey, its a blook!—that combines excerpts from the letters with my own memories and a bunch of made-up dialogue. It all happened, but add a filter of 45 years to that and some of it is a bit fuzzy. I’ve changed the names of all the wonderful people on the island with us because I can’t put words in their mouths without their permission, but they’ll know who they are and remember as well.

As for my family, they were there and have their own memories. My sisters have always been my best friends and if they disagree with my interpretation of anything, I’m sure I will hear about it at Thanksgiving. They won’t be shy about commenting, as they are not shy about anything. My dad’s memory is not quite as sharp as it once was, but his stories about the island are as vivid as ever.

The best thing about reading the letters has been finding my mother’s voice again. She died a few years ago, and I miss her every day. The sarcasm, the wit, the fear of the unknown, all help fill in bits and pieces of what it must have taken for her and my dad to jump off this particular cliff.

This story is dedicated to my mother and father, for believing that safe and sound at home doesn’t always trump tan and clueless with palm trees.
And to Maggie, who kept telling me “Just shut up and write it.”

To get started: Post 1: The Terror of the Trolls

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14 Comments to “Introduction – THE BLOOK!”

  1. I agree. I love a good Blook.

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  2. I loved it Chris! I am Shelley Tymchuck’s youngest sister Sandee. I am living in Costa Rica with my daughter while she attends a semester of high school here. Our experience on American Samoa and my parents adventurous spirit inspired me to “trump safe and sound at home for tan, clueless, and palm trees”! Loved your dedication!!!! Can’t wait to read more!

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  3. I can’t tell who you are from your post no name 🙂 I would have been in 1st grade when Shelley was in 7th grade. Were you in Shelley’s class? Just read the 2nd and 3rd posts. I am enjoying Chris’s writing and growing up Catholic I can relate too.

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    • This is Chris again. I just realized that when I reply, the icon that comes up is from another website I write and that it makes absolutely no sense in this context. And I thought writing the book was going to be the hard part! I’ll get it figured out eventually – please be patient with me!

      (and if you like movies, my other site is called http://flicksthatmakemesick.wordpress.com/. This self-promo thing is getting way too addictive!)

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  4. OMG! Just realized it was you Chris, LOL! I guess the post in blue should have been my first clue and the second your little sister Karen’s name. OK, now I can tell Shelley who said hi 🙂 Shelley is the one who told me about your Blook tonight and I really am enjoying it, as is Shelley. Thanks for doing this because I am sure your memories will spark some in my mind. My husband and I went to American Samoa in the late 80’s as I wanted him to see where we lived, etc. – not the same as when we were all there.

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  5. Hi Chrissie – this is Sally Nelson, your former neighbor – love the blog! I have many fond memories of your mother – and still get Christmas cards from your father. My mother also saved all of the letters from Samoa and I am inspired to get them out and look at them again. Keep up the great work!

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    • Hi Sally! It’s great to hear from you – I love that this is inspiring other people to go back and reread the letters they wrote home. In future chapters, there are a number of posts devoted the The Samoan Fales, and you definitely won’t want to miss those! Chris

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  6. You should write more about that adorable youngest daughetr.

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  7. Hi, Chrissie! I’m Claudia Feit. (Now Claudia Phillips.) My family lived in Samoa 1965-67. I remember that your family always read books during dinner. I thought that was so awesome. You had a surprise birthday party for me at your house. The two years I lived in Samoa were the best ever. I have such wonderful memories of that time. I have lots of my parents’ memorabilia from Samoa – letters, slides, newspaper clippings, etc. that I need to go through, scan, etc. So glad to find you and this bloom!

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    • OMG Claudia! I’ve been wondering about you and your family forever. My parents used to send Christmas cards to your family but then they started coming back as undeliverable and we lost track of where you all ended up. So great to hear from you. I’m going to send you a direct message.

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  8. Chrissie, I didn’t receive a direct message. You can email me at cphillips250@gmail.com. Let’s catch up.

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