Monday, July 13, 2015


For some unknown reason, I awoke this morning having flashbacks of my days (23 years, actually) in Pence, Wisconsin. I moved to Pence from Los Angeles in January of 1983, driving myself in a 24 foot U-Haul towing a second 12-foot trailer behind it. The temperature the day of my arrival was -19. After a hard-now-to-believe 23 years, I left Pence in 2006 to return to Chicago after 40 years, and never looked back.

Geographically, Pence was idyllic. Just seventeen miles south of the magnificent Lake Superior, and surrounded by thousands of acres of forest, the setting is ideal for any nature lover. Endless trails wandered through soundless woods filled with patches of wild blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Autumns in years with just the right mixture of rain and temperatures turned the forests into sensory overloads of color which defy description. Winters bring temperatures of -24 and colder; annual snowfalls exceeding 300 inches are common.

Once a thriving lumber and iron-and-copper mining area, the mines had all closed twenty years before my arrival, and commercial logging had been reduced to a few small-time operations. The entire area sank into an economic depression from which it has never recovered. No rail service, and only very limited bus service further isolated the area. Employment opportunities were almost nonexistent. Several local ski hills and the making of Christmas wreaths provided some seasonal employment, but that—and whatever employment could be found in local shops—left many chronically unemployed.

So very many jumbled memories of people and events flood my mind as I try to make some semblance of them without getting into overly long detail on any one of them. The bed-and-breakfast I had moved there to open proved to be a situation I would never, ever repeat despite a number of wonderful guests-who-became-friends. Because the B&B never provided enough money to live on, I had to rely on other work—managing a local food co-op, working part time at a local supermarket, then as a paralegal for a law firm. I did begin writing books, though I felt I needed a pseudonym as a buffer against the intolerance of local rednecks.

Personal relationships? One of the reasons I left L.A. was in hopes of saving my then partner and love of my life Ray from alcoholism (of course a totally futile effort). While he did try, he could not go three months without drinking, which resulted in his being arrested more than once. Finally, given the choice by a judge to either go to jail or leave the area, he chose the latter and returned to Los Angles and was dead of AIDS within a year. I had a subsequent disastrous five-year relationship with someone I really did not like but could not get out of. And finally, my taking in, at a friend’s request, of a lost soul from whom I contracted the HPV virus which resulted in my bout with tongue cancer.

Friends? I was lucky to have some good friends. Two doors west of me lived the Reinerio sisters, Louisa, 80, Rose, 82, and Amelia, 89, who were very kind to me—all three sadly died while I was still living there, Amelia first, then Rose, then finally Louisa; Esther and Albert Baker, Jody DeCarlo, and Tony Barnes, one of the very few gays in the area, and of course Ursula Schramm, a holocaust survivor. I have fond memories of all of them, and each one could be—as Ursula already has been—the subject of a full blog. 

It’s odd how completely I have been able to close the door on those 23 years of my life…it’s rather like they were washed away in a flood, leaving only scattered, fragmented memories of my life there. To this day, I still rather miss my days in Los Angeles. I have many solid, pleasant memories of my time there. Why is the same not true of Pence, I wonder?

Your life, like mine, is made up of an infinite number of pieces, large and small…of places and people and experiences and memories. As I am the sum of all of “my” pieces, so are you the sum of yours. They cannot be changed, only remembered, reflected upon, and perhaps learned from.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

I may have asked this before and I apologize if I have, but did you ever write a book set there with these people as characters in the story? Names changed, obviously. What an absolutely incredible opportunity to bring their memories to life and have them interact once more.

Dorien Grey said...

Good point, Kage...and yes, I have used bits and pieces of many of the people I have known in my books. Dick's partner Jonathan, for example, is a very idealized, alternate universe Ray. Writers are very lucky in that they have the ability, if they don't like the world in which they live, to create a new world more to their liking.