Trachselwald Castle

Part One

Christian Schmucker, my great (x7) grandfather was an Amish refugee. For two hundred years the Swiss Amish had suffered beheadings, drownings, and being burned at the stake for practicing their faith. Christian fled Switzerland in 1740.

That was all I knew about Christian Schmucker. Until late one hot Tucson night, he made an appearance in my kitchen.

I was slouched over my laptop looking at maps of Switzerland. My husband Jim and I were planning a trip. I had family genealogy books, ancestor charts and an unwieldy spreadsheet of Swiss family names and locations. I was starting to feel confused. My back was tired, and my eyes hurt. I’m going to bed, I thought. But then I felt a tingling, a new alertness and I remembered a book on Christian Schmucker. Where was that?


I found it at the back of the highest shelf. A tiny booklet in my hand, I shivered. It felt cold, urging me to open it. The cover was a faded photo of a snowy alpine ridge and a Swiss barn. Turning the page, I was face to face with a familiar looking man. He had a long beard and was wearing a black hat. I took a breath and examined him. His eyes, the shape of his mouth. It was a drawing, but it felt energetic, almost alive. Turning page after page, I read the whole story standing in the middle of the kitchen.

I learned that Christian Schmucker was jailed at Trachselwald Castle and possibly tortured for being an Amish preacher.

Google showed me Trachselwald; a castle on a hill overlooking a village. It was near where we were staying. With Ruth, who hosts pilgrims like me. She gives tours of farms, hiding places, caves where the Amish/Mennonites worshiped in secret. Google said the castle was 24-minutes from Ruth’s house.

Searching images of the castle, I found pictures of the tower—iron chains and wrist clamps hanging from stone walls, thick wooden doors with massive medieval locks—and, just as I was clicking onward to more grisly possibilities, an email arrived.

From Ruth. An itinerary.

I clicked it open and read fast. The castle was one of the stops.

I felt cold again, and my heart was pounding. I flipped back through Christian Schmucker’s story to make sure I had the name right. I did.

“Jim, come look at this,” I said. I heard Jim’s office chair squeaking.

“I never heard of this castle before tonight—this tower where my grandfather was a prisoner—”

Jim was behind me now, looking at the screen over my shoulder.

“I didn’t know he’d been in prison—” I zoomed in and out, pointing to the castle, the tower.

“Wow,” Jim said. “What did he do?”

“Nothing,” I was showing Jim pictures of the wrist clamps and stocks now, “he was just Amish.”


“And look, it’s close to Ruth’s house. She’s taking us there!”

“Cool!” he said.

“I never knew any of this until—like—20 minutes ago.”


A draft moved around and between us, I rubbed my upper arms. Jim checked the thermostat on his way back to his office. Picking up Christian Schmucker’s story, I felt myself tingling again. Hot, then cold. I flipped to the image, the eyes and the mouth. He looked like my grandfather, my Poppop. Poppop was Christian’s great-great-great-great-great grandson.

As the refrigerator kicked on, the room felt crowded. Ancestors in books, charts and spreadsheets, united through Christian Schmucker’s story, became more real. I was energized. Something big was happening. Or maybe something big was going to happen—at Trachselwald.

Amish history, buddhist meditations and dragons – in Part Two!

River Phoenix


Part Two – in case you missed it: Part One

Someone bullhorned “Quiet on the set!” I held my breath. From inside a building came Pamela Anderson accompanying Andre the Giant, with a child on his shoulders. The child was happy and pointing, excited about something—the kettle corn, the cotton candy, the bikinis?

This was the moment I had dreamed of—TV stars filming a scene. That child on the giant’s shoulders: I had believed that, someday, I would be that child.


The entrance was filmed seven times. I watched this boy feign happiness over and over. Each time, I felt older. And sad; I never got to be that child. I will never be on the shoulders of a giant.

“My hair smells like fucking kettle corn,” Pamela Anderson said.

The lady in the Ohio State sweatshirt walked off.

I knew then—not only would I never be the fourth Charlie’s Angel—the dream of being discovered, of stepping across the line into a fantasy was fantasy. I looked away.

“Let’s go find dinner,” Leslie said, slinging an arm around my shoulder.

As we left, she added, “TV is total bullshit, huh? Baywatch is so fake!”

Leslie side-hugged me as a cloud of grief shadowed my sunny Hollywood dream.

How many hours had I spent reading Tiger Beat, writing those letters? Dear Scott Baio, Happy Days is the highlight of my week…I felt ridiculous. Duped. I thought of the stars in the photos, these were the mentors that were going to teach me how to be me, but the smiling and the confidence were fake. Back on the Baywatch set, when the cameras stopped rolling and everyone turned into themselves, they grumbled, ran for coats, lit cigarettes, and used the “F” word in front of children.

I was afraid and felt alone; a dream was dying. Who would show me how to be me? I didn’t know how to tell Leslie

Adam and Leslie 1993
Adam and Leslie 1993

Dinner was in Beverly Hills. I slouched in my seat, aware that I was not sparkling. It didn’t matter.

The waiter asked us what we were drinking. Leslie ordered a beer. All eyes turned to me.

“Iced tea, please.”

The waiter left. Leslie leaned across the table. “This isn’t Pennsylvania, you know.”

I stared at her.

“You’re 21! Get a drink!”

I had never ordered a drink before. How did she know that?

“What did you get?” I asked, feeling my heart rate go up. She showed me on the menu.

But when our drinks arrived, Leslie took charge.

Cousin Leslie
Cousin Leslie

“This is my cousin,” she said to waiter, “he’s from the back woods of Pennsylvania where they go to church but don’t drink. He’s been 21 since November!”

“Well!” The waiter said, turning to me, “Thank God you’ve escaped!”

I felt my face get hot; I glanced down at the menu.

“Bring him one of these,” Leslie said, indicating her beer.

“Absolutely!” the waiter said, then left.

“He’s so cute,” Leslie said. “Too bad he’s gay.”

He’s gay?

Time stood still for a moment. In that eternity, anything could have happened. I could have said, I’m gay too. She could have said, I knew that, and I’m so proud of you for telling me. Instead, I waited for the focus to shift.

“Is that Harrison Ford?” Leslie said.

It wasn’t. But I said, “Don’t look, but Susan Lucci from All My Children just sat behind you.” The wife from Married with Children had brushed passed us.

I stopped slouching. Not for the stars, but for the waiter. I checked him out as he delivered our food.

He is cute, I thought. And felt myself blush again. For just a flash I thought I could say it out loud.

I didn’t.

Leslie’s attention was on her plate.

Pushing my food around, I thought about how she had escaped. How she never seemed to doubt herself.

By the end of the meal, I was more at ease. Was it the beer? Feeling grown up?

“Dessert?” the waiter asked.

We ordered coffee.

“Sugar or cream?” the waiter asked.

“Two creams.” I said. I made eye contact. I held up two fingers—peace sign, victory, “TWO.” Back on campus, I had to demand two of the tiny plastic cups of cream from the coffee vendors. I had never ordered coffee in a fancy restaurant.

“Okay,” the waiter raised his eyebrows, “Two creams.”

The waiter returned with our coffee and two small, white ceramic pitchers of cream. Leslie burst out laughing. The wife from Married With Children looked our way. Susan Lucci cut her eyes at us.

The waiter set both pitchers on the table. He and Leslie laughed, pantomimed me ordering the two creams.

I was horrified.

“Hey,” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder, “this is Beverly Hills, when someone asks for two creams, I bring two creams.”

two creams.jpg

I felt something. His hand on my shoulder. A warmth. Did he see me? Did Leslie?

I looked up at him and he flipped his River Phoenix hair from his eyes and smiled.

The warmth remained even after he reached for a pitcher; he poured cream into my coffee with an elegant swish.

What was this feeling—freedom?

River Phoenix
River Phoenix


Jan-1983-Stamos.pngPart One

I was 21, and about to take my first trip west of Pittsburgh. Before I left for the summer, I packed up my college bedroom, including my autograph collection. I had a wall full of black and white photos of actors—stars. I would reread the signatures: XXOO, Penny Marshall; To Adam, With Love, Suzanne Summers, and feel our connection.

It began in the 3rd grade, when I found fan mail addresses in Tiger Beat magazine. I wrote letters to stars. Opening each manila envelope, heart pounding, I examined the head shot, read the autograph, then flipped it to see if the pen left a ridge. A ridge or personal inscription meant Penny Marshall or Suzanne Summer had held the picture and signed it themselves.

They thought of me.

Someday I will be one of them. Part of the inner circle of TV fame; they will teach me how to be confidant. Seeing potential that no one at home noticed, the stars will show me how be me. I needed them.

2 - 1.jpg

My collection grew and by the time I was a junior in college, it took up the entire wall.

“Wow, dude,” a new friend might say, “did you actually meet all of those people?”

“Yes!” I would say, glowing. I was so faithful to their shows that it didn’t feel like lying.

“Geez, you must really be in love with that guy,” the friend might say, noticing that I had magazine cut-outs of River Phoenix all over my room.

I’d feel the heat of shame rise up my chest and neck, but I’d put my hand through my hair and say, “I’m trying for his look.”

Some people knew I was gay. They knew before I did.

It was 1993, The Golden Girls had been canceled, but I had their autographs. Each signed, with love, using real pens.  As my plane touched down at LAX, I searched for the iconic curving, spaceship-like building in every TV takeoff and landing sequence. I didn’t find it.

Adam and Leslie 1993
Adam and Leslie 1993

I found my cousin, Leslie, the only family member who had escaped Pennsylvania, waiting at the gate. A decade my senior, Leslie’s smiling face leaning over my crib is one of my earliest memories. In the 80’s she stunned us all by adopting a Cyndi Lauper look. Then she took her brightly colored hair and ran way to the Jersey shore. Aunts and uncles shook their heads; she was a rule-breaker everyone expected would come crawling home. But she was confidant; she moved herself to California, and in the smiling photos she sent home, I had the sense that she was giving us all the finger.

Leslie included smiley snapshots with the letters she sent just to me. The letters said, come visit! I felt special to be invited, Leslie thought of me.

I wondered, could this could be my connection to the stars?

And now, here I was. Palm lined boulevards! For a week!

Here, my dream of being discovered could come true. In California, someone would glimpse the inner sparkle that no one in Pennsylvania noticed.

Would I sparkle today? I asked my reflection in Leslie’s bathroom mirror. I put on my sunglasses—thank God I checked! Cheap. I tossed them into the trash.

It was cloudy outside anyway.

“I don’t think we’ll need umbrellas,” Leslie said, zipping up her jacket and turning to me. “Let’s go to Hollywood!” Her smile glittered.

“Who do you think we’ll see?” I asked. I was nervous.

“Joan Rivers!” she said.

“River Phoenix!” I said.

“To the Rivers!” she said, swinging open the front door.

I noted that Leslie sparkled more than me.

Leslie parked along Sunset Boulevard, in front of Hollywood High School.

“Is that a real high school or a movie set?” I asked as Leslie backed into the parking spot.

“It’s real.”

It’s real. Old and rundown, it did not look like the school on 90210.

We walked over weedy, cracked sidewalks past convenience stores and apartment complexes. The people on the street were dressed in sweatshirts and jeans, like us. Shop windows were filled with electronic gadgets and flashing lights. There was even a thrift shop.

There are palms, I told myself, at least. The Walk of Fame, I scanned faces: no one famous. The Hollywood letters on the mountain were so small—I couldn’t believe how small they were.

“When a star goes to work,” I asked Leslie, “Where do they go?”

“Depends. They go to studios mostly, I guess.”

I thought of the addresses in Tiger Beat: Universal City, Culver City, Burbank.

Studios. Of course. It hadn’t occurred to me that the studios weren’t lined up along Hollywood Boulevard next door to the Chinese theater. I wondered where the studios were. Far away? I didn’t ask.

“Beaches next!” Leslie said.

Santa Monica. Walking the promenade, I tried to look past the stores I knew from malls at home. Instead, I breathed in hibiscus flowers and birds-of-paradise, I focused on the palms. Tourists shouldering through the crowds were wrapped in scarves and wearing wool hats. The wind off the ocean was cold.

I hugged myself. Cold. I’m cold in Los Angeles.

A small crowd was lined up along a white line spray-painted on the pier.

Leslie and I wriggled our way to the edge. On one side of the arc, the commoners. On the other side, huge TV cameras loomed over us, cameramen perched on them.

My heart started to pound. Who will we see? Am I ready?

Gigantic lights created the impression that bright sunshine bathed the kettle corn and carnival booths. Cameras were rolling, capturing women with mounds of blonde hair in string bikinis and stilettos. They were milling about, eating cotton candy and heading for kettle corn. Someone yelled cut and the women ran—ranin stilettoson the planks of the pier—to grab trench coats.

Leslie turned to a lady in an Ohio State hoodie and asked, “What are they filming?”

Baywatch,” she said, craning her neck to see.

“Baywatch!” Leslie said, clapping her hands.

Leslie didn’t watch Baywatch. She didn’t even have a TV. But, she knew this was what I wanted; the reason I came to California.

Filming Baywatch - 1993
I took this photo on the Santa Monica pier – Filming Baywatch – 1993

I felt confused. A line painted on the pier: I looked one way and saw the world I wanted to escape from. I looked the other way and saw a fantasy. I watched the stiletto women; when they got close I could see their goose bumps.

Someone bullhorned “Quiet on the set!”

Part Two – Find out who I meet! And how my life was changed…


Every morning at my Pennsylvania Mennonite high school, four hundred Mennonite students, teachers and staff, funneled into an auditorium where we had chapel. We sat in long maple pews with our first period classmates; I angled to sit next to the artsy kids. The girls who advised teachers on yearbook covers. The boys who stretched the Mennonite dress code to look like the lead singer from The Cure. The ones who drove clean, sensible cars with bumper stickers like I heart Tanzania (missionary kids) or Say NO to drugs (social activists). They were the Bible Quiz Team champions and church youth group presidents. They exuded confidence, even entered their paintings and drawings in the art show—for parents to see.

2 - 1 (1)
Classmates. I kind of stick out.

But when I slid into the pew, I’d be sitting beside a pothead in a jeans jacket, or a girl who never spoke, or a farm boy drawing the volunteer fire company logo on lined notebook paper. Outcasts. And worse, reminders that the seats on either side of me were not hot commodities.

I day-dreamed of escaping to Hollywood through most of those morning churchy times.

But there is a chapel that stands out in my memory. It was my junior year. A senior stood up. He was a quiet guy, blonde, kind of nerdy; he played the violin in the orchestra. He stood up in front of everyone and asked whether masturbation was a sin.

I don’t remember the answer.

I remember feeling shock. His question was unbelievable.

Of course it was a sin. But, more importantly, it was a forbidden topic. Like girls who disappeared from school. What ever happened to so-and-so? Someone might ask, and people would look away. It was simple: she got pregnant and was expelled. But no one would say that.

The word—masturbation—I had never heard it said aloud before. After I masturbated, I would pray for forgiveness. The way forgiveness worked: you asked, then you promised God you’d never do it again. The problem was that I masturbated over and over again. And the bigger problem was Daisy Duke did not interest me, it was Bo and Luke filling my fantasies. The most forbidden topic of all.

God could not forgive me.

In that chapel, after the blonde boy asked his question, some kids snickered, and others squirmed. They were embarrassed and uncomfortable, but not terrified, like me.

I’m sure he was afraid too. He knew, like I knew, that we were unforgivable.

But he had hope enough to expose his heart.

I did not have that courage.

I don’t remember the lead up to the Q and A, but I remember feeling a nervous recognition when the blonde kid stood. Even before the question. I was sitting in the balcony and could see across the auditorium where he was standing, arm raised, waiting to be acknowledged.

He was someone that I noticed. In the halls, I would see him and look away.

We had something in common. Something that was hidden.

I tried to mimic the artsy kids instead of being myself, to conceal myself. Art and friendship both require things I could not do: show my heart and be courageous.

But the blonde boy had the courage to look at himself and expose his heart.

We were both wrestling with God. Maybe he was gay too, or maybe his sin weighed on him; made him think that God could not love him.

Is masturbation a sin? I can’t remember the answer because that was not the important thing. The important thing was to see an example of courage demonstrated by someone struggling, like me, to believe that God loved him.  The important thing was to cling to that memory until I was able to look at myself with courage too.


Surrounding With Awareness to Provide Comfort and Compassion For All

In this week’s Chopra Centered Lifestyle Newsletter, I found an article titled Holding Space: The Art of Being Present with Others by Adam Brady, who says, “Holding space is a conscious act of being present, open, allowing, and protective of what another needs in each moment.” Holding space for another person is about embracing someone non-physically with intention, attention, and energy.

It is Reiki.2 - 1

The article says that Holding Space is “the principle of surrounding the environment with your awareness in way that provides comfort and compassion for all.”

I love doing Reiki–I’ve found no better vehicle for pouring love on someone then this beautiful, energizing and deeply connecting process. It is a meditative state for both my client and myself. Meditation is hard because of wandering minds and proliferating thoughts, but, for me, when I am doing Reiki on another living being, I find myself able to concentrate and focus in service to that other being.

Adam Brady highlights seven qualities of consciously relating to others:

Safety, which is trust built from “confidentiality, transparency, and impeccability in all you say and do.” During Reiki I experience waves of humility and gratitude that clients trust me to engage with them so deeply.

Suspending self-importance, or “understanding that it’s not about you.” This “requires radical humility,” and the ability to escape your ego. Reiki has taught me this gift. My Reiki teacher was clear and strong in her instruction that Reiki sessions are not for the practitioner but for the person receiving Reiki.

Attention: Adam Brady says it best, “resisting the urge to speak…coupled with your full awareness, can be a profoundly powerful experience for those in your presence. Your attention, focused and all-inclusive of whatever is happening in the moment, opens the door for others to see the reflection of their own soul in you—the Self talking to itself.”

Practice acceptance: It’s hard toaccept this moment as it is. Accept others as they are, without any desire to change them, or wanting them to be something different.” Couple that with Non-Judgement: “Good and bad are merely a matter of perspective and in this moment, your perspective isn’t the one that’s important.” One of my clients experienced physical pain during a Reiki session, which was new to me. I responded to the pain as if it were unwelcome–my desire was for her comfort–but in her evaluation she advised me not to be afraid of anything clients experience and not to frame any experience as positive or negative. Incredible learning for me.

Adam Brady says of Compassion: “”How can I help you? I don’t want you to hurt. What can I do to help support your highest good?” Even if not spoken aloud, these intentions to relieve the suffering of others are the essence of compassion.” My typical mantra during a Reiki session is, [client’s name], you are beautiful. You are perfect. You are loved. I also use the Dalai Lama’s definition of love as part of the meditation: I wish for your suffering to decrease. I wish for your happiness. When but during Reiki can you be assured that someone will be pouring out these blessings upon you?

Finally, Witnessing, “like in quantum physics, the observer is what triggers the collapse of the wave of potential into a particle, the non-local into the localized phenomenon. But this doesn’t involve any action on the observer’s part.” During Reiki both the client and practitioner experience vibrations, sensations of warmth or coolness, dreams and visions, words and thoughts that create a tapestry of meaning and are, simply, to be observed. Sometimes amazing things have happened–synergistic similarities in our experiences, or profoundly different ones. Sometimes clients have had emotional or spiritual breakthroughs or relief of pain. Regardless of what we share with each other afterward, what we observed was more meaningful, and beyond our words.

That is the profound gift of Reiki. Though silence, energy movement and exchange, meditation and mindfulness, we connect, observe that connection and are changed. By Holding Space, the Reiki practitioner can bring about transformation and healing–a quantum moment.

Read the full article by Adam Brady here.

The Fourth Angel

Part Two

Click here to start with Part One!

I felt my face burning as Mom’s fingernails gingerly combed at the hair around the hot spot.

“It’s oozing. My word, it looks like a burn on your head! How could that happen?”

I flushed, felt hot all over. A burn? On my gosh, how DID that happen? My eyes searched the darkness behind my eyelids. Was I dying? Was it a brain tumor smoldering through from inside my head?

I’m the oldest child—Mom was a novice. At times, she was overwhelmed —terror followed by guilt— she didn’t know how handle oozing head burns. In the hours following the discovery, Mom and I were in sync. Freaking out. Convinced that whatever disease was melting my scalp would be front page news within a few days. Both of us, I’m sure, were imagining the pint-sized casket and the sprays of day lilies at my funeral.

When Dad got home from work, Mom made me show him. She had been on the phone to the neighbor ladies and people at church asking about oozing burns, what to do, telling them about my hair.

“I’ve never seen anything like it!,” she said into the receiver.

“How could this happen?“ Mom asked them.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” she told the ladies, while I hid, silent, on the other side of the kitchen wall, biting my fingernails.

No one had answers. But the phrase ‘chemical burn’ came up.

Chemical burn?

“He needs to see a doctor,” Dad said, unwilling to touch my scalp.

I pictured the Pantene proteins sinking in, the smell of Head and Shoulders. What have I done?

The next day, the doctor confirmed—chemical burn.

“What kind of shampoo do you use?” He asked me.

I glanced at Mom. “Well, I use a few different ones.”

He asked which brands and I told him. He probed more. I tried to deflect, but soon I had used the words mixed and together.

“You mean, you squirt them all into your hand and put them on your head at the same time?”


“Is that why the shampoos are disappearing?” Mom said. She looked puzzled and for a moment

I understood the situation better than the adults: vanity. It was my sin. I was being punished.

Doctor: “And do you rinse right away or leave it on there?”

Me: “I leave it on. Just for a little bit.” I didn’t tell him that I repeated.

The doctor sighed. “Don’t do that,” he said. He turned to Mom, “That’s what caused the burn.”

Mom was calm until we got into the car. She slid the key into the ignition, then sat back. She stared out of the windshield with a glazed look. “This is my fault,” she said. She wouldn’t look at me.

She started the car and we drove home in silence.

Then she got to work.

Mom launched a back-to-basics cleansing. The comforting scents of laundry detergents, gone. Our favorite snacks, out. Chocolate chips were replaced with carob.

Mom started reading labels. What were these awful chemicals? She got rid of all shampoos and conditioners. She replaced them with one: Johnson and Johnson’s No More Tears.

I cried.

Johnson and Johnson’s made my hair feel like straw. Worse, I had to wear a gauzy patch on my head for a week. It soaked up the ooze, turned brown and then needed to be replaced, which hurt. I developed a bald spot.

I survived the stares of kids at school by making jokes and telling tall tales of doctor visits and waiting for tests to see if I had the disease that made you age 50 years in 3 months.

“The doctor said I might have to live in a bubble, like that kid we read about last week,” I told Kristy Westley, who’s pigtail bows quivered as she reached for her Weekly Reader.

The hair

Though I was aware that acting practice had the potential to help my Hollywood prospects, my dreams were shattered. My lack luster hair would cost me—when the Cadillac rounded the corner, the Angels would zip past.

Even after Susan Richardson came home, an overweight recovering cocaine addict living in an old single-wide trailer, I would see her and wonder: How did you get so lucky?

The Fourth Angel

Part One

When I started taking showers every day, Mom noticed.

I was about nine years old, my body was changing. Mom had been watching, smelling, and every few days she asked me when I had last showered. When I shifted from shrugging to eye rolling, from not remembering my last shower to saying leave me alone, Mom was happy. She said things like, my little boy is growing up. I was self-conscious—I didn’t want Mom to notice.

Mom noticing me coincided with me noticing me. I looked in the mirror and saw myself. So disappointing. Skinny. Goofy. Scrawny. Flabby. One day, in the shower, I noticed bulges below my knees. I panicked: the flab is flowing down my leg!

I breathed, swallowed my panic, and then I tried to get a good look. I put my foot up on the shower bench. The flab moved. It tightened. I didn’t think I had any muscles. But here it was! Awesome! When are the rest just going to pop out like that one did?


Bad Hair

Another thing I was noticing: my hair. The bowl-cut Mom had given me my entire life wasn’t smooth like an upside-down bowl on my head. It was a mess of curls and cowlicks. I wet the comb, tried to flatten it with my palm, but it never stayed in place. It looked terrible! Pictures proved it. Something had to change.

My hair was holding me back.

It was the late ‘80s; I loved the TV show Eight is Enough. I paid particular attention to youngest daughter on the show, Susan, and her perfect long straight blonde hair. Her real name was Susan Richardson and she lived nearby – she was my neighbor in rural Pennsylvania. Somehow someone from Hollywood found her and the next thing we all knew she was in California playing the role of the youngest daughter on a big, prime time TV show.

How did it happen? I wondered.

Her hair. It had to be. Sometimes it was poker straight. Other times, feathered. Nothing seemed to mess it up. Her perfect hair behaved just as she wished.

I watched Susan on TV and obsessed. Hair was the key to making it to Hollywood. Which I wanted.

I had the training. I sang and danced with a local studio since before kindergarten. I knew about sequins, tap shoes, microphones, and smiling. I could be Ricky Schroeder’s sidekick on Silver Spoons. I would be awesome! Witty, cute. I could play one of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s children on Dallas, the one that was sent away at birth for having such bad hair—he returns, with awesome hair! Like a dream!

I knew I had the potential to be the fourth Charlie’s Angel. It was me! The mascot who would inject new energy into the show.

I fantasized these scenes while standing in the mud at the end of my driveway, shivering, waiting for the school bus, alone. We lived in the woods. It was rare for a car to go by. Maybe a tractor, maybe an Amish buggy. It was a quiet space to dream, and I dreamed the same dream over and over until I was convinced that it would happen. It had to happen.

Around the corner would come a convertible Cadillac El Dorado. White. Top down. Charlie’s Angels would be in it. Their perfect hair lifted by the wind and lowering back into place, unmussed. They would see me, standing there shivering and alone in the mud. They would see my hair and know I was destined to be one of them! They would stop and get on their car phone and say, Hi Charlie! Guess what? We found him! And then, I would be in Hollywood, happy, smiling, with Charlie’s Angels, driving in the convertible down palm lined boulevards!

It happened to Susan Richardson!

Susan Richardson.jpg
Susan Richardson

I had to figure out my hair.

Our shower was the kind that had lots of shampoo. I don’t know if it was Mom or Dad, or if both of them were hair obsessed, but conditioners, shampoos and oils, all half-full, clustered in the corners. I had my pick. From the commercials I knew how the Pantene molecules soak in and seal up spilt ends. How Head and Shoulders stopped that little itch. Suave, Selson Blue, there was a new kind with a kangaroo on it that seemed foreign and cool. It had jojoba oil. They each made promises to be the one.

I tried them all and none brought the cowlicks and curls under my power. None could withstand the gusts of open car windows. I considered, perhaps a combination of would be better.

I started mixing. Two shots of head and shoulders, one shot of Aussie with jojoba oil, three shots of Suave, a few drips of Selsen Blue, and so on, until I had combined them all in to shimmering mass of slime I struggled to hold in my palm. Then I washed. I rinsed. The labels said to repeat, so I repeated. I learned to allow the conditioners time on my scalp to do their soaking and moisturizing.


Nothing. No change.

I abandoned the bowl-cut and tried to adapt to the flow of the cowlicks. Parted down the middle like Ricky Schroeder—I was lopsided. Farrah feathering fell flat.

I was losing. But I kept trying.

Mom noticed. She noticed that the shampoo bottles were starting to empty. And that my showers were getting longer and longer…she asked me about it. I shrugged. Got away as fast as I could.

One morning, my head started to tingle. There was a hot spot right on top. It felt sticky. It didn’t seem to want to dry at the same rate of the rest of my hair. I touched it gingerly and it would burn. Wind made it hurt.

I started wearing hats.

Which made me conspicuous.

Within a day or two, Mom stepped out and blocked my path.

“Let me see,” she said.

Trapped: I had to will my arms to move. I took off the hat, closed my eyes and bowed my head.

“Don’t hunch,” Mom said.

I hunched further.

She pulled at my shoulders to straighten me. “I’ve told you about the hunching a million times…” Then she stopped. “What is this?” she said.

To be Continued (like any good 80’s prime-time drama!)–come back for Part Two and find out if I survive!