RSS Feed

Tag Archives: John

The Morrison Writing Factory

Last fall I gave a talk at my favorite library in the world: my hometown  Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey.

Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey

Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey

So many high school friends of mine came, and fans of my mom, Joan, author of Home Front Girl, arrived in droves–even in wheelchairs.  It was really amazing.

Tony Boyadjis and I reading "Frazier" and "Joan"

My high school pal and fellow thespian, Tony Boyadjis, and I reading “Frazier” and “Joan”

The reporter, Lorraine Ash, did a beautiful job summing up the event.  You can read her article here.  What really touched me was how she also wrote about my mom’s other books, as well as my dad’s “seminal textbook,” Organic Chemistry.  Since everyone in our family has published books, my mom called us “The Morrison Writing Factory.”

Hubbub after the talk

Hubbub after the talk

Those words still ring true. After the physical copies of Home Front Girl:  A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America, written by my mother Joan and edited by me, arrived in fall 2012, the kids eagerly each grabbed a book.  Chatter and delight.

“My name appears twice,” crows Sarah, who is not only mentioned in the Acknowledgements but also credited with the book jacket photo of my mom and me.  While Jim had taken the photo, Sarah touched it up and focused it in that magical way only experts on Photoshop can (more on her expertise in other posts).

The Authors of Home Front Girl outside of Joan's house and Susan's girlhood home in Morristown, New Jersey.

Meanwhile, John gloats about how I describe him in the Acknowledgements.  “She says I’m ‘tender-hearted!'” he triumphs in a distinctly untender-hearted manner.

John, Sarah, and Susie reading Home Front Girl around the dining room table.

Then we all settle in to read while Jim prepares dinner.  All are intent on the book.  Occasional banter bubbles up about some word or line of Grandma’s.

At one point, Sarah says, “I say ‘purdy good’ just like Grandma does here.”   She seems pleased to find this link between herself and her grandmother.  Little does she know how many more there will be that she will discover!  Beyond how everyone thinks she looks like Joan.

The quiet grace while reading Home Front Girl

At dinner Sarah tells about how, when she couldn’t fall asleep the night before, she created a television series in her head about a post-apocalyptic world.  John pipes up suggestions and soon–they’re off to the races. Creating, describing, fashioning dialogue.

A new generation of what my mother dubbed our family, all of whom write:  The Morrison Writing Factory.

Thankful for Tradition: my mom Joan, son John, and Studs Terkel

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for tradition.

Joan was a great interviewer.  She grew up to be, after all, an oral historian.  Even when she wasn’t working professionally, she managed to get information out of everyone.  My brothers and I joked she worked for the MBI:  The Morrison Bureau of Investigation.  I think she was so easy to talk to and open up to because she was genuinely interested in people’s perspectives.  She didn’t want to impose her view of the world on others, but wanted to get the conception of life other people had.

Her work as an interviewer began early.  At Lakeview High, she was a reporter for the school newspaper, the Midway.

Friday, November 4, 1938

Hello! Well—guess what? We studied bread mold today—just before lunch too. It’s all gushy and green and full of spores and reproduction and all (biology is so indelicate).

Then I’m supposed to ask the leading boys of the school what their ideal girl is in life for “Vox Pop” next week. You know, I run the “Inquiring Reporter” column in the Midway—every week—four weeks so far. Some of the columns are pretty cute. This week was the “ideal girl.” In connection with my column, I asked Orville (him with the mustache) if he was a leading boy—he looked so embarrassed and modest and all, but he’s on the track team.

Orville blushing.

Orville blushing.

Then at U-High she continued her reporter work:

Sunday, February 5, 1939

. . . Church this morning. Did I tell you I’ve been wearing my hair page boy?

Page boy hair.

Page boy hair.

Today I didn’t however—wore it pretty and fluffed over my face, and with my green knitted hat I looked sorta cute.

Fluffy hair.

Fluffy hair.

Of course I wear rouge nowadays and a horrid but glamorous orangey lipstick that matches the yarn flowers on my brown sweater.

Took communion today but my conscience bothered me—I’m not sure what I think nowadays and there’s no use being hypocritical. (Anyhow, I was hungry).

. . . Friday I had a horrid Iliad test. A “well-greaved man” is one with good leg armor as I discovered (and rightly!) by the process of elimination. They hadn’t invented chain mail then, had they?

Jim Alter had been ribbing Barbara, the other third page editor, for using both “Aunt Polly” and “Inquiring Reporter” on the page for her week (space fillers). So I just laughed and laughed on Friday because, next week being his page:

He: “Oh Joan—wait a minute!” Comes up to me and begins to walk up hall with me, muttering incoherently.

Me (brightly): “Yes?”

He: “Gurgle, gurgle.” We finally reached girls’ locker room and I waited for him to speak. Finally: “Could you have both ‘Aunt Polly’ and ‘Inquiring Reporter’ columns next week?”

Me: “Oh—oh, yes, of course—” (smirk, smirk).

He (dashing away): “Gurgle!”[1]

[1] The 1940 yearbook, The Correlator, comments, “Feature editor Joan Wehlen suffered most, for there was seldom enough space for her excellent material.”

Once she was a grown woman with three children, she became an oral historian, eventually publishing two books and teaching at the New School in New York City.  One of the trailblazers in the field who inspired her was Studs Terkel.

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel

From Chicago like Joan, Studs Terkel had a radio show and wrote numerous oral histories, most notably The Good War and Hard Times.

Last year my son, John, in his 8th grade Social Studies class had a Studs Terkel project.  They had to choose from a list of Terkel’s interviewees, edit the transcript, and perform a 60 second version of the interview.  What a super project!  Characters ranged from Frank Wills, “An honest guard who uncovered the Watergate Scandal,”

Frank Willis

Frank Willis

to Dolores Dante, “A waitress who worked in the same restaurant for 23 years.”

There was some cross-dressing going on:  girls played males, boys played females.  All the kids did a great job.

John was moved by the story of Florence Reese, “A tough 79-year-old Southern grandma who lives in her past.”  John did a super job with costume and accent portraying this amazing and groundbreaking trailblazer in civil rights for miners.

Florence Reese

Florence Reese

As John writes in his analysis of Mrs. Reece, “Well the first obvious thing I noticed was that she was old. She grew up in a very poor town with very little education evident by not the best grammar and her flat out saying that there was no high school. In most mining towns the distribution of wealth is extreme with the workers, which makes up most of the town, earning very little and the mine owners earning a lot and since she was a miner’s daughter she was on the lesser end of the distribution. She was poor. She is clearly very liberal. Most of the story is about unionizing the workers of America which is a liberal stance on things and that you shouldn’t drown the poor first just because they are poor.”

John as Florence Reese

John as Florence Reese

This is John’s “Costume plan:  I will wear my mother’s blue dress and grey/red shawl a scarf around my head to cover up my hair and to make me look like a babushka, even though I am from Tennessee, it makes me look older. I will also wear my mother’s slippers.”

John as Florence Reese

John as Florence Reese

I’m so glad the tradition continues of oral history in our family.  Maybe John will want to interview you someday!

John as Florence Reese

John as Florence Reese

A Visit to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans

The National World War II Museum is in New Orleans.  It’s a fantastic complex with exhibits, movies, and live shows.  Recently I was lucky enough to do a signing of Home Front Girl there.  It was a wonderful experience!

My family met my Swedish relatives in New Orleans for 4 fun-filled days.   Joan’s father, Werner Wehlen, left Sweden at the age of 16 in 1913. Werner was the eldest of all his siblings.  His youngest brother, Nils-Erik, was born after Werner left.  They never met.

Nils-Erik had several children we have met a number of times.  Lars is the “baby” brother!  Lars is Joan’s first cousin and Gerd is Lars’s wife.

National World War II Museum in New Orleans

This building has the exhibits, book shop, and gift shop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  This addition is under construction. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I took this photo from the top of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the fabulous museum Gerd and I visited that is connected to the University of New Orleans.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Susie at the National World War II Museum
Susie at the National World War II Museum, in a photo taken by Gerd.


After these photos were taken, I went to sign books for a couple of hours. It was so fun!  Everyone who is at the museum came because of their interest in World War II.  All photos taken in the museum were taken by Gerd, the wife of Joan’s cousin.  Thanks, Gerd!

In the National World War II Museum Gift Shop, preparing for the signing

In the National World War II Museum Book Shop, preparing for the signing

Preparing for the day.

Preparing for the day.


At the signing

Hard at work signing.

Hard at work signing.

Gerd sat with me for over two hours.  We chatted with museum goers about the book.  It was a lot of fun!

One sweet customer, Be'la

One sweet customer, Be’la

With a young customer and reader

With a young customer and reader

After the signing, Gerd, John and I saw a movie at the museum, narrated by Tom Hanks, called Beyond All Boundaries.  You can play the trailer here.  The movie is in 4-D!!!  Gerd, who is Swedish, thought it “very American.”  John said it was “Awesome!”  I think they are both right!  Do go!

With Jim, Sarah and John by a lovely corn stalk iron fence outside a hotel in the French Quarter

With Jim, Sarah and John by a lovely corn stalk iron fence outside a hotel in the French Quarter

With Gerd at Cafe du Monde

With Gerd at Cafe du Monde

John enjoying beignets at Cafe du Monde

John enjoying beignets at Cafe du Monde





Invictus: Uncovering my grandparents’ grave markers–in the snow!

In March 2013, my family and I visited Chicago.  This is where my mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison, grew up and where she met my father, Bob Morrison, when they both studied at the University of Chicago in the early 1940s.  As a girl, we children visited the Windy City about twice a year to visit my grandparents, Werner Wehlen and Neva [Levish] Wehlen.

Werner immigrated from Sweden at the age of 16 in 1913.  He never went back.  In fact, he never met his youngest brother who was born after he had left!  But that brother, Nils-Erik, had a number of children–all of whom we have met and continue to meet!  Such is the miracle of life.

My children, Sarah and John, had never visited Chicago before.  Nor had they seen their great-grandparents’ gravesites.  I insisted that we go pay our respects at Rosehill Cemetary, just north of the Swedish part of Chicago–Andersonville.  Very charming people at the cemetery helped us with two maps.

Plan of Rosehill Cemetary, Chicago, Illinois

Plan of Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

My grandparents are buried in Section 9, Block Sub. 1, Lot 18, Graves 4 and 5.

My grandparents were somewhere in the yellowed in area!!!

My grandparents were somewhere in the yellowed in area!!!

Now was the hard part:  we got to Section 9 and even this little area marked in yellow above.  But my grandparents did not have gravestones that stood up vertically; they had grave markers that lie flat.  How would we ever find them in beautiful but snow-covered lawn!!!  And it is fitting that they are buried under snow.  Both stem from ancestors used to snow.  My mother, Joan, writes on January 30, 1939, about her best friend’s father, Mr. Love, who has just died and been buried on a frosty Chicago day,  “Mr. Love has a warm blanket now above him. I’m glad the snow is clean and fluffy.”

You’ll notice Werner’s grave marker has the word “Invictus” at the top.  It means “unconquered” and is the title of one of Werner’s favorite poems by William Earnest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem epitomizes Werner’s philosophy of life.  And my pure coincidence (?), John studied the poem in Social Studies class after our Chicago trip.

After we paid our respects, we headed for Andersonville and the Swedish part of Chicago.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ann Sather is where we used to eat a delicious Swedish smorgasbord.


We drank a toast to Neva and Werner at a bar he used to take us to:  Simon’s.  It’s no longer quite the dive it was, but everyone was so friendly and it’s a great place for a drink!


Simon's Tavern is at 5210 N. Clark Street.  A great place for a drink and a toast!

Simon’s Tavern is at 5210 N. Clark Street. A great place for a drink and a toast!

Skol to everyone!

Author’s Books

One of the most exciting moments in a writer’s life is when the book you’ve been devoting your life to — not only physically, but emotionally and, in this case, even spiritually — arrives in the mail as an actual physical object.

The other night, my family gathered ’round: Jim (my husband), Sarah (age 16), and John (age 11).  Jim placed the box before me that had arrived in the mail from Chicago Review Press.  We all stared at it like it was some strange and ancient talisman.

I recall my parents’ reminiscence of their first grandchild.  My niece, Lizzie, was 6 months old and proudly displayed to the family.  My brother, Jim, and his wife, Ruth, placed Lizzie on a blanket before the fireplace on a bleak, midwinter day in New Jersey.  We all sat on sofas and recliners and just….gazed at the baby.  In wonderment.  Here was this lovely creature, otherworldly almost, now gracing our lives.

Well, it seemed like that to us other other night.  This strange and magnificent gift, a bounty from my mother after her death–the diaries squirreled away in the file cabinet not opened in decades–permitting us to get to know her in her teenage years.

Jim handed me the scissors and I tear at the tape holding the box together.  I lift the lid —

And the lovely face of my mom gazes out at me.  The red background pops.  The raised fonts tactically beckon.

And we all, in a hush, are grateful.

Home Front Girl Diary

Susie and Sarah with Home Front Girl, just arrived from the publishers.

Susie holding the physical copy of Home Front Girl by her mother Joan Wehlen Morrison and edited by Susie–here at last!
%d bloggers like this: