Our July issue starts with fanfare and a delicious pun and a text/photo collage of excerpts from Sue William Silverman’s new memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, explores her conflicted feelings toward Judaism and her efforts to pass as Christian – refuge from a scary Jewish father. It’s an exploration of identity among a mishmash of American idols and ideals. At the heart of this journey are three separate encounters with the overtly Christian, 1960s pop-music icon – and father of four daughters – Pat Boone. He represents a kind of talisman reflecting Sue’s desire to belong to the dominant culture and religion. She tries on other identities as well – Baby Boomer, ballerina, hippy, kibbutznik, lefty, rebel – seeking an authentic self. The book is more ironic than dark and simultaneously celebrates the inclusivity of American culture and subverts the notion of belonging.
Here in this montage are photographs that reflect specific moments in the memoir. Accompanying the photos are quoted excerpts from individually titled chapters of the memoir.
Sue is an old friend and colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts. This is her second appearance in NC. It’s terrific to have her back.
Even though I’m now an adult, Pat Boone still reminds me of those innocent all-American teenage summers at Palisades Park, Bermuda shorts and girls in shirtwaist dresses, corner drugstores, pearly nail polish, prom corsages, rain-scented lilacs, chenille bedspreads and chiffon scarves, jukebox rock and roll spilling across humid evenings…. He is Ivory soap, grape popsicles, screened porches at the Jersey shore, bathing suits hung to dry, the smell of must and mildew tempered by sun and salt. He is a boardwalk Ferris wheel, its spinning lights filling dark spaces between stars. He remains all the things that, as you age, you miss—the memory of this past smelling sweeter than honeysuckle on the Fourth of July…. —Sue William Silverman
My Sorted Past
Sally Pressman [the actress who plays me in the movie version of my memoir Love Sick] hands me her copy of my book to autograph, right before I leave the set in Vancouver. She’d scrawled stars and check marks in the margins to note certain passages. Some sentences are underlined, others highlighted. I sign my name on the title page, with a blue pen, along with a little message.
I regret that I never asked Sally for her autograph. But what would she have signed for me? A loop of celluloid? My copy of the salmon-colored schedule of scenes? Perhaps she could have signed her name beside the line about Sue’s sorted past.
Of course the word “sorted” was meant to be “sordid.” But I like the mistake. In the movie, in my book, in my flesh-and-blood life, I’ve sorted through selves, as if through old photographs, in order to discover one image that’s the one authentic me. How many costumes and masks did I change to wander through one small life?
The Wandering Jew
One afternoon in St. Thomas, I see the movie Limelight starring Charlie Chaplin…who saves a young ballerina, Thereza, about to commit suicide because she suffers hysterical paralysis. She can neither walk nor dance….
After I see the movie, I am virtually mute for days. I stay home sick from school. I refuse to eat. I refuse to get out of bed. Only he can soothe me, Chaplin, this tramp, helping young ballerinas dance. He comforts girls who are lost, lonely, confused, paralyzed, trapped. He leads them away from harm’s way, saving them….
Since we first moved to the island, I have taken ballet lessons from Madame Caron at the Virgin Isle Hotel. She is the mother of French actress Leslie Caron, star of Gigi. I’ve never seen Leslie Caron in person, but her brother sometimes visits the island. The other girls and I, while practicing pliés and arabesques, watch for him outside the hotel windows. He struts around the swimming pool in a French-cut bathing suit, a Gaulois Disc Blue aslant between his lips. We girls dance as if for him, hoping to be noticed.
Today, however, after seeing Limelight, I don’t watch for him. Nor am I able to chatter with my friends as we change into Danskin leotards and pink tutus. I sit on the floor in the dressing room, my Selva ballet slippers in my hands. I mold the rabbit fur into the toes, then slide my feet inside the soft cushions. I crisscross the pink satin ribbons up my ankles and calves.
Once I’m ready to dance, I feel transported to London. The scent of trade winds ebbs as I inhale a cold, damp winter. As all the girls trail down the corridor to the hotel ballroom, I, Thereza, enter the stage of the Empire Theatre. Charlie Chaplin waits for me in the wings. My adult eyes are lined with mascara and kohl, my cheeks and mouth rouged.
The orchestra tunes in the pit.
That Summer of War and Apricots 1
I lie alone on the ground beneath stars and planets in an orchard of mishmish (apricot) trees. I am in Israel, having recently quit my job on Capitol Hill, my first after graduating college. I press my head against the ground as if I can feel reverberations of Ari’s footsteps patrolling the kibbutz, his military boots circling closer to me.
I’ve been awake since four a.m. From four to eleven, in the cooler air, my group picks apricots. I strap a white canvas bucket over my shoulders and carry a wood ladder from tree to tree. Before dawn, fruit is almost invisible on the dark branches. I search more by feel, my fingers distinguishing fuzz from the slickness of leaves. After filling a bucketful, I unhook the bottom. Apricots, like cataracts of sunbeams, flow into the bed of a truck. Then I return to the ladder: more apricots, more trees….
I flew to Israel after the Six Day War. For the first time I’m proud to be Jewish, after wishing, all my life, to be Christian….
But do I belong here in Israel?
Am I of this new sun-drenched nation? Or just in it?
A callused hand grips my forearm. A glint of an Uzi. Ari. His nose is thin, his eyes green, his hair so blonde he could pass as one of my Christian boyfriends….
We don’t speak. Night spills stars across the Mediterranean sky. The moon presses me to the earth—this Israeli moon, this soil, this man cradling me, our bodies bruising fallen fruit.’
That Summer of War and Apricots 2
Beneath my bare feet the floor in my bungalow is gritty with dust and sand. Out the window, yellow-green fields flow to orchards…, the air brittle with the friction of insect wings. In the distance, a Soviet-built MiG-21 zips open the sky. It plunges toward earth—quick—dropping a bomb on an Israeli town or military encampment…. Its silvery light ebbs to black. A plume of smoke hazes the horizon….
I lie on my mattress stuffed with straw and covered by a rough wool blanket….
I drift, my head on the hard pillow, gently rocked by slow concussions of sound. Light burns dust into air….
This, while a blank aerogramme rustles in a desert breeze.
Galveston Island Breakdown: Some Directions
At Thorne’s, a new restaurant, stand on the sidewalk gazing through floor-to-ceiling windows. Candlelight flickers on forest-green walls, white tablecloths, the mahogany bar. The ornate mirror behind the bar reflects bottles of liquor. Your husband, holding a Black Russian, sits with couples who used to be your friends, before you caused a scandal by running off [with a man driving] a blue convertible. Now they no longer speak to you.
Reflected in the window, see yourself superimposed on the room. But imagine the way you looked when you dined here. You wore long skirts, silk flowers in your hair. You sipped Sambuca with a coffee bean garnishing the bottom of the crystal glass. All evening your husband talked about the restoration project. He loves these buildings…and, sure, you love them, too. But you want him to love you more.
Leave before anyone sees you, lurking.
—Sue William Silverman
(Quotes from The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew by Sue William Silverman by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2014 by Sue William Silverman.)
Sue William Silverman’s new memoir is The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew (University of Nebraska Press). Her two other memoirs are Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton), which is also a Lifetime TV movie, and Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You (University of Georgia Press),which won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award in creative nonfiction. Her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir (UGA Press), and her poetry collection is Hieroglyphics in Neon (Orchises). She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew