Eternally Elaine: Goodbye, My Book Club Friend

A few nights ago while thumbing through my Facebook feed, I saw that my friend Megan Krome had shared someone’s post. I clicked—and what I read shocked me. Megan’s mom, Elaine Muirhead Hagebush, had died.

The impact of her death didn’t really hit me until the next morning. Elaine, you see, was also my dear friend. I knew about her debilitating migraines, the medicines she’d taken, the new ones she’d tried, and how the meds sometimes made feel like she was on a rollercoaster. But I’d had no idea that Elaine was so sick she’d been hospitalized.

We first met online, on Jan. 13, 2011. Elaine reached out to tell me how much she enjoyed my memoir. She knew about Sister of Silence because she was immensely proud of Megan, who created the stunning book cover. That would not have happened, had Megan’s dad and Elaine’s husband, David, and I not been on the same flight months earlier. I still consider that serendipitous meeting one of the best things ever—because it led me to Megan and her amazing artwork. And later it led me to Elaine, who was simply delightful.

Elaine and I met in person in July 2011, when the Bollinger Book Club gathered together inside her home. She was an avid, engaged reader who loved sharing her thoughts and feelings about the books she read. And Elaine was so enthusiastic about Sister of Silence that she practically turned into my public-relations genie. And when Elaine waved her magic wand, she connected me to her bookworm friends throughout California and beyond.

Along the way, we bonded over recipes and funny stories and tales about our children and, oddly enough, our love of chinchillas. We also talked about domestic violence and its impact on society. That’s how she became board president for Samantha’s Sanctuary, my (now defunct) nonprofit. Elaine was happy to take on that role because she cared deeply about helping abused women and children.

I loved Elaine. She was warm and witty and whimsical and compassionate. She also showed a high degree of emotional intelligence, which is exceedingly rare. Elaine didn’t judge you: she just loved you. She made me laugh and brightened my day with her zany sense of humor, which usually involved a hilarious pet tale.

Like the one about Kayley. The soft-as-silk chinchilla had been relegated to sleeping in the hallway since, Elaine said, “her nocturnal ramblings” kept Elaine and David’s other two children, Rachel and Chris, awake. I told Elaine how Avery, our chinchilla, had chewed through the wooden handle on an antique dresser. She said Kayley did the same to a closet door. “We now have a nice ruffle up and down the door. It’s beautiful really,” Elaine said.

Then she regaled me with another story of an “amazing feat of rodent naughtiness.” I couldn’t stop laughing as I read Elaine’s words, when she wrote about how Kayley had sprayed a family member during the holidays.

It was her exuberant cheer, her desire to befriend others, that made Elaine such a gift to us all. Over the years, I have often recalled that evening in the Hagebush home, surrounded by Elaine’s family and her dear book club friends. And the way she reached out to area bookstores and librarians, promoting my book. All because she wanted to. Because that’s the kind of friend Elaine was. She had no hidden agenda. She wasn’t just nice—she was kind.

I still remember how much fun we had, how hospitable Elaine was, and how she invited me to join her online book club, named—what else?—Elaine’s Bookshelf. There, I met an archeologist, Doug McIntosh, and then his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Dagny. Meeting Doug led me to his parents, who graciously offered to let me use their brand new guest cottage while I was in the Los Angeles area in 2012. They gave me lodging and friendship, taking me to dinner at Knotts Berry Farm. Elaine did that.

Ditto for introducing me to her dear friend Andrea Souza. We became friends while exchanging my books for Andrea’s amazing artwork inside a Tracy, Calif., coffee shop. Then there are Kim and JoAnn and Jocelyn and Tatiana, Miriam and Brenda and Mary. . . . and the list goes on. It is endless, really. Women who knew Elaine, her book club friends, formed from real-life and online friendships. Women who knew her far longer, and who are even more brokenhearted than I am, that this lovely lady is no longer with us.

Elaine loved all kinds of books. She also loved my writing, and kept urging me to write more books. So I did. Not just because of her, but largely so. Because it’s important to know that people want to read what you write. That you have a voice others want to hear. Elaine encouraged my writing efforts, and that spurred me on.

As I sit here reading her words, I can hear Elaine’s voice telling another tale: the one about how she toppled over backwards and fell down the stairs. The vacuum cleaner landed on top of her, sending her to the hospital. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but the doctor found some kidney stones while she was there. “Never trust a Hoover,” Elaine wrote.

No one but Elaine could tell a story like that and end on such a deadpan note. She was a natural-born storyteller. So please, wherever you are, whatever you are doing today, please pick up a book, and read a page or two, or even three. For Elaine.

* * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

TV Shoots: All in a Day’s Work

Television shoots aren’t what you think. I enjoy doing them, because they’re about books—and anything to do with reading is sexy, right? But they are far from glamorous.

I can’t recall how many I’ve done now—for Dateline, 48 Hours, 20/20, Dr. Phil, CrimeWatch, ID Discovery—but they are all remarkably similar. Behind the scenes I sit, cell phone off, waiting for the cameraman (so far, they have all been men) to adjust the lighting, the background, and me. My mic, clipped to my shirt collar or jacket lapel, my hair, and my glasses, which usually come off, due to the glare on my lenses.

In short, TV shoots consist of long moments of conversation punctuated by short bursts of touch-up sessions, to powder my shiny nose. Or fix my flyaway, baby-fine hair. When this happens, the producer sitting across from me (so far, all women save one) will ask for clarification about a question I’ve answered, or I will provide a detail about the story that she hasn’t yet asked me. Just in case she doesn’t.

I do my homework so I’ll be prepared, having reviewed dates and timelines for that particular story, because when you’ve written several books, you can’t risk confusing a salient detail from one book with another. This is crucial, because sometimes the producer or show’s writer isn’t prepared.

That happened in Colorado in September 2015, forcing me to repeatedly correct the TV crew. These weren’t small errors, either; they had the potential to create a liability for the network. Thank goodness that was the only time I had such a dreadful experience, and worried that my book might be misrepresented on national television. Trust me, no author wants that.

The most recent TV shoot took place in Annapolis, Maryland, near the harbor, which was filled with sailboats and larger craft. I had sat on the deck at Pusser’s Caribbean Grille the night before, eating dinner and watching the sunset. The next morning, I walked around town, sightseeing, then dressed and did my makeup. More made up than usual, since the bright lights from TV cameras would wash me out if I didn’t.

Alex Haley and family in bronze

They sent a limousine service to collect me, which was one of the highlights of my day. Not because I didn’t have to drive myself, although that was certainly nice, but because it was interesting. As I chatted with the driver, I learned that he was in Boca Raton, Florida, last year while I was working a few miles away in Pompano Beach. I also learned about his business, and why his 18-year-old son will soon triple his father’s income.

By and large, it’s the people I meet who make these TV shoots most enjoyable. A cameraman named Brian, who knew my book as well as I did. Now that’s impressive! A freelance producer who changed her career track from attorney to TV, because practicing law can be downright depressing these days. Oh, and then there’s the nonprofit she runs for disadvantaged youth, which is her first love.

U.S. Naval Academy

One of the most colorful producers I met, bruised and battered from her long days behind the scenes, worked in Los Angeles, California. There, she prepped guests and helped them ward off potential meltdowns, panic attacks or, worse yet, physical fights with each another. I later heard she gave it all up for the love of her horses, and the love of a man. Now that’s romance worthy of a TV show.

I forgot to take along a jacket for this last shoot, so while the temperatures outside hovered in the high 80s, we felt like we were inside a meat locker. The room was so frigid we stopped periodically, just to go outside and warm up. That and hot coffee kept my teeth from chattering, something that would have given the sound guy grey hair, I’m sure.

Speaking of sound, when the Dateline producers, two elegant, intelligent New York City women, came to town, they turned a vacant storefront in the Mountaineer Mall into a TV studio. But during the on-camera interview, loud pounding next door forced us to stop repeatedly, causing the producer to repeat entire questions. Every time we began speaking, so did the pounding, like a metronome in perfect time to our interview. After several minutes, the producer had to ask management to quiet things down. Otherwise, we would never have wrapped up.

The same thing happened in Annapolis. Except this time, the noise was from a hotel cart rolling by, right outside our door. And then there was the family with several boisterous children. They exited the pool to wait for the rest of their group, before leaving. Finally, we had a quiet space to continue the interview.


Being on set is fun, and can be exciting, but those times are far and few between. Most of the time, like today, I’m cleaning house, replying to emails, running errands, and tending my flower garden.

Tomorrow I renew my search for my missing daughter, and continue working to settle my late husband’s estate—the little things that highlight most of my days.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

I Found My Heart – In San Francisco

The last time I visited Lombard Street was in 1997. Until Friday morning, when I drove down the famous, curvy street, again – almost 20 years later. Have you ever noticed how, when you live in an area, life is so hectic you don’t often visit the local landmarks? And how, when you return as a tourist, you do?
san-fran-lombard-sunrise
You have to make time then, because time is all you have.

I’m not exactly a tourist, though. I was born here, in this land of the “flakes, fruits, and nuts,” as some people say. And I’ve lived, and worked, here before. As I am again.
streetcar
I left West Virginia in August, intent on a cross-country road trip but then uncertain where it would lead me. I still don’t know my final destination, but it will be here, somewhere in this state. I’ve decided to stay here. For years, I’ve been torn between two coasts – and four children. My two daughters who live in West Virginia, and my son and his sister, both of whom live here. It’s been difficult, to say the least, and every time I returned from California, I felt like I left my heart behind, somewhere in San Francisco.

So it was time. Time to pull up stakes and return to the place of my birth, like my father did before me, when he traveled from California to West Virginia in 1969. But my situation is different. I have two adult children here. Who, although adults, need me. And whom I need, just as much. I miss West Virginia and the people I left behind. But nowadays, social media and Skype make it easier than ever to live a continent apart.
lombard-curves
When I drove across the Bay Bridge Thursday afternoon, I never dreamed I would enjoy a culinary feast of the finest kind. San Francisco, you see, is one of a few cities where dining is an experience. Nor did I know that a handsome young fellow intended to take me to the Embarcadero for oysters at Water Bar. A place which he says, “offers the best seafood in the city.”

Or that, after appetizers, he and Glenn, a new friend, planned to cook lobster for me. Talk about a day of new and exciting experiences, unlike any other. We dined in the living room, on salad, sourdough bread, and the sweet meat of the crustaceans, dipping it in drawn butter. All while watching Finding Nemo, an irony not lost on any of us.
oysters
I didn’t expect to spent the night, but it turns out there was an empty bed. So Friday morning I woke up in a strange place, memories of a delicious dinner in the most romantic city in the world swirling around in my mind. And love filling my heart for the two men who made it, one of them my son.
zach-me-water-bar
As I left San Francisco, heading north to my temporary home, I wanted two things: a good, steaming cup of java, from one of the corner coffee shops that can be found throughout the city, and a sunrise photo. When I checked my GPS, I was delighted to learn that Lombard Street was only ten minutes away. How could I possibly pass it up? I couldn’t.
live-lobsters
I arrived at the perfect time, just as the sun’s early morning rays touched the steel beams of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance and bounced off the windows of the Lombard Street homes below me.

But it was perfect for another reason: I met Terry, a woman who lives on this famous street, and who greeted me and the only other person around with a smile. “Isn’t it a glorious day to be alive?” she asked us. He was German and his photography equipment was that of a professional. And although he didn’t speak English, the amazing sunrise we shared transcended the language barrier, as he snapped a photo of Terry and me.
san-fran-lombard-terry
Life is good. Very, very good – and it’s just beginning.

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

Destination South: My Long and Winding Literary Trek

I’m on a long and windy literary tour, which, thanks to Hurricane Hermine, has already featured one unexpected detour. While not taking Route 66, which is what I once planned to do, years ago, I am stopping to smell the roses where I can, meeting and writing about people who inspire me along the way. Yes, this is another trip altogether. An entirely different journey.

It felt as hot and muggy in Morgantown, W.Va., (when I hit the road August 31) as it does now in southern Florida, where I arrived Saturday night. Having just returned from a 7 a.m. walk on the beach, I can tell you the air hangs heavy around me, as warm and wet as tepid bath water.

My first stop when leaving my beloved Almost Heaven was Coonskin Drive in Charleston, where my cousin and I made an exchange: her books, which she loaned me, for my pearl earrings, which I forgot at her place in July. My window was open as she reached inside to hand me a tiny package. “Since I wrapped them in tin foil, we don’t want anyone to think we’re doing a drug deal,” she said as we both laughed. (In southern West Virginia, drugs are no laughing matter. Just ask state officials, who sued big pharma for piping the deadly opioids into the state.)

My first week on the road included a five-year overdue stop in Raleigh, N.C., to see friends I met in 2005, who have since become family. There, I heard the most fascinating stories about 1940s North Carolina, when segregation was still a way of life, as a young black woman from the North tried to acclimate to the South, after moving there to live with her husband’s sharecropper family.

My next stopover was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to visit a friend whose husband is very ill. I landed just ahead of Hermine, which had, by then, been downgraded to a tropical storm. We watched as the rain and wind blew in, and pools of water rose high enough for neighbor children to frolic in. While there, I was again reminded how no one can advocate for your health and welfare better than a family member. And in today’s medical minefield, they must — or risk the consequences of wrong diagnoses and other serious mistakes.

Seeing a fisherman try to reel in a stingray, only to cut the line after a lengthy battle with the giant creature so it could escape, was the highlight of my time there. Next to seeing my dear friends and chatting over ice cream cones while walking along the beach.

After a small mishap involving melted coconut oil that leaked all over my toiletries (Does anyone remember my 2009 honey-in-my-suitcase incident?), and two broken nails – one on my foot, another on my hand – I left Myrtle Beach later than planned, arriving in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday afternoon. There, I stopped to see the DuBose Heyward House, which is on the National Historic Register. Heyward wrote Porgy, the novel that later inspired George Gershwin to create Porgy and Bess, the opera. (I have yet to see it, but it is definitely on my bucket list.)

I took another detour to drive through Botany Bay, a wildlife preserve which features live oak trees lined up along the lane leading to it, stationed like bowing butlers facing. I hadn’t eaten since morning, so I drove east a few more miles, stopping at the edge of the ocean at Edisto Beach. There, I had a meal at a little place where the décor was bright and cheery, and reminded me of my sister, Lisa, who would have turned 50 that day, but for the drugs that ravaged her world.

Because I didn’t make Savannah, Ga., until 7 p.m., I missed seeing Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home. Instead, I stepped through a triple-hung window and onto the balcony, fully enjoying my “room with a view,” as day turned to dusk. Thursday morning, I took a tour of the splendid old city, and did so in a pair of slacks, a loosely woven blouse over my tank top. By 10 a.m., I had shed the blouse. By noon, I shed my pants, after buying – and donning – a sundress. Still, the temperatures were sweltering, and I was reminded of the scene from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, where Vivi Abbott Walker and her friends try to cool off in a convertible one sweltering summer night.

Looking at the gardens from my room with a view in Savannah, Georgia.

I had so much fun walking around the shops and watching the people, and winding my way down (and then back up again, nimble as a billy goat with my new knees) some very steep stairs to River Street, that I barely made the last O’Connor house tour of the day. And that would have been a shame, for there I learned that Mary Flannery and I have in common a book that surely helped formed her into the writer she became, and possibly did me, as well. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which the tour guide said Flannery performed as live readings for her friends in her bathroom as a little girl. (I also love peacocks, although I’ve never raised them, as she did.) I could not leave without purchasing a copy of the book whose title made such an impact on me as a short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. It is sad that she died so young of lupus, but what an incredible wealth of written works she left behind.

Next time, please join me as I make my way to other points south, as this literary trek continues.

Flannery O’Connor childhood home

The bathroom where Mary Flannery entertained her friends as a little girl; “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” is in the background.

The mantle in Mary Flannery’s bedroom features family photos.

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Ms. Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Cruising the Caribbean: Danger Finds Daleen On the High Seas

***CONTINUED FROM LAST MONDAY . . .

Most of the time aboard the Grandeur of the Seas, I was either walking the track on the upper deck or immersed in a good book somewhere, hidden away in a quiet corner of the ship. After all, I had all those calories to walk off—and the sun to watch, as it painted the horizon with its bright orange glow each morning. And then again each night. With book in hand, I watched the tossing seas, or enjoyed the gentle rocking which accompanied my reading. Sapphire colored, the endless waves were as soothing as a massage. I felt healthier than I have in years.

And my top “meeting a tall, dark stranger” experience came the morning I woke before 5 a.m. and stumbled up to deck ten to get some reading in before breakfast. Warm ocean breezes kept me company as I read the Pulitzer Prize winning book, All the Light We Cannot See on my iPad, while curled up on a chaise lounge. Then suddenly, an interruption.

“Is there anywhere to get coffee?” an older man with silver hair asked, as he ambled by.

“It was so early I didn’t look, but if you find some and come back by here, let me know,” I said.

A few minutes later, still absorbed in my book, the same fellow returned. He bore a gift: coffee, creamers, sugar and even pretend sugar, and a stirrer. “I brought you some of both,” he said. It was the most romantic moment of my entire cruise, on land or water, and I was touched by his kindness. I never saw him again.

Night comes to downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico.

An aside: I, and perhaps every woman who waited in the long lines outside movie theatres in 1997 to see Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titantic, have always wondered how it felt to be those people, the ones on that ship, those who perished, those who survived. Jack and Rose. I could only imagine, but strains from Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” wafting through the ship lent a helpful air in that department.

Speaking of which, did you know Titantic had its own newspaper, The Atlantic Daily Bulletin? Neither did I. But how fascinating!

A beach scene near Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or “El Morro,” built in San Juan during the early 1500s.

Many people I met onboard tell me that cruising is the perfect antidote to the winter doldrums. One such woman said that before her first cruise, the approaching winter would leave her depressed. Now, twenty years later, she is cured. Apparently, sailing 28 days out of the year in a series of three back-to-back cruises can do that for you, and several people I met do just that.

Meeting new people was the highlight of my cruise. Which is how I learned quite a few of my fellow seafarers had been on that same ship last year when it became the SS Norovirus. They said that 2015 experience was far worse than our second day at sea. That’s when the waves were so tumultuous they held many of us captive inside our cabins, until our collective nausea passed. Alas, it was my first and only negative experience onboard.

Well, except for my near misadventure on the high seas, a week later. It happened the night before we reached the Port of Baltimore, where our cruise ended. I was inside the Palladium Theater with friends who had crowded into nearby balcony seats. I was standing and talking, telling one of them about my bilateral knee surgery. He wanted the phone number for my fabulous surgeon, and I wanted him to have it. I went to retrieve it from my cabin. Turning and twisting and trying to walk at the same time, I missed one very large step. Instead, I pitched forward, but somehow managed to catch myself with both hands. My full weight pushed against a plexiglass barrier of sorts, which had been installed above the copper banister for probably that very reason, causing it to burst apart at two seams. The entire episode took mere seconds. My friends watched in horror, and said I came quite close to taking a tumble over the rail.

Well, shiver me timbers!

I say all that fancy footwork and the adept twisting of body parts, albeit without a sword, goes to show what a good pirate I’d make. Captain Jack Sparrow would be proud. So no, I don’t think I’ll wait 21 years for my next cruise.

* * * *

My fifth book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, was released November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

My Flight From Honolulu to Oakland—Just Call Me Amelia

We had a great time at the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market.
I left Oakland, California, on Sunday, March 10, for Honolulu, Hawai’i. Not piloting a plane—I wish!—but as a passenger aboard a Boeing 737. When I returned Wednesday night, flying from HNL to OAK, I realized we were following the same route Amelia Earhart had in 1935. That’s when she became the first pilot to fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland.

In March 1937 Earhart crashed her Lockheed Electra on takeoff from Ford Island, in the heart of Pearl Harbor. In June, she attempted to set a record for a transcontinental flight around the world. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, never made it. Many people believe her own miscalculations (or those of Noonan) did her in. When I boarded an Alaska Airlines jet Wednesday night, I didn’t think about the possibility of Earhart’s disappearance having been brought on by her own error in judgment—until the next day.

When I almost didn’t make it home. Because of my miscalculations. I mean really, who in their right mind would think it wise to schedule four flights in a 24-hour period, crossing six time zones in the process? Especially a pilot and a former member of Earhart’s club, the Ninety-Nines? Quite honestly, I don’t think I even realized I had done so, when I made reservations months ago after being invited to be a guest speaker at a conference. I just saw it as smart planning to drop in on family and friends in California, en route to and from Hawai’i.

The first leg of my trip home began at HNL at 8 p.m. Wednesday. I changed planes in Seattle, Washington, at 7 a.m. Thursday, boarded another flight and arrived at OAK about 8 a.m. After a quick visit with loved ones there, I boarded my third flight at 3 p.m. and headed to my final destination in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With a brief layover in Denver, Colorado. That’s where I received some first-class medical attention, all because by then I was exhausted. And dehydrated.

The USS Arizona submerged beneath Pearl Harbor.
I began feeling ill about 11 a.m. while still in Oakland. My friends made sure I rested for the next two hours. I still felt a little out of sorts when I boarded the plane. So I slept most of the way to Denver. When I did wake up, the two deadheading Southwest employees next to me were still engrossed in the same tête-à-tête they had been when I boarded the plane. So much so I hated to ask them to let me to use the restroom, stretch my legs or get a drink. And when I finally did force myself to interrupt, their demeanor was definitely not friendly—mahalo very much.
All of which meant I didn’t drink enough water. As soon as I deplaned, it hit me. I was dizzy and felt like I might pass out. So I asked an airline employee if someone could take my blood pressure. I figured my blood sugar or blood pressure was low.

And that’s how I found myself on my back on the floor, my legs propped up against the floor-to-ceiling windows that give waiting passengers a nice view of the planes as they come and go. Did I tell you I was wearing a dress? Yep, I was. A little Hawaiian sundress I thought I’d impress my husband with when he came to fetch me from the airport. Which means the airline workers on the tarmac below probably got a nice view, too—if a fellow passenger and a Southwest employee, both women, didn’t wrap that shawl around my legs in time. (Then, I felt too bad to even care at the time. Now, hindsight being what it is and with the Steubenville trial behind us, I realize it’s possible my nether regions are now fodder for someone’s Twitter or Facebook feed. So if anyone has that particular photo of me, I’ll pay you good money just to make it go away.)

Paramedic Ben, who said my symptoms required an EKG to rule out any heart issues, had a great sense of humor. “I don’t have my appendix,” I said as he felt my lower right abdomen.

“No problem, neither do I,” Ben replied, clearly skilled at defusing tension in patients—like me—who are on public display in an airport terminal while hundreds of people walk by. After as thorough an exam one can have in a public airport, Ben ruled out everything but dehydration. I signed a waiver saying if I died in the air it was my own fault, then I boarded the plane and safely made my way home. By the time I retrieved my checked bags, it was 12:30 a.m. Friday. Even if I hadn’t missed my husband so much, I would have kissed him anyway—because he knew I’d be exhausted and decided in advance (all on his own) to book a room in a nearby hotel. Where I slept for hours and hours.

It’s taken me until today just to feel human again, and well enough to write about my journey. Speaking of which, did you know Hawai’i is both a state and an island? The state of Hawai’i is comprised of eight islands, one of which is also called Hawai’i. I went there because that’s where a violence and abuse conference was being held. It was in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. Known as “the gathering place”, Oahu is the third-largest and probably the most popular island. It certainly has the most people, given that 75-percent of the state’s 1.2 million people live there.

I’d never been to Hawai’i before, so I was eager to experience it. Swim in the ocean, go snorkeling, attend a luau. Turns out, there was much more to do. For instance, for aviation aficionados and history buffs like me, there’s Pearl Harbor. I went twice. The first time to check it out, the second to take a tour and see the Pacific Aviation Museum. (I’ve been even more curious about the place since I saw Ben Affleck in the movie. Locals who grew up there tell me Pearl Harbor was remarkably accurate in its portrayal of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack. And I wanted to see the USS Arizona Memorial.)

The golf ball sits in Pearl Harbor, so I could see it up close and personal. A 28-story-tall defense radar system, it cost $900 million and helps protect the United States from rogue missiles. I saw it every day from LeAnne’s house and was mesmerized by it. It’s gigantic in itself, but it sits on an even bigger Norwegian oil platform. Yet when it isn’t at dock, it floats.

Early morning sunrise at Diamond Head

While on Oahu, I went on a dinner cruise and got some spectacular sunset pictures in return. I was dining solo, so I could just soak everything in. Since my fellow passengers were from all over the world, it turned into a cool people-watching evening for me. (The young college couple next to me was from Connecticut, and want to come hear my TEDx talk next month at Connecticut College. That was a cool coincidence, as was meeting a Virginia couple the following morning. They live in the same town as Ken Lanning—the retired FBI special agent who wrote the foreword for my book. That and their son is in law enforcement.) Oh and I didn’t just watch a hula dance—I was in one. The best food on the cruise? A taro (or poi) roll, made from the purple taro root. It wasn’t just pretty, it was yummy.

Back on dry land, my new friend LeAnne took me to the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market on the North Shore. We met some of the nicest people and sampled some of the best local food there. Musubi, the thing I turned up my nose to, turned out to be the most delicious. With just four ingredients—a block of rice, a slice of grilled Spam, nori (dried seaweed), and some sesame seasoning—it’s cheap and simple to make. This small but mighty market was next to the Waialua Estate, where we sampled coffee from the homegrown beans, and saw cacao (chocolate!) growing in the pods on a tour. (I can’t believe I originally balked at LeAnne’s suggestion we visit a farmer’s market, thinking if I’d seen one, I’d seen them all. Nothing could be further from the truth.) And now that I’ve tasted the chocolate-covered Waialue coffee beans, I’m hooked. I swear they’re the best ever!

Another new friend, Candy, treated me to a delicious Thai lunch and took me around the island. We went to Nu’uanu Pali State Park, where during the 1700’s Chief Kamehameha fought a decisive battle. He became Hawaii’s first king after driving more than 400 opposing troops over the edge of a cliff. Myra, yet another new friend, took me out on the town Saturday night. We went to a street fair, where we saw some unusual street performers and a fashion show; drank delicious vetiver tea; met Joy, a local artist who sells cool jewelry on Facebook; and listened to some lovely native Hawaiian music. The first group, Olamana, was very popular in the 1970’s, Myra insisted. The second, Kapena, continues to gain popularity.

My one-mile hike up Diamond Head crater ranks near the top of my favorites list. I experienced an absolutely stunning 360-degree view of the famous Waikiki coastline, as well as great views of the Pacific Ocean. This area (which was where parts of the hit show Lost was filmed) was formed from a single volcanic eruption 300,000 years ago. Diamond Head once served as both a lookout station and a lighthouse, and bonfires burned at the edge of the volcano. During World Wars I and II, Diamond Head served as a military observation point.

David, our Diamond Head tour guide, said the vast majority of plants aren’t native to Hawai’i, and the palm trees and coconuts were brought there during the ancient Polynesian migration. I checked and he’s right about the coconuts. But the rest? Not so much. One type of palm tree is quite native to the islands, and his claim that Oahu owes its beautiful beaches to Australia isn’t true, either. But the sand was shipped from California during the 1920’s and 30’s. (Any sand shipped from Australia was for construction purposes.)

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor
It’s hard to name my top Oahu memory. There were so many! But I think it was making new friends, like Candy, Myra and LeAnne. And being treated to such lovely hospitality while there. From the aromatic leis LeAnne placed around my neck at the airport, to the delicious feast she prepared that night to welcome me. From taking me to wading in the lagoon on Pupukea Beach to showing me some of the best parts of Oahu, including the painted trees (Rainbow Eucalyptus), I’ve learned a lot. Namely, that I want to be this kind of hostess, when friends visit my home. I want to show such genuine love and warmth that my visitors never want to leave. Like I didn’t, when it was time to go.

Nothing about my trip to Hawai’i or my flight home was planned, other than the speech I gave. But isn’t that when you get the greatest gifts in return? Life is about dealing with the unplanned, uncharted and often turbulent waters swirling around us. So plan for the unexpected, and live a little. Or live a lot and go out kicking and screaming. Either way, you’ll be glad you did. Aloha!

Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. She invites you to join her when she gives her first TEDx talk in April 2013. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout”.

Traveling Solo: It Always Pays When Someone’s “Got Your Back”

In January, my friend Sheila and I went to Mexico for our mutual friend Olga’s wedding. We knew a little Spanish, but not much. An hour after our plane landed, we got into a car with two men, strangers we had never met, and began a one-hour journey to our destination.

In Italy two weeks ago, where I was attending a writer’s conference, I did the same thing again, and I don’t speak a word of Italian: I walked through the city with two other male strangers, got into their car, and sat back for what turned out to be a short drive.

On Sunday afternoon, I got off the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) subway at Fields Station in (what has been described as a high-crime neighborhood) Dorchester, got into a car with another stranger and sat back not knowing where we were going.

Last night I learned that a murder occurred eight days earlier at Fields Station when 39-year-old Cherby LaJoie was killed after trying to resist the teens who tried to rob him. The teen charged with his murder is Earnest Watkins. He is just 14.

In Mexico, Olga had made arrangements to send two of her friends to fetch us from the airport. Turns out one of the men she sent is a volunteer lawyer who works on important issues involving the government.

In Italy, I began looking around for people I might recognize because of their dress and grooming. Seeing no one as I hoped to, I said a quick prayer asking for them to be sent to me. Less than five minutes later, I saw the two young men approaching me. I held up a Portuguese Bible tract and even though they only knew a smattering of English, we instantly became family.

In Boston two days ago, I dialed a phone number and asked where I might find a local Kingdom Hall. That’s what Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses call their meeting places. The man who answered, a local elder, told me how to get from the bus station to the subway, and exactly what to do when I departed the train at Fields Station. He also told me where to meet him. He is black, as was everyone else whom I passed or who sat waiting at the bus stop. I, obviously, am not.

I am one of almost 8 million Witnesses throughout the world. When I travel, I am strengthened to withstand my own weaknesses, other people’s rudeness or their even downright nasty behavior, when I can congregate with my spiritual family. No matter our skin color, our language, our socio-economic background or anything else, we are family. Which is pretty important, when you’re a woman traveling alone to big cities or foreign countries. It means someone always has your back. That you have friends in places where you’ve never been.

Like us, hate us, or slam the door in our faces, there are a few things you might not know—-and which the media rarely reports on. For instance, if you lose your briefcase and it’s got a ton of cash inside (That’s no doubt a rare scenario in these tough economic times, but still.) the chance of it being returned if a Witness finds it is 100-percent.

The reason we <a href=”http://www.knocking.org/”>come knocking</a> on your door is because of the pattern Jesus Christ set, when he trained his early disciples, sending them out by twos and telling them to go “from door to door.” It’s the same reason we let complete strangers into our homes and hand over the key, even when we’ve never met them: we live by the Bible’s admonition to treat others as we want to be treated.

One other thing you probably don’t know, but which I, as a reporter and indie book publisher, find fascinating: our two monthly journals, The Watchtower and Awake, are the most widely-circulated in the world. They go out to 236 lands. Each print run produces more than 42 million copies of The Watchtower are produced. (Awake is 41 million.) The only other magazine that even comes close is AARP’s paid journal. Yet they—-and all the other Bible education aids we use and share with our neighbors—-are designed, composed, printed and shipped by volunteers around the world. No one is paid, no matter what their position.

I don’t use this public website as a way to share my personal religious beliefs, because all too often, religion is not something people want to talk about. Just like politics. Unless you’re of the same affiliation, then it might be okay. However, I would like to say—-given my past abuse-—that many, many people have commented on my resilience. I can’t take much credit for that. Because honestly, the one thing that helps me leave the past in the past, when it comes to horrible and violent memories I cannot forget, is my strong faith. I also know if we want to and we work really hard at it, we can gain strength from various things around us. I gain my strength from Bible promises.

That strength also comes from Jehovah God and my worldwide family, who taught me why bad things happen to good people, and why they ultimately won’t happen at all. He, and they, also taught me that some people can be trusted. Implicitly. Even when you’ve never met them before.

* * * *
I’ll be in Boston until Thursday, when I fly home. Tonight I’ll be at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery at 7 p.m. It’s a weekly storytelling venue, located at 106 Prospect Street in Cambridge. Hopefully I’ll be able to share my story there, like I did with a group of social workers in Maine last week. Although, with only eight-minute slots, this will be a much-condensed version. So come out and hear what some people are calling “a riveting” story—mine or even someone else’s.

* * * *
Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why