Part One: Welcome To The Unraveling
When I was twelve, a man called our house and asked if my father was home. When I said he wasn't, the man didn't believe me.
"Sure he's not," he snarled.
"But he's not," I said, beginning to understand this wasn't going to go well, a panic rising in my chest.
I could tell the man was elderly, and there was something in the tone of his voice that overwhelmed me with dread. He went on to say that my father had ripped him off, taken his savings, and that my father was a crook.
As I pressed the phone to my ear, there was a kind of shock, but also a profound realization as I listened. I felt I was hearing something horrible about my own father, an ugly truth, but every cell in my body knew it was truth I heard in the caller's rage-fueled voice. Later, my father explained his side, and the part of my mind that knew, the part that had absorbed the sound and feeling of the man's voice, had to be walled off.
I forged ahead, trying to forget the feeling, the old man, and what he told me. I loved my father. He didn't believe in hitting children, he wasn't violent. He did much of the cooking and caring for me, and he spent quality time with me, supporting my dreams and creative activities. Dad rarely had a drink, and didn't take drugs. He wasn't strict, and he allowed me to stand up for myself.
I knew my father as Riley Shepard, a songwriter, singer, and all around show biz expert. As my father grew older, he gave me an auto-biography he'd been working on, he told me many of his stage and pen names, he wrote me long letters filled with love and fatherly advice, he wrote a cook book, and began a candid and personal journal.
This blog will unravel some family mysteries, and show my research since 1995, but this first one will be the longest. A three minute read! The blog is connected to my website which shows my beloved day job, which might be confusing to some. "Make a separate page for your writing," someone said. I'd rather just say, don't be confused. I've been an esthetician for 26 years now. On my birth certificate, my father stated his occupation as "Cook/Performer." Most of us have more than one way to make it in this world.
Special thanks to my half-siblings Richard, Leslie, and Marion for sharing stories, letters, and stuff your mothers kept in the attic, thank you Marilyn McGuire (ancestry expert genius),the Wilson Library at UNC, Kevin Coffey (writer/researcher), Erfert Fenton, The Wyatt family, Matthew Budman for finding a few of my father's rare and out of print sex books, thank you to the songwriter Larry Bastian, Allan Gurganus for telling me stories about The Fountain School in Rocky Mount, thank you Frances Jerome for finding time to "Nancy Drew" for me. Heidi Parker, Sunny Anderson, what can I say? I suck at technology and couldn't do this without you. Thomas Schworer, thank you for using your magic photography powers to fix all my old photos. Thank you Jennie Shortridge and Joe Guppy. Big thanks to the publishers Lantz Arroyo, Sarah Lopez, and Nicholas Hurd at Radix Media. We don't do this work alone, and crediting the work of others is so crucial. Lastly, thank you David Silverman for being the most amazing husband on the planet and taking this wacky journey with me, literally driving me out into the middle of nowhere so we could see landmarks with our own eyes and meet people in person.
I promise to fact check everything I post, and confront bullshitty stuff when I can, without being too bitchy about it, because I've believed bullshit, too. I will not exaggerate here, no need to. It's been a long process of unraveling. Here we go.