|Credit: Jeffery Tracey Sr.|
Jeffery, Nice to meet you. As an author of four non-fiction books, when did you decide to finally start writing and sharing stories from your life events? A family of six can provide many anecdotes that can navigate among a flowing stream of emotional events. Did you have any reservations prior to disclosing sensitive matters that impacted your family’s welfare from alcoholism to abandonment?
After I married Debra, I often wrote her short poems. I guess I have always been a romanticism. But it wasn’t until after I raised my family, and retired from the US Postal Service, that I decided to share my childhood stories.
I used to sit on the back porch with my grandchildren, and tell them my stories of living with three older brothers in the Midwest in the early sixties. They seemed so intrigued, that I decided I would share my stories with the world.
Initially, I wanted to write several short, humorous stories about my childhood that contained moral values. I was targeting young children from eight to sixteen years old. My first manuscript that I submitted for publication was called “Flip Flop, Flip Flop.” It was an emotional book for me, but I believed it had a moral value that young children could benefit from. It turned out that a lot of readers thought it was a more humorous story than emotional.
A publishing company was interested in my story, but wasn’t willing to publish a book that was so short, that someone could read it, and place it back on the shelf without paying for it. Based on that one story, they asked if I might have other stories to tell. I told them I did, and thus “A Family Reunited” was published.
As for having any reservations to disclosing sensitive matters that impacted our family’s welfare, from alcoholism and abandonment, the answer is yes. Like I said, I initially wanted to write about fifteen to twenty short, humorous stories about the shenanigans us boys pulled living on the farm in the Midwest in the early sixties (before the invention of the cell phone). Even though we had little money, the book tells about my family reuniting, and for the most part, the good times my brothers and I had.
I had no plans of writing a part two of my childhood. Mainly, because I would have to disclose sensitive matters on alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, and mental illness. But after consolidating all my stories into one book, I discovered that I really enjoyed writing. I was hooked. And whether it was intentionally or sub-consciously, I ended my first book with the sentence, “The next chapter of my life brought true meaning to “Life isn’t always fair.” Life is what it is. Nothing lasts forever, and do not rely on anyone but yourself.
Whether I realized it or not, I insinuated there was more to come. In order for the reader to understand how our family spiraled downward, I realized I would have to disclose sensitive matters on alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, and mental illness.
|Credit: A Family Reunited|
The book “A Family Reunited” captures your reunion with your father and older brothers. As the youngest of four boys, what mindset and characteristics were you encouraged to emulate to grow into a respectable human being? Who was your personal role model while growing up? Did you idolize any historical figures from the entertainment, sports or mainstream media during the 50’s & 60’s?
I don’t know if it is a characteristic or not, but the greatest mindset I was encouraged to emulate was to “Work hard and earn your keep!” My father always told us boys that you had to “Work hard, earn your keep, and rely on no one but yourself.”
The answer to who was my personal role model while growing up is difficult to say and a lot of people will not be able to understand. But I would have to say it was my father. That was until he abandoned us. He instilled in me to work hard, earn my keep, and rely on no one but myself.
I don’t remember idolizing any historical figures from the entertainment, sports or mainstream media during the 50’s and early 60’s. When we lived in Kansas, our family was poor and we had no television or radio to listen to.
When we moved back to Ohio, I was in Junior High. As my family was torn apart, I used to go to the school library and check out western books. My favorite author was Max Brand. I read a lot of western novels and pretended I was a deputy U S marshal chasing outlaws. I guess it was my way of escaping the realities I was forced to live in. Later in life, I got hooked on watching western movies. So, naturally, Clint Eastwood was my favorite actor, and “Hang Em High” was my favorite movie.
|Credit: A Family Torn Apart|
“A Family Torn Apart” addresses your separation from the family at age two and then again at age eleven. Out of the several factors (alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, poverty, and mental illness), which one greatly compromised the family’s faith to continue moving forward together? What did observing mental illness teach you about the fragile condition of people in life?
Actually “A Family Torn Apart” does not address the separation of my family when I was two years old. It only addresses the second separation of my family when I was eleven years old.
I was too young to remember the reasons why my parents separated the first time. Although, in my book “A Family Reunited”, I give the reasons why I believed they separated the first time. The reader actually finds out the real reason that led to the first separation in part three of the trilogy, “Brainwashed by Foster Parents”.
Of all the several factors (alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, poverty, and mental illness), I would have to say the one factor that greatly compromised the family to continue to move forward was the mental illness. Which then led to alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, and poverty.
What observing mental illness taught me about the fragile condition of people in life is this. People, and this include doctors, did not know how to treat people with mental conditions in the early sixties. I observed my mother being forced into a straitjacket and thrown into the back seat of a car and sped away.
I found out later my mother was confined to a mental institution. While there, she was given shock treatment on both sides of her temples, that left her in a zombie-like state of mind. I once was allowed to visit her while she was in the mental hospital that looked more like a prison. I barely recognized her. She had aged forty years and she barely recognized me.
Most children are resilient to change and evolving circumstances. If you had to relive any two events from your childhood, which events would you choose and why?
The first event from my childhood that I would relive is definitely the time, when my brother and I went on the boy scout overnight camping trip. The scout troop leader paid for our fees so we could go on the camping trip. He knew we believed in earning our keep, and said we could mow his yard until the fees were repaid. My brother and I had a blast, until the last day. Then my brother tried to ruin it for me. But I will always remember the kindness of that scout leader. In fact, I was so impressed by his kindness that I became a scout leader myself, later on in life.
The second event I would relive is the time when I joined the Mennonite church. Only this time, I would not allow myself to be brainwashed into joining that cult like communion. Then, my mother and brothers could allow me to sit with them at the dinner table when eating a meal.
While living with your foster family was challenging from the age of twelve for a period of four years, how do you view them in hindsight today? What was the pivotal moment that granted you clarity to leave your caretakers for an uncertain future?
How do I view my foster family in hindsight today? Even after fifty-two years, I guess I am still too emotional to answer that question. The pivotal moment that granted me clarity to leave my foster parents was when they killed my only companion, my dog.
|Credit: Brainwashed by Foster Parents|
“Brainwashed by Foster Parents” discusses your introduction to the church during adolescence. Where does your faith stem from today? How do you define faith in one sentence?
Even though I was living with a family that had six children, I still felt like I was all alone. I believe the Lord allowed me to find a puppy that was in distress, for companionship. I believe the Lord gave me the strength to carry on, and the opportunity to leave my foster parents. If I had to define faith in one sentence, I would say, “Trust in the Lord.”
What did you learn about marriage and nurturing a family through all the events that unfolded before your eyes by the time you were 20? Did you ever lose faith in seeking love for yourself?
Did you ever imagine that you’d have great grandchildren greeting you one day?
I’m probably like everyone else, and I had to learn about marriage and nurturing a family through trial and error. Because of my childhood, and because I developed a hard work ethic at a very young age, I was probably a lot more mature and more responsible at eighteen than most twenty-one-year olds. I knew that I would never abandon my family. One thing I knew for certain was that life is hard. Life is what it is, and you have to carry on. It’s how you handle your challenges that defines one.
Did I ever lose faith in seeking love for myself? I guess I never really thought about seeking love for myself. Throughout my childhood, everyone that I loved either left me or was torn away from me. It became instilled in me that everyone I love, will one day leave me, or will be taken away from me. Therefore, I became a loner. The only persons I hung around with were my brothers.
As for imagining having great grandchildren greet me one day? I would have to say no, I didn’t imagine that to happen. But I can say this, they are God’s blessing and I am already starting to tell them some of my (humorous) stories.
Where did you derive hope from during moments of mental and emotional anguish as your family battled varying degrees of socioeconomic challenges?
I dove into my western novels and my wild imagination would take me away. One time, I was pretending I was a U S marshal chasing this outlaw. I ran out the back door and down to the creek in the woods behind our home. I acted like I jumped off my stallion, onto the back of the outlaw knocking him off of his horse. I tumbled to the ground and rolled into the creek. I jumped up and started to play fighting. I acted like the outlaw hit me in the stomach, and I doubled over. He kneed me in the face and I jerked backward, falling to the ground. If anyone had witnessed my play fighting by myself, they would have sworn I was having an epileptic seizure. That was how I handled mental and emotional anguish.
|Credit: Stubborn Debra Sue|
The fourth book “Stubborn Debra Sue” is inspired by your wife’s journey living with polio. The story provides a better understanding for the afflicted through exhibiting Debra’s personality and steadfastness which helped her overcome the barriers cast upon her by society. How did you meet Debra for the first time? When did you know she was the right life partner for you?
The first time that I met Debra, I was living on South Shaver St. across from South Houston High School. I walked across the street to a convenient store named Wag a Bag that was next to the High School. I was going to purchase a pack of cigarettes.
When I arrived at the store, there was a girl about twelve years old waiting outside holding onto a leash on her dog. The dog was a beagle, and it looked just like the dog I used to have when I lived with my foster parents.
I asked the girl if I could pet her dog and she said, “Yes.”
I knelt down and scratched behind the beagle’s ears and started talking to the dog, “I used to have a dog just like you. His name was Mickey.”
I’ll be damned if my eyes don't start to water. Just then, Debra walked out of the store on crutches. I noticed she propped open the door with the bottom of her right crutch, using it like a door stopper.
I stood up trying to look all tough and macho, and not like a crybaby. I walked toward the door and said, “Let me hold the door open for you.”
Debra said, “Don’t bother. I can manage just fine.”
She swung her left crutch forward, onto the sidewalk, while holding onto a bag full of snacks. She released the bottom of her right crutch from the door and allowed it to swing shut behind her. She did all this motion quickly and gracefully, before I even had a chance to reach the door and hold it open for her. I could tell she was an old pro at walking with crutches. I admired her spirit
Debra looked at me and said, “Hi. Hey, I know you. Don’t you work at the pizza parlor on Spencer Rd?”
I replied, “Yes. How did you know?”
Debra explained, “My stepfather takes the family there every Friday night for pizza and beer, and watches those wacky silent movies.”
I asked, “Do you live around here?”
Debra said, “We live on the other side of that vacant field next to the high school. Do you go to South Houston High?
I replied, “Yes.”
Debra said, “Maybe I’ll see you in school.”
Debra pointed to the girl holding the leash on the dog and said, “This is my sister. We have to get home now,” and they walked away.
That was the first time I met Debra.
For the question, when did I know Debra was the right partner for me? Well, that’s difficult to say. When I met Debra for the first time, we lived less than a half mile from each other. However, almost a year earlier to the date, Debra and I also lived less than a half mile from each other. But at two completely different locations on Red Bluff Rd in Pasadena, Texas. Only we never knew it, because we were never meant to meet during that time frame.
During that year, Debra’s family would move to the house behind the high school on fourteenth street. My family would move up to Washington D.C., over 2500 miles away. We lived there for about seven months. Then we moved back to an apartment on South Shaver St., only a half mile from each other again.
I walked to that convenient store at the same time that Debra was there. Since I was always a loner, I never stopped to strike up a conversation. But on this day, I saw a dog that looked just like the dog I used to have, and I struck up a conversation with the dog, until Debra walked out of the store.
Thinking back, I guess I would have to say I knew Debra was the right partner for me when I was escorting her home from school. I had just met her after school to walk her home. She was carrying several books when we met. She had a belt strapped around the books, and had wrapped the belt strap around her right hand. This way she could lean the books against her crutch, while holding onto the crutch handle.
I loved the way she figured out ways to accomplish tasks. But I was a gentleman, and I wasn’t about to let her carry her own books home.
I said, “Let me carry your books for you.”
Debra curtly said, “No. I don’t need any help. I can manage just fine.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but Debra did not like feeling dependent on anyone. I guess she was kind of like me. I didn’t believe in relying on anyone, but myself.
I stated emphatically, “I insist! I’m not about to let my girl carry her books, when I’m escorting her home. That’s just not going to happen.”
I didn’t realize it at the time that I had just called Debra “My girl.”
Debra must have realized it, because she gave me a big smile and said, “Okay. If you insist.”
I reiterated, “I insist.”
I guess that is when I knew Debra was the right partner for me.
Call it fate. Call it destiny. Call it the Lord’s will. All I know for sure is that we are still high school sweethearts, lovers, two peas in a pod, and soulmates, and we have recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary.
As a veteran of the US Postal Service, what life values helped you sustain a forty-year career at this institution? What life lessons did you acquire while working and serving the public masses throughout these four decades?
My hard work ethics and dependability helped me sustain a forty-year career. But more importantly for me, was the fact that the US Postal Service was a stable and reliable institution. Something that I desperately needed as a result of my unstable childhood.
I started as a letter carrier, and delivered mail for sixteen years. I learned how customers depend on their mail. How some of the elderly came to the mailbox as I was delivering their mail. Not just to get their mail, but to have someone to talk to.
I participated in route inspections in Houston, Texas. I observed carriers making their rounds in affluent areas, where customers almost treated the letter carriers like they were their servants. And in other poverty-stricken areas, where customers almost treated the letter carriers like they were God like figures delivering their much needed monthly checks or food stamps.
I helped with re-establishing mail service to the city of New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane destroyed most of the city. I had the opportunity to work at the postal service headquarters in Washington D.C. for over a year.
The US Postal Service provided me with exceptional training and outstanding opportunities to improve myself and my career. I would have to equate all the training I received from the US Postal Service to a four-year business degree from a local college. The US Postal Service has also provided outstanding opportunities for my family. My daughter is a postmaster, and my son is a letter carrier.
The US Postal Service has been and always will be a great institution.
Aside from family and writing, what activities keep your mind and heart occupied?
Is there any new interest that you would like to explore?
I love to travel across the country. Especially in a vehicle, or in a train. Up and down scenic roads. Especially out in the Northwest. But most of all, I love to sit on our back porch with my wife and watch the hummingbirds fight over their nectar. What can I say, “Life is what it is.”
Please share with audiences how they can support your work.
My books are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Page Publishing Inc., and Traceybooks.com. My books are also available on Kindle, Nook, and Google Play.
I used to have book signings at bookstores and at Kroger stores. But due to the Covid-19 virus, my book signings have almost come to a halt. I use the sales generated from the book signings to have a new book published. However, due to the lack of sales resulting from the Covid-19 virus, I have created a Go Fund Me account for Jeffery Tracey Sr. to help raise funds to publish my next book “Friendly Fire (A Vietnam Vet’s Story). If you are interested and donate $20.00, I will mail you a signed book, “Stubborn Debra Sue” for my gratitude.
If you know of anyone willing to host a book signing event, please let me know.
Thank you again Sasha, for allowing me to participate in this interview.
Links for my books:
Tracey Books: www.traceybooks.com
Jeffery Tracey Sr. @ Amazon
Page Publishing: www.pagepublishing.com