wing and a prayer

Jerry Vis

spent the earliest years of his life in Paterson, New Jersey, where he was born in 1939 into a blue-collar family struggling to overcome the lingering effects of the Great Depression. He has an M.F.A. in fine art and taught for many years in public school and college. He is the author of two memoirs: Paterson Boy: My Family and Other Strangers: A Memoir in Twenty-Eight Stories and I’m Not Here: Strange Relatives, a Stranger Boarding School, and the Saving Grace of Art and Love.

Memoir

Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

written by Jerry Vis

“Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” is an excerpt from Jerry Vis’ new memoir, I’m Not Here: Strange Relatives, a Stranger Boarding School, and the Saving Grace of Art and Love. It alternates between reality and a fantasy playing out in Jerry’s mind.

In the 1950s, Jerry Vis had an uneventful, blue-collar, stickball-in-the-street childhood in Paterson, N.J. That is, until his father, who had been no more than a vaporous, bring-home-the-bacon presence, nearly killed himself with alcohol and suddenly got religion. His determination to inflict his newfound faith on all he knew changed Jerry’s life forever.

© 2022 Jerry Vis  | Recording © 2022 Rivercliff Books & Media. All rights reserved.

When I was seven years old and learning to cross streets, I was told to look left, then right, then back again to the left. My friend Buddy, who lived upstairs, forgot this, and I saw him struck by a car as I watched from my living room. Years later, I was guilty of doing the same thing — except it had to do with a place, its people, and the way they thought.

My father, a recent “born-again” Christian, shunted me off to a religious boarding school in rural Virginia. I was buried under a heap of rules burdensome enough to collapse a packhorse. What was most difficult during those years was that it didn’t matter how many times I looked both ways. The unexpected always ran me over.

My father had been saying ‘God’s will’ now for two years since he nearly killed himself with alcohol and then got religion. He said it so often that it had morphed into a single word: Gotswill.

I called them “What-If-Stories.” My serious, desperate, disagreeable situation called for one immediately. These stories often took on a life of their own, as if there was a secret agreement between me, the storyteller, and some perverse hidden part of me that shanghaied the tale to lead me on a merry chase.

wing and a prayer

Jerry Vis spent the earliest years of his life in Paterson, New Jersey, where he was born in 1939 into a blue-collar family struggling to overcome the lingering effects of the Great Depression. He has an M.F.A. in fine art and taught for many years in public school and college. He is the author of two memoirs: Paterson Boy: My Family and Other Strangers: A Memoir in Twenty-Eight Stories and I’m Not Here: Strange Relatives, a Stranger Boarding School, and the Saving Grace of Art and Love.

Q&A with Jerry

Tell us about your story...

This story is the first chapter from my new memoir, I’m Not Here: Strange Relatives, a Stranger Boarding School, and the Saving Grace of Art and Love. It alternates between reality and a fantasy playing out in my mind.

 

What was the inspiration for this story?
What have you read recently that you loved?

A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles. It is a story built from small events, of day to day life that gives depth and insight to the true nature of our human condition.

And I also recently read The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, by W. Strauss & N. Howe. This book traces the repeating cycles of America’s existence concluding with the potentially catastrophic outcome for the current cycle of events.

Someday I want to...
Live in an America that doesn’t see a benefit in fighting endless, meaningless wars that we lose, while ruining other people’s lives.
Do you have any hidden talents?

Maybe not so hidden… I am, first and foremost, an active visual artist. I have a Master’s Degree in Fine Art. I taught art and spend as much time making art (painting and sculpture) as I spend writing.

I’m still active at the age of 81 as an architectural designer and finish carpenter. I do all of this on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine, for six months out of the year. I spend the rest of the year in the central Hudson Valley of New York.

I like to cook too, but of all the things I do, that activity might best remain hidden.

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