Moonlight on Linoleum
A Daughter's Memoir
This simple truth became Terry Helwig’s lifeline as she was forced to grow up too soon.
Terry grew up the oldest of six girls in the big-sky country of the American Southwest, where she attended twelve schools in eleven years. Helwig’s stepfather Davy, a good-hearted and loving man, proudly purchased a mobile home to enable his family to move more easily from one oil town to another, where Davy eked out a living in the oil fields.
Terry’s mother, Carola Jean, a wild rose whose love often pierced those who tried to claim her, had little interest in the confines of home and motherhood. In Davy’s absence, she sought companionship in local watering holes—a pastime she dubbed “visiting Timbuktu.” She repeatedly left Terry in charge of the household and her five younger sisters.
Despite Carola Jean’s genuine attempts to “better herself,” her life spiraled ever downward as Terry struggled to keep the family whole. In the midst of transience and upheaval, Terry and her sisters forged an uncommon bond of sisterhood that withstood the erosion of Davy and Carola Jean’s marriage. But ultimately, to keep her own dreams alive, Terry had to decide when to hold on to what she loved and when to let go.
Unflinching in its portrayal, yet told with humor and compassion, Terry Helwig’s luminous memoir, Moonlight on Linoleum, explores a family’s inner and outer landscapes of hope, despair, and redemption. It will make you laugh, cry, and hunger for more.
Read an Excerpt
“I left your Dad,” Mama told me more than once, “because I didn’t want to kill him.”
She wasn’t kidding.
Mama said she stood at the kitchen counter, her hand touching the smooth wooden handle of a butcher knife. In an argument that grew more heated, Mama felt her fist close around the handle. For a brief moment, she deliberated between slashing our father with the knife or releasing it harmlessly back onto the counter and walking away.
My sister Vicki was ten months old; I was two. Mama was seventeen.
By all accounts,... see more
Reading Group Guide
A CONVERSATION WITH TERRY HELWIG
Moonlight on Linoleum reads almost like a novel in many sections. How did you reconstruct these long-ago scenes in such vivid detail? What steps did you take in recreating the dialogue? Did you find that once you started writing you remembered more than you expected to?
A memoir is, ultimately, the true story of a protagonist. Scene and dialogue are important aspects of any story—fact or fiction. My memory of numerous vivid scenes from childhood caused me to approach my memoir slightly differently. Instead of creating scenes that told a story, I tried to uncover the story running beneath my scenes.
I wondered why, out of the millions of minutes of my childhood, I remembered some scenes and details vividly and others not at all. What made those moments memorable? As an exercise, I wrote my memories on sticky notes and arranged them in chronological order on the inside door of a closet. The beginnings of my narrative flowed from those yellow pieces of paper.
I noted that many of my memories accompanied an emotional charge—love, abandonment, awe, disgust, fear, excitement, bewilderment. For example, when the German shepherd bit me in the schoolyard, th see more