I’m Jessica Harper. Long before I was a movie actress I was growing up in a six-kid household in Winnetka, Illinois…
It was Eisenhower’s postwar America. On the surface, it seemed like an idyllic time and place. But sometimes, in my town and in my own home, that surface would crack, revealing darkness below…
Every family has secrets.
Welcome to Winnetka.
Trailer: THE UNEXPECTED
Episode 1: INTRODUCTION
My family and I attend Dad’s funeral in ’13. As I listen to my siblings’ eulogies that extol his virtues, I note how our memories of childhood differ. But what we’ll all discover some days later is an awful piece of our history that none of us can change, misremember, or deny.
Episode 2: MOM & DAD
A Marine (Dad) and a nightclub singer (Mom) are married in 1946. By 1950 they live in a Chicago suburb with three babies. Dad starts his career in advertising, while my mother struggles with being a stay-at-home mom. Dad shows an unexpected angry side, which Mom attributes to PTSD.
Episode 3: WISHING
My twin brother Billy and I are close pals. In spite of our fear of our angry father, we each wish he would shine his love light on us. The arrival of an adorable baby sister does not help our cause.
Episode 4: WINNETKA
In ‘56, we settle in Winnetka. When, in July, Mom gives birth to twin baby boys, Dad’s temper rises like the temperature does. But he keeps us in his thrall with signs of love.
Episode 5: THE GRANDFATHER REPORT
Mom comes from a long line of ministers, and the goodness persists in the Emery family. The actions of Dad’s father, Papa Harper, also echo those of his forebears, but goodness has nothing to do with it.
Episode 6: SURVIVAL
By 1962, my little brothers emulate their father’s work ethic while they fear his unpredictable rages. But the Cuban Missile Crisis makes us aware of greater dangers in the world outside our home.
Episode 7: FAITH
JFK’s assassination in ‘62 marks a sea change. I lose faith, while big sister Diana finds it, and marches for civil rights. My brothers commit a string of petty crimes, and Billy becomes the first to push back against Dad’s anger.
Episode 8: STRANGE LAND
Just as Papa Harper dies of alcoholism, Dad gets promoted and moves his reluctant family to the east coast. Billy and Diana and I go to college, seeking sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, while the younger three are miserable in their new home.
Episode 9: THE ICE STORM
I regret missing Woodstock, and resolve to tune in, turn on and drop out. Soon, all but one of us have left or been expelled from school. Dad melts down, then rebounds and moves his family to New York, marking the end of our childhood.
Bonus Episode: A PREFACE TO REVELATION
“I’d been right about grief. I wouldn’t really know what it felt like until a death occured.”
Episode 10: CORRECTIONS
While going through our father’s files after the funeral, Sam finds stunning information about Dad’s ancestry that bounces crazily off of our mother’s. But Dad had altered his legacy. Also, his overt appreciation of my daughters has a healing effect.
WINNETKA: Additional Stories
“Memory is tricky. It can morph over time, and events get re-imagined.”
“The trouble with being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t that the work was so hard but that it was so unvalued.”
LOVE & CRIME
“I got interested in boys then. Not so much for romance as for a Billy surrogate, while he was out raising hell…"
“As is customary in our family, I opted out of confrontation in favor of the harbor-resentment-for-life plan.”
“I had crossed a threshold and my mother was on the other side.”
WHAT WE WORE
“We wore madras shorts, madras skirts—madras pretty much everything. I even had madras suspenders."
“I don’t remember buying weed. It just showed up under my bed, as if left there by Santa Claus."
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