My name is John Dwaine McKenna. I was born in 1946 at Hamilton Avenue Hospital in Monticello, New York—the eldest son of John A. and Catherine F. “Kitty” McKenna, who are both deceased and laid to rest in the Grahamsville Rural Cemetery. I have two younger brothers, one deceased and the other living in Grahamsville with his family. We all grew up on the family farm on Thunder Hill, where our dad was a school bus contractor for the Tri-Valley Central School District in the 1960s and 70s. I started kindergarten at the new centralized school in 1951 and graduated from there in 1964 . . . as a member of the first class to go from K through 12th grade in the new consolidated district that replaced all the time-honored one room schoolhouses. Among others, my classmates included: Mike Curley, Bob and Karen Curry, Carl and Jane Houghtaling, Ray Goode, Louise DuBois, Tom Henderson, and Sandra Gerry. There were thirty-three of us who stood on the blue flagstone patio at the schools main entrance in our caps and gowns for our June 1964 graduation photo. Joel Rubenzahl was the class valedictorian and Edward Condon was the salutatorian. I was the class president and captain of the ’63 eight-man football team, which went 7-1 under the coaching of Al Hall and Owen Davis. Tragedy struck us in the fall of our senior year when our classmate—and my second cousin—Charlie Grey lost his life in a single car accident on the Sundown Road. Charlie’s death was, and still is, felt personally by all of us who were his childhood friends. He’s commemorated in a short story entitled The Destiny of Sky Riders, which can be found in The Neversink Chronicles. After graduation, I went to college, joined the army reserves, got married, moved to New York City, worked and attended CCNY, moved to Colorado in 1968, where I attended the Colorado College, had two kids, got divorced in ’72 and remarried in 1976 to my wife, June, to whom I am still happily married, forty years later. Career-wise I’ve been a serial business owner, a salesman, stock and bond broker, compliance officer and registered options principal for a regional brokerage firm with coast-to coast offices, and served as an arbitrator for the NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) from 1986 to 1992. After that I had a retail store until the millennium, when everything in life changed.
It wasn’t because the clocks started running backwards, or all of the computers quit at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999 as some doomsday fools had predicted. No. Nothing like that. Everything in life changed, because in February 2000 I fell while getting out of a chair, hit the floor at just the right angle, and in that instant became a quadriplegic. My spinal cord was damaged beyond repair. But in another twist of fate, it wasn’t severed. I still had movement and limited muscle control in both arms and legs after an emergency operation the next day that fused the bones in my neck which, along with a titanium plate, relieved the pressure on the spinal cord and allowed me to do physical therapy. I spent the next two and a half months in rehab at a local hospital, doing physical and mental therapy, as well as getting used to an entirely new reality. June was right there with me every step of the way . . . getting her own counseling, making her own adjustments: learning how to cope with the different, often difficult, evermore challenged man she was married to and now the caregiver for.
It’s a long hard, bitter road to walk. Over the next ten years there were two more neck surgeries, thousands of hours of physical therapy and a prolonged period in which I went through all the stages of grief before coming to the conclusion that I had to decide if I was going to live, or if I was going to die, and then get busy doing it. I had to find the reasons and the will to live.
My first and foremost cause was June. Through all the therapy, pain and despondency she was there for me . . . always supportive, always encouraging, always caring, loving and understanding. She’s been the rock I clung to and my shelter from the storm. Without her, I would not be writing this now. Together, we came to the conclusion that I needed to be engaged and doing something. Something of a positive nature that made a difference, and hopefully, something that would repay a portion of the enormous karmic debt I’d run up. There were literally hundreds of people—nurses, therapists, aides, counselors, physicians, personal trainers, biomechanists, wheelchair technicians, personal friends and a self-described “Simple Brain Surgeon” named Steve Murk, who opened me up in the OR and literally put his hands on my soul, saying, “When I felt your spinal cord pulsing, I knew you’d be able to move again.”—who gave so much of themselves to help put me, a perfect stranger, back together again. And of course it had to be something I was still able to do, considering my new physical limitations.
As the desire to do something to show my gratitude got stronger, it brought with it the realization that I wanted to leave something of myself behind after I was gone. Proof, as it were, of having lived. It prompted me to revisit my collegiate writing skills. It wasn’t much at first, I produced a lot of dreck at first. I wrote and wrote—then threw it all away and started over. Gradually it got better and I started to think about a book. The result was my first book: The Neversink Chronicles which went on to win a first prize for fiction with the Colorado Independent Publisher’s Association. Two other events were happening at the same time. Always a voracious reader, friends were constantly asking me what book I was currently involved in, if I liked it, and why. At the same time, back in Grahamsville, New York the magnificent new two and a half million dollar library and museum, built entirely through donations, volunteer labor and community support, was about to open it’s doors.
Thanks to my life-long friend Mike Curley and a subscription to the Tri-Valley Townsman, I was aware of all the developments back in my childhood home. I took a chance, and called Linda Comando, to ask if she’d like a weekly book column featuring mysteries and thrillers. She took a chance on me, and The Mysterious Book Report was born on May 26, 2011 . . . to coincide with the opening of the best new library and museum by a Dam Site . . .
That was almost five years ago. Now, 230 book reports later, with a large, and growing group of dedicated readers, the MBR has it’s own new website . . . MysteriousBookReport.com. In addition, the MBRs are featured on Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn as well as at Rhyolitepress.com. You can receive them every Monday morning anywhere in the world on your E-reader of choice (after they appear in The Townsman) by liking me on Facebook. And hey! Just in case you know an editor publisher or producer who’s looking for additional proven and wildly-popular, ready-to-run content . . . we’re looking for other newspapers, radio stations or intergalactic news agencies of any and all kinds to carry the Mysterious Book Report. Write us at: johndwainemckenna.com.
We look forward to hearing from you.
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