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In That Number , Tortoise Books, Chicago

Regan Burke is in Beth Finke’s Memoir Writing Class where I met her and heard many of her stories that are included in this book.
In That Number is a memoir, a tortious travelogue, a confessional of sins, a remarkable example of the resilience of the human spirit.  If she had led a normal life, no one would find her book interesting much less read it.  It has all the things a memoir has, a litany of famous people she has known, worked for, both local Chicago icons (Michael Madigan) and Presidents (Bill Clinton) and numerous others.  All that is interesting stuff, but what I found most interesting is her trail of tears path towards survival during a difficult childhood.
 Author Regan Burke  managed to sustain herself  — as children are often forced to do —  and travel from point A to point Q back to point G to point Z and in the end somehow come out calm, educated and grandmotherly.  The book is sometimes difficult to read and at the same time, difficult to put down. 
Let’s start with her parents.  Attractive, intelligent and likeable grifters,  
Bill and Agnes Burke were alcoholics.  They moved a lot, and with every move, they’d plunk down their kids into the local Catholic School in every new city.  Regan can count thirteen schools in eight years. Her father was a promising young lawyer and in fact, in 1950 crafted the first pension program for an American Union, the United Mine Workers of America.  Her mother, well-educated and attractive, wasted her promise by being wasted.
One of my favorite stories is Regan stumbling upon the name of the little girl in the book, The EXORCIST :  Regan, pronounced just like hers, with a long “e” in the first syllable. .  she had never ever met anyone with her name. 
As it turns out, Exorcist author William Peter Blatty had attended one of her parent’s frequent cocktail parties when the family  lived in Georgetown, Washington D.C.  At an author event decades later, Blatty admitted to a friend of Regan’s that yes, he met Regan when she was a small child. And yes, he named the little girl in the novel after her and admitted, “that name always haunted me.  Who would name their little baby after one of Shakespeare’s most craven females?” Regan’s journey to writing her memoir started when she sought medical help for chronic back pain and  met Dr. John Stracks at Northwestern’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.  As a recovering  drug addict , she eschewed prescription painkillers for fear of getting hooked on them, too. He opened her mind to accept that emotions were a factor in her pain and suggested a remedy. Writing.  He recommended Dr. Howard Schubiner’s workbook, unlearn your pain,  and after plowing through that guidebook,  she enrolled in Beth Finke’s and Linda Miller’s memoir writing classes.   And as they say, the rest is history . . . her unique and compelling history.  Al Hippensteel

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Allan Hippensteel

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