Book Bag: ‘Headstrong: Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury’ by JoAnne Silver Jones; ‘West Along the River: Volume III’ by David Brule

Published: 8/29/2019 4:38:58 PM


By JoAnne Silver Jones

She Writes Press/SWP

In January 2009, Joanne Silver Jones, a professor at Springfield College, came to Washington, D.C. to attend the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. She never made it there: Jones had just reached an alley next to the D.C. home of her daughter, Rachel, when a mugger slammed her head with a hammer, leaving her senseless on the ground as he ran off with her purse.

In “Headstrong: Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury,” Jones, now retired from teaching, recounts the terrible aftermath of her assault, which left her with a fractured skull and hands, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Seizures, tinnitus, difficulty dealing with loud noises — these, too, would became part of her life.

But in her memoir, Jones, who lives in the Valley, also writes about coming to terms with her injuries, forging stronger ties with family, friends and medical professionals who helped her, and finding some hope for the future. Her experience also gave her greater empathy for people who struggled with similar problems, she writes, as well as a greater realization of the level of violence in American life in general, and how some people, like African Americans, seem disproportionately struck by it.

“Headstrong” has plenty of sobering and scary details as Jones describes the shock, pain and disorientation of her attack. What stands out in particular is her description of her memories of what happened, both during and immediately after the assault and when she was hospitalized, and what others recall of the circumstances. Jones remembers conversations and situations that others say did not happen.

For instance, when her wife, Debby, arrived in the hospital from their home in Amherst, Jones recalls saying something kind of joking like “ ‘I was wondering when you would arrive, honey,’ as if it were an ordinary day and I had just prepared our dinner…. At least, I believed I had said these words out loud, although Debby would report months later that I didn’t say anything.”

Then there are the lingering effects of her attack. Several years later, during a flight from California to the East Coast, she was lightly bumped on her head by a piece of luggage a flight attendant was trying to move. Soon she was in tears, her hands covering her head, not because of any pain but rather the memory of her attack. When she shared that story with the flight attendants, though, they were instantly sympathetic.

And, she notes, “the sight of any hammer will always make me sick.”

Once she had recovered from the worst of the injuries, Jones continued to teach at Springfield College for a few years. Yet it was a struggle, and she says she felt she got little support from her school and so opted to retire. Still, her experience dealing with trauma made her more sensitive to the problems her adult students were dealing with in day-to-day life, including the fear of appearing ignorant in the classroom.

“After the assault, I had more patience,” she writes. “I now understood that feeling safe takes time.”

And for all the pain and loss she’s gone through, Jones adds, she chooses to look forward. “Hope means staying awake and aware of the suffering of others, whether stranger or friend,” she says. “To chose hope is to let go of the tight grip of the past, to believe in a tomorrow, and risk living, right now…. Love is beyond the reach of hammers and hostility.”


By David Brule


Former Amherst Regional High School French teacher David Brule, who lives in Turners Falls, has explored life in the Valley — and some of his own family history — in a number of books in the last several years, including in “Looking for Judah: Adventures in Genealogy and Remembrance,” in which he wrote about connecting with his ancestors, including American Indians and black families in southern New England.

In “West Along the River: Volume III,” Brule continues a series that is subtitled “Stories from the Connecticut River Valley and Elsewhere,” a collection of essays, reflections and stories about the passage of seasons along the Millers River in Franklin County, as well as his travels and experiences living and traveling in France and other countries.

It’s a companionable kind of read that can switch from observations of the weather and the idiosyncrasies of New England seasons, to sketches of wildlife, to accounts of local history. In his new book, for instance, Brule looks at the huge log drives in the late 1800s and early 1900s that used to fill the Connecticut River with tens of millions of logs bound for lumber mills further south, with “wild and soaking-wet log drivers, ‘river hogs’ in their own parlance, riding the trees.”

Another vignette is about his family, which used to visit other family members in France beginning in the 1970s, finally selling a vintage French car, a Citroën DS 20; when the car pulled away from the curb, Brule recalls of past drives, “it felt like the stately Queen Mary leaving the quay, moving gracefully and majestically out into traffic.’

And he writes of the simple pleasures of country living, especially on a quiet Sunday: “The television is off, no need for Breaking News of murder and mayhem … No need to think about things like cancer. The computer is off. Just let Beethoven’s Piano concertos fill the house and yard with the cascading notes and the tinkling of the ivories.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at 

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