BILLIE JOHNSON MCCANDLESS
Image photographed from the book and cropped -
All Rights Remain that of the author.*
Image from Google Images search for public domain.
Magazine articles like this caused a stir and lead to an International best seller book named INTO THE WILD by author Jon Krakauer, as well as a documentary film, another film called by one source a "Biographical drama" in 2007, also titled INTO THE WILD, which was nominated for two Academy Awards (Sean Penn wrote the screenplay), dozens of YouTube videos, and recently, another book authored by Carine McCandless, the full sister of Chris McCandless, the hiker who was found dead in this bus in the wilderness of Alaska in 1992.
THE WILD TRUTH
Published by HarperOne
C 2014 Carine McCandless (Billie's daughter)
This month I'm going to think aloud as I review this book and take a position.
Carine McCandless, daughter of Billie and sister of Chris, wanted to tell the underlying story of her brother's wish to divorce their family - their parents - and sees the reasoning behind his planned disappearance from the family and so, eventually, his death by starvation in the Alaska wilderness in 1992. She blames a dysfunctional family, replete with violence and tension, and Chris' discovery during his travels after high school that their parents marriage was a years long charade, as additional motivation. The charade meant that this recent graduate of Emory College, an educated young man from an upper class Virginia family, was upset about being illegitimate and in effect, the child of a long time mistress.
It seems to me that someone like Chris, who is typified as being deeply thoughtful and philosophical, and literary, might have had many realizations about his parents before he died alone, and while it's clear that he made no contact with ANYONE in his family for over two years, from the time he left to the time he was found dead, it's also true that in his travels he experienced some good times, some new friendships, had taken intermittent employment, and that his travels around the United States were part of a young man's rite of passage. Chris McCandless was trying to test himself in new situations and see the world before settling anywhere ; perhaps he really did intend to go to Harvard Law.
A break from parents in young adulthood is what we do, unless we want to be one of those people who still lives with their parents or lets them pay our bills while "adults," though perhaps not so dramatically or with a history of witnessing and being subject to an abusive relationship that Chris and Carine experienced. Many upper class college students take a year off between their junior and senior year to see the world and experience another culture. Chris McCandless needed to redefine himself as separate from his family and begin a life of his own in which he aspired to greater accountability then they.
Chris wrote letters that reveal that he was disgusted with his parents and suffering the effects of childhood abuse, but my feeling is that he was willing to cut off Carine and his other siblings as well in the effort. It may have been pay back time for him, but they all suffered. Carine and her siblings will never know if he had any intention of ever being back in touch with them. Now that his story has been told in so very many ways, it has become a story about how parents and siblings cope with a beloved siblings unusual death and notoriety.
Chris and Carine were the children of Walt Mc Candless and Billie Johnson McCandless, Billie being our Mistress of the Month this July 2015. Walt, who actually was a rocket scientist, a genius involved in space exploration and aerospace, was a married man with a family and Billie's boss at Hughes Aircraft in Southern California when they met and started an affair which went on and on despite his unwillingness to get a divorce. Walt began splitting his time between two households and families, having sex and children with both for some time with both Billie and his wife, Marcia, finally settling with Billie. Their relationship has gone on to this day. The scenarios Carine provides that reveal their childhood, which includes the blending of the two families while the women live in separate houses, show that both women were accommodating of Walt and sometimes each other.
Walt never managed to leave his wife, Marcia, as he said he intended. Juggling two families, but alcoholic and violent, spanking his children and beating his wives reportedly for "release", (and Billie him), eventually Marcia did divorce him and moved back to their home town with their six children. He then moved across the country with Billie. Still, he never married Billie in any ceremony, civil or religious.
(But hold on a minute. Think of the rock star Sting, who was married and having children with the wife he was leaving and the wife he has since been married to at one time. They all seem to be OK... I have to wonder. If Chris and Carine only knew that being the children of a Mistress is not so uncommon would it have made a difference?)
Billie Johnson studied dance in her home town and headed for Los Angeles (or perhaps more correctly Hollywood) hoping to work as a dancer (but not an exotic dancer or stripper) and became a secretary instead. Not so unusual. Like many women who aspire to a relationship with a man who makes good money and who is intelligent and charming, Billie fell in love with Walt. She was also intelligent and accomplished. You don't get to be hired as a secretary at Hughes Aircraft without being skilled. She was able to play a significant role in the home business she and Walt had together, while also not a feminist or liberated woman, and also tried to be a great housewife. Billie worked hard to achieve a beautiful home and garden, cooking tasty home made meals from scratch, was involved in Scouting, but also worked in the home as an essential partner with Walt in a business that made them eventually wealthy.
Did she live too much for what their neighbors and people at church might think?
"Oh Carine, isn't it you who's making up false family scenarios just to get attention," she said. "You're not as smart as you think you are. I don't even understand what wrong doing you're talking about. Besides, when I met him, your father had his own apartment and lots of girlfriends." (page 203)
Perhaps it was a bit over the top of Billie and Walt, considering, to also aspire to be well regarded church members of a small local Protestant church as well, and personally I have to wonder at the role of religion and faith in this family story, something that goes unexplored in Carine's book, when perhaps what many parties needed was therapy, or to run off to an abused women's shelter (though there were few of those back in the 1960's), or for social workers to intervene, but Billie and Walt were living in Virginia, far from their home towns or the California where they met, and it doesn't sound like any of the neighbors, teachers, or pastors were concerned enough to call them in.
And it comes to me that the concern about illegitimacy that Chris may have had testifies to his own conservatism.
No doubt Billie Johnson knew she was in a love triangle, an unconventional relationship that her own parents would not approve of or understand.
Early in the relationship Billie went so far as to arrange a picture and post wedding announcement to be published in her small hometown newspaper which gave their real names and Walt's employment and profession. When she went through periods where she and Walt held family meetings to talk about divorcing or claimed that she was moving out and looking for somewhere else to live, it was an exercise in futility. For whatever reason, Billie decided to stick with Walt and he with her.
BILLIE HAD THIS SORT OF MARRIAGE ANNOUNCEMENT
PUBLISHED IN HER HOME TOWN NEWSPAPER
Image photographed from the book and cropped -
All Rights Remain that of the author.*
I thought, "If you've never married legally you don't divorce legally!" but realized that is probably not true and depends on the time and place. Because Walt and Billie lived together as husband and wife for many years before and after he divorced, they are probably correctly regarded as in a COMMON LAW MARRIAGE, which includes you holding yourself out to be a married couple in your community. (In some states you have to live together for about 7 years for the relationship to be considered COMMON LAW. Another issue might be how Taxes are filed. But legally married people can still file separately.)
Through this book Carine doesn't consider her parents to be in a common law marriage and apparently her brother Chris didn't either. She doesn't consider her parent's relationship as something of the times they met in or that she will never know, even with what she has experienced, witnessed, or been told, what was really going on between these three people who brought a total of 8 children into this world. There was a lot of experimentation with Open relationships, multiple relationships, triads, and so on during the 1960's and 1970's and, well, it still goes on today, especially in California, and instead the relationship is thought closer to be something that the Mormon Fundamentalists might try for.
Carine, at the time she wrote this book, has had three divorces herself. She considers her mother unsympathetic to that.
As for Chris, who you'll learn more about here this month as well, ...
"He'd written them a long letter, he said, that detailed all the emotional trauma and abuse we had suffered as kids. How their actions had caused him to lose all respect for both of them." (Page 96)
No doubt Chris intended to divorce his parents and explained that to Carine, knowing that she would understand, but by the time of his death, he may have been reconsidering. Though traveling under the name Alexander Supertramp, he still had his new ID's, Social Security Card, and W2's under his real identity but this was not known until many years later when his backpack was returned to the family and it was all found in a secret compartment. So my take on calling himself by another name when he traveled was for privacy and security not because he had divorced his heritage.
I encourage you to check my archives for the January 2013 edition which features Louis Isidore Kahn, an important architect, who had more than one ongoing relationship that included children, and the April 2014 edition which features the Sister Wives of the Independent Mormon Fundamentalists.
C Mistress Manifesto BlogSpot. Missy Rapport 2015
All Rights Reserved including Internet and International Rights on Original Writing/ Review.
* Using Google Image Search there are a number of images available from this book and surrounding this story. Since I didn't see this particular image from the book at that time, I decided to try photographing it myself and have cropped them. However the original images remain the Copyright of the author.