Woog's World / A Westporter's family story of abuse and resilience
Everyone's family story is different. Chances are good, though, that you've never heard one remotely similar -- in Westport, anyway -- to Suzanne Krauss'.
Her mother was a Philadelphia housewife with three kids, no college education and a crumbling marriage. She met a man who took her and the children to Las Vegas. He ran a Ponzi scheme that ensnared her, her family and friends back East. Soon, he was murdered by mobsters.
Suzanne's mother met another man. He got her a lead role in the Tropicana's Folies Bergere.
In the early 1970s, Suzanne's mother was a celebrity. She met "zillions" of guys. But, the daughter says, they loved her for her show. No one knew she lived in an apartment with kids.
Suzanne's mother wanted more. She married a guy three days after they met. Over the next six years, he filled their home with alcohol, abuse and anti-Semitism.
Finally, Suzanne's 15-year-old sister said, "We're leaving."
Suzanne -- just 10 -- followed. So did their mother. "Bad things happen to good people," Suzanne noted.
But -- as dark as it seems -- her story does not end badly. She and her siblings turned out "normal, happy and accomplished," she says. They are close. All have great families of their own. Their mother, now 74, also is finally happy.
If it sounds like a book could be written about this: You're right. Suzanne has just published "To Vegas and Back." It's a story of her incredible childhood. And -- as hard as it was to live it -- it also took years to get the story right.
Suzanne had always wanted to write her mother's story. But until four years ago, the daughter had never heard it all.
One night, on a family vacation at the Jersey Shore, her mother started talking. Once she began, she could not stop.
"It was the first time I'd heard it in its entirely," Suzanne recalled. "My jaw was on the ground."
Back in Westport -- her home since 2003 -- she prepared an outline. Her sister agreed to provide her own perspective. Like Suzanne, both women had made peace with their pasts.
Still, it took a long time for Suzanne's mother to provide some of the most intimate details. "Mobsters, sex and drugs are difficult things to talk about with your mother," Suzanne said. Sometimes, the older woman hung up the phone. But she always called back.
Suzanne had never told anyone the details of her childhood. "Growing up, I was embarrassed that my mother was a showgirl," she said. "Now, as a parent myself, I think it's cool. I'm so proud of what she did -- what she had to do -- in her life. I've come full circle."
Suzanne is also proud of the book she's written. She wanted "To Vegas and Back" to give voices to people who might not be able to speak on their own. Based on reader feedback, she's certainly done that.
Suzanne has lost count of how many people email or call her to share their own stories. At book clubs, someone always describes her own horrendous childhood. Suzanne finds that "very gratifying and powerful."
It's especially powerful when the feedback comes from someone she knows. That happens quite a bit.
Suzanne and her husband lived in New York for 15 years. She had a successful career in publicity for movies and magazines. But Sept. 11, 2001, happened, followed in two years by a blackout. Suzanne was pregnant. A friend named Doug Cilley talked about his hometown of Westport, and suggested she check it out.
She and her husband drove up and met a Realtor. Soon, she said, "I was brainwashed. But it wasn't that difficult." The Realtor had driven them to the library, the Levitt Pavilion, Longshore and Compo.
Suzanne thought Westport was "the most incredible place I'd ever seen. I had to live there."
She and her husband bought their first home. "It all worked out," she said. "This is the first place I've ever lived where I've really felt at home."
The community has been wonderful, in many ways. She feels as if she has known her Westport friends all her life.
Those friends have provided plenty of support throughout the book's journey. It also helps that Suzanne is a very strong woman.
"I don't blame anyone for my past, or point fingers," she said. "I got therapy when I was 26. The book is told through those sessions. They're the core of how I overcame childhood trauma."
Still, sharing her life -- and hearing other women talk about theirs -- is never easy. One woman told Suzanne her own mother had committed suicide.
"I'm so glad my mother never gave up on herself, or on us," the author said. "I'm super-proud of who she is. Now she's a great mother -- and an incredible grandmother to my own kids."