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Honest memoir by retired officer recounts family poverty, crime

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'If You Can't Quit Cryin' You Can't Come Here No More'

“If You Can’t Quit Cryin’, You Can’t Come Here No More”

By Betty Frizzell

Published by Feral House, 186 pages, $17.95 (trade paperback)

Betty Frizzell had successful careers as a law enforcement officer and an educator. Now, she’s taking a hand at writing with “If You Can’t Stop Cryin’, You Can’t Come Here No More.”

In the law, she rose to police chief in Winfield, Missouri, where she was named Lincoln County Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in 2001.

As an educator, she has taught criminology around St. Louis and now in the Seattle area. But her heart remains in Missouri, despite the subtitle of her first book: “A Family’s Legacy of Poverty, Crime, and Mental Illness in Rural America.”

She grew up near Poplar Bluff, in Missouri’s Bootheel, one of eight children sired by a parade of her mother’s lovers. She recalls, “I was in the second grade when I learned I was white trash,” thus uninvited to a classmate’s birthday party. At home, her mom regularly punched and kicked her kids.

“I’m a Missouri country girl,” she writes. “The way I was raised, when your mom told you to jump, you didn’t sass back, you jumped.” She adds, “Oftentimes, I wish I was raised somewhere else, somewhere the burden of my raisin’ didn’t have a hold over me.”

She was closest to an older sister, Vicky. But Vicky’s path through adulthood proved thornier than Frizzell’s. Vicky married a rough sort named Chris. As the author puts it: “In early 2013, Vicky and Chris were going from doctor to doctor getting prescriptions. They would make up ailments or injuries to get more medications from complicit providers. They both used and sold opiates as a matter of generating extra cash and helping fellow addicts.”

To make things even messier, the two were joined in their trailer in rural Puxico by Vicky’s son from an earlier marriage — Kenneth, an adult and a schizophrenic. On the night of May 12, 2013, disaster struck. The sleeping Chris died from pistol shots to his head. Vicky said she had done it; she remains in prison to this day.

Author Frizzell rushed to the scene and quickly came to suspect that her sister was innocent — that she was shielding the real culprit, her schizophrenic son.

Much of Frizzell’s book details her efforts to track down Kenneth, who somehow managed to slip away to Germany.

But mainly, the book details Frizzell’s determination to rise above — and stay above — her family’s history of low moral standards. Her readers can’t help but wish her well.

Harry Levins of Manchester retired in 2007 as senior writer of the Post-Dispatch.

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