Hoosier author lets world realize you can go home again

J. Dana Trent, who describes herself as a preschool drug dealer growing up in poverty in Dana, Indiana, became a Duke University Divinity School graduate and an ordained Baptist minister. She revisited her hometown recently to promote her new book, “Between Two Trailers”.

“Between Two Trailers,” published by Penguin Random House, chronicles author J. Dana Trent’s childhood growing up in rural Indiana, raised by parents who struggled with mental illness, addictions and poverty.

By Mark Bennett
Terre Haute Tribune-Star (TNS)

TERRE HAUTE — The Dairy Queen on east Wabash Avenue was a must-stop on April 18 for Dana Trent.

So was her order — a chocolate malt.

The visit and menu selection might seem peculiar. Both are vivid reminders of her unusual, broken childhood. But she’s made peace with those years, and the central figures of that situation, her deceased parents.

And, she still likes DQ malts, nearly 40 years later.

“I sipped the malt, and I was right back,” Trent said later at the Terre Haute Children’s Museum.

Her stop at the downtown Terre Haute facility was one of 15 around the country in the next month, from Washington, D.C. to Denver to Georgia, to promote her new book “Between Two Trailers,” published by Penguin Random House.

The 43-year-old Trent grew up in the rural Vermillion County town of Dana, for which her father named her. The book is a gripping memoir of her youth spent in the fractured relationship of parents, who struggled with mental illness, addictions and poverty.

She was a preschool drug dealer, in her words, enlisted by her father. Little Dana would help him cut marijuana with a razor blade and accompany him on deliveries transacted from the back of his car. After successful drops, he’d take her to the Dairy Queen in Terre Haute or Clinton. He called Dana “budgie,” which she learned decades later is a parakeet — a bird that can precisely mimic its trainer.

“I was always his buddy,” Trent said before speaking to the Terre Haute group. “When I got that chocolate malt today, I said these memories aren’t decades away — they’re right here.”

Indeed, her ability to return to her hometown marks a triumph in finding a peace with that past with “King” her father, and “Lady” her mother. That’s the takeaway from the book.

“This book is for anyone who thinks they can’t go home,” Trent said.

People have lots of reasons for thinking such a thing, from violence to trauma to the death of loved ones. Trent would have compelling reasons not to return to Dana. Yet, she has, pouring time and interest in the community’s efforts to find prosperity.

Her parents were God-fearing, college-educated and trained as psychiatric-care professionals. King, a recreational therapist, and Lady, a nurse, met in an Ohio psychiatric hospital — as in-patients, not staff members. He was schizophrenic. She had personality disorders.

Their interest in California televangelist Robert Schuller led the couple to move to East Los Angeles, where their daughter Dana was born. But soon after, the family — unable to afford the southern California cost of living — returned to Dana, Indiana, her father’s hometown. Their mental illnesses and addictions limited their ability to hold jobs, and the family lived in poverty.

The family stayed in Vermillion County until Trent turned 6, when her parents divorced. Lady moved to her home state of North Carolina with their young daughter, while King remained in Indiana.

Her mother was intent to “start over,” with no talk of the past drug use or dealing. Trent recalled her mother being “vehemently” opposed to the presence of drugs in their home. Lady wanted to erase the memory of Indiana. King wanted his daughter to remember where she came from.

Trent returned to Dana in summers to be with her father and stay with her extended family. Those visits with her dad ceased when Trent turned 12 and his health faltered. He died in 2010. Lady passed seven years later.

The most miraculous element of the saga isn’t that Trent merely survived into adulthood, but rather that she became a Duke University Divinity School graduate and an ordained Baptist minister.

Trent has written four earlier books on spirituality and comforted the sick and dying as a hospital chaplain. She serves as a professor of world religions and critical thinking at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Trent and her husband, Fred Eaker, live.

And she’s embraced a tool to keep in perspective her unsettled childhood, spent between her impoverished parents.


It’s a virtue King and Lady expressed toward others, but seldom to each other, Trent said. So, she’s extending empathy toward those two flawed individuals, who helped shape her.

“I’d always been between two trailers, between two parents, between two states, between two cultures,” she said. “In the end, I had to choose me. And I’m a blend of both of them.”

Reviews of “Between Two Trailers” have been strong, ranging from People Magazine and Publishers Weekly to average readers on Good Reads, and faith publications such as Religion News Service and Christianity Today. The book started as a research project in 2020, delving into the needs for mental healthcare, addiction treatment and poverty relief in rural communities such as Dana, Indiana. As she gathered data, Trent realized, “It was about me.”

Thus, it became a book, a paperback from a major publishing house. The story’s adaptability to film even has been discussed.

“If King were here, he’d say, ‘Who’s going to play me in the movie?’” Trent said, chuckling as she mimicked his outgoing Hoosier accent.

And Lady? Trent said, “She’d be horrified” that her daughter returned to and acknowledged her Hoosier hometown, adding that to her mother, “reputation was everything.”

For Trent, the goal is to allow people of all backgrounds in this politically divided nation to find themselves within her story of acknowledging home and roots.

“It’s the idea that Americans have way more in common than the pundits and politicians say we do,” Trent said. “Everybody just wants to belong, and that’s a thing that brings us together, especially in an election year.”