Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dogs of Our Lives: ARCO

Dear George,


The most remarkable dog of our childhood didn’t even belong to us, but rather to my Uncle Kent.  He was a huge black and brown German Shepherd named ARCO, and he was like a totally famous dog.  (I should note at the outset that the details of this account represent my best effort to retrieve childhood memories and shouldn’t be taken as literal fact.)  My Uncle Kent was a decorated U.S. Army veteran from World War II.  I think that he attained the rank of captain and was a recipient of the Silver Star, one of the highest military honors there is.  As I recall Kent’s account, he was fighting in the trenches of northern France following the Normandy invasion, when suddenly a huge, snarling Nazi war dog appeared at the top of the trench, baring his fangs and poised to attack.  Kent froze, and he and the dog stared at one another, eye to eye, for a long long time.  You have to know my Uncle Kent to appreciate the intensity of this situation.  He was a very tough, military-minded man with piercing eyes and a forceful demeanor.  If anybody in social circle could dominate a confrontation with a trained killer dog, it was Uncle Kent.  In fact, after several minutes the dog finally did capitulate and slowly climbed down to join him in the trench.  Because of his high military rank, Kent was able to arrange to keep the dog.  He named him ARCO, the acronym for the military unit which was responsible for distributing resources to troops in the field and upon whose actions their very survival depended.  ARCO stood for something like Army Replenishment Company (though I’m not sure about the exact wording).  Kent brought ARCO back to Menominee with him at the end of the war.


ARCO, as you might imagine, was the only bona fide Nazi war dog in Menominee, and consequently he got a lot of attention in the neighborhood.  Kent allowed us to bring him up the street to our house on Sheridan Road to play.  Despite being trained to kill, ARCO was gentle, good with kids, and exceedingly bright.  Kent did kinds of complicated stunts with him  What I remember most vividly is that he built a high-jumping apparatus with two high posts and nails at graduated six-inch spaces so that a bamboo pole could be shifted up and down.  ARCO could easily jump over our heads, and, taking a short run, he probably cleared the bar at six feet or more.


One day years later I ran into a neighborhood kid who told me that ARCO had died that morning.  It never occurred to me that this seemingly immortal dog would ever die.  I ran down to Kent’s drugstore at Electric Square.  Tears were streaming down my face as I came in the front door, though I tried to convince myself that I was only crying because I was expected to.  Kent solemnly confirmed the bad news.  It was my first direct experience with death, and it took some time to get over it.  ARCO had taught me what rewarding companions dogs can be.  It was a valuable lesson.




Email Comments: 

David, Thank you for kind and wonderful message.  Your stories about Menominee (all of which I have now read) brought back many memories (mostly fond).  To my knowledge the account regarding ARCO is completely correct.. Warm regards, Thor

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871

Dear George,

On our last drive up to Menominee, we stopped at the Peshtigo Fire Museum.  We’d been there before, but it’s always worth a visit.  Most people have never hear of the Peshtigo fire, mainly because it occurred on the same date as Mrs. O'Leary's great Chicago fire, and the latter got all of the attention at the time and thereafter.  However, loss of life was five times as high in the Peshtigo fire and property damage was far greater than in the Chicago catastrophe.  I was particularly interested this last visit because I looked at a map which detailed the boundaries of the fire, and I discovered, to my surprise, that our family homestead in Birch Creek fell smack within the northern section of the devastation.


The Peshtigo Fire began on the evening of Oct. 8, 1871.  It’s generally regarded as the most horrendous fire in U.S. history, having destroyed 12 communities and 1.2 million acres of timberland in northeastern Wisconsin and upper peninsula Michigan.  Precise estimates are not available because the fire destroyed all records, but between 1200 and 2400 persons died, and tens of thousands were terribly maimed and left homeless.  It’s called the Peshtigo Fire because the most concentrated loss of life occurred in that community, but, in fact, the fire covered an immense range from the very edge of the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, past Marinette and Menominee which are fifty miles to the north and well into Menominee County, Michigan.  Overall, the fire covered an area of over 2400 square miles (twice the size of Rhode Island).


Causes of the fire included a mix of weather conditions – extreme drought, high temperatures, cyclonic winds – and byproducts of human activities.  Logging operations, sawmills, and factories left piles of dry tinder throughout the area; farmers set fires to clear hardwood growths for their fields; and sparks from railroad steam engines regularly ignited grass and brush.  Numerous fires were burning in woods and around villages for months prior to the conflagration.  Just after 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 Peshtigo residents were startled by a dull roar.  Flames from the scattered forest fires had been whipped into an inferno by the intense winds.  Within minutes the entire town was burning, and everything except one structure newly built from green wood had been reduced to ashes by 10 p.m.  The rains finally arrived the next day.


The Peshtigo fire has been described by experts as a firestorm. Temperatures reached as high as 2,000 degrees at its core and created tornadoes and hurricane force winds which propelled the fire across the land at speeds of up to ninety miles per hour.  Witnesses reported that the fire winds threw railway cars and houses through the air.  A minority of people in Peshtigo survived by immersing themselves in the Peshtigo River, wells, or other bodies of water, though many who tried to do so drowned or were boiled alive.  Years later U.S. and British military experts studied the Peshtigo fire in an effort to recreate firestorm conditions in their bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan. 


The loss of life was magnified because, during the period of extended drought, traveling preachers in the area had prophesied the end of the world through hellfire and damnation.  When the great fire did erupt, many believers concluded that the prophesies had come true and declined to seek refuge.  Others died in the flames as they tried unsuccessfully to rescue their recalcitrant family members or friends.  


As the fires raged, the flames moved northward and threatened Marinette and Menominee.  Most of the women and children in Menominee boarded three steamers that had been docked in the harbor and escaped out into Green Bay.  Remaining citizens dug trenches, hauled water, and wetted down roofs.  The towns appeared to be doomed, but a sudden shift in wind direction and deflection of the flames by a long range of sandhills south of Marinette led the fire to shift to the west of the cities.  The Catholic Church, a sawmill, and a planing mill were destroyed, but residential areas were largely spared.  The fire lept over the Menominee River and sped northward into Menominee County.  A painted sign that had become airborne in Peshtigo was discovered 15 miles away in Birch Creek.  That small settlement was totally destroyed, and as many as 40 people died there.


Our family, of course, were not Birch Creek-ites back then.  It would be three decades or so before my paternal grandparents emigrated from Sweden and nearly a century before my parents bought their Birch Creek Farm.  It is interesting, though, to contemplate this bit of history of which our family property is a tiny part.  We’ll keep an eye out for Peshtigo artifacts on our next trip.








Saturday, July 25, 2009

How the Wolf Dog and I Got J into Med School

Dear George,


It broke our hearts when J left for his freshman year at Columbia.  With only one kid, we were an overly child-centered family, and I pal’d around with J a lot.  Nonetheless, we were proud and happy about his new life venture.  We heard hardly only occasionally from him the first year (e.g., every few months) which was disconcerting.  In his second year J said he was thinking about majoring in religion, and I couldn’t imagine what he would do with that.  Eventually, he wound up in Sociology, perhaps in part because of his lifetime connection with my congenial department at UC.  He did his senior thesis with Herbert Gans, former president of the American Sociological Association, and I was happy that he was on a productive track.


J graduated in 1991, and I think his college experience was rewarding, though perhaps more socially and personally rewarding than academically.  He didn’t end up with a clear life direction.  I thought that newspaper journalism would be a good choice, since J was an excellent writer and had done some student journalism at Walnut Hills, but he didn’t like the thought of daily deadlines.  He decided to go to San Francisco for the summer and get whatever job he could find.


I read later in the newspaper that 86,000 students went to San Francisco that summer to look for jobs.  Like most, J had no luck, though he did like the city.  He visited a casual friend’s apartment one day, and the person had a large, powerful dog which was half huskie and half wolf.  It was the Fourth of July, and the dog was agitated because of all the fireworks in the neighborhood.  J tried to calm him down, but, when he reached out to pat his head, the dog lunged at his face and slashed his right eyelid in two.  Blood was gushing out all over the place.  His friend rushed him to the emergency room, and, after a lengthy wait, an intern sewed him up.  The guy was brand new, working on the very first day of his career, though fortunately he had been an assistant in a plastic surgeon’s office and knew what he was doing.  The intern said J was lucky that the cut came from a part-wolf.  The animal’s incisors were sharp as razor blades and made a perfect cut which was simple to stitch up and wouldn’t leave scars.


When he came back to Cincinnati, J told us about the wolf-dog episode.  He said that he was so impressed by his emergency room experience that he had decided to go to med school and become a doctor.  I went ballistic.  I told him that that was an unrealistic, even preposterous plan.  Except for “Physics for Poets,” J had never taken a science course.  His grades were o.k., but they weren’t competitive enough for med school.  Plus, I claimed, he’d never shown any interest in the field before, and it would probably be a lousy fit.  J asked if I thought there was any reason I thought he would be a good doctor.  I said, begrudgingly, that he would have an excellent bedside manner.  J said, “Good, I’ll take it,” and he applied to the University of Cincinnati a couple of days later to begin pre-med coursework in the Autumn.


I didn’t change my attitude for a long time.  I was disturbed that J was beginning a new program of  undergraduate coursework after his graduation.  Despite my protests, though,J was busy mastering chemistry, biology, math, etc.  Aside from going to classes, he did virtually nothing but study behind his closed bedroom door for days and weeks on end.  His mom was enthusiastic and supportive, but I watched with complete skepticism.  His autumn grades came in – straight A’s.  Then the same for winter and spring.


K came back from a year in Russia.  At first they sublet an apartment in a building known locally as the Roach Hotel, but the bugs drove them out and they moved in with us.  At the end of sumer the two of them went to New Orleans, finished up pre-med requirements, established residency in Louisiana, and J was accepted by the LSU School of Medicine.  He received his M.D. degree from LSU in 1999 (as did K from Tulane).  We went to graduation at LS¨, and  we were proud and thrilled.  J and I chatted about his med school experiences.  He said he was so angry at my disbelief and discouragement that he was determined to prove that I was wrong.  And so he did. Well, what is the conclusion of this?  J certainly deserves a lot of the credit for his success.  Let’s say at least fifty percent.  But, in my mind, the wolf dog should get twenty percent (without him, this would never have happened), and then I should get the remaining thirty percent.  If I hadn’t made J that angry and determined, he probably wouldn’t have been as strongly motivated as he was.  Sometimes parents do really dumb things, but good outcomes can happen anyway.  Life is not that orderly or predictable.





Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Menominee River (Part Two)

Menominee River from River House (photo by VAL)

Dear George,

I wrote a while back about our childhood on the Menominee River.  The river continued as an important part of our lives as we grew into our teenage years and beyond.  Each summer Steve and I retrieved dried out logs from the channel and Pig Island, lugged them home behind our rowboat, and strapped them together to construct primitive rafts to use for swimming.  In my high school years, my friend Bob Anderson replaced our flimsy log raft with one built from oil drums, two by fours, and a full wooden cover, and our group of teenage friends began to frequent the riverbank.  Soon it became the primary summer hangout for my high school group, as it did later for Steven, Peter, and Vicki.  Steve and his chums added a cloth cover to the raft, and they swam and sunned in luxury.

As preteens we were allowed to swim across the river, but only with the accompaniment of an adult and lifejackets in the rowboat.  Later we swam the half mile down to the logging cabin in the middle of the river.  The dam was just a little bit beyond the logging cabin, and the current became swifter in that area.  When boating or swimming there, we always got nervous about being caught up and swept over the dam.  I was amazed when Peter reminisced a few years ago that he and his teenage pals used to go swimming there, propelling themselves over the dam’s top and sliding down the its face headfirst into the splashing white water below.

As a teenager, I would occasionally pile my gear into the rowboat and go camping by myself on a small island in the channel behind Pig Island.  It was the most mosquito-ridden place I’ve ever been, but it was also a secret and private world, psychologically separated from home and family.  I’d daydream that if the Russians invaded the U.S. and occupied Menominee, I would hide out in my tent in the channel and make nighttime commando raids on the town.

A mile to the west, beyond Indian Island, a tributary called Little River branched off to the right and ran through Mason Park, a minimally developed county park which was Steven’s and my favorite tent camping location.  Little River was a beautiful winding waterway, bordered on both sides by evergreen and birch trees.  Sometimes we would park our rowboat at Mason Park and follow a foot trail a quarter mile up to a swimming hole, which had a tire strung up by rope from a tall tree, allowing one to swing out and catapult oneself into the pool.

Summer was a paradise on the river, but winter had its own delights.  The ice would freeze to a thickness of two or more feet, and, once solid, we could walk from our house to Pig Island.  On Katja’s first visit to Menominee, we walked across and came upon the sight through the clear ice of a mud puppy lying on the river’s bottom.  It looked like a prehistoric creature, and Katja thought she had happened upon a new world. Before heavy snows arrived each year, we would keep a patch of

river ice cleared off to use as a skating rink, and we built an inclined snow ramp so that we could get a running start on our lawn, belly flop onto a sled, and slide forty yards out on the river ice.  When enough snow had accumulated and gotten soft from the sun, we built snow forts on the river and had snowball fights.  In the spring, Chinese Bells Day, named by my parents because of the tinkling of the ice as it broke up and began flowing down the river, was such a significant family event that my father carved the date each year on the wooden archway between our living and dining rooms.  One spring a deer tried to cross the river from Pig Island, but fell through the melting ice.  My dad, Mike O’Hara, and one or two others pushed our rowboat out on the ice to rescue it, but the deer vanished below the water’s surface before they could reach it.  It was common to see people’s docks, canoes, trashcans, lawn chairs, buckets, and miscellaneous other objects floating down the river in the midst of the ice floes, and we would try to retrieve these treasures from the shore with long bamboo fishing poles.  Once the ice had fully cleared out we would have a polar bear contest to see who was brave enough to jump into the frigid water.  Peter and Vicki were the youngest and most fearless, but nobody lasted more than a few seconds.

One year before the river froze over several of my high school friends and I took the boat across the river to Pig Island to get evergreen boughs to decorate one of the girls’ family home for the holidays.  Rather than damage a lot of trees by cutting off their limbs, we decided it would be better to chop down a single large tree.  It took an hour of effort, but we did so, then sawed off all the branches and ferried them back across the river in three or four trips.  The house decorations were impressive -- the pride of Sheridan Road.  Two years later an executive from the local chemical company, Bob H., bought Pig Island.  He and my parents were good friends, and a few weeks after his purchase he contacted my father to complain that vandals had chopped down a valuable pine tree on his property.  He asked my dad, who was prosecuting attorney at the time, to take whatever steps were necessary to locate and arrest the trespassers.  Since the site of the crime was directly across the river from our house and since we were the only youth in the area, it probably was not difficult to identify possible suspects.  Instead of turning us over to the authorities, my dad took me for a long walk out on the road and wound up saying he would try to stall on his friend’s request.

When we were high school juniors, Grant Berggren, Earl Malcolm, and I decided to take a major camping trip up the river in our one horsepower boat.  We wanted to go all the way to Iron Mountain if we could do it.  We loaded up with provisions and set off early one morning. When we were a couple of miles beyond Indian Island, the river channel became surprisingly shallow, and our propeller blades hit a rock and snapped the engine’s cotter pin.  We had a couple of spare cotter pins, but within a short distance we had broken all of them.  We got out of the boat and pushed it for a mile or two along the shore, but we eventually gave up and found an open space in the forest to pitch our tent.  When we rowed home the next day, we all started itching along the way.  It turns out we had camped next to a grove of poison ivy. Grant had the worst poison ivy problem, and he wound up being hospitalized for two weeks with an infection that spread into his lungs.  He vowed never to go camping again.

In the 1970’s my parents began renovating an old farm in Birch Creek, eight miles north of the city.  For a while they maintained two residences, but they became sufficiently enamored with their new project that they decided to sell the river house.  They offered it for free to any of their children who would live there, but there were no takers.  A local dentist bought the property.  After several years he decided to rebuild, and he gave the house away to an acquaintance who cut it in half and moved it to the shores of Green Bay. River house is still sitting there now – such an irony, since we had always claimed that the river was a far superior place to be than the bay.  Vicki still owns a parcel of the family property on the river, and we visit it each time that we’re in Menominee.  On our last trip we made a family excursion to the river to cast cremated ashes into the water from the dock.  A sudden gust of wind came up as I tossed Peter’s ashes into the air, and they blew all over my sister-in-law Faith.  Peter would undoubtedly have been amused.  All in all, the river is the site of great adventures and the source of rich memories.  It was a place for play and friendship, as well as experiences of solitude and testing oneself.  It would be an exaggeration to say that the river made us who we are today, but it would be a mistake to not recognize its significant impact on our childhood and adolescence.  My heart still skips a beat when I run across on old postcard of the Menominee River.  In some ways, we’ll always be River Rats.



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Birthday Feelings

From left: Steve L., Frank St Peter, Skipper Burke, Jim Jorgenson, Bill Caley, Sammy Wells; David L. in center (Birthday party, circa 1950)

Dear George,

I’ve come to conclude that birthdays, like New Years Eves, are a source of minor depression throughout one’s life, though the sources of depression change over time. Childhood birthdays unquestionably have an exciting component in that they are tied to gaining status, e.g., getting older, getting bigger, more competent, being allowed to do more things, getting praised. At the all-boy birthday parties I went to in childhood, though, all the other party-goers were jealous of the birthday kid getting all those presents, and they dealt with this by punishing him in various ways, the magnitude of the punishments escalating with age. Once you reach your sixties or seventies, marking that one is a year older is not that exciting. Nobody seems jealous about my birthdays any more, and onlookers provide more positive strokes than punishments. This may be because having a birthday is sufficiently negative all by itself that others don’t wish to contribute further to one’s malaise.

Katja left for work yesterday morning, and I slept in for a while. I had some coffee and checked my e-mail. If birthdays weren’t gloomy enough, my e-mail didn’t help. Every now and then, my family has had to deal with the thorny issue of whether or not to keep and maintain our family property (“Farm”) in Birch Creek. Opinions have always been polarized, with some people opting to keep Farm at all costs, others with a strong preference for selling, probably a majority neutral on the issue, and a resultant inability to reach any decisions at all. I decided I set it aside mentally, though my mind wandered back to it all day long.

One of my routines is to take the dogs for a 30-minute walk each morning, and that seemed like a good way to start my special day. Mike, however, was the most stubborn that he’s ever been. After he’d walked 30 feet, turned around a few times and peed on the lawn, he decided that that was enough. I started dragging him down the street by his choke collar, a technique which borders on torture. Then I tried pushing him from behind, which led him to snarl and snap at me. Finally I tried saying “heel”, a command he’d learned in obedience school six years earlier. It was surprisingly though only briefly effective. He did respond and trotted forward at my side. This only lasted for three or four steps, however, whereupon Mike turned around and started pulling me toward home again. I would say “heel” again, even louder, and he would come with me another three or four steps. We proceeded up the block this way, doing three or four steps at a time and me shouting “heel” each time to keep it going. After a full block of this, Mike seemed to give up, and we then proceeded at a pretty consistent pace for the rest of the journey. I don’t know what Duffy was thinking. I guess he wasn’t that interested, and he did adjust without protest to Mike’s fitful stops and starts.

I’ve known for months that my driver’s license was about to expire, but now the day had arrived. We normally go to the Ohio DMV office in Swifton Commons, a nearly empty shopping mall 10 minutes north of our home. When I got there I found that they had permanently closed in June. Fortunately there was another branch a quarter mile up Reading Road. There were three clerks and nine people in line. As I watched, I thought the clerks were asking pretty private questions in this public situation about alcohol use, drug abuse, outstanding warrants, epilepsy, etc., but, when my turn came, I answered these just like anybody else. I stumbled on “dependence on alcohol” and said that I have a glass of red wine almost every day, but the lady told me that was permitted. I smiled as they took my photo, which I don’t normally do, and I did look happier than usual. When I checked over my new driver’s license, the clerk had typed in “Gray” for my hair color without asking me. What??? Don’t I get a say in this? I thought to myself, maybe she was thinking that I’ll have this license for four more years and I will be gray by then.

Jennifer’s kids were due to get free ice cream cones at Graeter’s for participating in the art exhibition, and she asked if I would like to join them and get the free ice cream cone that I was entitled to for my birthday. I was hesitant at first because I’d never heard of this and thought it was probably for kids, but then I thought, what the heck – I’m entitled. Walking over to Graeter’s, I asked Eleanor if she thought my hair was more brown or more gray. She looked and it and said she couldn’t say. Her mom laughed. I asked Calvin, and he responded, “More gray!” “That Calvin,” I said, “he’s certainly not shy with his opinions. I was going to get a chocolate ice cream cone, but the kids thought that was too ordinary. Calvin had ordered a Buckeye Blitz (chocolate, peanut butter, cookie dough, peanuts, and who knows what else). So I ordered one too. It was good. I’d commented to the clerk that I’d lived here for 43 years and never knew that you got a free ice cream cone on your birthday, and a white-haired gentleman thanked me, saying he’d never known that either.

I got several birthday cards in the mail – they all featured doggies. Matt and Phyllis sent a vintage greeting card with a fluffy white puppy carrying a basket of flowers and cuddling a kitten. Donna sent a sheepdog with absolutely wild hair getting brushed out. Katja’s had a pair of married dogs, with the wife admitting to being crabby, nagging, criticizing, stubborn, and moody, but concluding, “As long as we’re together I’m the happiest wife of all.” We both thought it was surprisingly accurate. I chatted with Donna by phone and felt better about our family property issues by the end of the conversation. J called to wish me happy birthday and said that he and V will be flying to Cincinnati in late August, the best present one could hope for.

Katja asked me where I’d like to go for my birthday dinner. I said Tinks or Olives would be nice, but she thought something more than a neighborhood place would be better. I like fish and suggested the Bonefish Grill, the Chart House, or Mitchell’s Fish Market. Katja thought Mitchell’s was the best, so we drove over to Newport on the Levee. Mitchell’s is a casual but stylish restaurant right on the Ohio River, with indoor and outdoor seating. We opted for indoors, right next to the window and with a view of the downtown skyline. It was very pleasant. Katja had a Bloody Mary, and I had a Manhattan. We talked about this and that. I showed Katja my driver’s license, and she thought it outrageous that they mis-labeled my hair color. She said I might want to try Grecian Formula, just in case. For dinner, Katja had crabcakes, and I had fish and chips. Katja let it slip to the waiter that it was my birthday, and I got to pick a dessert . I went for the Sharkfish Fin, a huge ice cream sculpture with multiple flavors and sauces. Katja said usually 4 or 5 people share it when they there go for lunch, but we managed to polish it off. It was delicious, but I was stuffed to the gills by the end.

So I started out feeling a little depressed about having a birthday, but it worked out to be a pleasing and lowkey sort of day, with lots of happy interchanges with family and friends. All in all, it was an excellent way to start the next 12 months of my life.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Hot Air Balloon

Dear George,


While I don’t like to think about it, I’m having another birthday today.  Neither Katja nor I brought it up till yesterday.  She said we’re not going to do anything as big as last year, and I said I certainly knew that.  We talked a bit about going out to dinner tonight.  I don’t know where yet.  But I thought I would tell you about my past birthday anyway because it was so extraordinary.  When I came home that Monday afternoon, Katja invited me to get into the car.  She said we were going to a surprise and that it wouldn’t involve dinner.  She drove.  We traveled west on Ludlow Ave., and I guessed that we were headed for a friends’ house on Hamilton Ave.  Katja, though, got took the northbound entrance to I-75.  Were we going to Wanda’s house, to the mall, to Half-Price Books, the thrift store?  We passed by all of these possibilities, and ten miles later we passed I-275, the beltway surrounding the city and the outer limit of all the places I would normally go to.  Perhaps we were driving to Dayton, where we had had our wedding reception dinner at the King Cole many year ago.  Or Yellow Springs?  Katja stayed mum and drove and drove.  Finally, she got off at the Lebanon-Monroe exit, 25 miles north of the city.   She turned west toward Monroe, a town I’d never been to before.  We went past Larry Flynt’s Hollywood Hustler Store, and Katja said we could stop there on our way back.  We drove past cornfields and subdivisions and gas stations and finally turned onto Yankee Road.  Where were we?  What was going on?   Suddenly Katja got a cell phone call.  The caller gave her some instructions, and she turned around and went back to a side road that we’d just passed.


We drove into the Monroe High School parking lot, an odd place to be.  I looked around, and there were four or five people standing next to a van, holding a bouquet of helium-filled balloons and waving at us.  From a distance, I thought they might be some of my Sociology colleagues, but, as we got closer, I realized they were complete strangers.  We got out of the car, and they all yelled Happy Birthday!  I looked at the van, and it said something about balloons.  What could it be?  It was a hot air balloon company!


Everybody laughed at my bewilderment, and it soon was clear that we were setting out on a great expedition.  The balloon pilot and company owner, Mike, explained that the winds were a bit too high on our present site for a safe balloon launch and that we needed to go to a lower terrain.  We got back in our cars and followed the van for a mile to a Monroe elementary school.  I just didn’t know what to think.  The whole thing was unbelievable and sort of scary.  There were two balloon trucks and two couples, including us, scheduled to take trips.  Once the staff unpacked our balloon, we were appointed as  members of the crew and participated in the launch preparations.  Our large striped balloon, stretched out on the ground, was probably thirty yards long and was attached to a very solid, 450-lb. wicker basket that was designed to hold up to four passengers and a pilot.  Mike set up a powerful wind fan, and Katja and I held the aperture of the balloon open while he pumped cold air into it.  The balloon could hold 60,000 cubic feet of air (the equivalent of 60,000 basketballs), and, as it filled, it began rolling about and became increasingly difficult for us to hang onto.  Once it was fully inflated, Mike turned on the propane burner attached to the basket and began pumping hot air into the balloon.  As it filled, the balloon slowly began to rise vertically in the air.  Once perpendicular, our task was to leap into the balloon and prepare for takeoff.  We did so with a little trepidation, and the balloon slowly began to ascend toward the sky.


Hot air balloons are astonishing.  Once airborne, they don’t rock or waver at all.  They just move along steadily with the wind, and, with no guidance system, they pretty much go where the wind takes them.  We were headed east, and we quickly rose to a height of 200 to 300 yards.  Like an airplane, everything below looks like a miniature toy village, but, unlike an airplane, we were low enough to see the details of things and feel like a part of the immediate surroundings, just high up.  It was a fairly windy day, and our balloon moved along at a clip of 10-15 miles an hour.  I get nervous about heights and held on tightly with both hands to the upright struts, though Katja was much more relaxed, taking photos with her disposable camera and not holding on at all.  Warren County, where we were, is a formerly rural area that has undergone massive development and population growth.  At times we were floating over corn or soybean fields, with bunches of cows, horses, pigs, goats, ducks, and geese.  We rode over beautiful forests and manicured lawns.  We saw two or three herds of deer in the fields below.  Other times we passed over subdivisions or fancy homes with swimming pools.  People called up to us from their yards, and we waved back.  Dogs barked and ran about in circles.  Kids got excited and pointed up to us.


Mike stayed in contact by radio with crew member Dave in the chase car below and kept him informed of our probable course.  Mike also was in touch with the Lebanon airport, letting them know that we were entering the air space of their runways.  The airport radio transmission revealed that a small experimental plane piloted by a woman had lost its rudder and was making an emergency landing to the north of us.  We were not in her path, and we saw her come down at a distance on the airfield, making a successful though unexpected landing.


Mike brought the hot air balloon up and down by releasing hot air through a vent or turning on the propane burner (which was hot for us riders and made a loud noise).  Sometimes we went way up in the air, sometimes we approached the ground.  At one point we passed right between the tall lampposts of a commercial parking lot.  Another time we skimmed close to the treetops.  Part of our task as passengers was to watch out for electrical power wires and warn the pilot of potential danger.


After an hour, which went by very quickly, it was time to descend.  We had crossed the town of Lebanon, and Mike began scouting about for an appropriate landing spot.  Hot air balloons land wherever they wind up, whether it’s somebody’s lawn or a farm field.  In our case, we approached the large lawn of an elementary school.  Mike descended and instructed us to flex our knees and hold on tightly to the ropes that circled the top of the basket.  “Whatever you do, “ he said, “don’t fall out of the basket.”  (I concluded, quite correctly I think, that this would mean death.)  While I had been imagining that hot air balloons simply descend straight down and come to a gentle stop, our balloon came in at a 45 degree angle and a speed of 15 miles an hour.  We hit the ground with a huge bang, which tossed us back and forth, and we struggled to hang on.  The balloon then hit the ground again, this time on a hilly uprise.  Our wicker basket tipped over and we all fell on top of one another.  The basket then smacked into the ground two or three more times, until the balloon itself was perpendicular on the ground and we finally ground to a halt.


Mike was on the bottom, Katja was on the middle, and I was on the top.  I told Katja to wait a second while I climbed out on my hands and knees, and then I pulled her up and helped her out.  We seemed to be intact, though I had banged my knee pretty sharply against the wall of the basket.  Katja lay down on the ground next to the balloon, overcome by with dizziness and needing a few minutes to recuperate.  Mike asked with concern if she were o.k., and she said she was. 


The crew squashed the air out of the balloon, rolled it up, and stored it and the wicker basket back in the van.  We all then got in and drove back to the high school parking lot.  Along the way, Mike explained that he had been the Vice-President of Finance for a Fortune 500 company, but he hated his job and loved hot air ballooning.  His wife had urged him to quit his corporate job four years ago, and they formed Bella Balloons.  He seemed happy as a kid at Disneyland.  Once back at our launch site, we shared a bottle of champagne and received certificates that credentialed us as experienced aeronauts.  Even a year later, I still think nostalgically about the most amazing birthday of my life.  That Katja is really something.





Sunday, July 19, 2009

Local Characters: Jerry Springer -- Kennedyite Gone Wild

Dear George,

While most of the civilized world now knows of Jerry Springer, he got his start in Cincinnati, so we feel a certain proprietary attachment.  Springer came here about the same time that we did in the late 1960s, and we followed the beginning of his career while he was still in his mid-20’s.

Gerald Norman Springer was born on Feb. 13, 1944, in a subway station bomb shelter in London, England.  His parents, Margo Springer (a bank clerk) and Richard Springer (a shoe shop owner) were Jewish refugees from Poland who escaped Nazi Germany and later emigrated to the U.S., settling in Queens in 1949.  His grandparents and three close family members were killed in the death camps.  Springer’s parents liked to talk politics, and Jerry became  interested in a young age.  He’s said that he was particularly affected by watching John F. Kennedy on TV at the Democratic National Convention in 1956.  Springer completed a B.A. in political science at Tulane in 1965 and received his law degree from Northwestern in 1968.  He then became a campaign aide to Robert Kennedy.  When Kennedy was assassinated soon after in June 1968, Springer came to Cincinnati and joined the law firm of Frost & Jacobs.

Springer helped lead the successful movement to lower Ohio’s voting age from 21 to 19.  He ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket in 1970 at age 26.  Though he failed to unseat entrenched incumbent Donald Clancy in a heavily Republican district, he did receive 45% of the vote.  Then he ran successfully for the Cincinnati City Council in 1971.  His political career was temporarily derailed in 1974 when a police search of a “massage parlor” in Northern Kentucky turned up a personal check that Springer had used to pay a prostitute.  He held a press conference on local TV, admitting and apologizing for his actions.  Voters responded positively and reelected him to Council in 1975.  In 1977 he was chosen to be mayor.  A liberal leader in a conservative city, he established health clinics and recreation centers for youth in low-income neighborhoods. 

While he was still mayor, Jerry Springer began his broadcast career on WEBN, which J and Katja listened to each morning as they drove to Walnut Hills High School.  “The Springer Memorandum” featured commentaries from the mayor.  WLWT (the local NBC affiliate) then hired Springer as a political commentator and subsequently promoted him to primary news anchor.  WLWT had the lowest-rated new program at the time, but, over the next two years, Springer and his partner Norma Rashid became the top news team in the city.  Springer received ten local Emmys for his nightly commentaries.

WLWT replaced the Phil Donahue Show with The Jerry Springer Show in September 1991.  The new Springer show was a serious, politically oriented talk show, addressing topics such as homelessness and gun control.  Early guests included Oliver North and Jesse Jackson.  By 1994 Springer and station personnel began reformatting the show to increase ratings.  They found that the more lowbrow the show became, the higher the ratings.  Adultery, Satanism, homosexuality, transvestitism, hate group membership, and other controversial topics became the standard fare, and shows were marked by shouting, chair-throwing, fist fights, and taking off clothing.  No matter how outrageous or destructive the episode, Springer always closed by saying, “Take care of yourself, and each other.”  The show was hugely successful, outdoing Oprah Winfrey in many cities and reaching over 6.7 million viewers.  Springer admitted that he rarely watched his own  broadcasts, commenting, “It wouldn’t interest me.”

Jerry Springer has done lots of other things too.  He hosted America’s Got Talent for several seasons, as well as Miss Universe and Miss World.  We watched him on Dancing with the Stars, where he was an incompetent dancer but an audience favorite.  He has recorded a country music album, impersonated Elvis, and sang as the opening act at Billy Ray Cyrus concerts. He has been a fund-raiser for charities connected with birth defects, disabled access, AIDS, and various liberal causes.  He has appeared on the covers of Rolling Stone, Esquire, and New York Magazine, among others.  Jerry Springer, The Opera had its New York premiere in 1998.  His ultimate accolade occurred when he was the featured character in the 1998 Halloween special of The Simpsons.  Springer looked into running for the U.S. Senate in 2003, but negative reactions regarding his TV hosting led him to change his mind.  In June 2008 Springer gave the commencement address at his alma mater, the Northwestern University School of Law.  He ended with a story about his parents, saying: “In one generation here in America, my family went from near-total annihilation to the ridiculously privileged life I live today because of my show.  Indeed in America, all things are possible.”

We liked and admired Jerry Springer from the beginning because he was bright, progressive, articulate, and funny.  His career turned out to be very strange, going from an idealistic, Kennedy-inspired politician setting out to improve the world to a lowbrow but extraordinarily successful TV talk host.  He does seem to regard the latter as a sort of a lark, though it has consumed much of his adult life.  Springer has commented, “We can't just have mainstream behavior on television in a free society, we have to make sure we see the whole panorama of human behavior.”  He has accomplished that goal.  Jerry Springer is another of those persons who have added a bit of spice to life in the Queen City.



Sources (from Google search): Wikipedia,,,,  



Saturday, July 18, 2009

Washington School Days: 4. The Fusion of Church and State

Dear George,


My father was a spiritual man but not religious.  Some years ago, he told us a family story about his own father who had owned and operated drugstores in Menominee and Marinette.  My grandfather was a devout Swedish Lutheran.  However, local doctors insisted that his pharmacies be open 7 days a week, including Sunday mornings, if they were to refer patients to him.   The Lutheran pastor objected strenuously to my grandfather’s business being open on Sunday morning.  Ultimately, my grandfather left his beloved Lutheran church.  My dad, who was a child at the time, remained bitter about this many years later.  While our family did belong to the Presbyterian Church, I think this was mainly because my father was  an elected public official and it was politic to do so.  We only went to church on Easter.  Vic sang louder than anybody else, and we  offspring all were humiliated.


In contrast to my father, my fourth grade teacher, Miss Hunnefeld*, was an ardent supporter of organized religion.  She awarded points to her students for various religious activities, and attending Sunday school was one of the important ways in which we could progress toward being Gold Star Generals.  I mentioned this fact to my parents several times, hoping that they would take me to Sunday School, but my pleas were ignored.  We had moved to a new house in the country on the Menominee River that year, nearly three miles away from downtown and the Presbyterian Church.  My father had no intention of driving me to town and back on Sunday mornings, whether for religious reasons or simply to get points from Miss Hunnefeld. 


In addition to her point system, Miss Hunnefeld had another incentive to encourage religious devotion.  Each Monday morning she asked the children who had attended Sunday school the day before to raise their hands.  Then she instructed the attenders to go up and stand at the blackboard.  The few children who had not raised their hands were instructed to remain in their seats, while the majority circled the room and stared at them.  Miss Hunnefeld questioned the non-attenders about their reasons for not attending church that week, although the little heathens never had much to say.


Miss Hunnefeld’s Monday morning ritual was very successful.  After a few Mondays, there were only two children who were regularly left sitting in their seats:  Marcus Peterson* and me.  In a way, Marcus had an excuse.  His family was so poor and downtrodden that nobody expected much of anything from him.  His childhood responsibilities included stealing large chunks of coal from the nearby coalyard and lugging them home to keep the family from freezing during the winter.  His family didn’t go to church, belong to the country club, or do much else of civic virtue.   I didn’t have as good an excuse as Marcus, though I did privately tell Miss Hunnefeld several times that we lived out in the country and it was too far for my father to drive.


After a couple of months, Miss Hunnefeld either gave up trying to convert us or got nervous.  One day she announced that there were “some children” who were unable to attend Sunday School.  Rather than denying them military points, she was going to make available an alternative religious experience.  If such anonymous children would listen to one hour of specified religious programs on the radio on Sunday morning and if such children would take notes on the programs and hand them in on Monday, they too could get points and stand at the blackboard.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  The next  Sunday I listened to the assigned radio programs plus a few additional programs for good measure.  I took detailed notes.  Miss Hunnefeld was pleased to receive my report and she read part of it to the class.  I joined my classmates at the blackboard that Monday, and some of them smiled at me.  Marcus’ family couldn’t afford a radio, so he wound up being the only child left in his seat.  I felt guilty about abandoning Marcus, but I went ahead and completed my Sunday radio assignments for the rest of the year.





*This story uses pseudonyms.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dogs of Our Lives: Mike and Micky

                            Mike with Our Family (circa 1951)

Dear George,


Our family got our first dog around 1949.  He was a majestic Irish Setter named Mike.  Originally Mike belonged to Lou Reed, a local businessman and friend of my parents who lived about half a mile up the river on Riverside Drive.  Once in a while Lou would bring his dog down the road to visit us.  Mike loved playing with us, and soon he started coming down to our house on his own.  Lou tried unsuccessfully to stop Mike’s excursions, but finally he just gave up and gave us the dog as a gift to our family.


Mike was a superb animal.  He had that elegant reddish-brownish long hair of an Irish setter, muscular legs and body, and a stately bearing.  He was extremely intelligent, responsive to human’s attitudes and moods, and capable of responding to a wide variety of requests and commands.  He bonded with everyone in our family and was an affectionate, faithful companion.  We regularly included him in our activities: swimming, hiking in the woods, touch football, the whole gamut.  We took Mike along when we went tent camping at Mason Park or to Pig Island.  When our family took picnic trips in our 1.5 h.p. propelled rowboat to Indian Island a half mile up the river, there wouldn’t be enough room for Mike, so he would swim behind the boat all the way there and back.  He was part and parcel of our family.


My grandfather, V.A.L. Sr., wintered in Miami Beach during this time, and one year he bought and shipped to Menominee another Irish Setter named Micky.  Micky was smaller, thinner, and had a more submissive disposition than Mike.  Mike took the younger dog under his wing, socializing him in the ways of life on the river.  Mike got upset when Micky did his business on our lawn, and he quickly taught Micky to go over to the uncut, weeded stretch of land that separated our property from our next door neighbors, the Orth’s.  Micky pretty much followed Mike around and did whatever the older dog was doing.  We liked Micky, but Mike was the king.


My mom was completely attached and devoted to the dogs.  Once when Mike and Micky got into a rare, all-out fight, Doris jumped into the middle to break them up and suffered a nasty bite on her hand that required a hospital visit and multiple stitches.  Another time Mike fell through the melting river ice in the spring.  Doris ordered us all to stay in the house.  We watched from the living room window seat as she crawled on her stomach out onto the ice and pulled Mike from the water back onto the ice and to safety.


Mike was a country dog, and we spent a lot of time in the forest and the fields.  At least once a year he would confront a porcupine in our yard, usually in the northwest corner of the house between Vicki’s and Steven’s bedrooms.  After barking for a while, Mike would eventually move in on the porcupine, and he would inevitably wind up with a snout full of quills.  He would leap around and yelp hysterically while the porcupine would scurry back to the woods.  My dad would pack Mike into the car, and we would rush off to Dr. Seidl’s.  Dr. Seidl said extracting porcupine quills from a dog’s nose was the most unpleasant job he had to deal with as a vet.

                          Vicki and Micky at Mike's Grave

Mike grew old as we grew up, turned gray on his face, and one day simply fell over in the front yard and died.  I was home from college, and my task was to dig his grave in the field out near our driveway.  I don’t think I’ve ever cried as hard as I did while digging Mike’s grave.  He was a significant part of our family, and we were all better people as a result.




Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wedding Thoughts

Peter L, Father of the Bride

Dear George,

I was pleased to make some remarks at Jessica and Sean’s wedding dinner. The following is the speech I put together (though a little longer than what I actually wound up saying):

I’m her uncle (pointing to Jessica) and I’m her brother-in-law (pointing to Faith). I feel very honored that Jessica asked me to make a few remarks. First of all, I’d like to thank Faith for hosting us at this wonderful wedding. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place than Yemassee Lodge, and I know that Faith put in months of effort getting ready for today.

As I considered what to say tonight, I thought a lot about Jessica’s father and my younger brother, Peter. Most of you know that we lost this wonderful man three years ago. Peter would have wanted to be here more than anything in the world. When I tried to guess what he would be likely to say, the first thing that came to mind was that Peter would be totally angry about missing Jessica’s wedding. Peter loves events of this sort, and he would love this event in particular. But his frustration would pass quickly, and Peter would be filled with joy for Jessica and Sean. He was a very loving father. We talked by phone every week for many years, and he expressed his love and pride in his kids in every conversation that we had. I remember Peter saying that when he talked on the phone with Jessica and Chris, he ended every call by saying, “I love you.”

Peter would be delighted about his family members being here, and he would be very positive about the new connection between Sean’s family and ours. He and Sean hit it off well from the start, and he would be thrilled by the love that he and Jessica expressed to one another today. I understand that Peter’s main question regarding Sean was, “When will Jessica put the bullet to him?” I don’t know exactly what this means, but I guess we’re here today because Jessica did do that.

Another person I’ve been thinking of is my dad and Jessica’s grandfather, Vic L. My parents held annual family reunions at their farm in Birch Creek, Michigan, for many years when the grandchildren were younger. Jessica started coming there as an infant. She and her cousin Abra were the youngest of the children, and they were totally adorable. Vic was tickled and delighted by the girls, and he would love to be here to share this event with Jessica. We had our most recent family reunion in Birch Creek last year, and many of us met Sean for the first time. He immediately fit in with our family group. And he proposed to Jessica at this gathering, making it a memorable and romantic event.

Many of you know that our family has experienced several tragic losses in recent years. Vic would view this realistically as a natural phenomenon and focus on the transformation from one generation to the next. We’ve had a batch of new babies in our family, and this is the first of a couple of weddings. Basically, the younger generation has reached maturity and become the core of the family. That’s one of the very significant meanings of today’s wedding. It’s a joyful sign that our family has made its way back.



G-Mail Comments

-Jessica LM (7-5-11): Dave, I'm just reading this post for the first time and I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for putting all of these wonderful thoughts and memories on this blog for all of us and thank you for your wedding speach, it all means so much.

What a Good Onchiota Wedding!

                                     Rainbow Lake
Dear George,

I’m just back from Jessica and Sean’s wedding.  What a perfect occasion!  The ceremony was at Yemassee Lodge, Faith’s family home in Onchiota, NY, about 15 miles north of Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks.  Jessica and Chris had visited there for many years with their mom and Peter.  I was looking forward to a brother-sister rendevous with Vicki and to seeing J and K and my granddaughter V.  I flew into Burlington on Thursday, then drove a hundred miles, first south to the bridge across Lake Champlain, then north to Saranac Lake.  The trip was stunning – winding roads, thickly forested mountains, the lake shoreline, and occasional resort villages.

When I came back downstairs after checking into the Hotel Saranac, I heard a voice at the front desk saying that she needed a taxi to get to a wedding.  It turned out it was my sister-in-law, Gayle, who had traveled from New Jersey to Plattsburgh by train with her girlfriend Pat.  They were having trouble finding a local taxi to go to Yemassee Lodge, and so I’d come along at just the right time.

The desk clerk had given us instructions to Onciota, but they were skimpy.  After 10 minutes, we came to a road sign which said “Onchiota” to the right.  Gayle said that we should turn there, but I was certain that we should find and take a different road to Onchiota.  I drove until the highway came to a dead end.  An ancient fisherwoman was walking along the road, and I asked her for directions, but she was vague and uncertain.  Finally we called Faith, and she came and rescued us.  As it turned out, Gayle had been totally correct, and it was only my male stubbornness that led us astray.

Jessica and Chris gave us a big greeting.  Abra and Michael were there too, as were Jennifer and Win.  Jennifer was the matron of honor for her cousin.  I chatted with Abra about the travails of her Ph.D. work at Princeton, and she was enthused about her dissertation.  She and Michael will spend two months in Santa Cruz with Vicki, then move to Philly.  They plan to get married in the spring.  Jennifer was her usual sociable and fun self, as was Win.  They were excited about meeting baby V.

We didn’t stay real late.  In the morning I ran into Gayle and Pat again, and we had breakfast at the Blue Moon Café.  J, K, and V had arrived in Burlington at midnight the night before, as had Vicki, and they spent the night there and drove to Saranac Lake together in the morning.  J had had a lousy start to the trip.  A Thrifty rental car employee had switched people’s suitcases, and J’s luggage had gone off to Montreal, while he wound up with somebody else’s bag.  He’d gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to deal with Thrifty and hadn’t had much sleep.  He’d been trying to work out a suitcase exchange at the Canadian border by telephone with three different Asian people, none of whom spoke much English.  On top of that, a New Orleans friend called to say that their electricity at home was off for unknown reasons.  Katja and I only get to see our granddaughter once in a while, and baby V was looking wonderful.  She’s ten months old now, and, though I’d seen her in April, she’s developed a lot since then.  She’s so socially responsive -- her smiles warm one’s heart. 

Vicki, J, and I had lunch at the Meet & Eat Grill.  The Meet & Eat was a takeout place, but they did have picnic tables in an outdoor two-story walkup area, adjacent to a miniature golf course that has seen better days.  J was on the verge of exhaustion by the time his food arrived, but his mussel soup brought him back to life.  We stopped by a men’s store to see if he could find a shirt for the wedding, but it was too pricey.  J told Vicki that, as a thrift shopper, he’d never spent more than $8 for a shirt.  I was surprised he’d spent that much.

We took a shuttle bus from the hotel for the 5:30 wedding.  The ceremony was on the beach of Rainbow Lake, down the steep forested hill from the Lodge.  It’s hard to imagine a more majestic setting.  It was a sunny, 72-degree day, with the bright blue waters of the lake, evergreen forests on all sides, and Adirondack mountains in the background.  Chris escorted Jessica down through the woods, and she looked lovely in a creamy white, lace-topped, floor-length wedding gown.  The bridesmaids wore black, the men black tuxedos. 

The ceremony was very touching.  Sean dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief and was choked up as he spoke his vows.  Jessica was equally emotional, though she did laugh a couple of times.  Of course, something always goes awry.  In this case, when it was time for Jessica to put the ring on Sean’s finger, the bridesmaid had tied the ring too tightly to her bouquet and had to struggle to untie it.  Then it turned out that she didn’t even have Sean’s ring – instead the best man did.  It all got sorted out, and, before you knew it, the couple kissed and were newlyweds.  There was a cocktail hour and then dinner under a huge tent.  I was happy to be able to make some remarks at the dinner, and I concentrated on what my brother Peter might have felt and said if he had been there.  Jessica told me how much she appreciated my bringing her dad in, and Abra said it made her cry.  The party continued indoors and outdoors after dinner.  Vicki and Win sat in a group near the outdoor fireplace, and Vicki challenged Win to arm wrestle.  It was more dramatic than usual because they were positioned right next to a blazing fire.  If Win were successful, Vicki’s arm would wind up in the flames.  They struggled mightily, but finally Vicki forced Win’s arm down.  An onlooker claimed that Win was faking, but he denied it.  Somebody asked Win if his mother-in-law was dating, and he said he had no idea.  Abra asked her mom if she were dating.  Vicki said no, and I told Abra that we don’t ask such questions in our family.  Lots of other silly stuff happened and people partied into the night – Jessica and Sean were up till 3:30 or 4:00.

Saturday was the post-wedding, hang around and party day at the Lodge.  I’m congenitally incapable of more than 30 minutes of mingling, so a full day was overwhelming.  I coped by falling asleep on the couch, then interacting with baby V, who was fascinated with my baseball cap and liked to pull it off my head and put it on her own.  In the afternoon the rain stopped, and Vicki and I went on a canoe trip, checking out the elegant summer cottages and boathouses along the shore and traveling the full length of Rainbow Lake.  In the evening Jessica played a video they’d taken at the party the night before in which the guests gave tips for a happy marriage.  One of our family members – I won’t say who – gave this advice to the newly married couple: “Hit like an All-Star; Party like a Rock Star; F**k like a Porn Star.”  People laughed because it was so out of character.  I talked Vicki into leaving at 10 p.m., definitely earlier than her late night inclinations.

Vicki and I were driving to the Burlington airport on Sunday morning, and we agreed to call one another at 7 a.m. to make sure that we were up and ready.  Vicki did call, but my traveling alarm clock said 5:00.  I told Vicki, but she said my clock was wrong.  My watch said 5:00, and she said my watch was wrong too.  When I told her that the hotel alarm clock also said 5:00, she finally sensed that she might have made a mistake.  Though we were tired, the trip to Burlington was a lot of fun.  We stopped at a flea market, then at an ice cream shop, and spent time catching up.  I boarded the plane to Newark at 1 p.m., and I was happy to see Katja at the gate in Cincinnati.