Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Washington School Days: 11. After School

Dave and Steve at Washington Grade School (1948; photo by VAL)

Dear George,

From fifth grade on, I was best friends with Marvin F, and we played together every day after school. We’d go over to the railroad yards and sneak into empty boxcars, fantasizing about traveling to North Dakota or Alabama. Or we’d walk up Sheridan Road to the Silver Cream brewery where we’d collect pieces of broken beer bottle glass from the Green Bay shore which had polished edges from being ground by the sand and waves. In the summer Marvin, Tommy H., and I formed a club that met underneath the sidewalk in front of our apartment building on Quimby Ave. We’d discovered a room-like space about 4 or 5 feet in height under the sidewalk, accessible through a semi-circular opening at the base of the building’s brick wall. The roof was concrete, i.e., the bottom side of the sidewalk, and the floor was dirt. We brought candles and matches down into our hideout and met there daily. We made sure no passersby were in sight, and we recited a secret password before we let ourselves through the opening. A small door led into the apartment building’s cellar, and there we discovered a shelf filled with homemade cans of jams and jellies. At each meeting Tommy or Marvin would steal a jar, and we would eat it with our fingers. I refused to do the stealing, but I was happy to share the loot.

One day my mom was out, and Marvin discovered a large box of kitchen matches in our kitchen. He brought the box into the living room, put it on the floor near a window, set one match upright in the box, and lit it. The match slowly burned down, and suddenly the entire box exploded in flame. We watched transfixed as the whole box burned down to a pile of ashes. Marvin poured a glass of water on the remains, and we cleaned the mess up as best we could. A large, charred circle, however, remained in the hardwood floor.

I got pretty nervous. Marvin or I, I forget whom, covered the burnt black circle with a piece of white paper. I waited for my mother to come home (my dad was overseas in the Navy). She did, and, though I feared the worse, nothing happened. The paper was partly concealed behind an upholstered chair, and my mom didn’t notice it. Each day I came home from school, anticipating the worst. But nothing ever happened. Weeks and weeks went by. I began to wonder about my mother’s housekeeping habits. Finally I forgot about the paper and the burnt floor myself. Then one day, seven or eight weeks later, I came home and the paper was gone.

My mother was livid. She pulled me over to the corner and demanded an explanation. Fortunately I had prepared this in my mind for some time. It was brief and to the point: “Marvin did it.”

That was the end of Marvin’s welcome in our household. We were still best friends, but he never came to our house again. A short time later I learned that arrangements had been made for me to stay after school each day to help Miss Guimond. I was never told exactly why, but I suspected it had to do with keeping me away from “bad influences”.

Every day at 3 p.m. I cleaned the blackboards and banged the dust out of the erasers and helped Miss Guimond straighten up the room. Then I would work on an art project that Miss Guimond would help me with. She explained that I was going to get to use Poster Paints (which nobody else in the sixth grade would be getting to do). On the one hand, I was sort of excited. But I was also intimidated. Poster paints were simply jars of powder. How can you paint with those? How do you mix them? What if you put too much water in? Etc. I finally decided to do my painting of a caveman and his family. Miss Guimond gave me the largest piece of paper available, about two by three feet, and I proceeded to sketch in the picture in pencil. As days went by and the time approached to do the actual poster painting, I became increasingly nervous. Miss Guimond asked if I were ready. No, I said, I needed more time for sketching. I began to draw little tiny stones on the ground and hundreds of pieces of grass. Then tiny leaves on the trees. Finally I’d managed to stall my way all the way to the end of the school year. I never did start painting my picture with poster paints, though I had sketched it in astonishing detail. Miss Guimond and I had a serious talk about lessons from this experience. Then sixth grade was all over, and I left Washington Grade School forever.



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (6-29-10): I can think of some lessons, but what did your teacher think you should have learned?

-DCL to JM (7-4): Probably several lessons, e.g., Don't avoid tasks just because they are new; Don't let unrealistic anxieties stop you from acting; etc. (These are lessons I'm still working on.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Archive: Menominee Postcards

Dear George,

This posting is a cumulative archive of “Menominee Postcards” that have previously appeared in the righthand column of this blog. These, of course, are vintage portraits of my home town, and they contain a lot of personal associations. I’ve changed Menominee postcard images on the blog every week since July 2009, and, because these rotating photos aren’t saved on the blog itself, I’ve decided to store old ones here for new viewers’ potential interest. A first installment is included here. Menominee is a town of about 9-10,000 located on the Michigan-Wisconsin border at the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula (and across the Menominee River from its twin city, Marinette, WI). I’ll do a similar archive for “Marinette Postcards” at a later date. Menominee is the county seat and the fourth largest town in the U.P. In its boomtown days Menominee produced more lumber than any other town or city in the U.S. It gets its name, which translates as “Wild Rice”, from the Menominee Indian tribe who once inhabited the area. As you’ll see, it’s a photogenic place.

Tourist Lodge

Menominee is located at the Michigan-Wisconsin border, and Highway 41 is the major thoroughfare for travelers heading north into the U.P. from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. The tourist lodge is located on Ogden (now 10th) Avenue at the foot of Highway 41 as one crosses the Interstate Bridge from Marinette. It’s operated by the State of Michigan and offers brochures and maps for everything in the U.P. It’s made of white pine logs and was one of the first two tourist info centers built in the United States. It burned down in the 1960s, and the state rebuilt a new version identical to the original. Until 1946 our family lived on Ogden Ave., one block west of the tourist lodge. The steep hill there offered the best sledding in the Twin Cities, and our parents would bring Sally F. and myself there as little 4- and 5-year-olds.

Aerial View, Downtown Menominee

Sheridan Road is the main street which cuts through the center of the picture paralleling the bay. The importance of Green Bay to Menominee’s location is evident in the photo. The marina park at the center is the major swimming beach and teenage gathering place in the city. The breakwater provided a sheltered harbor for boats, and if taken today the photo would be completely filled with sailboats and power boats. The three-story white building at center-left is the Montgomery Ward Building and housed the town’s department store, the Lloyd Theater, and a knitting mill. My grandfather’s drugstore is a half-block to the north on Sheridan Road, facing the end of the breakwater, and my grade school was just behind the M. Ward Building to the left. The large building at the lower center-left is the former Menominee Opera House, which was converted to the Menominee Movie Theater in my childhood. We lived for a while during the war in an apartment one block north and one block east of this building. Our family also lived on Sheridan Road for several years, about seven blocks north of the Ward Building. This photo captures the major turf of my early childhood and the site of many memories, good, bad, and in between.

Green Bay Shore

Green Bay extends 118 miles northward from the city of Green Bay along the edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the seventeenth century, the French named it Baie des Puants (“Bay of the Stinkers”), apparently because of the smell of algae in the stagnant water. We never noticed this problem 200 years later and swam all summer long in multiple sites along the Menominee shore, including this one. Many of our friends had cottages or homes there: the O’Haras, Jacobsens, Caleys, Mars, Sargents, Sawyers and others. Green Bay was Menominee’s most important geographical feature, and much of local life, onshore and off, was influenced by the bay’s presence. This huge body of water off Lake Michigan was cool and fairly placid. The present photo is about as high as the waves got, and, as teens, we would quickly take the opportunity to brave the surf as a storm approached.

Electric Square (Ogden Ave. & Main St.)

The intersection of Ogden Ave. and Main St. (subsequently Sheridan Rd.) is the heart of Menominee's downtown. It was named Electric Square when the first electric lights were installed. My grandfather's Menominee Drug, where I worked occasionally as a teenager, is to the left, and my father built an annex onto this building in the 1950's to house his and Dick Sawyer's law office. Harry Cooney's gas station was just to the left of the drugstore. The First National Bank, which my dad visited daily in his elderly years, is at the center of the picture, and the Carpenter Cook grocery company offices were in the red brick building at the right. Frankie St. Peter and I used to sneak in and ride the elevators up and down in this three-story building. The short road to the left of the bank led to the breakwater, and you can just barely see Green Bay in the background. The trolley cars circled the loop through Menominee and Marinette, though they had been replaced by buses well before my birth.

Interstate Bridge, Menominee & Marinette

Highway 41 travels across the Interstate Bridge which connects Marinette and Menominee, Wisconsin and Michigan, and, in the greater scheme of things, Florida and Canada. The perceived distinction between Menominee and Marinette was huge in our growing up, with Marinette and its citizenry generally being seen as superior but somewhat depraved. In our later childhood, the L** kids and the O’Hara kids would hike from Menominee to downtown Marinette to go to the Saturday afternoon matinee at the movie theater. As teenagers, the bridge was part of the Loop we drove around through Menominee and Marinette, and we were always mindful of the possibility of a police speed trap. In my adolescence I had regular nightmares about dying while crossing local bridges, linked no doubt to the anticipated dangers of life transitions.

Smelt Fishing on the Interstate Bridge

Every spring huge hordes of smelt, little tasty silver fish, made their run from Green Bay into the Menominee River and other rivers and streams in the U.P. and northeastern Wisconsin. Menominee folk would gather at the Interstate and Hattie Street bridges and lower nets or seines from hoisting booms into the water to scoop up the fish. The portion of the catch that was not eaten was recycled into gardens or sent to the Whitey Cat Food canning factory in Gladstone. My parents would bring us to the Hattie St. Bridge to take in the scene, though I don’t remember my mother cooking any smelt at home.

Menominee County Courthouse, Ogden Ave.

The county courthouse is Menominee’s most significant landmark. It’s located on 10th Ave. (formerly Ogden Ave.), roughly a quarter of a mile west of Electric Square and the marina on Green Bay. It’s a handsome building, constructed in 1875 at a cost of $29,680, a hefty sum which reflected the prosperity of the local lumber industry. The county jail is next door. The courthouse had special significance for our family because it was the site of much of our father’s work as a lawyer, judge, and prosecuting attorney. My dad’s personal rule was to never discuss work-related matters at home, so we had only the vaguest picture of what he did there. When I was in grad school I was registered for the draft during the Vietnam War, and I made regular trips to the Courthouse on visits home to check out my status at the Selective Service office on the second floor. They were always reassuring that my student deferment was still in effect, but the Courthouse provoked a lot of anxiety nonetheless.

Spies Public Library

The Spies Public Library was an important part of my childhood and adolescence in Menominee. It was a block away from Washington Grade School, so we students spent a lot of time there. The library ran a summer reading program for kids each year, and Marvin F. and I competed for first prize. Marvin lied to me about the number of books that he'd read, and I was bitter when he walked off with the prize. In junior high I'd hike over during lunch hour with a friend, Eugene B., from MHS and take books out. My dad was a member of the library board and a strong supporter for many years. One of his oil paintings hangs in the library's main circulation room. We still go there to check the basement sale on every visit to Menominee.

First Presbyterian Church

Our family nominally belonged to the Presbyterian Church, but it wasn’t much of a factor in our largely secular lives. We children speculated that we belonged because my dad was an elected public official, and it was politic to be a church member. My brother Peter was best friends with Reverend Buzza’s son, John, which proved to be our most consequential church-family link. Our family attended the Presbyterian Church once a year at Easter, and Steven and I had to be seated on opposite sides of our parents because we fooled around too much. My dad always gave what seemed to us to be an excessive amount, but he explained that he was giving his entire year’s donation in one shot.

Marina Park and Breakwater

Menominee's most important defining feature is its location on the shores of Green Bay, and a series of parks and swimming beaches offer gathering places for the community. The most significant spot is Marina Park in the downtown business district. We lived right across the street from the marina around the end of World War II, and my mom took us to its beach to swim as children. It was even more important in our teenage years when it became one of our primary boy-girl hangouts. The outer section of the breakwater was the main swimming spot.

Lloyd Theater Building

In my childhood the Lloyd building housed the Montgomery Ward department store on the left side, a knitting mill on the right side, and the Lloyd movie theater at the left rear. You could watch the knitting machines through the front window. The Lloyd was one of two movie theaters in Menominee and the showplace for major new pictures. I was scared out of my wits here by The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), shocked and distressed by Jeanne Crain in Leave Her to Heaven (1946), and saw my first movie at night, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). My mother took me to buy clothes at the Montgomery Ward store, though we went to Lauerman’s in Marinette for more serious shopping. This image is from the 1980’s, by which time the cinema had been converted into an antique mall of sorts.

Hattie Street Bridge and M & M Paper Mills

Three bridges across the Menominee River connect Menominee with its sister city, Marinette, WI. The Menekaunee Bridge is on the east side of the towns, bordering Green Bay. Highway 41 crosses over the Interstate Bridge in the middle. The Hattie St. Bridge is in the West End. I would drive daily across the Hattie St. Bridge to my job at the Marinette Drug Store. In my teens and for years afterward my recurrent nightmare involved driving across the Hattie St. bridge, which had collapsed in the middle, and plunging to my death into the racing waters below. Could this have anything to do with fear about life transitions?

M & M Game, Walton Blesch Field

The Menominee and Marinette football game was the oldest interstate public high school football rivalry in the U.S., and, in these small towns where football was king, it was the local equivalent of the Super Bowl. On the preceding Friday all the grade schools in Menominee would take the morning off, and the children would march to the high school for a pep rally. As teenagers, we would be at a fever pitch for weeks on advance, and we were cautioned not to cross the river to the rival community for fear of getting assaulted or getting our tires slashed. Some years back the M&M game was cancelled because the intensity of competition got out of hand, but it’s been recently resumed. Marinette won the game in my senior year of high school, and they lead the series overall, 49-44-7.

That's it for now. I will add some more previous Menominee postcard images to this archive in a month or two.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (6-28): this is great, l love the pictures, this is a real treasure

-Donna D. (6-27): David this is incredible! I can't Imagine knowing that much about a place... You are writing your memoirs aren't you?

-Dave from Menominee (12-31): Hi, I enjoy looking at your postcards of my city, especially the smelting postcard, what memories. I live right down by the Lloyd Theater, your old stomping ground. Just thought I’d write and say thank you for taking the time, Dave, Menominee Michigan

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Four Generations of Dads

Dear George,

Father’s Day had me thinking about my childhood and my dad, missing him, and wishing we could have some time together again. I think I would have more to say and ask about than I did in my younger years. My father used to recount with amusement the story of when he and I flew down to Miami Beach in order to drive my vacationing grandfather back to Menominee. I was about thirteen, my dad in his early 40s, and my grandfather in his 60s. It was a seventeen hundred mile, four or five-day trip, and according to my dad -- aside from checking the map or asking for a rest stop -- we three generations of Swedish males never uttered a word to one another the entire trip. Times have changed, but I wonder how the journey might have gone with my dad, myself, and my son J as a 13-year-old. It might have been different (or it might not).

Here are a couple of early photos of my grandfather, VAL Sr., with his sons. I don’t know much about their early family life. My granddad was a successful, hard-working pharmacist and businessman with four kids. My dad was the oldest. I remember my grandfather as a gentle, softspoken, serious man. My recollection from family oral history is that my grandmother was the more gregarious, outspoken spouse, and she played the primary role in bringing up the children.

V.A.L. Sr. with Vic (circa (1920)

V.A.L. Sr. & Olga L. with twins Kent & Karl (circa 1920)

Vic and Doris loved their four children, but they were from a generation that believed in strict child-rearing, and they seemed (at least to me) to subscribe to the tenet that children should be seen but not heard. Doris was more emotionally expressive and directly involved in child-rearing, while my father played a traditional patriarchal role. You can sense some of that formality and traditionalism in these family images.

Vic with infant son David (1937)

Vic reads to David & Steven (1943)

Vic & Doris with Steve & Dave (circa 1945)

In contrast to my parents’ four-child family, Katja and I had a single child, and that made a big difference in family dynamics. It was the 70’s, gender roles were undergoing transformation, and fathers’ parental involvement had become a byword. We were much more child-centered than my parents and lavished attention on J. Basically we operated as a threesome throughout J’s childhood and I probably regarded my son more as a playmate than an offspring. This probably had mixed consequences, though, according to these photos, it looks like it was mostly fun.

J gets a ride from his dad (1971)

Dave & J watch TV (1972)

Out for a boat ride (circa 1972)

J and K were very eager to start raising a family, and they greeted V’s arrival in the world with complete excitement and commitment. Watching J as a parent, we’re struck not only by his boundless love for their child, but his joy in being a parent. It makes us proud, and one can see the positive effects in V’s secure, happy manner.

J hands V to her Grandma (2009)

J & V at the Butterfly Show (2010)

J & V at Pacifica, CA (2010)

All in all, I have to conclude that fatherhood is o.k. (well, actually, better than o.k.).



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (6-22): :-)

-Gayle C-L (6-22): David. This is. All so Beautiful. I am sorry I couldn't make the wedding. Work is very busy right now the Market is tough.. I miss everyone. I will see u at Chris ' s wedding. Give my love to all

Take care. G

-KKB (6-22): absolutely wonderful! it made me a little weepy. on sunday, V and i got up and made blueberry pancakes and brought them to J in bed. we also sang happy father's day and she gave him a card. while we were eating in bed, i reminded V she had picked the blueberries herself (with some help). I said "what kind of pancakes are these, sweetie?"

she thought for a minute and said "Happy Daddy Cakes!" i have a feeling we will always call blueberry pancakes "happy daddy cakes"....

love, K

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Redwood Wedding: Can Life Be Better Than This?

Katja and I at the Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk

Dear George,

We are recently back from Abra and Michael’s wedding in Santa Cruz. What a whirlwind! On Thursday we spent our first night in El Granada with our daughter-in-law K’s mom (Linda) and older sister (Jayme), plus Jayme’s kids Ben and Theo. Our son J and granddaughter V were already there. Then we drove down to Santa Cruz for three days of wedding events with my dear sister Vicki and our extended family. Abra. of course, is the youngest of three Levenson children and the final sibling to marry. From Santa Cruz we traveled up to Dixon to stay with Katja’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Susan, and their daughter Mandy. So we had three separate family mini-vacations. I’m putting some photos on Flickr which document our trip, but here are the highlights.

The ocean shore at Rockaway Beach, Pacifica

We flew into San Francisco, then drove down Highway 1, stopping for lunch at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica. This is the shoreline from the restaurant parking lot. Our whole trip along the coast was dominated by the ocean. For us landlocked Midwesterners, the Pacific is an awesome, virtually unbelievable presence -- a source of beauty and limitless adventures.

Katja, David, V, Linda, Theo, and Ben

Linda and Jayme share a large, attractive house on a hillside in El Granada overlooking the Pacific. It’s the first time we’ve visited them, and it was a happy reunion. Jayme’s kids are beautiful and bright – golden curly locks, quick wits, and an abundance of positive energy. We took in Ben’s graduation ceremony at his school, and Linda made a delicious spaghetti dinner. V, though still a pint-sized toddler, had clearly become close pals with her older cousins, and when we left she cried out, “Ben, Ben…”.

The Terrace Court Motel, Santa Cruz

We stayed in Santa Cruz at the Terrace Court Motel on Beach Street at the ocean’s edge, right near the end of the Santa Cruz wharf and a half block down from the famous Boardwalk. We loved being at the Terrace Court. It had a nostalgic 1950’s feel about it and was right at the center of Santa Cruz’s resort activity – sunbathers, swimmers, muscle men, beach volleyball players, fishermen, gift and snack shops, and all the rest.

K and V look over the sea lions at the Santa Cruz wharf

On Saturday we walked out on the wharf and checked out a platform which was the waterside gathering place for a couple of dozen sea lions. They put on an amazing show. There were babies, female cows, and dominant males, all piled on top of one another. The babies snuggled with their moms, while the males competed for space, barking at the top of their voices, snapping their jaws, and pushing one another off into the water. It was the equivalent of a 3-ring circus, and we watched for a long time. Looking at the warring males, V exclaimed to her parents, “Fight, fight!”

A grad school friend reads her toast to Abra & Michael

Michael and Abra both grew up in Santa Cruz and became high school sweethearts years ago. We were invited to the rehearsal dinner at Michael’s father Lance’s house, on the outskirts of the city in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains. We met some of Abra and Michael’s friends who had traveled across the country from Princeton NJ for the occasion and chummed around with our various family members, including a lot of babies and little kids – the next generation. The many toasts to the engaged couple were funny and profound. Lance used his harmonica to convey his sentiments to his son and new daughter-in-law.

At the Skyview Flea Market, Santa Cruz

Early Saturday morning J and I went to the Skyview Flea Market at an old drive-in movie site. I’ve never missed the flea when visiting Santa Cruz since it’s far superior to anything Cincinnati offers (given a prevalence of hippy-era folks disposing of various esoteric goods). I didn’t find as much paper ephemera as usual, but just being there on a sunny morning had a good feeling about it.

Reception: K, V, Abra, Michael, friend

Abra and Michael’s wedding was at a redwood grove in the small mountain town of Felton about 8 or 9 miles outside of Santa Cruz. There were perhaps a hundred guests clustered around a circle of redwood trees. The ceremony was brief, but that was helpful since both the bride and groom were so emotional that they could barely get their vows out. Then people moved next door for an elegant buffet dinner and hours of socializing, dancing, and enjoyment. Vicki was filled with joy. I was reminded once again of how special weddings are: reconnecting, love, youth, commitment, dancing, families merging, and general merriment. Everybody felt deep affection for Abra and Michael.

K and V in the 54 degree ocean surf

Early Sunday morning J and K, along with Katja and I, took V out on the beach near the boardwalk. It was a vivid reminder of how joyous childhood can be. V was enthralled with the beach and the ocean. She ran around on the sand, whirling about in circles, then darting into the water, eventually sitting down and splashing it about. Then back onto the beach, grabbing fistfuls of wet sand to toss about, even eating a couple of mouthfuls. We all got caught up in the frolic.

Katja, J, K, and Linda

Vicki prepared a big brunch for the wedding guests on Sunday morning, and we were happy to be with everybody for a last get-together before our departure. We hung out with Judy and Steve, Vicki’s sister- and brother-in-law; Keith and Linda, old family friends; and, of course, J and K and our own family members. We love Vicki’s and George’s family and were happy to be with them on this joyous occasion.

David and Katja at the pool

On Sunday afternoon we made the three-hour trip up to David and Susan’s home in Dixon, just south of Sacramento. Katja hadn’t seen her brother and sister-in-law for several years, so it was another pleasurable reunion. David and Susan have a wonderful home (having moved years ago from just about the smallest house in San Francisco to the largest house in Dixon). Their college student daughter Mandy joined us, and, since we’d last seen her, she’d grown up to be a lovely young woman. We enjoyed martinis at the poolside and Susan’s delicious meals. David took us on a tour of the nearby college town of Davis which reminded us of Ann Arbor (if you toss in palm trees and a lot of flowers). Monday morning it was time to depart. We got on the airplane, promptly fell sleep, and had pleasant dreams all the way home.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (6-20): wonderful memories, must have been somewhat bittersweet without george. i would love to look at pics on flicker but i think i would need a password. thanks for staying over, it was nice to be together with our grandchild, who is amazing. when she came back here she wanted to get into the wrestling with the boys, fight fight she would cry out and then go and try to steal my lipstick. love linda

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dr. Swanson's Exciting Seminar (or: How I Lost My Wedding Ring)

           LSA (Lit, Science & Arts) Building, University of Michigan

Dear George,

My favorite professor in grad school was Guy Swanson.  He was the head of the Soc Department at Michigan and taught a core seminar in our social psychology program.  Swanson was extremely well-read, articulate to the point of being flowery, and readily able to span the gamut from macro-societal phenomena to the intricacies of everyday social interaction.  I wrote down everything he said in class and emulated his style of thinking as much as I could. 


Curiously my most memorable experiences in Dr. Swanson’s seminar didn’t have to do with academic content, but with other classroom happenings.  One of these occurred in late November 1963.  Swanson had just started discussing distinctions between Georg Simmel and Charles Horton Cooley when one of my classmates, Rich J., came into the room and announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.  The class was stunned.  Dr. Swanson commented on what a terrible tragedy this was, paused for a few seconds, then analyzed the remarkable capacity of social institutions to maintain equilibrium in the face of catastrophe, and finally returned to his comparison of Simmel and Cooley.  The students just sat there in silence.  Finally Dave B., one of the more mature members of my cohort, politely expressed to Dr. Swanson that he didn’t think that class members were able to go on.  Reluctantly, Swanson conceded.  I ran to a pay phone and called Katja who was working at her part-time sales job at Faber’s Fabrics.  Katja had already gotten the news and she was crying uncontrollably over the phone.  We didn’t recover for a long time.


A few weeks later Dr. Swanson had moved on to Talcott Parsons and the critique of structural functionalism.  The room was stuffy, and because I was seated at the end of the table, he asked me to open the window.  I did so, but after a while it got too chilly, and he asked me to close it.  The window didn’t come down easily, so I stood up on the windowsill and applied more force.  As the window started coming down I jumped off the sill.  My wedding ring, however, got caught on the window latch, and, as my body dropped to the floor, my hand stayed caught on the latch.  The ring stripped away a big chunk of flesh from my finger, and only then did my hand come free.  Blood started pouring out all over my clothes and the floor.  Swanson sent a class member to the department office to notify his secretary to call for medical help.  The secretary did so and came back to the classroom with a vial of smelling salts which they kept in the department office for just such occasions.  I was in a state of shock.  The main thing running through my mind was that, since I would no longer be able to type with my left hand, my scholarly career was all but over.  Soon the ambulance arrived, and the paramedics carted me off to the emergency room at the U. of M. Medical Center.


The medics stopped my finger from bleeding.  Then the task was to get my wedding ring off so they could patch up the injury.  Because there was a lot of stripped off flesh in front of the ring, they couldn’t pull the ring off my finger.  One of the residents started using a small metal file to cut through the ring.  Thirty minutes later he hadn’t even made a dent.  After some brainstorming, the staff transported me to dental surgery.  There a doctor cut through my ring in no time at all with a diamond drill, bent the ring open, and pulled it off.  I was taken in a wheelchair back to the emergency room, where they sewed me up.  Thankfully the tear, though it nearly circled my finger, was a flesh wound, and none of the muscles had been severed.  The doctor told me that they dealt with this sort of injury nearly every day, nearly always with men who’d been wearing their wedding rings while doing manual labor.  I was their first case from a classroom seminar.


I took my severed wedding ring home, and Katja said she would buy me a new one.  I just shook my head.  I explained to Katja what the doctor said and that I wasn’t going to be wearing a wedding ring or any other sort of ring ever again.  She was disappointed about that, but I think she eventually came to terms with it.  I still have the scar which encircles my ring finger.  Just looking at it is unpleasant.  Swanson, though, remains my favorite professor.




Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Twenty Months Old: What Was That Like?

Dear George,

It’s been years since Katja and I have spent much time around kids, and our granddaughter V is a vivid reminder of what a miracle the process of development is.  It’s almost inconceivable how tiny infants -- pretty much confined to gurgling, crying, sneezing, kicking their legs, etc. -- become transformed into a full-fledged human being who can do somersaults on a trampoline, master an IPod, and solve algebraic equations.  At 20 months, V is somewhere in the middle, caught up in the crucial transition from babyhood into kidhood.  She understands an impressive amount of adult talk, picks up new words left and right, and is getting increasingly sophisticated in her verbalizations.  It’s hard to even imagine what the world looks like from her perspective.  Here are some photos from V and J’s recent visit to Cincinnati which give us at least a few glimpses.

V has gotten a lot more mobile than when we last saw her in New Orleans, and it has opened up a much expanded physical world to her.  Here she is running down the street with Calvin.  She’s starting to keep up with the big kids.

Running is exciting, but it won’t be long before V can maneuver this scooter on her own.

We had a lot of toys available in the house, but nothing was more fun than playing peek-a-boo with the adults while hiding inside the big box.

The bird bath too held endless fascination.

And digging up the buried sandal that Eleanor had hidden in the mulch was the most exciting.

V was busy testing her mastery of the world.  While she gets a little steering help from her dad, she is definitely strong enough carry the big log.

It also seemed desirable to carry the heavy jug of windshield washer fluid back onto the porch. 

Even going for a walk in the neighborhood is more challenging if you can lug along the Sunday newspapers.

Well, V, that’s 160 pounds of sheepdogs that you have by the leash.  Are you sure you’re ready for this next step?

At 20 months, the people world is at least equally important.  Adult strangers, of course, are totally absorbed with and attentive to the darling baby.  Here’s dad and kid at Katja’s workplace.  V, friendly and secure in herself, responded to an endless parade of admirers.

All in all, though, V was happiest being with her own dad.



G-Mail Comments

-Kiersta KB (6-9): dave, you made my day! see you this weekend in california!

love, kiersta

Monday, June 7, 2010

Spring Grove: Where Dead People Live

Dear George,

I saw my first dead person when I was in the third grade.  It was our Ogden Avenue crossing guard at Washington Grade School.  His name might have been Scotty, though I’m no longer sure.  He was an elderly man with thinning white hair, spectacles, a round face, and a jolly demeanor.  We learned that he’d died of a heart attack and was laid out in the funeral home down the street.  School children were allowed to visit and say goodbye.  I did so one lunch hour, though with trepidation and only because of pressure from my peers.  It was a memorable experience -- the image of Scotty’s corpse remains imprinted in my brain even today.

The concept of death was virtually impossible to digest as a child.  After worrying about it for five or six years, I managed to put it out of my mind altogether.  It became more immediate when my mother died in 1986, then again with my father in 1993.  When I turned 60, death was starting to take on a personal connotation.  By age 70 I started catching glimpses of a black-robed figure prowling around outside our windows with his scythe.  I don’t know yet what 80 will be like, but I intend to be around to find out.

All of this came to mind when I took a walking tour of Spring Grove Cemetery the other day.  We learned about Spring Grove when we moved to Cincinnati, and we’ve been there many times.  It’s a tourist highlight in the city and has been around for a long long time.  The first burial occurred in 1845.  In 1855 the founders hired Adolph Strauch, a prominent landscape architect, to design the grounds, and it’s his vision of a “garden cemetery” made up of lakes, trees, and flowering shrubs that remains 155 years later.  Strauch also designed two of my other favorite local places, Burnet Woods and Eden Park.  In addition to its many elegant tombs and memorials, Spring Grove has a famous collection of native and exotic trees.  Some of its well-known inhabitants include Supreme Court Justice Salmon Chase, Alphonse and Louise Taft (William Howard’s parents), soap entrepreneurs William Procter and James Gamble, grocer Bernard Kroger, Civil War general Joseph Hooker, and Quaker abolitionist Levi Coffin.  

J took a course on cemeteries during his junior year at Columbia, and his ears perked up when the professor, an international expert, identified Spring Grove as one of his favorite cemeteries in the world.  The next time J came home, we went over and he took a lot of photographs of angels’ heads on the tombs.

My dad came down with dementia in his 80s and moved to Cincinnati.  I took him on a visit to Spring Grove on one of our outings, and he was fascinated.  Rather than identifying it as a cemetery, he decided it was a sculpture garden (which it is), and he reveled in the many works of fine art. 

Katja’s parents, Helen and Buck, moved to Cincinnati in the 1990’s as well.  They had purchased cemetery plots in Philadelphia, but they decided that being near to their oldest child was preferable.  Katja went with Helen to Spring Grove to look the place over; then we all went to inspect a mausoleum.  Helen explained that the salesperson had offered a discount if we wanted to purchase four crypts together.  I asked Katja privately what the arrangement would be, and she said we would be toe to toe.  I was uncomfortable about being toe-to-toe with my father-in-law, but the prospect of being inches away from my mother-in-law for all eternity was unacceptable.  Katja politely declined the offer, and Helen and Buck settled for a joint plot on a hillside overlooking a lake.  Helen wasn’t completely enthusiastic because their spot overlooked a large white cross on the lakeshore below, and, as Jews, she wasn’t sure that they wanted to be located right in front of a cross.  Katja, though, pragmatic as she is, said it was just one cross, and it probably wouldn’t matter that much in the long run.

Buck passed away first in 1995, and Helen remained in mourning for the rest of her life.  They had a single tombstone with both of their names and an image of their wedding ring on it. On our visits to the gravesite, Helen always looked at their two names together and seemed eager to join her husband.  She too passed away in 2001, and since then Katja has had little mental  conversations with the two of them when we go to visit.

Though Spring Grove has a certain curiosity value, I’m not ready to commit to it.  Among other things, Katja and I are on different pages regarding our death wishes.  My dad decided that the funeral business exploited family members’ grief, and he firmly advocated cremation, eliminating the need for coffins, cemetery plots, elaborate funerals, etc.  His children adopted his beliefs.  Katja, however, finds that option unthinkable and plans to be embalmed in order to remain physically intact forevermore.  This seems like one of those conflicts that will only get resolved after one person dies.  So we don’t bother talking about it any more.  But we do go over and walk around Spring Grove from time to time.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (6-8): loved this, my grief group has had many discussions about this, gift the body or cremains for me. beautiful place tho

-Donna D (6-7):  Fantastic.  We all die, right?