Sunday, June 26, 2011

Facebook Dithers*

Dear George,

I’ve been friends with Melodie Petrocelli for close to a year. It began when she invited me to join her social network on Facebook. I’d never heard of Melodie before and still don’t know how she found me, though we do have a mutual friend in June M. I said o.k., and then I heard from Melodie on Facebook every day for ten straight months, sometimes two or more times a day. In fact, she’s been a more frequent communicator to me than my wife, my sister, and all of my other Facebook friends put together. Melodie’s usually excited about something happening in the local music world. She also writes about chocolate, peonies, and her cats. I’ve never commented about one of her posts nor responded that I “liked” them, but I have read each one faithfully. Then one day, for reasons that are hard to pinpoint, I decided to pare down my Facebook links and I “unfriended” Melodie. Just like that. Even though she was my most reliable message-sender, I didn’t miss her for very long. In fact, in a couple of days, I forgot about her altogether. That was about a five weeks ago. Then last week I got a new e-mail request from Melodie to become Facebook friends once again. I don’t know if she was hurt because I had unfriended her or whether my name had simply cropped up again in some kind of automatic surfing operation. I did notice that Melodie currently has 3,812 Facebook friends. That made me uncertain if I’d get any personal attention from her. I put her invitation on hold. I hope I’m not making her feel unwanted.

Even though I check it daily, I don’t really have the hang of Facebook. I don’t have that many Facebook friends -- about a tenth of the numbers that my son and daughter-in-law have. Plus mine is such a motley group. I’m Facebook friends with numerous family members and several real life friends, but also with casual work acquaintances, associates from thirty years ago or more, and some people I barely know at all. Yesterday I made a detailed list of all my actual real-life friends I could think of from age 13 to the present. Less than five percent of my past and present friends on that list are in my Facebook group. On the other hand, nearly half of my Facebook friends didn’t show up on my list of real friends at all. Thus if I post a message on Facebook, it’s addressed to a mysterious group that’s such a mix that it’s hard to know who will get it or what I might say.

My other problem with Facebook is that I rarely hear from most of the people that I’m closest to. My sister and my sister-in-law would be good examples. With some notable exceptions, it seems generally true that the better I know someone and the closer I feel to them, the more likely that I never hear from them on Facebook. At first I found this puzzling. Then I decided that it’s because (a) I’m probably connected to non-techy and/or introverted people; and (b) my distant ties on Facebook are persons who recruit huge numbers of acquaintances and send out large volumes of messages.

One thing that’s happened over time is that I’ve added links to various organizations out there in the world from whom I regularly get interesting inputs. The best example is my hometown newspaper, the Marinette-Menominee Eagle-Herald, which posts a headline news story every day and provides a link to their front page and photo galleries. I also get stuff from the Green Bay Packers, the Cincinnati Zoo, our local art museums, NPR, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Antioch College, the Daily Show, the Bengals, Sociological Images, the NY Times, David Sedaris, the Huffington Post, and several other sources. It’s a little unsettling, but I’m forced to conclude that many of my best friends are corporations.

Last weekend Katja and I went to a concert with our friend June. At one point June called us over and said, “Oh, I want you so much to meet my good friend, Melodie Petrocelli.” Katja said, “How nice. My husband has been Facebook friends with you for a long time.” Melodie and I looked blankly at one another, neither of us showing any hint of recognition. It was sort of awkward. I worried that she might say something about my unfriending her, but she didn’t even seem aware of my disappearance. Despite a year’s worth of Facebook messages (admittedly all one-way from Melodie), we didn’t have anything else to say. Instead Melodie turned to Katja and said, “I hope you’re my Facebook friend too.” Katja said, “Oh no, I don’t do the computer.” Melodie just said “Oh”, then moved on to find somebody more in the mainstream.



*Pseudonyms used in this story.

G-Mail Comments

-Phyllis SS (7-15): Dave, I think you are the Jane Austin (commenting on society and people) of Cincinnati. I am left wondering what Melodie looked like? Phyllis

-Gayle C (6-26): David. U r so right about face book. I am just a vey private person. I rather respond via e mail. But face book is great for getting messages out for work and of course for keeping in touch w everyone in the entire world. :). My goal in the. Near future is to frequent face book much more than I do now

Much love to you all

:) G

-Donna D (6-26): funny. is that last paragraph made up? donna

-DCL to Donna (6-26): Nope, it’s entirely true (except “last weekend” refers to when I initially wrote the story). You, of course, were one of the close friends or family members who I rarely hear from on Facebook.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Going for Baroque

Dear George,

Katja and I have been going to lots of classical music events lately – the symphony, the chamber music series, University opera, etc. I usually find it pleasant and relaxing, but it permeates the very core of Katja’s being. She grew up going to see the Philadelphia Orchestra with her parents and has a sophisticated understanding of classical music. I’m pretty lowbrow by comparison. Growing up in the North Woods, I was mostly exposed to polka music and 1950’s pop hits, supplemented by my parents’ addiction to Louis Armstrong and Dixieland jazz. I still enjoy Louis and Benny Goodman more than Mahler or Mozart, but we go to hear classical music more than anything else. It might be because Katja is the one who buys tickets for things.

Recently our friends June and Ed invited us to a Baroque music concert at a church in Northside. Two musicians played sort of primitive 17th century instruments while a tenor sang in Italian. Everybody clapped excitedly at the end. I’m sure it was of high interest to the music historian, but it sounded sort of clinky and clanky to me. Though there was a reception at the organizer’s home afterwards, I begged Katja to skip it, and we got home early.

I thought that would take care of my culture quota for a while, but then Katja said that there would be a film sponsored by the very same Baroque people at the Art Museum on Thursday evening. The blurb for the film promised the integration of Baroque music with Caravaggio’s paintings. That struck more of a chord with me. I had enough vague familiarity with Caravaggio to know that I’d enjoy his paintings, and having them set to the background of music from the same era sounded promising. We met Ed and June at the museum, along with an intellectual-looking, mostly gray-haired crowd of 50 or so. It was the North American premiere of an Italian film which was titled Voluptas Dolendi: I Gesti del Caravaggio. That should have given me a clue, though I mistakenly thought the film would be about a voluptuous Dolendi. It did feature a fifty-something black-haired dancer in a sort of sack-cloth outfit who flitted back and forth on a dimly lit stage, accompanied by a harpist offscreen playing Baroque music. Every now and then the dancer would stop and give a short speech in Italian, translated by English subtitles which still didn’t make any sense to me. Plus I didn’t see any Caravaggio paintings at all. I started dozing off. The film went on for a remarkably long sixty minutes, all of it consisting of the back-and-forth between the dancer dancing and the dancer talking in Italian while the harpist harped away.

At the end everyone clapped enthusiastically, and I did too. Then the emcee said they were going to have a panel discussion. She invited two other panelists to the stage, one a curator from the art museum and the second a local Baroque harpist. The panelists didn’t seem to have anything to say at the outset, so they just started off by taking questions. The sound system was poor, and I probably grasped about thirty percent of what was said. I wanted to sneak out, but we were locked into our second-row seats. One audience member asked the art curator what the film had to do with Caravaggio’s paintings, and he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know. The harpist had brought her new baroque harp up on the stage, so people started asking questions about it. After a short while nobody ever mentioned the film or Caravaggio again and all the talk was about the new harp, e.g., where it was made, when, etc. As we were walking out I told Katja that perhaps I’d dozed off too much, but I never saw any paintings by Caravaggio. She said there weren’t any paintings. She said that the dancer was doing a choreographic interpretation of the paintings. The filmmakers took for granted that the audience would be visualizing Caravaggio’s paintings while she interpreted them through her dance. After a short pause I said that this was the worst event that I had ever been to in my life. Then I said in a grim voice that from now on I was going to pick all the events for us to attend. Then I said it was the last time I would ever come to any more Baroque events. I said that twice. Katja said she enjoyed the film somewhat, but that she wouldn’t care to see it again. We didn’t say anything else all the way home.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (6-23): My brother! I'm so proud of you for being such a good sport…. You're a generous soul .... and get to have all sorts of experiences to boot. Good for you. (And for Katja). Love, Sis

-Ann B (6-22): I finally got on your blog today and had great fun looking at the pictures and reading your entries. If you had your fill of classical music you could have come up here and enjoyed the Porterfield Country Festival. Have you ever gone to a Drum and Bugle Corp show. Try goggle DCI. John and I really enjoy catching some of the top corps at the end of the summer. Their shows are amazing…. Take care, Ann

-JML (6-21): Indeed that sounds like an awful night. Nothing worse than having to pretend to be interested. Rule of thumb: never sit in the second row when you know it's going to be boring.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Archive: Menominee Postcards #3

Electric Square, Menominee, Michigan

Dear George,

This posting is the third of three archives of “Menominee Postcards” that have previously appeared in the righthand column of this blog. I’ve changed the Menominee postcard images once a week since July 2009, and, because they aren’t otherwise stored on the blog, I’ve decided to save old ones here for a new viewer’s potential interest. To access Menominee Postcard archives #1 and #2, one should go to the list of “Labels” in the blog’s righthand column and click on “Archives”. There is also an archive of “Marinette Postcards” there (Menominee’s twin city across the river in Wisconsin), as well as an archive of our father’s family photos taken mainly in the Menominee area from the mid-1930’s to the 1950’s (“Vic’s Photos”). I’ll be adding further archives of each of these topics in the future.




Cherney’s was before my time, but Menominee and Marinette were definitely ice cream centers in the 1940’s and 50’s. The Ideal Dairy, whose ice cream cones cost two dips for a nickel, was on Highway 577 on our way home to our family’s house on the Menominee River, and the Producer’s Dairy was a few blocks up Sheridan Road from my grade school. When I worked at the Marinette drugstore I was in charge of making ice cream cones at the soda fountain for the neighborhood kids, and I’d make them for myself as well. My most thrilling childhood memory was when our father would take my siblings and I to the Menominee drugstore after hours and let us create and eat whatever sort of sundaes we wanted. A fantasy dream come true.


The white building with the tall columns is the Commercial Bank, one of two bank in downtown Menominee and our family bank when I was growing up. I had a savings account there as a grade schooler and bought Xmas club stamps at school each week for a nickel or dime which were then saved in the bank. Later I deposited portions of my drugstore salary checks at the Commercial Bank and accumulated $600 by the time I went off to college. I never learned to be much of a money manager, though the Commercial Bank tried to do its best for its children customers.


This is the office of the Northwestern Farmer, a newspaper publication based in Menominee. Past issues are currently available on microfilm from Michigan Tech for 1907-8. The photo is of interest because my dad was born in the twin cities in 1908, and it’s likely that my grandparents, as local business people, would have been aware of the firm and the publication. It looks like really old times in Menominee.


Henes Park was (and is) a community treasure. It’s located on the Green Bay shore, just off M-35, and offers a bathing beach, picnic areas, and its own mini-zoo. The deer pen has deer and buffalo co-existing, and we were always amazed as children that buffalo, which we associated with the Wild West, actually lived in Menominee.


When we moved to Cincinnati, we found the winters unimpressive. Moderate temperatures, occasional snowfalls that quickly turned grey and speckled from air pollution, and sidewalks covered in slush. Upper Michigan and Wisconsin had much more real winters. While the ice floes in this postcard image were undoubtedly at their peak, the Green Bay shore would become lined with miniature mountains of ice each winter, and we children would climb around on them like arctic adventurers.


I have lots of rich memories of Menominee High because of friends, classes, teachers, activities, sports, and silly happenings. I was pretty much a good student, participated in the class plays, won a letter on the varsity tennis team, and was on various student councils and similar bodies. When I went off to Antioch College, my classmates were from much larger and more sophisticated schools in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. But, despite my being the only Antioch student in history from the U.P., MHS had prepared me well enough that I survived my freshman year and beyond.


This is one of the parks on Sheridan Road just north of downtown Menominee. It’s on the Green Bay shore. Uncle Kent, Aunt Millie, and my cousins lived across the street from Victory Beach, and I’d pass by it each day on the way to school. Despite its name, Victory didn’t have a swimming beach, so we didn’t hang out there.

PAPER MILL By the time I was born the logging boom in the Menominee-Marinette area had been long gone, but paper production remained one of the towns’ main industries. One of the paper mills was right next to the Hattie Street bridge over the Menominee River, and I would ride my bike past it each day on my way to work at the Marinette drugstore.

SHERIDAN ROAD Sheridan Road, pictured here, is one of the two major streets in Menominee, running along the Green Bay Shore from the Menekaunee Bridge to the northern side of town at the opposite end. Our family lived on Sheridan road while I was in grade school, first in a house toward the north end of the street, then in a second-floor apartment downtown during the war. Some of my friends who lived on this street included Jimmy Jorgenson, Sally Henes, Marvin Forton, Sammy Wells, Hal Rosene, Wally Jones, Peter and Dinah Johnson, and my cousins, Thor, Kurt, and Stewart. Important places on Sheridan Road included the Producers’ Dairy, the Silver Cream Brewery, our family physician Dr. Sethney, my dad’s law office, my grandfather’s Menominee Drug Store, the town’s two banks, the Montgomery Ward department store, the police department, Van’s Bar, the GI Surplus Store, our dentist Dr. Mead, the Five and Dime, the Spies Public Library, the Lloyd Movie Theater, Reindl’s Restaurant, the Marathon Paper Mill, the Carpenter Cook building and docks, a gas station, the Marina and Bandshell, the Vogue women’s clothing store, and a bunch of other shops. This was clearly the main drag in Menominee.


The Fernstrum Boiler Works was down toward the west end of Ogden Avenue, about halfway between my friend Sally Fernstrum’s and our family’s two-story house and Boswell Grade School. Sally and I attended kindergarten at Boswell. On our half-mile winter walks to school, Sally and I would stop each morning at the Boiler Works where we warmed our hands and feet at the potbelly stove in the office and replenished ourselves for the second half of our harsh and challenging kid journey.


My grandfather founded drug stores in Marinette and Menominee. When he retired he gave the Menominee store to my Uncle Kent who was also a pharmacist. The drug store was a half block away from Washington Grade School, so I spent a lot of lunch hour and after school time there, catching up on all the newly published comic books for the week. Kent’s fellow pharmacist Lucien always told me to enjoy my current childhood age because it only gets worse as you grow older. Lucien’s advice made a big impression on me, though I’m still not convinced he was right.


This is downtown Menominee, with the breakwater extending out into Green Bay and the picture centered on Electric Square, the hub of the business district. VAL Sr.’s drugstore was in the building in the foreground, and the First National Bank is just behind it. The Carpenter Cook (grocery distributor) Building is at the front right. We lived up the street (to the left) on Sheridan Road for several years during my childhood, and my daily walks to and from Washington Grade School took me through this intersection for what now seems like thousands of times.


The bandshell is in Marina Park opposite the police station on First Street and on the shoreline of the Green Bay marina. My strongest personal association with the bandshell came from adulthood when my dad was one of the people instrumental in establishing a summer music series at the bandshell. When we’d come home for family reunions each August, we’d regularly take in a concert there at the Waterfront Festival.


We spent a lot of time at Henes Park as kids. Located on Green Bay with forested hiking trails, it was Menominee’s best known landmark. The O’Hara’s summer cottage was an eighth of a mile north on M-35, so we’d walk down to the park along the beach. There was a large buffalo and deer pen and, years later, a tiny “zoo” containing a black bear, raccoons, and other local animals in small barred cages. The children’s playground was our favorite spot, with swings, a tall slide and a smaller slide, a teeter-totter, and a merry-go-round type apparatus that you ran around and pushed to get started, then jumped onto. As teens, we picnicked at Henes Park, played softball, and swam at the beach. Years later Katja and I always took J to Henes Park on our family vacations home.


Menominee High School had two buildings, one for junior high and one for senior high. Making the transition from sixth grade at Washington Grade School to junior high was a major life event, e.g., shifting from the top of the pack to the bottom of the pack, a sequential role change which was to be repeated throughout life in various ways. I spent half of each school day in the 7th grade in a “core” class under the tutelage of Mr. Robare who was young, thin, had a crewcut, wore glasses, and had a funny sense of humor. I became good friends with Sally H. and Bob A. in Mr. Robare’s class, and we are still good friends to this day, though our reunions are infrequent.

GRANT SCHOOL There were four public elementary schools in Menominee, as well as a parochial school, St. John’s. Boswell was on the west side of the city, and Sally Fernstrum and I went there for kindergarten. Our family then moved to Sheridan Road, and I attended Washington which was in the southeast quadrant of the city. Roosevelt was south-central, and Grant School served northern Menominee. All of these were feeder schools for Menominee High School, and, when I moved on to seventh grade, I soon developed many of my friendships with kids from Grant School, i.e., Bob A., Sonny K., Bob R., John F, Eugene B., and Bob G. We played touch football on the high school lawn during Autumn lunch hours, then shifted to lunchtime basketball in the winter. By the time this photo was taken, Grant had shut down, as had Washington Grade School (which looked just like Grant), and a big new elementary school had been built by the airport.


Toward the end of World War II my mother, my brother Steven, and I lived in a second-floor apartment just two doors east of the Post Office. Every month or so my mother would send me there to buy some stamps, and it made me feel very grown-up.


This is a view of 10th Avenue (formerly Ogden Ave.) shortly after one comes off the Interstate Bridge and heads east toward downtown Menominee. Ogden Ave. and Sheridan Rd. are the town’s two major streets. This postcard was published in the 1970’s. On the opening day of Taco Bell (pictured at the right) my parents and a group of their 60-something friends had a party there to spoof the fast food chain’s arrival in the wilds of the north. As it happened, my mom became a great fan of Taco Bell salads, and my father would regularly pick up a takeout order for her lunch.

G-Mail Comments

-John Y (6-20): Just stumbled across your blog today. Exceptional. I haven’t read all of the blog yet, but I got a big hoot and a lot of nostalgia from what I’ve read so far. Re the “Aerial View of Downtown Menominee” I think that’s the Spies Building not the Carpenter Cook Warehouse which was down by the Menominee Paper Mill by Dormer Fish Company…. Will write more later after I’ve explored the entire blog. John

-Wayne M (6-20): Hi, Wayne M***, class of 57 here. I just wanted to tell you how great your blog is. Sure brings back some memories of the greatest place in the world to grow up. While reading the information under the photo of the boarded up Grant elementary school I thought I would just recall from my deteriorating memory the following. There were eight elementary schools in Menominee. I noticed this because Lincoln wasn't mentioned. Lincoln and Roosevelt were identical in construction. It was located on the corner of 14th street and 28th avenue. The other two schools were parochial, St. Ann's and Epiphany. I remember this because we had an eight team rotation for grade school football and basketball. What wonderful memories!! I had Mr. Robare for 7th grade core also. The thing I remember about him was the yogi. He would walk up behind a person who was goofing off and with the center knuckle extended, bonk you on the head. Thanks for sharing. Wayne

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wesleyan Cemetery (1842)

Dear George,

I felt like taking photos the other day, so I took a trek to the Wesleyan Cemetery on Colerain Avenue in Northside. While I’ve driven past it a zillion times, it was only recently that I thought about it as a photo site. At first I worried that being interested in cemeteries was some sort of senior citizen morbid aberration. But then I realized that I was fascinated with Menominee’s Riverside Cemetery as a kid, Steven and I regularly opting to ride our bikes through the cemetery on our way home from school. There’s something about being in the midst of thousands of corpses that is eerie, even a little tension-inducing.

The Wesleyan Cemetery is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in Hamilton County. It’s on 24 acres of land purchased by the Methodist Church in 1843 when their other cemeteries had filled up. About 17,000 people are now buried there, including a thousand veterans. While most people think of Spring Grove as Cincinnati’s first cemetery to be created in a park-like style, Wesleyan actually predated it by several years. There are seven veterans of the Revolutionary War buried there, including one who held a rank equivalent to today’s Surgeon General. There’s also a section for Civil War veterans. Wesleyan is Cincinnati’s first racially integrated cemetery, burials of African-Americans and whites dating back to years before the Civil War. It was used back then as a stop on the Underground Railroad, with abolitionists faking funerals so escaping slaves could slip away along the nearby Mill Creek.

Wesleyan Cemetery began going downhill as early as 1912, and by the 1950s there were problems with unmarked and mismarked graves. In 1992 people reported finding unearthed bones in discarded piles of dirt. Most recently the previous cemetery owner, a 62-year-old unordained minister, was found guilty of pocketing the $97,000 endowment meant for the cemetery’s upkeep. When Hamilton County took it over, the grounds were suffering from waist-high grass, debris, and sunken or lost graves. It’s doing much better these days. Here are some photos.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (6-26): Hi David, Remember digging for arrowheads at the cemetery (along the river bank)? I was recently contacted by an archeological group and gave permission for them to dig (and refill) a couple of holes in my bank on the river to see if they thought it might be a site for Indian relics. I get to keep them if they find any! (Just what I need...more relics...). Also, have you seen Greg's many photos of monuments he's designed and are now installed both here and abroad? They're very interesting and quite beautiful, I think. You can see them on Facebook. Wonder if Wesleyan would allow these modern versions of headstones, given it's historical bent. Love, V

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cold War Kids

Steve & Dave, First Day of School (Sept. 1945)

Dear George,

I’d just turned 8 when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events changed our world forever. At the time I was about to enter Miss Hunnefeld’s fourth grade class. Miss Hunnefeld was keenly interested in the military and the war, and she had a well-developed sense of drama (or some might say hysteria). The nation-wide school publication, The Weekly Reader, included regular articles on atomic energy for us children and provided teachers with large multi-colored wall charts filled with unimaginable information. Much of this was scientific material about nuclear energy and its vast potential, but the message that constantly hit home was that humankind now possessed the capacity to destroy itself and all other life on earth. We children had just begun coming to grips with the horrendous concept of death, and contemplating the possibility of the entire population of the world dying at a single moment was very difficult to digest.

The Russians exploded their first atomic bomb in August 1949, just as I was entering seventh grade. There was a lot of talk in Menominee and Marinette about the possibility of the Russians carrying out an atomic bomb attack on the twin cities. The local reasoning seemed to be that the Soo Locks, 150 miles east at the tip of the U.P., would be a prime target of Russian bombers because of their economic importance. Menominee and Marinette, our citizens speculated, looked remarkably similar to the Soo Locks from the air, what with the Menominee River emptying into Green Bay and the shorelines of factories, bridges, and warehouses. Supposedly it would be extremely easy for the Russian bombers to get slightly off course and think we were the Soo. Community anxiety about atomic attack remained at a fever pitch throughout my adolescence.

Whether or not my father and grandfather believed the Soo Locks theory, they did decide that it would be a good idea to build a bomb shelter in the basement of my grandfather’s Marinette drugstore. My grandfather, V.A. Sr., enjoyed carpentry projects of various sorts and took charge of construction. The bomb shelter was in a small closet-sized room along the south wall of the drugstore basement. I forget what kind of materials they used to prevent infiltration by radioactive fallout, but the walls were lined with some sort of insulation. From the picture I have in my memory today, I think it would have been awfully cramped if our family, my grandfather, and my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha’s family all tried to get in there at once. The adults stocked the room with bottles of water, candles, non-perishable food items, and other essentials. We were probably outfitted to stay underground for a week or so, though an atom bomb blast might have required a longer-term stay. We also discussed whether or not to have guns available in the bomb shelter in case strangers from the neighborhood tried to barge in. I think we settled on interior locks on the door and passed on the guns.

Joseph McCarthy was elected to the Senate from Wisconsin in 1947, but he burst to prominence nationally in 1950 with his charges that the U.S. State Department, the Army, Hollywood media, etc., were infested with Communists and Communist sympathizers. While my parents and their circle weren’t fooled by McCarthyism, fear and cold war tensions were rampant in the community and the nation at large. Right-wing organizations sponsored essay contests in our public school system, stocking the school libraries with political tracts about McCarthy (good), Russia (bad), the United Nations (bad), and capitalism (good), and offered appealing financial prizes for the best student essays. I was invited as a finalist to read my patriotic essay to the judges at the V.F.W., but lost out to one of the smartest girls in my class.

I registered for the draft at age 18 and went off to Antioch, which proved to be an eye opener. The Korean War had ended two years earlier, and my student deferment seemed likely to fend off a military career. My freshman history class debated the pros and cons of America’s use of the atomic bomb, which turned out to be a complicated, unresolvable issue. My Marxist roommate, Morris, took me along to meetings of the Socialist Discussion Group and defended a benign view of Soviet Communism that only slightly allayed my fears of a nuclear holocaust.

When I took a coop job in New York City in 1957, the possibility of atomic attack was always at the back of people’s minds in city, which was, in fact, a much more prime target than Menominee. I vividly remember attending the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Madison Square Garden one weekend afternoon. Suddenly the entire interior of the arena went black, search lights began circling and flashing on and off, and sirens wailed at full blast. I nearly collapsed from anxiety, fully convinced that the city was under nuclear attack. Then a bevy of cars filled with clowns came charging out, tooting their horns, and the frightened audience breathed a sigh of relief.

Newly married, Katja and I moved to Ann Arbor for grad school in 1960, and the Vietnam War began escalating shortly thereafter. There were lots of calls to nuke the North Vietnamese, but the U.S. stuck to conventional warfare. I still had my student deferment, but the draft was a horrendous possibility for my cohort, and I visited the local draft board for reassurance every time I visited home. On Oct. 22, 1962, President Kennedy delivered a TV address to the nation and the world, announcing that the Soviet Union had built nuclear missile bases in Cuba and was in the process of delivering nuclear warheads by sea. U.S. naval ships were blockading Cuba. Khruschev responded that the blockade was “an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war.” A military confrontation seemed inevitable. Katja left work, and we met on the “Diag” on Michigan’s campus. With industrial center Detroit a mere 40 miles away, Ann Arbor seemed a probable candidate for radioactive fallout. Katja and I thought about leaving immediately for my folks’ home in Menominee, a 400-mile trip. However, I remembered all the Soo Lock fears and had the terrible feeling that no place was safe. We hunkered down in our Packard St. apartment, and fortunately the crisis passed, though historians today agree that the world actually was on the brink.

If anything, the potential for nuclear disaster seems to have increased in recent decades. Not only has there been the recent nuclear catastrophe in Japan, but potential rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea possess nuclear weapons, and the possibility of terrorists setting off dirty nuclear bombs in America cities is a frequent subject of mass media fiction and/or speculation. However, the world has survived for over 65 years of the nuclear age, and I think we’ve become desensitized over time. There are a lot of bad things to worry about, e.g., economic collapse, swine flu, e-coli infestations, Emerald Ash Borers. Probably getting blown up by a hydrogen bomb is no longer at the top of the list.



Sunday, June 5, 2011

Holy Moly, Has Katja Actually Retired?

At Tuesday’s Retirement Luncheon

Dear George,

Katja’s worked continuously since she was a teenager. When we met at college in the mid-1950’s, I didn’t have a clear sense of women working at all. Most of the women in my family’s social circle were wives and mothers, and dual career couples were rare. Katja, on the other hand, had grown up in more cosmpolitan Philadelphia, her mother Helen worked as a hospital dietician throughout her life, and Katja was firmly committed to having a full-time career. She’d worked for her dad’s veterinary practice in high school, was a server at the college inn as an undergrad, helped support us through graduate school as a saleswoman at a local fabric store, and then began teaching high school and later college French after we arrived in Cincinnati. When our son J reached his mid-teens and college was looming, Katja decided she needed a more remunerative career, went back to school to get her MSW. degree, and took a job with a local social service agency for blind and visually impaired people. This year is the 100th anniversary of the agency and Katja’s 25th year on her job. She’s thoroughly enjoyed working with her clients, and my sense is that they’ve consistently appreciated her support and efforts on their behalf. One day an elderly female client commented, “I never knew it was so much fun to be blind.” That sums it up well.

Katja with her first boss, Jane C.

Katja’s never been enthusiastic about retiring. Some surgery-related medical problems in recent years, plus the fatigue connected with driving fifty to a hundred miles per day visiting clients, made it seem like the time was ripe. One of our friends, Bob C., counseled us years ago to not retire at the same time. It was good advice. We planned for me to retire first, with Katja to follow after a year. Now it’s two and a half years later.

Tasty Retirement Cake

Our son J, daughter-in-law K, and grandkids V and L flew up from New Orleans to help celebrate Katja’s retirement over Memorial Day Weekend. Then on Tuesday her agency had a retirement luncheon for the entire staff, some fifty people. Katja’s original boss, Jane C., who retired 12 years ago, was a surprise guest, much to everyone’s delight. Katja’s social service department head, Kathy R., gave a warm and humorous tribute, first noting all the things they would miss with Katja’s departure (e.g., Wednesday morning pastries from Graeter’s) and her likely retirement pursuits (e.g., gift-wrapping at Macy’s). Katja talked about how much her job has meant to her and how much she has valued her colleagues. Sitting beside her at the head table, I felt choked up and struggled not to cry. CEO John M. talked about what a “grand woman” Katja is, and everybody gave her a lot of hugs.

Social Service manager Kathy R. gives a tribute to Katja

On Friday night John sponsored a retirement dinner for the social service department at the Celestial in Mount Adams, one of Cincinnati’s best restaurants. We started with drinks at the Rookwood Pottery, then enjoyed an excellent dinner with a skyline view from the hilltop. After a couple of bottles of wine, the group became full of fun, silliness, and good feelings. Katja seemed very touched by it all.

John, Donna, and Katja at the Rookwood Pottery

Retirement is a huge, confusing life transition. I’m still trying to figure it all out, and I’m sure Katja will be too. It can involve, at least initially, big losses. Katja has enjoyed her work because it has included constant contact with a wide variety of interesting and often enjoyable clients, most of them eager to receive her help. Things will undoubtedly seem quiet by comparison. On the positive side, there’s a lot of freedom and opportunity to pursue one’s own interests and pleasures, unfettered by external demands. We’ll need to figure out how to approach this as a couple as well. It is bound to be an eventful year.



G-Mail Comments

-Donna D (6-6): david, this is wonderful!!!! donna

-Vicki L. (6-5): Hi D, What a grand tribute. Indeed, a new life is upon you. It is great though, that Katja was so valued and warmly appreciated for so many years and is leaving her job on such a positive note….Give Katja a big hug from me. Love, Sis

Thursday, June 2, 2011

V and L's Whirlwind Visit: A Photomontage

J and K with V and L at Burnet Woods

Dear George,

J, K, our granddaugher V, and our grandson L flew up from New Orleans for the Memorial Day weekend to help celebrate Katja’s retirement. Their visit made this a totally memorable time. Here are some photos that J and I took.

We set out for Burnet Woods the first thing on Saturday morning.

The park’s playground has a long concrete slide built by the WPA in the 1930’s. Thrilling for all.

The swings were a big hit too. V prefers the big kids’ swings now.

At the waterfall the children used their magic fishing sticks to catch some perch, trout, whitefish, and tilapia, and the adults gobbled them up.

Then we topped it off with Cheese Coneys and 4-Ways at Skyline Chili.

V helped me walk the sheepdogs when we got home.

On Saturday afternoon we all went to the zoo. It was a perfect summer day.

The elephants were having a swell time in the pool.

V tested her balance and jumping skills at the Children’s Zoo.

L decided he’d like to turn into a turtle.

V cried out, “This goat is eating my dress.” And he actually was.

J told the kids that Cincinnati had the world’s best ice cream. Here are V and Katja sampling some at the Zoo.

On Sunday morning J and K’s friends Bevin and Steve came over for Swedish pancakes, then set off for Burnet Woods.

In the afternoon J, L, and I went to the Art Museum to see the circus posters.

Then we went to a patio party at Donna’s.

V and L and Duffy had a lot of fun in the pool.

Monday morning was time for Clifton’s Memorial Day Parade.

Compared to Mardi Gras parades in NOLA, our neighborhood event was sort of rinky-dink, but the children enjoyed it nonetheless.

We stopped by Graeters for ice cream, but they were closed for the holiday, so we settled for Superman Ice Cream (pretty good too) at United Dairy Farmers.

The Children’s Museum at Union Terminal was a huge success – two hours on nonstop running hither and yon. Here L is amazed by the gravity-defying foam balls.

L takes his parents for a spin in the Metro bus.

By late afternoon Grampa seems to be getting a little sleepy.

The kids came home and cuddled with Na-Na.

Grampa read The Cat in the Hat at bedtime. Time for bed, then up really early on Tuesday morning and off to the airport. It always goes by too quickly, but we had a wonderful time.



G-Mail Comments

-Donna D (6-4): what great pics, david! looks like a wonderful time was had by all! donna