Friday, July 29, 2011

Photo Tour: The Butler County Fair

Dear George,

I’ve always loved fairs. Each summer our parents would take us to the Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba. It was the highlight of the year -- a big, extravagant hodgepodge of people, animals, arts and crafts, vegetables, tractor displays, and many other exciting attractions. We returned there as adults and got to see the John and June Carter Cash show one year. In Cincinnati Katja, J, and I would go each August to the Hamilton County Fair in Carthage. The highlight was Zambora the Gorilla Woman, a booth in which you would actually see an attractive woman in a filmy evening gown being transformed into a huge gorilla which then would break through the bars of its cage and chase the screaming patrons out of the enclosure. At family reunions in Birch Creek we’d sometimes go to the Marinette County Fair in Wausaukee, the most rural and primeval of all our fair outings over the years.

I’d hoped to go to the big Warren County Fair in Lebanon two weeks ago, but it was blazing hot. Then the Butler County Fair in Hamilton opened. It was still in the mid-nineties, but, when the humidity dipped down one day, Katja volunteered to go along just to make me feel better. I later told a friend we’d had a romantic outing. She wondered if Katja had found it romantic too. I hadn’t asked her but I thought she did. We did have a fun time. The fair wasn’t very crowded on a hot Tuesday afternoon, but everything was up and running. We checked out the rides with their little kid patrons, had lunch on the midway (leather-tough steak for Katja, chicken breast sandwich for me), spent a lot of time looking at rabbits and also sheep and pigs, admired the flowers and vegetables, inspected the arts and crafts (Katja thought the hand-sewn clothing was from the 1940s), and stopped by the Democrat and Republican political booths to get free pens and pencils. This was an iconic county fair. It was nice to be out mingling with real people, there was lots to see and do, and it took me back to my rural roots. I don’t think that the basic elements of the fair have changed much over the last half century. Here are some photos which give a sampling of our experience.

The rides and games may look rinky-dink, but they can be thrilling when you’re seven or eight.

The Midway offered an endless assortment of delicious, unhealthy foods.

The county fair is an ideal venue for people to exhibit their year’s creations, whether gardenias, quilts, or wood-carvings.

The small animal barn offered a hundred bunnies or more and many other delights.

We enjoyed the big animals too.

The sheep-judging was definitely the highlight of our day.

So that’s a solid afternoon’s worth. We heartily recommend the Butler County Fair if anybody’s in the vicinity. Saturday’s the last day though.



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (7-29): Great! It's just how I imagined. Looking at the photos, I could even smell it!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Don't Jump In The Lake

Burnet Woods Lake

Dear George,

Donna had an appendectomy last week, and she and Sophie stayed with us while she was recovering. We had a good time, and Donna’s doing much better now. One afternoon we watched an episode of “The Dog Whisperer”. Dog trainer Cesar Millan was dealing with a hyperactive Bouvier, and, as usual, he concentrated on changing the owners’ behaviors more than the dog’s, impressing upon them the need for exercise and discipline. After a single session with Cesar, the dog went from leaping onto its owners and dragging them around to a calm, well-behaved animal. Cesar said not to let the dog walk in front and pull because that’s dominance behavior, as was his jumping up on his owners. The humans should be fully in command. We were impressed by the almost magical changes, though my opinion was that Cesar is obsessed with control. I claimed that dogs were happiest when they have lots of freedom. It doesn’t bother me if they jerk on the leash or make the decisions when to stop and sniff interesting odors. For the dogs’ sake, I said, we should let them do their thing. Donna and Katja disagreed completely. They said dogs were happiest when there were clear rules that they could follow. Like Cesar, they felt that dogs should do the bidding of humans rather than vice versa. We’ve had this debate many times before, and it didn’t seem like anybody was about to change their mind.

Sweet Sophie with her pretty white paws and white head

The next morning I took Duffy, Mike, and Sophie out for a lengthy walk to the lake in Burnet Woods. It’s reached the mid-nineties all week long, but we set off early when it was closer to eighty. Donna’s always edgy about taking Sophie near the lake because she jumped in when she was a puppy. I try to convince her that that was eight years ago, but Donna takes no chances. Now on our own, the dogs and I walked along the narrow concrete sidewalk along the lake’s edge, and the dogs did just fine. Near the south end there’s a wooden observation platform that extends out over the water in a marshy section, and I left the dogs on their own there while I took some photos of the pond’s surface.

The observation platform at Burnet Woods Lake

My photo subject: Murky water in the pond

Just as I took my last photo, Sophie suddenly leaped off the platform into the swampy water below. “Sophie!” I screamed and ran over to grab her leash. The water wasn’t very deep, and Sophie, enjoying the coolness, looked up at me with a smile. I reached down, grabbed her under her front legs, and hoisted her 70-pound torso out of the water and back up on the platform. I broke into total laughter. The slimy water was jet black and so were Sophie’s face and legs. She was barely recognizable as a dog, much less an Old English Sheepdog. My shirt, Bermuda shorts, and the wooden platform were smeared with black yuck too. Sophie shook herself, but not much of her black coating seemed to come off.

Once pure white, Sophie had turned black.

A novel look for an Old English Sheepdog.

Sophie left her mark behind.

Are Duffy and Mike amused by their sister’s plight?

I kept Sophie on a short leash as we made our way back along the lake’s edge, fearful that she might jump into the much deeper water. We walked home down Ludlow Avenue, a funny-looking foursome. I wanted to tell somebody our tale, but we didn’t meet anybody I knew. I was nervous about Donna finding out, so I decided to clean Sophie off before taking her inside. Katja was downstairs, and she came out to take a picture of us. Then I started working on Sophie with the garden hose. It took a lot of hosing. At first the swamp muck seemed like glue, stuck to her legs and face. Then I gradually started seeing a few small patches of white. After about ten minutes I decided that was as good as I could do, and I brought Sophie back into the house.

Sophie and her rescuer on the porch (note stains on Bermuda shorts)

Katja had forewarned Donna about our adventure. Donna responded with a surprisingly good sense of humor. She reminded me that we’d been at the very spot where Sophie had jumped into the lake as a puppy. She couldn’t believe that I would just let the dogs go free. I couldn’t come up with a convincing explanation for our misfortune. I wound up admitting that she, Katja, and Cesar were right. While, in the abstract, it seems like a positive idea to give the dogs maximum freedom, you can’t just have them jumping into the lake. I vowed that I would never let that happen again. And, unlike many of my good intentions, that’s one vow I expect to keep.



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (7-25): :-)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Me and Thor Are Battling Elli

Thor Wrestles Elli. Lorenz Frolich (1872).

Dear George,
So today is my birthday. I might be 47, but I also could be 74. When I first woke up I thought it was the former, but now I’ve decided it’s probably the latter. That’s weird. I can barely imagine turning 60, much less anything beyond that. To soften the blow, I went to my file cabinet and pulled out a print I ran across years ago of Thor wrestling with Elli. Thor, you’ll remember, is the hammer-wielding Norse god who is associated with thunder, lightning, and mammoth strength. In the book Gylfaginning Thor and his companions visit Utgard and are invited into the hall of the giant Loki, the king of the city, where their power and skills are tested through various challenges. After being humiliated in a drinking contest, Thor gets angry and wants to get even by wrestling. Loki says that, because Thor has proven so inadequate, it would be an embarrassment for any of his men to wrestle with him. So Loki calls for his grandmother, Elli, an ancient woman whose name in Norwegian means “old age”. Elli, the mythologists tell us, personifies Time, Old Age, and Death. Thor and the old woman begin to struggle, but “the harder Thor strove in gripping, the faster she stood; then the old woman essayed a hold, and then Thor became totty on his feet, and their tuggings were very hard. Yet it was not long before Thor fell to his knee, on one foot.” Loki stopped the fight at that point. Later he admitted to Thor that his opponent was far more powerful than she appeared and that Thor’s efforts were, in fact, astonishing – greater than anyone had ever been able to do. Loki said that no one “has ever been and none shall be, if he become so old as to abide ‘Old Age,’ that she shall not cause him to fall.”

Thor’s story has stuck in the back of my mind for some time. Even though the most powerful gods can’t defeat Old Age, Thor proves that we can fight back against her with all our might. This came back to me the other night when we were watching TV and the commentator made some remark about life stages. I asked Katja what life stage we’re in now. She said gloomily, “The end-stage.” That took me back, but then it seemed a little pessimistic. When you retire you sometimes think you’re just sitting around waiting patiently for your demise. But that’s not really the case. I did a little Googling around, and it turns out that gerontologists distinguish three stages of post-65 aging. “Young Old” (ages 65-75) refers to recently retired persons whose activities are governed by their interests and desires rather than health concerns. “Old” (75-85) are persons who are more influenced by health, safety, and frailty issues. And “Old Old” (85-95+) are persons who need assistance in order to live independently.

“Young Old” doesn’t sound as shocking as it once did, especially if you put more emphasis on the first word than the second. But I do notice that I’m getting near to the end of my Young Old Years. Instead I think I will adopt my sister-in-law Ami’s view that we no longer need to pay attention to chronological age at all, but should just be concerned with how we’re doing and how we feel. That’s definitely good advice. I think I’m doing pretty well and I’m feeling pretty well too. Blog-writing and Suduko keep my mind busy and my neurons firing. And hikes with sheepdogs and line dancing keep my muscles loose and limber. It is a time of life, though, to make the most out of each day. I’m making that my resolution for my upcoming Young Old Year.

G-Mail Comments
-Donna D (7-21): What a wonderful way to approach your bday... Referencing thor and elli. I think these days young old should be 70-80 and the others follow from there. You are definitely still more young than old!!
-Ami G (7-21): And a happy, happy birthday to you! Much love. Ami and Bruce

Sunday, July 17, 2011

River World

Dave and Mike heading home (VAL photo, circa 1950)

Dear George,

Growing up on the banks of the Menominee River shaped our childhoods and who we were to become. Our family moved there in 1946 when Riverside Boulevard was an empty two-lane gravel road. There were no electricity or phone lines, and we had the only house within a half-mile in either direction. Several neighbors built houses within the next few years, so it became less isolated, but, nonetheless, we were living pretty much by ourselves in a forest and water world.

Our house was upstream about three miles from the river’s mouth in downtown Menominee at Green Bay. The river was at its widest point where we lived, about two-tenths of a mile across, nearly identical to the Ohio River at Cincinnati. It offered scenic beauty in summer and winter and was the location of daily family activity, especially for us children. We all learned to swim like fish, and when we became eight or nine we’d challenge ourselves by doing the Australian crawl across the river to Pig Island, accompanied by my dad in a rowboat carrying life preservers. As teens we built log rafts which became more and more sophisticated over time, and our house became a major gathering place for our groups of friends. Propelled by a tiny 1.5 horsepower motor, we’d have endless adventures in our rowboat, crossing the river to Pig Island, heading east to the dam, or west to Indian Island and Mason Park.

Here’s a Google map which identifies some of the major spots on our section of the river. I’ll say a little bit about each of these.

1. Our house. My grandfather Guy Cramer built our house in 1941 as a summer cottage, picking what was probably the most scenic spot on the river in Menominee County. The house was made of Norway pine and featured a great fireplace built from stones collected in nearby fields. Steven, Peter, Vicki, and I grew up there and my parents lived in the house until the 1960’s. We all shed tears when they decided to sell it. Years later somebody cut the house in half and moved it to the Green Bay shore where we’ve stopped by occasionally to reminisce.

2. Our neighbors. A retired couple named the Orths lived on the property next door to us, and the Meads lived next door to the Orths, right on the lagoon. Dr. Mead was our family dentist, and Mrs. Mead was a grandmotherly lady who always had a cookie or a piece of pie available for kids who stopped at her door. She grew carrots in her garden, and I’d sneak over and pull one up, wipe the dirt off, and eat it straight out of the ground.

3. Mr. Shaver. Our neighbor to the west was Mr. Shaver, a middle-aged bachelor who wasn’t keen on children coming onto his property. He had an outhouse whose walls were papered with movie star photos, and, when my brother Steven locked me inside it, I climbed up the walls to exit through an open space near the ceiling, but ripped up many of the photos in the process. One night my parents heard loud sounds coming from Mr. Shaver’s, and, thinking burglars were breaking into the house, my parents called the sheriff. Mr. Shaver became pretty angry when the deputies surrounded the house since he’d been outside chopping firewood on a romantic rendevouz with his date.

Swimming at our house (VAL photo, circa 1953)

4. The Reeds. Lou Reed and his wife lived about three-quarters of a mile up the road. He was like a surrogate father to me. He gave me my first lessons in driving at age 14 and hired me to weed his strawberry garden, be his caddy at the golf course, and take care of their plants while they were out of town. On one such visit I locked myself into an attic storage space while exploring the house and had to break the door down to get out. The Reeds owned a wonderful Irish setter named Mike who ran away so many times to come to our house and play with the children that Lou Reed simply gave the dog to our family. Next door to the Reeds was an old, abandoned silo which contained many items of interest, e.g., tin cans, old bottles, horseshoes, chicken bones.

5. Indian Island. There was a small island up river from the Reeds that my father named Indian Island. We’d hook up the motor on our rowboat, my mother would pack a lunch, and our family would go on an outing there to have a picnic. Our Irish setter Mike would follow us the whole way, swimming for half a mile behind the boat. Fishermen kept their ice fishing shanties on Indian Island. The island had a steep sand bank on one side, and Steven and I would pretend that we were pirates burying our plunder.

6. Little River. Little River was a narrow waterway that ran off the Menominee and meandered up to Mason Park. It was very picturesque, lined with birch trees, and we liked to make boating sidetrips along its length.

7. Mason Park. Mason Park was a county park that offered primitive campsites, though nobody every monitored it and I rarely saw any other visitors there. By the time I reached my early teens Steve and I would camp there, often accompanied by other friends, e.g., Frankie S., Sammy W. We’d tie wagons to the backs of our bikes in order to pull our camping gear up Riverside Boulevard. At the far end of the park there was a swimming hole where somebody had strung up a tire on a rope which allowed us to swing out and do cannonballs into the water.

8. Pig Island. Pig Island was right across the river from our house and hence the site for hiking, camping, and all kinds of adventures. Named after the farmer’s pigs that my parents saw when we first moved to the river, it’s a sizeable island, about four-tenths by six-tenths of a mile. A family friend bought Pig Island in the late 1950’s and built a bridge, roadway, and A-frame house, but it was all unadulterated forest in our childhood and early adolescence.

9. The Channel. The Channel ran between Pig Island and the neighboring island, whose name I now forget. It was the most mysterious place on the river, hidden away, silent, home to water-lilies, dragonflies, blue heron, and water-logged stumps.

10. Brewery Park. Brewery Park, on the other side of the lagoon from the Mead’s house, was owned and “operated” for its employees by the M&M Brewery, home of Silver Cream beer. There was nothing there except a dirt road and a bare patch of land providing access to a swimming spot on the river. When I got to a certain age, I decided that I could climb one of the high trees in Brewery Park and watch female Brewery employees strip and change into their swimming suits behind their cars. I tried out my plan one Saturday afternoon, but, after hours in a tree in with nobody even arriving, I gave up on the idea.

Boating at dusk (VAL photo, circa 1949)

11. Logging Island. Menominee and Marinette were the biggest lumbering center in the world around the turn of the twentieth century, and some remnants still remained on the river. Most notably the loggers had built an artificial island with a log house in the center of the river as a base for their work. Every now and then we would boat over there with our parents and get out and explore. There were no artifacts left, but it still was like going back in history. When we were at home for Xmas vacation in the early 1960’s, vandals set the structure on fire, and we watched it burn with a sense of great loss.

12. The Dam. When we boated to the logging island, we always had fears of being caught up in the current, swept over the nearby dam, and dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Years later my brother Peter recalled that he and his friends used to go swimming at the dam, sliding over its edge and down its surface into the white water at the bottom. It appeared that our fears of death were exaggerated.

13. Riverside Cemetery. We could see Riverside Cemetery in the distance downriver from our house, and Steven and I used to ride our bikes through the cemetery on our way home from school. For years archeologists have explored the site for artifacts from the Menominee Indians who lived on the river’s shore. Vicki told me this summer that a team of archeologists had contacted her, asking permission to check our family property for Indian relics.

What strikes me, in retrospect, is how much we children got to explore our natural surroundings on our own. It was a safe, familiar world. Once we reached the age of eleven or twelve, we were free to explore the forest and the river, with minimal monitoring by parents. It was good training in independence and lots of fun too. Like Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, the river and its surroundings offered many opportunities for adventure.



G-Mail Comments

-Gayle C-L (7-17): Very nice. And Happy Birthday. ;)))). And many more. Lots of love. ;))))

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cincinnati's Gay Pride Parade

Dear George,

Cincinnati has a reputation, often deserved, for being stodgy and behind the times. Consequently, the annual Gay Pride weekend is like a breath of fresh air. The Pride parade is the centerpiece of events, and it’s been going on for a decade or more. Till recently it originated in Clifton’s Burnet Woods and wound its way west on Ludlow Avenue, winding up in Hoffner Park in nearby Northside. Our house is right at the midpoint of the route. Thus we’ve always gotten our lawn chairs out and enjoyed the one big event of the year that comes to our quiet corner. Last year, however, the parade was relocated to downtown Cincinnati, and lots of people grumbled. The rationale was that the events had outgrown its local Northside neighborhood, and downtown would attract a lot more people. And it did turn out to be a great success, drawing an estimated 26,000 people to three days of festivities, including a ball, a street festival, pub crawls, and the parade itself. This year some family friends were going down to Fountain Square for the parade and invited me along. Even I’d have to admit that this was a much more impressive happening than our Ludlow Ave. version. The crowd was mellow and happy, and there were so many people it was sometimes difficult to move around on the Square. Here are a few photos which give some of the flavor.



G-Mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (7-13): Dave, What fun. I want to go next year if we're in town. Your note inspired me. Phyllis