Saturday, November 23, 2013

Archive: Vic's Photos #5

The Menominee River from our front lawn (late 1940’s)

Dear George,
This is number five in a series of cumulative archives of family photos taken by my dad, Vic L., in Menominee Mich. in the 1940s and 50s.  These images previously appeared on a rotating weekly basis in this blog’s righthand column under the label, “Vic’s Photos”.  The earlier four archives can be accessed by going to the righthand column, scrolling down to “Labels”, and clicking on “Archives”.  My father documented our home and family lives during our childhood and adolescent years and beyond.  My brother Peter reprinted these images from Vic’s original negatives in the form of postcards, and his project is the source of most of the photos contained here.  A few also come from family photo albums.  The subjects include my parents Doris and Vic; my brothers Steven and Peter, my sister Vicki, and myself; and various other family members and friends who will be identified as they appear.  Thanks to Vic and later to Peter for chronicling our family history. 

This is my brother Steven, perhaps a year and a half old (circa 1942), on our front lawn on the river bank.  We used that wheelbarrow a lot for gardening, toting firewood and coal, and various chores.  My mother was the family gardener and annually planted a lengthy garden of flowers along the rock wall which separated our yard from the field next door.  

This is my mom and my two-year old self on the couch at our Ogden Avenue apartment.  It’s a funny thing about childhood memories.  I think it all becomes so familiar and repetitive that it simply vanishes from memory.  I can’t remember much about my early experiences with my mother or my father, though mom and son both look pretty happy on this occasion.  

Vicki (b. 1947) and Peter (1945) were younger than Steve (1941) and myself (1937). and Steve and I always referred to them as “the babes”, with a mixture of affection and dominance.  Here you can glimpse the affection component.  Vicki’s looking very intense and Peter’s looking very sweet, a pretty typical scenario.  

My uncles Kent (right ) and Karl were identical twins, though they differed in temperament (Kent more serious, Karl more ebullient).  Kent was married to Millie (pictured), while Karl was a bachelor for most of his life.  Thor was the oldest of Kent and Millie’s three boys.  We’d have a big extended family gathering at  our house at Xmas, and this photo was taken on one of those occasions.  Karl would drive up from Neenah-Menasha where he worked at the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, and he’d deliver a carload of wonderful presents to all – like having Santa in the family.  

Here’s my mom with a beer, me with a spoon, and an unidentified girl sitting in the sandbox.  That’s probably a representative image.  One of my earliest memories at age three or four involved feeling uncomfortable with other children.  I didn’t seem to know how to play.  Neither I nor the girl in the photo appear to be social butterflies.  

Xmas was always a wondrous time in our childhood.  We fully believed in Santa for a long time, and he always came through.  And we took care that each successive sibling maintained his or her beliefs as long as possible.  In the gift department, we were a lot more interested in toys than in new clothing, though we always got some of both.  This is our mom, my younger brother Steve, and myself (age 5 or 6).  

Florence and Bill Caley were two of my mom’s and dad’s closest friends, and they were parents of our childhood friends Bill Jr., Tom, and Bruce.  Bill Sr. was a business executive, boater, artist, host, and man about town.  Florence was a former English teacher, housewife, and a devoted mom.  She was a very warm, supportive person who occasionally counseled me when I encountered teenage crises.  She always had wise and knowledgeable advice to offer. 

I wonder if I’m holding an engineering blueprint in order to construct these architectural wonders.  Frankly the scene looks a little staged to me, though it looks like I had some nice play things.  

This is Kevin (Kiera) O’Hara, my brother Peter, and my sister Vicki, looking over a photo album.  Vicki has a big grin on her face.  Kevin and Vicki were best friends, and Peter, two years older than Vicki, would frequently join them in their pursuits. 

When I was in eighth grade my dad and one of his World War II veteran acquaintances formed a troop of Air Scouts in Menominee, an advanced group of 14-year-olds that kids joined after completing regular scouting.  Our peak experience of the year was a trip to O’Hare Air Base in Chicago, where we slept in pup tents near a runway at night and did Air Force-like things in the day.  O’Hare was having a simulated lockdown during our trip, so tension was high.  We also visited the Maxwell Street Flea Market in the city.  This is one of my fellow Air Scouts, Jim Hazel, somewhere in downtown Chicago.  

My mother, Doris L., was an avid horseback rider in her younger years, stemming back to her days as a young girl growing up in Omaha.  In Menominee there was a riding stable near the intersection of Riverside Boulevard and Highway 577 at the edge of town.  I seem to be accompanying Doris on this trip, though I have no recollection of being on a full-sized horse in my childhood.   

Jean O’Hara was one of my parents’ dearest friends, and she was mom to Terry, Michael Dennis, Kevin (Kiera), and Patrick Sean.  This is a picture of Jean with Kevin (circa 1947).  

My parents always encouraged their childrens’ arts and crafts activites, and, when I got to fifth or sixth grade, I started creating dioramas of various peopled scenes, e.g., a symphony orchestra or a pirate ship.  The content of this project is hard to make out from the photo, but I’m sure that many hours and emotions went into its construction.  

I have strong recollections of the various trees at our family home on the Menominee River – Norway pines, the weeping willow, oaks, maples, cedar, and, of course, the birch trees.  This group is right on the river bank, and there was another extensive stand of birches growing between our property and our next door neighbors, the Orths.  My siblings and I would gather up birch bark and use it for writing messages, constructing miniature birchbark canoes, and lighting fires.

This is me (left) and my younger brother Steve, age two or three.  I’m feeding him a drink from a Kodak acid container which appears to be labeled “Poison”.  I’m not sure if my photographer father was gathering evidence to use as Prosecuting Attorney, or if this simply reflects his quirky sense of humor.  In any case, I used to act sufficiently malevolently toward my younger brother that the fratricidal theme of this photo isn’t total fantasy.

Here’s my cutie sister Vicki around 1948 or 1949, clutching her doll at the Xmas tree in our living room.  She looks like she’s going to have a lot of important things to say to the world.  And, unsurprisingly, that’s how it turned out.  

My brother Steve is playing quarterback in the front yard of our house on the Menominee River.  This is one of the few photos in which we seem to look very similar in terms of common family facial features.  Steve and I, as well as Peter and Vicki a few years later, played a lot of football in the front yard over the years, centering the ball, running passing routes, and kicking field goals over a clothesline tied between the Norway Pines.  Four years older than Steve, I was the dominant player in our younger years, but the older we got the clearer it was that Steve was the superior athlete in our family. 

My sister Vicki (left) and her best friend Kevin (now Kiera) are decked out in their tap dancing uniforms.  I was away at college and missed out on their gala performances, but my brother Peter, who sent me this postcard image, said that this accomplished pair of dancers performed for a TV production filmed at the Marinette TV station.   

Each summer I’d be sent (entirely against my will) to YMCA camp near Green Bay.  The camp was situated on a lake, so swimming and boating were part of the daily activities.  Families would come up on a Sunday visiting day, and I always fantasized my parents would take me home if I looked and acted morose enough.  But it never worked.  

We enjoyed many grand sunsets on the Menominee River.  I suspect this is our mom standing on the boat dock off our front lawn.  Pig Island is in the background.  Doris cherished sunsets over the river and would call us all out of the house at twilight to watch them.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Good Old Days

The Gateway Café on Ogden Ave., Our Teen Hangout [VAL photo, late 1940s]

Dear George,
Memory does funny things.  I suspect that my childhood and adolescent years were frequently painful and distressing.  However, the further away I am from those early days, the more idyllic they become.  I think everybody has an endless capacity to reconstruct our memory banks, and we’re probably prone to do so in ways that make the past more pleasurable.  Objectively I don’t know if my world today is any better or any worse than it was in my youth.  However, it’s absolutely different.  Here are some of the things I remember from growing up in Menominee in the 1940’s and early 50’s.

Comic Books.  Comic books cost a nickel or a dime, and every one of my friends had a big stack in his or her collection.  I was particularly advantaged because my uncle Kent let me read the week’s new comics off the rack in his downtown Menominee drugstore.  Captain Marvel was my favorite.  A contemporary of Superman, Captain Marvel had many of the same astonishing superpowers.  His alter identity, teenager Billy Batson, would be transformed into a superhero by uttering the magic word, “Shazam”.  Captain Marvel disappeared in 1953 when DC Comics brought a lawsuit that claimed his creators stole their ideas from Superman.  I’m just glad I got to be there for Captain Marvel’s heyday.

Candy stores.  Several neighborhoods in our town had a candy store which catered to grade school children.  Ours was a half-block down the street from our grade school, and it was like paradise.  There were a series of bins lined up at the front counter, each containing a different type of penny candy (e.g., peppermints, licorice, bubble gum, all sorts of chewies).  Candy bars – e.g., Baby Ruth, Hershey bars, Snickers, Mars bars – were a nickel apiece; a box of Cracker Jacks, a dime.  You could also buy marbles, water pistols, jacks, and lots of little toys.

Ice Cream.  Ice cream was more affordable too.  Our family lived one mile west of the Ideal Dairy on Highway 527, a local firm which offered a dozen or more flavors and whose cones cost two dips for a nickel.  Lemon flake was my favorite, and I’ve never been able to find since I went away to college.  Often on my way home from high school I’d buy a six-dip cone and ride one-handed on my bike while holding the cone with the other.  It would last me till just past the cemetery a half-mile down the road.  

Cavities.  With sweets galore and no fluoride yet in the water, the dentist usually found one or more cavities on our annual visits.  Novocain helped, but the dentist’s drill made your ears vibrate, and getting cavities filled was one of the more unpleasant events of childhood.
Vaccinations.  Dentist drills, however, weren’t as terrifying as the gruesome needles used for children’s smallpox vaccinations.  Every year in grade school we’d march in a long line down Ogden Avenue to the court house (or maybe the high school gym) to get our shots.  It was like being on the Bataan Death March.  It was common for children to break out in tears or hysterics and try to bolt the ranks.  Then we’d have to stand in long lines and wait for the nurse to jab a huge needle into our upper arms.  In my memory, it seemed around the size of a knitting needle.  Besides the immediate pain, vaccinations created an ugly red swelling and resulted in a scab which stuck around for a couple of weeks.   

Cowboy matinees.  These days children still go to the movies, of course, but I don’t think it’s anything like the weekly Saturday afternoon matinees of our childhood.  For ten cents you’d go with chums to the Lloyd Theater and get the Movietone news, two or three cartoons, previews of upcoming attractions, a 10- or 15-minute short (e.g., The Three Stooges), and at least one main feature, usually a cowboy thriller starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, or Randolph Scott. 
The Golden Age of Radio.  TV didn’t reach Menominee till the early 1950’s, and radio was the mass medium of choice in my youth.  My siblings and I would gather around the family radio on our window seat and listen to Jack Benny, Fred Allen, the Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee & Molly, the Shadow, Superman, Duffy’s Tavern, and many other classics.  The Hit Parade, with Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, kept us up to date on the latest pop music hits.  On Friday nights Frankie St. Peter and I would listen at our respective homes to boxing on the radio.  Our favorite radio boxers were Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles (from Cincinnati).

Guns.  It would be politically incorrect today, but guns were a huge part of our childhood, particularly for the boys.  In the advent of World War II, I had my own arsenal by mid-childhood – pistols, rifles, machine guns, cowboy guns, detective revolvers, military guns, water pistols, guns that shot ping pong balls or darts, and other weapons like bows and arrows, daggers, swords, and spears.  Basically, we were pint-sized warriors.  Most of the pistols shot caps, and you could buy these for ten cents a roll at the five and dime store.  A lot of our play activity involved guns – cowboys and Indians, war, cops and robbers, etc.  When they came of age, many kids then moved on to BB guns.  One of my acquaintances used his BB gun to shoot at the detonator of a .22-caliber bullet which he’d lodged between two rocks (until one of the bullets caromed off a rock and put out his right eye).  

Marbles.  Marbles were a major lunchtime and recess activity on our grade school playground.  Players dug a hole in the dirt with the heel of their shoe, then used their “shooter” to propel other marbles into the hole.  You could play for “keepsies” (i.e., the winner of each round kept the opponent’s marbles) or “funsies” (no marble exchanges).  I didn’t like playing keepsies because I’d usually wind up losing my stash of marbles and would have to spend a sizeable chunk of my weekly allowance to replenish my supply at the candy store. 

Boys Chase the Girls.  The most exciting playground game during my childhood was Boys Chase the Girls.  Most of the time, children’s recess play was gender-segregated.  The boys played touch football, while the girls jumped rope and played hopscotch.  Every once in a while, though, we would join together for Boys Chase the Girls.  All the girls lined up on the east side of the playground; all the boys, on the west side.  Then the two groups ran toward another, with the girls’ goal to avoid being touched and to make it to the opposite side, while the boys’ goal was to capture a girl.  There was another variant of this game, Girls Chase the Boys, which offered some of the same thrills but wasn’t quite as exciting. 

School prayers.  There wasn’t so much talk about the separation of church and school during my childhood.  It wasn’t unusual for our public grade school teachers to conduct a prayer in the classroom.  The school system closed on Good Friday and the Monday following Easter, and we’d sing lots of religious songs throughout December.  On Monday mornings all year long my fourth grade teacher instructed everybody who’d attended Sunday School the previous day to go and stand by the blackboard.  This usually left only one or two heathens still sitting in our seats (myself included). 

Cheap gas.  When I started driving in 1953, gasoline at the local Zephyr station at the foot of the Interstate Bridge was 19.9 cents a gallon.  Sometimes, though, there would be a gas war among the stations in town, and prices would drop to 9.9 cents.  Bob A. was the first person in our peer group to get his own car at age 16.  He’d get us all to chip in a nickel or a dime, whereupon we’d spend an evening cruising around the loop. 

Atom bomb drills.  As schoolchildren we became aware of the world-altering potential of the atomic bomb soon after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Russia had begun its own nuclear program in 1943, and, with the steady escalation of the Cold War, fears of a nuclear holocaust soon dominated the public imagination.  In Menominee people worried that Russian bombers might stray off-course and mistake Menominee’s river and harbor from above for the St. Lawrence Seaway, a prime military target.  Our grade school teachers prepared us for unthinkable catastrophe through atom bomb drills, which mainly consisted of bending over and putting our heads underneath our wooden desks until the “All Clear” was called out.

The Family Fallout Shelter.  My parents always struck me as rather level-headed, but they weren’t immune to free-floating nuclear anxieties.  Sometime in the early 1950’s my father and grandfather decided to construct a bomb shelter in the basement of our Marinette drugstore.  It was stocked with water, canned foods, and other supplies.  Barely big enough to hold our family and my Uncle Ralph’s family all crammed together, I think there may have been some discussion of having firearms available to ward off potential intruders from the neighborhood.

Hadacol.  As a teenager I clerked at the family drugstore, and one of the most popular items that I sold was the over-the-counter patent medicine, Hadacol.  A vitamin supplement and miracle product, customers vowed that Hadacol made them feel much better – certainly moreso than the Centrum Silver I take today.  It’s not clear that the effects were due to the vitamins though.  It could have had more to do with Hadacol’s 12% alcohol content. 

The Bunny Hop.  One of my great regrets about my adolescence is that I never learned to be a good dancer, especially in terms of swing or jitterbugging.  Mostly we confined ourselves to slow dancing in which the idea was to tangle yourself around your partner and feel agitated.  The bunny hop, though, was another thing.  It started in San Francisco in 1952 and had spread to Menominee within a year or two.  Kids got in a line and held the waist of the person in front of them.  You tapped the floor two times with your right foot, two times with your left foot; hopped forward, then backward, and finally three hops forward.  We still were doing the bunny hop at my high school reunion a few years ago.  Possibly they do the bunny hop at high school dances in 2013, but I’m going to list it here as a highlight of the good old days.  

* * *

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (11-18): Dave,  This was fun to read and remember.  Nice to see you and Katja at Linton.  I hope she's OK now.  How awful for the both of you that she was in the hospital.  Have a nice trip to New Orleans….  Best, Phyllis

Monday, November 11, 2013

An Ode to Camping

Frying eggs at Mason Park (Dave, Steve, Peter L., ca. 1950)  [VAL photo]

Dear George,
I don’t devote all my spare time to camping, but it is one of my more enjoyable activities these days.  It’s difficult to cajole Katja (who’s a Philadelphia urbanite) into sleeping in a tent, so I bring along the sheepdogs instead.  My affinity for camping results, of course, from growing up in the Upper Peninsula.  We lived on the river out in the country, so the forest was an important part of our everyday lives.  Mason Park was a mile or two up the road on Riverside Boulevard, and, by age 13, it was my favorite spot for overnight outings.  By today’s standards it was meagerly developed as a park.  There was one outhouse and rings of rocks where you could build campfires, but I don’t think it even had tables for its half dozen campsites.  On other occasions my brother Steven and I would get in the rowboat and head off to Pig Island across the river or to Indian Island a mile upstream.  We’d pick a spot along the shore, clear some ground to pitch our tent, build a fire pit, make kitchen equipment out of tree branches, dig a latrine off in the distance, and boil river water to drink.  Camping meant freedom – getting away from home and parents – self-sufficiency, and adventure.  I was taken at the time with Henry Thoreau’s Walden and the story of Robinson Crusoe.  It still amazes me that one can go into the forest with a minimum amount of equipment and create a complete homestead that meets all one’s life needs.  These days I go car camping at area parks, and it’s a more civilized venture.  Nonetheless, camping out still has the benefits of a break with one’s everyday environment and a vacation out in nature.  Our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, aren’t that thrilled about it though.  They’re drawn to familiar surroundings, and I suspect they prefer the luxuries of life in our household.  But they’re good comrades nonetheless.  On a recent trip I started writing short poems to celebrate various “icons” of camping.  Here’s what I wound up with.

The Forest

The forest is ripe with mystery
It teems with invisible life
A chunk of my childhood history
A refuge from tedium and strife

The Campground

A campground is like a small city
Its residents come and they go
The surroundings are wildly pretty
On Tuesdays I imagine I’m Thoreau

The Lake

I try to camp right next to the lake
It's a kaleidoscopic view
I glance out the window when I awake
The water with its mist, the cattails with dew

The Sheepdogs

As campers the sheepdogs are eighty percent good
They’re loving and patient and true
I wouldn’t say that they relish the wood
But they’re clearly a part of the crew

The Tent

My favorite tent is blue and white
I can set it up in a breeze
It keeps us safe from goblins at night
Not to mention mosquitoes and bees

The Deer

The deer watch us anxiously from afar
They’re uncertain whether to run
The sheepdogs view them as quite bizarre
Would chasing them be lots of fun?

The Camp Stove

My Coleman stove’s an amazing thing
One match and it heats in a flash
I find no matter what food I bring
It always tastes like burnt hash

The Hatchet

The hatchet, you know, is a dangerous tool
You can slice off your fingers or toes
Safety first is the golden rule
That's something that every Scout knows

The Sunset

Sunset’s the grandest time of day
The sky blazes yellow and red
The second the daylight goes away
The dogs think it’s time for bed

The Campfire

I light the fire as night descends
I’m hypnotized by the flames
Nostalgic memories of family and friends
I puzzle over life's murky aims

The Night

Camping's eeriest time is at night
We listen to sounds in the dark
I do my best to suppress my fright
Are those wolves that I hear in the park?

The Air Mattress

My air mattress seems as firm as can be
It helps me go right to sleep
But at two in the morning or maybe three
I’m flat on the ground in a heap

The Lantern

My lantern lights up the campsite
It turns the black night into day
The mantel is such a blazing white
It keeps squishy creatures at bay

The Flashlight

I keep my flashlight right next to my bed
It’s there when I wake in the night
If unknown sounds overwhelm me with dread
I flick on my light and all’s right

The Knife

My Swiss Army knife’s such a clever device
With its scissors and a sharp leather punch
It cost a lot but it’s worth the price
Without it we’d be a sad bunch

The Trail

You never know where the trail will lead
You might see an eagle or deer
I tend to walk at a moderate speed
And the dogs like to bring up the rear


Camping takes me back in space and time
To a world that’s unlike any other
Some days I imagine I’m in my prime
Still I wish I were back with my brother