Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hallows' Eve, 2017

Dear George, 
Halloween was a huge event in our childhood and, then again, as parents to our son J.  Nowadays we sneak out to Skyline Chili and the movies to dodge the trick or treaters, but the holiday still bring back a lot of memories.  Here is some quirky Halloween trivia, along with a poem commemorating the occasion.
  • The ancient Celts believed that spirits roamed the countryside on Halloween night, and they wore costumes to avoid being recognized as human beings.
  • Halloween is the third biggest party day in the U.S. after New Year’s and Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Last year Americans spent over $300 million on pet costumes for Halloween.  
  • The first city-wide Halloween celebration in the U.S. was in Anoka, Minnesota, in 1921.
  • About 99% of all pumpkins sold in the U.S. are used as Jack O’ Lanterns for Halloween.     
  • Snickers is the most popular candy for trick-or-treaters.
  • 90% of parents admit to sneaking candy from their kids’ Halloween trick-or-treat bags.    
  • Children are twice as likely to die from being hit by a car on Halloween than any other night of the year. 
  • While less common today, U.S. animal shelters have banned the adoption of black cats before Halloween out of fear that they will be sacrificed. 
  • By the end of the evening a typical child’s trick or treat bag contains about 11,000 calories. 
  • There are only two known cases of poisoning involving Halloween candy.  In one a boy died of a heroin overdose, but it turned out that he had consumed some of his uncle’s stash and the family sprinkled it on his candy to cover up the incident.  In the second incident a father laced his son’s candy with cyanide in order to collect $20,000 in insurance money.  
  • Full moons are rare on Halloween.  The two most recent were in 2001 and in 1955.  The next one will be in 2020. 
  • Candy manufacturers reportedly lobbied congress to extend daylight savings time into early November to get an extra hour of daylight for trick-or-treating (and candy sales). 
  • Because John Carpenter’s 1978 movie, “Halloween”, was on such a tight budget they used a $2 William Shatner Star Trek mask for serial killer Michael Meyers’ character.  
  • With over 2 million spectators and 50,000 participants, New York City holds the largest Halloween parade in the U.S.  It began as a walk with children and family friends in Greenwich Village by puppeteer Ralph Lee. 
  • The record for the fastest pumpkin carving (with eyes, nose, ears, and mouth) is held by Stephen Clarke (24.03 seconds).  
  • Scottish girls believed they could see images of their future husbands to be if they hung wet sheets in front of the fireplace on Halloween. 
  • The fear of Halloween is known as Samhainophobia.  

All Hallows Eve

On Halloween we shed our normal selves 
We dress as ghosts or pirate kings and queens 
Then frolic with the goblins and the elves
And fill our sacks with purple jelly beans

But Halloween is more than fun and games
This is the night the dead return to life
The witches’ brew is bubbling over flames
And Dracula is seeking a new wife

The children ring the bell in search of treats
They’re clueless about what awaits their fate
Ten snarling werewolves prowl the city streets
A ghoul digests the bulbous flesh he ate

I think I’d just as soon stay home tonight
The zombies have me in a state of fright

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Square Talk

Dear George,
This past week the task for my poetry workshop was to write a "concrete poem".  A concrete poem is one in which the typeface creates a visual image of the poem's topic (e.g., a poem about a tree shaped like a tree).  Here is my effort.

                               Square Talk

Today we revisit the secret of happiness in life
It’s plagued our thinkers since the dawn of time
We seek beauty and harmony, an end to all strife
And whatever the answer we’ll record it in rhyme
The true key to happiness in one’s life is ORDER
And the most orderly object on earth is a square
To make a square you first start with its border
Draw four straight lines, first here, then there
It also is dandy                to insert a hole
Next to the core                or at the center
A squareish hole                is a proper goal
If you get stuck                contact a mentor
Unwashed critics                sometimes assert
That order’s not                wholly essential 
These vipers are                mentally unalert
We consider them                sadly tangential
There are ample ways to add squares to our lives
Carpets, tables, and quilts, just to offer a few
Some chappies take square walks with their wives
I met a ruffian at Graeters with a square tattoo
Know-it-alls may argue that circles are the best
But poets are inevitably smitten with the square
If you worry that I sound like a weirdo obsessed
Add a square to your life, say goodby to despair

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Archive: Vic's Photos (#14)


Dear George,
Here is another batch of the family photos that my dad, Vic L., took in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Earlier postings can be viewed by searching “archive” in the box at the upper left.  I much appreciate my dad’s long-time efforts to keep track of our family history.

This is Steve (maybe age 6) and myself (maybe age 10) on a summer day at our house on the river.  There were no other kids who lived within a mile of our house, so Steve and I necessarily spent a lot of time together as playmates -- swimming, outings to the forest, basketball and football, cops and robbers, bicycling, etc. 

This is my dad Vic in his boyhood, probably around the time that World War I was beginning.  He certainly looks Swedish.  

My mom and I are sitting on the living room couch at our second-floor Ogden Avenue apartment, probably about 1941, the year that Steve was born.  My dad's photos are on the wall.  Even though I was 4, I have no memories of our home's interior.  

I and my brothers Steve and Peter are gathered around a campfire.  I’d say I'm 11, Steve 7, and Peter 3.  I started camping in the Cub Scouts and by eleven would go on overnight expeditions with Steve and friends to Mason Park and other spots near our Menominee River home.  

I look about four in this picture, which would make it 1941.  I don't know whether my parents knew it yet, but my dad was to be sent off to officer training school at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center outside Chicago a year or two after this photo was taken, then was shipped off to the Pacific for the latte years of World War II.  

One of our family’s summer highlights in Menominee was going to Escanaba for the U.P. State Fair.  Here is my brother Steve at the Sultan's Harem.  

I'm with my mother on an outing, somewhere in Menominee County.  This was taken in 1940 or 41, and Doris is looking stylish. 

My brother Steve and I are checking out my tenth birthday cake.  We certainly are serious-looking. 

Here's my sister Vicki, our mom, and my brother Peter.  Vicki looks about 3 which would have made Peter 5 and me 13.  I suspect this was taken at the YMCA camp outside Green Bay where I would have gone for two weeks when I was that age. 

This is my twelfth birthday party at our house on the river on July 21, 1949.  The back row from the left includes Tom Caley, Bill Caley, Skipper Burke, Frank St. Peter, Jim Jorgenson, and Darl Schmidt.  Seated are my sister Vicki, myself, and my brother Peter.  My brother Steve's whereabouts are a mystery.    


This is our grandfather, V.A. Sr., with his granddaughter, Vicki, probably about two and half years old.  I think they were sitting in our rowboat at the bank of the Menominee River.  V.A. was a good granddad, gentle, kind, and loving.   

This was taken on my tenth birthday, July 21, 1947.  My sister Vicki was just five months old, Steve was 6, Peter 2.  Fifth grade that year wasn’t memorable.  All I can remember is that the students made the teacher cry a lot, and she quit in the middle of the year, to be replaced by a substitute.  Probably our learning was impaired as a consequence.  

We did various arts and crafts at grade school, and my parents encouraged such projects at home too.  Here is my finished pirate ship.  

When I was 16 I built a hidden camp in the woods on our back lot on Riverside Boulevard.  After I finished it, I did allow a few visitors, bring them blindfolded along my secret trail.  Here are Vicki and Peter admiring my primitive kitchenware rack.  

Here’s my dad and me in the front yard at our house on the river.  We moved there shortly after my dad came back from the Pacific after the end of the war.  I was very proud of his service in the navy.  

This is my brother Steve in a couple of the oak trees that grew outside our front door at river house.  Some years later my dad built a treehouse in the oaks, and it became our clubhouse and secret hideout (well, not entirely secret).  

This is my mom and myself at our outdoor fireplace on the front lawn near the riverbank.  We’d grill hamburgers and hotdogs here, as well as roasting marshmallows.  Fireplace fires were an important part of our family life.  

Steve (the catcher) and I are playing baseball in our front yard at river house in about 1949.  My grandfather V.A.’s cabin in the lot next door is visible in the background.  The front lawn was our sports arena for baseball, football, golf, archery, running races, and myriad other activities.  

The U.P. State Fair at Escanaba was one of our major annual family outings.  From the left: Doris L., Skipper Burke, myself, Jackie and Martie Burke, and an unknown couple.  Fairs on those days had strip tease shows and freak shows, along with many other attractions.  

I think my dad took this photo at Little River.  Little River is a tributary that feeds into the Menominee River about a mile west of our house on Riverside Boulevard.  We’d take the rowboat up there, and it was always a scenic expedition.  Mason Park, a county park, was located on the shore of Little River, and it was our favorite place for camping with friends when we became of age.  

Here’s my mom with my younger brother Steve and I, probably at a friend’s house on Green Bay.  I don’t remember the wonderful toboggan, and my guess it that it belonged to another family.  It doesn’t look very hilly for toboganning in the scene, but I’m sure we had fun nonetheless.  

Traveling carnivals and circuses came to Menominee every summer, and they almost always included a carousel.  I certainly picked out a gallant steed for this ride.  

I think this is Tom Caley (middle), along with my brother Steve (left) and myself, probably at the Caley’s house at Northwood Cove.  I remember being thrilled by the igloos that our family friends built.  Many winters Steven and I tried to replicate that feat by building an igloo in the front yard at our house on the river, but we never could keep the roof from caving in.  

I’m guessing that this was taken at our second floor apartment on Ogden Avenue about 1942.  If so, I would have been five.  I have no recollection of the black cat, though it might well have been our family pet.  It does seem pretty relaxed and at home.  

I’m on the right, Bill Caley’s on the left, and an unknown kid is in the middle.  The Caley’s lived at Northwood Cove along Green Bay, and this photo might have been taken on their lawn and perhaps on the Fourth of July.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Black Beauty

Dear George,
In my Poetry Writing Workshop we were given an assignment to write a love poem about a physical object.  I struggled to find a topic.  I thought about our new Smart TV, my blue tent, my camera, my Fitbit, etc., but none of them evoked a level of emotion called for by the task.  Then I let my mind wander back to childhood, and I started thinking about my and my friends’ bikes when we were growing up in Menominee.  Talk about love for an object.  Here is my story in rhyme.  There’s some occasional poetic license, but, for the most part, it’s a true story.

          Black Beauty 

Childhood, overall, is a dreary affair
They make you do stuff you don’t like 
But there also is stuff that is happy
And the best of that stuff is one’s bike

I got my new bike when I turned eleven 
A handsome fantastic black Schwinn
I gave him the name of Black Beauty
The day that we took our first spin

Your life leaps ahead when you get a new bike 
It’s then you become a big kid
You’re free as a lark, can cruise all over town
That’s just what Black Beauty and I did

This bike was jet black with solid white stripes 
Its frame, all-American steel 
Heavy duty tires and strong inner tubes
With its light mounted on the front wheel 

I’d had kiddie bikes for years before this
But Black Beauty was at least twice as fast
This bike was designed to fight Nazis
Or escape from a horrible blast 

We neighborhood kids formed our bicycle gang 
There was Skipper and Sammy and Frank 
We stormed down the street like a posse 
And riled old Murphy, that crank

Skipper was the tallest and strongest
He’d win nearly all of our races
But Black Beauty would often take second
He put the whole group through its paces

A year later we moved to the country
My school was three miles away 
Our rough gravel road, such a challenge
But Beauty was up to the fray 

After school I’d stop by the Dairy
And buy a three-dip chocolate cone
I’d ride no-handsies eating ice cream 
Black Beauty could steer on his own

Sometimes I’d venture to town after dark
The graveyard was off to the right 
I felt my heart pound as I watched for a ghost 
Beauty stepped up the speed of our flight 

Peter J. was my brother Steven’s best friend
His folks had returned from abroad
They’d brought him a new bike from England 
A bike that, to me, seemed most odd

Peter was skinny and his bike was too
It was made of aluminum, not steel
There were three different gears — who’d heard of that? 
And a flimsy thin tire on each wheel  

“You’ll never beat Nazis with that bike,” I said 
Peter smiled, then suggested we race 
Four years younger, a pint-sized kid  
Black Beauty would put him in his place

I proposed that we race for fifteen cents 
But Peter came up with one dime
“A dime it is,” I said with a wink 
A ridiculous bet, such a crime

We staked out a course on north State Street
Three blocks to the corner of Kirby
My brother called the start, “One-Two-Three — GO!!!”
We were off, like the Peshtigo Derby 

Much to my shock, Peter pulled out in front
That English bike, quicker than quick 
I pedaled Black Beauty as hard as I could
But we still couldn’t pull off the trick  

Peter won that race by a good forty yards
The boys laughed, they thought it so funny 
Deep in my heart Black Beauty was best
But, morosely, I gave him my money

In less than a year all the new bikes in town
Were English bikes made for top speed 
Black Beauty, to my friends, was a relic 
An ancient though venerable steed 

The years have passed since my last ride home 
Black Beauty now lives in bike heaven
But all those adventures stay fresh in my mind
It’s a special time, turning eleven