Saturday, December 7, 2013
This Thanksgiving we drove from Cincinnati down to New Orleans for a five-day stay with our family -- J and K and grandkids V and L. It was the longest road trip that Katja and I have done in decades (806 miles each way), but I like long drives and the trip was interesting. The sheepdogs got to come too, which we enjoyed. We got off the Interstate and travelled on a two-lane highway for a hundred miles or so in Alabama and Mississippi on the way down and on the way back. We were a little nervous -- me wary about getting stopped by the sheriff in a small town speedtrap, Katja imagining what it was like for the Freedom Riders in the 1960s. Katja thought the scenery looked like rural Kentucky and I was reminded of the U.P., though the scenery differed in various ways. There were lots of places with Dixie in their names, restaurants serving Po-Boys and pork BBQ, and a few more gun shops and discount liquor stores than I’m used to seeing. We traveled via Nashville, Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Meridian but didn’t make any sightseeing stops. Katja was angry that I didn’t stop in Nashville to get some of her favorite bread, but I was intent on covering ground.
We had worried beforehand about our elderly doggies doing o.k. such a long car trip, but they were excellent travellers, sleeping or looking out the window most of the time. It took a lot of Google searching to find a "pet friendly" motel that would accept two large sheepdogs, but we wound up with a pleasing motel stopover in Birmingham in both directions.
We arrived at J and K's house (left) about 6:30 p.m. on the Monday of Thanksgiving week. Their Mid-City house is a duplex, and their tenant, Claire, had gone away for the holiday, providing us with comfortable accommodations.
The children, V and L, were excited about our arrival. L gave us a picture he'd drawn of Darth Vader, and V had done a picture of “Nana” (Katja). A little later J put on a TV cartoon show, and the children recruited Katja to watch with them.
V, L, and I worked on drawing turkeys to celebrate the holiday. Here's V’s product.
There's a double bed in Claire's apartment, and it took a little doing for two dogs and two humans to find a good sleeping arrangement. We did work it out though (humans on each edge and dogs lined up in the middle), and we all slept soundly.
J and K's Mid-City neighborhood is doing excellently, enjoying a brand new mall area on Carrollton Ave. and showing virtually no signs of Katrina’s aftermath. On our first morning Katja and I enjoyed a late breakfast at the Ruby Slipper, right down the block.
Thanksgiving Day is the season opening of the Fairgrounds race track in New Orleans, and it's a popular event for locals. Here V is watching the thundering herd come charging down the track.
The New Orleans crowd comes to the races decked out in all sorts of costumes. Here’s a mysterious New Orleans couple (along with K’s dad Ted, also visiting for the holiday).
At Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, the children and I (as narrator) did the second annual performance of our “First Thanksgiving” play, with L playing the roles of Growling Bear and Miles Standish, and V as Flying Squirrel and Priscilla Mullins. Betsy, a visiting three-year-old family friend, joined right in with the five-year-olds, giving herself the name of the “Princess of the Ball”.
The dogs, of course, got more walk time in the neighborhood than they normally do at home. The weather was cool during our stay -- highs in the mid-40's to mid-50's -- and perfectly suited for sheepdogs.
We enjoyed lunch with J and K at chef John Best's restaurant, the Peche Seafood Grill in the warehouse district. As is her tradition, Katja enjoyed oysters on the half shell for her appetizer. I had a delicious entrée of drum fish, fresh from the Gulf.
J asked Katja what she would like to do most, and, without a second’s hesitation, she said she’d like to go to Saks Fifth Avenue. She did some shopping there while J and I browsed in a couple of other stores in the Shops at Canal Place.
On Saturday I went along with J and V to a 24-hour "draw-a-thon" at the Opera House in the Marigny district. Hundreds of kids were busily engaged in one art project or another, and V completed numerous artworks in the space of ninety minutes.
While V was drawing, I took a short walk around the neighborhood. It's filled with colorfully decorated house and buildings, including this one.
One afternoon Katja and I went to the Sculpture Garden in City Park. The Sculpture Garden, adjacent to the Art Museum, is set among ponds, bridges, and live oaks and displays works by Henry Moore, Fernando Botero, Jacques Lipchitz, George Segal, and many others. It’s the most visually appealing place that we’ve discovered in NOLA.
While Katja and I were doing aesthetic things, J took the kids to the City Park playground. Afterward we all got together for beignets at the Morning Call Restaurant in the park.
The dogs, meanwhile, were having the time of their lives. J and K's family dog Iko, a little stray who they rescued from the neighborhood streets, was excited about having two large playmates. He's peppier and more social than Mike and Duffy, and he kept the sheepdogs physically and mentally busy throughout their stay.
One evening we all went to the Celebration of the Oaks at the Botanical Gardens in City Park. It's similar to our Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights, but bigger and with more things for kids to do.
I’d say the children were most excited about the bumper cars. Here are K and L in the middle of the pack.
This is a pretty blurry night-time photo, but that's Katja and V going up in the ferris wheel. It must have taken twenty minutes for the operator to unload and load new passengers for each of the gondolas. V suddenly noticed from the top of the ferris wheel that her brother on the ground had gotten cotton candy. She yelled down to the operator that she was hungry and wanted to get off. He politely accommodated.
We were scheduled to depart on the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, and J cooked up tasty omelets for everybody.
Here's our group as we're getting ready to leave. I wish we'd had a few days more, and I'm still recovering from a case of post-vacation blues. Being together with our family is always my favorite time of the year. I’d say it’s the time that I feel most complete. But such is life, and now we'll look forward to our next get-together.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
The Menominee River from our front lawn (late 1940’s)
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. When my brother Peter sent this postcard to me, he estimated that the photo was taken in 1948 or 1949. I believe that would make Sean the baby in the picture.
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 Gateway Café on Ogden Ave., Our Teen Hangout [VAL photo, late 1940s]
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.