Sunday, March 1, 2015

Life Stage Dreams

Dear George,
They say that dreams are a window to one’s soul.  I’m not so sure I agree with that precise wording, but I do think that dreams tap into one’s deepest feelings and concerns.  I’m also struck by how dreams change systematically over the course of one’s life.  I don’t remember much about my childhood dreams except that they were scary and involved monsters or being chased and murdered by evil beings.  The first recurrent dream that I clearly recall is one that I had during high school after I’d begun driving .  I dreamt that I was driving our family car across the Hattie St. Bridge which ran between my home town of Menominee and its twin city, Marinette.  The Hattie St. Bridge crosses the Menominee River next to the paper mill dam.  As I approached the middle of the bridge I suddenly saw that its midsection had completely collapsed.  I hit the brakes but, too late to stop, I plunged to death  in the whitewater rapids below.  The dream was very real and terrifying.  Years later I decided that this was a dream about the life transition that I was facing.  Menominee was my familiar, safe hometown, while Marinette felt like a more threatening, alien place to me.  I interpreted my dream as an expression of anxiety about my perilous journey from adolescence to  adulthood and the fear that I would never  be able to make it to the other side.

When I went to college, my bridge dream was quickly replaced by a chronic academic nightmare that I learned was shared by just about everybody I knew.  In the typical version, the academic term was coming to an end, and I suddenly discovered that I was registered for a difficult course that I’d never attended.  It was too late to drop the class, and the final exam was scheduled in minutes.  My emotional reaction was one of apprehension and panic.  I continued this dream into graduate school, and even today I have some version of it every now and then.  When I finished grad school, though, and began a teaching career, the content of the dream changed.  Now I suddenly discovered in my dream that it was the first day of classes, and I had been assigned to teach a difficult course that I knew absolutely nothing about.  Not only that but I was late for class, and I didn’t know where the room was.  I hadn’t ordered a textbook, and I had no idea what to say to the students.  I was so late arriving for class that by the time I finally got there all the students had walked out in disgust.  All these academic dreams have to do with pressures of being evaluated, being unprepared, self-doubts about competence, and a felt inability to control what was happening to me. These were very stressful dreams, and I’d say that were connected to real-life anxieties about academic life, whether taking exams as a student or teaching classes. 

Later, when I began to feel more established and comfortable in my  job, I started having more pleasant dreams.  Many of them were about flying.  I would flap my arms, and I’d slowly lift off the floor, then drift around near the ceiling .  People would look up and be astonished by my remarkable flying capacity.  Sometimes I’d do the same thing out on the street, flying hundred of yards up in the air.   Later flying was replaced by a  “long jumping” dream in which I’d run at a fast pace for ten or twenty yards, then jump off the ground, and glide effortlessly through the air for a city block or more.  Passersby were amazed.  In my dream I decided that I would enter the Olympics and that I would set all the records for the Olympics long jump, even though I was forty or fifty years old.  These dreams also felt very real and had an eerie, pleasurable feeling about them -- none of the distressing feelings of my earlier academic nightmares. 

In recent years my dreams reflect a “mature adulthood life stage.”  My most frequent dream involves my returning to a fancy hotel room that I’d rented many months before and where I’d stored all of my books and other possessions.  I’d forgetten I’d even rented the room.  I hadn’t paid the hotel bill when I left, and the bill now had mounted up to many thousands of dollars.  I was trying frantically to pack of all my books and other possessions in boxes before the noon checkout time, but the task was overwhelming, and I realized I could never meet the deadline.  I decided to flee the situation and forsake all my belongings.  This dream too has a kernel of truth.  I think of it as a clutter dream.  We have so much accumulated stuff in our basement and attic, I can’t conceive of what to do about it.  While I know we should start disposing of things, the task seems insurmountable, and I simply put it off from one year to the next.

For the most part, my dreams seem to be fueled by anxiety, though the source and content of anxiety changes in meaningful ways from one life stage to the next.  I enjoyed the dreams about flying and long-jumping, though I haven’t had one for a while.  Now I’m eager to see if I ever get that hotel room cleaned out.  But if I do, what dream is going to come next? 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dear Family

Dear George,
There were six of us in my immediate family (2 parents, 4 kids), yet, against the odds, we had three family birthdays in a four-day stretch in late February.  My sister Vicki’s birthday came first and is today (Feb. 24).  Vicki was the youngest child in the family, and with three older brothers she learned to tough it out to secure her place in the family hierarchy.  As the only girl, she enjoyed a special status, adored by her parents and her brothers alike.  Vicki and I have always been close, and even moreso in adulthood. She started college at the University of Michigan while I was in my last year there before leaving for Cincinnati.  She and George moved to Toronto after their graduation and then to Santa Cruz where Vicki works as a marriage/family therapist and where they raised their three kids, Jacob, Rhys, and Abra.  I was happy to get a birthday call from my sweet sister.  We had lots of laughs as always, and we’re hopeful of getting together during the summer.

Our mother, Doris, L., was born on Feb. 25, 2010, in Omaha.  She and Vic met while in college and married in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression.  They had their four kids between 1937 and 1947.  This was an era of traditional, highly differentiated gender roles, and Doris had primary responsibility for household tasks and rearing the children.  Nowadays four kids seem like a lot, and it wasn’t an easy business.  Doris’ frequent maxim was, “Straighten up and fly right.”  The first image that comes to my mind was Doris sitting on the lawn chair, watching her children swim in the river.  We went swimming every day through the summer, and I don’t think there was ever an occasion where our mother wasn’t there, ready to rescue us if needed.  Another image that pops into my mind is watching from the living room window as Doris crawled out on the ice to rescue our Irish Setter Mike who had fallen through into the freezing river.  Mothers are unbelievably essential.  

My younger brother Steven’s birthday was on February 27.  Each year we discussed whether it was better or worse to have the last birthday in the trio.  On the one hand, it could mean that you were of lesser importance.  On the other hand, it could mean that your birthday was the culmination and high point of the week.  Steve, of course, preferred the latter interpretation, and that could well have beenb true.  Steve inherited our mother’s propensity for fun and sociability.  He was an excellent athlete, an excellent dancer, and an all-around good friend.  Steve was in law school in Detroit as we were finishing up grad school in Ann Arbor, and then he and Margie moved to Seattle where they raised their three kids: Jennifer, Greg, and Jason.  We miss him very much.  

Peter and I had summer birthdays – Peter on June 9 and mine on July 21.  We felt a little lonely, being left out of the big February extravaganza, but summer was definitely a preferred time for outdoor birthday parties.  In adulthood Peter was better about remembering birthdays than anyone else in the family.  My dad’s birthday was on Nov. 5, but he never wanted anybody to make a fuss about it.  My family’s often on my mind, but late February is particularly nostalgic.  We’ve lost so many of our immediate and extended family members over the years, but everyone is still vividly present in our memories.  We had more fine times together than even seems fair. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Going Stir Crazy

Dear George,
Everybody in our house is losing their minds, including dogs.  We’ve been living in single-digit temperatures (or worse) since last weekend, and the local public schools and the university have been closed the entire week.  It was minus eight last night, and the forecast is for minus thirteen tonight.  Needless to say, we’re pretty cooped up. Dog walks of less than half a block, a couple of forays to the drugstore (one block away), one lunch outing at the Latin American restaurant (also one block away).  I don’t know if our cars will ever start again, and I’m hesitant to try.  The dogs don’t seem to mind being housebound.  At their advanced age, they tend to be couch potatoes anyway.  When the rest of us are upstairs, Mike has taken to standing at the bottom of the stairs barking endlessly.  When I go down to try to help him on the steps, he goes wild and pulls away.  Eventually he makes it up by himself.  Katja reads her French book and takes naps on and off.  She is worried that our furnace is broken, since the upstairs temperature never gets above 62, though I claim that it’s doing the best that it can.  When I mentioned the minus thirteen forecast this morning, Katja wondered if we should go to the shelter.  I didn’t think we should at this point.  However, if we need to in the middle of the night, I have no idea where the shelter is.  Or even if we have a shelter.  We watch a lot of TV in the evenings, but, aside from Downton Abbey and Grantchester, that gets boring and vacuous.  Because I fractured my ribs a month ago, I haven’t been to the fitness center or my line dancing class in a long time, and I worry about becoming a sedentary blob.  Due to a rippled retina, I don’t read a lot of books normally, but I’ve finished Dave Barry and David Sedaris during our cold spell.  They’ve cheered me up a bit.  I’d like to write something amusing, but I can’t find a topic.  I guess writing about going stir crazy is all I can do.  I remind myself that I grew up in the Great White North and that I’m accustomed to extreme weather conditions.  That’s true, though I haven’t been there in midwinter for a long time.  Saturday it’s supposed to go up to the thirties in Cincinnati.  I’m sure it will feel like Jamaica.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Poem for Valentine's Day

Dear George,
I never wrote a Valentine’s Day poem before.  I hope it’s not too mushy. 

The Ballad of the Dark-Haired Girl

I’ll never forget that September day
When I first saw the dark-haired girl
She stood on the lawn across the way
I started to feel my head swirl

That freshman mixer was held the first week
The huge mob of strangers made me wary
Toward the dark-haired girl I could only peek
Yet I daydreamed that someday we’d marry

I’d see the dark-haired girl every once in a while
In the spring she performed in a play
I was totally smitten by her quick easy smile
But to talk to her, there seemed no way

My second year of college I went on a trip
To Milwaukee to visit some friends
What happened next caused my heart to skip
Fate takes on such sharp turns and bends

The dark-haired girl was staying with my friends
That was amazing and even  more scary
We talked about various odds and ends
Then I told her my dream that we’d marry

The dark-haired girl gave me a dubious look
She said, “That’s the worst line I’ve heard!”
She thought of me as an idiot or a crook
And she took off in flight like a bird

That was over fifty long years ago
A precipitous time in my life
I think all the time of the dark-haired girl
It’s probably because she’s my wife

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sore Ribs

Dear George,

Tuesday night I went out for a stroll
Chatting on my cell phone and laughing
I didn’t even see the sidewalk hole
Until I was on the ground gasping

The doc checked me out in the morn
She ordered X-rays as they do
She came back in with a face forlorn
“You’ve fractured not one rib but two!”

Sore ribs are like armies of demons with spears
Who stab at your innards with relish
The pain brings to mind your very worst fears
And Day Two is even more hellish

Sore ribs are like bites from a crocodile
Or stings from ten thousand bees
It hurts when you laugh and it hurts when you smile
And it’s worse when your doggies you squeeze

Sore ribs feel like mealtime for killer ants
Or scorpions digging into your torso
No wonder I shift in and out of a trance           
It's like torture on Homeland, only moreso

There are many other things that sore ribs are like
Bullet wounds, poison darts, vampire bites
I haven’t yet taken our dogs for a hike
To say nothing of twelve sleepless nights

But today I am feeling much better
There’s a rule I wish I had known
We all must follow it to the letter
Never stroll while you chat on your phone

Friday, February 6, 2015

After-Life Musings (What Comes Next?)

Dear George,
The worst moment of childhood has to be when one first learns about death.  Parents try to protect their kids, but it’s nearly impossible.  The family goldfish dies, or sometimes a next door neighbor.  And it’s not just realizing that we ourselves will inevitably die.  That’s bad enough, but to discover that one’s parents are going to die is ten times worse.  How can anyone survive without parents?  Even though I’ve been motherless and fatherless for decades, I still get depressed about that idea.

My paternal grandmother Olga and my maternal grandfather Guy passed away when I was five.  As far as I can recall, nobody told me at the time.  My first experience of actually seeing a dead body was a few years later when the Ogden Avenue crossing guard at Washington Grade School had a heart attack and died.  The funeral home was a half block away, and several of us fourth-graders stopped in a couple of times to look at his corpse.  We stayed there quite a long while, hoping to detect the slightest movement -- a twitch of an eyelid or the slightest hint of a breath -- but there was nothing.  It was eery, almost supernatural.  One of my classmates claimed he had gone to Heaven, but I had my doubts.      

Our family only went to church a couple of times a year, so I didn’t get much exposure to religious beliefs about the afterlife.  Most of what I learned I got from my friends, and they weren’t that knowledgeable.  After we moved to the country, I was exposed to death on a daily basis.  Dead turtles and skunks lying on the road.  Sometimes a dead chipmunk in the yard or a fish floating in the river.  One time I found a dead five-foot pine snake outside our dining room window.  Steven and I shot a couple of porcupines with the family .22.  And we must have killed a million mosquitoes.  All these corpses struck me as dead as doornails, and I didn’t think there was any possibility that they were living on in some other realm.  If that were true for bugs and animals, I decided, the same thing holds for human beings.

The only time I came close to believing in ghosts was when I was a teenager.  We lived a mile outside of town on Riverside Boulevard, and the local cemetery was halfway between our house and the city limits.  I’d ride my bike into town after supper, then return home in the dark around 9:30 or 10.  Words don’t even exist to describe how scary it is to ride on your bike past the cemetery in the dark.  I’d watch the gravestones out of the corner of my eye, terrified that I was going to see a ghoul or a ghost at any moment.  I pedaled as fast as I could, perhaps thirty miles an hour, and didn’t slow down till I reached our driveway.

My father was very pragmatic, and I don’t think he ever entertained the notion of an afterlife.  When he reached his late seventies though, he got more interested in religious ideas.  I can see how that happens.  It’s easy to dismiss life after death when it’s a distant abstraction, but, as possibilities become more imminent, the idea gains in appeal and plausibility. 
If people do go to Heaven after they die, no one knows for sure what that’s like.  What I learned in my grade school years is that it’s up in the clouds, and St. Peter admits you through the Pearly Gates.  Nowadays I imagine Heaven to be similar to retirement.  You have lots of free time, no onerous duties, and you can do whatever you like.  Maybe you can smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, drink a lot of bourbon (but never have a hangover), and be fawned over by movie starlets who think you are the cat’s meow.  On the other hand, they might have rules against these things.   I hope it isn’t too dull.  Also I’m worried about being someplace for all eternity.  I’d like to play a lot of  one-on-one basketball in Heaven, but how many eons can you do that without losing interest?  Of course, you might run into people like Marco Polo or Adlai Stevenson or Florence Nightingale.  But I’d probably be too uncomfortable to strike up a conversation. 

It’s also true that, even if there is an afterlife, there’s no guarantee that you’ll wind up in Heaven.  There have been times in my life, especially around age twelve, when I was on a fast track in the opposite direction.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been exactly evil, but it’s hard to think of any impressive virtuous things I’ve done either.  If I added up all the behaviors in my life and plotted them on a scale from -10 (thoroughly evil) to +10 (saintly), I think I’d come out about a -1.5.  If zero is the cutoff point, I better start accumulating some morally admirable actions in a hurry.  

Our family is of Swedish ancestry, so I draw from my Viking heritage as much as I can when I think about life and death issues.  The Vikings believed that there were multiple destinations after death, and where you go depends on how you lived your life.*  The number one option was Valhalla, the majestic hall presided over by Odin.  Only warriors who died in battle went there.  Valhalla had 540 doors, rafters made of spears, and a roof made of shields.  The warriors in Valhalla fought all day long and feasted all night.  In addition to Valhalla, the Norse Goddess Freyja chose half of the fallen warriors to join her in a great field named Folkvangr.  Like Odin, Freyja led her dead warriors in battle, and women could go to Folkvangr if they died noble deaths.  Other Vikings who led exemplary lives but failed to die in battle went to Helgafjell, a warm, cozy place where people would sit around and drink beer and talk.  The worst after-life outcome for Vikings was reserved for those who had died dishonorable deaths.  They went to Helheim, a cold dark place ruled by the monster Goddess Hel whose skin was half-blue.  Helheim is encircled by the impassable river Gjoll, and its entrance is guarded by a hideous dog named Garm.  Dishonorable deaths for Vikings included dying in bed from old age rather than in battle.  Since I’ll probably die dishonorably in bed or in the shower, I may well be headed for Helheim.

Because I grew up on the riverbank in the Land of Wild Rice, I also have looked into the afterlife beliefs of the Menominee tribe.  These are surprisingly compatible with Viking thought.  In particular, the Menominees held that there is a huge dog that guards the land of the departed.  To approach the dog, one had to cross over a dangerous river on a slippery log.  Evildoers and those who had mistreated dogs in the past fell in and were swept away by the rushing stream.  If one were able to pass the dog, though, they would join the spirits who had preceded them and would enjoy nightly feasts with plenty to eat for the rest of eternity.**

At this point in my spiritual quest, I'm mainly confused.  According to a Pew Forum survey, 74% of Americans believe in life after death, and 50% are absolutely certain about the matter.***  The groups with strongest beliefs in the afterlife are Mormons and evangelical Protestants, regular churchgoers, Republicans, Southerners, and people with a high school education or less.****   I’m not a member of any of these groups.   Atheists (18%) and agnostics (35%) don’t usually believe in the afterlife.****  Swedes believe less in the afterlife than any other developed nation except the French.******  Among those who are believers, women think they are likely to go to Heaven more than do men.*****  I agree with that as a general rule.  My personal next step is to dig up more facts about Valhalla and Helheim.  If need be, maybe I still have time to gain some points and reduce the odds of eternal damnation.

*, "Viking Funerals Burials and the Afterlife"
**, "Dogs in the Afterlife";
***, “Chap. 1.  Religious beliefs and practices”
****, "Eternal Destinations: Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell" 
*****, “Global Poll: Most Believe in God, Afterlife”
******, “Thoughts on the Afterlife Among Adults 50+”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

So Long, January, Nobody's Going To Miss You

Dear George,
I don’t think of myself as a complainer by nature, and using a blog for personal whining is disgusting.  Nonetheless, I’m relieved that January has finally come to an end.  It’s been a cold, dark, bleak month.  We knew it was going to be lousy on the day that Ohio State blew out Oregon to win the National College Football championship.  Since we live in Ohio, you might think that we’d be thrilled.  Not true.  Katja and I went to grad school at Michigan, and we learned after only a few weeks in Ann Arbor that Ohio State is our hated mortal enemy.  A half century has gone by, but, if anything, our hostility is more deeply ingrained.  Things got only worse sports-wise when the Bengals lost pitifully to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs.  And we contemplated suicide when our beloved Packers, leading by 9 points with 4 minutes to go, were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks in what some commentators describe as the worst loss in the history of professional football.

It’s not just sports.  January has been very cold in Cincinnati, dipping down to five degrees early in the month.  Though we set our upstairs thermostat at 70, the temperature rarely exceeded 65.  I offered my opinion to Katja that we have an old brick house, and, when temperatures get down to single digits, our furnace can’t keep up with it.  She thought that was ridiculous and called the furnace company to have a repairman come.  He arrived that very day, checked out the system, and explained that we have an old brick house and that our furnace can’t keep up with the very cold temperatures.  I didn’t say anything, though I was glad to get some expert confirmation.  This past week our thermostat got stuck at 65 again, and Katja said she was calling the furnace company.  I explained that we have an old brick house and when the…oh well, you get the idea. 

Two days after the furnace repairman’s visit I went outdoors and the spigot on the south wall of our house was spraying water all over the porch and the side of our SUV.  Sort of like a fire hydrant that had been opened up.  The water was freezing immediately in the ten-degree temperature, resulting in huge, impressive icicles (more like stalactites) on our car and house.  We called the plumber, but it was late Friday and he was quitting for the day.  He told me to close the shut-off valve in the basement.  I couldn’t budge the valve manually, but I finally found a plumber’s wrench and was able to shut off about 90% of the water flow.  Because our driveway and sidewalk had turned into a lake of glassy ice, I bought a bag of salt at the hardware store and sprinkled it around every few hours, hoping to avoid pedestrian fatalities.  The plumber came on Monday morning, installed a new pipe, and will return in May to finish the job for umpteen thousand dollars.

Katja had been in a traffic accident in the autumn, and we were shocked when we received a registered letter indicating that we  were being sued.  The insurance company hired a lawyer for us, and he came to the house in mid-January to get information for our case.  While he didn’t use the exact words, I got the impression that the opposition lawyer bringing the suit against us was a sleazy ambulance-chaser, and he had never had a client with any kind of credibility.  They only wanted fifty thousand dollars from us.  Our lawyer told us not to worry, that worrying for us was his job responsibility.  We have worried nonetheless.  Our lawsuit should be resolved by May.  I just hope there’s some money left to pay the plumbing bill. 

Then I was walking on Ludlow Avenue after dark when I tripped on a sidewalk crack and fractured two ribs.  The nurse-practitioner recommended that I buy an Incentive Spirometer in order to help restore my breathing capacity and fend off pneumonia.  I bought it online, and it arrived after a week.  It’s given me a new lease on life.  I was instructed to try to get my breathing capacity up to 1500 milliliters on the zero to 4000 gauge, but I got it up to 2500 pretty quickly and now am hovering around 3000.  Maybe the novelty will wear off, but my most exciting moments these days occur when I’m breathing into my spirometer.

If we didn’t have enough chaos in our lives already, construction crews are laying huge black sewer pipes on Ludlow Avenue, and they’ve been working right outside the front of our house for the last two days.  They’re digging up Ludlow, covering the long trenches with huge iron plates which make horrendous clanking noises all night long when vehicles drive over them.  Still worse, the bulldozer-like machine which is breaking up the concrete pavement creates vibrations that make our house tremble.   We’re convinced that the ceilings are about to fall in, though I think we’ve now survived the worst of it.

The pinnacle of January weirdness occurred last week when I was driving on Guerley Road on the west side of town.  The traffic came to a complete standstill on my side of the two-lane road.  It was puzzling because there were no driveways or side streets on the long barren stretch.  As it turned out, a driver had stopped his blue pickup truck, gotten out, walked thirty feet up the hillside, and proceeded to relieve himself in the bushes.   The he zipped himself up and walked back to his truck. I can certainly empathize with peeing in the woods when you have to go, but it’s hard to imagine doing it in front of a crowd of irritated fellow motorists.

So now it's finally February.  I think it will be a better month.  The days will be a little longer, the temperatures a few degrees milder.  Today's the Super Bowl; tomorrow's Groundhog Day.  Valentine's Day is Feb. 14, Presidents Day is Feb. 16, Mardi Gras is on the 17th.  Then my sister's birthday is on Feb. 24.  You don’t often find a better lineup than that.  Maybe we've gotten through most of the bad stuff for the entire rest of the year.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Archive: Vic's Photos (#10)

Vicki and Peter (circa 1948)

Dear George,
My dad, Vic L., was an excellent photographer.  In the early 2000’s my brother Peter transformed many of Vic’s family photos into postcards. Peter’s multi-year project is the source of most of the images below.  Each week I post a new selection of “Vic’s Photos” on this blog’s righthand column.  Because these individual photos don’t get saved, I’ve been reproducing batches of them in a series of archives.  This is No. 10.  An interested reader can locate earlier archives by clicking on “Archives” in the “Labels” section of the right-hand column and scrolling down.  There are lots of rich memories of our childhood and family and friends in Menominee.

My maternal grandfather Guy Cramer, a retired insurance executive, moved to Menominee from Omaha several years after his wife Nora died.  He lived up the street from us at 914 Ogden Avenue, and he also built a large summer cottage on a prime location on the Menominee River about a mile out of town.  The house was set in a grove of Norway pines.  This is an early photo, and the willow tree, evergreens, and birches that later graced the front lawn aren’t there yet.  Guy died in 1942.  Our family moved into the house in 1946 when my dad returned from the war, and we siblings spent our childhood and teenage years there.  While I sometimes felt separated from friends in town, our river house was, in many respects, an idyllic location in which to grow up.     

Here are my mom and dad, Doris and Vic, decked out in their winter finery outside our dining room window.  Because my dad was the family photographer, we have few pictures of Vic and Doris together.  This is a particularly pleasing one. 

Here’s my brother Steve, maybe a year old, with our mom.  Steve grew up to have an affectionate, joking connection with Doris.  As the firstborn, I was a lot more uptight as a young person, but Steve, the second born child, developed much more of our mother’s propensity for fun and good times.  His cheery nature served us all well.

Xmas was a big occasion in our household.  Here I’m about six which would mean we lived in town at our house on Sheridan Road.  While they weren’t extravagant, my parents always made sure that Santa delivered presents we would enjoy.  

Here’s my sister Vicki and myself in front of the family Xmas tree in December, 1947.  Vicki was born on February 24th of that year, so she’s about 10 months old.  I can’t remember very much about any of my siblings as infants, except that Vicki’s birth was a huge event in our family.  Given three older boys in a row, our parents were thrilled to have a baby girl.

This is Vicki’s first birthday.  I was ten years older than Vicki, so I probably thought she was cute, but not yet the sort of sibling with whom you could play Chinese checkers or have an acorn fight.  My most vivid memory of Vicki’s infancy has to do with a day that my mother decided I should help more with child care and gave me a diaper-changing task.  I was mortified, and when my mother turned her head, I ran out the dining room door and disappeared into the back yard.  I wandered around the property across the road for the rest of the day, and a large horse chased me across the field.  I thought it was better to be trampled to death by a horse than to change a baby’s diapers.  

Here are kids playing softball in our front yard in the winter.  I’m not certain, but my best guess is that Terry O’Hara is at bat, I’m pitching, and my brother Steve is waiting for his turn to hit.  Some favorite family trees are in the photo -- Norway pines at the left, birches on the riverbank, the large spruce in the center of the yard, and the willow tree,at the right, by far the best tree for climbing.  Our front yard was our sports stadium: baseball, football, golf, archery, rifle shooting, track and field, etc.  We played basketball in back of the house at the garage.  

Terry O’Hara is a regular reader of this blog, so she may be surprised to run across her portrait as a teenager.  The O’Hara’s were our closest family friends, and we’d get together regularly at their house on the Green Bay shore or at our house on the river.  Terry, the oldest kid in their family, was two years younger than me; Michael Dennis, a year younger than my brother Steve; Kiera, the same age as my sister Vicki; and Patrick Sean, the youngest of all the kids in the two families.  Terry was always full of energy and enthusiasm.  We did lots of swimming, boating, sports, hiking in the forest, fireplace fires, movie-going, trick-or-treating on Halloween, and childhood pranks.  

Dooley (left) and Ann were the daughters of Jean and Margaret Worth, close friends of my parents, and we all grew up together.  The Worths had a hunting camp at Cedar River which was a gathering place for adults and kids in this friendship group, and we had many enjoyable times at the camp and in the surrounding primeval forest.  

Vicki (left) and Kiera O’Hara were age-mates and grew up together as BFF’s.  Kiera was born on the Fourth of July and was nicknamed Firecracker.  Vicki got most of her religious exposure from going to church with Kiera and her family.  The girls went to the University of Michigan and were freshmen together during my last year of graduate school there. 

Here’s my teenage sister Vicki with the Popkey’s St. Bernard from across the road.  The Popkey family, which included four boys and a girl (Ross, Bill, John, Dan, and Dolly), moved to Riverside Boulevard in the early 1950s, and the younger boys would frequently bring their St. Bernard pet over to visit our house.  The dog's name was Manfred, after the dog in the Tom Terrific cartoon show.  He was the largest dog we’d ever seen. 

Here are my three siblings -- Vicki, Peter, and Steve -- somewhere in Menominee County in midwinter.  This is about as hilly as it gets near Menominee, and Vicki’s holding an aluminum disc for sledding.  Peter has the family BB gun, and Steve has a pistol for target shooting.  I'm going to guess that Steve is about 16, which would make it 1957.  I was away at college.    

This is my friend Bob A. and myself in the late 1950’s.  We’d bee high school classmates.  Bob was in college at one of Michigan’s state universities while Katja and I were students at Antioch.  Bob arranged for my dad to purchase a 1952 Buick from his uncle which I drove back and forth between Yellow Springs and Menominee, Philadelphia, New York, and even San Francisco.  We’re still good friends with Bob and his wife Lois, though we only get together every few years in Menominee. 

I’m opening a Christmas present in our living room, probably about my junior or senior year of high school.  Our family’s Hammond Chord Organ is in the background.  Vicki and I were the most interested in playing the chord organ, and Katja and I still have it in our second floor elevator room.  One of my dad’s oil paintings is on the wall. 

Here's our mom, Doris, with her four kids in front of the living room fireplace at our home.  From the left: myself (approx. 18 years old), Peter (10), Steve (14), and Vicki (8).  I think that's our new family television set.  I first saw television in Menominee at my friend Sally H's house as a ninth-grader.  Our family was just about the last in our entire circle of acquaintances to get this new-fangled gadget.  I remember sitting on the living room couch and watching Minneapolis Laker basketball games, starring George Mikan.  

Here are Marty and Jackie Burke, along with my dad and mom (at the right).  I’d guess they are off on a trip together.  The Burke’s oldest son Skipper was my best childhood chum, and we were all sad when their family moved from Menominee to Minneapolis when Skipper and I were in fifth or sixth grade.  

My father and his friends were members of the World War II generation.  He’s pictured here with Mike and Jean O’Hara and Pat Steffke.  Vic was in the Navy, Mike in the Marines, and Pat in the Army.  There was lots of joking by the veterans about which branch of the military was the most vital, but in truth they all had great respect for one another.  

This is my dad’s friend and law partner, Dick Sawyer, with one of his kids (Peter guessed it was their son Chip).  The Sawyer’s lived in a house on State Street, and we lived two blocks away on Sheridan Road.  Dick had a hunting camp in Menominee County, and I was invited to come along for a pre-dawn duck hunting expedition as a teenager. 

My sister Vicki looks pretty young to be smoking a cigarette, especially given that her anti-smoking dad is taking the picture.  I'm going to guess that she's a college student in her first year at the University of Michigan in 1965.  We all took up smoking as college students, if not before.  It was a destructive habit, but it seemed like everybody smoked in those days.  It took me twenty years to quit, my siblings even more.    

Uncle Kent was my dad’s younger brother (and a twin brother of Karl).  He was in the Army in World War II and participated in the invasion of France where he was awarded a Silver Medal.  Kent came back from the war and owned and operated my grandfather’s drugstore on Electric Square in Menominee, as well as serving as State Commander of the American Legion and an elected member of the Michigan House of Representatives.  Because I was a habituĂ© of the drugstore’s comic book department, I had more frequent contact with Uncle Kent during my childhood than with any other member of our extended family.