Category Archives: Family

February

It’s a beautiful sunny day. Clear and sunny and 3 degrees. Yes, it’s Minnesota where hell does freeze over. I know you hearty folks who love to get out and snowmobile and ski and snowshoe and winter camp and ice fish and all those other forms of winter insanity will say that it’s a fabulous winter, plenty of snow to play in, but to me it’s just COLD. Yesterday I think Rebecca got the paper and brought in the mail so I didn’t even go outside all day. Someone said that April is the cruelest month. For that honor, I’ll give my vote to February.

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Road Trip Randomness

1300 miles on the car in 10 days. From Minneapolis to Chicago to Traverse City Michigan on the way up, with an overnight stay at Lucia’s on the way up and then straight through via Chicago on the way back, thirteen and a half hours in the car. About an hour in the car had a nice mixture of fragrance, B.O. and ripe melon, which only intensified as the hours passed.

We stayed in a mid-nineteenth century farm house on Old Mission Peninsula courtesy of our friends Charlie and Barb. It’s a big house, still much the same as it was when it was built, with added conveniences like a fairly modern kitchen and indoor plumbing, it’s an incredibly charming place. In front is a stand of giant white pines and then the orchard, first cherries and closer to the lake, apples. And then there’s Lake Michigan and an incredible stretch of beach which we had to ourselves.

Any trip to the Traverse City area turns out to be all about food. Here’s a few highlights.

Ribs at the farmhouse, we improvised an amazing sauce from the braising liquid and some plum jam that had just been cooked up. Barb whipped up a couple of pies, cherry (what else, it is after all the cherry capitol of the world) and cherry raspberry.

Dr. Mary Clemens, my friend and client came out to the farmhouse and made us a great vegetarian meal, shredded beet and parsnip salad, and whole wheat pasta with fresh tomato soup. And Barb came through with another pie.

Dinner with David and Lucia at Blu in Glen Arbor. Amazing space, with floor to ceiling glass looking out over the lake, and on this night five foot waves rolling onto the shore. We had braised pork belly for an appetizer and I had the duck confit.

Lunch at Cook’s House, a tiny place in downtown Traverse City that seats twenty people at most. I had a ham sandwich with fig compote. Remember on my last trip I had the world’s greatest ham sandwich at Frenchie’s? This was the world’s greatest ham sandwich.

Then back to the other side of the Leelanau Peninsula to Burdickville (you won’t find it on the map) and La Becasse, a restaurant specializing in French country cuisine. Another amazing meal, we split a plate of amazing risotto and I had the rack of lamb, maybe the best I’ve ever had.

On our last day Reb and I drove out to Onema to visit the Tamarack Gallery a wonderful little gallery with an eclectic collection of work by artists all over the country.

Scottsboro Boys

We had a great weekend. Lucia and David drove up from Chicago and Quinn came home to celebrate Reb’s birthday. It was great to have the whole family together, even for such a short time.

Lucia and David had to leave in the early afternoon Sunday and we capped the weekend off by attending a performance of the bound for Broadway musical Scottsboro Boys. We went with Quinn and her BF Dave, Quinn had landed free tickets courtesy her server job at Level Five, one of the restaurants at the Guthrie.

When Quinn offered us the tickets, my first instinct was to not go. Scottsboro Boys is a musical based on the story of nine black teenagers who were arrested in Alabama in the thirtys, accused of gang raping two white women while riding a freight train from Chattanooga to Memphis. They were tried and sentenced to death but the Supreme Court overturned their convictions, and in spite of the fact that one of the women recanted, they were retried and convicted several more times. All but one of them was eventually released. But not until they spent years in jail. I didn’t see how a musical about the evils of southern justice would be that entertaining. The theme of social injustice in dramatic presentations always fills me with a level of anger that I find hard to take. I had to be dragged to see Schindler’s List and probably would have walked out if I hadn’t been in the middle of the row. The idea of making a light hearted musical out of something truly evil doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m glad I went. It wasn’t a light hearted musical. They take an outdated form, the minstrel show, and bend it into a cuttingly ironic social critique. Minstrel shows featured white men in black face playing stereotypical blacks for laughs. Here, in all but one case, the black minstrels play the white characters, representing southern justice and biting, black humor. They’ve taken a huge risk presenting this sad story in a comic form that our twenty-first century sensibilities would find appallingly offensive and turn it on it’s head to make a powerful statement. And immensely entertains us in the process. From the spare set, some chairs a few planks and some tambourines, the incredible timing of the choreography and the performances of the cast, you know you are witnessing something really special.

I’m so glad that they chose the Guthrie for their final tune-up before taking the show to Broadway. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge hit. Thanks Quinn.

He’s Back

Well, it’s been quite awhile since my last post. I could make all kinds of excuses for not keeping this up, but I’m not one for excuses. Except I’ve been really busy, and I’ve been working on editing and producing a blog for someone else, and I’ve had writers cramp and maybe I’ve been a little depressed and I’ve been working on my garden and, well you know, no excuses.

I’m not going to dwell on the past so I’m just going to touch on a few things that have been going on this summer and then move on. It’s not like nothing’s been happening, it’s been a great summer with a couple of trips to Chicago, one to Traverse City and another one planned for Labor Day.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m working, with the help of the Quinn’s bf Dave and the neighbor boys, on a major garden expansion. I’ve added about 600 sq. ft. at the back of our yard. That’s 600 sq. ft. that I don’t have to mow.

Here’s a little gallery of some of the summers event.

Joan, you will be missed.

If this is blather is to seriously be considered as a personal blog, I need to acknowledge the passing of a dear friend, memorable character and a woman who I thought of as my surrogate mom. Joan Benson, the mother of Bill, one of my very closest friends, the guy who taught me everything I know about basketball. Except what I learned from Red on Roundball.

The first time I met Joan was in 1972. I had just graduated from college and Bill and I had loaded up a Driveaway Oldsmobile to be delivered to Spokane and headed west to seek our fortunes. After driving all night we pulled into the Talking Bird Saloon in St. Regis Montana for breakfast. As we were mounting the steps to the restaurant door we saw the headline in the newspaper stand, “93 miners trapped in Sunshine Mine fire.” Bill’s father was a miner, working at another mine in the area, the Galena, but he was on the fire rescue crew and Bill knew his dad would have finished his shift at the Galena and gone right down into the Sunshine to find the survivors. If there were any.

That moment on the steps of the Talking Bird and the moment his Mom came to the door to greet us are as clear to me as if they happened yesterday. Actually much clearer, but I’m old. His dad had indeed gone down into the Sunshine the evening before, and hadn’t come home yet. “Oh, Billy” were the fist words out of her mouth, our eyes met as she embraced him and they were wide and tears were streaming down her cheeks.

In those days Bill had shoulder length blonde hair that made him look a bit like a Viking warrior. He was pretty sure his parents didn’t share my noble view of his appearance. I think the next words out of Joan’s mouth were, “God, your hair!” We went directly into the kitchen and she took the clippers to Bill, giving him a new recruit buzz in about five minutes. The rest of the next couple of days are not so clear to me. I think there were only two survivors, so the death toll was ninety-one. Bill (Big Bill, my friend’s dad) had been up all night, down in the mine which was full of poisonous gas, pulling out bodies. He had to stop because he couldn’t hold his stomach and if you lost it in your gas mask, you’d be a statistic too.

Imagine a small community losing 91 people in one terrible accident. The area consists of a scattering of small towns built up on every patch of scarce level ground along the South Fork of the Cour d’Alene River. The Bensons lived in Wallace, there was Burke, Silverton, Mullen, Pineville, Osburn and the big town, Kellogg. Bill could remind me of others. Every person in every town was effected. And that’s how I started the most memorable summer of my life, four months that played a major part in making me the person I am today.

Joan didn’t suffer fools well and she didn’t suffer me much at first. The thing that we joked about through the years was her finally forgiving me for spilling milk on her new carpet at dinner. But I also think she recognized me as a soft and pampered “Easterner.” The summer changed the soft part, but that’s another story. Fortunately she was receptive to my charm and more importantly she really liked the two women in my life over the years. She and  Bill’s dad bonded immediately with both my girlfriend at the time and the woman who eventually became my wife, both of which possess irresistible charm and neither of which could ever be described as pampered. It didn’t hurt that my antics were always good for a laugh and a story. She didn’t hide what she was thinking so it wasn’t too long before I knew I was accepted into the family. I thought of the Bensons as surrogate parents.

So rest in peace Joan. You were a beautiful, smart, loving person, fiercely loyal to those you loved and not a person anyone would mess with.

That summer is the source of about three quarters of my stories. Firestorms, whorehouses, narrow brushes with the law, my basketball baptism and rubber duckies in the river. But more about that later.

Role Reversal

Saturday night we were heading out to dinner when the garage door stopped about two-thirds of the way down. Wouldn’t go down wouldn’t go up. We were a bit late getting started to make our reservations already, I went in and popped the door loose and shut it manually, intending to deal with it in the morning.

In the morning, after charging up with coffee, a banana and cheetos we set out on a DIY adventure. Our first idea was to observe the machine in action in order to diagnose the problem. In order to do that it was, of course, necessary to reconnect the door to the opener, by sliding the runner back over the bolt protruding from the rail that holds it to the moving chain. So I grabbed the handle on the release chord and pulled it forward expecting to pop it over the bolt. First time, didn’t go. Second time, fail. Third time, not the charm. So relying on the bigger hammer  theory of mechanical repair, I grabbed the door and gave it a healthy upward push. The runner popped over the bolt and beyond, breaking the translucent housing that protected the light bulb and becoming hopelessly jammed on the other side. I wanted to call a garage repair guy, Beck wanted to call Dean the handy neighbor. She prevailed, which was a good thing. I should always yield to her better judgement. As if I have a choice.

Dean is in his seventies and I would say that I hoped to be in that good shape when I get that old, except that would mean I’d have to be in better shape than I am now. After struggling for about an hour to undo the damage that I had done, he took about thirty seconds to find the problem. Apparently the drive gear, made out of nylon, had worn down to the point of failure. A common flaw, it seems, because Dean’s replaced this component for pretty much the entire neighborhood. The parts guy a Sears knew what we’d come in for as soon as he saw that we were carrying the manual for the opener. We grabbed lunch at the 50s Grill on Brooklyn Blvd. returned with the part and everything was back together in an hour. Including the service door from the garage to the house, which also broke at some point during the repair process.

I stood out in the garage and watched for a little while, but it was apparent that I was useless in that situation. Beck stayed out to watch and learn. She’s much more mechanically adept than me and I usually defer to her when it comes to fixing stuff around the house. I know, the man card is in danger again.

Thinking about the events of the day and the fact that I do most of the cooking, we decided that I make a pretty good housewife. And she loves a man in an apron.

Next post: I’m going to cogitate on the plastic part that wears out before the machine is any where near the end of it’s life. Design flaw?