Lesson Learned the Hard Way

He was six years old. I only met him once at the special needs foster home. He was reserved, guarded, watchful. The epitome of the hyper-sensitive child so common in foster children. It was clear there was a lot going on and this would not be easy. I noticed the marks on his neck. Though it had been eight months since the incident, the marks were faded. Still, they were there.

I first heard about him when my supervisor and the agency Director of Child and Family Services of Upper Michigan called for a staff meeting. Eight months previously, this boy had tried to hang himself twice in a couple of days. After the second attempt, the community mental health clinic arranged a transport to the nearest psychiatric hospital. This was no small task.

We lived in the most western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and there were no psychiatric hospitals in all of the UP. The nearest was at Traverse City State Hospital and that meant traveling across the entire UP and over the Mackinaw Bridge to Lower Michigan. Once treatment was completed, his discharge plan was to return to his home county for follow up services; this included a recommendation for placement in a foster home.

In the staff meeting, I was given the job of locating and overseeing a special needs foster home. We talked at length about the legal and financial issues. When at the hospital, he had been enrolled in SSI and this would ensure payment for aftercare services.

This child had been placed by the Michigan Department of Mental Health instead of the child protective system. So, the usual practice of obtaining a court order to take temporary legal custody had been bypassed.

This family was fully co-operative and unknown to the system with no past history of legal or child protection involvement. This was a child self-endangerment and mental health case rather than a child abuse or neglect case. For that reason, it was decided it would be handled voluntarily.

I’d spent many hours recruiting, training and preparing the foster home and as many hours establishing a relationship with the parents. It takes a long time to gain trust and develop the team that’s needed to help this child. I was sure to be clear that we were a team, no one was the boss and we all were here to help this child.  Everyone was in agreement.

Looking back, I have to ask: what were we thinking? how could we possibly think this could work? The court process seems punitive and sometimes unforgiving so I understood our wish to bypass it. I now see how naïve that was. This work is usually misunderstood and often involves action that goes against what parents want in order to do what’s best for the child. That’s just the nature of the beast.

All it took was the parents learning that the SSI check mailed to them had to be given to the agency to defray the cost of care. Within a week the parents ended the placement. There was no talking them out of it. They knew what was best for their child. And we had no authority.

I was shocked but probably shouldn’t have been. I’d come to know the family was struggling financially and saw how they reasoned this money would be additional income.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty is a common phrase and it sure applies to this case. How bad could a home situation be that a child would try to kill himself?  Looking at the severity of the child’s actions would have told us and we should have listened. Using the full force of the law, we could have protected this child. But we didn’t.

From this, the family disappeared from our view and we’d never know what happened to this child. I learned a hard lesson and came away with a new respect for the power of the law and the need to put a child’s needs above all else.





My Professional Life in the UP

In 1978, I began as a social worker at Gogebic County Department of Social Services; the office was located at an annex to the court house in Bessemer, the county seat. Everything, the police department, the jail, the courts, social services and the health department was under one roof.

I began working in Adult Services with a case load of over 100 clients living in the community. These included the elderly, physically and developmentally disabled and mentally ill. My job was to keep them living independently and also to assist when placement became necessary.

As with most small agencies, it was necessary to fill in or switch to another needed service. In my time there, I went from adult services to family services then child protective services and finally to foster care.

Then about three years in, the unexpected. A state-wide lay-off.  Seems Michigan’s governor and director of Social Services didn’t see eye-to-eye regarding money. The Governor pulled rank and froze funding. The result was every county in the state had to reduce staff. Last hired, first fired. We lost two positions and I was one of them.

I have to say I enjoyed the spring and summer on unemployment. But began to worry as the leaves changed and the temperatures cooled. I’m now divorced, living alone in my house at Big Powderhorn ski hill, worrying about the isolation winter snows would bring. I found an ad in the Ironwood Daily Globe and got the job as a social worker at LaCroix Hospital in White Pine.

Feeling lucky to be employed, it didn’t take long for me to be bored to the hilt. As a medical social worker my job entailed seeing each new admission in this eight-bed facility. My work was done in less than an hour. Most admissions were medically cleared, then transferred to another building that housed a thirty-day AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction) treatment program. That’s where I wanted to be.

I approached hospital management about working in the treatment program with no good result; so, I wrote a letter to the President of the hospital board. This was intercepted by the manager who scolded me for the end run. But then, he supported my transfer to the treatment program where I’d eventually become a Co-Director.

Hardest part of the job was the drive.   I lived in the central time zone and worked in the eastern time zone. This meant I left for the one-hour drive at 6:00 am central time to get to work by 8:00 am eastern time. This was nice going the other way when I left work at 4:00 pm to get home by 4:00 pm.

Next hardest was the roads, leaving US-2, heading north through Wakefield and Bergland and out to White Pine. There were days while I’m driving in pitch darkness and never passed one car the entire trip. And this was no highway but a two-lane county road. There was a light on the highway at the White Pine turn-off and I was relieved to have it guide me on the last leg of the trip.

The time I spent in the treatment program added important new skills to my resume. It was also a great lesson in never burning bridges and the value of staying in contact with former colleagues. That’s how I heard a rumor of a job at Child and Family Services of Upper Michigan who ran grant-funded programming.  They had cobbled together a thirty-hour a week job in Gogebic County working in two grant funded programs.

I’d spend half my time doing in-home family therapy with clients referred from juvenile court and county child protective services. These were families too chaotic or unorganized to come to a therapist’s office. My job was to meet them in their home and try to prepare them for traditional therapy.

The other half of my time was spent recruiting and supervising volunteer parent aides. Following the WAR (World of Abnormal Rearing) cycle developed by professors at the University of Michigan, the goal was to inject a positive role model into a young parent’s life and break the cycle of future unplanned pregnancy.

Soon after starting, my job was expanded to forty hours a week. A six-year-old was set to return to our county after his admission to a psychiatric hospital in Traverse City. My agency was asked to recruit and manage a special needs foster home that would ease this child’s way back into his family.

It was good to be back in my home territory where I worked alongside former colleagues, though Child and Family Services was my boss. Here’s where it gets a little funny. My supervisor was in Houghton-Hancock, 100 miles northwest of Bessemer. Child and Family’s home office was in Marquette, 140 miles northeast of Bessemer. This was before skype or facetime and even e-mails. I was literally on my own. Let’s just say, I learned to be self-sufficient.

Then I received a letter of re-call to my original job with Gogebic County. There were many shrieks of disbelief from former colleagues when I turned it down. I knew, if I went back, I’d never leave the area. Since I was divorced, I no longer had a reason to be there.

I’d worked at every job this area had to offer.  More important, I wanted to go to graduate school so had to move where there was one. I searched and found a job near Milwaukee, hired a real estate agent who also agreed to find renters until the house was sold. I started packing. I was ready for the next phase.



Making Ends Meet in the UP

From 1970 to 1985, I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s’ Gogebic County (pronounced with hard G’s). This was my first time living in such a remote, rural area. I had a lot to learn about working and surviving here.

Gogebic County is the most western county in the UP that I jokingly called the outback since it was so remote; a place time seemed to have passed by. There were no major industries, only small mom and pop bars, restaurants and shops that catered to hunters, fishermen and vacationers with the stamina to travel the extra distance to reach this undeveloped area.

The Gogebic Range has a long history of mining. First iron. Then copper. Towns grew up around mining locations and this was confusing when I, as a newcomer, asked for directions: go to the Ramsey Location and turn left at Hautala’s. Both locations and Finnish names were a constant puzzle.

One of the biggest employers was White Pine Copper Company in White Pine, Michigan. This was in Ontonagon County north of us.  The Company ran buses transporting workers at least an hour from the Ironwood area to the mine. When the mine closed in 1982, this was devastating to the economy.

I have a vivid memory of one of the laid-off miners who handled this trauma by taking to his bicycle. Nothing fancy, just a two-wheeled pedal bike. He rode every day all day and I’d often see him on US-2 between Ironwood and Bessemer. Seeing him made me sad.

As with most rural areas, the only good jobs were in medical, education and government. A steady, year-round, full-time job with benefits was prized and not plentiful. Then there’s tourism which provides seasonal and low paying service jobs that are dependent on outside forces such as the weather and the economy.

And its tourism that had brought us here. My husband had met a real estate agent who introduced him to the owner of Big Powderhorn Ski Resort in what’s called Big Snow Country. The 200 to 300 inches of lake effect snow Lake Superior dumped here each year resulted in his certainty; this was a prime place to achieve his dream of owning and operating a residential building company. Ski chalets particularly.

He set up his business and landed a few contracts from big city ski enthusiasts who wanted to build their dream get-away at the ski hill. I entered the service industry work force and put in time at various restaurants, hotels and shops. I also became his go-fer.

Each day, when my paying work life was done, I’d arrive home to a list of things to do. Deliver some papers to the bank. A trip to the post office. Phone calls to follow-up on back-ordered materials.

It was tough going. The business was operated from our kitchen table. Besides the contracted homes there was also the speculative ones. As each house became habitable, we moved there until it was sold. Just barely habitable, I might add.

In fact, I quickly grew tired of washing dishes in a plastic container in the bathtub, and instituted a rule: before we moved in, there had to be a door on the bathroom, running water in the kitchen and at least one light, even a bare bulb hanging somewhere.

I laughed heartily when I heard I was the talk of the town. People were judging me, saying I was taking a job away from a local; why was I working when we were rich. If they only knew.

With the development of his business, we began socializing with various members of the business community. One man I’d known for a few years but was surprised to find out he was the Director of the Gogebic County Department of Social Services. He became quite interested in me when he learned I had a bachelor’s degree. He was anticipating an opening for a social worker, a four-year degree was required and wondered if I’d be interested.

He further explained Michigan uses the civil service system.  That means applicants take a civil service test and are put on a state-wide list according to their score. Applicants designate which counties they are willing to work in. Then, when an opening occurs, the Director must hire someone from that list.

He said he was discouraged by his recent hires. These were usually people already in the system, all excited to come up and live in God’s Country; they would, in a short time, became lonely and see how hard it was to fit in.  Soon they returned to wherever they’d come from. Tell me about it. I’d lived here for eight years and had become accustomed to being the perpetual outsider.

He was ecstatic that I already lived here. Of course, I said yes, I’m interested. He actually hand-carried the application to my house. That’s when I knew this could really lead to something. As instructed, I called him once I was on the list, when his opening occurred, he set up an interview. I’m not sure how many other applicants he saw but I got the job.  My life was changed forever.



From Morning to Night

I always said I’m a morning person. And I was. Up at dawn. Full of new ideas, I’d often go to bed with a problem and wake up with the solution.

Endless energy but to bed early in order to face the next day. Even on weekends.  I couldn’t sleep in.  Remember those lovely days in college when it was nothing to sleep until noon.

After years of retirement, it finally sinks in. No need to rise at a certain hour.  I can take naps when tired during the day. Now I stay up until all hours; then get up when I feel like it.

Some days I get on the computer while still in my night clothes and work on a project until noon.  But I’m having dreams every night.

Research shows that people who dream are less likely to have Alzheimer issues as they age. Sounds good to me.

These are vivid and action filled dreams. I can’t identify where they take place and nothing looks familiar. The people in my dreams, and there are many, are unknown to me.

I wake thinking I have something important to do. I feel a sense of dread. Then, once fully awake, I realize it was only a dream.

It’s like watching a movie. Though I’m in the movie, I’m only an observer and what happens doesn’t affect me. That’s perfect; unlike those days of work-related pressure.

I’m loving my transition from morning person to night owl.

Connie’s Supper Club

My first job when I moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was at Connie’s Supper Club in Hurley Wisconsin. My boyfriend (who would become my husband) and I had done little or no planning before moving there. Ah, the folly of youth. We would learn our lessons the hard way. I was desperate to change this homeless and jobless situation.

This was in 1970 and Hurley was coasting along on its illustrious history as a wild getaway for hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers and gangsters. Hurley’s main thoroughfare was Silver Street (all of five blocks long in this town of 800 people).  The street ended with what was called the lower block, sloping down into Ironwood Michigan; it was lined with the remnants of bars, restaurants, strip clubs and brothels of years gone by.

I’d answered an advertisement in the Ironwood Daily Globe. Ironwood and Hurley were adjacent to each other on the Wisconsin/Michigan border. I’d like to think I was hired on the spot due to six years of waitress experience, working my way through college. But since I’d later learn about the area’s dismal work force, maybe anyone who applied was hired.

Connie herself interviewed me. I’m using the word interview loosely since it took just three minutes. Connie was an older woman who stuck to business. She had thick, black, wavy hair. Dyed for sure. Connie had a stern look, complimented by bags under her eyes, hollows and creases on forehead and cheeks. Always in a tailored dress, she wore bright red lipstick and was an incessant smoker.

While working there, I’d heard rumors that Connie had been a madam in old time Hurley and she sort of looked the part. I also heard she’d been a friend to Al Capone. Madam?  I don’t know what to think about that but friend of Al Capone was believable. This was due to the gangster shoot-out at Little Bohemia in Manitowish  Dillinger and Capone, were known to visit the area.

Jimmie was the chef. He was quite elderly and a well-known fixture in the Hurley bar and restaurant world. I can see him behind the grill with his white chef’s hat, a grease spattered apron protecting his paunch and a cigarette hanging from his lip. He was the epitome of the Italian chef; always in Italian, he and Connie would argue and joke throughout the night. He was especially proud of his gnocchi.

I’d come into work and pick up my bucket. These were the days before computers. The bucket was a plastic container that held a base amount of money. Customers paid us and we made change. A cash register kept track of our orders and at the end of our shift it tallied up what we owed. After paying that, we returned the base amount to the bucket; what was left was our tips.

One night two young guys, who were seated at the rear of the dining room near the back door, walked out on me. All they had to do was watch me turn into the kitchen then make their get-away. The rule was we had to pay for walk-outs.

I refused, argued my case to Connie, saying the door should have been locked or maintained in some way. She just shrugged and walked away. When it came time to tally up my night, I wrote walk-out on the slip and shorted the bucket. I was sure Connie would fire me. But she never said a word.

Once in a while after our shift, a few of us would go down to the lower block to have breakfast at one of the strip clubs. By the time we got there, the dancing was done for the night and the cook obliged us with a late-night order.

I don’t remember the name of the place but an internet search reveals  that today there are still six strip clubs with addresses ranging from 15 Silver Street to 27 Silver Street. The myth of “Helen of Hurley” lives on in the lower block.

The Ironwood Daily Globe offers details of interest about Connie’s Supper Club: Many Gogebic Range residents remember that the supper club was operated by Serafino “Suds” and Naomi (Connie) Willard, when it was called Connie’s. It was sold around 1992 and first called the Silver Dragon, specializing in Chinese food, before featuring chicken as Wishbone Restaurant.

The reason for the article was to report details of the 2013 fire that completely destroyed the building. It wasn’t open at the time since the owners were on vacation. The fire was said to be hot and quick. The article included a picture of the building that brought back many of these memories.

I worked at Connie’s for maybe a year, until I was able to search out other opportunities. And that would be the first chapter in my fifteen-year adventure living and surviving in the UP.  Over time, I found good friends and real jobs and was able to acclimate to what seemed like a foreign land. But I will be forever grateful for that first job.

Corporate is Coming..Corporate is Coming

In April, 2019, the residents of Hawthorne Terrace were informed the building had been sold to a property management company based in Chicago. The current building manager who’d been here a long time was being transferred to other properties still owned by the landlord. Chaos ensued.

As I look back, I get it that the new owner wanted a fresh start. The long-time manager had been running the place as a senior living facility for the last six years even though it was now an apartment complex. Perhaps corporate didn’t want to deal with her resistance.

And with that, a whole new vocabulary entered our world. It had to do with corporate, this faceless, mysterious entity that controls all from afar. I’ll have to check with corporate. I’m not sure what corporate will say about that. Instead of a solution in minutes, it now takes days. And sometimes, no answer.

My first problem occurred when I sent my rent check to the old landlord a week before the announcement of a change in ownership. So, I had to deal with not one, but two corporates. Corporate One wanted their rent money and said they’d need to charge me late fees if they didn’t get it soon. I called Corporate Two and sure enough they had the money and said they’d take care of it. When and how it got solved, I have no idea. But it did.

A new building manager came on board amidst this chaos. I liked her. She was a young and energetic woman. On her first day, the maintenance man declared he hated her. I asked how he could do that without giving her a chance. Perhaps it was her funky clothes, spike heels and extra-long eyelashes. Or how each of her thirteen wigs made her look different each day.

She held a resident meeting, attended by a core of about twenty senior residents. Only 40% of the residents were seniors; the rest were students and young families.  She stressed that she wanted to keep things the way they were. She planned to continue and expand the long-established activities.

She also hoped people would stop yelling at her. She was working really hard. And this we knew since she was in the office days, nights and weekends. When a resident asked if what she was planning was in agreement with corporate, she said no. She then restated her goal of satisfying the senior residents.

I immediately thought her days were numbered with that attitude. Then I heard her boss from corporate had been standing outside in the hallway listening throughout the meeting. Sure enough, three days later she was gone. Chaos elevated.

A resident decided she was a perfect fit to be the next building manager and intended to apply.  She worked hard to convince the bosses that she could do the job. Or some part of the job. She had money problems and this was her solution.

What she did was take it upon herself to clean public areas of the building. She threw away food and drink in the kitchen that belonged to a resident. She moved decorative brick from the entrance area to the garden at the back of the building.

In another of her self-appointed chores, she searched for a card table missing from the closet near the dining room; she got in a yelling, name-calling, finger-pointing altercation with another resident who felt they were being accused of stealing the card table. You know how the biggest part of communication is the body language. Her’s is a bit aggressive so I can see how this misunderstanding could happen.

She’s doing all these things without the knowledge or approval of corporate. She says she’s trying to make an impression on them that she can handle the job. I watch with interest and just stay out of the way. By the way, a new manager has been hired.

I joked with my sit-in-the-library-wait-for-the -mail group that we should do a pool to see which services will end first. Just trying to inject some humor. It could be the bus that takes residents to local grocery stores and out to restaurants. The number going on these trips has dwindled.

Or the in-house grocery store. Or the free coffee in the computer room. Weekly Mass that has an attendance of less than twenty. The in-house beauty salon has already gone from two days to one day each week.

Just as I said that, we got a letter informing us the emergency buzzers in all apartments will be taken out next month. That wasn’t my pick but also no surprise.  What to do, some worry. I guess we have to call 911 ourselves. We are all reminded that If things change too much, everyone has the option of moving.

Change brings out the best and worst in people. I feel very bad for the resident who is so desperate to feel useful and earn some money. Even more so, I feel bad for all the other residents who are having difficulty adjusting. But adjust we must. None of this is a shock. And it’s only the beginning.





Getting to Know You

Hurray for a GPS. It helped me find my way in this complicated new town. After a week of unpacking and settling in I was ready to make sense of everything. Each day I went exploring, deciding where I wanted to go, putting in the address and following the directions. That’s how I found shops, coffee places, the library, grocery stores, banks and pharmacies. Everything I needed. So close.

Next, I wanted to get to know everything about this lovely building. From talking to people who’ve been here a long time and from the internet I learned that this building that was once a school has an interesting history.

Hawthorne Junior High School was built in 1931 (so says the cornerstone) and serviced seventh and eighth grade students until 1969 or so. Hawthorne and other junior high schools were becoming overcrowded so the city decided to build a second high school and a middle school. Once students enrolled in the new schools, Hawthorne closed.

It sat empty until 1987 when it was purchased by Reilly Joseph who owned and managed several senior living facilities. They reconfigured the building to hold 40 apartments with 23 different floor plans. A few years later, the owners decided to expand.

The school’s indoor swimming pool west of the building (the only public swimming pool in Wauwatosa) was demolished and replaced by a new addition that added apartments and an underground parking garage. The building now has one hundred apartments and twenty -seven different floor plans. The architect of the expansion project, Jack Shepherd, lived in the apartment next to mine.

In summer 2013, due to the many vacancies, the owners decided the building needed to become an inter-generational apartment building. This was about the time I moved in. Here’s where it gets interesting and where the residents of the building become part of the story.

The woman who was the building manager had been working there a long time. I heard many stories of how wonderful this place had been in its heyday. The dinners and cocktail hours were a great memory. The manger’s husband, a retired restaurant and bar owner, did the cooking. Yikes! The health department would have lots to say about that.

I’d met some residents who had never lived anywhere else but in their home, while married and raising children and then in this place mostly as widows. I met two who had been life-long friends since grade school. Another resident discovered a new man who’d moved in had been the best man in her wedding some fifty years ago.  It was a small world.

The building manager and her husband had for many years lived in the building. They thought of the residents as family and accommodated them in this way. So, any change would have been hard for them. For me, a newcomer, I thought it was nice that now families and children were being welcomed in.

Others thought it was terrible. The first year, we had four medical students move in. To me, they were the perfect neighbors. They were never around and when they were, they were studying. Management changed the long unused craft room to a study room to accommodate them.

This caused quite a fury and residents voiced concern that more drastic changes were coming. One resident feared this meant she could no longer walk the hallways as part of her exercise regime. So, she’s worried a medical student will assault her!  I also heard rumors that some residents had been unkind toward them. Hmm. I wonder if that has to do with the fact they were mostly Middle Eastern.

At first, I felt out of my element since I don’t’ have much in common with most who live here. When they hear of my divorced, childless by choice and non-religious attitude, there is stone cold silence. That’s okay because I’ve got plenty of friends who live nearby. In fact, I’ve reconnected with all the friends I’d left behind when I moved up north.

For me, I love this place. It has a quiet almost small-town feel with everything so close. I have the privacy I want but if I’m lonely I just walk down the hall to the library or the lobby. There’s always someone to chat with. I love sitting in my window to watch the soccer games in the park across the street.  I do a lot of reading while sitting on the patio. This has quickly become my home.


Turning For Home

Summer 2013. I’d come to town to search for my next home. A google search done while still living in Eagle River had helped me compile a list of eight promising possibilities. I was staying for three days at my friend Betty’s place in Waukesha while I conducted my search.

I headed out the first day for a 9:00 appointment to see the first on my list. Getting off the freeway, I made my way to Hawthorne Terrace on Portland Avenue in Wauwatosa.  I could see the flag on my GPS so knew I was close. Turning onto Portland Avenue, I found a lovely residential street with a grade school on the corner.

As I rounded that last curve, I was taken by the many trees all swaying in the summer breeze. An unexpected Northwoods canopy.  Hard to believe this was an urban area. I crossed Honey Creek Parkway and on the right was a city or county park. It was clear there would be no new construction going on in this fully developed neighborhood. That was a plus.

The building, formerly a school, was almost regal with its big windows and high tower. I drove around to the parking lot in back, parked and looked around. Everything was well-kept and neat. Flowers in pots and landscaping done to a T. I fell in love before I’d even stepped inside.

The building manager showed me around. A beautiful lobby, complete with fireplace. Meeting and dining rooms, a store, library, exercise room and hair salon.  But what most impressed me was that there were people everywhere. That squelched my fear that apartment living would be insolating.

The manager further explained that the property had recently been re-designated inter-generational. Due to the large number of vacancies, the owners had asked the city to change their license to an apartment building instead of a fifty-five plus facility.  I liked that. As a result, the building now had four medical students from the medical school that was about eight blocks away. She further explained the activities in the building such as a book group and bingo.

We finished the tour, I updated the GPS and soon arrived at the next place. It was also nice but I began to pick apart the small things. Too much traffic. So quiet. I was captivated by that first place.

From there, I went back to Betty’s house and excitedly told her I needed her to see what I’d found. The manager gave us another tour and Betty asked a few questions I’d overlooked in my excitement. We left with a next day appointment to see an apartment that would be available in a few months. Next day, I signed a lease and got an October move in date.

That seemed so easy. Too easy. Then doubts set in. I worried that I might have been too hasty. Perhaps I should have at least looked at the others. Canceling those other six appointments had felt right at the time but what if I’m making a mistake.

Next day, I drove back to Eagle River and had this great feeling as I drove through town to my apartment. It was a sense of relief. It was settled. I no longer belonged here, maybe never did. I made a list of what I had to do and a timeline with the end being the day I would move.

And that happened in October. After the moving van, loaded up in one hour, left my driveway, I locked up and for the last time drove through Eagle River with the same exhilaration. Good bye to the old and in with the new. Next day, the moving van arrived and the one-hour unloading began. I felt at home right away.

But there will be adjustments. Community living presents unique situations and issues. I’m looking forward to new lessons and a rehash of old ones.


Out of My Comfort Zone

My brother said it was good for me to get out of my comfort zone. That’s how his suggestion to visit morphed into a small family gathering at an unfamiliar location. They wanted to combine their visit with March Madness.

Since I’m the local here, it was my job to send out a save the date message to my family and to scout out good locations. So at noon on a Saturday in March, I showed up with my brother and sister-in-law at Champps Americana Sports Bar. We were later joined by a sister and brother-in-law and their son and his fiancé.

The bar was humongous, nicely furnished with several areas perfect for large gatherings. And there were lots of small parties already going on. I was surprised how full the place was given the time of day, then realized I’d clearly entered a culture quite foreign to my usual travels.

The crowd included lots of families and a surprising number of small children. I mean small. In the five, six, seven age range. How a family could afford these prices made me wonder. When I was a kid, it was a very big deal to go to the American Legion hall for a fish fry once in a while. I could see that these kids were being introduced to the bar culture while quite young.

We ordered drinks and got ready for the game to start. Drinking so early quickly led to the need for food. Since our table was in the main pathway from the kitchen, the steady stream of overloaded platters let me know I was in for a culinary delight. Or at least, plenty to take home for another meal

After a lunch that was more like a dinner, we got down to some serious catching up with the biggest news being the recent engagement of my nephew. Before he and his new fiancé arrived, my sister told the very entertaining popping-the-question story. This was repeated first by my nephew and then by his fiancé. It was fun to enjoy their happiness and compare their different perspectives of the same event.

My sister should be proud of her son who went all out on his proposal. He’d gathered his and her entire family, placed them at the end of a bridge were he and his girlfriend often look evening walks. As they came over the bridge, there they all were.  Down on his knee, ring in hand. A perfect story.

From our table we had a close view of seven TV screens. Not only was there the basketball game but also baseball, golf, even a hockey game and others I can’t even remember. By this time, I realized that the first game was mostly over. I was informed by my brother that we really only need to watch the last five minutes. And sure enough, the game got very exciting.

My brother is a referee for high school and college basketball and football in the Madison area. He’s also the President of the Southeast Wisconsin Referee Association. So, he knows his stuff and filled me in on the finer points of fan behavior.  I took full advantage of his expertise. Before we knew it two games were completed (that we’d hardly watched), drinks and food enjoyed and it was time to go back to my comfort zone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to the bar scene. Back in the 1960’s I spent a good share of my time taking advantage of the eighteen-year-old beer drinking law. Things were quite different back then. Small, shabby bars. No big TV screens. No virtual fantasy leagues. It was a simpler time with sports not the big deal it is today.

Not being a sports fan or one who now frequents taverns, I enjoyed this short adventure into a foreign culture but have no plans for changes in my social life. Though, in a few weeks I’m invited to a Brewer’s opening day party at another sports bar. I’m looking forward to it now that I know what to expect. It’s kind of fun to get out of my comfort zone.

Pitter Pat…Pat…Pat

A handsome, young waiter noted,
when returning our credit cards
that there were so many Pats in our group.
From this, I realized, my life is filled with Pats.

In that group of long-time friends,
bean bags in Door County,
where we teamed by height,
as munchkins and giants,
Patty P and Little Patti were on opposing teams.
Patty P won a writing contest but claims she is no writer.
Trish and Little Patti are friends from college days.
Little Patti’s college nickname was  “Jersey.” Origin unknown.
Trish belongs to three book groups and shares good reads with all.
That leaves the final Pat,
usually identified by her full name.
How else to know who we’re talking about.
Good thing the group has only one
Betty, Bonnie, Ginny, Sandy, Diane, Helen, Kathy, Lex.

Then yoga group
with Pat and Pat.
To keep them apart one is Patricia Lynne,
the other is Pat.
Then poetry group.
The same two Pats.
Then writing group.
Two more Pats.
But one is the same Pat from poetry and yoga.
Then in my building,
you guessed it.
Three more Pats
But one is the other Pat from poetry and yoga.
Pats are everywhere













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