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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

Eagle Eye

 

One who sees or observes keenly. That’s the dictionary definition of eagle eye. It helps explain my experience being the subject of such observation. It also provided a reminder of the power of nature.

Our house outside of Eagle River was near Rice Lake on Highway G. The houses behind us had lake access and one of our neighbors let us use their pier. They were often not there since this was a vacation home; that provided a perfect vantage point for enjoying the beautiful north woods sunsets.

That’s how we first spotted the eagle’s nest in a large tree on the south end of the lake. The pair would arrive each spring and put on a show of flying around high and low and swooping for food then returning to the nest. Binoculars gave us an almost video-cam view of their domestic activities.

One year, we noticed babies in the nest. It was a pleasure to watch these eaglets being fed, along with all the other nest maintenance that was going on. The adult pair took turns heading out for food. That was their main job and it kept them pretty busy throughout the day.

We were entertained, seeing the eaglets many attempts to launch from the nest. On their first tries, they’d take off and then swoop so low we thought they’d land in the lake. But they soon got their footing, venturing out just a short distance before returning home; as time passed, their forays out into the world grew longer and longer.

One day as we were doing our usual watch, one of the adult eagles left the nest and made his rounds of the lake. I don’t know how to determine an eagle’s gender but for this story I’ve decided it’s a him. Much to our surprise, he made sweeps near us a couple of times and then perched in a tree about twenty feet directly above us.

We’re looking up. He’s glaring down. I suddenly fully understood the term, eagle eye. His eyes were piercing. We wondered what he was thinking and if he would attack us. Maybe we were the food source he was looking for. It was kind of scary. We sat quietly, maintained eye contact and waited him out. He then began to flap his wings, getting ready to take off. Luckily, he headed out instead of down.

The last year I lived in this house, the eagles didn’t return to the nest. We worried and weighed the possibilities. The fact that eagles usually return year after year to the same nest made their absence less than hopeful. We’ll never know.  Such is life.

Men and Women

I thought all marriages were like Mom and Dad’s. They were together for over sixty years and argued every single day.  About everything. As the oldest of their six children I gave little notice to the discord but when looking back, I see it clearly.  Around thirty-seven years in, Mom tearfully informed they were getting a divorce.

Talking individually with Dad, he said they’d been going to counseling. He really liked the guy they were seeing who, according to Dad, was on his side. He then remarked that Mom could get a divorce if she wanted to; all this was her fault anyway. She never followed through and life returned to the way it had always been.

I recall on my visits home, Dad always passed around the latest four-panel cartoon from the daily newspaper. It was called “The Bickerson’s.” He’d snicker as he recounted how the cartoon depicted the latest disagreement embroiling their daily life. Dad chuckled. Mom looked pained.

Their marriage wasn’t violent or physically abusive but there was always the undercurrent of tension and discord. A constant pick, pick, pick. I marveled that they stayed together but that was another time when divorce was shameful. Especially for my Catholic mother. By the time Dad retired they’d found ways to tolerate each other and get through the day.

You’d think I would have learned a valuable lesson from this. But no. I’d bought into the whole marriage myth. Hook, line and sinker. Pardon the cliché but that describes it perfectly. I chased that myth most of my adult life. I had to be married. I had to be part of a couple. Why didn’t I question that fallacy? I still wonder what was I thinking when insisted I was a “couples person.”

Back in my undergrad days in the 1960’s, I hung out with a boyfriend who would become my first husband. He and his friends belonged to the campus Vet’s Club. He dragged me everywhere with them. Picture me with a dozen boys making the rounds to the local townie bars in that small college town. I felt like one of the guys and really enjoyed that.

Too bad I didn’t realize how I felt; I could have stopped the runaway train, preventing me from entering into a marriage that had not been thought through very well. That also didn’t stop me from re-entering the comfortable world of couples a second time. And I wasn’t wise enough to see that the twelve years I’d spent alone between my two marriages had been the best time of my life.

Following that second marriage, I recall being at a board meeting of a non-profit I served on. After the meeting we went to dinner. There were four men and four women; all the men were married. We talked and laughed and had a great time.

Toward the end of the evening I leaned over to the woman next to me and commented how great this was. We could spend such a nice evening in the company of some really nice men and then go home alone. She commented we were possibly seeing the best side of these guys. Our snugness was palpable.

Sometime after my second divorce was finalized, the ex-husband started coming around again. I realized I didn’t want to go back. I liked my apartment decorated the way I wanted and not having to check with anyone before planning an activity.

I admit it would be nice to have a male companion. I really do like men. I just don’t want to be in an entanglement with one. And that’s what it is. An entanglement. Truthfully, I’d have liked it if that second husband and I could have lived apart and seen each other regularly for lunch, a movie or whatever. But no, he wanted a live-in housekeeper, etc.

And that’s the crux of it. Men and women are not compatible. They want and value different things. They come to diverse solutions for the same problem.  There’s always the bargaining that goes on. I’ll go with you to the hobby swap-meet if you go with me to a beach front vacation. Swerving from the bargain leads to resentment.

I wish I’d figured all that out earlier. I no longer buy the myth that happiness will be found by finding that soul mate, by teaming up with that perfect man. I’m no longer shocked when that couple who seemed to have it all together announce they’re getting divorced.

 

 

Small Town Service

First place in 2018 non-fiction category of WWA’s Jade Ring Contest

Living in a small town is often romanticized, mostly by those who haven’t tried it. At first, newcomers are mesmerized by the peace and serenity. The sense of isolation comes later. Feelings of belonging take time to build and acceptance often arrives in unexpected ways. A memorable example for me involved an old TV and a rusty, battered microwave that was used in a most unusual way.

Our television, one of those old, box models, had to be played with a lot just to get it to turn on. My frugal husband wanted a full autopsy before dumping it. I agreed, reluctantly, to take one more shot at it.

I found a TV repair shop in the phone book. The only one listed. It was at the man’s home in a wooded area on the edge of town. On the phone, he gave me directions to his shop, saying to look for the microwave.

“You can’t miss it,” he’d said. And I didn’t. Actually I’m pretty sure the microwave doubled as both a mailbox and the sign advertising his business. A piece of cardboard with the fire number hand-printed in large letters filled its glass window.

An older man, he wore faded work pants, scratched up boots with tattered laces and a wrinkled baseball cap. He carried the TV in and placed it on the floor of his shop which was really a dark and musty garage. Looking it over, he perked up when he saw it was a Zenith.

“I’ve got some parts for those,” he said. That got my hopes up too.  He wrote my phone number on a crumpled notepad and placed it on top of a saw horse. After a week, assuming his sophisticated filing system had failed, I called.

He said he’d tried everything but the TV just wouldn’t respond. As though asking for permission, he said there were a couple of other things he wanted to try. He wondered if he could keep it a few more days. Who’d say no to that.

After another week, I called and got the grim news. Then he asked if I’d dispose of it myself since the local dump no longer let him bring in TV’s. I made my way once again to the microwave mailbox. With TV back in my car and ready to leave, I asked what I owed him.

“No, nothing,” he shook his head as he fumbled with indiscriminate metal parts scattered on his workbench. I was silent a minute, thinking that through.

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” I ventured.

“I don’t charge if I can’t fix it.” He sounded both matter-of-fact and certain.

“But I should at least pay for a service call. Don’t you think?”

“No. I don’t charge if I can’t fix it.”  We went back and forth a few more times. But his mind was made up. Not wanting to push any further, I said thanks and drove off to the dump where I paid a $5.00 disposal fee.

We went on with our life and bought a new 21st century TV. But my interaction with this man was still on my mind, still in my head.  I had to do something I reasoned, so I wrote a letter to the editor of the local once-a-week newspaper.

Letter to the Editor:
Last week I had an experience that may be common in small towns but, being a transplant from a big city, it made quite an impression on me. I’d taken my TV to a local repair shop. After trying very hard to fix it, the dealer said he couldn’t. I wasn’t surprised since it was a 1983 model. But what I didn’t expect was that he refused to let me pay him. I felt I should pay at least a service charge and told him so several times. But he was adamant. “I only charge if I fix it,” he said. So, let me pay him in another way. Thank you Howard D*** TV and Appliance Service of Eagle River. Thank you for your superior customer service and your work ethic, both which seem in shorter supply these days.

The day the paper was delivered, a co-worker came to my office. She thought my letter was neat and said the TV repair guy was her husband’s cousin.  He’s known as Butch, she informed me.

Later that day, my co-worker’s husband came by and commented on my letter. We had a nice time talking about his cousin, Butch. Butch and his dad shared the same first name, so that’s why the nickname. But Butch doesn’t like to be called that anymore, he added. After our conversation, Howard/Butch was someone I felt I knew pretty well.

Then a few days later, I saw an acquaintance at the grocery store; I’d never, ever gone to the grocery store without running into someone I knew.  She couldn’t say enough about how wonderful it was that I’d taken the time to write that letter about Howie.

“Howie is my uncle,” she said. “He was always good with electrical stuff, even as a kid. Vivian, his wife, she works here at the grocery. Yah, she usually does bagging. They are such nice people. And they had those three kids. Howie had a sister who had problems and they had it tough when he was growing up. So, that’s why it’s just so great you wrote that letter. He really deserves that and maybe this will bring him more business.”  Now I felt like I really knew Howard/Butch/Howie. But her final comment was the kicker.

“We don’t usually get that from city people.”  She cocked her head and gave me one of those knowing looks women give to women. Just for a moment I felt like I really belonged in this place where newcomers were treated with reserve and hesitation.

And that’s the thing about small towns. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is related to everybody. And I know there’s an up-side and a down-side to that. But I also know it only takes a moment for a casual conversation to meander into a lengthy, historical record. And what you hear, as I did with Howie, is a lovingly told story of the meaningful and mundane details of someone’s life.

And these stories go on and on through time. So, years from now, maybe my name will come up over a cup of coffee at the local diner; perhaps someone will remember that nice woman who, though not from here, wrote that wonderful letter. And maybe they’ll begin to believe city people aren’t so bad after all.

 

 

The Dog Who Came in From the Cold

First place winner in WWA’s 2018 Jade Ring Contest, humor category; published in 2018 Creative Wisconsin Anthology

My Siberian husky, Nikki, was leading a secret life. Clandestine meetings; trading favors that resulted in a bounty of untold riches. For her. Though she’d probably never forgive me, I just knew I had to protect her from herself.

We lived at a ski resort located in the Big Snow Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Being about 10 miles from Lake Superior meant we got 200 to 300 inches of snow every year. A skier’s paradise.

It was also a builder’s paradise, which was why my husband, a building contractor, and I lived there. We were the only year-round residents on the wooded cul de sac a half mile from the ski lodge.  The other homes were ski chalets, rented by the week or weekend during ski season.

Besides skiers and builders, this location was also perfect for Nikki.  The surrounding woods were her playground. Huskies are known for being runners, but Nikki was good. She always came home.  And she loved the snow.

When I let her out on snowy mornings, she’d put her snout down into the 12 to 18 inches of newly fallen, airy, fluffy lake effect snow; then she’d run at full speed, spewing a snow-plow-like spray as she buzzed the length of the driveway.

Each day after work, I’d release Nikki for her check of the neighborhood. But I had no idea what was really going on and became aware of it quite unexpectedly. These ski houses were purchased as an investment by private individuals and rented through the ski resort rental association. The owners of the house next door had called, asking me to see what utensils and glasses their house needed before the next season began.

While checking the cupboards, I noticed the bulletin board hanging in the hallway filled with pictures. Lots of pictures of Nikki. My Nikki. There she was, cuddled up near the fireplace being hugged by a couple of young children as though she were a part of their family. Another showed her on her hind legs, begging for a morsel. She was having a ball!

The guest book was filled with renters’ comments about the friendly dog who visited daily throughout their weekend or week-long vacation. One guest recommended to future renters that the friendly dog who came around really liked ice cream. So, be sure to keep it on hand.  No one had to tell me how friendly and loving Nikki was. But the ice cream comment surprised me. I always thought her favorite snack was popcorn.

But then I began to worry.  I recalled the many times I’d stood out on the porch and called for her, gave up, went in and then ten minutes later tried again. Finally, I’d hear a far-away door slam and soon Nikki would magically appear. Now it all made sense.

But there were six ski houses on this road. Did that mean she makes the rounds to each of them? Knowing Nikki, this seemed likely. I knew I had to do something.

I went to see my friend Helen, who owned a local leather and gift shop. She suggested attaching a leather tag to Nikki’s chain. Helen made an oval, flat piece of leather, approximately two by four inches where she’d pounded a message: DO NOT FEED OR TAKE INSIDE.

I felt devilish as I attached the tag to Nikki’s collar. Sometimes it’s hard to be a good parent. Almost immediately, I was pleased that she showed up promptly when I called; there also were no more mysterious slamming doors.

Then one day, Nikki returned with a little surprise for me: a piece of notebook paper rolled up in her collar. The hand-written note said it was so great that an owner cared so much for this beautiful and friendly dog. The writer thanked me and was happy to honor my wishes.

Our life went on with Nikki on permanent house arrest. She continued making her rounds of the neighborhood, showing up right away when I called. Arriving back home she always got a treat for being such a good girl. Rotating between ice cream and popcorn.

 

 

 

 

The Question

He was a typical UP local who either worked in the copper mine or in the woods. He wore the signature sorrels, a bulging, buttoned flannel shirt and red timberjack cap with ear flaps askew. I can’t imagine how we’d come to be in the same place, but there we were. His question was not delivered aggressively but wasn’t exactly friendly either.

“So, what are you anyway?” My puzzled look gave away that I had no idea what he was asking and I told him so. After he humphed and rolled his eyes he gave it another try.

“So, are you Finlander, Italian, or what?”  Still puzzled, I hesitated a minute and then gave what was to me a logical reply. I’m an American. 

“No, really, what are you?” His impatience was growing. I fumbled around with what I knew of my parent’s background, that Mother was German and French and Dad was Swedish and Norwegian but I ended the conversation still insisting I was an American.

I saw what he was trying to do. Put me in a box that would make him comfortable and would also firm up his expectations of me. He wanted me to fit into his cultural stereotypes. Finlanders are stoic. Italians are emotional. So, what was I with my German/French/Scandinavian background? A puzzle he couldn’t figure out.

I could also see what he was thinking. Here’s another one of those big city people who come up here and think they know everything and that they have a better way of doing things. They come with their money and big cars and think they’re better than everybody else.

And yes, I guess we were some of that.  We had come to the UP for an opportunity. My husband had started a construction company and built chalets at the local ski resorts. I heard it was being said around town that I shouldn’t be working because we were rich. If they only knew how our fly by the seat of your pants operation really was worked.

That was just one of the ways there was a disconnect between them and us. I learned to watch what I said and to whom since everyone was related. I made it a point to not pick up the local dialect filled with ‘you betcha’ s and ‘der you go’ s. I picked my battles regarding a woman’s place in the world.

Being an eternal interloper made me strong. I found others who were from someplace else and we banded together. Turned out I’d live in this unforgiving place for fifteen years, tolerating the social limitations as well as the overabundance of snow. It was a challenging time but one thing I learned was how to answer the question of what I was.

 

Party Games

April 14, 2018: Family and friends gathered at my place for a belated birthday/welcome spring party. My friend Betty and I, who turned 70 the same year, had made a pact that we’d have a party every year from now on since each birthday is a milestone. I’m now seventy-three! Not sure if I had what it would take to put it together, when Betty offered to help, that sealed the deal. I couldn’t have done it without her!

Two years ago, the first time I invited both family and friends, mixing was at a minimum. So, Betty decided she would remedy the situation with an activity. She passed out paper and pencil, asking everyone to write down a memory of Karin. Be specific she said and she would read them and I had to guess who wrote each one. Here are the memories followed by comments that tell the rest of/the whole story.

“I remember the cute and clever poem you wrote years ago critiquing our little breakfast restaurant. The place where we were judged by the number of muffins we ate. You shared your funny side that day.”
Pat F, a poetry friend, recalls the coffee shop we went to for Poetry Breakfast. The poem I wrote was The Ask-Away Café, telling the tale of the poor service and how we had to ask and ask for the simplest things like silverware and napkins. We kept going there only because the place was quiet with so few customers and that made it perfect for reading and critiquing our poetry. The deal breaker occurred when Pat was scolded by the owner because we didn’t purchase enough muffins which the owner said she had stocked up on just for us. Hey, aren’t we the customers here! And therefore always right. We found another place and the Ask Away Café is no longer in business.

“Karin prevented Cleo from “cold cocking” Fran Ruzika. (I think this is the story,)”
Julie Schuppie is recalling when I was working in a research project at St. Mary’s Family Practice Center. I supervised social work students (Julie was one) and the clinic was a residency program for family practice doctors. I was not supposed to provide social work services until the research project was completed. A resident, Fran Ruzika, appeared at my door looking pale and worried. He had a fourteen-year old girl in one exam room and her mother in the room next door. The mother and daughter had just found out that the girl was pregnant. A month away from delivery, actually. The mother, Cleo, was enraged and threatening to “cold cock” someone. Dr. Ruzika was unsure what to do, if he could even release the girl to her mother, should police or child protection be called, or how/if to get the mother and daughter back together so planning for the new baby could begin. I took Julie down to the clinic with me saying this was a good learning experience. She talked to the pregnant girl and I talked to the mother and Dr. Ruzika. Turns out, Cleo wanted to “cold cock” the man who got her daughter pregnant but calmed down once we talked. Mother and daughter were reunited and all went well. I had to turn away other residents who showed up at my door looking for assistance. The next semester I expanded the social work field placement and social work became part of regular care.

 
“Drinking at the Crystal Corner Bar and writing our names on the wall of the bathroom.”
After dinner out with my siblings, brother Kent and sister-in-law Tami stopped for a night cap (we had several) at the Crystal Corner Bar in the Williamson neighborhood of Madison. I felt like I’d walked back into the 1960’s. Old bar filled with aging hippies Tami went to the ladies’ room and came back with a sheepish look. She told me to go into the bathroom and look at the wall. There was the usual graffiti but someone had drawn a penis on the wall. We got a marker and put our names there too.

“Eight shots of tequila equal alcohol poisoning at the C & C in Door County.”
“I saw you drink many shots the night Bobby the Butcher was at the C & C.”
Betty and Diane are remembering different parts of the same night. We went to the C & C for taco night. Why I don’t know, but I had a shot of tequila. Then when the next round came along, I just said sure. But the end of the evening I’d had eight shots. Just for the record, I walked home unassisted (just two blocks) and I didn’t have a hangover the next day. That same night we struck up a conversation with a lone person at the bar. At first, we weren’t sure if it was a she or a he. Very large person with big boots. We played darts and talked. But at some point, he/she said something bothering and we changed our mind about being friends. When we got home, we worried that she’d show up since she knew where we lived. Someone joked that maybe she was a serial killer. Hence the name Bobby the Butcher. The Louisivilla didn’t have very strong locks so we piled up empty beer bottles against the door and the window to Bettys bedroom. Clanking beer bottles would be a warning. All was well the next day and we never saw Bobby the Butcher again.

“What could be better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, a glass of wine and a good friend”
My poetry friend, Pat the Hat and I are obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch. The scheduling of new episodes of Sherlock Holmes are spaced so far out that I have it set to tape. When a new episode finally comes on we plan the night for viewing and have glasses of wine while watching.

“Walking on Cottage Row in Door County”
Tricia commented that when we took this walk it was the first time we got to spend time with just each other. This is true since in Door County we are always in a large group and it was nice to get to know each other.

“Karin was initiated into the giant guild via a bean bag victory. Then I asked her to write about it.”
Patti P is recalling how every year in Door County had to include a trip to the A C Tap outside of Bailey’s Harbor for a bean bag tournament. We had teams, the Giants and the Munchkins (height related criteria). Loyalty was tested when there weren’t enough of one team and someone had to switch. I recall one trip to the bar for refills when Harley, the elderly bartender said: I’ve never seen people your age have so much fun. We took that as a compliment.

“Sometimes Karin verbalizes frustration…..I can’t take it anymore… she never stops talking……there must be something wrong with her.”
Jane is recalling my disappointment when I moved to Wauwatosa and the book group we’d belonged to before I moved to Eagle River, had invited me to re-join. At first, I was happy but then disappointed that this group had become a visiting, socializing, wine drinking, hardly talking about the book group. There were often three conversations going at the same time and none of them on the book. Jane had to endure my ranting and raving. Until I quit.

“Five of us had a drink and a smoke when we were where and doing what?”
Bonnie is trying hard to recall why we did this. I have a picture but have no idea what it was all about. Perhaps we were being supportive of Betty who was, I think, the only smoker among us. We were at the Bayside in Fish Creek possibly killing time until check in at the Louisivilla. It was me, Betty, Bonnie, Patti P and Diane. We all lit up and got the waitress to take our picture. Who knows when but smoking in the bar was still allowed.

“I spent a week end with Karin while she was attending UW Oshkosh. She took me to her favorite bars. I ended up sleeping on a cot in her apartment and was really feeling the beer. I had to put my foot on the floor to stop the spinning.”
My sister, Karleen recalls this. I don’t. But I’ll bet I was living at the House of SAW. I also bet I took her to the Rail, the B & B and the Loft. “Feeling the beer” and “spinning” sounds about right.

“Every time I got an operation you sent me a get-well card.”
My sister-in-law, Kimie recalls cards I sent to her when she was in the middle of a serious health crisis. This was quite a while ago and I said I don’t remember. She came through it fine.

“Eating a big sandwich in Pittsburgh”
Traveling to Pittsburgh for Jeung Hwa’s wedding in 2014, Kent and Tami wanted to check out recommended tourist spots. Following Tami’s famous folder, we visited a city market and had lunch at the Primanti Brother’s, famous for their huge sandwich, developed in the 1930’s for the miners to take along as they went to work. I had a four-inch high pastrami that comes with French fries stuffed inside. I have a picture of the sandwich.

“Explaining football jargon while watching a Packer game in an expensive bar”
Same trip. Pittsburgh in 2014. Kent had searched for someplace to watch the Packer game. We arrived to a near empty bar. After paying $12.00 for a Manhattan I knew why it was empty. We worried that we’d get kicked out when we hooted at each score. Brother-in-law Paul did his best to explain football to me. I still don’t get it.

“I always remember Karin’s essay on men and women”
Jeri, in writing group, critiqued an essay I am sending to Sun Magazine. One of my biggest goals is to be published in Sun. They have a feature called Readers Write and I’m sending it there.

“Bonfire in Eagle River. Storytelling about the olden days”
Karla recalls how our family got together at my house in Eagle River to scatter Dad’s ashes at his hunting camp outside of Rhinelander. We had the best time camping in the yard, visited by deer, laughing and talking, fire in the fire pit, having the best time my family has ever had together.

“Two ‘drowned rats’ walking, giggling, enjoying life in Peninsula State Park”
Ginny recalls how she and I set out from the Louievilla for a walk in Peninsula State Park. We were walking along and suddenly it began to pour. We quickly turned  back for home. But we both at the same time and without a word, stopped and looked at each other. It was pouring. We were already soaked. We turned back and continued our walk into the park. When we arrived back at the Louievilla we were soaked through and through I have the picture someone took.

“I remember going to Karin’s house in Cedarburg and her showing us her lovely gardens and her treasured hollyhocks. I associate hollyhocks with Karin”
Little Patti came to my house with the girls and saw my hollyhocks. How I loved them. I told how Bud thought he was doing a good thing and took a weed wacker to trim brush and weeds all around the house. Unfortunately, he cut the hollyhocks just coming up along the back wall.  I put rocks around them and he was never allowed near them again. I especially liked the old fashioned single hollyhocks.

“Donating to charities/causes under my sisters, my cousins and my name as a Christmas gift. Thanks Karin the nice lady.”
“Books from Auntie Karin the nice lady”
“Always getting the best gits from Auntie Karin the nice lady”
“The best aunt ever”
Me Jeung was the only niece or nephew in attendance but brother and sisters added a comment for some who were not present. I didn’t remember donating to charity but am assured that I did. I was very touched by these comments. Someone said I’d introduced them to philanthropy. Until they got out of high school each of my nieces and nephews got a book gift card for their birthday. I recall the nice thank you letters I received. Since I never had children, by choice, I always considered my nieces and nephews to be sort of my kids.

This event was so special. To have so many of my friends and family in the same room and I don’t think I ever had so much attention directed at me at one time. It was wonderful. And we are planning next years party. Because as I recall, I did make a pact that I’d have a party every year from now on. This one will be hard to top.

 

 

 

A Front Row Seat

Saturday, March 17, 2018: According to the newspaper, this was the 6th annual Leprechaun 7K, benefitting the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer). The parade involved nearly 3,000 runners and walkers and 150 volunteers. It started right on time, a little after 9:30 just as the newspaper article had stated.

Earlier that morning, I’d noticed the orange cones placed fifty feet apart all along the road. So much for my plan to run errands since the road going past my building would be closed all morning. So, I got comfortable in my pajamas, with my cup of chai tea, and prepared to be entertained by this menagerie of mankind passing right outside my window.

First, a white pick-up truck slowly drove down the street, led closely behind by a tall, slim man dressed in a bright green, sparkly body suit, green sneakers and a shamrock shaped cap. Running at full speed, he looked as though he was taking his position as the leader very seriously.

After a smattering of single runners, the clusters grew into a cavalcade of all shapes, sizes and ages of sprinters wearing green shirts, funny socks and hats. It was easy to see that for some, a good bit of work had been put into designing just the right outfit.

Others were more generic with lots of stripped socks or a perfunctory, silly hat. It was a sea of green tee shirts scarves, tiaras and ruffled tutu’s. My personal favorite was the man skipping down the roadway with a lovely, pink tutu on his head.

As the parade progressed, the slower participants came by who were going at a leisurely pace. A combination of walking and running was common and clearly some were really just out for a walk and some social time. Even with my windows closed I could hear the laughter and chatter of the crowd.

Pretty soon there were rows of four and five going down the road in a line. One mom and her very young child stepped onto the grass so he could catch his breath and take off his jacket. The sun was out in force and it was getting warmer. Some runners stopped to rest or take a quick stretch before forging ahead.

Once the runners thinned out, the walkers came into view. Here were those with younger kids and babies in strollers. As the slower pace proceeded, the white pick-up then appeared going in the other direction. It was quickly followed by the tall, slim man in the green body suit, still the leader and going at a good clip. Both lanes of the street were full of runners, for and five deep, going in both directions.

As the crowd thinned, a yellow school bus came slowly down the street signaling the end of the parade. I noticed people were riding in the bus. How nice, I thought; the school bus was a way for anyone who couldn’t walk or run to still participate.  I kept watching until the school bus passed by on its return trip. All was done by 11:15. A police car with lights on made the final sweep and the orange cones were kicked to the curb and picked up later.

It was as though nothing had happened. No one in sight and not a scrap of litter anywhere. What a lovely community event. And all over America similar parades and community events are happening. Everyone is Irish for one day at least

I had a great time in my front row seat, watching everyone having a great time and helping a good cause. I had to wonder what these hardy and not so hardy runners and walkers would be doing for the rest of the day. For some, it’s probably nap time. Or, whether Irish or not, I’ll bet Leif’s Lucky Town or O’Donoghue’s Irish Pub was busy serving green beer!

 

 

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