What Is A Gandydancer?

images-2

What Is A Gandydancer?

The piece below is a segment of a larger picture.

People I know with a railroad background have wondered what the railroad term Gandydancer pertains to?  There’s even a song about the gandydancers ball.

My grandfather’s name was Dietrich Sr.  This is a story about how I as a ten year old boy with his grandfather in ‘the box cars, learned what a gandydancer is.

Dietrich Sr. and the Grand Trunk

At the beginning of his career Dietrich Sr. had something to do with bridge building in some engineering capacity.

Later toward the end of his career, I went with him to the box cars where he investigated injuries or misconduct where the traveling gandydancers lived, 25 to 50 men sleeping in box cars, traveling place to place where their strength and manpower was needed. A rough bunch mostly immigrant workers finding their foothold in the new country and ‘no goods’.

I don’t know where the actual word “gandy’ came from I think it came from eastern Europe but I know what the term ‘gandydance’ means.

Dietrich Sr. told me the actual gandy ‘dance’ is the motion of 50 or more gandy’s each equipped with an iron bar with a dull point on the end, placed under the rails, pulling their bars on command, quick pulls in unison to re-align the rails after doing maintenance on the tracks replacing ties or rails, building crossings or working derailments.

From a distance their movements, seen through the shimmer of heat rising from the stone beds and fumes rising from the creosote in the ties and the the glare from the polished rails appear with a strange, shimmering snake like motion since there’s a split second delay from one man to the next pulling on their bars.  In other words, they don’t all pull at the same time.

This strange, shimmering, almost otherworldly motion is, according to Dietrich Sr. the gandy’s dance making them, the gandydancers!

Later that day I watched him interview some rough looking guy in the dining/kitchen box car about some fight the guy was in.. The rough looking guy kept looking at me like he resented my presence and wanted to kick my ass.

It was all very formal. Deac Sr. was straight forward with the questions at times pointed in his desire for the truth.

I had one big meal with them. Lots of meat and potatoes. Good food was one of the incentives for being a gandy in the first place. That and you could hide from the world.

It’s not a bad job if you’ve got no skills and are willing to work hard at different locations, if you don’t mind sleeping with a bunch of men who snore and fart in their sleep, immigrants who don’t speak English, making new lives for themselves and the ‘no goods’a bunch of foul mouthed drunks who talked about sex constantly like they were having a contest to see who could refer to it in the most vile terms possible.

More ..

Nature’s Life

dsc_0363

She looked with cold indifference 

at His efforts to teach us 

the connection between

our lives and

nature.

Bridge parties, the daily routines of life and of course 

her afternoon naps,

were the essential

components of Her

life.

He gave us the freedom to

explore the sandy beaches, 

the dunes, trout streams and 

The Great Lake where

I spent my days

submerged in glacial ice 

melted to

65 degree water for

hours at a time, running through

the woods exploring, or 

camped out alongside windbreaker trees  

stretched 3/4 of a mile along the shoreline 

in sleeping bags next to camp fire embers 

staring at the stars

through crystal clear skies blown clean by 

on shore winds  cold or

chili at times even during the summer.

fishing off the end of 

the Coast Guard dock 

stretched a hundred or so yards into 

the bay where

the “Amphibian” and smaller 

rescue boats hung inside the boat house at

the same place where

he learned to fish as a boy.

He taught us how to

fend for ourselves, to

catch food, to

make fire, cook outside, provide shelter 

if necessary.

He gave us opportunities for unique forms of thought patterns deeper sorts of problem solving more essential the world around shown wider in scope made more real; how to live impeccably in the natural world parallel to and inclusive of the confines of life in the everyday “real” world.  

One day,

temperatures in the ‘20s

the ground covered by

light wings drifting 

like feather’s down 

falling,

I followed his tracks

through

two feet of freshly fallen snow to 

a row of scrub pines bordering

the back side of sand

dunes running parallel to 

the lake where

left alone with

shelter, warmth and

food

in a world of 

muted silence 

wrapped inside a black and white shell

the ground rising

upward before me

I pondered without 

words or thought 

the timeless mystery surrounding me 

in a world of

liberation …

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story 

It’s  

cold and crisp, 

the air between each time  

crystal clear or full of light wings falling/

fat with fluff  

sailing where they please, drifting sideways in the breeze with crystal memories 

See them resting quietly in the trees? 

On the ground adding curve to rugged spaces giving shadow’s warm embraces?  

Hear them dampening sound with suspense and quiet anticipation? 

See the ground with sparkling memories of all the Christmas’ past?  

Each snowflake reflecting back the light from each, its very own star? 

Or so, we liked to think.  

The  Stage  Is  Set 

And so the stage is set for the most memorable Christmas of my lifetime when as a ten year old boy the entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents) gathered at our house for a rare celebration of gift giving on Christmas Eve when a surprise guest came into our midst adding even more magic to that magical time.  

Stranded At the Depot/A Stranger In the Night  

images-11

This was the year my grandfather Dusty Peck, who worked at the Grand Trunk Railroad Depot brought home a guest from Canada stranded at the station with no place to sleep on Christas Eve after blizzard conditions forced cancellation of passenger train service to Chicago.  

We welcomed her into our family as an honored.guest. 

Knowing rules would be more lax in her presence, we give little effort to restrain our laughter and sense of mirth reveling in the joy we create as our Christmas gift to her.

High Jinks and Hilarity

I can still see her sitting next to the fireplace in the blue Naugahyde chair her head thrown back, mouth wide open laughing along with everyone when Uncle Bill lost his balance while bouncing around the living room on a pogo stick, knocked over a lamp then rolled onto the shade while trying to stand up.  

Up In Flames

This is the same year that most of the frilly girly gifts my two girl cousins received went up in flames after being accidentally gathered together with all the Christmas wrappings and burned In the fireplace.

Everyone is sympathetic while my one cousin cries.  My brother and I think it’s hilarious!  

Roasting

This is also the year that Deac decides we’ll have a traditional style roasted pig with an apple in its mouth for dinner on Christmas Day..

Our oven isn’t big enough for a whole pig so a baker named Mr. Gregory who lives in the apartment above the bakery downtown gives us permission to use his big gas fired oven with rotating shelves to slow roast the pig all day.

images-4

Shortly after sunrise Christmas morning with temperatures below freezing, we park in the alley behind the bakery.  The back door is unlocked.  Ten feet from the back door we see the wide stainless steel door of the big oven.   

Baker’s Hours

Mr. Gregory, who bakes bread starting at four a.m. every morning doesn’t mind lighting the gas oven for us before we arrive.  We don’t expect what happens next.  

When Deac pulls down on the stainless steel door handle warm dry, desert like heat washes over our faces and hands reminding us how cold it is a few feet behind us just outside the back door.  

A long chain moving over sprockets turned by an electric motor pulls the shelves around blue flames hissing through b.b sized holes along a metal tube the width of the oven.

Our pig rests on a square cast iron skillet with curled edges so that juice won’t leak inside Mr. Gregory’s oven AND to capture the juice that my grandmother, will use to make her delicious ham gravy.

After turning the motor off we tent the pig with an extra heavy strip of aluminum foil folded down the middle.  Deac uses a wooden bakers pole to slide the cast iron skillet into the center close, but not too close to the blue flames.

Before leaving we turn the motor on, pull the back door shut tightly and drive home. 

Every Two Or Three Hours 

Every two or three hours during the day, we drive downtown to the bakery, to check on the progress of our roasting pig.  The blue gas flames light the inside of the oven just enough for us to see it turning golden brown as it slowly rolls past our eyes …

Later That Afternoon/A Pig In A Blanket 

Later that afternoon around five o’clock the pig is cooked to a dark, rich, golden color.  It doesn’t need to be roasted any longer.

We use the bakers pole to pull the big skillet to the edge of the open door where we cover it with more aluminum foil.  

Wearing thick insulated gloves we lift the pig and iron skillet from the oven, carry it down the back steps to the car.

We place iron skillet covered with more foil into the trunk of the car with blankets over the top.  

While Deac starts the car I run back inside to close the oven door and make sure the back door is slammed tightly shut! 

On the way home we laugh about having a pig in a blanket in the trunk of the car!

Dining

We need two dining tables to comfortably seat ten people;  one aunt, one

uncle, two girl cousins, a grandmother, a grandfather, a brother, Deac and Donna and our guest from Canada. 

Deac carves the meat into chunks that are so tender they fall apart when served.  A combination of flavors; cloves and cinnamon and garlic and onion fill the air.  I finally understand what “melts in your mouth” means!

My grandmother’s ham gravy forms golden pools on top of Donna’s creamy smooth mashed potatoes.

The menu includes scalloped corn and scalloped oysters, fresh green beans quick fried in bacon fat with sautéed onions pieces of bacon tossed with apple cider vinegar and a touch of sugar.

My grandfather eats mint jelly with some venison Deac set aside as a special treat.  

My cousins, my brother and I drink tall glasses of milk, my grandparents drink black coffee with their meal while the adults drank red wine.

For desert there’s apple and pecan pie (my favorite). Each year Deac makes a creamy rich sauce in a double boiler from butter, sugar and an egg yolk that makes even fruitcake taste good!

After everyone raves about Grandma Peck’s apple pie we get a good laugh when she tells us it’s ‘mock apple pie’ made with Ritz Crackers! 

Telling Stories 

The adults keep us entertained with funny or interesting stories about growing up or daily life.

We relive Uncle Bill’s accident with the pogo stick.  Each of us tells what we saw from different points of view.  Each story is a different version but they’re all the same and we laugh a little harder with each re-telling.  

My brother said it looked like Uncle Bill was shot from a cannon when he flew into the table knocking over the lamp.

The lady from Canada tells us her sister lives in Chicago where she works as a bookkeeper at the Chicago stockyards and that she lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario where she books fishing expeditions into Canadian bush country on the Alcona Railroad.

They Met At the County Fair 

Grandma and Grandpa tell how they met at the Shiawassee County Fair during a band concert in 1918.  Grandma tells how hard they worked growing up on farm 10 or 15 miles outside of Owosso tending the big family garden, canning fruits and vegetables all summer long, stocking up for the long cold winters, caring for the farm animals seven days a week, gathering hay before hay “balers’’or harvesting corn with implements that seem ancient today.plus there was no electricity or indoor plumbing.. Despite the hardships Grandma Peck says she had a wonderful childhood growing up on a farm out in the country with lots of brothers and sisters. 

Tap Dancing On the Radio 

Donna and Aunt Jo talked about the beautiful costumes my grandmother made for them when  they tap danced at gatherings in different towns and 

IMG_9279

cities all around the state.  They re-lived their experience riding the train to Chicago where, since television hadn’t been invented yet, they tap danced on a popular radio program!

The Episodic Past

I have many boyhood memories from Christmases past but, they are all episodic.  Scattered memories from different years.  

There was the Christmas Eve I rode around town with Deac leaving turkeys on the doorsteps of families not as fortunate as ours.

There’s a partial memory I have of a very young boy walking down the aisle at the Congregational Church cradling his favorite gift, a white football that he leaves at the alter for some less fortunate boy or girlThen there’s the year I got the second best gift ever (the first being a new bicycle) a new pair of black figure skates with runners that, as Deac pointed out, were made of Sheffield Steel.

Christmas Morning/Ice Skating In Winter Wonderland 

Very early one Christmas morning after the gifts are opened, the sun barely casting a gray shadow onto the world I grab my new skates, sneak out the side door, cross the road walking west a block and a half along the north side of the athletic field to the ice pond in the park where I skate in a magical world devoid of human movement or sound.  It feels like I’m dancing with an invisible partner carving out figure 8’s any size I want, free to skate as fast as I want then turn and use the sharp teeth at the front of my blades to cut curved grooves in the solid ice showering fractured ice crystals curling to the sides like broken waves while stopping on a dime.  

Other Stories

All the Christmas memories are special. But, the year we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve while making the Canadian lady a part of our family made this Christmas celebration even more special since all the inns in town were closed that Christmas Eve.  It almost seemed like she was meant to be with us.  Her presence was a gift releasing a spark that added extra measures of laughter and joy.  By her presence we were elevated into becoming the best people we could be even more full of love, transcending the needs of the immediate family. 

It seems strange that THAT Christmas is the only Christmas I can still clearly remember from beginning to end.  By the time our guest departed next day she had become a special part of our lives.  She will ALWAYS be a part off me.  A vivid memory from beginning to end that after 50 years I can still share since otherwise how could I have written this story! 

My Christmas wish is that may we re-live Christmas each year with renewed appreciation while adding more wonderful memories each year better than the last.  

Merry 2018 Christmas 

Happy New Year  to all  and 

To all a 

Good Night!  

From Kurt and Jodi Struble and the Struble/Logan clan 

Or as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us all.  Every one.’”’ 

Crane’s Obit

continued … At precisely the same moment the explosion rocks my world I witness the most amazing sight I’ve  ever seen.  

images

Inanimate 

I need to look more closely at the bird to satisfy my curiosity about what I had seen or, not seen.

I walk toward the mound of gray feathers where the bird once stood. I search for the bird.  Strangely enough, I have a hard time distinguishing the bird from it’s surroundings.  

It’s as if the bird has simply disappeared.  Gravity simply took back what was its right to reclaim.  

Its head and beak in profile lie flat against the sand, the black iris I looked into less than an hour ago when sensing its awareness, covered with an opaque film now, its lifeless eye and head and beak and neck inanimate objects attached to a mound of gray feathers lying flat, a few of the shorter feathers lifting in the breeze, like they’re holding onto some memory.  The object of their lives, lies flat against the sand the absorption process having already begun returning what’s left of my friend the crane, to the earth.

I still ponder the event.  When Jake fired the shot that rocked my world I had no idea that the bird would simply disappear. 

That’s what I saw! And that’s what I take away from the experience.  Death.  It’s when life disappears!

WHERE LIFE GOES by kurt struble

Where it goes is 

EVERYONE’S 

guess!!

I suppose  

I don’t know 

where life goes but, 

it’s got to go 

somewhere don’t you guess?

I’d hate to think it just 

comes and goes with nowhere else to go 

each life a tiny pebble and so it goes,

dropped into 

the vast infinite depths of 

space

within the 

infinite sea of 

Cosmos ! 

Seems like it’s oughta be something better than that!!!

To Kill/An Oath

We should participate to the least extent when it comes to stealing other beings lives away … human or beast.  It’s best to let nature take care of herself in that regard without our interference.  

That’s why I thought Jake and Donna’s decision to end the bird’s life was adult thinking at its worst.  

A little while later,  while Donna cooks hamburgers on the gas stove inside the cottage Jake naps in his big easy chair the afternoon Detroit News crumpled at the side of his chair.  I’m still looking down at my friend the crane.   Finally, I rouse myself from these complex new thoughts about life and death that have entered my mind.  Turning away from the crane I walk toward the cottage, then stop. 

I turn, and while looking back at the crane I make a solemn oath to myself that I will never grow up and and become an adult.  

And do you know what?  

I never do.                                   

The Crane Continues IV

images

The Verdict 

continued ….. I hate them for saying that.  Who are they to decide whether another living thing should live or die?  

They look at each other then back at me.  Without saying a word I know the verdict. 

I look at the crane, its head feathers tousled by an on shore breeze remembering the moment I saw its head above the cat tails such a short while ago.  So much had happened during that brief span of time.

Then I have an idea!  I open my mouth to tell them I could take the crane back to the swale where I found it so it can die in peace but, it’s too late.  Jake is already more than halfway to the curve.

Waiting for Death

I follow Jake to his house where I sit hunched over on an old wooden bench made from two tree stumps and a thick board facing eastward toward the lake, waiting for Jake to emerge from his house not knowing what to expect.

Halfway between where I sit and the the top of the rise at the far end of the lane, the crane stands motionless on one spindly leg, the left side of it’s body in profile it’s long neck and beak sharply defined.  

The lake appears as a grayish blue ribbon between the top of the dune at the end of the lane and the pale blue afternoon sky reflecting off the horizon line.“

I’m wondering if the crane was aware of my presence back when I stared into its unblinking eye thinking I had seen a flicker of awareness?  Had we really made a connection back in the swale where Gray had made her discovery?

The crane seems lifeless now almost like a statue. Maybe I was imagining things.

I hear Jake approach.

Jake’s Gun

The double barrels of Jake’s shotgun appear pointing skyward to my left.  Jake lowers the gun barrels so that they’re pointing at the ground while, with his thumb against the locking lever he jerks up sharply. The barrels, one on top of the other crack open.

Jake cradles the open shotgun against the left side of his body.  I see into the black holes of the ‘over and under’ shotgun barrels waiting to be loaded with the fat red shells Jake holds in his right hand.

With one continuous motion, Jake’s thumb press the two shells into their chambers then, pulls up while pushing down at the same time locking the double barrels into place. 

The barrels of the shotgun move upward disappearing from my field of vision as I continue to stare at the bird its head feathers ruffling in the breeze as I had seen them do back in the swale after Gray’s discovery brought us together.

Red Feathers 

I can’t take my eyes off of those dancing feathers it feels like I’m in two places at the same time.

In some strange way maybe those feathers are acknowledgement that, there HAD been a connection between us. Things can be funny like that sometimes can’t they?

The air is still.. I’m not breathing.  

Unable to move I feel frozen in place and time.  

The only sound? Deadly silence when, without warning an explosion lifts me off my seat!.  I’m falling over backward but manage to regain my balance.  

At precisely the same moment the explosion rocks my world I witness the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen.  

continued …. Inanimate 

 

The Crane Part III

images

Lowering the Crane 

I lower the big crane onto the sand in the open field across from the cottage.  The instant its feet touch the ground its head drops back into the S position.

Before running around to the back, I stop and look into its eye one more time.  I see no flicker of awareness.  Instead, the same blank stare I saw when I first looked into its eye when?  Was it less than an hour ago??

So many experiences crammed into such a short period of time!

I run to the back of the cottage where I tell Donna about the big bird. I tell her how beautiful it is.  “Maybe it’s sick,” I tell her, “But, we can feed it frogs, nurse it back to health like you did with the baby squirrels.”

I run around the side of the cottage, anxious to get back to the crane.  Halfway there, I turn and look behind.  Donna stands motionless, her mouth agape, staring at the crane.  .

She Strokes Its Neck

To reassure her I stand next to the crane, lightly touching its back. 

The crane opens its eyes unfurls its long neck, while slowly turning its head left to right before staring straight ahead, motionless.  

Unable to resist Donna caresses its long neck with the back of her hand, speaking to it in low tones, while asking me stupid questions like, did the bird act like it was sick? 

Jake Willis 

I sense her feelings are warming to the subject so, I say to her. “‘Well Jeez, I don’t know mom.  I’ve never met a sick bird before.” Her smile is soft … and caring.  

Jake Willis, the old guy living on the opposite side of the curve three houses west appears out of nowhere.  We become a group of three thinking indecision. 

Jake isn’t saying much.  He squints a little staring at the crane his thumb and index finger moving along his chin line, in deep thought.  

Donna repeats her concern that the bird could be sick only this time, she looks to Jake for confirmation.

Jake asks me if the bird tried to stab me in the eye.  I just stare at him.

They insist the bird could have blinded me.  They tell me the bird is too sick to live. 

The Verdict 

I hate them for saying that.  Who are they to decide whether another living thing should live or die?  

They look at each other then back at me.  Without saying a word I knew the verdict. 

I look at the crane, its head feathers tousled by an on shore breeze.remembering the moment I saw its head above the cat tails such a short while ago.  

Then I have an idea!  I open my mouth to tell them I could take the crane back to the swale where I found it so it can die in peace.  Alas!  It’s too late.  Jake is already more than halfway to the curve.

Next: Waiting For Death

How I Fell From First Chair Drummer to Band Outcast

images-2

I watched them hit that old pine floor with perfect syncopation; touch and bounce, touchwood bounce from tip to tip/ bouncing tip to end tapping ratatapping their own rhythm as if guided by unseen puppet strings.

How I Descended From First Chair Drummer To Band Outcast

The drum section in the back left corner of our tiny band room was cordoned off from the rest of the band by a bass drum, three snare drums, three kettle drums, a set of chimes, a full sized gong and a silver glockenspiel on a stand.  

Most days Mr. Green (the band director) worked with different instrumental sections while we in the percussion section sat around waiting to play usually not until the end of the period when to appease us, we played couple of marches.

Out of boredom, my ADD aversion to sitting still and plenty of free time, I visited various vantage points where I could peek through all the cracks between the different percussive instruments at different band members, flirt with a couple of girls or, watch Green his angry face bright red, his pock marked chipmunk cheeks puffed out more than usual, his words cutting and sharp, humiliate various band members who weren’t able to play their parts perfectly, haranguing them to practice more, questioning their commitment.  

”If you’re not committed to practicing at least a half hour each night then get out of here right now!”

I could move around back there as long as I didn’t interfere with his teaching which eventually was why I began the slow descent from first chair drummer to band outcast.

Anger Multiplied

My descent to outcast status wasn’t only because I had the freedom to move around.  It was what I carried in my hands when I moved around; a pair of 2B drum sticks in constant motion against the side of my leg, banging out the rhythms to Motown or rock songs that constantly flowed through my brain.

Inevitably the tip of one of my flailing sticks would click against another.  If I was real careless I might tap a music stand or send a cymbal zzzzing …… or worse of all,  one or both of my sticks would slip out of my hand.  I’d watch it fall helplessly as my life passed before my eyes, before hitting that old pine floor with perfect syncopation to touch and bounce, touchwood bounce from tip to tip/ratatapping their own rhythm,  bouncing tip to end tapping out their own improvisation as if guided by unseen puppet strings. 

Which infuriated Green!

More … Much More … 

The Tragedy: Lost Tapes

The Tragedy III

The Lost Tapes

Seems obvious but important to note that, looking back I can say with great surety, kids don’t want change.  They want to stay as far away from change as possible.  They want to do what they are doing and they think they can do it forever because they don’t realize that change is inevitable.   

When real physical change creeps into the body the world becomes full of bright new ‘pursuasions’.  With new awarness we turn away from ‘kids world’ to embark along the pathways of our search for love; the missing ingredient that we think will calm the quiet despertion that grows with each disappointment faced throughout life.  

I saw the desperation in their eyes that summer long before I understood or became aware that the tragedy had occured.  It wasn’t until decades later that I understood.

Their parties were a desperate need to fill the empty spaces of their lives after those first disappointing years of marriage when shadows of the void begin showing up around the edges, when it became clear that marriage wasn’t the answer to the question or a destination the where the search for happiness would end. 

Maybe kid’s fear grows as they become more aware of the strange behavior of adults; their need to get drunk, the clinging man or woman too cowardly to resist temptation, the growling resentful wives consumed by rage, needy women lured into illicit affairs by lecherous men or … the choice to die, one more choice along the road of choices another choice along the many pathways, driven by a single aspect of life; the never ending search for love. 

Now I understand the sad, desperate looks I can still see on their faces all those years ago.  A yearning for the missing ingredient.  The spark that would ignite the engines of their lonesome souls.

DEAC

He sold insurance.  He was successful.

A respected businessman and community leader. He taught me how to handle a shotgun and we often hunted and fished together.

His philosophy of life was that anything of value can only be achieved by hard work and pain.  Suffering builds character!

He had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh.  People had a hard time saying no to him. While most people liked him, he was a shyster and wouldn’t hesitate to screw any person out of five bucks if he thought he could get away with it.

Those few enemies he had hated his guts.

A U.S. Marine, radioman and sharpshooter during World War II, you could say he was a lucky man.  Not because the bus he was riding on that night was broadsided by a train trapping him in the wreckage, with a crushed foot, rather the accident prevented him from being shipped out the next day to Iwo Jima.

He spent the rest of the war recuperating in hospital near Seattle in Washington State.

SKIING BEHIND THE CAR

He was an adventurous soul unafraid to take chances.

One Sunday morning out of nowhere, he proclaimed, “I can ski behind the car.”

A preposterous thing to do!  But he did it and despite the fact that he told me he had never made a mistake in his life, I’m sure that by the end of that day, his arm in a sling, wracked with pain from gravel imbedded road rash and debilitating contusions, you might think he’d at least consider that he made a mistake.  But, he wouldn’t admit or even consider that he had.  Only that he had no regrets.

NO REGRETS

Did Deac consider his role in the tragedy a mistake?  Did he feel guilt because of the tragedy?  Did he regret his dalliance with Janey and the tragedy that resulted?  Or, in HIS world of denial did he tell himself he had no regrets?  Did he even realize he played a role in the tragedy?  If so he never confided in me.

MYSTIFIED

I was mystified by behavior that I had no reference for before that summer.  After all, I was only ten years old at the time.

I didn’t know that Deac and Janey had been seeing each other off the radar for weeks.  If I did, I wouldn’t have known what they were doing.

What I DID see were the ugly looks Donna gave him and his feigned attempts to act nonchalant.  Even I could tell he was acting strangely talking incessantly about events that happened during the day as if he were enlightening us.

INSANE JEALOUSY

Donna’s volatile temper, her insane jealousy, the bitterness she felt toward Deac roiled like an angry sea just below the surface. During tempests of fury her ocean of madness, spilled over, drawing everyone within reach into her storms of fury even those she loved the most.

We lived in troubling times never sure when her volatility would spark the flames of jealous insanity when we least expected.

BROKEN DISHES

Then one day I walked into the kitchen while Donna was breaking dishes on the kitchen floor, calling Deac a son of a bitch.  While he calmly stirred the spaghetti sauce,I passed by unnoticed.

By the time dinner was served the floor had been swept.  They regained their composure and were civilized toward each other while we ate.  For a while things seemed ok.

They weren’t.

Next: THE INCIDENT

 

 

The Tragedy

The Tragedy

Dragged along on their journey of repentance after the tragedy not kicking and screaming but depressed about losing life long friends to a new world, we ricocheted through time and space to the four corners then home again to where it all began before, hoping to put pieces back together that would never fit together again. 

It all started the summer Deac and Donna partied almost every weekend with three other couples on the grass along the west side of Jim and Janey’s house, one of those big two story mission style houses with three dormer windows looking down on the front sidewalk, a wide front porch five or six steps up from the sidewalk, a slender Roman column at porch level supporting the front left corner of the second floor, probably build during the 1930s it filled an entire corner lot front to back and played an important role in the tragedy from beginning to end. 

During their get togethers I roamed around on my bicycle playing with kids who lived in that neighborhood playing catch in the street or football on the grass as long as we were careful not to throw any passes into their booze bucket.     

THEIR PARTIES

Their parties followed a routine that never varied.  The men played poker, gathered around or hunched over a card table at the back half of the lot next to the house, red, white and blue poker chips scattered about the middle of the table, neat piles of chips stacked according to their value in front of each player while drinking Strohs or Blatz or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer from metal cans, two holes punched at the top of each can with a ‘church key’ hung from the handle of a galvanized tub full of beer and ice beneath a card table holding every type of booze and mix you could think of. 

The women gathered in the kitchen or sat on aluminum chairs in a circle on the grass smoking, drinking and laughing not far from the men who guffawed, teased each other or were serious depending on how much money was in the pot. 

Next:  Some Janey and Donna. 

He Gave Us the Freedom

She looked with cold indifference at 

his efforts to teach 

the connection between

our lives and

nature.  

Bridge parties, 

the daily routines of life and 

an afternoon nap, were 

the essential components of 

her life. 

He gave us freedom to

explore the sandy beaches, dunes, trout

streams and 

the Great Lake where

he had fished and camped as a

boy.

We spent our days

swimming

for hours at a time,

we ran thorough 

the woods like wild 

Indians.

We fished in the bay 

off the end of 

the old Coast Guard dock 

at the end of 

the limerock road 

where he fished at 

the same 

age.

He gave opportunity for

unique forms of

thought patterns taken from

the world around;

deeper sorts of problem solving

made more essential

more real

  in a world parallel to but 

inclusive of 

the confines of

our ‘’everyday’’ lives. 

One day,

temperatures in the ‘20s

walking in his tracks through

three feet of snow

 the ground white 

light as feathers rising while passing by

quarter sized light wings 

drifting

slowly downward

 soft and mesmerizing.

We traveled past

the scrub oaks

a century or more

old

gnarly and twisted from

Arctic winds 

their rise and fall,

deadly cold fronts, biting winds,

great lake storms 

blown onshore,

adapted to biting cold

surviving.  

We walked to

a line of scrub pines

behind dunes running parallel to 

the lake where .,..

with food and shelter and warmth 

he left us for 

some indeterminable 

length of time

in a world of silence

to contemplate a world 

stripped of all conveniences 

wrapped in black or white

the ground softly falling through 

air 

from 

upwards.  

Third and Nine To Go … How I Learned More Than My Third Grade Students

For Amy and Deborah and anyone else who was there.

Third and Nine to Go …
How I Learned More Than My Third Grade Students

I fired math questions at them first thing in the morning while strolling around the room, writing problems on blackboards at the front and back of the room.

I walked  between the aisles looking into their eyes to see if they were paying attention.  If any kid had that dazed look on their face I pestered them with questions until they were awake and alert.

I gave them the freedom to cut up National Geographic, Sports Illustrated Life and whatever other magazines I could find, paste the pictures together in any sequence they chose (You could find school paste everywhere; on the floor, their desks, their fingers and faces, their hair and of course, in their mouths. A lot of kids out there are addicted to white school paste) then, make up stories to go with the pictures.

If they finished their work before nine thirty, they could get a book and read.  Or, they could work on their stories before going out to recess.

You should have seen the excited looks on their faces when they realized they could work on those stories for fifteen or twenty minutes before recess.

Every day after lunch I read them books like Huckleberry Finn, the Wind In the Willows, a couple of the “Catfish Bend” stories and other stories every kid should be familiar with.

Third and Nine; The Rise And Fall Of Civilization

One day I watched my third grade graders play from behind glass windows running the length of my classroom.

Before recess was even half over several boys had built a snowman.

Afterward, searching for something to do, they pelted the girls with snowballs.

The girls screamed and ran away delighted by the sudden attention.

One girl fell face first into the snow.

I heard peals of laughter from the boys who pointed at her cackling loudly.

Snow covered her face.  A moist black hole appeared where she spit the snow away.  Her eyes appeared through two black dots at the top of her face.

Briefly, she appeared as a live snow-girl.

One boy rolled in the snow laughing.

The girls stood off to the side, mittens covering their mouths hiding their smiles.

With little time left before the bell, I watched four boys demolish the snowman.

After watching the dramas unfold it seemed a couple of life’s secrets were revealed.

Within 15 minutes I had witnessed a model for thousands years of warfare; construction, destruction, the death of innocents. Even the symbolism of rape.

“Maybe warfare is part of who we are,” I thought. “Will we ever rise above it?” I wondered, moving my head side to side.

Then I thought, maybe by the end of the year, I’ll learn more about life from my students than they will learn, from me.

Or at least it’ll be an equal exchange.

 

Christmas Story; A Midwestern America Christmas!

Christmas Story

An Unexpected Guest; High Jinks and Hilarity

When I was 11 I experienced a Christmas I’ll never forget.

It started on a night when the entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents) had gathered at our house for a rare celebration of Christmas on Christmas Eve; … (the air crisp and cold, the sky crystal clear, snow the size of fat cotton balls falling on a soft white blanket sparkling like diamonds each flake reflecting a different star, … when my grandfather, who worked for the Grand Trunk Railroad, brought a lady home from Canada who had become stranded at the depot with no place to go or sleep that Christmas Eve. after blizzard conditions forced cancellation of passenger train service to Chicago.

The addition of a stranger in our midst added an air of excitement to the festivities. Knowing rules would be more lax in her presence, we gave little effort toward restraining our laughter and sense of mirth reveling in the joy we created as our Christmas gift for her.

I can still see her sitting in the blue ‘Naugahyde’ chair next to the fireplace her head thrown back, mouth wide open laughing along with all of us after Uncle Bill, while bouncing around on a pogo stick in the middle of the living room lost his balance knocked over a lamp then rolled over onto the shade while trying to stand up.

Up In Flames

This was the same year several of my cousins gifts; pajamas and other girly things, went up in flames after they were accidentally gathered up with all the Christmas wrappings and thrown into the fireplace.

Everyone was sympathetic while she cried. My brother and I thought it was hilarious.

Roasting

This was also the year my dad decided that, since we were hosting more people than usual, we’d have a traditional roasted pig with an apple in its mouth for dinner on Christmas Day.

Our oven wasn’t big enough to slow cook a whole pig all day so a baker named Mr. Gregory who lived downtown above Gerry Gregory’s Bakery gave us permission to use his big gas fired oven with rotating shelves. to slow cook the pig.

Shortly before sunrise Christmas morning with temperatures well below freezing, we parked in the alley behind the bakery. We used a key to let ourselves in. The big oven was located several feet from the back door.

Mr. Gregory, who baked bread every morning starting at four a.m. didn’t mind getting up early, even on Christmas Day, to light the big oven so that by seven a.m. when we arrived it would be preheated.

What a surprise when we opened the oven door! Warm dry air flowed over our face and hands like a desert wind instantly warming us. A startling reminder of how cold it was a few feet away outside the door behind us.

An electric motor attached to a chain moving over a metal sprocket turned the shelves around the blue flames hissng through b.b sized holes along a metal tube the width of the oven.

Our pig rested on a square cast iron skillet with curled edges so that the juice wouldn’t leak inside Mr. Gregory’s oven AND to capture the juice that my grandmother would use to make her delicious gravy that soon, I’d be spooning over my mom’s mashed potatoes.

After turning the motor off we lifted the pig onto the shelf where my dad used a wooden bakers ole to slide the cast iron skillet into the center close, but not too close to the blue flames.

Before leaving we turned the motor on, locked the back door and drove home but every two or three hours we’d return, park out back to check on its progress.

Dining

The dining table was big enough to comfortably seat ten people: one aunt, one uncle, two girl cousins, a grandmother, a grandfather, a brother and mom and dad and our guest from Canada.

My dad carved the meat into chunks of meat that were so tender they fell apart when served. A combination of flavors filled the air making my mouth water. I finally understood what “melts in your mouth” means.

My grandmother’s gravy formed golden pools on top of my mom’s creamy smooth mashed potatoes.

We ate scalloped corn and scalloped oysters, fresh green beans quick fried in bacon fat with sautéed onions crumbled pieces of bacon tossed with apple vinegar and a touch of sugar.

My grandfather ate mint jelly with his meat. My cousins, my brother and I drank tall glasses of milk, my grandparents drank black coffee while the parents drank red wine.

For desert there was apple and pecan pie (my favorite). Each year my dad made a creamy rich sauce in a double boiler from butter, sugar and an egg that made even fruitcake taste good.

We had mince meat pie made from the venison of a buck my dad shot during deer season.

My grandmother made a fake apple pie that everyone raved about before telling us it was made from Ritz Crackers.

Stories

While we ate, the adults kept us entertained with funny or interesting stories about growing up or daily life.

We relived Uncle Bill’s accident with the pogo stick. Each of us told what we saw from different points of view. Everybody’s story was different but they were all the same! We laughed harder with each re-telling.

My brother said it looked like Uncle Bill was shot from a cannon when he flew into the table knocking over the lamp.

The lady from Canada told us her sister lives in Chicago where she worked as a bookkeeper at the Chicago stockyards and that she lived in Thunder Bay, Ontario where she booked fishing expeditions on the Alcona Railroad into the Canadian bush country.

Grandma and grandpa told how they met at the annual county fair during a band concert.  They talked about how hard they had to work growing up on farms 10 or 15 miles from town back when there were few cars, tending the big family garden, canning fruits and vegetables all sumer long, stocking up for the long cold winters, caring for the farm animals seven days a week, gathering hay before hay ‘balers’’or harvesting corn by implements that seem ancient today. All of this plus there was no electricity or indoor plumbing.

My mom and Aunt Jo remembered the beautiful costume dresses my grandmother made for them when they entertained gatherings at different towns, counties and around the state.  They relived their experience of riding the train to Chicago to tap dance on a popular radio program.

Uncle Bill told us another funny story about a pet crow he trained to perch on his arm while he fed it red cherries from a tree in his back yard.

Each time the crow ate a cherry, a pit from a previous cherry popped out of its butt! Nobody believed the story until I told them it was true because I saw it happen!

The Past

I have many boyhood memories from Christmases past but, they are all separate episodes.

There was the Christmas Eve I rode around town with my dad leaving turkeys on the doorsteps of families not as fortunate as ours.

There’s a partial memory I have as a very young boy walking down the aisle at the Congregational Church cradling my favorite gift, a white football that l gave to some less fortunate boy or girl.

Then there’s the year I got the second best gift ever (the first being a new bicycle) a new pair of black figure skates with runners that, as my dad pointed out, were made of Sheffield Steel.

Next morning too anxious to wait any longer I grabbed my new skates, snuck out the back door before breakfast, headed for the ice pond a block and a half away where I skated in a magical world devoid of human movement or sound carving out figure 8’s any size I wanted. I was free to skate as fast as I wanted before turning to dig the teeth at the front of my skates into the ice spewing chips curling away on both sides like fractured waves before stopping on a dime.

Other stories
continued

All the Christmas memories are special. But, the year we celebrated Christmas Eve by opening our house making the Canadian lady part of our family was special maybe because we gave her a place to sleep when there were no rooms at the inn … Her presence was much a gift to us as our inclusion of her into our family was for her.

She brought to us a spark that released extra measures of laughter and joy. By her presence she caused us to be the best people we could be; more full of love and giving than were she not in our midst. i

Her presence gave proof that giving to others is as much a gift to the giver as it is to the receiver which, isn’t this the true meaning of Christmas?

By the time she left on the passenger train to Chicago she had become a part of us and we were part of her. She still lives inside otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write this wonderful story!

Funny how it turns out that THAT Christmas is the only Christmas I can still clearly remember from beginning to end.

My Christmas wish is that we be united by the knowledge that we ALL share special memories of Christmas because memories are all we have and Christmas memories are the best. May we re-live them with renewed appreciation while adding more wonderful Christmas memories this year .

As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us every one.”
.
Merry Christmas 2017

Kurt Struble

 

The Apple of Our Lives; An American Christmas

continuing … That was the same year several of my cousins gifts; pajamas and other girly things, were accidentally gathered together with the gift wrappings, thrown into the fireplace and burned.  Everyone was sympathetic while she cried. My brother and I thought it was hilarious.

A Roasted Pig

This was also the year my dad decided that, since we were hosting more people than usual, we’d have a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth for dinner on Christrmas Day.

Our oven wasn’t big enough to slow cook a a whole pig all day so, Mr. Gregory who lived downtown above Gerry Greory’s Bakery gave us permission to use the big gas powered oven with rotating shelves that he baked bread in every morning starting at four a.m. so, he didn’t mind getting up early, even on Christmas Day, to light the big oven before the sun came up, so that by the time we arrived the oven would be preheated.

We drove downtown to the bakery.  We parked in the alley behind the bakery.  It was cold outside.  Well below freezing.

We let ourselves in the back door with the key.  The oven was just inside the back door. When we pulled down on the big oven door warm dry air washed over us, warming our hands and face.

An electric motor attached to a chain moving over a metal sprocket slowly turned the shelves around blue flames hissing through the b-b sized holes of a metal tube the width of the oven.

Our pig rested on a square cast iron skillet with curled edges so that the juice wouldn’t spill inside of Mr.Gregory’s oven where he’d soon be baking bread AND so there was plenty of juice that my grandmother would use to make the best gravy in the world! Gravy that I’d soon be spooning over my mom’s mashed potatoes undoubtedly, the best mashed potatoes on the planet!

After turning the motor off my dad used a wooden bakers pole to slide the cast iron skillet onto the center of the shelf close, but not TOO close, to the blue flames.

We turned the motor on and went home but every two or three hours we drove downtown parked out back and checked on its progress.

continued …..

For the Love of Coney

th

If you’re from Michigan you’ll understand
the thirst and lust we share
for coney island hotdogs
a part of our
collective
DNA …

They come in two varieties from
two geographies I like to call the
Motor City and the
Fisher Body variety but
you might know them as the
Flint or Detroit coney … OR

wet or dry …

I prefer the wet from Flint but

I can eat them either way …

There’s good natured rivalry between the two clans

defined by either:
Fisher Body, Buick; the Audubon or GMI

vs
Ford, Cadillac, Gross Point or dare I mention
River Rouge

(where someone said that
Robo Cop was born? hmmm … )

The Rouge River !!

Filled with the blood of our forefathers
sliced from their veins by their great God
Henry …

Ours is the friendliness of rivalries;
each group tends to look down their noses at the other
but after all …

our fruit of kind
and our passion for them, both share the same

NAME …!

(upstate they’re pronounced “Coeneez”)

Besides, there’s WAY too much in common
for either ‘clan’ to really care …

our shared differences are just a good natured excuse to
banter about something we both agree on …

Like two Detroit Tiger fans arguing which was better
the ’68 World Series team with;

Kaline, Cash, Gates Brown,
Hank Aguirre, Denny McClain and the others ..

(every one of them bright, unique stars
in their own rights!)

or
that other bunch brought to fame by our dearly beloved

Sparky

(Whose name will ALWAYS stand alone … )

A delightful sense of argument considering everything in common;
the total love for Sparky, our nostalgia simply for the names Briggs or
Tiger Stadium, (both names interchangeable like ‘crik or creek’)

Sweet feelings shared by both clans
from an age gone by we thought we’d live in forever
while

above, or below or surrounding it all we heard the voices of
George (Kell) and Ernie (Harrell)

giving us the spoken words of our
love

it was
through their eyes and minds
and voices … !

(… like a favorite song you could
listen to forever … played countless times all summer long
year after year after year …)

that we watched
our athletic Gods of strength and character play

SIGHT UNSEEN ….!

Just the mention of their names
brings tears to my eyes …

If you’re a Michigander
I’ll bet it does to your eyes
too …

continued … The World Series

Christmas Story IV: Magical Moments

images

There were other Christmases and other memories I have from when I was a boy.

There was the time I rode around town with my dad on Christmas Eve leaving Christmas turkeys on the doorsteps of families not as fortunate as ours.

There’s the fragmented memory I have of walking down the aisle at church cradling my favorite gift … a white football … a gift I gave to some less fortunate boy or girl.

I have no memory of the chronology of the events leading up to that moment, how I managed to receive the gift and give it away all within the confines of Christmas Eve and Christmas day I don’t know.  But, does it matter?

Then there’s the year I got the second best gift ever (the first being a new bicycle) a new pair of black figure skates that, as my dad pointed out, were made of Sheffield Steel.

Too anxious to wait, I grabbed my skates, snuck out of the house before breakfast,  headed for the ice rink at the town park a block and a half from where I lived and while puff balls of snow fell straight down, the world silent and devoid of people, in my ecstasy I lost all track of time while making figure 8’s or skating really fast while using the teeth at the tips of my skates to turn and stop on a dime fragments of ice rising on either side; the whole experience was one, long magical moment.

But the year the lady from Canada came to our house … maybe because  all the rooms at the inn were taken … was the only Christmas I can clearly remember from beginning to end.

My Christmas wish?  May we put aside our troubles, have magical moments armed with  the knowledge that we are all sharing our own personal magical moments together!

A Christmas Story III

imgres

A Christmas Story III

The dining table was big enough to comfortably seat ten people: one aunt, one uncle, two girl cousins, a grandmother, a grandfather, a brother and mom and dad.

Dad carved the pig into chunks of meat that were so tender they fell apart when served. The combination of spices flavored the air. The smells made my mouth water. I finally understood the meaning of food that “melted in your mouth”.

The gravy that my grandmother made formed golden pools on top of the creamy smooth mounds of mashed potates.

We ate scalloped corn, scalloped oysters and fresh green beans with crumbled pieces of bacon fried in bacon fat then tossed with vinegar dressing with a touch of sugar.

My grandfather ate mint jelly with his meat.

My cousins, my brother and I drank tall glasses of milk, my grandparents drank black coffee while the parents drank red wine or water.

The adults did all the talking. We listened to their funny stories about growing up or daily life.

We relived Uncle Bill’s accident with the pogo stick. Each of us told what we saw from where we watched. Every bodies story was different but they were all the same.

My brother said it looked like Uncle Bill got shot from a gun when he flew off the pogo stick before knocking over the lamp.

Sitting around the table we laughed even harder after reliving the story for the second, third and fourth times!

continued …

The Pig In A Blanket

images

… Every two or three hours we drove to the bakery, parked out back and checked on the progress of our roasting pig.

The blue gas flame gave just enough light for us to see the pig slowly rolling past our eyes.

By four or five o’clock the pig had cooked to a dark, rich, golden color. It didn’t need to be roasted any longer.

When the roasting shelf was level with the door we turned the motor off.

The heat escaping through the open oven door felt like a warm fragrant wind bringing with it the combined smells of garlic and onion and basil and rosemary, cloves and beneath it all the subtle smell of apple cider.

My dad used a pair of iron tongs to pull the iron skillet to the edge of the roasting shelf. We wore thick insulated mittens to lift the pig and skillet from the oven.

The skin on the red apple in the pigs mouth was wrinkled but there weren’t any holes … so we knew hot apple juice had been steaming inside the pig.

We put the pig on top of blankets in the trunk of the car. We didn’t want to spill any of the rich delicious juice that my grandmother would make into ham gravy.

We put a tent of alumium foil over the pig to keep it warm.

While driving home we laughed about having a ‘pig in a blanket’ in the trunk of the car.

continued …

Christmas Dinner

images-2

That was also the year my dad decided that, since we were hosting more people than usual, we’d have a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth for Christrmas dinner.

Our oven wasn’t big enough to slow cook a a whole pig all day.

So a baker downtown named Mr. Gregory let use the big gas flamed rotating oven he used to bake bread every day.

Mr. Gregory lived above the bakery.  He baked bread every morning starting around five a.m. so he didn’t mind lighting the flame of the big gas oven well before the sun came up even on Christmas Day, so that the oven was preheated when we arrived.

Early Christmas morning we drove downtown to the bakery parked the car in the alley and let ourselves in with the key.

When we pulled down on the oven door the warm air rushed out at our faces. The morning air was cold and damp and the back door was still open so the warm air felt good against our faces and hands.

An electric motor attached to a chain moving over a over a metal sprocket slowly turned the shelves around and around. The oven was heated by blue flames hissing through b b sized holes around a metal tube the width of the oven.

The pig rested on a square cast iron skillet with curled edges so that the juice wouldn’t leak out onto Mr. Gregory’s bread shelves AND so that my grandmother could make the best gravy in the world that we could spoon over the best mashed in the world.

After turning off the motor we lifted the pig and the iron skillet onto a shelf. We used a wooden bakers pole to slide the pig to the center of the shelf close, but not too close to the blue flame.

continued …

Christmas Story

images-5

Don’t you think those unexpected, unique events that sometimes occur during Christmas are presents more memorable than any single gift received?

Maybe the memories are more powerful because they’re shared by everyone at the same time.

Like that one Christmas Eve, the air crisp and cold, the sky crystal clear, snow falling the size of fat cotton balls, sparkling like diamonds on the ground each flake reflecting a different star (or so our ten year old minds thought), the entire family gathered at our house (aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents) when my grandfather who worked for the Grand Trunk Railroad brought a lady home from Canada who had been stranded at the depot, to join us for our Christmas Eve celebration.

The addition of a person we had never seen or met before added an element of excitement to the gathering. We treated her like an honored guest.

Knowing the rules would be more lax in her presence we gave little effort toward restraining our laughter and sense of mirth reveling in the sense of joy we created as our gift to her.

I can still see her sitting in the blue ‘Naugahyde’ chair her head thrown back, mouth wide open laughing along with all of us when uncle Bill lost his balance while bouncing around on a pogo stick in the middle of the living room, knocked over a lamp then rolled onto the shade after losing his balance and falling.

That was the same year we discovered several of my cousins gifts went up in smoke when her pajamas and other girly things were gathered together along with the gift wrappings, thrown into the fireplace and burned.

Everyone was so sympathetic while she cried. My brother and I thought it was hilarious.

continued …