Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A House is not a Home

Sometimes it takes a real “slam-dunk” to jolt you back to what’s really important in life.  My personal “slam-dunk” came one cool, sunny day many autumns ago.  

I stepped outdoors to tackle the endless trail of falling leaves that had blanketed my front yard in hues of orange, brown, and yellow. Beautiful site, really, but in keeping with neighborhood appearances,  I blew the leaves to the curb so the city would be able to sweep away the colorful piles by sunrise. 

Lost in the melodic hum of the electric blower, my thoughts drifted back.  Way back.  To my 5 sisters, 3 brothers, and me.  To a much more innocent time.   All 9 of us, along with scores of other neighbor kids, would gather the leaves that had fallen from the four huge Maple trees growing in our front yard during the 50s and 60s. 

The roots of the trees, and the children’s PF Flyers played havoc with the blades of grass vying for survival, but no one was too concerned about the grass in those days.  Grass was for playing Ring Around the Rosy, Red Light/Green Light, and Red Rover, Red Rover.   We’d dive head-first into the biggest pile of leaves we could build, and emerge dusty from the heap with leaves and twigs poking out from every hair on our head. 

I recalled how we somersaulted through the pile of leaves, our cheeks rosy from the cold, and the strong odor of the neighbors’ burning leaves rising through the air.

The loud roar of my leaf-blower jolted me back to reality, and, as my mountain of leaves finally reached the curb, I proudly glanced back to admire the “clean” look.  That’s when I noticed that “thing” desperately hanging from the house.  That unsightly, battered basketball hoop and backboard, perpetually dangling from my garage roof, should proceed to its final resting place - the city dump.

It’s not the first time the old hoop would be sent to its demise.

When the hoop was first propped over the garage door in the early 80s, son Mikey was just a tyke who could barely muster the strength to throw the ball high enough to hit the 10 foot rim.  He had to be hoisted into the air to “score.”  Over the years, as “Mikey” evolved into “Mike,” that old hoop occupied him and scores of neighborhood youngsters, each with dreams of becoming the next Michael Jordan. 

Then, as “Mike” eventually became known as “Hawk,” occasionally I would peer through the window from my refuge in the living room and watch “Hawk” and the rest of the 1994 Trenton basketball team shooting hoops, as they converted my driveway into their personal court.

The hoop weathered snowstorms, ice storms, sleet, and 100o heat.  It outlived a roof, windows, two patios, and landscaping.  And is also responsible for the dings and dents in my garage door.  And don’t forget the sparse blades of grass along the edge of the driveway that fight for survival every year against a stampede of size 12+ Nikes.

One year the trim on the house was vinyl-sided and the hoop came down.  Brand new expensive siding.  The house looked good.  No more beat-up backboard bolted into my new siding. I even gave up the idea of hanging out my twinkling outdoor holiday lights at Christmas time! 

It didn’t take very long, though. Mike missed - make that needed - his hoop.  He became increasingly restless without it and with a little, make that a lot of, persistent begging, Mike’s hoop was resurrected.

A year or two later, again, the backboard was removed.  For the last time - I thought.  But when Mike returned home from college for summer break, the first thing he did was to convince his dad to help him hang the hoop back up on the roof.

Summer was now over so I figured that Mike was safely away into his third year of college and was too busy, and probably less interested, to find the time to shoot hoops.  Besides, he was also employed long hours during the summer when he was home.  He just didn’t have the time for basketball anymore.

“Today’s the day to get rid of that unsightly basketball hoop.”  But doing yard work took precedence and, before I knew it, the sun was setting on the backboard still perched high on the garage roof.  Next weekend.  Number one priority...next weekend...down comes the hoop.

But the day before that fateful weekend, on a whim, Mike decided to drive home from school for an unexpected visit, and, as is typical, gave only a moment’s notice that he was bringing home company for dinner. 

Scrambling around the kitchen during some last minute meal preparations before their arrival, I heard an enormous rrrumble.  It reverrrbbberrrated throughout the house.

I knew my son was home.  I bolted to the front hall and met Mike and his friend just as they opened the door.  “I knew you were home, Mike,” I said.  “I heard your “slam-dunk.” 

Little did I know that Mike had just whispered to his friend that this was his unspoken way he let his mother know he was home.

The backboard is staying.  A secret signal from my son is so much more important to me than an eye-pleasing house.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

50s Style Vacation Memories – Crossing the Straits

Mom and Dad Wedding Day 1940
I was born and bred a southern (southeast Michigan, that is) gal whose roots were planted 100 years ago by my parents in Michigan’s Marquette area -- God’s Country -- the U.P.    

In the 1940s, the booming city of Detroit beckoned job seekers from all over the state and the country.  My parents left the iron ore mines of Marquette County and headed south, as did many other fortune seekers, to prosperous Wayne County searching for new and better opportunities.

After moving around a bit in southeast Michigan, on a snowy January day in 1950, my parents moved into a home they built in Dearborn Heights in the Joy Road/Telegraph area.  

1950 New House before it was painted.
I'm in my mother's arms.

One of the first homes built in the new subdivision, they purchased two lots (just had to have room for a large vegetable garden) and moved into their bungalow where and I was born only days later…child number 4.  Little did my parents know that in addition to the 4 they already had, there would be 5 more little ones after me that they were going to be raising in that house.

And like clockwork, my parents would make the annual return trip to their small hometowns in Ishpeming and Negaunee in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with all their children in tow, to visit with grandmas and grandpas. 

So every year my parents would wake us in the wee hours of the morning to start the, then, 10 to 12 hour drive (depending on how long you had to wait for the ferry at the straits).  The kids, yes, all nine of us, were so full of excitement that none of us got much sleep the night before we left.  It was the only vacations we ever experienced as young children.

Our “luggage” (discarded cardboard boxes dad hauled home from the corner A&P) had been carefully packed the night before, and by morning, dad would be tying down our “suitcases” (my parents had a “real” suitcase – at least by 1950 standards) in the homemade “carrier” on top of the car.  After dad hoisted the boxes to the top of the car, he would cover his precious cargo with tarp, weave a tight rope across the canvas, and off we’d go…sans seatbelts.

Ray Kroc's McDonald’s chains hadn’t even been heard of yet, so we packed our own peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches to ease us through the long Michigan trip north.  In our family, peanut-butter and jelly were two separate sandwiches and, heaven forbid, the two should ever meet!!  

And then there was that big heavy, slightly-dented silver-green gallon-sized thermos filled with precious water from home!  No matter how parched, only the smallest of small sips were allowed (I suppose just enough to make that plain PB sandwich slide down a bit easier!).  My mother’s intent was for us to avoid guzzling water; otherwise she’d have nine whiny kids crying out for pit stops for you-know-what!

I clearly recall our car whizzing (no pun intended to the previous sentence) past the exits where we kids would beg and plead, year-after-year, to PLEEEEZE stop…  Sea Shell City in Cheboygan, Call of the Wild in Gaylord, and the most intriguing to us…the Mystery Spot in St. Ignace. 
Those signs along I-75 were more than enticing to us kids.  Needless to say, with nine kids, we never stopped.  But 20 years later, when I made that same trip, my first alone as an adult to the U.P., guess where I stopped…..the Mystery Spot!   

Waiting in line for the Ferry

Some 300 miles after leaving home and arriving at the straits -- the real fun began, for the kids, at least.  I remember waiting in long lines in the car for the Ferry to load.  Sometimes the wait for the Ferry was so drawn-out we became restless. But occasionally, if luck was on your side, our timing was perfect and boarding was not too much of a problem.

I recall during some of those long waits for the ferry, there were girls selling “samwiches”.  I distinctly recall a young lady walking among the long lines of idling cars.  She wore a “tray” similar to what the ladies in the old TV commercials wore when they cooed:  “Cigars?  Cigarettes?”  Only this lady was selling sandwiches!  Of course, we never purchased…we had our own PB and J (separate, please)! 

Someone told me they sold pastys, too.  FYI:  I still make pastys today…pass the ketchup (the only way a true Upper Peninsula pasty should be eaten). Yummy!  If you don’t know what a pasty is, give me a holler!  
Me (Left) on the Ferry with big sister...circa 1955.

I can still hear the sound of the heavy steel platform that bridged the ferry to the concrete dock.  boom-boom..…boom-boom, as the tires of the cars rolled over…boom-boom….boom-boom.  And I can still hear the screeching noises and deafening blare of car horns echoing off the interior hard steel walls of the boat as the cars crossed the threshold into the deep belly of the ferry.  Then the clankity-clank of footsteps as hundreds of us “sea-worthy sailors” climbed the dark cold open-steel stairway finally reaching the bright sun on the open-air deck above.

Standing on the deck of the ferry, I recall my dad with an outstretched arm showing us the construction of the five-mile span that was to come.  An unbelievable feat! 

Now the Mighty Mac has been goin’ strong for more than 50 years!  A real Michigan icon, it is!  I hate to admit it, but I was only 7 years old that summer when the bridge first opened to traffic and I crossed it.

Vacationing, and life,  in the 1950s was a lot different than it is now.  We were without all the luxuries of today.  Didn't even have air-conditioning for us to keep our cool.  But you know what?  Those memories are some of the best I have of my childhood, and I wouldn't trade them at all.  

Let's hear your favorite vacation memory from long ago.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Real Reality

The verdict is in…Not Guilty.  The Casey Anthony trial captured the world’s attention as if it were a reality show.  It WAS a reality show, without all the editing and film left on the cutting room floor.  True reality despite the lies, imaginary characters, and accusations of incest.

I wasn’t on the jury, so who am I (we) to say.  Even the alternate juror (he’s the only one talking, so far) agreed with the Not Guilty decision. 

Ms. Anthony lived up to her latest ink… Bella Vita. But will it be a beautiful life?  Where is she to go?  She’s fingered her family and friends…burned her bridges.  Doubt she can get a job.  She’ll have to get outta town. Seems as if the only alternative will be to sell her story for some big bucks and go into obscurity.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Stranger than Fiction

You may think I am strange, but I just love watching crime shows.  Oh, I don’t mean Hollywood’s hour-long melodramas featuring whoever the current hunk or starlet (do they even use that word Starlet anymore?) happens to be. 

I’m talking real-life people who temporarily, or more-often, permanently go berserk. Or, most-likely, were ALWAYS strange but no-one ever seemed to notice! 

My Friday and Saturday nights are often filled watching 48 Hours, 20/20, Dateline, Cops, and America’s Most Wanted (have to check-in to see if any faces showing up on my computer from those silly dating sites are being hunted by modern-day cowboy John Walsh). 

Then there is late night on the History Channel delving into daily prison life of some of the most hardened criminals.  And don’t forget the interesting stories about the gangs in our big and small cities across the country.  I just LOVE watching this stuff.

Week after week tales of murder and deception bombard my TV.  It’s enough to make ever the sweetest, most innocent person a bit suspicious.  THAT’s where I get my suspicious nature. lol

This 4th of July weekend I’ve been paying special attention to the Casey Anthony trial in Orlando, Florida.  I’ve been interested since the beginning and have followed most of the sensational headlines and quick snippets here and there.  But for the past two days, I have been listening intently to the closing arguments.  And just now, Judge Perry’s instructions to the jury.

In case you’ve been in a coma for the past 3 years, Casey Anthony has been accused of murdering her 2-year old daughter.  This trial has everything.  Murder, Lies, Abuse, Lies, Sex, Lies, Affairs, Lies and, did I say Lies?   It’s amazing how the story has spread its tentacles.  It has reached out to include unbelievable tales of friends of Casey Anthony, her mother, her father, her brother, her boyfriend and even the imaginary Zanny the Nanny. 

Not sure how long the sequestered jury will take to render a verdict, but I’ll be listening.  Life is stranger, and definitely more interesting, than fiction.