“I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good,
I wish I was the full moon shining off a Camaro’s hood.”
“Wishlist,” Pearl Jam
59-year veteran steelworker John Gold; photos by Jerry Davich
Jerry Davich wrote a Post-Tribune column on steelworkers who put in 50 years at the mill, despite the dirty, unhealthy, dangerous environment and constant shift work that, as one veteran exclaimed, took ten years out of your life. Why would someone do that, he wondered. Some feared they’d soon die if they retired. Others were proud to be called steelworkers and claimed to like the workplace camaraderie. Others didn’t have much of a home life and preferred not to be home all day. Of course, the “golden handcuffs” phenomenon was still in play, the good money that paid for maintaining a middle-class lifestyle, sanding children and grandchildren to college. Replying the Davich’s column, Carla Waters Spencer stressed the economic security a mill job provided her family: “My dad worked at US Steel for 52 years in the coke plant, retiring after my mom was diagnosed with cancer because she needed his help at home. Mom and Dad were able to raise the four of us kids, pretty much on his income, and we wanted for nothing.”Valerie Dixon commented:
My dad worked at USS for 46 years! He started out in a dirty section and moved to an overhead crane in shipping at the sheet and tin mill; loading coils. He had health problems for as long as I can remember; one being thyroid problems. They didn’t use hearing protection back then either and the damage was done by the time he started wearing ear plugs. The shifts they had them work were stressful: 1 week days,1 week 4 to 12’s, 1 week midnights; alternating until a vacation. They did have great vacation benefits back then; 13 weeks every so many years. Traveling the country during those paid weeks off were the best childhood memories.
Cindy C. Bean posted a photo of hubby Larry finding Davich’s “Lost Gary” at Sam’s Club and one she took of a window in an abandoned church.
Cubs fan Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam
I’m approaching my golden anniversary being associated with IU Northwest. I still go in to the office and keep active guest lecturing and writing a blog. It keeps the brain active; also, I am vain enough to believe that my Steel Shavings magazine and work with the Calumet Regional Archives has lasting value. There are no exotic vacation spots or adventures on my wish list or bucket list beyond continuing what I do now, including travel to scholarly conferences. Like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, in 2016 I witnessed the Chicago Cubs win the World Series for the first time in our lifetimes, near the top of our wish lists. In a recent interview Vedder talked about his love affair with the Cubs:
It probably started because my grandpa took me to Wrigley Field. The first day I was about 4 and a half or 5, we saw the Pirates play the Cubs. When we came up the bleachers, you could smell the stench of one of those white capsules in the piss thing. That was the smell, mix it with hot dog, and walking up the ramp and I could hear the pop of the gloves, it was a Wizard of Oz moment to see that field for the first time. It was the greenest green I ever, the whitest white, Jose Cardenal, the coolest afro. That moment I feel something inside changed, and a fire was lit.
Brandy Halladay at Hall of fame ceremony
Inducted into the Hall of Fame were six former stars, including Cub reliever Lee Smith, White Sox clutch hitter Harold Baines, and Phillies pitcher Ray “Doc” Holladay, who died two years ago when his small plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He’d been suffering from depression and addiction to pain medication, and there of speculation that he took his own life. Joining the Phillies in 2010, Holladay pitched a perfect game in May of that year and won two games in the postseason against Cincinnati and San Francisco, the eventual World Series champs. Lee Smith thanked his Castor, Louisiana, school principal for buying the equipment his family couldn’t afford that enabled him to play baseball. Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, the first unanimous selection, was the final speaker and joked that he’s always the last one called on.
army troops march down Broadway in Gary during 1919 steel strike
Robert Blaszkiewicz’s mention of the hundredth anniversary of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 reminded me that I taught an entire course about that fateful year and used William M. Tuttle’s “Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919. Racial disturbances also took place in Washington, D.C., Omaha, Nebraska, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and throughout the South. Required reading included Robert K. Murray’s “Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria,” and David Brody’s “Labor in Crisis,” about a nationwide steel strike that resulted army troops coming to Gary, jailing union leaders, and crushing the strike. The class read the coming-of-age novel “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson and Gene Smith’s “When the Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson,” which details the President becoming incapacitated during the Versailles Treaty ratification fight. I taught the course some 55 years after these events, which seemed like ancient history – about the same number of years past as the March on Washington and John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I was incredulous when an older student recalled listening to news of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic.
Momma Mia! cast: Kolsch front, middle; Romersberger back, third from left
Toni and I thoroughly enjoyed the production of “Momma Mia!” at Memorial Opera House. We first seaw the play in Las Vegas and enjoyed both the movie starring Meryl Streep and its sequel, featuring an iconic cameo by Cher singing “Fernando.” The best numbers were the upbeat ones involving the entire cast, including lively dancers led by long-legged Jordyn Romersberger (an instructor at Mirror Image Studio) and stunning, blond-wigged recent VU grad Carley Kolsch. Bobbie Sue Kvachkoff shined as Tanya and Mark Williams as Englishman Harry, one of Donna’s three former lovers. That fling was his last heterosexual affair, Harry confided.
“We lived poor as dump dogs,”a character declares in John Updike’s “My Father on the Vege of Disgrace,” an expression I’d never heard before. In that short story from “Licks of Love” (2000) the author describes a hometown west of Philadelphia not unlike mine, Fort Washington, sex decades before:
In this present day of strip malls and towns that are mere boundaries on a developer’s map, it is hard to imagine the core of authority that existed then in small towns, at least in the view of a child – the power of righteousness and enforcement that radiated from the humorless miens of the central men. They were not necessarily officials; our town was too small to have many of them. But certain local merchants, a clergyman or two, the undertaker whose green-awninged mansion dominated the main intersection, across from a tavern and a drugstore, not to mention the druggist and the supervising principal of the school, projected a potential for condemnation and banishment.
One of my mother’s chief concerns concerning my aberrant behavior could be summed up by the words, “What would neighbors think?” When I came home from college, she always tried to drag me to church until I showed up with a beard. That Sunday, church was never mentioned. Unlike Toni, whose Catholic upbringing fostered feelings of guilt, for me it was shaming yourself or the family.
Time magazine’s Lucy Feldman interviewed Richard Russo (above), about his new book, “Chances Are.” Responding to a critic, Russo said, “I have to admit, having been raised a catholic, my first instinct when anybody says anything bad about me is always to say, ‘God, is that true?’” Attending the University of Arizona in 1969 at the time of the first draft lottery, he recalled joking around with friends initially and then drifting away to call home. His number was 332, which he gave to a character in the novel. Ruminating over his fate, Russo stated:“There are certain times when it’s good to be industrious, but that night it was good to be lucky.” He elaborated:
There are certain things that are fated, that no matter how hard we try are beyond our ability to alter or shape. There are certain things over which we do have agency. And then of course there is dumb luck. But suppose you put me in the exact same place where I started, with the same parents, living on the same street and you give me 99 more tries. There would be 99 different outcomes.
The town of Highlight hosted a Pride Day that featured entertainment (including Eve Bottando playing accordian), displays, and spontaneous outbursts of enthusiasm among the LGBTQ participants and supporters. One couple getting married changed in a dressing room along with drag queen getting ready to perform.