Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feed the Tree

“Take your hat off boy
When you’re talking to me.
And be there when I feed the tree.”

My ancient CD player swallowed two CDs and wouldn’t open or shut all the way until Toni fixed the problem, turning the unit upside down and shaking it vigorously. Now I have to decide whether to play Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem” on it again on the assumption that I just didn’t have it placed properly. Meanwhile I listened to WXRT and was rewarded with a Belly song, “Feed the Tree.” Tanya Donelly, the lead singer in Belly, a Nineties alternative band from Boston, is referring to dying or self-destructive tendencies. The lyrics hint at reincarnation and the “take your hat off” line seems to be about demanding respect and loyalty even unto death. According to Wikipedia, Tanya embarked on a solo career without great success and recently became a postpartum doula (one who furnishes non-medical support to mothers of newborns).

Hearing “Feed the Tree” reminded me of my autumn efforts to keep the two newly planted Court One trees alive. The installers didn’t remove all the previous roots and dug the holes too shallow. We’ll find out in the spring if one or both made it.

Addressed a hundred Christmas cards stuffed with a family photo of all 13 of us (Beth included) from last Christmas. The goal was to get them out early to people who might not have our new address. In need of stamps and to have the one going to Pat and Ruth Tyler in Birmingham, England, weighed, I went to the main Gary post office. Georgia, a pleasant African American formerly at the Miller post office, waited on me. Taking the Fifteenth Avenue route to school – down Martin Luther King Drive to Twenty-First, past the Three Brothers Market to Georgia, and then south to Thirty-Third, I spotted a spry old black man with snow-white hair, mustache and long sideburns.

Added this paragraph to the “Somewhat True” mystery, which I sent to “JayJay” for possible additions, corrections and deletions: “JayJay told Jimmy she’d try to attend Wendy’s reunion bash. When he mentioned Lake Minneola, her memory conjured up the sticky flypaper strips on the cabin porch that the two families shared. Gross! After she told her mom about the dive-bombing bats, Gussie warned her that they sometimes got stuck in women’s hair and recommended wearing a scarf next time in a boat at dusk. She recalled a mostly empty Minneola Pavilion with two pinball machines that cost a nickel for five balls. She, Jimmy, and Terry learned how to rack up multiple free games and played for hours. More patient and less reckless, she often won. Once on a hike they came upon a cute girl their age named Cookie. Next day, Jimmy and Terry went off without her, hoping to run into Cookie again. Sensing that her feeling were hurt, JayJay’s dad took her shopping in town. Reminiscing on the phone, Jimmy frequently mentioned how cool Ted was – with a sports car, always the biggest Christmas tree, and a gleam in his eye for a pretty lady. All that was true, but he had quite a temper and didn’t spare the rod when she or Terry misbehaved – like the time he discovered that someone had raided his liquor cabinet.”

Turns out “JayJay” doesn’t want to be in the story and got LeeLee to recommend scrapping the epilogue about planning a party at Wendy’s. I passed on that information to Wendy, along with this latest paragraph” “Jimmy was amazed at Wendy’s generous offer and flattered that she wanted him to persuade others to participate. He had first met her at a party at Ray’s upon returning to Fort Washington at age 15 after living in Michigan for 18 months. Two years before, Ray’s dad had introduced guests to the games of Post Office and Spin the Bottle, the dirty old man. At this ninth grade party the physical contact took place on the dance floor, not in a closet. Jimmy found Wendy pleasant, smart, and self-assured. She kept her body close to his when they slow-danced but not in a suggestive way – more like to infer, “I’m enjoying your company.” After she started going with Jimmy’s best friend Vince, they went on several double dates with Wendy’s friend Mary the fourth person. Vince was Jimmy’s mentor in the ways of the birds and the bees. Once the four of them were in Mary’s recreation room, which contained two adjacent couches. After Vince and Wendy started necking on one coach, Jimmy, on the other one, kept eyeing Vince surreptitiously for instructions on body positioning and other techniques. Another time the four of them were on Mary’s bed working on a homework assignment without any thought of sex or that the situation was indecent. Vince and Wendy befriended with English teacher Delphine Vandling. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, given Wendy’s curiosity and adventurous spirit. Though probably in her fifties, Delphine kept herself fit and could get boys aroused talking about Shakespearean lovers or reciting Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky. In fact, she’d get a gleam in her eyes reciting these lines:
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird,
And shun the frumious Bandersnatch!”
When Jimmy returned from college at semester break and last saw her prior to the reunion, Wendy looked as happy and resilient as ever, as if there was no challenge she couldn’t handle. Fifty years later, she had that same confidence, as if to say, in the words of the old salt, if adversity strikes, I’ll just reset my sails.”

Wendy wrote back, “Let’s clean it up a bit. No sexual descriptions.” But then she added: “I think we should think about an encompassing interesting story.” I’d love to do a whole book about her, but what would be the fun without any sex. As I told LeeLee, my goal was to capture the spirit of Fifties years when teens were reticent but infatuated about sex. I think I have written my final “Somewhat True” paragraph. The couch episode actually happened but Vince was with someone other than Wendy. I wrote about “getting to second base” that night in my “Survival Journal” that can be found in Shavings, volume 33.

Somewhat bummed out over classmates’ sudden cold feet, I started leafing through the reunion booklet and discovered most classmates had included their current phone number. I couldn’t resist calling 2010 no-shows Carol Schuman, Pam Illingworth, and Virginia Lange. They were surprised to hear from me, to say the least. All, I believe, liked me at one time. Pam was a neighbor and seventh grade study partner who faithfully corresponded with me while I lived in Michigan. Virginia’s dad was our dentist, and she had the warmest smile imaginable. Both were taller than I so I didn’t even think of asking them out. Carol was short and fiery: in sixth grade she stabbed my palm with a pencil – a trace of the lead is still visible. I still don’t know why I never asked her out except that in high school the common trend was to ask younger girls out.

Exchanged emails with IU professor John Bodnar, author of the definitive immigrant history, “The Transplanted.” I wrote: “I received Ray Boomhower's call for proposals for the February 26 conference of the Indiana Association of Historians to be held at the Indiana Historical Society. What would you think of a session featuring "Maria's Journey"? I could deliver an expanded version of my Forward, Ray and Trish Arredondo could then say something about how the book came about and read an excerpt from the chapter where Maria travels back to Indiana Harbor pregnant and with eight children, and then you could deliver something similar to your introduction. The deadline for submitting proposals is December 15, so let me know if this sounds feasible and worth pursuing.” He quickly replied, “Sounds like a very good idea. I can tell you now, however, I speak at the Univ of South Carolina on Feb. 25 on a war and memory conference and don't think I can guarantee I could be in Indy for a conference on the 26th.” Bodnar is an expert on the analysis of memory. I sent this reply and forwarded the exchange to Ray and Trish: “The Arredondos' schedule then is a little iffy (with a 98 year-old mother in ill health), too, so why don't we think of doing it at a more convenient date. Thanks for your interest though.”

DeeDee Ige said plans to use my example as a model when she retires, coming to school to be useful but still remaining flexible enough to travel whenever she wanted. Jim Migoski just set up a week’s vacation for us in Cancun in January. Being do-director of the Calumet Regional Archives gives me a useful purpose. Guest lecturing every couple months, I don’t miss teaching like I thought I might.

In his Historiography class Jonathyne Briggs is using “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard,” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and based on Ballard’s diary covering the years 1785 to 1812. I promised to bring him the Shavings issues on “Ides of March” and “Age of Anxiety.” I also have the American Experience dramatization of “A Midwife’s Tale” on videotape.

Finished stuffing, signing, addressing, sealing, and stamping our hundred Christmas cards while Toni put together five packages that need to be mailed at the Chesterton post office. In the news: Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all and Elizabeth Edwards succumbed to cancer. Estranged hubby John, Kerry’s 2004 running mate, fathered a child with mistress Rielle Hunter while they were still married and he was seeking the 2008 Democratic nomination.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is “Sports Illustrated” 2010 Sportsman of the Year, not only for his Superbowl win but his charitable efforts in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There was also an interesting article on Kansas City GM Scott Pioli, one of many Bill Belichick assistants who has moved on to greener pastures. Pioli has this Sherwood Anderson quote written in calligraphy on his wall from “Winesburg, Ohio” about a young man leaving his sleepy hometown for bigger things: “The young man, going out of town to meet the adventure of his life, began to think but he did not think of anything very big or dramatic . . . . He thought of the little things.”

IU Northwest student Lex Williams interviewed me for a show on Gary he is working on for a Television Production class. He started by asking if I believed the election of Richard Hatcher was the most important event in explaining the city’s decline. I told him I thought the election was a high point and praised Hatcher as an enlightened leader. He asked if I thought he was corrupt, and I replied that he was probably the most investigated mayor in history and if he had any skeletons in the closet, Republican U.S attorneys would have indicted him in a heartbeat. Williams was very polite and complimentary and told me I had given a copy of Gary’s First Hundred Years to his father Floyd. I was tempted to mention that in the 1920s Gary had a racist mayor named Floyd Williams, a former undertaker who captured City Hall with help from U.S. Steel and the KKK.

Jim Spicer will be in California over New Year’s visiting John and Lillian Attinasi and wants to see Wisconsin play in the Rose Bowl. Someone told him that all Big Ten schools get a certain allotment of tickets to sell and maybe I could help him get four. I made inquiries on my campus and then called the IU athletic department ticket office. Indeed IU did get a few tickets, but they are all sold out. I gave Jim the number to call in a couple weeks in case some more become available. Jim and brother Steve (who started a Miller Beach website) are also big Packer fans.

Electrical Engineers won the middle game against a superior team. I was the only team member to bowl above average (498 series) and won the five-dollar pot. John Bulot brought me a cloth cover for my left shoe (my sliding foot). The woman who made it only charged five dollars. I desperately need new bowling shoes, but the new ones I’ve tried on bring me to such an abrupt halt I almost fall down. With this apparatus I can go to Ray’s Lanes and buy new shoes. John complained his ball was not breaking and plans to put it in the oven to get the buildup of oil off it. Never heard of that.

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