Monday, November 14, 2011

Conjunction Junction

“When you have a choice like
This or that.
And, but and or,
Get you pretty far.”
“Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?”

Friday Tom Higgins delivered some “treasures” to the Archives, as Steve McShane likes to put it, and I gave him the Flight 33 production CD of the Hashima/Gary documentary we were both in. He told me how I could get in touch with football coach Hank Stram’s sister Dolly Berry. I called her and set up an interview.

Rebecca and James were in a production of “High School Musical Junior.” Because their school has no adequate stage, it was at Portage High. Rebecca had one of the leads and James did a terrific Elvis number. He and the entire cast was on stage for virtually all the musical numbers. Old friends Kevin and Tina were there as was Angie’s dad John. Angie was in charge of costumes and busy backstage. The songs deal with history (albeit, western expansion sans Indians), math, social studies, and grammatical parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, and conjunctions.

After shopping and library browsing Saturday I watched part of the Penn State contest to see how the school and the TV pregame handled the molestation revelations. “Happy Valley” is anything but. Some wanted the game cancelled, but what good would that do? An HBO documentary about the 1960 U.S. Open golf championship showed clips of JFK and Bandstand regulars dancing the Twist. Old veteran Ben Hogan faltered in the face of challenges from winner Arnold Palmer and 20 year-old collegian Jack Nicklaus. On the seventeenth hole Ben hit a nine-iron onto the green only to have the backspin cause it to roll off and into the water. Having survived the Great Depression and a near-fatal car accident, Hogan was not a gracious loser. Palmer looked far more muscular than I remembered him. He was my dad’s favorite.

Lori Montalbano invited me to the opening of the new IUN Fine Arts facility on Grant Street, which coincided with the department’s fiftieth anniversary. Good food was on hand, and I talked with Janet Taylor from Printing Services, who recently retired after 49 years, and Ken and Peg Schoon. Old student William Goldsby was there with his wife Sandra, who is on the Miller Beach committee setting up the Pop Up Art Happenings. Gary and Nancy Wilk arrived just as Dean Mark Hoyert was mocking Texas governor Perry’s latest gaffe; he claimed there were three reasons for holding the event and then pretended to forget what the third one was. Sitting with the Wilks was Chesterton artist/teacher Donald Whisler, who mentioned that Paul Kern was one of his favorite teachers.

After Dave won Amun Re, St. Petersburg, and Acquire, I triumphed in Stone Age, then watched the Bears rout of Detroit at the Hagelbergs. Cheryl served pork roll, pierogis, onions and mushrooms, and a yummy salad. Corey and girlfriend Kate arrived after working on their new house near Forest Ave. Home for “Boardwalk Empire,” which had some interesting twists. Gangster Jimmy Darmody’s wife Angela, for instance, meets a free-spirited novelist on the beach and kisses her at a party where there are dancers, artists, and other bohemian types. Meanwhile Nucky pretends to go into retirement and prepares to travel to Ireland, taking gangster Arnold Rothstein’s advice that it is sometimes best to bides one’s time until the odds favor you.

Retired air force colonel and IUN student John Starzyk asked me to recommend a book about U.S. Steel for a friend who is retiring. I told him about “Steel Giants” by McShane and Wilk and sent him “Gary’s First Hundred Years.”

I spent 90 minutes interviewing Hank Stram’s 86 year-old sister Dolly at her home. Hank’s mother Nellie, who opened up a restaurant in the Brunswick neighborhood (Ma Stram’s) after her husband died. It was a hangout for Edison students and had a jukebox of swing music for jitterbug dancing. After her second husband died, Nellie would visit Hank in Kansas City and New Orleans and take care of grandkids when he and his wife were traveling. She was known for making six-layer birthday cakes and would take a large stash of pierogis with her when she visited him. She lived just a couple blocks from us in Miller during the early 1970s, and Hank frequently visited. I met Hank at a sports banquet, and he was very gracious. One time Dolly drove him to their old Brunswick neighborhood, and they stopped to get directions from a Black man who recognized him. Hank took his Superbowl ring off to let the guy see it. Dolly was hoping the man wouldn’t take off running, but all went well.

I ran into former student Don Young in the parking lot and offered him my latest Shavings, which he appears in twice. He brought octogenarian Murcie Poplar with him to the Archives. An artist and sculptor, she wants me to critique a 500-page autobiographical manuscript. I told her I’d be honored.

At Theo’s in Highland for the History book club presentation of Gordon W. Prange’s Pearl Harbor book “At Dawn We Slept.” I mentioned that the author was teaching at Maryland while I was a grad student and that he treated Governor Joseph B. Poindexter more accurately than Walter Lord did in “Day of Infamy.” There were several old-timers there who remembered hearing about Pearl Harbor. One was at Soldiers Field watching a football game between the Bears and the Chicago Cardinals. I sat next to former Millerites Bob Selund and Judge Ken Anderson. It took about 45 minutes for the waitress to get individual checks to us. I had the house salad and rolls plus two Becks for $16.81, including tax and tip.

Vietnam Vet Jay Keck sent me a fascinating book of poems by Bruce Weigl entitled “What Saves Us.” I was familiar with one of his previous books, “Songs of Napalm.” In a poem full of memories about a father living near “the slag heaps of our steel city dying upon our dying lake” who beat his kid with a belt, the last verse goes: “He is home from the foundry, younger than I am now, the black dust from the mill like a mask; and he is bending down to me in the dusk where I waited on the steps of the bar for his bus; and the cathedral he makes with his fingers opens to a silver dime he twists before me and lays down into my hands for being good he says.”

In “Why We Are Forgiven” Bruce Weigl writes: “Men still make steel in the hellish mill though thousands are laid off and dazed. They do the shopping for their working wives and dream the blast furnace rumble. Mill dust and red slag grit is blood for some people.”

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