Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bodies of Evidence

“Evidence doesn’t always convince people of the truth, especially when the lie is what they prefer.”  Daniel Black, “Perfect Peace”
In Daniel Black’s “Perfect Peace” a southern black women, Emma Jean Perfect, has six sons and desperately wants a daughter.  When her seventh-born is yet another boy, she names him Perfect and raises the kid as a girl.  On the child’s eighth birthday Emma Jean tells Perfect: You was born a boy. I made you a girl. But that ain’t what you was supposed to be. So, from now on, you gon’ be a boy. It’ll be a little strange at first, but you’ll get used to it, and this’ll be over after while.”  
On the fifth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death tourists visited the home on 23oo Jackson where he grew up.  Monica Yassen recalled as a girl hearing his music in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Paul Brattwood, who sported a large tattoo of the “King of Pop” on his arm, listened to Jackson while growing up in England.  He told Post-Trib reporter Michael Gonzalez: “I think affection for Michael will be there forever, like John Lennon.”

After receiving, via interlibrary loan (from Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne), “Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History,” edited by Nan Alamilla Boyd and Horacio N. Roque Ramirez, I turned to John D’Emilio’s Afterword.  I was aware of D’Emilio’s “Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970,” and that he’d touted Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets” as a groundbreaking study of steelworkers.  Starting grad school in 1971, the year after I received my PhD at Marylandhe admired scholars who studied history from the bottom up but, like me, was not much exposed to oral history.  Researching the Mattachine Society, he realized that oral interviews were essential to understanding that homophile organization. As the title (“If I Knew Then . . .”) of D’Emilio’s essay suggests, he, again like me, made a number of missteps but in time balanced an instinctive, nondirective, open-ended approach with a deft touch at steering conversations in directions germane to his purposes.

From California cousin Sue Stone wrote: Being from McKeesport, the steel industry was always close. Mother and every other McKeesporter I knew bemoaned the fact the mills ran day and night for the war effort, often repaired haphazardly to continue production. Then after the war, the U.S. rebuilt Germany and Japan with new, efficient mills that made it more cost effective to import their product than to buy U.S. produced steel. I never questioned if their ideas were historically accurate, but McKeesport went from a solid town to a horrible place with abandoned mills and decaying buildings. I saw beautiful estates become run down multifamily homes. I am glad you are saving the history of the Calumet's experience. There is much to learn from history.”

I’ve probably met cousin Sue about four times in my entire life and probably wouldn’t recognize her on the street, but we’ll both be at a family reunion next month in Lancaster, PA.  She’s a couple years older than I.  In the summer of 1954 my family traveled to Pittsburgh to visit Vic’s brother Tom (Sue’s dad) and sister Aurie, and to this prepubescent kid Sue looked hot.  I think we became kissing cousins, but that might just have been a fantasy.  Her dad was the second-born son.  During the Great Depression older brother Jim hitchhiked to California and ultimately became a millionaire in the canned tuna business.  Tom was left to deal with shell-shocked parents who nearly lost everything and caught his share of life’s frustrations.  Young brother Vic (my old man) was able to work his way through college (Pitt), obtain a white-collar job, and during the 1950s raise a family in a middle-class suburb of Philadelphia.
above, Cindy Kalberg's mother Ruthie with her mother Susan Seesock Guba; below,Ruthie (r)
Cindy Karlberg may donate materials to the Archives but first wants to check with relatives.  She has numerous photos and memorabilia, including a Holy Card apparently written in Slovak. Her mother, Ruthie Guba, grew up in Glen Park at 3880 Jefferson.

I discussed the postwar years in the Calumet Region and Vee-Jay records with Steve McShane’s class for about 80 minutes Tuesday afternoon and then condensed the lesson down to 55 minutes for Steve’s two Senior College sessions the next morning.  Reading political prisoner Kathryn Hyndman’s eulogy to her former cellmate Willa Mae and describing Pookie Hudson singing “Goodnight, Sweetheart” to a critically ill Vivian Carter in a nursing home, I teared up, as I knew I would.  Senior College director Sandra Hall Smith came in the room about that time and teared up, too.  Steve did an excellent job reciting from Stanley Stanish’s diary, which we have in the Archives, pronouncing such names as Tekla Kasprzychi Grandma Rybicki, and St. Adelbert’s Church.  
from the Stanish family album, circa 1951-2
Many of the readings that students read drew chuckles, none more than Bill Figueroa describing maternal grandmother who came to live with them when in her 80’s.  Figueroa wrote:

            “My father thought she came to die.  She stayed for 20 years.  She smoked homegrown marijuana every morning and had a daily shot of wine.  She made a lot of money crocheting initials and designs on handkerchiefs.”

Other than Figueroa’s remembrances, there is hardly any mention of elderly people in my “Age of Anxiety” issue.  Median age in the Region then was much lower and included many baby boomers.  Mary Wainman, a good Catholic, raised ten kids and, like my mom, gave them a tablespoons of cod liver oil at breakfast.  Ugh!  How I remember.  When several Wainman children came down with scarlet fever, the Board of health quarantined the house for a month.  Mary’s husband stayed in the basement and got in and out to work through a window. 

To ingratiate myself with the seniors, I gave out free copies of Steel Shavings volume 41 (2011), my pink issue, and pointed out photos of Vivian Carter, the Spaniels, and their lead singer Pookie Hudson.  One cover photo shows Anne and Leah Balay at a Gay Pride parade, another Gary outgoing and incoming mayors Rudy Clay and Karen Freeman Wilson.  I dedicated volume 41 to IUN’s late physical plant wunderkind Dianne Cutler, whose daughter was as petite as Dianne was powerfully built.  Felled by cancer, Dianne kept the diagnosis to herself until almost the bitter end.

One woman recalled having Marie Edwards, whose reminiscences of buying a 1947 Nash drew smiles, as a teacher both at Lew Wallace and for an IUN Political Science course. Another woman with a copy of “Gary’s First Hundred Years” read this poem by “E.Z. Stuff” that I found in the Post-Trib’s “Flue Dust column during the 1920s, when the city’s population doubled to 100,000 in ten years.

“She is just a maiden,
With years not heavy laden,
The prospects of her future sure are great.
So like the bantam rooster,
We will work to crow and boost her
Till she’s the largest city in the state.”

For once the cafeteria was packed, as it was visiting day for incoming students and their parents.  I sat across from two Portage graduates accompanied by their grandmother, who said she had been a Nursing student 30 years ago and remembered History professor Ron Cohen.

After the rain ceased, Dave’s family got a couple hours in at Seven Peaks Waterpark before arriving at the condo for tacos and corn on the cob.  Dave asked what I thought of America’s chances in the World Cup, and I said that surrendering a last-second goal to Portugal reminded me of the bad karma that befell the Cubs in 2003 after a fan, Steve Bartman, snatched a foul ball away from leftfielder Moises Alou that prevented the Cubs from going to the World Series. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez bit an Italian opponent and will certainly be banned from the tournament.  Suarez has done the same thing twice before in the heat of combat.  I’ll never forget watching Mike Tyson bite part of Evander Holyfield’s ear off in 1997.

Jeff Manes started off a piece on former farmer and teacher and present-day pastor Derald Ailes by stating: “He’s my annual conservative and Chicago Cubs fan to be interviewed for this column.  It’s best to kill two birds with one stone.”  Not only witty but up front, as every scholar or journalist should be.  Despite their political disagreements, Manes ended by writing, “Derald Ailes is a good man.”  Back home, Manes found the Kankakee River dangerously on the rise.  The outdoor dining area at Marti’s Place is under water.
above, Marti's Place by Jeff Manes; below, Marquette Park lagoon by Anne Balay

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