Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Toni's Birthday

 “Age is a case of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” Satchel Paige

The ageless pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige, who claimed not to know his birthdate, once asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”  After he’d been in Negro League baseball for over 20 years, Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians signed him to a major league contract in 1947 soon after Larry Doby joined the team and a few months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  In 1952 and 1953, with the St. Louis Browns while in his late-40s (if not older), Paige made the American League All-Star team.

We had a full house over the weekend for Toni’s birthday.  Phil’s family braved a snowstorm to come down from Michigan, getting stuck several hours on the Tri-State due to a multiple-vehicle crash that blocked all eastbound lanes.  Dave’s group moved in as well, and Janet Dermody Bayer prolonged an overnight visit when another 8 inches of snow fell by Sunday morning.
 Toni Lane and Janet Bayer; photo by Angela Lane

Had not Sage Restaurant moved from down the block to Valpo, we might have enjoyed a meal there, but Toni does not like dealing with Valentine Day crowds on her birthday and had bought ingredients for spring rolls as well as a large supply of beef and rolls for sandwiches.  Angie baked a heart-shaped cake for the occasion, and Dave bought soup (egg drop and won ton) from Wing Wah, our old Miller haunt.  We played lots of cards and Wii games.

Reviving a Christmas custom, I read from Jean Shepherd’s “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters.”  Nobody can describe hot, humid summer days in Northwest Indiana like Shep.  Stuck in a traffic jam with the old man at the wheel of a wheezing Pontiac on the way to the county fair, he wrote that “we inched along like an endless procession of ants crossing a sizzling grill.”  The night before, the old man battled a squadron of mosquitoes that “flew miles from the swamp to seek him out.”  Shepherd wrote:

  “The minute the lights were off, they dove to the attack.  Flying in tight formations, they strafed again and again.  The old man loved every minute of it.  Fighting mosquitoes was his favorite sport.  He slept with his personal fly swatter always at his side.”

During my teen years I did battle with a horsefly in our 1956 yellow and white Buick.  I could have let the windows down, but it was exciting and slightly scary as the enormous insect was buzzing angrily.  Living on Jay Street in Miller, I noticed yellow jackets going in and out of an opening under our cement front steps.  One day, armed with a fly swatter and can of Raid bug repellent, I flooded the nest with a hose and fought hundreds of them, most dazed but some able to pursue me as I retreated, squirting and swatting at them.  What a rush!

For years I worked the Porter County Fair at IUN’s booth, handing out paraphernalia – pencils, fans, key chains, balloons, tote bags, and other doodads.  Often across the aisle were the Porter County Republicans (boo!).  Phil and Dave sometimes came along and loved the pig races.  Religious Studies prof Rick Busse, manning a fried veggies stand, always gave me a free sample.  I stayed off the rides; some looked unsafe, reminding me of Jean Shepherd’s description of the Rocket Whip:

  “Two bullet-shaped cars, one yellow, one red, attached to the end of rotating arms, revolved clockwise and up and down.  At the same time, the individual cars rotated in their own orbits.  The old man, spotting the Rocket Whip, strained forward like a fire horse smelling smoke.”

While on the Rocket Whip (“the yokel equivalent of the main bull ring in Madrid,” Shep quipped) the old man lost a fountain pen and all his loose change, got barfed on but had the time of his life.

The Porter County Fair quilt exhibit reminded me of Shep’s description of the old man’s gawking at one of White Sox shortstop Luke Appling, “the foul-ball king of the American League.”  Narrating “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories” from the point of view of a New York City sophisticate, Shep wrote: “I wonder what a genuine Luke Appling quilt would go for today in the chic, high-camp boutiques along Third Avenue in Manhattan.”   A1945 musical on late-night TV, “State Fair” starring Dick Haymes, triggered Shep’s memories of the old man’s summer highlight.

My birthday being February 24 (same as Henry Wordsworth Longfellow), Phil gave me a shirt from Wolverine Brewery in Detroit and Alissa bought me one with the Grand Valley State Lakers logo and school colors.  Both are definite keepers.  As we often do, Phil and I wore identical red flannel shirts he had bought a couple Christmases ago.

In a column about Palestinian-born Joe Samara, owner of Miner-Dunn Restaurant in Crown Point Jeff Manes noted that 13 hamburger types were on the menu and that for many years Miner-Dunn had a cafeteria inside Inland Steel.  In the 1970s we’d often frequent the Miner-Dunn on Ridge Avenue in Glen Park, known for serving sherbet with meals.  Harold Miner and Ralph Dunn each invested $80 to launch the first Miner-Dunn 80 years ago on Calumet Avenue in Hammond.  It had like six stools and a small kitchen.”   Route 41 was once a main artery to Florida from points north, and, Samara stated, occasionally customers return and reminisce about those trips. Samara added:

When my sons were younger, I took the family to Busch Gardens in Florida. While waiting in line for one of the rides, I mentioned to the family behind us that we were from Northwest Indiana. The father said: 'Oh my God. When I was a kid we would travel through that area. There was a place that had the best hamburgers.' I asked him if it was called Miner-Dunn. He said: 'That's the place!' Miner-Dunn was what he remembered about Northwest Indiana.”

Sparks flew in “Downton Abbey” at a dinner party.  Lord Merton’s son Larry Grey gets booted out after insulting his father’s fiancé, Isobel Crawley, for being merely middle class and Rose’s fiancé for being Jewish.  Larry’s brother then tells Isobel, “What did you imagine?  That we would welcome you with open arms?”  Anti-Semitism and class bigotry in full display.

A Sports Illustrated article noted that the Cubs last won a World Series in 1908 when English nurse Florence Nightingale, Iroquois chief Geronimo, Missouri humorist Mark Twain, and Joshua Chamberlain (huh?) were still alive.  Joshua Chamberlain, Google refreshed my memory, was a Civil War hero at Gettysburg who commanded the Union troops at Appomattox during the surrender ceremony and received criticism for saluting Robert E. Lee’s defeated Rebel troops.

Photographer Chuck Walla found a 1916 photo on Facebook of a Goodfellow Christmas Party at Gary’s Broadway Theater.  Actually it is from the U.S. Steel collection in IUN’s Calumet Regional Archives.  I looked up the Broadway Theater address (1678 Broadway) for Walla in an old city directory.

Jerry Davich photographed of boarded up Lew Wallace (“El Dub” to those in the know) for his “Lost Gary” book.  One reader recalled seeing a Harlem Globetrotters game there.  I saw Jerome Harmon perform slam dunks only Michael Jordan could equal and once agreed to talk to a History class during Diversity Week only to discover that I was featured speaker at an afternoon assembly.

Samuel A. Love wrote: Great Contemporary History class on the 1990s. I had those who didn't live thru the whole decade (young farts) interview those who did (old farts). They're catching on to historical thinking! They also said we reminisced too much. Next week: The 1980s!! (I teach history backwards).”  In survey classes I spent 15 minutes a week going backwards one year at a time from the present, concentrating on popular culture.  It usually took about six years before the events started to become unfamiliar to students. 

Scholar Janos Marton wanted information on Jacob A. Riis, in particular his “game plan for homeless people once NYC Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt closed the city’s police lodging houses.”  In “Jacob A. Riis and the American City” I wrote that during a midnight inspection tour Riis told TR that 25 years before, at Church Street police station, which offered free lodging, albeit, in a foul-smelling room jammed with “tramps,” someone stole his prized possession, a locket containing a curl of his future wife’s hair.  When he protested, a sergeant on duty threw him out and killed his canine friend.  Hearing what happened to his friend, Roosevelt irately pounded his fists together and said he’d rid the city of the menace.

In February 1896, I told Janos Marton, applicants for shelter were transferred to a barge on the East River, and authorities began separating those deemed deserving from tramps and thieves.  As a result the numbers dropped from 10,000 to 200, many who needed help found themselves out in the cold.  Riis lauded the Charity Organization Society’s Wayfarers’ Lodge run and two model lodging houses founded by philanthropist D. O. Mills dedicated to the promotion of manliness, self-reliance, and good citizenship. Too easily swayed by contemporary principles of scientific philanthropy at that time in his life, Riis also looked askance on charity soup kitchens run by Tammany Hall allies.

Jonathyne Briggs showed me a copy of his nicely illustrated new Oxford University Press book “Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities, and Pop Music in France, 1958-1980.”  When the press said they’d need extra money or there’d be no photos, I persuaded Jon to get solicit help from Dean Hoyert, who came through for him.  Briggs is putting together a website so that readers can listen to songs he references.  I suggested to NWI Times editor Robert Blaszkiewicz that music critic Tom Lounges might want to interview Jon, and he promised to suggest it and pass on contact info.
For Fat Tuesday Ed Kenar brought in a box of paczki doughnuts from a Polish bakery in Hammond.  They were delicious with a [plentiful amount of jelly in the oval bun doused with sugar.  Paczki Day, the Polish equivalent of mardi Gras has evidently been growing in popularity, at least in the Chicago area.

The third floor of IUN’s library has been very chilly, perhaps due to the frigid outside temperature.  I was home in time for Jeopardy.  One question asked who was nicknamed the “Queen of Gospel Music.”  I’d have answered Mavis Staples, but the correct answer was Mahalia Jackson.  She once performed at Gary’s Memorial Auditorium.  In the movie “Selma” Ledisi Young plays Mahalia welcoming Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders into her house and feeding them breakfast.

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