Monday, December 14, 2015


“Everyone has a story to tell.”  Jeff Manes

Scheduled to have a storytelling and book signing at Gardner Center for “All Worth Their SALT: The People of NWI,” Jeff Manes asked if I’d read from our interview six years ago.  A Miller Beach Arts and Creative District notice read, “Come listen and learn from some of your friends and neighbors: Professor James Lane, Gloria Lynn, Charlie Smith, Rosa Maria Rodriquez, Omar Farag, Koko Works, Sister Peg Spindler, and Leona.”  First up, I didn’t know what to expect, but Jeff had a script for me with my lines in bold.  When I talked about my research, I added that Joe Petras, who was in the audience, turned me on to the richness of Gary’s history.  “No adlibbing,” Manes joked.  The only other time I disobeyed this admonition was by adding “Calumet Regional Archives” to the line, “I consider Steel Shavings the best thing I’ve done as a historian.”
 Jimbo and Jeff

above, Meg Roman as Sister Peg; below, Rosa Maria Rodriguez with Santa

Cullen Ben-Daniel, like Manes a sometime actor, assumed the role of a 102 year-old Charlie Smith, now deceased, complete with a slight Mississippi Delta accent.  The funniest line was Omar Farag, one of 11 children, including five brothers, Henry, Bob, Joe, Anthony, and Ray, explaining that he was the one son his Egyptian-born father got to name.  The most poignant moment was when Rosa Maria Rodriguez spoke about being molested as a child and spending over three years at Indiana Girls School for robbing a gas station. Financial secretary at USW Local 1010, Rosa, who came in costume as a Santa’s elf, hopes to be a mentor at the institution where she was incarcerated.  Jeff ended with a moving tribute to his grandmother Leona, beginning with a quote by Amy Lowell: “You are beautiful, like an old opera tune played upon a harpsichord.”  Leona taught him Youth Scrabble, waltzed around the room to Lawrence Welk with him in her arms, and read to him about dinosaurs.  Jeff’s final words, his voice almost breaking: “See grandma?  My turn now.  I read to you.”

In the intro to “All Worth Their SALT,” Manes wrote:
I have had the advantage of growing up along the bayous of the Kankakee River and atop the carcinogenic coke batteries abutting Lake Michigan.  I’d like you to get to know your neighbor, those living, sometimes eking out a living, just across the alley or down the road.  Their names don’t usually appear in the newspaper.  The obits maybe. But they are all worth their salt.

Jeff Manes included an interview with Dr. Quackenbush, also the name of my oncologist, but in this case the alter ego of Merle Miller, who puts on an act, “Dr. Quackenbush’s Magic, Medicine and Music Show,” based on old time traveling medicine shows.  It features rope tricks, juggling and ventriloquist acts, and jokes and banter, but not, Miller claimed, the sale of hundred-proof snake oil, patent medicines, or other elixirs associated with its predecessors.  For 20 years the show has been at the Buckley Homestead Fall Festival.  Miller told Manes, “I’ve always wanted to write a script – a dark comedy – on our own Belle Guness.  She made sausage out of about 30 people here in La Porte.”

In a letter George Van Til described a typical day in Terre Haute’s federal prison satellite camp.  Between lining up several times each day for pills and chow and participating in morning and afternoon “count,” he has a few hours, in his words, “to read, write or lay down if my back is killing me from sleeping on the wonderful steel beds with hard mattresses.  There’s 8 or 10 places to sit in the library for 350 people to read or write or research – it’s often closed.”  I’ll try to visit again in February if George isn’t in a halfway house by then.

In the tenth frame at junior bowling Josh Froman left a seven-pin and five-pin, which moved right before the rack knocked it down.  When volunteer coach Kevin Horn called for the five-pin to be reset in its original place, as the rules state, an opponent’s dad yelled at him, implying he was cheating.  Josh’s team was ahead by 80 pins, and Kevin would never do anything unethical.  In any case, Josh didn’t pick up the split, but the guy kept up the argument until Dave calmed him down.  Watching the discussion from a distance, I told Andrew English’s grandmother that my son is often called upon at school to be a peacemaker, but I worry about adult hotheads.

Robert Blaszkiewicz posted:
  Well, I have some pretty big news to share. Tomorrow, I join the Chicago Tribune as a digital editor, helping handle website and social media duties. From a news standpoint, it's an exciting time to get back in the game. The day of my second interview at the Trib, the Laquan McDonald video was released, and the electric atmosphere there reminded me what I was missing. I've had the privilege of working with some great journalists who have gone on to the Trib, and I'm excited to join some of my old colleagues again. Growing up, the Chicago Tribune was a daily habit. I'd turn to Mike Royko first, of course, scan the rest of the news and spend time with the sports section and Bob Verdi, and the Tempo section if I was so inclined. Reading the paper today inspires a different feeling, an anticipation that I'll soon be a small part of a great tradition.
I replied: “What fantastic news.  You and the Trib will be a good match.”

Featured in “Indiana’s 200” was Glory-June Greiff ‘s essay about Hoosier poet and popular singer Sarah T. Bolton (1814-1893), who wrote “Paddle Your Own Canoe,” which also became a popular song and was widely used in school primers. It goes:
          Nothing great is lightly won
Nothing won is lost
Every good deed, nobly done
Will repay the cost.
Bolton fought for women’s property rights and donated land for a hospital for the insane.  In the Statehouse rotunda is a bronze sculpture with these lines from her poem “Indiana”: “The circling sunlight never spanned the borders of a better land then our Indiana.”  Married at 17 to Indianapolis Gazette editor Nathaniel Bolton, later U.S. consul to Switzerland, Sarah protested the execution of the Haymarket martyrs in “The Doomed Anarchists” and sympathized with workingmen in “Ye Sons of Toil,” which contains these lines:

Come, swart-browned toilers of the mines,
Whose labor buys the rich, red wines,
The silver plate on which he dines,
Who never toils,
The silken couch where he reclines,
Who wins the spoils.

His hands are white, his raiment fair,
His palace fine, his pictures rare,
His table groans with sumptuous fare;
              You get instead,
The right to toil, coarse clothes to wear,
              And scanty bread.

He counts his millions o’er and o’er,
Five, ten, fifteen, and grasps for more,
You see the gaunt wolf at your door,
              But make no sign –
You only dig the shining ore –
              He owns the mine.
Grant Fitch and Jackson Coppinger as Scrooge and Tiny Tim; below, Tom Knoerzer

For “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” the final Memorial Opera House production of 2015, lighting designer Keith Palazalo created background shadows to underscore the play’s themes.  As director Dutch Williams put it, “The shadows of our past shape us to whom we are; the shadows we make at present will shape who we can be, but it is never too late to change for the better.”  The cast of 38 included kids of all ages and stellar performances by Grant Fitch as Scrooge and Tom Knoerzer in multiple roles as Sandwich Board Man, Ghost of Christmas Present, Haberdasher, and Grim Reaper.  Though portly, Knoerzer, a caveman ancestor in “The Addams Family Musical,” pulled off some graceful, downright acrobatic moves and had a booming, easy-to-understand voice.  Afterwards we joined the Hagelbergs, Tom Eaton, and Pat Cronin at Pesto’s Italian Restaurant.

Thanking me for the Connections issue that contains my article on her grandparents, Michael and Susanna Guba, Cindy Karlberg wrote:
            I have fond memories of all of my aunts and uncles.  My Aunt Margaret, whom we called Auntie Marge, was an amazing baker and cook and sewed everything beautifully.  Now I know that my Grandma Susanna taught her.  My Aunt Agnes, whom we called Auntie Augie, was a very ambitious go-getter.  She always wore nice dress clothes and worked for the Budd Company.  She was married to my Uncle Frank.  He was, by far, the sweetest, kindest man ever, and not a day goes by that I don't miss him.  I miss them all actually.  Each one was very special to me.  My Uncle Mike seemed so scary until I was older.  He was actually sweet to me as well.  The Guba women always made delicious treats for holidays.  I can recall Easter goodies and Christmas goodies the most.  Auntie Augie didn't bake but made amazing fudge.  She also knitted scarves for so many people.  My own daughter knits beautifully.  I guess it runs in the genes.
Dave Serynek and I enjoyed burgers ($4.50 for a quarter pounder) and MGD on draft (two bucks for 16 ounces) at Village Tavern in Porter.  Dave warned me beforehand to leave my jacket in the car due to so many smokers inside.  When I got home, I stripped off my clothes and took a bath – like before Cressmoor Lanes went smoke-free.  Dave patronized the Village Tavern nearly 50 years ago and speculated that its origins might go back much further.  In 1908 Porter incorporated as a town and spawned numerous bars, which during Prohibition fronted as ice cream and soft drink parlors. 
The NWI Times sent the Calumet Regional Archives several copies of “Memories Along the South Shore, The Early Years: A Pictorial History.”  The handsome publication makes use of many photographs that archivist Steve McShane provided, including one of diving work from the Inland Steel collection.  During World War I an Indiana Made-Land law allowed companies to expand by filling in lakefront.

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