“No matter one’s age, it’s important to feel part of something. To feel like you belong. But the balancing act inevitably becomes how much of yourself are you willing to compromise in order to be part of a community.” Eva Lesko Natiello, “The Memory Box”
I learned about the South Africa Memory Box project 15 years ago while attending an International Oral History Association conference at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg. The AIDS epidemic had left so many children orphaned that an effort got underway to preserve photos, artifacts, and stories about their parents. The concept has taken root as a way of keeping alive memories, not only among Alzheimer’s patients but others as well. I know from being with my mother, who lived into her hundredth year, that perusing photo albums was a way of rekindling stories about past experiences.
Dave and Phil Lane
Recently, I was invited to submit anecdotes for a memory book that will be presented to Rhea and Bob Laramie at their fiftieth anniversary celebration. My son Phil composed this submission:
Bob Laramie was my soccer coach for many seasons. He was a great coach. His being such a great coach I’m sure is a big part of my love of playing the game which I still play today. I coached all 4 of my kids’ soccer teams and at times I’d find myself saying words I’m sure I’d heard from Coach Laramie. “If you don’t learn to use your left foot a good defender will force you left every time.” I have lots of wonderful memories of playing soccer for him, here are just a few.
* I joined a team of experienced players having never played before at age 13. After the first practice my Dad asked him how it went (I heard the story later). Coach Laramie told him I was going to be just fine because he could teach me how to play soccer but he couldn’t teach the other kids how to be lightning fast.
* On one of the “select” teams I usually split playing time with another player but I had earned the right to start. Well one game Coach Laramie pulls me aside before the game and tells me that the other player said he wasn’t going to play if he didn’t start the game and he was told that was his choice but Phil (me) earned the start and he was going to start. Coach Laramie told me I could sub out if I got tired but otherwise I was in the game as much as I wanted and that he wanted me to have a good game and show why I was named the starter. That day I had one assist and 4 goals in a 5-1 victory and after the game I ran up to Coach and asked him if that was what he had in mind. The smile on his face was priceless.
* My one and only red card came during an indoor season. A player I was matched up against had told me he was going to shut me down and after zipping by him a few times (and letting him know about it) he had had enough. As I was passing him again he shoved me on the side of the head. I turned around and we were face-to-face yelling until getting separated. The referee came in and issues him the red card. At this point I can’t remember if “See ya, buddy” was something I thought in my head or said out loud but I do remember my shock when I was given the red card too. “For what, getting shoved in the head” I screamed (I admit I lost my cool at that point). I remember Bobby holding me back as I tried to advance towards the referee to let him know what I thought of the call. The red card meant I couldn’t play the following week which was the game against the other Portage team (our outdoor team made up two indoor teams) and the game I wanted to play most all season. The year was 1986, and in the news were Chicago Bears players Jim McMahon and Walter Payton wearing white headbands with Rozelle written across them in protest of a decision he made. Well our team decided to all wear white headbands to the next game with the referee’s name (Jesse) written across it to protest my not being able to play. Coach Laramie told us he would let us wear them but if anyone asked us who Jesse was we were to answer, “A sick teammate in the hospital.” The team got fired up and we beat the other Portage team and took first place.
Thank you to the Laramies for many great soccer memories - Bobby for always being a great teammate and friend, Rhea for all the cheering and support, and Coach for all his time and effort. Congratulations on fifty years of marriage!
Indiana History student Amanda Stolarz interviewed her dad, James Edward “Jim” Stolarz, who was born in Gary in 1960 and moved with his family to Hobart as part of the so-called “white flight” in the mid-1970s. Jim’s father, Mike Stolarz, had started Mike’s Sporting Goods at 41st and Georgia in Glen Park, a popular place for many athletes, and eventually opened up 6 more stores around the Region. Jim told Amanda about training for the Chicago marathon:
In November of 1992, Bob Ward, our neighbor, asked if I wanted to run it in March. I had gone from 190 to 230 pounds and thought it might be a good idea, even though I always hated running and was never the fastest athlete out there. Bob would get up every morning and be waiting outside for me. We started off easy and eventually would go further and further. Even in the pouring rain, I’d look out the window hoping Bob had decided to sleep in and he’d be in the driveway stretching. It was hard but worth it. The night before the marathon, I was so nervous about getting dehydrated, I drank as much water as I could. Then when the race began, that first hour I must have stopped to pee at least six times. Bob waited each time, and we finished together. It was a wonderful feeling, and my weight dropped to 193.
Later that year, Jim Stolarz had a medical crisis, the first of many tribulations that occurred before the decade ended:
I was pumping gas, and all of a sudden, my left side when numb. I was thinking “I’m 33, I can’t be having a heart attack,” but I went back to work and they drove me to the hospital. They ran all kinds of tests and found out that I was pretty stressed out, to say the least. I started seeing a therapist and was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder. There was a stigma to having this disorder, and the medicine at this time was horrible. Lithium was the worst; it made me a zombie. They were changing my medications all the time. I was getting stressed out beyond my control, and my life just felt like it was crumbling down. In 1996, I left the family business. It was a painful decision, one that left me estranged from my father for a few years. On top of that, it was hard to stay in a job. I put a lot of pressure on Mary, but I was so caught up in my own problems, I didn’t notice. It led to our divorce.
1999 was one of the worst years of my life. My daughter Jennifer, who was nine, had a terrible reaction to an immunization she got from school. Her cells were attacking her liver. We had to rush her to Riley Children’s Hospital in Chicago. I was waiting in the lobby for Jen to go into surgery when I received a phone call that Hobart football coach Don Howell had a heart attack and died. I just broke down crying. My daughter was ill and one of the most influential men in my life died. A month or so later, my brother Mike was diagnosed with cancer. It had spread to his brain, liver, and lungs, and he was given 6 months to live. He had started taking steroids and was really into working out. I went into a deep depression. When I received the phone call that he died, I am not sure I have ever cried that hard. He was 41. Mike was the funny one in the family. He was always getting into shenanigans and pulling pranks. One time he scared our sister, Michelle, so badly she peed her pants! We all couldn’t stop laughing.
Mike’s funeral was the grandest event I had ever seen. Flowers lined the hallway all the way outside the door. The sound system was blasting AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” (“see my white lightning flashing as I split the night/ ‘Cause if God’s on the left, then I’m stickin’ to the right”) and there were bikers in leather everywhere. I had never seen so many people attend a funeral. He touched a lot of people’s lives. When it was time to put Mike in the hearse, the bikers led the procession to “take their brother home.” It was a touching moment.
Jessica Haro wrote about Tara Nicholson, who was born in Gary in 1970, graduated from Valparaiso High School, and then went to Butler University in Indianapolis. Summers Tara had worked at Ugimag, a magnet factory. Her mother was a supervisor there, responsible for hiring summer employees as janitors and press operators. Working conditions were somewhat dangerous. The material was extremely flammable and workers had to be careful of fires. During her third summer, Tara met John, who was hired a few months earlier, after being discharged from the Navy. After working together for a few weeks, John asked Tara out on a date, and it was love from that moment on. They got married the following June on her 23rd birthday. Tara was hired as a personnel consultant for Kelly Services while John was hired in at U.S. Steel. In the fall of 1997 they found out she was expecting twins. Tara went into labor during the blizzard of 1998. Haro wrote:
Tara was at home when, all of a sudden, the power went out. John was working a day shift at U.S. Steel and learned that the roads were too bad for him to get home. They lived about a mile from the local firehouse, and eventually an ambulance made it to her house. While the medics were examining her, Tara’s neighbor, who was a nurse, came over and kept her company until John was able to get home and drive her the hospital. The doctors managed to stop her contractions and sent her home the next day because the hospital still did not have power. Thirty-six hours later, the twins were born, first a girl Jordan and then, after an emergency C-Section, Ruth. Tara developed an infection and had to stay in the hospital an extra five days. She’d go on to have two boys, Joshua and Sam.
When I gave my new Steel Shavings with Vivian Carter on the cover to IU library head of circulation Audrea Davis, she mentioned that Vivian’s parents lived next door to her family on the 1900 block of Connecticut and that they spent $5,000 to soundproof the garage so that Vivian could record the Spaniels singing “Goodnite, Sweetheart” there. That sacrifice paved the way for the success Vee-Jay Records, named for Vivian and her partner, Jimmy Bracken.
At duplicate bridge Charlie Halberstadt (above) and I finished third despite my blowing the first hand. Holding 16 high-card points, I opened one Club, signaling no five-card suit. Not wishing to leave me there, Charlie, with just 5 high-card points, bid a Spade. I had the Ace, King, Queen of Spades and foolishly jumped to 4 Spades; he subsequently went down one. I should have bid 3 Spades and let him decide whether to go for game. Charlie’s regular partner, Naomi Goodman, went on a Scandinavian cruise to see the northern lights. She came down with a virus, got badly bruised when gale winds knocked over tables and chairs. After all that, cloudy weather prevented her from seeing the northern lights.
Post-Tribune columnist Jeff Manes wrote about retired teacher Jerry Hager meeting White Sox owner Bill Veeck some 35 years ago. Hager (above) told Jeff:
I was reading his book one night (“Veeck as in Wreck”) and he mentioned, “If you call me, I'll talk to you.” So, on a Sunday night, probably after a beer or two, I called him and he answered. I asked him if he'd speak at Valparaiso High School. He told me he was booked for two years but not to give up and to call him back. So, I did. He was a man of his word. Veeck told me he would speak for free, but required transportation to and from Valparaiso. I picked him up at Comiskey Park.
We walked into the auditorium and there were only 300 people. I thought we'd have a full house. Bill put his arm around me because I was sulking, and said, “Man, don't worry about it, I've spoken to groups as small as two and I'll give 'em hell.” With his presentation complete, he started smoking while talking to the reporters. I told him he couldn't do that on school grounds, so he put the cigarette out on his wooden leg.
Then he told me he felt like having some beers. The White Sox bar in Valpo at that time was the Franklin House. The Cubs bar was the North Side Tap. We had a huge crowd around us, so, as a wager, he took $100 bills and placed patties of butter on them betting that he could get them to stick to the ceiling. He was winning every bet. When we left, there were still three $100 bills stuck to the ceiling. He didn't care.
In 1977 I called Bill Veeck to suggest he resign my favorite player, Dick Allen, who had been released by Oakland. Five years before, Allen had enjoyed an MVP season with the White Sox. Veeck’s secretary immediately put him on the line. He said he had already contacted Allen, who told him he’d decided to retire to his Pennsylvania farm and devote more time to his race horses.
Eric Suszynski; photo by Angela Denk
Also in the Post-Trib was an article about 27-year-old Cedar Lake resident Eric Suszynski, nicknamed Eric the Quilter, who won Best in Show at the 2016 Lake County Fair. Eric took up quilting as a way of coping with severe depression and described his prize-winning quilt as a depiction of how life’s obstacles can overwhelm an impoverished child. Reporter Angela Denk wrote: “Using eight separate layers of fabric and acrylic paint, he created a forest that looms above the dark silhouette of a young boy at the bottom. The entire thing is criss-crossed and covered in thousands of stitches of thread.”
Walter Jones and Corey Hagelberg; Post-Trib photo by Meredith Colias
Post-Trib reporter Meredith Colias wrote about “Poetry in Motion,” a Calumet Artist Residency project to install poems on Gary city buses. One of these, “A View of My City” by Walter Jones, was inspired by a vacant lot near Fifth and Pennsylvania flanked by two homes. Jones wrote:
The ol' house is gone now, my view of the city expanded.
Blocks away, another building has filled the space exposed.
Like shark's teeth, one horizon folds into the next, ever evolving.
Corey Hagelberg told Colias: “We originally thought we would put poems in one or two places around the city. It's sort of spreading in a way we didn't realize it would.”
I a post entitled “Trump Signature Gets Larger As Ratings Fall" Ray Smock sees this as a sign of narcissism combined with delusions of grandeur. Kathryn Ruud responded: “In Chinese there is a saying about how dwelling on one’s personal marks is like staring at your piss. The Chinese are earthy and direct.”