Friday, March 10, 2017

Unexpected Surprises

“Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected.” Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently posted a 1978 video of Ted Kennedy, who would now be 85 if still alive, speaking about the need for health care reform.  She noted:
Not a day goes by in Massachusetts that we don’t miss his leadership, his passion, and his commitment to fighting for working families. Senator Kennedy called his work on health care reform “the great cause of his life.” He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he said: “We can’t afford to wait, and we can’t afford to fail.” I can think of no better way to celebrate Senator Kennedy than to make sure his dream of quality, affordable health care for everyone lives on.
Janice Wilson with kids and by herself
Indiana History student Crislyn Arcuri interviewed Janice Wilson about unexpected surprises in her life during the 1990s.  She recalled:
    In December of 1991, I found out that I was pregnant 18 days before my 23-year-old daughter’s wedding.  At the time, unbeknownst to me, she was 3 months pregnant. I became a grandmother and a mom again in the same year.  My husband and I were both euphoric because we had been married 7 years and had tried everything except in vitro.  When Daniel was just 6 weeks old, we took him to see my grandfather, who noted how big he was. His wife loved him because his hair was so black. We didn’t want to just have one baby and succeeded in producing a second, Michael. They were wild kids, nicknamed the Wilson boys, like they were little bandits. I was pregnant for such a short time between the two that a lot of people thought I was pregnant with the same baby.  Both boys always loved playing cowboys with their little scarves and guns. Michael would say “tick them up, tick them up” and get upset when his brother refused to obey him. 
 I quit working for the hospital and became a school health services director. I also did the wellness program at Portage. We opened up a community health center and a teen health clinic so students wouldn’t have to miss school. I did a blood drive once because the superintendent’s daughter had cancer and needed a bone marrow donation. In 1997, a student ran into my office and said a teacher had just had a baby in the bathroom.  It was actually a student.  She let me take the baby from her and I held it close to keep it warm. My white clothes got blood all over them. I kept telling the girl to sit down but she wouldn’t. She just zipped up her pants. Worried that she might go into shock, I yelled for someone to call an ambulance and to get blankets for the baby. It was an exciting experience but nothing I would wish to happen to a young girl.
Kenya Johnson in Aetna and posing for fourth grade photo
Kendell Buckley interviewed Kenya Johnson, who was born in 1986 and grew up in the Gary neighborhood of Aetna.  Kenya has three older brothers, two younger brothers, and a little sister. Her mother was a stay at home mom and her father worked at Inland Steel.  Buckley wrote that Kenya was not allowed to play outside as a young child because her parents were very strict and did not want her around boys. When she started kindergarten, she was very shy. Because of her family’s religious beliefs, Kenya was only allowed to wear dresses and skirts, and the other children made fun of her.  In the summer, Kenya’s mother took her children to Marquette Park. They were not allowed to get into the water though because her mother couldn’t swim and feared that they would drown. Their family would also go to Marquette Park for Fourth of July Fest. In the spring her brothers played Little League baseball.  Kenya told Buckley: “The concession stand sold the best hot dogs and pickles. My mom would give me quarters to buy pop and pixie (candy) sticks.” Kenya told Buckley about an old green abandoned house up the street from theirs rumored to be haunted:
The kids on our block decided to play “ding dong ditch” at that house. The grass had grown up very high, and stray dogs liked to hang around in the yard. One day my brother Ben dared me to knock on the door, saying he’d buy me a bag of chips if I did.  As I approached the house, I scoped it out for dogs and cobwebs and seemed to be in the clear. There was a creepy old knocker on the door. I walked up, knocked three times, and ran for my life, screaming. I thought the boogie man was going to take my soul. I ran all the way home and burst through the front door. Ben was behind me laughing. A few years later, someone moved into that house, fixed it up, and painted it yellow. It became the neighborhood candy store.
Kenya told Buckley about a TV show called “In Living Color” that did segments with a humorous character called Homey D. Clown, an ex-con performing as part of his mandated community service.
Kids' imaginations started running wild. All over Gary, there were Homey D. Clown sightings and rumors that he kidnapped kids and was a serial killer. Aetna School has a big sand dune behind it. Kids started saying that Homey the Clown lived on the sand dune. During recess kids were dared to go up the sand dune to see if they could spot the clown. Some kids said they saw him. Parents started picking their children up from school instead of letting them walk home. My first grade class faced the sand dune. I spent much of my day looking out the window trying to spot the clown. I spotted someone walking up the sand hill and it freaked me out. I told my classmates and everyone ran to the window.

Kenya’s dad had road rage a lot.  After a funeral, he got a sticker to head the procession to the cemetery in our family van.  Kenya recalled: “Some driver cut my dad off, causing him to fall behind in the procession. My dad started cursing and blowing his horn. The driver that cut my dad off started chasing us down every street we drove down.  At this point, we didn't know if the guy had a gun or what he was going to do if we stopped. My dad was angry at first but then fearful. He kept driving in the direction of the cemetery. At the cemetery, the driver got out of his car and threw a brick at our side window. Then he casually walked back to his car, got in, and drove off. He didn't break the window but it was chipped pretty badly.”

Kenya recalled an excursion to Mississippi:
In 1999, my oldest brother graduated from high school and enrolled at Jackson State. Whenever we traveled, my dad wanted to do all the driving, even though my mom and oldest brother had licenses. Well, Mississippi was like a 12-hour drive. My dad would swear up and down that he wasn't sleepy, but my mom would catch him dosing off behind the wheel, and have to force him to pull over at a rest stop. He thought he could drive all the way there without any rest. At one point, he took the wrong exit.  Instead of exiting and getting back on, he decided to drive backwards on the ramp. We were in a 15-passenger van practically screaming at him while he was trying to maneuver backwards. It was late at night, so luckily no drivers were around.
In “The History of Rock and Roll” Ed Ward mentions that the Vee-Jay 1962 smash hit “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler was actually recorded the year before while Candler was a member of The Dukays. When Vee-Jay signed the Four Seasons, Ward noted, the New Jersey group called themselves the Varietones, anda bowling alley was the inspiration for their new name.  Ward wrote that Vee-Jay acquired the rights to “The Wayward Wind” by Frank Ifield and “Please, Please Me” by the Beatles from the British company EMI after Capitol records passed on the deal.  Ward added: “In its haste to get “Please, Please me” out, Vee-Jay misspelled the band’s name as the ‘Beattles’ in the trade ads and on the record.”

Bowling teammate Frank Shufran contacted the brother of Bill Batalis, who passed away a few years ago, and retrieved score sheets for the Electrical Engineers dating back to 1961. Against the Hot Shots, a team we swept the week before in a position round, we barely won game one, got crushed by more than 100 pins in game two, and miraculously squeaked out a win in the finale when Robbie, Dick, and Mel all doubled in the final frames.  After struggling for six frames, I did a little jig upon striking.  Opponent Norma Haines remarked, “Careful not to fall,” a reference to a spill the week before.  My right ear is still slightly discolored.  I marked my final three frames while Hot Shots Jim Fox and Tom Cox left splits in crucial situations on apparently good hits.
Augusta (Georgia) University English professor Seretha Williams (above) contacted me for information on the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary hosted by Mayor Richard Hatcher.  A 1988 Lew Wallace graduate, Seretha had purchased Steel Shavings magazines at IUN Bookstore containing excerpts of my oral history of the Hatcher administration.  I told her I conducted the interviews myself and that audiotapes are housed at the Calumet Regional Archives.  In fact, thanks to an IU project, they are will be digitized.

This from Jim Spicer:
      A little old lady who had lost her marbles was running up and down the halls in a nursing home. As she ran, she would flip up the hem of her nightgown and say, "Supersex." She ran up to an elderly man in a wheelchair; flipping her gown at him, she said, "Supersex."
      He sat silently for a moment or two and finally answered, "I'll take the soup."

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