Journey to Another Time

Mackinac Bridge
Any time but this one

Life can be a grind. That has always been the case, but it’s even more true as the entire world lives through a pandemic. At a time like this, simply fleeing the boundaries of our own place may not feel like enough of a respite. Why not, we might ask ourselves, abscond to another time?

Somewhere in Time PosterThe protagonists of such books as Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson(https://www.abebooks.com/BID-TIME-RETURN/30207059856/bd?cm_ ),which may ring more bells for you as the film, Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, and The Lake House by David Auburn ( Remember Keanna Reeves and Sandra Bullock?) actually break the time barrier.

the real brigadoon

This is what my family and I did for fifteen summers. Well, we didn’t leave the twentieth century.  We vacationed on Mackinac Island. At the point where the two peninsula that make up the state of Michigan meet, sits a 4.5-acre island, which rises steeply on all sides to a 900-foot

Mackinac Island
Photo by Aaron Burden

pinnacle. It is also entirely car-free, and has been since 1898 — only horses and bicycles are allowed, giving the place a laid-back vibe. And for me, living without gas-engine traffic of any kind, turned my stay on Mackinac into a trip to another time. It slowed everything down. https://www.mymichiganbeach.com/mackinac

The island can only be reached by boat. For my family that meant taking the ferry that ran almost continuously during the days and evenings. A valet drove our minivan to storage while we wheeled our bikes and dragged our suitcases aboard. Also, loaded for us were the boxes of groceries we had purchased in Mackinac City. Island groceries were expensive and sparse. Settled aboard, I climbed to the third deck and stood at the bow. As the boat sped across the strait the cool north winds played havoc with my hair and my spirits lifted. I squinted my eyes to catch a minuscule glimpse of Gallery House, the cottage that would be our home for the next three weeks. And then the ferry rounded the island and the harbor jam-packed with sailboats appeared. Behind them white-frame buildings, set in higher and higher rows, formed a gleaming welcome on three sides.Harbor with sailboats

brave old world

From the moment I wheeled my bike down the ramp, I was forced to accept that the blueprint for how I usually planned my days could not structure my next three weeks.  Rather, I literally lived the pace of another time, a time before my grandmothers had been born.

Just to start, the ‘cottage’ (on Mackinac Island even very grand mansions are referred to as “cottages.”) where we would be living was near the top of the island and a couple miles beyond the harbor town. Getting our suitcases and groceries to the house meant hiring a horse drawn wagon. I stood guard over our belongings and our kids while Jay headed to the street to hail a wagon driver.  If we were lucky, it didn’t take too long.  But it always seemed to take long enough for the children to spot the ice-cream vendor. Mackinac like many other American tourist destination is “famous” for its fudge, but it’s extremely creamy ice-cream is every bit as delicious.

a friend of a friend is a friend indeed

The first year we arrived we had had no idea what to expect in terms of our accommodations.  One of Jay’s business associates, Len’s wife worked with a woman who had recently inherited her uncle’s place on the island. She rented it out for most of the summer. Len and his wife Sue couldn’t afford the rent on their own and asked if we’d consider sharing. We decided to give it a chance.

From the directions, I originally thought we’d be staying close to the town. Sue said to let the lorry driver know we were staying at the Gallery House in the Annex.  He would know where that was. I pictured a house somehow attached to one of the many art galleries in town.  But once we were all seated on the benches at the front of the wagon, our horses clip-clopped right past all the Front Street buildings and turned to go up the hill.  They trotted past a beautiful golf course. As we arrived at the entrance to the Grand Hotel with its 660-foot porch, a guard stopped us.  The driver explained we were on our way to the Gallery House and the guard waved us through.  Jay and I looked at one another and shrugged our shoulders.  This was interesting.Grand Hotel Mackinac Island

beyond grandeur

The kids loved the hotel and spotted its swimming pool.  I disappointed them. “No, we’re not staying here.” I didn’t know at that point that passes to the hotel pool came with our cottage. Just past the porch of the hotel, the road rose steeply. To the left a sheer drop to Lake Huron far below and on the left stately gleaming white Victorian mansions with wide-sweeping verandas sat on spacious lawns – the cottages of the West Bluff, summer homes of wealthy Detroit and Chicago families. When we turned away from the bluff, we could see that each cottage had not a garage, but a stable and the horsey smell that had assaulted our nostrils the minute we stepped off the ferry became stronger yet. Another left turn took us down a gravel road between more lovely homes, though not as grand as those on the West Bluff. Many of these were half-hidden by tall oaks. Then the driver swung the wagon to the right once more and stopped.

In the middle of an enormous expanse of deep green grass stood a yellow clapboard house. Its proportions were more modest than those of most of the abodes we had gone by, but its lines were charming. A screened-in porch, scattered with wicker furniture, ran around three sides of the house. Rising narrowly from the porch roof, four deep eaves defined the second story. “Here you are,” the driver said. “The Gallery House on MackinacHouse.”

The children scrambled down from the wagon and ran across the lawn. As Jay, the driver and I unloaded box after suitcase after bag onto the ground, I could hear the sound of the children’s footsteps pounding on wooden floor boards. Shouts of, “This one’s mine,” alert me to bedroom claims. I felt like my whole body was smiling. I stopped unloading and gave Jay a hug. “Looks like we’re home,” I said.

time for everything

Our days fell into a restorative rhythm. Family members rose anytime they wished in the mornings and fetched their own breakfast from the large pantry just off the kitchen. Always a lark, I was the first one out of bed, settled happily on the front porch with a book and a cup of coffee at least an hour before the stairs creaked with the sounds of anyone else’s footsteps. Jay alternated between sleeping through breakfast and rising quite early to meet friends at the Grand Hotel golf course for an early game. Having discovered the passes to the swimming pool, the kids most often biked down to the hotel in the morning. Sometimes, however, they biked into town to the stables to rent horses to ride the back roads of the island. I spread my time out over biking, shopping and exploring the museums.

By ordinance, no Mackinac restaurants or shops could be franchises of chains, so eating out was a pleasurable adventure.  Whether we ate lunch or dinner at the cottage or at one of the dozens of “eating places,” as Kristy had called restaurants since toddler days, depended on whether the fleet was in or not.

yo ho ho

The three weeks, which we spent on Mackinac each summer, coincided

Spinnackers flying
Photo by seaknoting.com

with the “Mac”. “The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac … is one of the world’s largest annual offshore races, drawing top-notch sailing talent from around America and the world. Known as ‘The Mac’ to everyone in the region, the 333-statute mile (289 nautical mile) the race typically starts each July just off Chicago’s Navy Pier and finishes at Mackinac Island, Michigan.” (https://www.cycracetomackinac.com/news/article/chicago-yacht-club-announces-cancellation-of-2020-race-to-mackinac) {The race was called off this year for the first time in one hundred years.  The last time it was called off was 1920 due to pressures of World War I.)

It was a glorious time to be on the island. The last of the race, we gathered in town in front of the yacht club tent, where the race was

being monitored. Watching the boats come flying in for the final stretch of the race was heart-thumping. Almost always, the yachts unfurled

their spinnakers, the large three-cornered sail, set forward of the mainsail, bulging and full, running before the wind as they passed under the Mackinac Bridge. The harbor filled with boat after boat. Hundreds of weary, but elated, sailors filled the streets and taverns of the town. Walking down Front Street was a stroll through the dioramas of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

Guys in a bar
Photo by Emery Meyer

Most decisively it was a time to eat “at home.” We saved our dinners out for the quieter days when the sailors took their boats to other harbors.

nothing lasts forever

When our three weeks on the island came to an end, we packed reluctantly. Thoroughly accustomed to “island time,” we envied the wealthy families for whom this was a summer-long experience. We never adjusted easily to being home again.  The sounds and pace of the twentieth century are jarring when encountered overnight. We did, of course, acclimate to automobile traffic, alarm clocks, and work timetables. We could fine-tune our sensibilities by comforting ourselves with the promise that next summer would come.  And next summer would bring a return to another time.

If you could travel to any time you chose, when would it be?

Time travel
Photo by Andy Beales

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
Steven Moffat

https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2020-02-15/steven-moffat-time-travellers-wife-doctor-who/

Lake Cabin Allure

Lake in Woods
one way to escape
Person holding map in auto
Photo by Taras Zaluzhnyi

During June, the month when we traditionally break our routines, venture away from our familiar abodes, and explore new territory, I’ve been blogging on the theme of escape. More specifically I’ve been reminiscing about long ago getaways to destination near and far.  The weeks and weeks of “social distancing” and “sheltering at home” that are my present reality lend a luster to these past adventures they may not have held at the time.

In this week devoted to commemorating fathers (because surely a single day doesn’t suffice), memories of my father, John De Jager, fuse effortlessly with thoughts of escape from the everyday. My dad loved a good road trip.  I could write an entire memoir about those vacations to all parts of the United States and Canada. This blog, however, is focused on the years after I met Jay Ward, my husband and the Love Lessons I learned in the decades of our relationship.

the ultimate getaway

The two narratives merge not on a road trip, but at Dad’s Cabin. A tiny one

Cabin by water
Photo by Taylor Simpson

bedroom, clapboard cottage, it sat under enormous pine trees on a small ridge overlooking Devil’s Lake in Webster, Wisconsin. Despite its diminutive size, there were many nights when as many as ten folks slept under its roof.   Built in the 1940s as one in a cluster of cabins rented out by the week, the cabin had few amenities when my father acquired it.

Given our penchant for hitting the road at the drop of a hat, Jay and I set out for northwest Wisconsin to investigate Dad’s new purchase the weekend after he bought it in 1967. He warned us we’d find it primitive.  That whetted our appetite.  It would be an adventure as well as a chance to shake off the doldrums of the urban grind.

For once, we contented ourselves with sticking to the main highways and followed Interstate 95 until we headed north at Eau Claire.  As our Blue Fiat Spider sped down the exit ramp, we turned to each other and grinned – new territory!

the other real world
Cows in fields
Photo by Jan Babora

Promising sights greeted us as we veered north. The road curved up and over hills, sometimes lined with giant conifers and at other place giving sweeping views of wide valleys covered with a checkerboard of fields. Urban dwellers to our core, the only crop we could identity with any surety were the tall, waving stalks of corn, but we soaked up the diverse colors, shapes and sizes of other plantings and made random guesses – soybeans? Broccoli? Rice? Wheat?  Yes, that’s right, we had no idea what wheat, that stable of our daily diet, looked like as it grew in a field.  Farm fields were fairylands to us, enchanted places from which came the bounty that appeared on the shelves of our friendly grocery.  We knew, of course, that it involved hours of hard work rather than waving magic wands. That didn’t stop it from being a marvel to our eyes.

A little past noon, just outside the small town of Rice Lake we pulled up to the speaker at a drive-in and ordered our meal to go.  We had noted that the road periodically offered a wayside, a small turnout with a picnic table next to a parking space, often in conjunction with the historical markers of which we had become so fond. Less than ten minutes out of town, we are our meal at a table that felt like it was on the top of the world. Farms fields, scattered woods, and small lakes splashed the scene with a variety of blues, greens, yellows and browns.

much less traveled

We turned into a windy, rutted road a mile outside Webster about two hours

later. Periodically dirt driveways broke off from the road. Worn wooden signs

Car on dark dirt road
Photo by Haris Suljic

nailed to leaning posts marked most of them, but it was getting toward evening and the heavy overhang of leafy trees made it hard to read the lettering. Finally, we saw it. 8999 Devil’s Lake Road and turned in. Our car pitched forward down a steep incline. “Whoa,” Jay exclaimed and slammed on the brakes. He then slowly inched his foot off them to let the car slide forward. The drive ended at a slightly wider spot, bordered by tall oaks.

I pulled a flashlight from the glove compartment and we followed a stone path to a rusty-colored wood cabin.  It sat in darkness, but just beyond the sun was slipping behind the far shore of the lake. Brilliant oranges, golds, and reds streamed across the sky and bounced back off the surface of the water. We hurried to get a better look and tried our luck walking one step at a time onto the rickety dock.  It held, and we held each other.  In flat, crowded Chicago, sunsets were not easy to come by.

amenities not included
Single light bulb
Photo by Akshay Paatil

The dusk settled in and we went back to search for the key to the cabin, left in a flower pot. Pushing through the door, I groped for a light switch, found it, and flipped it.  A single bulb hanging from the rafters lit the interior just well enough that we wouldn’t bump into the furnishings. These were meager in the extreme. A large round oak table stood under the light. Four chairs surrounded it. A big stone fireplace covered most of the far wall with two battered, upholstered chairs squeezed in on either side of it. A low archway led into a minute room just past one of the chairs, a gold, nubby piece. Four strides took me over, but I needed the flashlight to see the bed which filled the space.

“Look at this,” Jay called. Back in the main room, he was pointing to the ornate, iron stove, which I was relieved to see had a pilot light glowing in the middle.  But, wait. Where was the sink?

Cooking on antique stove
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

“There’s no kitchen sink,” I told him unnecessarily.

“Got that,” he nodded.  “Your dad said we get water from the pump and heat it up on the stove for washing the dishes.”

“Oh, my gosh, I feel like I’m on ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t have electric lights and gas stoves.”

“Well, you know what I mean.”

conquering the pump

“Yah, just teasing.  Better get some water.  You’ll have to hold the flashlight for me.”

The rusty pump was anchored in a cement block to the side of the cabin. A bucket sat under the spout. Jay grabbed the handle, raised it high in the air, and yanked it down. Nothing. I panicked a little.  Were we going to be without water? He tried again. Same result. “It must be broken,” he said.  “We’ll have to call your dad tomorrow and let him know.”

Outdoor water pump
Photo by Fikri Rasyid

If you’re giggling or murmuring, “City slickers,” at this point, you have good cause.  Sure enough when we called my dad the next morning from the drugstore in Webster, we could almost see him shake his head in disgust as he told us, “You have to prime the pump first.” And then he had to explain what “priming” was.

No running water inside also meant, of course, no bathroom.  We availed ourselves of the outhouse with as much grace as possible.  We should have known after all.  In any case, the dozens of National Geographics that dad had stored there at least made the trip educational.

been there, done that!

When we headed back to Chicago on Sunday evening, we were different people than the couple who had headed up the road on Friday. The transformation was subtle and not immediately apparent, but real just the same. After that time, we took ordinary life less for granted and more for the blessing it was. But we also trusted ourselves more than ever to get through tough things together with grace, humility and humor.

Outhouse
Photo by Dan Meyers

Over that summer, my dad and brothers worked long hours at Devil’s Lake to modernize and expand the cabin. My mother had a grand time hitting the thrift stores so that she could “doll it up.”

north by northwest

Over the next forty years, Jay and I and our children made many treks to the cabin. No place equaled it for bringing family together.  The sandy beach and shallow shore allowed even very small children to play there safely.  But the lake was also big enough and deep enough for adults and bigger kids to enjoy boating, fishing and water sports. And in the evenings, all ages gathered around the big table to play games, enjoy the crackle of the fireplace and be grateful for the gift of family.

What was your best way to reconnect with family once you were an adult and living away from home?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Campfire at lake

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum   https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/178037-i-believe-that-what-we-become-depends-on-what-our

We’re Out of Here!

Auto on open road
Bali beach
Photo by Cassie Gallego
taking chances

We’re beginning to take chances. Throughout the country, folks, who have carefully sequestered themselves within their own homes for the last three months, are dipping their toes in the shallows of social life.  Indeed, some are high diving into the deep end of the pool. But the splash as they hit the water causes ripples of alarm. Most people are content right now to simply test the waters in some tentative way.  Sometimes this means a trip to the doctor’s office. There are also people returning to reopened churches. For my daughter and her family, it means literally getting back in the water.

I watched enviously yesterday as they packed up their camping gear and secured their large bright yellow raft to the back of their SUV. They were going rafting, their favorite fair weather activity. State parks and boat ramps

River rafting
Photo by Cynthia Andres

reopened. The weather brightened. And their small family was out of here! Being among the vulnerable elders of the nation, my husband and I are not quite ready to join them. That goes very much against the grain for us.

on the road

Hitting the road  at least a few times a year has characterized our entire married life. In fact, it began before Jay and I married. The roads we choose are not necessarily the ones less chosen. In fact, some of journeys include popular tourist spots, which present an oft repeated irony – naturally beautiful spaces where most of the attractions are entirely artificial – each aspect a dimension of escape.

Such destinations are often derided by sophisticated travelers, but for us, inveterate road trippers, they were as enriching as a trip abroad. A road trip is essentially a trip “from,” not a trip “to.” While we almost always have an endpoint in mind, we mostly road trip to leave something behind — the ordinary rhythm of daily life, a job that’s gotten to be a bit of a grind, or even the over familiarity of friends and family and our home space. These trips also serve us times to renew our committed relationship, a time when Love’s Lessons can be savored and enhanced through long hours of intimate, private conversation not usually possible in the busy hustle of everyday life.

a long way home

Jay and I took our first road trip during spring break of Jay’s senior year at Notre Dame. It was a thirteen-hour journey from Chicago to St. Paul. If you know anything about Midwest American geography, you realize, barring a blizzard, the 400-mile journey by auto between those two cities ought to take between seven and eight and a half hours. Certainly, my parents who were waiting to meet the new important guy in my life, expected our trip to took that long and began to mildly panic after ten hours.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue OxHad we focused our attention on simply arriving in the Twin Cities, we would have taken the fastest roads and made the least number of stops possible. But, since, without acknowledging it even to ourselves, we had set off on a road trip, we quickly became bored with commercialism and heavy traffic of the main route and veered off onto a series of county back roads that meandered rather than headed toward the Minnesota border.  While we rambled, we stopped frequently.  We pulled over and read every historical marker along the way.  At the base of a ranger station, we parked and climbed to the top. Spotting a gigantic statue of Paul Bunyan, we climbed out, took each other’s photo and enjoyed a lumberjack breakfast at the restaurant of the same name, a place where everyone ate family style at long picnic tables.

let’s try this again

It never occurred to us to look for a phone booth and check in. Our own little bubble of surreality disconnected from where we’d been and where we were going. At journey’s end, we apologized profusely to my worried parents, but weren’t truly sorry.   In our mind’s eye churned the plans for the next “adventure.” Let’s get back to the Wisconsin Dells, we told each other, determined to make it soon.

We got our chance the first summer of our marriage. I had finally been at my job long enough to accrue a few vacation days, and Jay was taking the summer off to study for the bar. Two days after law school graduation, we once again pointed the trunk of our Volkswagen Beetle northwest and headed out.

What is a dell?

According to most English dictionaries, a dell is “a tiny valley in a wooded area, tucked away from the rest of civilization.” https://www.yourdictionary.com/dell

The area in the middle of the state of Wisconsin called the Dells only fits that Wisconsin Dellsdefinition if one stretches the meaning beyond recognition. In part because the English word usually comes from a German root whereas the Dells of the Wisconsin River derived their name from the French word “dalles,” meaning slab-like rocks. An 1892 photograph of those rocks began the pilgrimage that now draws millions of visitors every year to a 5-mile gorge on the Wisconsin River, noted for the beauty of its unique Cambrian sandstone rock formations and tributary canyons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dells_of_the_Wisconsin_River

This natural phenomenon is lovely to see, but most likely would not keep thousands of visitors coming back every year.  Over the course of the last one hundred years, however, human endeavor has added attractions and enticements galore that lure the tourists and make this mildly interesting natural beauty a “must see.”

it’s over over there

Duck amphibious vehicleIt all began with the Ducks – not the aquatic bird, but the DUKW, an amphibious truck that leapt off the drawing board in 1942 and greatly contributed to the Allied landings in Europe during World War II. Over 21,000 were built. When the war was over, just like the other returning troops, they needed jobs. Some made their way to the middle of Wisconsin.

In 1946, the world’s first Duck tour was launched. The amphibious trucks take on passengers at a landing on the Wisconsin River and proceed downriver to Lake Delton. They climb over sand bars, traverse over four miles of otherwise unnavigable river, allowing their passengers an up-close view of the unique beauty of the actual “dells” themselves.  https://www.wisconsinducktours.com/

Watch them in action: https://youtu.be/62n0hUZadm0

For a fun, quirky look at working on these big water “birds,” check out Jason Albert’s memoir blog https://themorningnews.org/article/down-and-out-in-a-repurposed-troop-carrier.

tourist trap? Yes, so what?

The opportunity to take that up-close and personal ride through the Dells appealed to Jay and me, but just as enticing was the chance to stay in a motel with actual indoor swimming pool. (Because the first water park opened in the Dells in 1989, it was only more recently that it became the Water Park Capital of the World.)

Trying a different cuisine for every meal added to the novelty as did our trip to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.  Finally, of course, we amused ourselves for hours trying our luck at the indoor arcades and buying useless objects at the souvenir shops. We wallowed in having no schedule and pretended to have no budget. We lived a few days in La-La Land and found it good.

apples to oranges
Eiffel tower
Photo by Adrien xpir

Years after that road trip, I climbed the Eiffel Tower and I basked on the beaches of Bali, two of the world’s top ten destinations. Did they outshine the Wisconsin Dells? Of course.  Did I have more fun? It would be like comparing apples to oranges. Back in the 1960s, Jay and I accepted the offer of a time out of time closer at hand. For us, such getaways came to be a regular part of life’s rhythm, a way to retain our sanity in this crazy world.  Honeymoons are not once in a lifetime events.  They bear repeating again and again.  Our relationship deserves that kind of consideration.

pandemic’s shadow

Thus, it’s one of the harsher realities of living through the pandemic as vulnerable seniors that honeymoons are on hold for us.  We love our home garden, but I sure could go for a DUKW ride right now.

 

 

DeJa Vu All Over Again

Riot and fire

This week we hear from a guest blogger.

IT’S DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN!

Those were the words from a famous comedian from yesteryear. I think it was Red Skelton. (It was actually Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees[jdw]) I hadn’t heard them for years, but they’ve haunted my mind for the last week. I couldn’t believe it was happening again.

The year was 1968. The month was April. The date was the 4th. I was an Assistant State’s Attorney for Cook County, Illinois. I was working on trial row in the felony trial division of the office. The near west side of the City of Chicago was up in flames from the rioting there.

ready or not

There were about 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys in Cook County. They all Blind Justiceworked hard. Maybe about 100 of them worked in the Criminal Courts. They worked really hard. They were on the firing line every morning. They were buried in cases all piled up waiting for trial. You never knew which ones would be continued to another date, or result in a negotiate plea of guilty, or actually go to trial when the judge told the bailiff to “call up the jury – we’re going to trial right now as scheduled”. It was hard on the State’s Attorneys and hard on their spouses. Working late was part of the deal. You had to get ready for anything by 9:00 am the next morning.

please don’t forget

Because I often worked late, my wife decided to take a trip to see her family in Minnesota so I could catch up with my preparation for trials. Hopefully then, we could have some time together when she got back to Chicago. The deal was I would pick her up at the airport when she got back and we would go out and celebrate our reunion. She said that all I had to do was make sure that Champagne was fed. Champagne was our cat and the proud new mother of five kittens. She said Champagne would take care of feeding the kittens. I told her have a good time with the family and say Hi! for me and I’ll see you in a week. Well, that’s my version. She claims she said to make sure Champagne was fed and be sure to clean out the cat box every night. I don’t remember that cat box part at all.

So off she goes to Minnesota and I’m working to midnight every night sorting out the cases that should be settled and preparing for trial on those that would probably be going to trial. I was really looking forward to picking her up and us having a night out together without murders, armed robberies and burglaries to be worrying about.

“We’re going downtown!”

But it was not to be. A big case broke that night and State’ Attorney, John Stamos grabbed me and said, “we’re goin’ downtown”! 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys and he grabs me. On our special date night! He starts yellin’ at people and called for a car to take us downtown immediately as we took off for the elevator of the Criminal Courts Building on the West Side of Chicago. I quickly raced to get into the elevator before the doors closed.

It was a big deal that out of 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys he picked me to go with him on this big case. But it was my date night! I promised her we’d go out, and, I’d had a week to clear my calendar for our date. Career big case with the boss man, or date night with my wife on return from her trip that was specifically meant to be our special night out? Telling her I was busy was not going to fly. Career or marriage? I pick —Marriage!

can this marriage be saved?

I tell him, as he’s chasing cars off the road driving downtown at well over the speed limit, that my wife is flying in from Minnesota that night and I have to pick her up at the airport. “Which airport?” he says. “Midway” I tell him. He grabs the police radio and shouts into it “Get me Flannigan and Flynn”. They are State’s Attorney’ Police Officers. (He’s got his own police department).

“What airline? “What flight number?” “ What time does it arrive?” I figure he’s testing me to see if I’m telling the truth so I give him the airline, the flight number and the arrival time after which he then shouts into the police radio and tells the operator to have Flannigan and Flynn meet the plane and take my wife into custody. Then he says to me “Where do you live?” I say Rogers Park. He stares at me and says “that’s a large area for Flannigan and Flynn to search. I mean what is your home address?” Oh! So I give him my address.

He then gives it to the police radio and says “have Flannigan and Flynn take the wife off the plane and take her home in the squad and don’t leave her until she is safely in the house and tell her you are on special assignment to me as of right now and we have no idea as to when you will be home because of this crisis and it may be days before she sees you again but Flannigan and Flynn will take care of you so we know you are safe.” I’m thinking of telling him “but its date night” but I think again, and keep my mouth shut. Chicken!

a slightly different perspective
Plane at gate
Photo by Erik McLean

Let’s look at it from my wife’s point of view. She has given me a whole week to swim thru all the murders, armed robberies, burglaries and other miscellaneous felonies I could handle and get them behind me so we could have a date night upon her return from Minneapolis. But instead of me meeting her at the gate, the plane lands and the captain announces that, “because of a police action, all passengers on board should stay in their seats until the police have taken a passenger off the plane!”

arrest the wife???

Whereupon Flannigan and Flynn come on the plane and come down the aisle to seat 28C where the stewardess points her finger and says “that’s her!” Flannigan says, “Are you Mrs. Ward?” She softly says “Yes” and Flannigan says “you will have to come with us.” Without further word, he helps her out of her seat, grabs the bag she says is her overhead bag and tells Flynn, “OK, let’s go.” With Flynn up front clearing the way and Flannigan protecting the rear, they escort Mrs. Ward off the plane, down the ramp to the gate and past all the people who had gathered to see what criminals they were taking into custody.

i’m going to kill him!

Meantime, Mrs. Ward is wondering what’s going on? She’s not entirely sure but she is pretty sure that somehow it’s my doing because, among all the airline passengers staring at her as she was being escorted to the squad car, she noticed that I was not there to meet her, like I promised. She didn’t know if something had happened to me, or, if she was going to “make” something happen to me because I had promised her that I’d be there and I wasn’t.

I was probably working late and skipping our negotiated date night out. Whereupon Flannigan says “Your husband says he’s sorry he can’t be here to pick you up but he and State’s Attorney Stamos are going to be working late tonight and so he sent us to pick you up and get you home safely.” So, finally she gets it. “I could kill him!” Flannigan and Flynn were protecting her husband from her!

breaking and entering

When they get her home, Flynn asks her for her key so he can open the door for her. She looks in her purse and realizes that she didn’t bring the key because her husband was going to be there to pick her up. So, she had left her key behind in the key drawer. At this point she’s ready to have Flannigan and Flynn commandeer a plane and to fly her back to Minnesota, permanently. She tells the cops she doesn’t have the key. They tell her their orders are to keep her in their custody until she is safely in her apartment. They ask her if any of her neighbors have a key. She says no.

Now Flannigan and Flynn have wives that are making dinner for them too and they get in trouble if they are late.  So Flannigan figures that the only thing between him getting home on time for dinner is getting Mrs. Ward safely in her apartment. So, he takes out his gun and breaks the kitchen window, unlocks the window, opens it and crawls in over the sink.

it gets even worse
kittens
Photo by Zetong Li

He notices immediately that something’s not right. The odor is overpowering. Is it a gas leak? No. Worse. He makes for the front door, opens it and rushes out into the fresh air. Mrs. Ward gets a whiff, takes a step back and says ‘the cat box!” “I told him all he had to do was feed the cat and clean the cat box!” Was that too complicated?”

So, to make a short story longer, he had his facts and she had her facts, just like most contested criminal cases. That’s what judges and juries are for. But we decided that day, April 4, 1968, that we didn’t need judges and juries, we just needed a date night every week even though we were already married.

Date night this week is Thursday, same as it was on April 4, 1968, the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The day I promised my bride I would be there for her. And I wasn’t, I couldn’t, and finally, I shouldn’t have been there. I had a job to do.

city on fire

I was swept away by events way out of my control. All the law enforcement authorities were sending their bosses and top aides downtown to Chicago Police Headquarters at 11th and State. The Mayor’s Office, The Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the US Army and I don’t know how any other people wouldn’t be having dinner at home with their wives that night and for many nights thereafter.

By eight o’clock that evening I was high up in Police Headquarters looking down over the West Side of the City. It was burning out of control. Stores and businesses were being looted. It was chaos. All these governmental leaders were breaking down into smaller groups to handle problems on issues with which they had some expertise. The West Side politicians were trying to get their people to calm down and get off the streets so the fire trucks could get through to put out the fires that were burning down their neighborhoods.

this has to stop

Our assignment was to sit down with the leaders in the African-American community to work out a way to bring a halt to the shooting, the fires, and the looting. Stamos was particularly concerned because firemen were being shot as they tried to put out the fires. He understood that Dr. King’s assassination was nothing less than an outrage, but felt that right at the moment the heart of the problem was: “Nobody in Chicago murdered Dr. King; the people and merchants on the West Side who’s homes and business’s are burning are also African American. Attempting to murder firemen, who were risking their lives, trying to keep the community from burning to the ground, would never be condoned by Dr. King.” He warned the community leaders that anyone caught attacking police or fire officials trying to do their job would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

His passion was terrifying. It broke up the meeting.

aftermath

I don’t exactly know what happened after that. But the shooting at the firemen did stop shortly after that. The remaining fires were put out, but much of the  West Side looked like a war zone. The city would rebuild, just like it did in the years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. But, like then, it would take years to accomplish.

Following the riots,  my courtroom cases were stacked up higher than ever.  My week-long sprint while my wife was away did not give me the hoped-for relief. But we came out of the incident with the tradition of having Thursday night  as date night every week, a tradition we still honor a half-century later.

For me the story of that day is a national tragedy, a love story, a comedy and a horror film of chaos and hell. That day was April 4th, 1968.

deja vu

As I write this, it is Tuesday, June 1, 2020. As I write this, the stores of the charming City of Minneapolis are shattered and the stores themselves are ablaze. The contents of those stores no longer hang on their racks but are now scattering down the streets in all directions in the arms of the mob. The destruction of Minneapolis particularly hits my wife and myself. Jule’s family still lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, Minneapolis’s sister city. They are a beautiful cities.

Is it possible that the theft of those inventories of goods and the destruction of those stores on top of a prolonged pandemic will mean the death of the Twin Cities our family knows and loves? Will it ever come back? The events of April 4th, 1968 were fifty-two years ago. Is it possible that nothing has changed? Will it ever change? Maybe we will have to give it another half century to find out.

Jay Ward

Essential Escapes

Photo by Falco Negenman
no way out

“I’m out of here,” resounds through our brain and often slips off our tongue when life appears to present us with nothing but disappointment, boredom, fatigue, malfunction, inconvenience, frustration, disenchantment, letdowns, and defeat.

The global pandemic, however, gives no “out of here” to go to. The only possible escape the common wisdom offers is “Stay Home.” Not easy advice to follow when it was cold, rainy and gloomy out, this phrase has reached anathema status with the advent of summer. Citizens have grouped themselves into two camps.  The ones who thumb their noses at the restriction and dive right into the nearest pool. The rest who sit at home watching the frolicking on TV  crying, “How dare they?”

An unfounded yearning for “better days” sweeps me into a chimera of nostalgia. Historic events of the 1960s spun society off its axis. Assassinations, protests, and riots left personal trauma and political disruption in their wake. And yet, for me, memories of that decade most often conjure visions of beaches.

sky, water, sand, wind

Wherever I lived, Lake Michigan’s vast sand beaches and rolling surf were never far away. I grew up, went to college, and raised my own family within easy reach of her shores. From May through September, that confluence of sand and surf called me like a siren’s song whenever I yearned  to “get away from it all.”

Lightening at sea
Photo by Jeremy Bishop

Before the modern era, beaches embodied not respite but menace. From antiquity until the middle of the 18th century, the oceans and great lakes were a source of food. From their shores journeys began and ended. Not every voyager returned. Classic and medieval narratives abound with tales of the sea as a mysterious and dangerous realm.  The beach epitomized the edge of the unknown. Far from being places of retreat and recreation beaches roused dread and apprehension in human imagination. http://, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/inventing-beach-unnatural-history-natural-place-180959538/

inventing the beach

The Industrial Revolution, the period from 1740 to 1860 transformed largely rural, agrarian societies in Europe and America into industrialized, urban ones. It transformed the seashore as well. As factories multiplied, cities and towns became increasingly louder, dirtier, and a clear threat to health. Some health professionals believed that fresh air, exercise and sea bathing worked as a curative counterpoint to the ravages of the urban environment. The wealthy began to flock to the beaches. Seaside resorts sprung up one after another.

The Romantic writers and artists at the turn of the 19th century added to the allure of the beach. They proclaimed that the seashore was “site of transformative experience.” The beach’s pristine emptiness and its lack of history made it the perfect escape from the drudgery of modern life. It existedVictorians at seaside at the “’pleasure periphery,’ a place beyond the boundaries of quotidian life.”( John Gillis, The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2013/mayjune/feature/the-blue-humanities)

the beach party movie

In the United States in the 1960s a unique twist on the beach escape splashed upon our shores. Adolescents and young adults claimed the beach in increasing numbers. At the beach, kids escaped much more than the drudgery of everyday life. They also took flight from  a culture in turmoil and left behind an older generation that couldn’t be trusted. The Romantic poets had sung the wonders of seaside enlightenment in the 19th century. The 20th century beach revolution found expression in quite a different form. The “Beach Party Movie” was born and remains with us today as witness to escapism at its best.

The stories depicted in those films were set far from Lake Michigan, but the experiences of the characters mirrored to some extent the gatherings along the dune beaches in Indiana and Michigan so dear to my nostalgic heart.

Ocean surfers
Photo by Mauro Paillex

Unlike Romantic poets and painters, Beach Party movie producers had no ambition to create great art. The movies’ characters were undeveloped. Their plots were wafer thin, almost cartoonish. In the early 21st century, they were often recalled as tokens of a more innocent past.  That past wasn’t innocent at all.  It is, however, the movie’s blatant indifference to the real issues of the 1960s that contributed most powerfully to their success. These movies chronicle a particularly vibrant moment in American popular culture, the explosion of rock ‘n roll and the rise of adolescence. They ignore everything else — true narratives of the “pleasure periphery.”

never grow old

Plots revolve around dancing, music, surfing, drag racing, custom cars, and alcohol with no hint of social consciousness. Music dominates dialogue. The movies are filled both with plot-connected songs and unrelated performances by artists of the time. Teens and college kids move in a world in which they are the prime movers. Parents and other authority figures are “off stage” if mentioned at all. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/29007/party-frankie-annette-7-official-beach-party-movies

With all their focus on frolic and fun, they necessarily leave out any reference to the problems plaguing the world outside the beach. Civil rights riots, political assassinations and the Vietnam War are disregarded. The big problem of every movie is a boy-meets-girl drama. The ending is always happy.

While I was in college, my escapes to the beach had a beach-party movie flavor to them.  St. Mary’s College students had strict curfews.  You could never just take off for the whole day. If you had left after lunch, you had to sign back in by five o’clock.  You could then sign out again for an evening. This policy, the nuns in the administration believed, would keep us from straying too far away.  It did not keep us from the beaches.  Fellows from Notre Dame regularly took turns doing the “beach run.” That meant around four in the afternoon, one or two of the guys would pack his car with as many girls as it could hold. The dangerously crowded vehicle then raced at breakneck speed from the Michigan dunes back to St. Mary’s College. The girls piled out, rushed into the dorm reception room, signed in and signed out again.  We then piled back in the car for another harrowing ride back to the beach.

Fire at beach
Photo by Marcus Woodbridge

In retrospect, it sounds crazy, but it was worth it. Those days truly reinvigorated me. For one day I could live on the edge, away from my grinding work in the dorm dining room and the draining demands of my studies. I soaked up the sun, emerged myself in the cool lake waters, and built childish sandcastles.  The guys provided the food and drink and the transistor radios for playing our favorite music. I had no reason to envy Annette Funicello. I learned an important Love Lesson – even the romance that lasts only one summer leaves you richer for the experience.

surviving the vagaries of time
Riot and fire
Photo by Florian Olivo

The beach calls to me again as Covid-19 continues to claim more and more lives, disrupting more and more families and as American cities burn to protest police violence.  A day at the “pleasure periphery” might very well have some of its storied curative power.

But, for now, the beaches are closed. I’ll have to content myself with reading the book my sister Cheryl lent me, Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31931767-same-beach-next-year

Are you yearning to get away right now? If you could do so, where would it be? I’d love to hear your stories of past escapes and present dreams.

Get notified when new blogs are published.

Photo by Joel DeMott

At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides and follow the sun. Sandy Gingras