Back Country Cure

Banff, Canada
permission to disconnect
Man riding horse in wilderness
Photo by Hector Perez

I recently discovered an article in the National Geographic that warmed my heart and spun my memory back three-quarters of a century.

Ray Knell, a Green Beret and a ten-year Afghanistan combat veteran undertook a 1,000-mile wilderness ride from Colorado to Montana along North America’s Continental Divide. He completed his trek using wild mustangs because the horse gave him focus and allowed him to disconnect. This he needed to do to heal his own PTSD. He also hoped to set an example that other traumatized veterans could follow.

an ancient syndrome – a new guise
WW I - Men in trenches
Photo from British Library

The term PTSD didn’t enter my vocabulary until the early 1980s. Many of my classmates, men and women, had served in the armed forces in the Vietnam Conflict. They returned home suffering from a disabling array of mental disturbances. Due to the controversial nature of the war, their suffering may have been worse than that experienced in the past. But it was not a new syndrome. Ancient documents describe post-combat symptoms similar to the high levels of stress and anxiety the young combatants of the 1970s experienced.

One evening after my children were in bed, a close friend from college, now decommissioned and on his way home to St. Paul, stopped to spend the night at our home. He arrived at ten at night, hungry and tired.  I fixed him a B. L.T. “Ah,” he said, “this is the kind of food we dreamed about in ‘Nam.” He and I sat up long past midnight. I tried not to cry as I listened to the horror stories he had to tell. I prayed there would be a source of solace for him once he stepped again on Minnesota soil.

And I finally understood the full meaning of a journey I had taken when I was not quite four years old.

detour on the way home

1946 ChevroletEarly in the morning of the Memorial Day weekend, 1946, my dad John De Jager, slid behind the enormous wheel of his family’s retooled 1942, four-door, Chevy sedan. His right arm across the wide front seat, he checked to make sure all was set in back. His brother, my Uncle Jimmy, sat in the passenger seat, resting a brawny arm along the open car window. In the back I commanded one window seat and my grandmother, the other. My brother John, who was almost two years old, sat on a booster chair between us. The trunk of the car had been piled high with suitcases, and we still had some containers under our feet. As my Dad turned the key and started the big engine, I knelt up and leaned my arms on the back ledge to wave a wild good-bye to family we left standing in the drive-way.

WW II Sailor kissing girl
Photo by Jorge Gardner

World War II had officially ended the September before when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.  Sometime during the winter my uncle had been discharged from the Navy. Throughout the war, he had served on ships in the Pacific as a radar specialist and seldom saw the light of day. On the evening he had returned to us, he swooped in and grabbed me and swung me around the room. Then he plopped his navy cap on my head.  “Here, Judy,” he said. “It’s all yours. I’m done fighting.”

to be whole again
Ranch in Canada
Photo by Jon Phillips

It seemed that we had my dad’s happy-go-lucky brother back. But we didn’t. What I wouldn’t know until later was that Jimmy wasn’t able to concentrate at the job that was waiting for him. He joined his family on Sunday at church, but no longer joined in the hymns. Worst of all nightmares caused him to wake the family in the middle of the night with his screams. The family doctor advised a “rest cure.”

Because his mother had grown-up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, the family decided what Jimmy needed was time away from Detroit, its crowds and its demand. He needed the wide-open spaces and the down-to-earth labor of the ranch to help him regain his equilibrium.

Jimmy wasn’t the only one suffering from the aftermath of the conflict that had taken the lives of millions, leaving the survivors reeling in shock.  My mother’s only brother, John, had died in combat in Belgium, shortly after her father had succumbed to a heart attack. Deep in mourning herself, she struggled to stay strong for her mother.

Grieving older woman
Photo by Christian Newman

My grandmother sat in darkened rooms staring at old photos and shunning society. She had been a woman who loved dancing, singing, cooking and entertaining. She had given the reception for my mother’s wedding in her backyard, doing all the decorations and food preparation on her own. But now, nothing interested her. My mother fear for her mental health. Her concerns for her mother distracted her from caring for my brother and me. She did not, of course, neglect us, but could get no real joy from being a mother.

What I understand today is that my entire family lived under the pall of post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet, they had no name to give it. They only knew the world was at peace, but that peace eluded them.

follow the sun
Yellowstone National Park
Photo by Paula Hayes

The little girl happily waving goodbye from the backseat of the Chevy only knew she was off on an adventure. For my Dad who would be returning to Detroit and my mother, this was his vacation. Everything about it looms in my memory like scenes from a fantasy or a fairy tale. The geysers at Yellowstone National Park both frightened and delighted me. The mountains in Glacier National Park suggested hidden homes of giants and elves. I was certain that the hotel on Lake Louise as we neared our destination was actually a palace.

Our last stop before the ranch was my Great-Grandmother Koopman’s home in Banff. I’ve never forgotten that since wasn’t at home when we arrived. So, my father hoisted me on his shoulders to crawl in through the open kitchen window.  I landed in the sink and scrambled down to the linoleum. It was getting dark and I didn’t know which way to go in the strange house, but my father was shouting, “Find the front door.”

I tentatively peered through a door. No ghosts.  Just a gigantic dining room table and chairs.  I crept around it, holding onto the backs of the chairs as though I needed to be anchored to the floor.  Through an archway, I saw a living room full of plastic-covered heavy furniture, and, thankfully, a big white paneled door. I let go of a chair and ran to the door, twisted the lock and let my family in.  My Great-Gran was quite surprised to find us all sitting in her living room when she arrived home. It was late at night when we turned off the gravel highway onto the rutted, dirt driveway into the ranch, but my Great-Aunt Elsa waited with a lantern on the back porch as we drove up. She engulfed me in a giant bear hug that felt just right.

living with heroes
Cowboy on ranch
Photo by Flo P

From that moment on the whole summer was one magical adventure for me. I trailed my great-aunt wherever she went. Together we fed chickens, milked cows, baked bread, and tended her kitchen garden.  I suppose my little brother was there somewhere, but in my memory, it’s just my great-aunt and me.  I do remember we had a second birthday party for my brother and all the cowhands attended.  The cowhands lent a great deal of mystique to that summer. Their worn, wide-brimmed leather hats and the leather chaps that protected their Levi’s transformed them into mythical creatures for me. I loved getting up at the crack of dawn so I could share their breakfast hour.

daring deeds
Soaring hawk
Phot by Ezequiel Garridao

My other favorite ranch characters were my teenage cousins, who worked the ranch, but took particular pride in protecting the chickens from the hawks. This entailed getting behind the wheel of an enormous pre-War auto and careening around the ranch.  One cousin would drive while the others clung to the running boards, rifles in hand.  They let me ride on the back window ledge for these excursions.  As we hurtled along back and forth, the boys would take aim and more often than not bring down a hawk. Why my great-aunt let me go on such outings I have no idea, but child raising practices were different back then.

some happy endings
Child hugging older woman
Photo by Ekaterina Shakharova

At the end of the summer Dad brought my mother with him to pick us up.  After a summer on the ranch, my uncle felt better able to resume civilian life. had been just what he needed. My parents stayed a few days to rest for the return trip to Detroit. But when it was time to go, I clung to my great-aunt and begged to stay.  I told her, “I want you to be my mommy.” The look of betrayal on my mother’s face is one I’ll never forget.  Yet, I persisted. Instinct warned me perhaps that life with my traumatized mother would never be easy.  But four-year old don’t get to decide their fate. I had to give my great-aunt one last hug and climb in the car.  It was the last time I visited Alberta. Maybe my mother didn’t dare take me back.

“We were not allowed to speak of the unseen wounds of war. We were not allowed to prepare for them.” Thank You For Your Service Brig. General Loree Sutton,

What are your earliest memories of human warfare?

Fate Plays Cupid

Cupid and Psyche
Abstract, couple with childwinning the lottery

In the summer of 2018, I wrote a blog post which I titled, “You Won the Lottery, but You Didn’t Know It.” “The chance,” I wrote, “that you would not be is so far greater than the chance that you would have come into being as the unique person you are is almost incalculable. Literally millions of events in human history needed to occur just the way they did for the moment to arise when your father’s sperm successfully penetrated your mother’s egg. Once this miracle happened, the layers of environments surrounding the tiny zygote from the womb to the universe formed a coherent protective whole that assured you would be born.”

To dwell on this reality can be mind boggling. Just ask yourself, “What if my mom never met my dad?” or “What if my parents met, but never loved?”

That very thing almost happened to me.

dreams can be complicated

In 1935 twenty-year old Peggy Luger, the girl who would be my mother,

Workers during Great Depression
Photo by Sonder Quest

achieved her life-long dream. She graduated from nursing school. Unfortunately, she emerged from the cocoon of nursing school into a chaotic economic crisis. The Great Depression, the severe economic downturn that lasted from 1929 to 1939, affected the whole world.  In the United States, industrial production declined by 47 percent. Mass unemployment increased the rates of poverty and homelessness.

Pittsburg, PA
Photo by Jonathan Rivera

Yet, for Peggy, the immediate future glimmered with hope. Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she had trained, could offer her a position as a ward nurse. Another bright light in Peggy’s life, Frank O’Donnell, had proposed to her the evening of her graduation. She had worked over the past year with Frank, an intern at the hospital. A stocky, personable Irishman with a thick head of black hair and merry grey eyes, Frank had captured a lot of nurses’ hearts. Peggy liked him and she was flattered. She did not, however, feel she knew him well enough to accept his proposal.  Nursing students were not allowed to date. Now that she had graduated, she wanted to get to know him better outside the hospital setting. With supreme confidence that he knew the way to a girl’s heart, Frank agreed to wait for an answer.

first comes family – maybe
Downtown Detroit, MI
Photo by Alex Brisbey

Peggy struggled with another concern. She was considering leaving Pittsburgh because her parents had moved to Detroit, Michigan. Her father had been out of work for three long years, most of the time she had studied nursing. Her mom had kept food on the table by selling cleaning products door-to-door.  Neither of them would listen to Peggy’s pleas that she leave nursing school and help out.  She could help best, they insisted, by becoming a nurse. Last year her father finally found employment. But his new job as a draftsman for a construction company meant he had to move. Peggy’s young brother John had gone with them. Although she had aunts, uncles and cousins in Pittsburgh, her parent’s absence left a huge hole in her heart. She didn’t want to live so far away from them.

Romance must wait

Vintage photo -nurse treating boyShe decided to apply for a position at Providence Hospital in Detroit just to see what happened. Because her grades had been stellar and her recommendations were glowing, the Detroit hospital hired her immediately. A young woman of deep faith, she took this a sign from heaven and moved into her parents’ home on Cherrylawn Avenue on the city’s westside. She promised Frank that it wasn’t the end of their relationship. They could write, she said, and visit each other.  If by the time he graduated, if their love for one another remained steadfast, they could marry and she would move to Pittsburgh.

a father’s friendship

John Luger, Peggy’s dad, enjoyed his new position. He especially found the

Drafting tools
Photo by Lucas Kepner

men he worked with easy-going and cooperative. One of the younger men, who was also named John, he took a particular shine to because that co-worker produced such meticulous work and offered to help others with snags.  Yet, he never pushed himself forward. “Luger,” as the guys at work called him like this tall, well-built, blonde kid’s humble attitude.  He decided to invite him home to meet his family.

“D.J.” as the other John was known, readily accepted.  Because Mrs. Luger (another Peggy) like to impress visitors, she set the table with fine linens and her best china. D.J., used to eating in his family’s farm kitchen, worried he’d use the wrong utensil for something, but more than the setting made him nervous. Luger’s daughter sat across the table from him. Her animated conversation about her patients at the hospital mesmerized him as did her soft, curly light brown hair and huge deep-blue eyes.

enter the rival
1930s soda fountain
https://blog.retroplanet.com/

At work the next day, he asked Luger would it be all right if he asked Peggy to go out for some ice-cream the following Sunday.  The older man thought about the doctor back in Pittsburgh, but didn’t mention him. Instead, he gave D. J. their phone number. When she got the call, Peggy thought about Frank.  He wouldn’t be able to come to Detroit for three more weeks and lately his letters contained fewer and fewer expressions of affection.  It couldn’t hurt to just have ice-cream with another guy.

For the next six months, Peggy held her conscience at bay as she enjoyed the company and the attention of both young men.  D. J. had learned about Frank from her dad, but since she wore no engagement ring, he put faith in being “the bird in the hand.”  But, whenever Frank did come, he stayed in the family home and his dynamism and his plans for his future made it clear that he was the suitor that could offer Peggy the more secure and comfortable life.

love creates a quandary
Leaves, floating in water, form heart
Photo by Roman Kraft

With no real end to the Depression in sight, making a good financial choice couldn’t be just shoved aside.  Besides Peggy really liked Frank.  Mrs. Luger also like Frank and wanted her daughter to marry him, not just because he would be a doctor but because he was Catholic. D.J. had been brought up Presbyterian. Mrs. Luger didn’t hold by “mixed-marriages.”  They always caused trouble she said.  Love wasn’t enough to see a couple through deep religious differences.

Couple walking hand in hand
Photo by Eugenivy

Her mother’s words penetrated her soul, but weren’t proof against the growing chemistry she felt whenever she spent time with D.J. When he laced his strong fingers through hers as the walked in the park, as he traced a finger down her cheek, and when she couldn’t help lay her head on his shoulders at the movies, she felt an electric fissure of pleasure.  When Frank kissed her good-bye before leaving for Pittsburgh every other week, she sensed a solid warmth and security, but there was no zing to it.

She could imagine life without Frank. She tried to picture what it would be like if D.J. dropped out of her life.  No, that wasn’t a possibility she could entertain.

Thus, began the chain of events that led to my conception and that of my siblings – and consequently, any potential children of Peggy Luger and Frank O’Connell were relegated to oblivion.

“if you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.”

Johnny Depp

Did you ever have to choose between two loves?  How did you make it work?

To Ukraine with Love

American flag in field
For better, for worse, but not for a pandemic

Love means being enough for one another – at least, some of the time. That is the most potent lesson, Jay and I are taking away from the pandemic. From the moment we first became a committed partnership, we have instinctively known that we could not fulfill each other’s every need for companionship. As a “sheltered-at-home” older couple, we have been thrust into a place where the principle won’t hold. Jule and jay

The Fourth of July celebration weekend that just passed really brought that home to us. The holiday found us in our own backyard, no fireworks, no BBQ, no gathered family and friends – just raising a glass to each other and toasting the freedom of being alive. The day contrasted sharply with every other Independence Day tribute I can remember. Some have been fairly laid back and others have been spectacularly festive. None has been as staid as this one.

lots of way to celebrate
Fireworks over Chicago
Photo by Antonio Gabola

Being quarantined has spurred me to write these past weeks about escape through travel.  In the past, whenever we remained at home in Chicago for July 4, it was a grand affair.  We joined Jay’s sailing buddies on the deck of the Columbia Yacht Club for the traditional feast and an upfront seat of the spectacular fireworks display the city set off at the end of Navy Pier. And behind us in Grant Park music by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra resounded across the harbor synchronizing John Phillips Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” with the grand finale of the fireworks.

Fairly often, however, we were traveling during the first week of July, which means we shared other people’s traditional festivities. In the summer of 1991, we left behind our whole way of life to explore another world.

an alien place

During our childhood and into our college years, the Russian nation and the other Soviet Republics, were as remote to us as though they had been on another planet. They lay behind the “Iron

Iron curtain
Photo by Artem Sapegin

Curtain,” the frightful barrier between what we understood to be the “free world” and the world of Communist oppression.

Yet, Jay had fallen in love with Russian literature in college and studied Russian so that he might be able to read it in its original language.  Even so, he never believed he might have the opportunity to visit Russia itself. That is how forbidden it felt to us.  And then suddenly it seemed, the curtain fell. (The whole socio-political history behind the dissolution of the iron curtain is far beyond a mere blog. If you are curious about it, I would recommend  the clear, concise The Dissolution of the Soviet Union by Myra M. Immell (Editor) )https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12199957-the-dissolution-of-the-soviet-union?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=x8yWVVPKDW&rank=5

for love of tolstoy
Palace in St. Petersburg
Photo by Dusan Smetana

In January, 1991, I slugged through dirty snow in the face of freezing west winds and into the overly warm interior of De Paul University’s Schmidt Hall.  Being almost anywhere but in the middle of a dreary Chicago winter would have sounded appealing at that moment.  So, it’s not at all surprising that the notice on the bulletin board at the foot of the escalator stopped me in my tracks. “28 Days in Russia. Experience the Land of the Midnight Sun. See St. Petersburg. Moscow. Kiev. $2850.”

Here was my chance to gift Jay with the dream of a lifetime. At the bottom of the poster the name of the sponsoring professor and his phone extension were printed in bold black letters.  My hands were too full to write anything down. So, I just kept repeating the numbers to myself until I reached my fourth-floor office. I tossed my backpack and other paraphernalia on a chair, shrugged out of my coat and, still standing, punched his extension into my phone.

mystique of the unknown

Every detail of the journey Dr. Richard Farkas laid out for me was a further enticement. The trip began in St. Petersburg (which had only that year regained its ancient name) during the time of year when the sun never set. From there we’d fly to Moscow. After three days in Moscow, where we would witness the U.S.S.R.’s first democratic election, the group would fly to Kiev and

Moscow
Phot by Serge Kutuzov

board a river boat for a cruise of the Dnieper River all the way to the Black Sea. Dr. Farkas’ excitement crackled across the line. I listened as a child does to a fairy tale, but this was a story I could actually enter into.

Our journey turned out to be even more magical than I could have imagined. Were I to include all the wondrous moments we experienced, this would turn into a travel blog – and that is not its purpose. Rather my focus is to examine the past in the light of the present to see what they teach me when they sit side by side.

a ukrainian fourth of july

Whenever our American Independence Day celebration rolls around, one particular day of that trip captures my imagination again with the vitality of a stage play.  I still see the colors, hear the sounds, and taste the foods of Fourth of July in the Ukraine.

Our travel companions, who all had some connection to De Paul University, were a motley and delightful crew, ranging from a school janitor to an Illinois Supreme Court judge. And we all loved partying as much as we loved traveling. Every night after a day’s excursion, we gathered to swap tales over vodka, which we had discovered was cheaper than water. When the Fourth of July was imminent, we wondered if we would have to skip the usual celebrations since we were 5,000 miles from “America.”  But Dick, as Professor Farkas had come to be called, had a much better plan. Our river boat was moored for three days in Kiev to allow us to see everything that lovely city had to offer. The final day was July 4.

Dnieper River, Kiev
Photo by Robert Anasch

On that day, the American Consulate in Kiev threw an Independence Day celebration to which we had all been invited.  The picnic took place along the banks of the Dnieper River. To all intents and purposes, it was a true old-fashioned American BBQ. Red-and-white checked table clothes covered long picnic tables. Blazing grills cooked hamburgers and sausages – although they tasted quite different than anything we’d had at home. Cold beers stuck out from deep stashes of ice in giant buckets. And, of course, there was a small bar where a guy in jeans (not easily come by in Russia in those days) was willing to concoct any beverage you could suggest. A small band played patriotic favorites.  Plus, we received red, white and blue baseball caps, embroidered with July 4, 1991, Kiev.

they were beautiful dreams

The counsel gave a touching speech about the growing accord between the United States and the U.S.S.R. and waxed eloquently about the growing freedom for the Russian peoples.  I wish I could remember what he said because my throat constricts when I remember what high hopes, we had for the future of democracy at the beginning of the 1990s.  Yet, as I write this their president has just acquired the right to preside until 2036, and my own country’s president wields his powers like a despot rather than the people’s representative.

picnic -large gathering
Photo by David Tod McCarty

At that time, I was not alone in my optimism. As we partied along the banks of the river, the people of Kiev sat along the hillside on either side.  Some groups of families had picnics with them.  Others simply viewed the American celebration as though it were a spectacle put on to entertain them.  Maybe it was to some extent.  In less than two months, on August 24, 1991, the Ukraine would declare her freedom from the U.S.S.R., an act that would encourage several other former Soviet Republics to revolt as well.

Was all that optimism misplaced? What the world has since witnessed is not a resounding evolution of democracy across the globe. Certainly not. Things are considerably messier than that. Scary much of the time.  Encouraging every once in a while. Still, I smile as I recall that wonderful day almost thirty years ago.  This year I feast on memories rather than barbecue.

What Fourth of July celebrations do you remember with special fondness?

low angle of statue of liberty
Photo by Burgess Milner

”It is necessary to fully revive in the party the atmosphere of principled attitude, openness, discussion, criticism and self-criticism, conscious discipline, party comradeship and unconditional personal responsibility and business-like approach.” Mikhail Gorbahev, June 18, 1988

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1988/06/28/Quotes-on-key-subjects-Gorbachev-addressed-at-Communist-conference/6271888122941/

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

Normal Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Castel in tropics
Just an intermission?
Marque re. CoVid
Photo by Nick Bolton

When impact of the present pandemic hit home, the “new normal” became the big new buzz phrase.  Way back in February, many anticipated a couple of weeks of “shelter at home” and then back to “normal.” But here it is summer. And normal still eludes us.

If we are honest, we admit that even when social distancing loosens up and most businesses are no longer shuttered, our day-to-day reality will be significantly altered.  “Normal” will evade definition. We began 2020 in a place to which we can never return. Hence – the “New Normal.”

unsettling times

The cataclysmic sweep of CoVid-19 across our entire world has caused the idea of normal to appear to be an illusion of sorts. It may be that this is the year in which the word “normal” disappears from our vocabulary.

This is my second go round with a norm-shattering communal hurricane. It comes almost exactly fifty years after the first one, the year 1969.

My personal life altered overnight when, without medical rhyme or reason, five years of infertility ended. I conceived a child and gave birth to a baby girl. But my return to a traditional trajectory of womanhood played out against a backdrop of political and cultural turmoil that packed into a single year enough counter-cultural phenomena to fill a century.

Photo by Jay Wennington

The world in which my daughter celebrated her first birthday was not the world into which she had been born. The earthquake that was 1969 produced a “new normal” that meant she and I grew up in the same geographic location, but in alien lands.

Because of my youth, I welcomed the changes with open arms. The brave new world excited me. Throwing off the shackles of centuries of prejudice liberated my soul. I rejoiced for my children. At the same time, I celebrated at a distance. Being the mother of an infant daughter meant my immediate struggles were of a more mundane nature.

every kind of revolution

While David Reuben’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask shocked many, it became an instant best seller, which made it possible for the next generation to have a healthier and more realistic attitude toward sexual intimacy. For Jay and I, it provided a guide to a subject forbidden to Catholics – birth control. It took family planning out of the murky shadows into the clear light of reason. We could not know at the time that in making “more rational” decisions about when to have our children, we had also paved the way to interior religious freedom, a more profound transformation.

This clash of conservative and liberal ideologies resounded in multiple assemblies in 1969. Jay and I, mired in domesticity, became armchair activists. The summer before Jay had joined the protesters as they marched from Lincoln Park to the Democratic Convention. Two years before I had walked the street as a striker, demanding better more equitable pay for country employees. In 1969, we watched as others took up the pickets. Live television coverage of the tumultuous events of that year brought war, protest, and riot into our living room.

out in space

We witnessed inspiring moments such as when we jammed into a

Amstrong on the moon
Photo by History HD

neighbor’s tiny apartment living room with about twenty young parents and almost as many babies, all eyes glued to the fourteen-inch screen as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of moon. There was absolute silence in the room.  Even the little ones hushed their voices as he recited, “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.”  And we believed it too. We grew up listening to space adventures on the radio and following space heroes in the comic books.  In some ways it’s hard to believe that “Star Wars” is still a fantasy.

playing to the herds and the nerds

With less pride, but no less excitement, we tuned into Woodstock, that glorious fiasco that ripped the curtain off any hope that the old order

crowds at Woodstock
Photo by Markus Spiske

could stand. We tuned in to hear the music, but stayed glued to the tube by scenes of “debauchery.” It would take months before the full story of what happened when 300,000 music fanatics showed up instead of the expected 50,000.  But one of the inevitable results was the same as one being anticipated in our present predicament – more babies.

The cultural shift did not limit itself to the “hippies” milling around on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Right in the heart of New York City itself earlier that summer, Oh, Calcutta had opened on Broadway. Since

Live Nude Marque
Photo by Alex Haney

full-frontal nudity was central to this production, it did not appear on our television screens, but we read about it in the Chicago Tribune, and discussed it with friends over beers on the common patio of our apartment complex.  In those days of “never trust anyone over thirty,” the general consensus among us was that censoring the play was an abuse of power. On the other hand, none of us was quite ready to shell out for the tickets when it came to Chicago.

waging peace

Of all the grand events that took place that year, the one that moved me the most was the Moratorium against the Vietnam War that swelled up in the Autumn. Sitting home while the protestors marched in cities around the world tore at our souls. Two million Americans of all ages and backgrounds took to the streets and assembled in churches, schools and meeting halls. Dr. Spock broke out of his persona as the optimistic childcare expert to address the rally in Washington. That more than anything made me realize that all those people were marching, protesting, demonstrating to protest the sweet baby in my arms. But I couldn’t bring myself to take her into the streets.

I couldn’t convince Jay to go. He held that as an Assistant State’s Attorney he was an official representative of law and order. That status forbade his participation. So, even at the domestic level skirmishes between the old order and the new played out. I feel certain ours was not the only household to witness such a divide. Love for us triumphed over political difference. We refocused even more intently on building a good life for our daughter.

Rob Kilpatrick’s enlightening and entertaining book, 1969:The Year Everything Changed, http://(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6139711-1969) cover the immense scope of the  sweeping changes that zipped through every aspect of human life that year. Then as now committed, however, loving relationships thrived, families grew and prospered, hearts broke, elders passed on, and in a thousand other ways everyday life moved steadfast as the rising and setting of the sun.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Whatever is has already been,
    and what will be has been before;

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3&version=NIV

Flowers at sunrise
Photo by Olga Filonenko

There are many important events from that year that I haven’t room to include.  What do you remember about 1969?  How did it influence your life? Or was there another year that changed “everything” for you?

 

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