Thursday, July 16, 2015

One Christian Woman’s View on the Outlander Series

Two years ago a neighbor of mine named Pamela was excited to discover that I was a writer. She knew I was of Scots-Irish descent and that I like strong female lead characters in the books I write as well as those that I read. She asked me if I had time to read just one more book. I flatly told her that I didn’t have time. I had my own novels to complete. She insisted, and handed me a paperback. I sat in her living room and contemplated the thick blue book she’d reverently placed in my hands, an almost worshipful look in her eyes. I handed it back to her and said, “I can’t take your book, it must mean a lot to you.”

“That’s quite all right,” she insisted. “The author signed the entire series for me, in hardback! You can keep this copy.”

Then Pam began to tell me the tale of Claire Randall, an army nurse enjoying her first real vacation just after World War Two. She is on her second honeymoon with her beloved husband Frank, a man she knows very little about because their respective assignments with the British army had separated them shortly after their wedding. She and Frank are attempting to rekindle their love in Scotland, enjoying the countryside when Claire finds herself at a small version of Stonehenge. She is transported back two hundred years, but in her disorientation doesn’t realize the full impact of her journey. At first she thinks she’s found herself in the middle of a historical reenactment.

Claire thinks she sees Frank, but the man before her is actually a distant relative of his, serving in the army of King George. Clad in full redcoated malevolence, “Black Jack” Randall will take advantage of any situation. Usually Randall’s favorite prey is young men, but Claire is alone and he is a cruel, mean opportunist. He seizes Claire, about to have his way with the helpless time traveler, when a Scotsman takes her captive, in essence saving her. She later meets a wounded Scot named Jamie, a chieftain of the Clan MacKenzie. During their Journey to a stark grey castle, Claire tends to Jamie’s bullet wound and resets a dislocated shoulder. She later becomes a healer to the people at Castle Leoch. (Thus begins an adventure that I later discovered contains eight books with more to come.)

Pamela spent at least a half hour telling me what I summed up in the synopsis above. She smiled, showed me her hardback copies signed by author Diana Gabaldon, then handed me the paperback once more. “. . And I hear that casting has begun to make a movie of the first book! Here, give Outlander a chance.” Her dogs were panting. It was a hot, humid July evening. I was literally itching to leave at this point. She looked at me, imploring me to read the story. “It’s historical fiction.”

I, like most Mormons, participate in genealogy and love history, so I acquiesced and told her I would read the novel. I took it home and never opened it. In the winter I returned to the desert and placed the paperback on a shelf, where it remained unopened. The following spring, my daughter and I both began to read Outlander and I even listened to it on a CD borrowed from the library. I was in for a surprise, led into a very sensual, well written story. The plot, subplots and scenes sometimes left me shaken. Many times I felt like I was alongside Claire in her harrowing adventures.

My daughter Marie later found out that a television series was in the works, more than just the movie that Pam had gushed about. I had so much to share with my Outlander-loving friend! I called Pam’s phone, left messages and also texted to tell her how exciting the book was, but never heard from her. I found it strange, but I knew she had a horse and was busy with grooming and riding, so when I returned to Michigan I knocked on Pam’s door. She didn’t answer. I tried a few days later. Still no answer. I found it strange that her dogs weren’t barking like they usually did whenever I knocked. Pam wasn’t one to hang out on Facebook, but when she didn’t even respond to the birthday wishes left on her timeline, I began to worry. I found out from a young lady later that month that Pam had suddenly moved away. She’d had terminal cancer and hadn’t told anyone except those closest to her. My friend was gone; taken from this earth. I was in a momentary state of shock. My mind was floating in a purgatory-like frame-of-mind, I had nobody that I could share the Outlander adventure with.

Later in August, the real adventure began. I was heart-sick that Pam couldn’t share in it. Producer Ron Moore and the STARZ Channel gave Outlander fans what they’d been waiting for, the series “Outlander,” an epic drama combining romance, history, science fiction and very realistic battle scenes. The cinematography and score are beautiful in their own right, braiding and knotting Diana Gabaldon’s stories into a beautiful, gripping saga. . .and there is controversy, at least among Americans.

The show is European in style and most of us are not used to nudity. Let me point out to those of you reading my blog, this is not pornography. It may be classified as erotica, but even then I personally would not call it that. The episodes feature nudity, but the love-making is between a husband and his wife. Without giving all plotlines away and spoiling the stories for potential viewers, the groom is a virgin man, a Catholic, who honors the virtue of womanhood. It is better explained in the novels, but he will not take advantage of a woman’s heart. There are a couple episodes dealing with rape and an honorable young man is tortured and sodomized by Black Jack Randall, the previously mentioned sadistic Redcoat. The poor lad is violated both body and soul. Former military nurse Claire is the only one who has 20th Century knowledge of how to heal his wounds, but how will she mend his soul? She confesses her plight to a robed man of God in a monastery that she and her Scottish rebels have taken shelter in. The monk gently listens to her tale of time travel and calls it a miracle. He urges her to bring the sexually abused Scottish warrior back to the light. I found this refreshing. Many times Christian beliefs are maligned in our modern media.

Bringing her beloved patient back to what is light and good and Holy prove to be a challenge as the lad has pledged his soul and body to the Redcoat devil, Black Jack. The victim’s God-father suggests that Claire may have to step into the darkness herself to bring the scarred and branded man back into the light. The poor youth’s mind is so broken from the cruel psychological games and alcohol that the he partially blames himself for being repeatedly violated by Black Jack. The Redcoat had already attempted to rape both the man’s sister and spouse. Claire must bring the lad back to his senses and make him believe that none of this was his fault.

I will admit, although I am only part way through the book series and I just watched the last episode of the first season, there are times I just have to step away. Due to my own life experience and trauma, the last things I want to witness are violence, battles, blood and psycho-sexual torture; but I want to read the entire series. I’m also considering the companion books in the Lord John Grey Series.

As much as I love “Outlander” on STARZ I will warn you, my readers, this show is not for the faint of heart. It is rated for Mature Audiences. The scenes can be gory and heart wrenching. Seeing a man die after a boar hunt was perhaps the most heartbreaking episode in the first season for me, next to the scenes where Black Jack Randall takes a mallet to his current prisoner’s hand, delivering powerful, repeated blows meant to cripple the victim. There is full frontal nudity, both male and female. The sexual scenes, while not meant to arouse, may do just that. The aforementioned young couple is newly married and very much in love. I personally would have preferred a version that would leave more to the imagination.

The bottom line is author Diana Gabaldon has weaved a tale that, although it begins in Scotland and contains the supernatural, tells the story of why there was an American Revolution. The wild, freedom-loving Scots were denied their culture, their local government and the man they believed was king was replaced by a false king—George the Second. He was later succeeded by his grandson George the Third (the King of England during the American Revolutionary War). The Scots, many of whom were shipped to the American Colonies and then sold into indentured slavery following Culloden, were not about to live under tyranny again.

To me, the Outlander series tells the story of freedom and America. The show is igniting and reigniting people to think about what freedom means. It goes beyond fireworks and a weekend off work. It is the right to think and believe and survive without being compelled by a king or any government. It reminds us that we the people make and keep the laws, not a king or a few people in a central government. It means that the citizens will make their own informed decisions and rule themselves by the laws of God despite power-hungry politicians that believe they know better than free-minded individuals.

If the series encourages viewers to think about where their ancestors came from and what they ultimately fought for then that’s only the beginning. I hope that Ron Moore’s television series based on Diana Gabaldon’s book will never sanitize the horrors of war or become politically correct. History is history, something to learn from, a launching point to discuss political issues, not gloss them over. Romance and a little divine intervention are interwoven into this tale to make it sell, of course. In the meantime, I fully intend to enjoy the scenery. While I’m at it, I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Welcome to the Highway California

Back in the old days, in the 1960s, there were just maps. There were no MapQuest, Google maps, Google Earth, GPS etc. You took it at face value that the Atlas you held in your hands was correct. If it showed a straight road in an unfamiliar state, you hoped and prayed it was correct. Before that, in the days of pioneers and explorers, men made their own maps. In 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out to explore a portion of North America to find a route west, hopefully one that could be traversed by water. Of course, they needed an experienced guide to show them the way and ask directions. They found that woman -- Sacagawea a Shoshone. They had no GPS, no maps, just a will to explore the unknown.

"No GPS!" You gasp. Ah, dear young reader of mine, the common citizens did not have GPS technology at their fingertips until a decade ago. I don't even think our government did in the 1960s when the following story takes place. Even with this wonderful technology, I know of people in the desert who were led to the ends of cliffs because their GPS said the road continued. It happened to some tourists from Israel about seven years ago who were visiting the canyon lands of Arizona and Utah. Someone couldn't wait to pee, so a driver stopped one of the rental vehicles part-way through their trek in the middle of the desert. As the boy began to relieve himself he said, "We're at the edge of a cliff!" Had they gone farther in the dark, their caravan would have plummeted, taking the families to their deaths.

Which brings me to my story. My daughter and I spent her recent spring break in Death Valley. (I hate the desert with a passion; still too blazing hot even in March.) Anyway, sometimes we got lost, or at least I thought we were because the maps my daughter and I were using weren't accurate. I'd just go a little farther and sure enough, we'd be where we hoped to go. At some point, I got to thinking about a family story. (Note to readers hoping to visit Death Valley, DON'T. Okay, you still want to go. Take water, about a gallon per person per day, and if a guidebook says you can travel a dirt road and that four wheel drive is not required, you still need four-wheel-drive and a high clearance vehicle, but I digress.)

About 1962, before I was born, my dad drove my mom and sisters to California in his station wagon. Almost to their destination, he and my mother studied a map. My German-born mother, no Sacagawea, said, "This road looks shorter," so my dad agreed to take it because he valued her opinion. I still don't know why; he was Scots-Irish and Cherokee and had a keen sense of direction. My mother on the other hand, bless her heart, got lost in the super-market or on her way to garage sales.

The road, possibly California State Route 130*, started out paved but then, became dirt, then rocks, then boulders. A narrow one-lane path most of the way, it was washed out in spots, and began to ascend, at first gradually. Soon it was no more than a deer-path as my dad called it, with steep drop-offs and serious grades. He had to stop several times, he was sweating so badly. Dad said his sight went all white even, for a brief few seconds. The way zigged and zagged, having several switch-backs and hair-pin turns. He feared that another car, picking up speed with the pull of gravity, might come down one of the curves as he creeped up the path. My oldest sister Jeanette recalls looking out the window, seeing how close the car was to the side of the mountain. She feared falling off the edge on the other side. Jeanette remembers that she and the three other family members in the station wagon were the only people on the road. Would anybody find them if they careened to their deaths? (Even as recently as about fifteen years ago, an elderly couple who went missing were found at the bottom of Arizona's Virgin River Gorge, months after they were last seen. They were still in their van, strapped in their seatbelts, not much more than skeletons and dried sinew.)

The journey continued as the sun got low on the horizon, but there was no place to rest, no place to turn around. Soon, night fell. According to my sister Margie, "Not a peep was heard while we traveled on that road." Finally after tense, bone jarring hours upon hours they found a real highway and proceeded on their way.

Several years later, George Pierrot had a guest, possibly Stan Midgley, on his show "George Pierrot Presents". The guest discussed the worst roads in the country and he said by far the most dangerous was the exact same one that my dad had driven! Mr. Pierrot commented, something like, "Wouldn't it be sad if some poor fool were to get lost on that trail, thinking it was a short-cut, not knowing what he was up against?"

The guest replied, "There isn't anyone that stupid. The man would be a fool! Something like that would never happen!" Well, my dad sure felt pretty low when it happened and then again when the show was broadcast.

So the moral of this story is, even with the best technology or a colorful map, use good judgment and common sense. My Papa had common sense. He was a well-read man. He was an experienced man who served in the Navy and even he was caught in a dangerous situation. Additionally, if you ever survive a similar experience, be sure to tell the story and see the humor in it as my father did, years later, because there is more to life than just survival. There is also laughter around a good campfire. Now, turn off your computer and go make history.

*Note, if I can find or verify the actual route, I will update this blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Responsibility, my take on "Out of the Blue" at ArtPrize

Twenty-three years ago, just before my husband and I purchased a beautiful Rottweiler puppy from a responsible breeder, I read a book penned by an expert who worked with dogs in the military. You see, I did my research. I wanted a wonderful family dog, one that would also defend my family in our Detroit-Metro area home. My husband liked Rottweilers and my best friend raised them. The author discussed each and every breed, its origins, the original work these canines did, and modern day uses for these breeds. He didn't malign Rottweilers or even German Shepherds. The only breeds he DID NOT recommend for families were the pit breeds and Dobermans. Why? Because in the case of pits and associated canines, the meticulous breeding used to refine a killing, fighting machine. For Dobies, it was the fact that they only came into being to be used for guard duty and ONLY guard duty. He went on to explain that despite a few bad apples, most other dogs made great family pets. For instance, Rotties were used to herd cattle; German Shepherds were used to guard sheep, etc. As for aggressive dogs, many can bite. The larger the canine the more likely harm and death may occur. When you put two or more of these dogs, or any dogs, in what they perceive as THEIR territory they will suddenly go into instinct mode and form a pack mentality.

Recently at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a multi-media piece called "Out of the Blue" was put on exhibit. It was a memorial to the victims of deadly dog maulings. Just the facts were posted. There were many breeds featured. Unfortunately the pitty-lovers, screamed foul and said the memorial was putting their pit-bulls in an unfair spotlight. MANY OF THESE PEOPLE DIDN'T EVEN SEE THE EXHIBIT BEFORE COMPLAINING! About thirty more people picketed the art piece, disrespecting the fact that this was a memorial to the victims of deadly dog attacks perpetrated by several breeds. They went on to say that it's irresponsible owners that should be blamed. I agree. I see way too many irresponsible owners of all breeds. They let their dogs harass children, pets, livestock. . . lawns.

The thing is, too many pit-bull owners are irresponsible. For instance the ones that use the breed as a street-cred symbol, much like other people use lap dogs in purses as a status icon in their life-styles. These are the kinds of individuals that continue to fight pit-bulls and breed the most aggressive canines. This has been going on for decades. These folks use their pits and mixes to defend illegal activities. That kind of irresponsible ownership and poor breeding has done nothing to improve the progeny of the breed and related dogs. Unfortunately I see way too many people arguing about pit-bulls, too many robotic responses on forums and on facebook. It isn't just pits. It’s a fact that any dog can attack out of fear or instinct. Any owner, including me, can be baffled by an escape artist (please, see my previous post “Dog-gonnit!" for more information) but a loose pit-bull is like a loaded cannon careening down the hillside. It is like a satellite falling to the earth. Its ancestors were bred to fight and hold on tight. My father was in awe of these dogs when he hunted boar with his cousin’s husband in Hawaii in the 1950s.

Personally, I'd rather confront one little cocker-spaniel with a bad hair day than a Cane Corso or a couple of Staffordshire Terriers. Pitbull ownership is like gun ownership. Don’t leave your guns lying around for strangers and toddlers to play with. Don’t let your hounds run loose to chase horses, rip cats in half and tear out the throats of children. In a worse-case scenario, if your loving family pet wanders around, it might get picked up by someone who fights dogs and could be used horribly to experience a short, violent life. Be responsible for the sake of your dog and the community.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Detroit -- Memories and Reality

(Liesa, Marie, Shilo and Greg)

Entrepreneur and ESPN commentator Emily Gail had it right when she coined the phrase, “Say nice things about Detroit”. I recently returned to the city of my birth and was amazed by what I saw: people walking downtown, new homes and gleaming buildings!

I’d planned to spend a weekday afternoon with my cousins enjoying the Detroit Institute of Arts. Afterwards, Greg Owen, who works for Chrysler, offered to show us around the city. I’d mainly wanted to visit Delray, where I’d been born and Palmer Woods where my grandmother had worked as a maid for the family of George W. Mason. Cousin Greg took us all around the city, from east to west, south to north and into the heart of Motown.

What I saw surprised me. Downtown was vibrant. There were people actually walking on the streets enjoying Starbucks. Many of them were dressed in nice clothes and suits, walking to and from their jobs. The new Comerica Park Stadium was busy. The Tigers had just won a game and happy fans were streaming out of the park. This gave us the opportunity to view new condominiums, many of them built in the fashion of the old brownstone-style homes that had been restored. There were actually businesses that, to me at least, appeared to be thriving. Pedestrians were smiling and many were heading to the variety of restaurants in town. I witnessed busses on the streets driving passengers to their destinations. I hadn’t seen the city so alive and cheerful since I was a little kid. Yes, I actually do remember the late 1960s, my father lifting me onto his shoulders as I watched parades pass before my tiny, wonder-filled eyes. Then we’d watch the enormous American flag as it was unfurled down the side of the beautiful Hudson’s building, the banner’s stars and stripes causing many to blink back tears. All the while I would be eyeing the balloon vendors, hoping my daddy would buy me one of those double-filled beauties with the Mickey Mouse balloon inside of the transparent one. (Yes, I do remember it, clear as the day it happened. Ask anyone who knows me well; I remember my childhood and very few details are lost to me.)

Then, there were the riots. There was crime. Coleman Young was elected as Detroit’s mayor and things were supposed to get better, but they didn’t. Contrast that with nearby Dearborn which was run tight-fisted and as some said, fascist style by Mayor Orville Hubbard; but you know what? Decades passed during that era with few gang problems and fewer shootings in Hubbard’s territory. My uncle Raymond Kohl was an auxiliary policeman in Dearborn and nobody questioned any city employee or peace officer. It was known for miles around, that the city of Dearborn ran a tight ship. Contrast that with Detroit in the 1970s. Raymond’s day job was driving a city bus for Detroit. His baritone, authoritative voice kept many young trouble-makers in line when they rode his bus. Not all drivers were as respected as Raymond. Even taxi drivers were beat pretty badly, some murdered, while trying to earn a living for their families.

Meanwhile things just got worse in Motown. Every night before Halloween, affectionately called “Devil's Night” by the locals, homes and businesses would be set on fire and burned to the ground. Many of these structures were abandoned and some were not. People were fleeing Detroit by the thousands every year, taking their businesses and taxes with them. Mayor Coleman Young called this retreat “The White Flight” but residents past and present knew it had nothing to do with race. It was the fact that Detroit police were over-worked and not allowed to do their jobs. Many times the cops themselves would be shot at. It didn’t matter if they were black, white or Hispanic; the uniform made them a target.

Once-beautiful neighborhoods were left to crumble. Incredibly sturdy well-built homes and the surrounding buildings that boasted architecture that was rivaled by few other cities were left to the crack-heads and working girls. The few families that stood their ground were threatened. Despite the fact that some individuals maintained their homes and yards, many times thugs tossed Molotov cocktails through home owners’ windows. We had friends in Delray that put out three fires in 1989. This family held out and remained steadfast until Steve died and his mother Katy was moved to a convalescent home in Allen Park.

Detroit schools were going down in quality every year. The curriculum was hard to follow despite dedicated teachers and administrators. The few students that tried to study were subject to beatings, rapes and the menacing specter of the drug culture that surrounded most neighborhoods. Communities in the Detroit Metro Area were later hit in the solar plexus when many automobile factories and steel mills closed down or moved their operations away to other states and countries. People who were already tightening their belts had to tighten them even further and what happened in Detroit did not stay in Detroit: it rippled into the Downriver region, into the Great Lakes states and affected America, stabbing at the economy, causing wounds and tears.

Yet, just like Nero watched Rome burn, Mayor Coleman Young and the city council, and later Kwame Kilpatrick and his cronies, bled the taxpayers of Detroit to death. Like a swarm of mosquitoes, they set their money sucking sights upon the people of Wayne County, viewing their taxes and community coffers as an endless source of cash. All the while, the city of Detroit and its people were still bleeding. A band-aid wasn’t even available when what was really needed was a tourniquet. City officials wanted more and more financial resources from the county and state. What could have been an easy fix at one time became the worst urban decay in the nation.

Still, the good people of Detroit and the surrounding areas were not going to give up. Individuals and private businesses began to creep back in. Sadly, the old Tiger Stadium was demolished, but the Comerica Park was built. The powers behind Detroit Tigers Baseball could have very easily decided to sell the team or build in another city, but they didn’t. Urban renewal followed, and maybe even Coleman Young’s dream of a “Renaissance” began to take root.

Later in the afternoon, my cousins and I drove to the historic old Train Depot. It‘s fenced off, but the good news is restoration’s in the works. Someday soon, trains will once again deliver passengers to Detroit. Next year’s Cubs versus Tigers game may be enjoyed after a leisurely train ride from Chicago!

Greg drove us into Little Mexico. Businesses were thriving and people were walking around. We drove by the Packard plant. We turned down an ally. That was the only time I was truly scared. A party was in full swing. People were dancing. Children were playing. Then it all stopped as the participants eyed us warily and Greg put the car into reverse. For a moment I recalled the recent beating of Steven Utash who after running-over a small child that had darted out in front of his car, was beaten nearly to death by angry young men who lived up and down that street. You see, it’s incidents like this that make people think really hard about venturing into the heart of Detroit. Many times they will choose to spend their money somewhere else.

We drove to Belle Isle and I was so happy to hear that this once picturesque island had been taken over by the state. Things looked beautiful again as we drove past the picnic areas and aquarium. We got out of the car and headed for the fountain. Water bubbled and sprayed out of the lions’ mouths and many tourists were taking photographs near the great, white statues. Memories flooded back to my mind, of sitting by my father as we posed beside the fountain taking similar pictures during family outings.

Sure as clockwork, the fountain brought another thought to my brain and I had to walk to the restroom. I actually felt safe as I used the island’s facilities. They could have used a good cleaning, but they were modern and in working order.

The tour hadn’t ended. We drove through some communities that had seen better days, maybe close to a century ago. Houses were burnt shells of the happy homes they once were. Trees grew through some structures. The few places that were still standing were boarded up. Some people milled around the porches and glared at us. I truly feared this seedy side of Detroit as anyone with common sense would.

Greg’s car drove past Fort Wayne. It was gratifying to see that there are reenactments and tours offered there occasionally, but this neglected historic site needs some attention. This is the location where Ulysses S. Grant was a young soldier in training. As a distraction from long hours spent in the classroom, near constant drilling and lessons on strategy, the young Grant raced horses up and down the streets of Detroit. This was long before there were motor cars and his horse carried him fast and far. Grant is the only President, so far in history, to have ever lived in Detroit. In fact as of this writing, his one-time Greek Revival-style home still stands, and anywhere else in these United States, it would be considered a historic monument.

Going back even further, although war had not been officially declared, some of the first shots of the War of 1812 were fired in July of that year, from a battlement that stood at one time very near Fort Wayne, in the vicinity called the "Sand Hill at Springwells". There is a street named Springwells that exists today, which Greg traversed despite its potholes, to locate my old hometown of Delray. Today this community’s most famous one-time citizen is retired Brain Surgeon and author, the respected and much loved Dr. Benjamin Carson. Delray was at one time a mostly Hungarian neighborhood.

On the way, near one of the rare businesses that's still in operation, seagulls feasted upon their dead and dying comrades. It takes a lot to kill a seagull. They are affectionately known as “sky-rats” among the people I know. Their busy beaks tore through feathers to get at the stringy, tough flesh of the deceased.

Despite roads that had long since crumbled, walled on all sides by falling abandoned bars and empty grocery stores, we managed to make our way to West End and later Bacon Street. I was amazed and delighted to see that this was one of the few places that still had occupied homes. I looked at a house and read the address. My eyes hadn’t deceived me! My Uncle Elmer’s home was still standing and obviously cared for! I wanted to stay and meet the occupants, but it was getting late and we still hadn’t had dinner, so we drove north to Indian Village. The homes there have always been cared for and as always, the lawns were neat and the streets were hugged by ancient trees, embraced by them almost like a mother’s tender touch.

Next we headed for Palmer Woods to see the home of George Walter Mason and his wife Hazel Bisbee-Mason. More than half a century ago, my grandmother Zona worked as a maid and cook in their home. (George Mason was the head of Kelvinator Corporation when in 1936 he was approached by Charles W. Nash, founder of Nash Motors. Mr. Nash was searching for someone to take the helm of his corporation. The Nash-Kelvinator Corporation which later joined forces with Hudson Motors, became the better-known American Motors Corporation in 1954.) Hazel Bisbee-Mason was so fond of Zona that when my grandmother left the service of the Mason family, Mrs. Mason offered her anything she wanted from the home. At first Zona declined, not wanting to take what she hadn’t actually earned, but Mrs. Mason insisted. Thinking very hard, Zona asked for the wood and glass tea service (a small table), which was handed down to me, and I still have today.

I told this story to my daughter and her third cousin Shilo who sat in the back of Greg’s vehicle. We neared the Palmer Woods home, close to a golf course, turning onto Hamilton and Fairway where the Mason home stands with its neighboring mansions. These regal homes look as if they belong to a different era, one of success and better days – and they did, but these houses also belong to the Detroit of the future.

National chains like Wholefoods Market are moving in. Private businesses like Motor City Candleworks and investors of all kinds are putting business back into Detroit. Recently an emergency manager was appointed. This hasn’t made everyone happy, but a sick patient needs a qualified surgeon, and so far, bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr and his team appear to be stitching up Detroit, a city that was bleeding out but still has a lot to give and a lot to live for; a city that, like a Phoenix, is rising from the flames.

Now we can choose to tell that patient, our city of Detroit that it will die a horrible death. On the other hand, we can be a part of the rehabilitation of our old soldier, one who is fighting to stay alive. We as Michigan citizens, past and present can think of creative ways to be a part of Detroit’s life, here and now. There is so much to see and do, places to live downtown and mass transit to get you where you need to go. Give it a try. You may also find yourself saying nice things about Detroit.

[Please Note: I wrote the bulk of this story in July. Before I posted this, my daughter suggested I read “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff. Afterwards, I read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. I did not change my post, but I am not looking at Detroit with the same “Rose-colored” glasses that I peered through back in July. I still believe in Detroit, but realistically I believe that the old-guard politics, politicians and policies that have had a strangle-hold on Detroit and most of eastern Michigan should be replaced by the common sense ideas that Dr. Benjamin Carson writes about. I would like to thank Liam Collins, Ruth Puckett and Daryl Puckett for some of the historical research that contributed to this blog entry.] ***** Photos two, three and four, courtesy of Shilo Jaynes are of Belle Isle and two homes in Palmer Woods***** Last Photo ca 1945 Mason Home -- unknown photographer

Friday, August 8, 2014

Precious Gems, What we are, What we may Become

My dear, late mother Ann appreciated jewelry. She would peruse garage sales and flea markets for real precious stones, gems and fine metals such as gold and silver. Many times when I was out of school during the summer she would drag me along for my keen, young eyes. I would read the markings and engravings at the ends of clasps and inside rings. She bought broken items and tangled necklaces many times. Some evenings we’d sit around our kitchen table with my father, repairing and untangling the pieces. Frequently my mother would carry out her jewelry box and fix her own favorite items.

My parents would smile at each other and tell stories about some of the pieces: The time my dad bought her ring or when he brought back pearls from Japan, purchased during his stint in the Navy. I learned a great deal from these evenings, not just in relation to jewelry and gemstones, but also concerning life and the individuals we meet. During these jewelry repair evenings, my dad would tell stories. I learned that there are plain-looking rocks called geodes that have precious crystals inside. If we just crack the ugly crust we can see the sparkling insides. Some people are like that. Once we break through the outer layers, there may be a shining beauty inside that we did not expect to find! Likewise, gemstones need to be tumbled continuously with a substance called grit until a beautiful, precious stone is revealed. Many of us go through our mortal existence, getting tumbled around; the grittiness of life sometimes hurting us deeply until the day that our true beauty shines forth at the end of our trials. Growing up, I felt that I wasn’t as pretty or fashionable as the other girls. My dad explained that I was a diamond in the rough. He said that when he was a young boy, his mother told him that beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone. If someone is rotten inside, no matter how you try to dress it up and paint it, their foul, repulsive core remains in there. My father said that I was good inside and beautiful on the outside, too. He said all I needed was a little polishing and that would come in time. The boys couldn’t see that yet; but the right man would, someday.

My mother was especially fond of her strands of pearls. She said there were plenty of fakes out there: glass beads and plastic that held no value past the fondness we might hold for a souvenir or the person that gave it to us. Likewise there are people who might want to make themselves look special to fool us, but inside they are fake and hollow. They just want to fool the world. They have nothing worthwhile inside themselves to offer other folks. My mother warned me even then to be wary of fraud and individuals who lie in wait to cheat. She went on to teach me about real pearls. I learned that at the center of each pearl, there is a grain of sand or some other irritant that causes the small sea animal that harbors the piece of offending matter to produce layer after layer of nacre. That minute thing becomes a pearl and is later harvested. It is considered a precious item of natural beauty. We may also have a little something that irritates us and we too can make the best out of it, creating a thing of precious splendor. We can do this by having a positive attitude in the worst of circumstances. I know when I was younger, I hadn’t yet learned this virtue.

In the early 1980s my parents and I went to a gem and jewelry show at Detroit Michigan’s Renaissance Center. We spent the weekend shopping for unique stones and things. My parents brought something else home instead. The first day of the exposition, we spoke to a young woman from Arkansas who clearly had her hands full. She was minding her table and wares all by herself and could barely manage to keep her toddler out of trouble. The lady explained that her husband was busy back in Arkansas struggling in his new-found ambitions and political career. It was only the beginning of the weekend and the woman could barely keep up with her small business and hobby, let alone tend to a baby at the same time. People were stepping over her busy little girl, giving mean looks and nearly tripping over the child. The baby had by that time found some electrical cords and was trying her best to pull them apart. My dad picked the little imp off the floor. The baby turned to stare at him and pat his face. With the mother’s blessings, I was handed the toddler and reluctantly ended up carrying her around the show. Since I was the youngest child of the youngest child in my family, I wasn’t used to babies and I couldn’t see anything positive about this experience. The baby did not have a stroller and was heavy in my arms. She was smelly and messy, too. We were shocked and amazed that this woman would let total strangers leave with her baby, but she was overwhelmed and felt we were good people and could be trusted. (Of course we were.) The woman had so much faith in my parents that in the evening she handed us a diaper bag and we got to tend the child in our own home. That Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show, we returned the baby to her mother. For a couple months after the event the woman frequently corresponded with my family, thanking us for watching the baby. I learned that helping someone in need was more important than finding a great bargain at some vendor’s table. I discovered that to be trustworthy and to serve are crucial to one’s character.

After that gem show, my father made a goldstone choker for me that I still have today. More importantly, I often wonder about that little family. At some point during our evenings, my mother taught me about gold. She explained that just because something looks like gold, it might not be. Back then in the seventies and even decades before then, many items were gold-plated. Later some pieces were labeled “gold-filled” which really means, “gold that is filled with some other material”. She said that inside all that shiny yellow metal was something worthless and cheap. On the other hand, many jewelry buyers think what they are buying is pure gold. They want that pure gold wedding band and a big, fat diamond engagement ring. What they really want is 18 Karat or even the slightly more durable and popular 14 Karat gold. These varieties have other metals – alloys --blended with gold to make rings, necklaces and bracelets stronger and wearable.

This past weekend in church, our Relief Society* President, Laura, was leading a discussion on choices and accountability. We can all make choices. We become stronger individuals when we have the opportunity to choose, but all actions have consequences, both good and bad. Laura said she knew that she was not perfect, but she was trying to be as pure as she could. She encouraged us all to try our best. I raised my hand and asked her if she was trying to be like pure gold. She smiled and said that, yes, she strives to be. I explained that she should attempt to be more like 14 Karat. Life’s experiences are like the alloys that make gold stronger; otherwise we would be too soft and of no use. Some people around us might even be 18 Karat and that is good. They have just enough of life’s lessons (or alloys) to make them strong. These individuals are the purest of the pure despite the realities of existence here on Earth. I think that as we become older we have the opportunity to learn more lessons. These opportunities make us what we are. We remain precious but we also become fit for the task of serving one another, lifting our sisters and brothers up with the inner strength that comes from enduring. I just hope that when push comes to shove, we as sisters won’t be some silver-plated or gold-filled cheapened piece of costume jewelry, harboring some poisonous heavy metal inside. Those are the kind of people that will smile in your face and stab you in the back, and as the scriptures say, from such turn away (2nd Timothy 3:5 KJV Holy Bible).

We can only do so much and be so much; striving for pureness and all the while we know that in the end Jesus will craft of us what He will. The Refiner’s fire will make us pure in the end for His needs. In the meantime, stay gold. Stay precious. * * (Founded 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, The Relief Society is one of the oldest organizations for women in the world and has approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Full Moon

Papa and I walked from the station wagon to his Cousin Barbara's porch. The moon was rising high and fireflies danced and frolicked around us. Summer in North Carolina was humid and thick with the smells of cigarettes, beer and pine trees.

Just about everyone had retired into Barbara's house that night after a small family reunion. The relatives were quieting the young ones, singing the babies to sleep. In the distance and through the trees I heard drums and saw a bonfire. Papa casually said, "The Indians are out celebrating, too."

My eyes went wide, my heart pounded and despite the warmth still hanging in the misty mugginess, I felt a chill shake my body. "Oh, Papa, will the Indians scalp us? Will they burn down the house around us, right here?"

Papa turned, set the suitcases and blankets on the porch and took me in his arms. "Liesa, oh no. They're just having fun like everyone else! Didn't you know, you're my little Indian Princess?"

I looked at his eyes. The light from the windows reflected in my father's face and I saw calm and sincerity -- and love. "My dad was mixed-blood Cherokee. I'm part Cherokee. You're part Cherokee and you’re my little Princess."

"Really?" I questioned.

"Honest to goodness. Where did you get the idea that the neighbors were going to scalp us and burn down Barbara's house?"

"From the Cowboy and Indian movies I watch on TV."

Papa shook his head and said, "The Indians haven't been on the warpath for about fifty years. Barbara's husband Roy is Cherokee too and you know he's a good, gentle man."

Papa took my hand and led me into Barbara's home. The men were seated around the kitchen table, playing cards, drinking Colt 45 Malt Liquor and laughing. The older children were punching holes into the tops of jars filled with fireflies. My heart felt like those jars, filled with bubbling buzzing light. My father put my mind at ease and peace filled my soul. I learned a lesson that night, that we can choose to fear or choose to love, but we must choose to be informed and face life bravely. I took a jar full of those lightning bugs into the dark living room and looked out the window. I saw the full moon--and he was smiling.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


My family had dogs while I was growing up. Additionally, my husband and I had dogs for many years. My dad always trained our dogs to STAY INSIDE the fence line. I trained my dogs as well and they all stayed in the yard. No matter where we lived, if the gate was open, or the snow was piled high in drifts taller than the fences, our dogs stayed put. If we saw a problem, my husband and I would fix the fence, etc. We had collies, Rottweiler's, mutts, German Shepherds, a Dalmatian, terriers etc. Then we got Jodi, a Labrador puppy. She grew into a lovable, huge brown dog.

The neighbor's lab taught her how to dig under the fence, so we would find the trouble spots and hammer rebar into the ground. She soon learned how to jump the fence. We put her in an enclosed dog run. She chewed a hole through it in less than twelve hours. We had to let her out sometimes in the yard and she'd promptly jump the fence to find the old lady that cruised the street on her power scooter. Scooter-mamma would yell at us and we'd lock Jodi back up in the reinforced pen. Jodi would howl, dig, chew and escape again.

One Thanksgiving she got loose. It was night. We yelled for her and searched. In the darkness we heard, "Whoosh, chuckity, chuck, whoosh chuckity chuck," and of course here comes Jodi with a large garbage bag, a turkey carcass inside. She was so sad when we threw it out and yanked her to the porch. The following Christmas Jodi brought back what I thought was a deflated purple ball. I ran outside and went to get it from her. I found that my dog was gnawing on the end of it, trying to get at the Crown Royal whiskey inside! (How the heck Jodi got this prize is anyone's guess). She still hadn't broken the seal and my brother-in-law said he wished his labs (that were trained to hunt) would bring him whiskey for Christmas. I handed the bottle to him and said, "Merry Christmas, from Jodi, Eh?"

We tried walking her on the leash, but she walked us. It didn't matter the leash, collar or method, she wouldn't be reigned in and actually obeyed better off leash.

We bought her a super long chain and my dad complained that no dog of his ever got out of the yard and why couldn't we just train her? Lord knows we tried! When we had to let her out on our acre, we put her on that thirty foot line, staked to the ground, but some well-meaning person kept unhooking her because "It just isn't right to chain a dog" and of course, she would jump the chain-link fence and try to play with the lady on the power scooter. This went on and on for years.

One hot day a neighbor found Jodi and her buddy Hank swimming in her horse trough and said, "If they'd been chasing the horses and cattle, I'd be well within my rights to shoot those dogs, but they were just swimming. Next time I might shoot them both." My husband and I agreed that if it happened again, we'd hold no hard feelings if it came down to shooting our Jodi.

One day, I just got fed up and rehomed her. The people she went to live with had acres and acres of farmland and were delighted at how well behaved and smart Jodi was. I know I made the right decision. I didn't want her to get shot. I also valued my neighbors who were beyond patient in this situation.

Anyone who says they will NEVER have a dog that wanders might find that one comes to them in a furry, fun-loving and rebellious package. Its name might not be Jodi, Hank, Rover, Fido or Misha. Her name might be Karma and she will show you how to eat your words. They taste a lot like kibble.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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