Thursday, April 16, 2020

Corona Virus Reaches Mayberry

     Corona Virus has hit the timeless town of Mayberry, North Carolina, situated in the shadow of Mount Pilot. The townspeople all react to the situation in different ways.

     Sheriff Andy, in his wisdom, weighs out the situation. Truly caring for his citizens, he recommends the lock down. He strongly believes in the Constitution and realizes he cannot tell people what to do in their own yards. His responsibility is the town and its citizens. Reluctantly, he closes down every other non-essential business in Mayberry.

     His first line of defense is a medical team:  Pharmacist Ellie Walker,  and Dr. Thomas Peterson, who is fairly new to town. Not everyone trusts him, but Andy does. That means a lot to most townspeople, but not all. Suspicion abounds.

     Opie and his pals are pulled out of school. Mrs. Crump sends work home for the kids once a week. The teacher actually defies the order to stay home. She bravely decides to set out, throws off her heels, puts on some sturdy leather boots and hikes up the mountain to reach a few outlying farms where children need their lessons.

     Churches and quilting parties are suspended until further notice. With all this extra time on her hands, Aunt Bee, already a domestic goddess, sets out to learn how to cook Chinese and Mexican food. Andy was getting a little tired of pot roast and meatloaf anyway. Wanting to bake bread, Aunt Bee heads to the market to find that yeast and flour cannot be found. She gets in her car and heads out as far as fifty miles away, but each store has fewer and fewer supplies. Always prepared, she’s had extra toilet paper in the back of the pantry, but just for fun, she checks out the paper-goods aisle at every stop. No toilet tissue. Anywhere. One month later, strands of her hair are out of place and she misses her church services and social clubs. She doesn’t remember the last time she wore a bra.

     Andy ordered the closure of the barber shop as well. His hair is getting a little straggly but he learns to deal with it. Desperately needing funds, Floyd starts to sell pot out of the back of the shop, always managing to steer clear of Deputy Barney Fife who is diligently patrolling the streets.

     The jail is shut because only the most violent offenders will be put behind bars. Since everyone is essentially a prisoner in their homes, that means there is no violent crime and nobody's been arrested. Dust is gathering on the cots. The door hinges are rusty. Otis Campbell has nowhere to sleep it off. Bars are closed anyway, but Otis still manages to grab a bottle from the tiny liquor store just out of town. Barney finds him snoozing in a corner, tells him to move along, and being the sweet sot he is, Otis stumbles home. His budding ice-cream business is considered non-essential and there’s no money coming in at all. Nine months later he and Mrs. Campbell welcome twins, delivered at home. Thank goodness Ellie was dropping off Mrs. Campbell's anxiety medication. The lady-druggist assisted in the babies’ births.

     Gomer and Goober are considered essential, although nobody’s driving through town. The Blue Ridge Parkway is locked up tight, so no tourists. There’s an occasional vehicle that needs maintenance. Gomer, a former Marine, has been cleaning and greasing his gun, just to be prepared. His National Guard Unit is called up and he’s sent to California. Nobody knows why. Meanwhile, in neighboring Virginia, the governor wants to ban rifles.

     Pretty Ellen Brown, a talented nail technician is banned from doing manicures. Although out of work, she does her magic and finds creative ways to make a buck. With that money, she buys a ticket on the last bus out and moves to Harper Valley.

     The streets of Mayberry are almost empty. Barney Fife, devoted deputy, is beginning to show signs of psychosis. Like a sheepdog without sheep, a dog without a job, he’s quickly becoming a menace to society. Sheriff Taylor assigns him to the farms of the outlying areas within Mayberry’s jurisdiction. Andy tells his sidekick to make sure that the farmers are self-isolating. He knows they are, but is desperate to get Barney out of his hair (which is down to his collar by this point). He advises Barney to make his own policy and sets the officer to work.

     As Barney drives off, Andy watches a truck unloading at the pharmacy. Minutes later, Thelma Lou runs out with a box of masks.  Aunt Bee is laughing in hysterics as she leaves the shop. She’s scored a six pack of toilet paper. Opie wavers through the alley adjacent to Floyd’s Barber Shop. The young man’s brain is as cloudy as the smoke that surrounds his head.

    Andy decides to take Opie fishing, just like the old days. Walks to the fishing hole and catches a few, watching with interest as Barney tickets a lone man in a motor boat. His crime? Operating the motor boat during quarantine. The man’s family goes hungry that night.

    Farmers Flint and Pruitt start their seedlings early. Their greenhouses are full and they’re ready to sell what they have. They meet at their fence line, six feet apart of course. They talk about the weather, crazy people in town and feeding the families of Mayberry and beyond, in places like Mount Pilot and Charlottesville. They are expecting Helen Crump, Floyd, Ellie and Aunt Bee to buy some tomato plants that weekend for their small backyard gardens. Barney drives up the lane and demands the farmers, ALL farmers in the region, shut down. He locks up the greenhouses. He spouts that flowers are non-essential, even for Easter. The men get their overalls in a knot and argue that they’re mainly selling vegetable plants. These produce food, which is essential. Barney accuses them of being un-American racists. The farmers protest downtown, driving their tractors by the barbershop, pharmacy, the shuttered bank, town hall (where the mayor is hiding) and lastly the police station. Andy is out. There’s a matter at home that needs his attention.

     Aunt Bee has had a mental breakdown and Andy’s debating whether he should take her to the small, local clinic. Doc Peterson has tested positive for Covid 19. Conspiracists feel vindicated accusing him of bringing the virus into Mayberry, via smuggled vials. Nurse Oakley has run out of gloves and clean masks. Thelma Lou bought the last shipment - the entire case.  Local citizens are showing symptoms. Ten people came in sicker than dogs. Most were later sent home, but two are in the little country hospital’s ICU. The outbreak is tracked down to Jim Lindsey and his honky-tonk band, who’d just returned from a world tour. Jim later passes from complications and is mourned by the music industry, yet housewives and diabetes patients are succumbing one-by-one in the surrounding regions—and nobody mourns for them. Funerals are prohibited.

     The honorable and beloved Reverend Hobart Tucker wants to comply with the stay-at-home orders, but also wants to spiritually feed his little flock of believers. He urges people to come the following Sunday to receive the word via the church parking lot, to remain in their cars. He erects a podium and speaks to the people via a bullhorn. Medical personnel, towns people and farmers from all over Mayberry gather. The reverend hands out cases of food to hungry families. Barney arrives, hands out tickets and arrests Reverend Tucker. The jail is locked, and Barney is forced to let this hardened criminal loose on the streets.

     The farmers can’t sell their dairy and eggs. They can’t give them away at the church meetings.  Their products are dumped into a ravine and months later people in the surrounding small towns go hungry.

     Everyone agrees with Andy, quarantine is best. A few otherwise sensible citizens are hoarding. Most people agree what is and is not essential, but some things just aren’t adding up. As their stomachs ache, citizens grow distrustful.

     The streets are virtually empty, day and night, except for Ernest T. Bass who is running the streets, giggling like a mad-man, drooling, peering in windows. Month after month, night after night, one by one there are others lurking in the shadows. The townspeople, as well, are slowly losing their minds.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Almost an Asian

     When I was a small child, I had two daddies. I didn’t just walk up to people and tell them, but sometimes it came out in the conversations that I had with adults or my little friends. Usually that was after I’d come back from a trip to California to visit my sisters.
In my book “Lizzie’s Blue Ridge Memories” I portray life on my grandmother’s farm with my sisters, mother and father as idyllic; one big happy family which was unfortunately beset by injury and a father’s lack of employment. In actuality, my mother had been married before she met my father. I was his one and only biological living child.

     Dave Owen, my father, joined the Navy in his late teens and married by the age of nineteen, but was divorced soon after. His wife Gem was too young and had lied to him more than once. Gem really just wanted to “get out of the house” and after she married my father, she was confused by her new family’s lack of sympathy when she wanted to go to the malt shop or to a dance in search of a new boyfriend. Finally, my grandmother ran the poor girl off and my dad reenlisted in the Navy.

     My parents originally met in Hawaii. My mother Ann had moved from her native Germany to the US territory with her first husband. She got a job at a local bar serving drinks. If I remember the story, it was called the Dolphin Club. One day, Ann was at work when a baby-faced sailor came in for a beer and began to flirt with the pretty little German waitress that served him. My mother said right away, “I’m married to a soldier and have a child.” Over the course of a few months, my dad would persist and my mother would set him up on dates with young women she knew, but those dates went nowhere. Ann and Dave became friends and he was sent to Japan about the time my mother had another child.

     The two wrote to each other, my mother not thinking much about the sailor stationed far away in Japan. In fact, love blossomed between Dave and a Japanese woman named Mary. He moved in with the girl and wanted to marry her, but she was unwilling to give up her profession, one that her father basically sold her into because, when she was a teen, he’d caught her kissing a boy. He said she must be a whore and dragged her down to a brothel in another city. She never saw her family again. At least that was her story. Dave stayed with Mary nearly two years while he was stationed in Japan. When he returned to the states, Mary stayed behind. If not for that, maybe I would have been born to her.

     Then again, maybe I would have been born to Ann and her first husband Kiyoshi Takahara, a Japanese – American stationed in the Army. If not for the fact that by the time Dave returned to Hawaii, Ann’s marriage to Kiyoshi was on the rocks. He was much older than Ann and although he was very much in love with her, she was resentful of his substance abuse and gambling.

     In 1960, when Ann’s youngest child Maggie was three, Ann and Dave had a whirlwind romance and ran off to Mexico where they married in Mexicali. Jenny, my oldest sister, stayed with her father while Maggie got to go on the honeymoon to Palm Springs. I was born in Detroit a few years later.

    Koshi-Daddy as I called him, never once treated me with any resentment or malice. He very well could have. Instead, he was patient, kind and generous. Eventually both my sisters moved in with him and at least once a year, we’d visit his home in Stockton, California. It all sounds complicated, I know, but there was always a room for my mother and me when she missed her oldest children. One year, Koshi-Daddy was stationed in Vietnam and married a woman from that country. By that time, Jenny was married and we stayed at her house. It would have been very awkward if my mother and I continued to stay at Koshi-Daddy’s home in Stockton after his second marriage.

     I grew up in a very Asian home. Some people these days might call it culture appropriation. Others might call it culture appreciation. I called it reality – life. My dad and mom actually taught me “how to bow in two languages”. They taught me the Japanese way as well as the English way, you know, just in case I had the pleasure and privilege to meet and later marry Prince Charles, but that honor went to Princess Diana. (We’ll leave that story for another blog entry.) We had Asian furniture, bamboo chairs, tempera paint art of birds on bamboo branches and much more. Yes, my mother made American and German foods, but her specialty was cooked Japanese fried rice. My father cooked teriyaki marinated steak and the most delicious shrimp curry.  I wish I had that curry recipe.
     Long before the Karate Kid, there was a television show called Mr. T and Tina. Pat Morita portrayed the traditional Japanese Mr. Taro from Japan who hired Tina to be the nanny of his two children. My mother would ooh and ah, stating how much Taro looked like Kiyoshi, or “Tak” as she called her ex-husband. I didn’t see the resemblance at all. Incidentally neither Mr. Morita nor my Koshi-Daddy were from Japan. They were both American born and raised, through and through. My mother watched the sitcom without fail until after only five episodes, the show ended in a quiet death in 1976.
     Dave tried to teach me how to multiply on the abacus that he’d brought back from Japan. He taught me how to count in Japanese, too: ichi, ni, san, shi. We also took our shoes off whenever we entered our home and wore slippers. We didn’t have robes, we had kimonos up until the early 1980s. Although not Japanese, my mother would oft times put on Hawaiian music and dance the hula. The goal was for us to move to Hawaii when my dad retired, but instead my parents ended up in the desert southwest.
     As an adult, my biological father Dave and I rarely saw eye-to-eye on any subject. I never had an argument with Koshi-Daddy, but then I didn’t interact with him after both my sisters were married. Mother didn’t have to go to California to visit two little girls any longer. They were able to do their own traveling if they chose to. I suppose if I’d been raised by Kiyoshi, maybe he’d have found a reason to discipline me – maybe not. I will never know.

     We lost Koshi-Daddy in 1989, the same season that a big earthquake shook Candlestick Park during the World Series. Kiyoshi was in the hospital following a heart attack. I had a new baby and couldn’t travel, but my mother went to visit him. A month later, Kiyoshi perished from a major stroke. Ann died fifteen years later. My father died three years after Ann passed. Sometimes I miss them all and look in the faces of people, searching for my parents. Crazy, I know. I see my mother in Jenny. I sometimes see my dad in my features, and that scares me. I see Kiyoshi in my cousin Glen, but sometimes I see him in other smiling faces.

     I had two daddies in my childhood – and I was blessed. Why should I ask for more? As a grandmother, why should I seek a father figure now? Sometimes I just want a daddy to talk to, even more than a mother. Women are all around, so full of advice. They stand as the mommies we need when our own mothers are far and gone. To whom can I turn, to take the place of an earthly father?

     Sometimes I think too much. The pondering and contemplation make my mind go in circles. Sometimes I think that I was almost Asian, that if the cards had been dealt another way, I would have had pretty brown Asian eyes and straight hair instead of round green eyes and curls. I might have been shorter, since my mother was petite and Koshi-Daddy was short.

     Kiyoshi, if he was alive, would have been 99 years old today. Happy Birthday, Koshi-Daddy from the little girl who was not yours.

Kiyoshi Takahara January 21, 1921 – November 12, 1989

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thankful I'm Staying Home.

     A young woman in my community said that this would be her very first Black Friday. Other than the news footage of shopping forays gone horribly bad, Trina didn’t know what to expect at the many stores she planned to go to. She said she felt so dumb having to ask.  I told her with all honesty of heart, “You're not dumb.” (It is a fair question. Everyone needs to experience Black Friday at least one time; like the mumps or Swine Flu.) 

     I warned her that dealing with these crowds might cause her to detest human kind. This poor excuse for a neo-tradition is not designed for peace on earth, good will 'tward men. It's madness second only to rabid dingoes in a feeding frenzy. My new tradition is to have a hot cup of cocoa as I gently stroke the keys of my computer, ordering stuff from WayFair, or going to Small Business Saturday. 

     “Honey, if you must face Black Friday, teamwork is essential. Make a list. There are too many opportunities for impulse buys. One of you needs to push the cart. She needs to stand by that cart and watch the team members’ purses a short distance from the crowd. Send someone strong to get the larger items such as TVs. Take snacks and water. Plan to have lunch. Most important, don't stand too close to people in line.” I further explained that I was at a Cabela’s many years ago, waiting for a register, when a gargoyle in front of me turned around in a rage, eyes bulging and screamed, "GIVE ME SOME FN SPACE, LADY!" I had a bundle of jackets or something in my arms, about three feet from her. That was my last Black Friday.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Morlocks Walk Among Us (Abducted in Plain Sight)

     Recently I viewed a documentary on Netflix: Abducted in Plain Sight. It’s the true story of Jan Broberg who, as a tween, was kidnapped, not once but twice, by Robert Berchtold. The perpetrator was a close friend and neighbor to Jan’s parents, Mary Ann and Bob. Does that seem unbelievable to you? In today’s jaded view of the world, perverts are around every corner, candy store and church pew. Back in the early 1970s most citizens in small towns, and a majority of families attending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Broberg Family’s religion), had never heard of pedophiles. Decades ago, perverts gravitated toward the Church and many quaint communities just to take advantage of "dumb" people. Those abusers knew what to say, how to say it, and when called to the carpet, would cry and plead their case, saying that they'd repented. They learned how to play the system.

     I did not know Jan Broberg as a child. She was brought up in Idaho. I was born in Detroit; raised to not trust anyone. Old West justice has nothing on us. Although we attended BYU at the same time, I met Jan Broberg long after both of us were moms and she was well into her career as an actress. Soon after we became acquainted, I found out that she’d been abducted as a child. In fact, one evening as I sat and watched the news, a report came in that the rat-bastard that had taken her far from Idaho to marry him in Mexico, was still stalking her! Wanting to know more, but hesitant to ask too many nosy questions, I bought Stolen Innocence, the book that her mother wrote about the kidnappings. I want to add that I never met Jan’s mother or for that matter, her father.

     Last winter, while discussing Abducted in Plain Sight, someone asked me if I believed anyone (referring to the Broberg parents) could be that clueless. Had I heard this tale before moving to Utah for the very first time in 1984, I would have disbelieved the narrative myself. As a youngster in the Detroit area, I learned to always watch out for my own back; partly because in my day, there was a serial murderer known as the Oakland County Child Killer, but I will leave that for another blog entry. While attending BYU in the 1980s, I met countless sweet, trusting individuals. Crazy as it sounds, this documentary, directed by Skye Borgman, is true, and is not an isolated event. Abducted in Plain Sight shows how over and over Jan’s parents let Berchtold back into their lives. He could have murdered Jan at any time. Instead he abused and raped her for years, slowly killing her spirit. While in our time, this tale is weird to viewers on many levels, back then families trusted their neighbors. Deals were made on handshakes. A man was as good as his word. Even today, Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are urged to do good for their fellow humans.  When there’s a flood, tornado or other natural disaster, you’ll find them nailing shingles on roof-tops, raking leaves, or handing out water bottles. These volunteers never ask if you are deserving or if you are a sinner. They just go and help. Mormons are taught to love one another and to forgive. That is good advice, but I still would not allow a snake into my home. (I’m talking about human vipers, not pets.)

     The thing is, I’ve met many parents in Latter-day Saint communities that were just as isolated and na├»ve as the Brobergs. I've talked to countless victims of similar abuse from Idaho and Utah. It was a lot like the 1960s movie version of H G Wells' The Time Machine. The kind and gentle creatures called Eloi, who lived on the planet's surface, could not fathom that the Morlocks, who dwelt below, would lead the Eloi into the caverns to devour them. It was beyond their comprehension. (Oh, that we could all be like that -innocently believing we are safe.) Sadly, “Morlocks” walk among us. Many Mormons, unaware of such devils, were childlike and easily led a generation ago.  Not only were the parents of victimized kids counseled to forgive, there were even cases of adults violated by community leaders. They, too, were urged to forgive, over and over. Rarely were their rapists ever brought to justice.

     This mindset was so thick, that beginning in the 1960s, a doctor in a heavily Latter-day Saint region of eastern Idaho sexually abused his ObGyn patients for three decades. Despite complaints to their bishops and stake presidents (spiritual leaders of a larger region) the women were told not to make a big deal of it; after all, forgiveness is good for the soul and besides, “The fine doctor is the only one in town that’s qualified to assist you in bringing your babies into the world.”
Where do you go when you are touched inappropriately, harmed, or shamed into silence and then your bishop asks you to forgive?  To whom do you turn when the police look the other way and then the people you most trust, even your parents, are asked to find the kindest place in their hearts for the monster that devoured your soul?

     This situation in the once-isolated west has improved. Decades before cable TV, people were happy just to get two stations. Now with the internet, families know all too well that there are evil maniacs who exist, ones that enjoy nothing better than to slowly destroy innocent children. There are also those that will murder a child quicker than the time it takes for a mother to say a prayer for her baby.

     Getting back to the documentary, when I was asked if Jan Broberg seemed normal to me, I had to respond, “What is normal?” To put it in context, I know many, many performers. She's actually pretty normal compared to some. She's strong and resilient and I want to stress this point: any “normal” person might want to sweep similar memories like a crushed rat under a rug. They’d stomp on it, choke it, then move along. Denial is problematic. Personally, I’d rather be aware of what’s actually happening: The rat under the rug might revive, slink along the floor and become a bigger beast later. Jan is not going to let that happen. She wants to get the word out that there are still monsters and manipulators amongst us. Jan’s family was nearly devoured by a monster manipulator. Don’t blame the victims. Instead, share Jan’s story. It may give someone out there just enough courage to come forward and find the right people to bring their perpetrator to justice. At the very least, the rat won’t be left under a rug to scurry out and bite again. A wound must be cleansed for healing to take place, not left to fester. Jan is beyond normal. I find her to be brave. She wants to heal and along the way, Ms. Broberg deserves the joy and happiness, the success and popularity, that her documentary gives her.

       Liesa Swejkoski (Author) & Jan Broberg (Actress and Kidnapping Survivor)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Best Laid Plans

     It was the revered Scottish Poet Robert Burns who said, “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley.” In simple English he meant that the best laid plans of mice and men don’t always go the way we want them to.

     He was right, you know. My husband’s dream is to build a log home. I’m not sure where his vision got its start, maybe one morning pouring Log Cabin brand syrup on his pancakes as a boy. I do know this: since marrying me, that city boy became a man that drove a pick-up truck. Add to that, more than ten years ago, he purchased a .30-06 (pronounced "thirty-ought-six") rifle and brings home the venison every other autumn. I’d like to think I rubbed off on him. Although I was born in Detroit, I spent a lot of time on Gramma’s farm growing up, and then later had a huge vegetable garden, horses, rabbits, ducks and chickens. Maybe our dream has intertwined like the roots of a willow and an oak. We might grow in different ways, but we are rooted together in our most important goals.

     I am fully on board to build our log home. However, Big Dee has his ideas and I have mine. I see our home realistically. For years now I’ve worked with the elderly. I see myself going in that direction; who of us will grow younger until the day we become infants again? Well, I suppose some of us do, in a way. Our mothers will not be there to tend to us in our frail, aging years, but someone has to – our children, or a nurse, or maybe someone from our church.

     Big Dee visualizes a house with an upper level. It has a bathroom upstairs. I see myself falling down those stairs. I see myself resentfully schlepping my backside up and down those steps to clean the restroom. On the other hand, I envision everything we need placed downstairs: a kitchen and laundry; extra wide showers with rails so we won’t have to go into assisted living. He sees no need for these things because he has no intention of growing old - that’s just out of the question. We’ve both agreed: this is out last home. I just want to stay in it as long as possible; and I want to make it “elder friendly” now, not retro-fit it down the road.

     We explained this to our first architect. We found that his grand plans were going to cost us three times more money than we have. We scaled down, about twice. Our architect is a genius in his craft so you can imagine how frustrated he became with us. He wanted to go larger. The limitations of our bank account made us go even smaller.

     During this time, Dee and I consulted with about a half dozen log home builders. We found out that they all have different ideas as to what kind of materials we could use for the exterior. We have basically three choices: Log siding (exterior) over a traditionally built home, hybrid where the logs are hollowed out and a foam is put in them on the pretext of energy efficiency, and last of all, traditional logs. David and I considered all options and agreed that we want real logs.

     We consulted more builders. Some were in the business a relatively short amount of time. Others had been crafting log homes successfully for decades. Many couldn’t be bothered to call us back, or text us, or email us, or send up smoke signals. One never even opened his office door. I stood outside calling. Nothing. Nada.

     We recently met with a wonderful builder. His company’s been featured in a documentary on PBS. He remained behind the scenes letting the builders, stars and designers shine in the light. He answered all of our questions. I like that his cabins have been standing firm and efficient for nearly forty years. I am impressed by his designs. I walked into his original cabin and what I noted, almost down to the last detail, was a picture from the back of my mind. The only difference is that the loft does have a toilet and shower. Everything else we need is downstairs. I guess if things get bad enough for me, since sometimes I already have the beginnings of balance issues, I’ll just have one of my kids clean that restroom. I could even hire someone just to clean the upstairs. Help is, realistically, less expensive than assisted living.

     I think of this house building experience like a young woman or a young man dreaming of their life partners. They might want to marry the clean-shaven muscular man, or the girl next door. Instead, they grow and mature and fall in love with someone that was in the back of their mind all the time, not who they thought they wanted, but what they truly needed. Together these people grow together, learning how to compromise. Maybe “Bobb” wanted a tall blonde Norwegian looking gal, but later meets a stout, little woman with short dark hair and sees eternity in her eyes. That’s just an example of course.

     The point is, I had plans for my log home. Those plans changed and morphed. Then I saw other ideas and incorporated them. Dee would make a point and I’d consider it. In my mind’s eye was a picture of the antique furniture I’d inherited, in various spots. Now I am not so sure it will look right in each room.

     Soon, we will finalize plans. There’s just details and paperwork. The best laid plans, of mice and men don’t always go as planned. Sometimes we just have to make new plans.

For a useful guide to translating the original poem, please, consult:

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

One Man's Junk

                                    (The historical journey continues, my friends.) 

     Last spring when we closed on our property, I found that bags of trash were dumped in our woods, way back in a small ravine. I was disgusted and disappointed. I was angry. We put up a sign and the littering stopped. However, several weeks ago when I went back there to pick up more bags, although there was no new garbage, I noticed that the dumping had gone on, apparently, for a long time. So far the pit is about six feet down and it continues; how far I can only speculate. There are small saplings rooted into this mess and even a couple trees, as evidence to how long this assault on nature has been going on. There were glass bottles, metal, and some plastic. A few scrappers picked up the metal that was set aside. I joked that if they found an old car under it all, they could keep it. There was in fact, almost an entire vehicle. Not sure if they ever found the engine, but there was a rotted seat, a bumper and headlights. I joked that maybe Jimmy Hoffa was down there, too. Within ten minutes they found shoes and underwear, rotted, but recognizable.  At that point, the joking stopped. After that weekend, when I saw that there was broken glass in the ravine I said, “no more.” I didn’t want any of the men that were collecting scrap metal to wander in there and get hurt. We put up a no trespassing sign.
     That didn’t keep me out of the rubbish though. As I said before, I’m curious and blamed this bout on a need to feed the history monkey that’s been on my back as of late.

     Since that time, I’ve poked through the mucky artifacts with a shovel. It’s like some wicked geology dig. The first layer was fairly recent junk. I tentatively prodded a couple feet and saw cans from the 1980s, with so-called “collectable” logos. The next week, after a storm, I found a small foot sticking out of the debris. The toes were grimy, but recognizable. I cautiously reached out to them and found cold plastic. It was a doll. I dug through this stratum to find toys from the 1970s. There was a learning board - the kind parents used to put in play pens, Fischer-Price toys, and even a huge Hasbro inch-worm riding scooter. It was broken, or I would have tried to clean it up.  There was a ceramic panda, a cracked mixing bowl, too. Later, I found more dolls. They were intact, but their clothes were ragged and their hair was rotted.

    Yesterday, I got all the way to a layer that is from the 1960s or maybe even the 1950s. At that point I’d had enough. The sides of the ravine are taller than me and I don’t want the slop to fall in and suffocate the life from my lungs. I hope the demo crew will dig it out with a back hoe, and then they can haul it off. The men can keep whatever they find that they think might be of value.

    In that last band of refuse that I was brave enough to burrow into, there was a perfect little Anchor-Hocking milk glass flower vase with a lovely grape cluster pattern. I took that home and cleaned it up. Turns out it’s worth some dough! An exact artifact is on Etsy for a whopping $14.00. 
Pizza’s on me guys.

                                                                                        (Similar to vase that I found)

Monday, September 23, 2019

History On Fire

     I know that I haven’t been dedicating much time to my blog these last eighteen months. It’s been a busy couple of years. After nearly three decades, I decided to end the commute between the desert and the Great Lakes to settle in my birth state of Michigan. I am home. To stay.

     Additionally, as some of you may know, I’m now in charge of Manitowen Press, a tiny publishing company that gives new writers a leg up, something to put in their cover letters to other publishers. Being one of two chief editors with Manitowen Press, as well as writing my own books and stories has kept me busy; and if that wasn’t enough, my husband and I have decided to build a log home on five acres we recently purchased.

     It was just last year that we were looking at five wooded acres of pine and oak with a little cherry here and there.  On the property stood an old cinderblock house with jerry-rigged wiring that dated post World War Two. The original owner “Jonah” and his wife “Natty” lived in that home for more than 70 years. Jonah passed away about a decade ago. Natty is in her mid-to-late nineties and is sweet and sharp for her age. It was a delight to meet her at the real estate office to close on the place last spring.  Natty had moved out just before her home was put on the market. Her family has owned the surrounding land for about 150 years. Last month, we had the old house, built in 1948, torn down. It wasn’t in the best shape. Recently, I dug up and relocated some “heirloom” tea roses that graced the crumbling foundation of what I believe is the original farmhouse. That foundation can still be seen just behind where the cinderblock structure once stood. I hope to replant those rose bushes close to our new home, once it’s built.

     The old man, bless his heart, had cows and a horse in the woods back in the sixties and seventies. To save a buck, about sixty years ago he wrapped barbed wire around some of the saplings instead of using fence posts. Those plants are now much taller, but diseased since the trunks grew over the wire. With each windstorm, another tree or two snaps, coming down so violently that it makes the ground shudder.

     Since my daughter Kay and her husband are splitting the lot with us, we had those trees and some others next to them removed so that they won't come crashing through the roofs of the homes we're building.

   Friday, the arborists left for the weekend. They aren’t finished yet, but being the nosey person that I am, Saturday evening I walked to where those trees were removed and found


     Yes, ash -- about two feet under where, until the other day, tree roots were solidly imbedded into the ground. The soot is thick and goes down about three or four feet. I guessed the oldest trees to be about 120 years old, but I am no expert. I wondered what kind of fire would have caused that much blackened debris to be visible, and so very dense, scores of years after the incident. It had to be an inferno.

     I was so excited. My husband and our daughter Kay thought I was crazy and said, "Who cares?"

     Eagerly I said, "It's HISTORY! Aren't you the least bit curious?" Well, they were not interested in the least. I know May my youngest child, who is away at college, would have been all over this discovery.

     I stood in awe at the site. Again, I wanted to know what kind of catastrophe in recent history would have done this much damage. In spite of my family’s disinterest, I did a little sleuthing. I found out that the Great Fire of Chicago in October 1871 was not an isolated event.  According to Mike Hardy, the Chicago, Illinois fire was famous but the Peshtigo, Wisconsin fire was horrific. In Chicago, three square miles were burnt to cinders and three hundred lives were lost. Compare that to Peshtigo where eight hundred souls perished when families fleeing into the river boiled to death.
Michigan was not spared Mother Nature’s conflagration. Hundreds of miles across Lake Michigan, flames sprang up. Hurricane strength winds intensified the blazes along beach towns and the western shore. In the city of Holland, founded by Dutch settlers, not a barn nor fencepost was left to mark property boundaries.

     Manistee, about a hundred miles north of Holland, was also affected by the flames in addition to some points in between. The embers were further carried east by the tempest, across the state, and eventually into the thumb area. Residents from lumber towns and farms across Michigan fled the flames that were now one hundred feet tall. People jumped into wells. Children were cast into boats and set along the rivers. In one case a boat full of children bobbed for days until it reached Canada. After the fire, masses of people were found wandering to the very tip of the thumb, hair singed, skin blistered and their clothes burned from their bodies.

     Reading these tales gave me a lot to think about. I realized that I was off by about a couple decades using the tree trunks that would have gotten their start a couple years after the fires. In my defense, it had been drizzling all afternoon and it was too dusky to count each ring.

    Most people do not know about the infernos of October 1871, yet a few historians speculate as to the cause. One debunked tale is the story of a cow knocking over an oil lamp in a barn. There is no possible way that such a fire beginning in Chicago would consume much of the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Some scholars claim a meteor breaking apart across the United States sparked many small fires that grew in unimaginable magnitude. Some blame trapped methane. Whatever the reason, I won’t speculate. It is known that the Summer of 1871 was hot and dry and that autumn was warmer than usual.

     Next time you take a walk in the woods or along a beach or even on a city sidewalk, stop for a moment and ponder what lies below, the lives that once occupied that same space, the events that forever influenced the geography or geology. Think about the history that preceded your mortal experience, and please, don’t ever say, “Who cares?”

                        (Photo, Public Domain - Great Chicago Fire October 8, 1871)

I would like to thank Alan Naldrett and Mike Hardy for their keen interest and research.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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