Thursday, February 1, 2018

Post # 13

Quote for the day: "God, you've got a job on your hands in Detroit." Billy Sunday, famed evangelist during his month-long revival in Detroit in 1916.


Nine Lessons I Learned From My Father
by Murray Howe

I became a devoted Red Wings fan in the late 1950s when a Detroit TV station broadcast live the last period of Wings home games. It was also an era rife with televangelism but I had little time for Oral, Jimmy, or Billy because  I had found a hockey god. Instead of constantly asking, pleading, or demanding donations in return for prayers, as the TV ministers did, the seemingly immortal hockey god, wearing a number nine Red Wing jersey, gave of himself. On the ice and off he always gave his best, for the team, the city, his fans, and the game. He became known simply as Mr. Hockey, the best player who ever laced up a pair of hockey skates. He was a beloved presence in the game and the hearts of hockey fans even after he retired. When he died in 2016 the hockey world mourned and his adoring family gathered together and found strength from the incredible private life they shared with a loving man they all idolized.

Gordie Howe's youngest son, Murray was tapped by the family to eulogize his father. This book is a moving, tender, funny, and deeply affectionate account of Murray's reflection on his life as Gordie's son as he prepared his father's eulogy. Gordie spent his last year living with Murray and his family, and Murray, looking back on the experience, saw it as the best year of his life. 

The book is a wonderful tribute to a man who fans worshipped for his accomplishments on the ice and interaction with them off the ice. But only a few close friends and his family knew the extraordinary family man and humanitarian giant he was in private life. Murray idolized his father, and held him in awe. He wanted to be just like his dad and for a long time that meant trying to be a NHL hockey player. It took years for Murray to realize what he really wanted to be was as great a father as Gordie and that the best hockey player in the world was an even better person off the ice.

Murray reveals that his father probably suffered from dyslexia and was teased unmercifully in grade school whenever he was called on to read out load. Gordie seemed to channel that embarrassment into hours and hours of skating on western Canadian ponds and rivers. He also never forgot being bullied and woe to the player on the opposing team who picked on Gordie's teammates. 

Both Gordie and his wife, Colleen set sterling examples of behavior for their children, and backed up their parental role models with talks on personal conduct and behavior. Murray was often at his side as Gordie treated every fan as a friend. He always had time for the public and he treated every person he talked to as, at that moment, the most important person in the world. Gordie was always more interested in a person's character than their financial standing. He often told his son that, "It doesn't cost anything to be nice to someone." 

Gordie and Colleen constantly stressed humility and the couple avoided anything and anyplace that even hinted at elitism or exclusivity. Whenever Gordie was lavished with praise he always told Murray, "you're only as good as your next game." During a game at the old Olympia Murray was in the arena's gloomy, nether regions playing floor hockey with some kids when he bragged that his father was Gordie Howe. No one believed him, so he bet each kid a buck Gordie was his dad, and the rag-tag bunch of boys followed him up to where his mother was sitting. He told Colleen that the boys didn't believe he was Gordie Howe's son and asked mom to set them straight. In so many words she said, "I don't know who you are young man, but if you don't leave me alone I'm calling the police."

Murray and the rest of the family knew Gordie's joy and sense of purpose came from serving everyone around him. Murray says "He absorbed their happiness, multiplied it, and reflected it right back at them." Murray would always take Gordie on his errands and on a visit to a grocery store they were walking to the car when Gordie spotted a kid struggling to push a long cart train back to the store. The 87-year-old hurried over and inserted himself between the kid and the last cart, and pushed the carts back to the store while the somewhat embarrassed young man trailed behind. Murray rushed over, and told the kid who the guy was who just stepped into his job. The young man was ecstatic with joy that Gordie Howe had just given him a hand. The cart corraler pulled out his cell phone and took several selfies with a smiling Gordie Howe draping an arm around the kid's shoulder.

The book is filled with memorable stories, many touching, and most of them funny.  Gordie set the perfect example of savoring every day and enjoying it to the fullest, never taking himself seriously, and being unbelievably humble.  Gordie and Colleen were once sharing a ride with SNL star Mike Myers and his girlfriend. Mike was mortally embarrassed when the girlfriend turned to Gordie and asked what he did for a living. Gordie laughed and said he was a golf caddie. Murray writes that money meant little or nothing to Gordie, "his time, talent and treasures belonged to the world, not to him."  

Simply put, this is a celebration of a man loved by his family and millions of fans for both his talent and his character.  And now that he is gone there is no better example of that character than the son who loved him dearly and wrote this wonderful book. 

Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father by Murrary Howe. Viking, 2017, $24.95  


A Yooper’s Summer on Isle Royale
By Dan Kemper

You may have perused guides to Isle Royale, read a book on the history of the island, even a mystery set there, but you’ve never read a book like this about Michigan’s remote and magnificent national park. The book is cast as a novel, but I’m convinced the author called it fiction simply to protect the innocent, the guilty, the stupid, and to lessen the chances of litigation. Kemper admits the book is based on true events but goes on to say, ”Any resemblance to real people, living or dead is an amazing coincidence.”

This is the story of the summer of 1965 on Isle Royale National Park, told from the point of view of the concession employees who work for about three months as bell hops, chamber maids, cooks, food service workers, and other menial jobs for the park service. They were on the lowest rung of the employment ladder at the park, making $29 a month plus room and board, and any tips they might get. 

Digger and Wayne, two Yoopers and best friends, get summer jobs in the lower forty-eight’s least visited national park. Instead of waiting one day and traveling to the island on the national park’s Ranger III, a 165-foot ship, the two fools left a day early and made the 50-mile crossing of Lake Superior in a 14-foot aluminum boat. It almost resulted in their deaths, from ice, fog, and hypothermia. The author admits he did cross Superior in a small aluminum boat and nearly died doing it.

In addition to the simply foolish sense of adventure in crossing the greatest and most dangerous of the Great Lakes in an open boat, the nineteen-year-old boys knew the park concession didn’t serve alcohol to guests. To augment their meager salaries they were smuggling cases of beer and booze to the island they would sell to park visitors. They also wanted to impress the female employees.

The young men constantly got into trouble for breaking employee rules, thinking up crazy stunts for the hell of it, and throwing wild parties. Readers will grin on nearly every page and laugh out loud in every chapter. The book is filled with wonderful and unforgettable characters. My favorite is John who also cut hair on the side for park concession workers. Here in, his 1965 opinion on going to the moon. “The Kot-tam moon is three, maybe four hunnert miles away. Hell, dats like going from Hancock to da Mackinaw Bridge straight up in da air! No Kot-dam way!”

John liked to name his farts, and was a world-class color commentator on breaking wind. Think of him as the Mickey Redmond (for the uninitiated, the Red Wings color commentator) of farts. Here’s three of John’s comments I’m still laughing about. “You coulda heated two houses for the winter with that one. That was a purple streamer. Catch that one and paint ‘er green.”

Concession employees were not above teasing park visitors. One tourist asked how to tell a male moose from a female moose when the males shed their antlers? The questioner was told, “Simple, when they graze males chew clockwise, and females chew counterclockwise.” The answer was taken as gospel.

But the book is more than just a funny account of Digger and Wayne’s exploits and hijinks, its pages shine with an appreciation for the uniqueness and beauty of the national park, on the biggest island, in the biggest freshwater lake in the world. The book is also sprinkled with bits and pieces of Isle Royale history including the contentious public acquisition of the island in the 1940s. The government bought out the few people who lived there year-round as well as those who had summer cottages. There was no bargaining, or third party evaluation of the property. The government set the prices low, and owners had no choice but to sell. The only bone the government threw owners was that the family could name one of their members who would get a free, life-time lease on the place. Of course the family choose the youngest member to be the lease-holder. In 1965, many of these families were still coming to the island, spending the summer in their old cottages, and giving anyone who would listen an ear full of how unfairly they were treated.

Somehow the two Yoopers survived and thrived on Isle Royale and managed to avoid being thrown out of the park by either the concession operator or the National Park Service. The author is a born storyteller – apparently a Yooper trait -- and this is a rollicking good read that presents a unique point of view of one of Michigan’s great treasures.

A Yooper’s Summer on Isle Royale by Dan Kemp. IUniverse, 2013, $23.95.

Sunburns to Snowstorms: Upper Michigan Weather in Pictures & Stories
by Karl Bohnak and Jack Deo

Thank you Karl Bohnak and Jack Deo for making me feel like a total wuss when it comes to complaining about how insufferable winters are here in Davison, Michigan.  Karl Bohnak, the chief meteorologist at Marquette's WLUC - TV6, has been forecasting U.P. weather for at least 30 years, which may well be the definition of a masochist.  Jack Deo has run a photography studio in Marquette going on four decades and has spent years collecting old and rare photographs of extreme U. P. weather. They have combined their talents to produce a fascinating study of weather north of the bridge, both aberrant and run-of the-mill, using close to 300 historical photographs Deo collected over the years.

The authors present a short  introduction to each section of the book and identify and provide background information for each photograph. Chapters include Wildfires, Floods, Severe Weather, Snowstorms, Shipwrecks, and an entire chapter on the U. P's. greatest snowstorm  know as "The Storm of 1938." Photos of ten-foot high drifts, lakeside houses coated with 8-inches of ice, and towns literally buried in snow are not just interesting but addictive. 

The book also serves as a photographic record of Lake Superior's worst sailing season 1913, the historic Washington Day Blizzard of 1922, and the destruction of Ontonagon by fire in 1896. The fire destroyed 344 buildings, including the Diamond Match Co., leaving some 2,000 people homeless. The book is also a record of  the"stylish" swim wear and winter outerwear of a hundred years ago 

There are too many striking photos to count or even book mark so the reader, or at least this one, kept returning  to the book day after day, fascinated by photos of snow removal from city streets by horses, wagons, and snow shovel wielding men and boys. I was especially struck by a photo of dozens of Great Lakes freighters frozen in ice off Whitefish Point in late spring. Even more powerful were the many photos of both sailing ships and ore carriers tossed on Lake Superior's shore like crumpled tin cans.

The many photos add up an intimate look at the U.P. and how its people faced the worst nature had to throw at them. And to just add balance, the authors include photos of pre World War I U.P. bathing beauties trying to escape extraordinary 100 degree temperatures in Marquette. 

Everybody talks about the weather, some even get paid to talk about it, but Karl and Jack went a step further and created a book on the subject. The result is yet another unique and always interesting book that once again proves Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a world unto itself. The book will always remain in easy reach of my desk so it can be taken down and browsed through whenever I get tired of a Davison, Michigan winter. 

Sunburns to Snowstorms: Upper Michigan Weather in Pictures & Stories by Karl Bohnak & Jack Deo. Cold Sky Publishing, 2017, $28,30.

Storm Struck: When Supercharged Winds Slammed Northwest Michigan
by Robert Campbell, photographs and comments by area residents.

This is also a visually stunning book on Michigan weather. On August 2, 2015, 100-mile-per-hour, straight-line winds and hail slammed  into the northwest, lower peninsula and wreaked havoc from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park to Torch Lake. It was called a hundred-year storm that flattened large swaths of forest, tore up building, left thousands without power, and made parts of Sleeping Bear Dunes unrecognizable.

Mission Point Press of Traverse City, MI, (the town was hit by the storm) asked those who were caught in the grip of the storm to write about their experiences and share their photographs. Seventy photographers sent in pictures. Campbell explains clearly and concisely the origin of the storm and presents a brief narrative of its destructive path across Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties. Each chapter recounts the storm's assault on a specific town, or location with a short page or two of narrative followed by a stunning collection of photographs of  the storms impact or approach. Scattered throughout the photographs are quotes by those who witnessed the storm.

The book contains many arresting photographs of monstrously ominous clouds that seem to herald the approach of Hell. They are called bow echo clouds and are considered rare in Michigan. This reviewer can't ever remember seeing one and they are not something one would easily forget. The record of destruction is impressive and miraculously no one died.

The book is also a record of how the towns and neighborhoods responded to the storm and tells of neighbors and strangers who came together to clean up and rebuild their homes and communities. Storm Struck is a great example of how small publishers can be so important in helping record the history of regional or localized events within the state.

Storm Struck by Robert Campbell. Mission Point Press, 2015, $21.48 pb.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

Quote for the Day: "(During the 1880s) the only toiletries north of Saginaw were mustache wax and alkali soap." Russell McKee. Aud...