Saturday, September 15, 2018

Post # 28

Quote for the Day: "If any person, or persons, shall exhibit any puppet show, wire dancing, or tumbling, juggling or sleight of hand, within this territory, and shall ask or receive any pay in money, or other property for exhibiting the same, such a person, or persons, shall for every offense pay a fine of not less than ten nor exceeding twenty dollars." Michigan Territorial law, enacted on April 13, 1827.


The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts
by John U. Bacon

The author has been writing about sports in Michigan for three decades and his stories have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Ann Arbor News, as well as Time, Sports Illustrated, and National Public Radio. The 40 stories collected here range from 1992 to 2018. They are touching, always interesting, exclusively focused on sports in our state, and sometimes funny. The book is not about winning or losing on the scoreboard but how sports reveal the true character of coaches, players, fans, and the way in which it changes lives.

There is no better example of the above than in his report entitled "Hoops the Potawatomi Way." The story introduces us to the Northern Lights Conference that is made up of five very small schools; Mackinac Island H.S., Grand Marais H. S., Paradise High, and the Hannahville Potawatomi Reservation school located some dozen miles west of Escanaba. The Hannahville students never played basketball until 1990 when they joined the league. In spite of a long winless record, the students developed a passion for the game and developed a fan base among the adults who took pride in a team that played for the love of the game. As a result students grades went up and so did the school's graduation rate. Drug use and drinking among students and adults went down. 

The book contains great profiles of Joe Lewis, Gordy Howe, Tom Izzo, Jim Abbott, Magic Johnson, and other iconic Michigan athletes and coaches.  The opening section of the book discusses kids and sports and contains a wonderful piece on how children need to invent and play games without adult supervision. Bacon recalls how his friends came up with the baloney game. At a friend's home, the guys would take slices of baloney and throw them at the ceiling in hopes they would stick. The winner was the boy whose slice of Oscar Meyer stuck there the longest. But if the boy didn't catch the falling slice of lunch meat with his mouth he was disqualified. The game went on for quite a while until the boy's mother figured out how the grease marks got on the ceiling.

The hardest hitting pieces are toward the end of the book and are in a section called "Money and Madness." One essay argues that Eastern Michigan University should drop out of Division 1 football explaining how most schools devote less than 1% of their general fund to the athletic dept. where at EMU 80% of the athletic budget comes from the university's general fund. The essays on how TV is ruining college football for those who attend games and how college sports has been overtaken by sheer greed are dire warnings about the fate of college sports.

Anyone opening this book will find great essays, great human interest stories, and an appreciation for the positive impact sports can have on individuals and the greater community.

The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts by John U. Bacon. University of Michigan Press, 2018, $24.95

Summer Rounds
by B. G. Bradley

It is always a pleasure to enter B. G. Bradley's literary world. It is peopled with unique and interesting characters facing pivotal moments in their lives. And if I can't, on the spur of the moment, head across Big Mac and soak up the UP's ambiance, limitless beauty, and enjoy its laid-back lifestyle I can pick up one of the author's books and let him take me there.

Summer Rounds, the second novel in a series about the folks of Hunter, Michigan chronicles an eventful and critical week in the life of Dale Sylvanus as told by himself. Dale is the town's handy-man, tow truck driver, alcoholic, and an ex-marine who can't erase the vivid memories of his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a victim of his low self-esteem. Dale appeared briefly in Bradley's first novel and as the author explains in the forward, the ex-marine just refused to quietly go away after appearing in a few scenes. Dale became a near-constant presence in Bradley's mind, always wanting to talk and tell his story. So the author turned over control of his second novel to a fictional character who would not leave him alone.

Dale knows he has got to get his life together before it completely unravels. He just doesn't know if he's man enough to do it. Carrie, his wife has thrown him out of the house because he spends too much time with his drinking buddies. He's lost the respect of his teenage daughter and it breaks his heart that his youngest son aches to spend more time with him. Carrie and Dale's oldest son, born before the couple wed when they were sixteen-year-olds, left home years ago.  Dale suspects the boy hates him and they haven't spoken in years. He is surprised, delighted, and very nervous when he learns his oldest son is on his way home with a wife.

Readers will quickly understand how the author simply couldn't stop listening to Dale because neither can they, and Dale will stay in their minds long after they turn the book's last page. Dale is a likable guy. He's a better and a stronger person than he thinks and he has people who will do everything in their power to help him right his course through life. Even though she threw him out of their house Carrie lets Dale know she believes in him. So does the local Catholic priest who has been through hell and back and is there to set him on the not always straight and difficult path to sobriety and a renewed faith in himself. 

It is a very stressful week for Dale and he is constantly being tested and tempted. This reviewer is not going to reveal the challenges Dale must face and overcome in seven short days because I don't want to be a spoiler for future readers and I couldn't tell it as well as Dale does. By the end of the book, readers know Dale Slyvanus as well as they know their next-door neighbor and good friend of twenty years. They will also wish there was a real Hunter, Michigan to visit. The inhabitants have become good friends who will be missed until the next book in the series makes its way to publication. I look forward to having my ear bent by another character in Hunter who wants to tell their story, so get the lead out of your pencil Bradley and onto paper.

Summer Rounds by B. G. Bradley. Benegamah Press, 2018, $9.95

Ira's Farm: Growing Up On a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930's and 1940's
by Virginia Johnson

In 1929, just a 100 days before the stock market crashed and the Great Depression brought the country to its economic knees Virginia Johnson's father bought a 60-acre farm in Harlan, Michigan. Harlan has since fallen off the map making Mesick, some seven miles away, the next nearest town to the farm on which the author grew up. Virginia was born on the farm and in a simple and straightforward memoir takes the reader into a world few remember and even fewer can even imagine -- that of life on a self-sustaining Michigan farm in the Depression. 

In the first few years, the little income from the farm came from the sale of eggs and milk from five cows. The family worked the farm with a team of horses, a tractor wasn't purchased until after WW II. The house had no electricity or an indoor toilet until 1943, and it was heated by a "monstrous" iron, wood burning, potbellied stove that also served as a water heater, baking oven, cook stove, and a drier of mittens, dish towels, and anything else that might get wet in winter. Kerosene lamps lit the house and chamber pots resided under every bed so the family didn't have to walk to the outhouse in the middle of a northern Michigan winter night. The author's only comment on the outhouse was, "Using catalogs for bathroom tissue took the art of recycling way beyond necessary."

During the course of the year, the family ate what they raised. Potatoes were stored in a Michigan basement as were countless Mason jars filled with canned vegetables from the garden and fruit from their orchard, or what could be gathered from the wild. Butter and milk came from five milk cows, pigs were raised for meat.  It was ceaseless work from spring through fall and when Virginia's older brother went off to war in 1941 she became the number one farm hand.  If it was endless work, and there was more than a little worry as to whether they could make payments on the farm for the first few years, Virginia remembers the life as rewarding and filled with a high level of contentment.

This short and evocative memoir of life on a small Michigan farm between the wars is a valuable addition to a little known or written about era in Michigan history. I found it not only pleasant reading but filled with surprises. For instance, it wasn't until 1939 that the first piece of plastic found it's way into Virginia's home and it was in the form of a toothbrush. Or, that milkweed became important to the war effort when it was discovered milkweed pods could be used in floatation vests. Children across Michigan would take empty sacks into the fields, collect the pods, and get paid for the amount they bagged.

This is Michigan history as lived by its everyday citizens. It deserves consideration as a Michigan Notable Book, should be required reading in Michigan history classes and is even suitable for reading to upper elementary students who might wonder if life was even liveable without smartphones, the Internet, TV, and the social network, let alone indoor plumbing and electricity.
Ira's Farm: Growing up in a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930's and 1940's, by Virginia Johnson. Harlin village Press, 2018, $15.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

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