Monday, October 30, 2023

 Post #89 October 30, 2023

Quote for the Day: "If all the lumber in Michigan during the white pine lumbering era (1860-1900) would have provided; enough boards for a solid row of out-houses around the world, as some writers stated, then the amount of whiskey consumed by lumberjacks, tough guys, drummers, and plain drunks during the same period would have made another set of Great Lakes bubbling over with pure whiskey." Roy L. Dodge. Ticket to Hell" A Sage of Michigan's Bad Men. 1975.


A Cold, Hard Prayer by John Smolens

Mercy and Rope are older teenagers on an orphan train sent west in 1924 from Boston. Both are willing to do nearly anything to escape a hopeless existence, but the odds are against them because Mercy is half Black and Rope has a crippled right hand. As the train crosses the Midwest it stops at every station where the orphans line up along the tracks and married couples stroll past the orphans like they're deciding which jar of pickles to select from the shelf. Mercy, is hoping she doesn't get picked until Michigan because she believes she has an aunt in St. Ignace and is determined to reach her. At Otter Creek, Michigan both Mercy and Rope are picked by the husband of a childless family because he's offered both for the price of one. 

They are not treated like adoptees at the farm but as free farm workers. That is until the wife is hospitalized and the husband starts drinking which leads to an assault on Mercy. Rope intercedes clubbing the man on the head with an ax. The pair flee and are quickly parted. Mercy heads for St. Ignace and not knowing quite why Rope takes off after her. When the murdered man is found Otter Creek's stoic Sheriff sets off in pursuit. Also in pursuit is the Klu Klux Klan that has a chapter in Otter Creek. The Klan is set on hosting a huge gathering of Klansmen at which they want to administer their form of justice to the mixed race girl who they believe murdered a white man. 

That is the set up for a captivating novel of quilt and innocence, good and evil, and a breathless chase across 1924 Michigan to St. Ignace and back to Otter Creek. Smolens creates wonderfully brought to life characters and a plot with more twists and turns than a braided rug.  All of which he delivers in effortlessly readable and striking prose. Chalk up another outstanding novel by a  Michigan author who, in my opinion, is nationally under appreciated. 

A Cold, Hard Pray by John Smolens. Michigan State University Press. 2023, 268p., $29.95.

The Road to Empire by John Wemlinger

I believe this was a novel the author was meant to write. Wemlinger retired as a army colonel after  27 years of service. He served in Vietnam as a helicopter maintenance officer and pilot. Several of his previous novels have dealt with wounded veterans returning home and trying to adjust to civilian life. The heart of this deeply felt and ultimately moving novel is the cost to families and loved ones of those who serve in our armed forces. The book is reviewed in Michigan in Books because the 1st person narrator hails from Michigan as does his wife and most of his family. That said the theme of this novel is common to all families across American who's loved ones serve in our armed forces.

Jack Rigley graduated from Empire High School and attended Western Michigan University where he studied aviation science and joined the ROTC. After graduation he married his high school sweetheart and joined the army as a 2nd Lieutenant. His first posting is to a base in Alabama where he will become a helicopter pilot. As seen and told through Jack's narrative the mechanics of flying a helicopter is told in fascinating detail. His wife Annie lives off base and the army doesn't seem to intrude on the first years of their marriage. But that will change.

Jack becomes a "walk-on-water" officer, meaning he always stands out because of his exemplary achievements. That results in early promotions and special assignments that take him away from Annie and his growing family. As described by Jack his work is often so involved and demanding that thoughts of family are not always foremost in his mind. On the other hand his wife has to learn to live with loneliness, raising a family, and running a household. Jake's year long deployments are hard on Jack but much harder on his family. Annie in one instance intrudes on the narrative to describe how she tries to cope as the wife of a soldier.  Their marriage is repeatedly strained because the army is always a third party in their marriage. Jack is one step away from his first star when a life changing crisis strikes his family. 

This novel is both a revealing portrait of an officer and helicopter pilot in the Airborne Cavalry and the constant demands and sacrifices it imposes on his spouse. It is common to tell those in uniform; "Thank you for your service." After reading this book the same should be said  to their spouses.

The Road to Empire by John Wemlinger. Mission Point Press, 2023, 262p., $17.95.

Stumped: The Legacy of the Great Pine Harvest in Mid-Michigan by Thomas A. Schupbach

This unique study of lumbering in northern Michigan focuses on Nester Township in Roscommon County. The book begins with the 1837 government survey of the area by one John Brink who commented as a surveyor he often went "three months at a time without having all my clothes dry." Those studying the local history of the area will find the author names nearly every person or company and the date on which they bought land in what became Nester Township. That is a little more than the general reader would probably like to know but the book will have those reader's attention when Thomas Nester, along with a rotating group of investors, enters the picture the 1870s. 

The entire area surrounding the township was blanketed in White Pine and Nester brought mechanized methods to clear-cutting the land. Fifteen miles of narrow gauge railroad was laid and four camps were established that employed a total of 230 men, 4 wives, and two daughters. The RR ran 24 hours a day and provided access to 20,000 acres of virgin forest containing 600,000,000 board feet of lumber. The Gladwin newspaper called it the "greatest project in northern Michigan." Consideration for the loggers safety appears to be an issue of no concern. 

When there was nothing but stumps left the Central Michigan Land Company thought there was profits to be made from stumps, planting thousands of fruit trees, and raising crops. Those efforts failed to turn any significant profits. The author charts the success of  each company that was next in line to try and make a dime off the clear-cut land. The book also draws brief portraits of the interesting businessmen who looked at land and saw green gold.

This is a scholarly and unique look at the state's lumbering era. It will be of special interest to students of the area's local history and anyone interest in Michigan's lumbering era will find it interesting reading.
Stumped: The Legacy of the Great Pine Harvest in Mid-Michigan by Thomas A. Schupbach. Mission Point Press, 2023, 218p., $15.95. 

Up North Dream:The Guide for Moving to Northern Michigan by Andrew LaPointe

If your heart is in northern Michigan while the rest of you spends most of the year in southern Michigan this may be the book for you. It is a common sense guide and workbook filled with sound advice, creative ideas, and questions that should be answered if you want to take the big plunge and move to northern Michigan. And the author knows of what he writes. Just out of college he and his wife moved to northern Michigan in the winter of 1992 with $500 in the bank, ten times that in credit card debt, and neither had a job. 

The author is a big believer in choosing a lifestyle instead of simply earning a living. It took me a couple of pages to understand the concept and that you don't have to move north to choose a lifestyle. Part of which may mean you have to live simpler to live better. There is a lot about finance, cash flow, how to find a job, or start your own Internet business. His suggestions include visiting the area in all seasons, subscribe to a local paper, talk to the school district, evaluate senior activities,  learn the job market, contact the Newcomers Club, and many more.

The above is only a small percentage of the information and the necessary decisions that need to be made before moving north. The author even identifies reasons why it would be unwise to move. A lot of information is packed into 110 pages and anyone seriously considering moving to northern Michigan will find the book very helpful.
Up North Dream: The Guide to Moving to Northern Michigan by Andrew LaPointe. Lapte Enterprises, Inc., 2023, 216p., $9.95.


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