Anonymous on THE FUN COUPLE charleymckelvy on A SUBLIME SOJOURN IN SOUTH… bluestempond on A SUBLIME SOJOURN IN SOUTH… bluestempond on BARNSTORMING Anonymous on BARNSTORMING
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- Abraham Lincoln
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(South Haven, MI) We met Mary and Dave for a leisurely luncheon at Clementine’s yesterday, in a booth by a window. And then, of course, we strolled around town, from high to low and back again. It was a beautiful late summer day on the west coast of Michigan, and we just grooved on it. And we have been grooving on South Haven ever since we first “discovered” Van Buren County’s seaside resort, at the mouth of the Black River, on the Shoreline Bicycle Tour in August 1987. Yes, that would have been just two months after we moved permanently to Michigan. And we have made day trips to South Haven, in all four seasons, a permanent part of our mental health plan. Yesterday’s visit certainly fulfilled that plan, and, as a bonus, we got up close and personal to a Double-crested Cormorant that was happily diving for fishy delights at the mouth of the Black River. We saw an inbound sailboat on auxiliary power and just plain folk out basking in the afternoon sun. Ah, South Haven! It was number one on our gratitude list yesterday and will be again, real soon. Here are some of the photos from our day in the sun in South Haven, beginning with Mary and Dave in the booth (sorry, Dave for the lack of leg room) at Clementine’s:
(Chicago, IL) My friend Joe Rochetto and I had every intention of attending Saturday night’s game featuring the two Sox: the hosting Chicago White Sox vs. the visiting Boston Red Sox. Always a great match-up, particularly late in the season with the Red Sox vying for a Wild Card slot in their hotly contested AL East division. Yes, the White Sox appear to have the AL Central wrapped up, but they need to stay focused on the prize, and, so we marched off from the Monastery of the Holy Cross, where we had attended Solemn Vespers with the monks and the angelic singers of Schola Laudis, to witness a great baseball game. Did we have advance tickets? Nah. We were gonna just throw ourselves on the mercy of the box office and come up with a couple of ducats for say $12 a pop, somewhere near the foul pole in right field. Well, as were approaching what Guaranteed Rate Field, aka Sox Park, we saw fireworks, signalling that a White Sox batter had hit a homerun. A White Sox batter had indeed hit a homerun, and were we there to witness it? No, but we were close. And we were close to attending the remainder of the game until the ticket agent informed us that the only seats left were in the gold section and were selling for $87 a piece. Too rich for our blood, so we retreated back to the monastery over at 31st and Aberdeen from the ballpark at 35th and Shields. We were hoping to find a friendly place in which to view some of the game on a sports channel, but we found no such place. So we headed for home and tuned in the game on the radio. We were thrilled to hear the White Sox come back from a 7-2 deficit and actually go ahead to make it 8-7. But when Joe dropped me off at our dump in the dunes at 10 EDT, the Red Sox had evened it up in the eighth to make it 8-8. I listened in hopeful silence on my recliner as the Red Sox scored a run in the top of the 10th and the White Sox put men on the corners in the bottom of the inning, only to have the next three batters fail to drive them in and win the game. But, as we said, during our long, fruitless march to and from the ballpark, “At least we know the Sox will win.” We just didn’t know which color sox the winners would be wearing.
(HESSTON STEAM MUSEUM, IN) On Labor Day, there were three different railroads to ride: narrow gauge, vintage amusement, and craftsman railroads. We rode the first two, and found the line for the third to be too long, so we went back and rode the narrow gauge again. But we shall return to Hesston before the end of the year, most certainly for the Hesston Ghost Train, which will shock-and-roll the last two weekends in October. We might return the first two weekends in December as well to tour the snowy woods on the Candy Cane Express. Who knows? All we know is that Labor Day ain’t Labor Day without the Hesston Steam & Power Show. Here are some photographic highlights of our day in the steam (and be sure and check out their website at: HESSTON.ORG):
(Harbert, MI) I spent a lot of time in the surf at Surf City, New Jersey as a kid. Now, as an old fart, I get to hit the salt-free, shark-free surf in Lake Michigan at what I call Surf City, Michigan. And, as a bonus, we can hear in the night if the surf is up for a morning splash. How cool is that?
Life with Charley:
You Can Go Home Again
by Charles McKelvy
Yes, you can go home again.
I base my claim on a recent realization I had while driving through the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. I realized as I drove north along South Shore Drive that I was home, again.
The past—specifically the first six years of my life from May 7, 1950 to May 7, 1956—was present. I was back in the formative neighborhood of my early childhood, and I was feelin’ it.
Was I ever.
No, I’m not getting all Twilight Zoney on you here, but I think a lot of you know what I’m talking about. Face it, sports fans, we’re all getting older, a second at a time. And, as we wind down the mainspring of our lives on the mortal coil, we tend to look back.
And why not?
When wiser friends than I firmly suggested that I “should not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it,” I took them at their word.
And so, as I advance relentlessly into the eighth decade of my life, I rather enjoy looking back. And, lately, circumstances have enabled me to take a really good look at those aforementioned first six years of my life, when I lived in South Shore with my parents and baby brother, who arrived on the scene in the spring of 1953.
I am no expert on early childhood development, but I have interviewed those who are. They all claim that those young, developing brains of ours are—well—big, wet sponges lodged between our ears.
So my little McKelvy brain was on full record as I grew and developed in South Shore in the early 1950s. I didn’t need a camera or tape recorder to capture all those formative experiences with my parents and little brother, because that wonderful wetware between my ears did it all.
And those memories are there for instant retrieval, especially when I trigger them by one of my regular drives through the old ‘hood.
Take, for example, a recent drive home through South Shore:
I caught the red light at 79th Street and South Shore Drive and happened to look to the left. There for my wondering eyes to see was a sign identifying that stretch of green space along the big, blue lake as Rainbow Beach Park. I knew it simply as Rainbow Beach. I knew at once that I was in for a flood of memories, chiefly of my late father, James S. McKelvy, taking firm hold of my infant self and gently guiding me into the gentle surf of Lake Michigan. I couldn’t have been more than 18 months old at that point, but I was lovin’ it. And, as I waited for the green light, I was lovin’ it all over again.
Yeah, you really can go home again, and, sometimes, you have to take a trip down memory lane, or South Shore Drive, or whatever, in order to get there.
Well, I was there that afternoon in 2021 reliving that afternoon in 1951 when I was learning to swim from the master.
Yeah, my Dad.
The same guy who had rescued distressed swimmers from the big surf of the Atlantic Ocean along Long Beach Island in New Jersey. I knew I was in the best hands possible, and my dear old daddy sure got me lovin’ the whole experience of being in the open water.
So much so that I found myself entering open-water swimming events as an adult. Just such an example being the Fox Lake Challenge Four Mile Swim my swimming buddy, Tom “Griff” Griffith, and I entered in September 1986. That was a year after my father died. He was very much on my mind that chilly, post-Labor Day morn out there along the Fox River northwest of Chicago. Griff and I had trained for the swim in Lake Michigan between North Avenue and Oak Street in Chicago. Yes, we had more or less swum the full four-mile distance before our big day. We reckoned we were fit to be victors in our age groups, but then the race director dipped a thermometer into the water and shook his head. Now, this was in the age before swimmers could wear wetsuits for outdoor swims. We were all eyes and ears as he shook his head and proclaimed: “Hmmm. 64 degrees. If it was up to me, I’d cancel this event, but I’m leaving it up to you swimmers.”
There weren’t all that many of us—no more than 20 at the most—and we were all pumped and primed enough to chorus: “Let’s go for it.”
We all hopped into the icy drink, shivered and shrank, and then stroked on down the four-mile course. A course, mind you, that involved both the aforementioned Fox Lake, and then a channel that led to the Fox River. At least that’s how I remember it, but all I could focus on that morning was warming up in that chilly water and staying on course.
Mind you, the better prepared swimmers had arranged to have friends in kayaks and/or canoes escort them along the way, but Griff and I figured we’d buddy up and stay on course.
Well, right way old Griff said he was too cold to do much more than survive the swim. He told me to go on ahead without him, and, reluctantly, I did.
Sticking with my tried-and-true freestyle, or front-crawl stroke, I crawled across Fox Lake, looking up every couple of strokes to see where in tarnation I was. I could see some faster swimmers on up ahead, along with their canoe escorts, so I followed them.
And, in keeping with the theme of this essay, I truly went back to Rainbow Beach in 1951, and said, “Hey, Dad, how about swimming with me today?”
Dear Old Dad did just as I requested, and he was with me the whole, entire four miles. He swam before me, behind me, and beside me. He never left my side. I know he was more than a little amused when I overtook the fastest swimmer in the race, a nationally ranked Masters swimmer from Indianapolis. I caught up with her just shy of the finish line, and, as I approached her, I could see why I had caught her. She had hypothermia and was floundering, barely able to doggie-paddle forward.
I asked her if she needed help, and Dad and I were ready for an open-water rescue, but she was out of her head with the chills and screamed: “Don’t get near me!!!”
Dad said, “Back off, son, and call for help.”
Father knew best. I did the best thing for that poor woman I could by waving my arms and shouting for the race officials at the finish to paddle over in a rowboat and pull her out. They did. They had her wrapped in blankets and sipping warm fluid in no time; she lived to swim another day.
So did I. And so I waited for Griff to finish in fine, but utterly chilled, form. “Guess I still have a little more baby fat than you,” I told him.
He laughed and said I must have channeled some inner resource to finish as well as I did.
I shrugged and racked my success up to some “higher power thing,” knowing full well that I had gone home again to Rainbow Beach and enlisted the moral support of Dear Old Dad.
And Dear Old Dad was mighty proud that morning when the race officials gave this big boy a second-place trophy for the 30-39 year-old age-group.
My time that day?
No idea, except to say it was one of those magically real times of my life when my past informed my present.
So, yes, you can really go home again: I have a trophy on my mantlepiece to prove it.
(Chicago, IL) I had my Canon PowerShot SX50 HS digital camera at the ready Sunday as I motored home from the Monastery of the Holy Cross on what I call the scenic route along the south shore of Lake Michigan. So when I caught the red light at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, I snapped off two shots: one of 57th Street Beach and the other of the Museum of Science and Industry. Behold:
(Berrien County Youth Fair, Mich.) We had the fairest of Fair days on Wednesday as we walked from horses to llamas and fancy chickens and swinging fairgoers and back again. It was all too beautiful, and, like everyone else on the fairgrounds, we were pent up from having been deprived of the Fair last year due to the COVID lock-downs. Here is a visual record of our fabulous day at the Fair:
I was talking to a friend in Chicago on Sunday about the comparative merits of bicycling in the Windy City and in the Great Lakes State of Michigan. A native Michigander, he readily agreed that the latter trumps the former 10 to 1. Maybe 100 to 1. Why? Because we have something Chicago doesn’t have, and that being lightly traveled backroads. Let the following photo speak for itself. It shows Natalie (last fall) pausing to take in the view along Elm Valley Road just north of Three Oaks, Michigan.
Had me a high ol’ time Sunday afternoon, riding to the nearby Warren Dunes State Park in sylvan Sawyer, Michigan. Yes, WDSP is the only country club I would ever join. Why? Because it’s the people’s park, for the people, of the people, and, it was with the people I dined al fresco on the beach, with my trusty e-bike at my side. Could life be better? I don’t think so. Oh, I tried the veggie burger, and, I must say, it had a spicy kick to it. Me gusta mucho. Here are the snaps from my snappy Sunday ride:
Nothing could be finer than to enjoy a South Bend Cubs game, complete with post-game fireworks, in the friendly confines of Four Winds Field, with two dear friends, John and George. Such was my Wednesday night. Yes, the Cubs fell 5-2 to the Peoria Chiefs, but we saw fireworks during and after the game, and the drive home was a summer night’s breeze.
(Niles, Mich.) To reward ourselves for our successful visit to the Niles Dental Clinic Tuesday, we took a stroll along the nearby Saint Joseph River. What is it about lazy, old rivers on lazy, old summer afternoons? Hmm. Nothing could be finer. Except that lady in the diner singin’: “Supper time in the summer time!”
Life with Charley:
by Charles McKelvy
I screwed up.
Hey, I did an “ISU” a few weeks back when writing about my literary exploits at ISU, or Illinois State University, in Normal, Ill.
I tantalized you by stating that I had won first prize in a university-wide literary contest. But then I said I could not find said literary magazine. Lost to the ages, as it were.
Well, my dear wife Natalie did a deep dive the other day into our “books and papers.” Lo and behold, she held up a copy of the I.S.U. TRIANGLE from 1971 for me to behold.
“I know you’ve been looking for this,” she said.
“Oh, yes, oh, yes.”
“Well, guess where it was?”
“Up on the top shelf of YOUR closet, carefully wrapped in plastic for posterity.”
I kissed her, thanked her, and cried for joy.
So, better late than never, right? This is the right time to share what I wrote back in 1971 to win first prize in the essay division, for “A Hero of the American People.”
I will share the piece in its entirety with you in just a few inches, but I first must explain the circumstances that inspired the piece.
A high-school friend’s father worked for the phone company, Illinois Bell Telephone, and he secured us a couple of summer jobs at what Ma Bell called South Coin.
That was this complex near 79th St. and Vincennes Ave. on da Sout’ Side of Chicago. It served as a collection-point for all the coins collected from that once-ubiquitous device known as a pay phone.
Remember pay phones?
All right, in the Dark Ages, far before smart phones, there existed this thing that hung on the walls of bars, restaurants, beauty parlors, bus stations, and even Midway (now International) Airport in Chicago. You also found them in phone booths, and, yes, those booths could hold a whole lot of college students. And, yes, many of them, in my experience, were quite odiferous.
So, in the course of my collecting coins for Illinois Bell’s South Coin division, I had official occasion to visit a tavern or two. The appearance of “the phone guy” was often an occasion for celebration, because everybody and his brother had lost “fifty cents in that stupid phone.” That was true because once the coin-box in the base of the phone was full, the little spring-loaded door on top would not close; coins then backed up the coin chute. I know that’s way more information than you wanted, but I wanted you to know that I was inspired to write the following after being hailed as “the phone guy” at just such a South Side tavern.
So here, without further ado, is “A Hero of the American People” by Yours Truly:
Sometimes, I guess, the so-called “generation gap” disturbs me. For instance, I have been spending the glorious months of summer 1970 working as a pay-phone collector for Illinois Bell in Chicago. Really, you would be amazed how I get around during a typical day of collecting dimes, nickels, and slugs. What I am trying to say is, I, a twenty-year-old college student hanging on to a summer job, come in contact with, and am forced to deal with, hardcore members of that “older” generation. You know, really scary guys like truck-drivers, longshoremen (yes, there are even some in Chicago), construction workers, and, worst of all, drunks in bars. Drunks in bars! Wow, they are the ones who really scare me.
This is where my story is supposed to begin, but kindly excuse me while I ramble on a bit about myself. Like I was saying, I am young and a bit wary of adults. An irrational state of mind, I imagine, but recent events really alarmed me. Kent State, Jackson, hard-hat demonstrations, and so on. Now my hair, by current campus standards, is not exceptionally long—you can see most of my ears and almost all of my neck. Granted, my forehead tends to be camouflaged at times, but what can you expect from a kid who is trying to identify with his peer group? Continuing, I sport long sideburns and, when the shadows fall just right, a “bushy” mustache.
Sorry, back to my story, which incidentally is true.
Feeling self-conscious about my youthful appearance, I parked my truck alongside a curb on West 63rd Street and studied the address on my computerized collection card. “This must be the place,” I breathed aloud. “I’ll bet it’s full of red-necks and right-wing nuts just waiting to draw and quarter me.”
Gulping, I grabbed an empty coin-receptacle and ventured across 63rd Street. I realized that I would have to fight the upcoming battle of the generations alone, but continued on my assignment.
Head held high, face frozen in an indignant scowl, I invaded the stronghold of my enemy.
Sure enough, I was faced with a drunk in a bar. Really, the guy was everything I feared he would be. He had a crew cut, his left arm was disfigured by a garish tattoo, and his face was tied up in a hostile, “I hate you, you young commie punk” scowl.
A passive black bartender stood wiping glasses with a towel. He said nothing. The drunk at the bar said nothing. I managed a hoarse, “Ah, I’m here to take the money from your phone.”
My adversary sat frozen in a position of concentration. He eyed me intently and then his glazed eyes shifted to my bell-bottom pants.
“I lost fifty (expletive deleted) cents in that phone, buddy. What the hell are you gonna do about it?” The drunk’s voice was firm, and yet it was pathetic.
The bartender added, “Yeah, that thing took two dollars from me. ‘bout time you came to fix it.”
Warming just a bit, I said, “Hang on a second, and I’ll see if I can’t get your money back.”
Sure enough, there was at least ten dollars worth of overflow money lodged in the coin chute. After I carefully counted the money, I refunded two dollars to the bartender and fifty cents to his customer.
Although the president of Bell Telephone had never personally told me that refunding change to people in strange bars was regarded as being consistent with company policy, I figured that the public-relations benefit was well worth the $2.10 in refunds.
Money works magic, I guess, because not only did I feel good after giving some away, but the drunk grabbed my wrist and asked me to join him for a drink.
I almost said that I couldn’t drink while working, but I was too thirsty to refuse, especially since he was buying.
“My name is John,” my new friend explained. “How about you?”
“Charley,” I muttered, careful not to include my last name.
John, or Jack, as he apparently liked to be called, had red hair—although it was turning white in spots—a narrow face, wandering eyes, and puffy hands. Considering it was Wednesday mid-day and the guy was smashed, I concluded that Jack was an alcoholic. (Hey, takes one to know one, right?)
“You know something, Charley, I’m da best engineer in this whole (expletive deleted) city,” Jack stated, sending a fine spray of saliva into my face. “That’s right,” he added, “you can ask Dicky Daley. You wanna know something?”
“Yeah,” I replied engagingly, rapidly losing my fear of the man.
“I designed the subway system of Chicago. Not only that but I drew the plans for the Dan Ryan, the Calumet, and the Kingery Expressways.”
I knew old Jack was putting me on, or putting himself on, but I could see in his eyes that he had to. Occasionally, I spoke about myself and my job. I even made up a wild story about my experiences in the navy, and said I was 24 to keep things straight with the bartender.
At the mention of the military, Jack grew solemn and distant. “I was in the WAR, and I’m damn proud of it.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I was in the Pacific—an Army Air Corpsman. You know, pal, I won the Silver Star.”
Jack stopped speaking, looked despondently at his empty glass, and broke into tears. “And—and now I’m a (expletive deleted) bum—you know, I live in a flophouse down the street. A (expletive deleted) flophouse. But I still have that medal.”
Jack grasped my wrist desperately. I tried to tell him with my eyes that I believed him and that I respected him for what he had done.
“You know, Charley, my brother works for the phone company. He’s in charge of all the coin phones in the whole (expletive deleted) city of Chicago. He’s your boss’s boss.”
“Maybe he could get me a raise?”
Jack’s eyes brightened. “I want you to call my brother. His name is Frederick. But I call him Freddy. He’ll always be little Freddy to me, because he’s my baby brother. You tell him you saw his (expletive deleted) of a brother.”
Jack took a beat, looked beseechingly into my eyes, and continued: “But don’t tell him where you saw me. He offered me money, but I couldn’t take it. I don’t want him to think I’m some kind of drunk. I’m the best engineer in the whole damn city. Just because I’m sittin’ in a bar, don’t think I ain’t.”
“I believe you, Jack. I really do.”
“My other brother, he went—“ Jack paused to collect his thoughts. He gulped a breath and added, “He went to fight in Korea. They brought him back in a box.”
Tears once again rolled down my friend’s face.
Trying to divert Jack’s attention, I asked him to tell me more about his experience in World War II.
“I was on the plane that bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Jack was once again overcome. “I only did what I was ordered to do. I did what they told me. How the hell did I—how could—the captain’s in a nuthouse—and look at me. Look at me, a hero of the American people.”
I looked, and I was disgusted.
I looked again, and I was moved to tears.
(Present self to past self: “Great story, young man. Stick with it, because you have a whole lot more writing to do.”)