Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Michigan Stories, Part 1

During the recent trip to Michigan my brothers mentioned that they would read my blog if I wrote more stories about our childhood times. Not that I crave readers, but it does seem like a good idea. Some stories can be inspirational, some can be warnings, some simply informational and some likely boring. But I do have stories, so this seems a good place to share them.
Since we just came back from Michigan, I can start in the middle, in about 1968, the times we spent in Michigan. This will cover a few posts, but I'll start with some background.
We lived in Brown City Michigan when Dad was in Viet Nam. Mom signed me up for fifth grade and then had to correct it to sixth grade after I went for the first day. I don't recall what I said, but I was probably pretty upset. That sort of thing bothered me, even then, and I'm also sure I didn't want to repeat fifth grade. Once was enough. Instead of going to school in the main building in Brown City, I went to class in Burnside, an old schoolhouse a few miles down the road. I took one bus to the main school, and then changed to a different bus to get to Burnside. That was sort of a hard year for me, in many respects.
It was hard for the entire family, Mom most of all, but we each have stories of that time in Michigan, surrounded by Mom's relatives. These are the ones I recall.
I could start with a short story, a horror story for four small boys (and even in sixth grade I was pretty immature and nervous). That would be Mom's Uncle Don. Going to Uncle Don's farm scared us. Untouchable knick-knacks crowded the inside of his house. Mud covered the ground outside. Chickens ran free and mocked us. Brazen and angry geese came after us with murder in their little red eyes; we were sure they planned to eat us and they might have, since most were bigger than my youngest brother.
Uncle Don loved those geese. He told one story of the Christmas goose that he sold three years in a row. Apparently it was a record-size goose, which would have made it, oh, I don't know - as big as a Shetland pony or something. One year this guy came and bought the goose for his Christmas dinner. A week later the goose landed back in Uncle Don's farmyard, happy to be back no doubt. Maybe he ate the guy who bought him. The next year the same thing happened. I can only assume it was a different guy. Uncle Don sold the goose for the third Christmas in a row and it never came back.

First confirmation of age and birth place.
Here's a side story my Mom told me about Uncle Don and our Grandfather (Mom's father, whose information was lost to us for our entire lives, but recently found in the 1940 US Census records - thank you, Ancestry-dot-com). Mom told me that her dad was a horse-whisperer - her words, not mine. Uncle Don planned to put down his blue roan since it had a badly infected hoof. I don't know much about horses, but I guess back then not much could be done about it. Apparently Grandpa Earl (Mom's dad) asked Uncle Don to give him a week before putting the young horse down and mixed some herbs and spices and took care of the horse. The horse's hoof was totally healed.
Uncle Don was a big man with a barrel chest and perpetual whiskers and oak-tree arms, and he always had grease under his nails and oil on his clothes. He spoke loudly and sharply and grinned a wicked smile as he explained to us quite clearly how he would capture Santa and drown him in a rain barrel. I just shivered at the monstrous evil of it all. (He also mentioned to Mom, quite loudly, that children should be put in a rain barrel just before they are teens and fed through the hole until they were adults.)
And during the massive snow storm in 1968 that covered Michigan with a couple feet of immovable snow he came and plowed our road and our driveway with his huge snowplow so that Mom was not snowbound. We never saw him do it and he never mentioned it to anyone.
We also never saw Santa…


  1. Dudley Road, the silo still stands,the big willow towers over the back yard and I bet on a quiet summer's evening if you listen in your mind you can hear the chatter and laughter of four little boys climbing among its branches ml

  2. Dear Uncle Don, you knew him in his prime,,As the years went by he mellowed and health problems took their toll,and as I grew older and wiser(hopefully) I realized how bad his life must have been at times, married so many years to a woman he loved, a woman with a debilitating disease that often made her unloveable, her bouts of schizophrenia left him feeling angry and helpless and most likely why he so often distanced himself from the rest of the family. After her death, he and Uncle Jerry spent many hours driving around in an old pickup truck visiting and reconnecting with the family ml

  3. Mary, you're quite the poet and writer yourself...
    I didn't know that about Aunt Aquila (did I spell that right?). Mom really loved Uncle Don and spoke of him often, even in the years just before she died. She loved to visit him, but she only took us a few times thankfully. We were scared spitless of him.
    Uncle Jerry - everyone loved him. Aunt Ida will get soft-spoken and misty-eyed speaking of him even now. He'll get his own post, coming up, for he did a lot of things that make him unforgettable to me.

  4. Drowning Santa... O.O That's...vaguely terrifying. Although the rain barrel comment made me laugh.

    I remember you told me in your letter about the bus transfer. :)

    Is this the same uncle who had too much meat and gave some to your mom? The secret snow-plowing is awesome. ^.^

  5. O My Goodness!! I'm laughing with tears in my eyes!!!! I am there! Right there! At Uncle Don's farm, in the yard of the place where you lived . . . . oh my! I will be posting a story or two of that year, myself! And Mary, ML is that MaryLee? Yes! You are quite the poet too! Love this too much!

  6. Dearest Kath.
    Yes, that's MaryLee. She IS a good writer and I love it when she posts comments. They often make me laugh.
    There are a lot more stories of childhood within the pages of this blog. David also waxed eloquent on some of our childhood travails. If you want to see them just go to his blog at http://davebernhardt.wordpress.com/

    Love you! -vince

  7. I was no bigger than a nickel and Uncle Don did scare me inside out. But, I think he was the one that also had the orange sherbet pushups in his freezer. Well worth being scared for. Don't hold me to that memory.