We all have a story to tell. In 2013, we invited you to share yours.
At some time in our lives, we departed from the routine that defines our days and experienced something extraordinary. It might have been a transcendent moment — a life-changing experience that turned us toward a different path. Or it might have been an aberration — an occurrence so far from the rest of our life experience that it stood out, remarkable for its uniqueness.
The novel selected for Monroe County’s 2013 One Book, One Community of Monroe County program is about stories. It is about the importance of stories in our lives — about how they’ve shaped our past and about the healing power of retelling them. The novel selected was One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It tells the story of nine people trapped by an earthquake. Faced with the possibility of death, one of them suggests that they share “One Amazing Thing” about their lives. Through their stories, they give us a window into their dreams, their secrets, their fears — as well as insight into their diverse cultures.
The One Book, One Community of Monroe County program invited Monroe County residents to tell their own amazing story. These stories with the community, in partnership with The Monroe Evening News, Monroe Public Access Cable Television, and the Monroe County Historical Museum.
WATCH Amazing Stories
Watch One Amazing Thing Writers Share Stories
READ Amazing Stories
The following essays appeared in The Monroe Evening News paper:
By Gina Essary, Monroe, works at Meijer Warehouse
“I was raised and adopted by my (step) dad Charles Essary. He passed away April 30, 1998. He was a wonderful man and an equally wonderful dad! In March of 2008, I met my biological dad, Eugene Lovell. I was very happy and grateful that he accepted me and we clicked right away. I also met 2 more sisters and 1 more brother to add to my list. Three more nephews and many many cousins! Alena and I … became instant family with all of them. My dad passed away Tuesday, Jan 22nd from cancer. Although my time was short with my dad, I’m so happy he was part of my life and we had some time together. He was a very kind man and had a big heart. I will forever be grateful to have had both of these wonderful men in my life and forever blessed that they loved me as their daughter.”
By Chris Chickeral, Carleton, adjunct professor at MCCC
“As a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt, I will always stop the car so my passengers can look at a rainbow. I will always admire the gift from a child of a driveway stone and cheer when the “big bird” stays for a while on our pond. Those small things make me happy.
When I was a young mother with one child, my sister had two and we often played together. And our times together were precious so it came to pass that in our hearts, we became mothers to all three. The children became teens with all the agonies that mothers endure and one day, the oldest left home for the Air Force, the next went off to college and the youngest became a mother herself. They were bright, self-assured and oh, so ready, for life! My sister and I were also making those empty-nest preparations with mixed thoughts.
Then it happened; the knock on the door from the State Police. Our college student was catastrophically injured. The entire family tried to force our prayers and will power into recovery but it wasn’t to be.
We grieved in our own ways, there was so little we could do except fall into the pit of heartache. Tears, lethargy, a suicide attempt, medicating with alcohol and plain old despair that draped around our hearts for months.
The lightning bolt that changed our lives occurred in May and housework and yard work only got done on an emergency basis. One day in late August, I was washing dishes and without interest looked out the window to see my salvation. The rose bush garden had become a mess of weeds with grasses overflowing the pitiful flowers. Yet right in the middle of this disaster the most beautiful gift was standing seven feet tall in the glorious sunshine!
I simply looked at the One Amazing Sunflower and wept. Life would continue.
That was almost 20 years ago; our college student survives with 24/7 care at home because of his angelic Mom and sister. Our family is stronger and larger today and though our college student may not always be aware nor can he respond we celebrate his presence with love and joy.”
By Michael Martell, Florida, formerly of Monroe
“Nani was an independent and no-nonsense woman with a great appreciation for family togetherness. I knew her while growing up in the small community of Monroe. Actually, my community was a one-mile circle around my family home, two miles outside of Monroe. It was a rural road surrounded by farmland and woods. The houses clinging along both sides were the homes of our neighbors.
Two houses from ours lived Nani’s daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons. Nani came to live with then in the middle-1960s.
Failing health and the inability to care for herself denied her the independence she always had. For a woman who managed an apartment building in Monroe, this resulted in a loss of freedom. To compensate for the loss of independence, she would help as much as she could around the house. Devoted to her grandsons, she tried to do everything she could to help them.
One particular task she enjoyed was cooking lunch. Often on Saturdays she would fix lunch for her boys and me or any others who happened to be there. As her age advanced this task would give her one opportunity to show she could contribute to the family. Sometimes pans would boil out of water or small errors would creep into the task of making lunch, however, these were overlooked.
Many a Saturday lunch was spent listening to Nani and her course down-to-earth grasp of the daily issues of life. Often times her daughter would admonish Nani for language or subject matter, which she found objectionable for young ears. In the eat-in kitchen she would stand at the counter handing out large portions of advice along with lunch as we gobbled down the hot dogs.
In the early ‘70s the draft called her eldest grandson “Tom” to war and his departure was felt by all. During the period before he left it was the custom for me to come over on Friday night to play games and watch an evening movie on the television. It wasn’t long before the crew would be hungry.
Nani would wait for her lunch-making expertise to be summoned. More often than not, the late night snack was a hot dog with all the trimmings. In fact, I think we would eat a hot dog more by habit than desire. Nani would swing into action and bring water to a boil, arrange plates, pour cokes and dice the onions.
Upon graduation from boot camp the family decided to attend the ceremony held at Fort Knox, Ky. Nani could not go because of her health. A woman would stay during the day and I was asked to spend the night. I was attending community college at the time and called to tell Nani I would be there at 5:30. Upon arrival, Nani looked glad to see me and asked if there was anything she could get for me. Involved in a calculus course, I planned to spend the evening studying and declined the offer.
Fifteen minutes later Nani once again asked if there was anything I would need and again I declined.
After several inquiries in less than 20 minutes I consented to a glass of cola. Nani’s face brightened and off she went into the kitchen. It was difficult for her to carry items but she persevered and was soon at my elbow glass in hand. Ten minutes later, Nani asked if I would like a hot dog, which I declined.
Throughout the evening Nani continued to offer me a hot dog. After a while she stood in the door between the kitchen and living room looking at me as I studied. Clearing her throat to get my attention, she said, “What would you like on your hot dog?” At that moment it occurred to me she was missing her grandsons and wanted to do the one thing she enjoyed the most, preparing lunch. After a short pause, I answered, “mustard and onions.” She beamed and went quickly to prepare the hot dog.
Tom went to Vietnam and returned and I went off to school and other parts of the country, moving away from Monroe and the neighborhood. Years later I returned for a visit and discovered Nani was near death but still living at home. Much of her memory had vanished. Her daughter’s and grandsons’ names were hard for her to remember.
I went to her bedroom. Her daughter, Ann, led me in explaining to me Nani’s memory was very limited. Drawing alongside the bed, I could see that Nani looked very thin and her eyes did not move as they had in the past. Ann bent down to Nani’s ear and said, “Mike’s here; he came to visit you.” Nani looked at her daughter and spoke in a soft voice, “Ask Mike if he wants a hot dog.”
A short time later, Nani died and her memory will always be with me. Nani taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes it is better to accept assistance than cause a greater disservice by letting someone think they are not needed.”
By Laura Boudrie Larkins, Monroe
“Profound moments are a reminder that God exists – that is the gift I was given in 2006 by a rainbow.
Rain had fallen steadily as Joyce Schultz and I drove from Monroe to Livonia to meet my girlfriend, Lynn, and her mother, Grace, for dinner and a movie. The downpour continued throughout the afternoon where the booming of thunder outside the theatre could be heard over the excessive volume of the movie. Afterward, we talked and laughed together over dinner at Bahama Breeze as it continued to rain heavily. One storm system after another passed through as Joyce and I headed toward home on I-275 a few hours later.
As we were driving, a magnificent rainbow appeared to the east, more crisp and colorful than any I had ever seen. Softly, a second rainbow appeared, but with less color and clarity. We could clearly view the beginning of the first rainbow and, as we traveled, a perfect arch formed across the sky, ending dramatically on the west side of us. The rainbow was incredibly striking in color with a purple band on the inside, along with blue, green, yellow, orange, and red bands of intense purity. The bands were so clearly defined that there was almost a vibration to the colors. As I-275 wound southward, we viewed the rainbow from a new angle. As we marveled at the beauty of this rainbow, I wondered aloud how it must look on the ground where it ended; the grass surely would be coated in color!
A few moments later, Joyce and I realized we were driving through the rainbow -- not under the rainbow, or even over the rainbow, but through the rainbow! Bands of color bathed the road directly in our path with wavy, distorted lines as the hazy blur of colors washed over the hood of my Mercury Mariner and glided smoothly up the windshield. The sensation of being coated in a rainbow as the colors washed over us was quite surreal. It was a moment suspended in time as my mind struggled to comprehend and I was almost (almost!) speechless by what was occurring. The bands were wavy, dense, wet droplets of color resonating in harmony as if we were driving through a waterfall of a color wheel. We were momentarily stunned and then both talked excitedly about what we had just experienced together.
What an incredible moment! I feel very blessed to have seen and been touched by the end of a rainbow; it was a reminder that God is ever present. This life is a gift, meant to be valued and appreciated. Thank you, God, for granting a moment of pristine beauty which left me in awe of your profound love and presence.”
By Vickie Richter, Monroe, furniture sales
“I have had quite a few amazing experiences in my life, but I suppose the predecessor of all of them was my determination when I was in high school to go to California.
I put the idea out to friends, many of whom showed interest but really weren't serious. After an initial 1-month hitchhiking trip with one friend, another decided we would take off in his old Fiat and spend a couple months roaming the country. The only goal was to eventually hit California and then go up to Washington state to see his uncle.
We pretty much just followed the sun west and took back roads, saw small towns and parks and stayed a while when we felt like it. By the time we hit Phoenix a month later, the car was running pretty bad.
At this point, the highway splits; we could either go to LA or San Diego. I had gone into LA on my previous trip, so San Diego it was! As we pulled up to the Pacific Ocean, we were in awe. This was paradise! Fortunately (as far as I was concerned) the car broke down. We rented a cheap apt. 2 blocks from the beach with a 6-month lease. From this we had so many wonderful adventures.
I lived there for 22 years before returning to Monroe 17 yrs. ago. It was time. I had been having a lot of problems; the small town had become a big (and expensive) city. Out there I could only afford a small apt. but here I have a big lovely house and my wonderful family nearby. I feel so blessed.”
By Rudy Sonnichsen, Monroe retired from Jeep, Toledo
“It was fifty years ago, 1963, summer. Mopars and Plymouths were the hot cars at the two area drag strips, Detroit Dragway and Milan Dragway. The same held true on the streets and roads of Monroe.
I didn’t drag race much because I didn’t have the coordination and right on timing and also the knowledge around a toolbox. But I was witness to all. If you drove a Chevy you wanted Chevys to win. If you drove a Ford you wanted Ford to win and so on.
At the drag strips there were names like “Color Me Gone” and “Hodges Dodges” to name a few. There were also Chevys and Fords “Seatons Shaker” and Bob Ford’s supercharged 312 1957 Ford named “Born to Raise Hell.”
Monroe was also abuzz with fast cars and Hulvey’s black on black 383 cu. in. Dodge and also Bill Auston and his white Dodge. You know, the guy that used a sledge hammer on his gas pedal to get off the line. All great guys and fast cars. Hard to beat ‘em.
Anyway, hot summer night, great for drag racing.
There were a number of places to drag race: Bates Lane, Raisinville Rd. and Hull Rd. Very few houses and little traffic, places that mimicked the drag strip, straight and long.
A showdown loomed at the Dixie Drive-In between a young potato farmer from Ida in a ’62 327-cu. in. Chevy and a well-known black 383 Dodge from Ida. The potato farmer had a great love of cars and wrenched on his own car. He was asked if he wanted to race and the confident Chevy owner said let’s go. The place was Raisinville Rd.
His nemesis that night: that well-known black Dodge. I thought the Dodge would win. Usually a drag race was straight up one race because of the police presence. Not this night. Somebody called 2 out of 3. I don’t know why they ran 3 times but they did.
The guy from Ida in the Chevy took 3 out of 3 races.
At the drags trips usually the winner got a trophy and sometimes a little money. In Monroe the trophy was knowing that you knew both ends of the wrench and the knowledge how to use it and that gave you the edge to beat the odds.
Six years later that guy from Ida sold me a car. It was a 1967 Chevy II 327 cu. in. It was fast for me but not as fast as the’62 Chevy that beat the well-known Mopar in the summer of 1963.
Those were great times in Monroe. Sometimes guys would come from other towns but the guys in Monroe seemed to always prevail.
In Monroe there were always “great guys and fast cars.”
By Buddy, Madison, Ala., dog. Ghost-written by Mary Bowers for Buddy's grandfather, Gordon Svendsen of Monroe
“It's me, Buddy. I just got to have someone to talk to and I chose you.
You know that I was out on my own for a long time. I don't really know why that happened to me, but I sure do remember being really scared and tired and dirty and hungry. Those fleas and ticks nearly drove me crazy. Oh, and the poop that stuck to my butt was not much fun either. All of those mats in my fur really hurt. It was so hot.
I remember the day I stopped here. The female human who became my forever home Mom was filling a bucket with water and I went running toward it. Then I saw the human and I had to stop. I went running back and she brought the water bucket closer to me; then she waked away. Yeah! I drank and drank and drank. It was such cool water and I desperately needed it. After I drank, I went back and lay down between the two trees and the fence where I was partially hidden and protected. The female opened the gate close to me and I jumped up and barked and barked at her. I ran into the street where I had room to escape. She tried and tried to get me to come to her, but I knew better.
The next thing she did was set a bowl down and walked away. It was inside that gate, so I just watched for a while. Finally, I decided to see what it was. Oh my gosh! It was food! I didn't have to hunt it or find it or fight for it. Wow! Food and water all in the same day! That woman kept putting water in the bucket and food in the bowl. Every day, she tried to get me to come to her and the man did too. Also every day, the bowl moved further into the fenced area away from the gate. Sometimes, the woman would sit by that building in a chair and read while I ate. Eventually, she moved the bowl under the lean-to and I would eat there. One day, she was sitting there and I came all the way in there to eat while she was there. She put a funny thing to her ear and said something. The next thing I knew, that man came out of the house and went running. Oh no! He was going to the gate and I would be caught! I ran as hard as I could, but I didn't make it and they had me in the fence.
Another dog came over to the fence and we sniffed through the fence. We didn't have any issues, but I still would not let the humans touch me. No sirree! Finally, I let the woman pet my nose and it was nice. Then, she put a noose around my neck and I fought like crazy. She picked me up and they drove me off somewhere. I got a bath and my nails trimmed and my hair cut. I didn't like and I fought the strange people, but oh man, did I feel better!
Then, I was in the house with them. There was food and water in the house and it was a lot cooler than outside. The man and woman said I probably would have died in the triple digit temperatures pretty soon. I know that I didn't feel good.
So, what I need to talk to you about is four letter words. I heard that four letter words were either bad or negative and it confuses me. Since I have been here and I have gotten to trust my forever Dad and my forever Mom. I have learned a lot of nice four letter words. Things like food, safe, bowl, ride, Lucy, walk. These are all good things, right? Well, let me tell you, I have learned the hard way. DIET is a four letter word and it is not fun. I hardly get any biscuits and gravy any more. Just a bit of taste and very little sweet stuff. I love ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, but I don't get much of that either.
After we eat, me and Lucy have to take a nap. You know after I had been here for a few days and nobody beat me, the food and water kept coming, I had the first real sleep and rest I had had in a long time.
Now, other than the diet thing, my life is pretty good here. When it storms and I am afraid, I get on the human bed and sleep on my Mom's feet. Then, I am not so afraid of the lightning and thunder. When it rains or is hot or cold, I get to stay in the house.
I am learning things too. I know how to sit when I am told and I know how to lay down when I am told. I walk real well on the leash as long as I have my harness and not a choker collar. When I see Mom getting the harness and leash, I jump around being silly and bark and bark with my tail wagging. I love walks.
Well, I just needed to tell someone about that died thing. I could talk to my doctor, but I heard her tell Mama and Dad to do it, so I had to tell you instead.
Thanks for listening.”
By Kay Gelvin, Newport, retired
“For six years, I had an amazing teacher. She brought such energy and importance to what she taught. In my mind, I can see and hear her as though it happened yesterday. If you attended Jefferson Elementary School in the sixties, you surely must remember Miss Ruth Sproul. She wasn’t much to look at and her voice was a mixture of sandpaper and chalk, but she was passionate about music and her love of it was spiritually lifting.
This incredible woman made sure that we learned songs, lots of songs. In particular, she insisted that we learn Christmas carols. That was very important to me, because it opened an inviting world of which I was unfamiliar. You see, my sisters and I were raised in a non-Christian home. That fact was hidden from many and it was a source of pain for me. If it had not been for the efforts of that wonderful teacher, I fear I would have fallen through the cracks. Her diligence helped to ensure that I kept a place open in my heart for Christ.
It doesn’t matter that I do not understand what motivated her insistence that we learn the songs. I do know I am closer to the Lord when I sing the songs I learned in my youth. I can’t help but wonder how many other children led similar lives and they too learned of Jesus, courtesy of Miss Sproul. I thank God that I went to public school during a time when such things could be taught.
I will forever be indebted to her and her persistence, and I am a better person for having been her student.”
By Pam Meade, Monroe, reporter/mother
Our ninth child was 10 days old when I received the call that my mother, who had been in a nursing home, had died. I was an only child.
The plan was to have a service in Michigan with her pastor on Saturday, then burial alongside my dad in Kentucky Monday. My uncle, a minister in Kentucky, would officiate the graveside service.
First, my 11-year-old daughter (our oldest) broke her arm while playing in the Michigan funeral home parking lot after the service. She wound up having to stay overnight in a local hospital and being told by the doctor that she couldn’t travel. Luckily, my husband’s parents offered to have her stay with them while my husband Jeff and I and our eight other children drove to Kentucky.
Our station wagon overheated about four hours into the trip, then actually caught on fire as we got on the road Monday morning after spending the night in a motel.
But, God was there.
A police officer “just happened” to be at the exit when we pulled off the freeway and came to our aid, calling a tow truck.
A passing motorist “just happened” to be en route to her home after picking up her son from his third-shift job. She saw the car was on fire, saw all the kids, and urged us to get out and come sit in her car.
When she learned our situation, she invited the kids and me to come stay at her nearby mobile home while Jeff attended to our car. At her home, we chatted while she was making us pancakes, and I soon found out that she was a Christian! I told her I was a Christian, too, and that she was an answer to prayer.
"Well, I had recently been praying for God to use me in a very special way," she replied. “You all are an answer to MY prayer!"
Shortly after, Jeff phoned to tell me that the transmission in our car was shot. Parts had to be ordered; repairs couldn’t be completed for a few days.
I called my aunt and uncle to tell them what had happened and to go ahead with the graveside service without us.
The people at the car dealership drove us to a nearby motel where we could stay.
This dealership and the motel “happened” to be located right across the street from the Florence Mall, a huge mall with many nearby restaurants. We could walk to everything. We stayed three nights at the motel, then after checking out, we hung out at the mall until our car repairs were completed at 3 p.m. Then, we drove home.
I really didn’t mind having to miss my mother’s burial. I was so drained by then that a few nights relaxing in a motel was just what I needed. Jeff entertained the kids so that I could rest.
Our newborn baby daughter was very good through the whole thing.
The rest of the kids thought it all was a great adventure.
And we all saw first-hand how God takes care of His own.
By James L. England, Newport, Mail carrier
We were young and in love, married in our upper teens, purchased our first home and two years later, my wife announced to me that I would soon be father. This appeared to be living “The American Dream” as far as it was told to us. Before my wife was to deliver our bundle of joy, the American Dream twisted into a nightmare, and we would not escape its grip.
I had lost my job, meaning not only my income to pay the bills was now obliterated but it also meant that our insurance to pay for the birth had now disappeared like a magician’s trick rabbit, leaving only an empty hat. I furiously did all I could in my power to procure a new job before our first child was to be born.
Time was not on our side in this case, for it took nearly the full trimester to land employment, which did not get us out of the woods. I was on a three-month probation period at my new place, and the baby was not going to wait for me to become insured. Needless to say, we were flying without a pilot (i.e. insurance) but attempting to land the plane as safely as possible (via hospital payment plan).
The moment had come after a few false alarms. We were in the hospital, waiting on contractions, and here is where it got a bit “Alice in Wonderland-ish” – the doctor (I use the term loosely) came into the room to see how his patient, my wife, was coming along. He began by consuming a beverage and eating a powdered donut over the mother’s womb. (It appeared, with every bite, that flakes of snow were gently descending upon the mountain, but the snow was bits of white powdered donut crumbs and the mountain was my wife’s body with our baby inside).
After many hours of copious drops of sweat, mixed with breaking blood vessels, I wiped my forehand and composed myself. The baby was about to arrive, or so my misgivings led me to believe. A five-star effort on my wife’s attempts finally told me that this baby was not coming out! I started to envision how it was all going to play out, having a wife with a baby permanently living inside of her . . . could we then pay the hospital off early by giving wind of this phenomenon to the National Enquirer?
My thoughts of making it big were suddenly dashed when the doctor informed that the baby was too big and must be delivered by a Caesarean section. Before you could say, “more money,” she was wheeled into the operating room. After much pain and several medications, my wife survived and the call came forth, “It’s a girl!”
As I looked at this beautiful baby girl in my arms, it dawned on me that none of my past troubles were worth a thought anymore. Simply amazing!
By Wilbert Matthes, Ida, Matthes Tree Farm
I’ve loved airplanes since I was a little kid. The prospect of getting up there in the sky and flying with the birds intrigued me. When I was about 12, my cousin’s husband (Louie Heinzerling) shared his love of the sky and helped me build plane models. He took me to some air shows, which just fueled my interest. Then, was I was 20, Louie bought an airplane. WOW! And then he asked me to share the ownership. WOW! I’d been working as a carpenter and had a small bank account , so I said, “Yes!” And suddenly I owned (a part of) an airplane.
In the meantime, I’d spent a year at Adrian College, where I met my future wife. So, the summer following our meeting, I’d fly up to see her (at Doster, Mich.) and land in her dad’s cow pasture (co-owner Louie wondered how cow manure got on the plane.)
When we married in 1949, I had to sell my part of the plane back to Louie because we didn’t have any money to set up housekeeping. Then, for years, I didn't fly. Between working to support our growing family, time and finances didn’t allow it.
Fast forward to the 1990s. I began an interest in building a small plane, and till my family convinced me that I’d be too old to fly by the time I could get it built, I thoroughly checked, investigated, and intended to do just that. In 2011, I ended up getting a Home Built plane – but built by someone else. I’d prepared a landing strip across the road from our house and, during last summer, I got a lot of joy just going up on a nice day and boring holes in the sky.
Fast forward to mid-August 2012. One Sunday afternoon, I invited Ian, my second-oldest grandson, for a ride (Not everyone is excited/interested in flying in a small plane). We left from a friend’s airstrip on Saum Road with a short ride in mind, as it was getting toward dark. I’ve flown from that field numerous times, but this time, a very slight miscalculation (12 inches) caused one wheel to catch on an electric wire at the end of the runway, and down we went.
Ian said that God was really looking after us. The AMAZING THING is that, though the plane was pretty messed up, the two of us walked away! As my wife says, “I’m sorry he broke his toy, but we’ve got him and Ian!”
Because of the pictures that Ian took on his phone as we went down, another AMAZING THING was the press coverage the occasion got – newspapers, a mention on Good Morning, America and most recently, NBC interviewed us here at the farm for a spot on a “Close Call “kind of a collage program that will be presented sometime in the future.
By Charlotte Lindsay, Monroe, mother
My son is my amazing story. Being taught by his grandfather at an early age to love and respect nature and the wild, he became a law-abiding safe hunter only to eat what you shoot. He loved bow competitions and has won trophies. He started a taxidermy service. He gulfed and loved sports.
He is a loving, giving person. Six years ago he married a wonderful loving wife. Different physical things started happening and after a lot of doctors and tests he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We all three stood in the hallway and hugged and cried together but from then till today he has been very brave and strong and determined not to give totally in to this disease. He struggles and fights every day but he still has that smile, he has his moments as we all have but we all three get through them together. My son says, “I have my wife and mother and can’t do much but I have seen people worse and if this is what I have to deal with it will be one day at a time.” He has a wheelchair and a walker but he uses his cane to keep fighting. Having to give up everything and still smile and laugh and love is why my son is truly amazing.
By Frank Green, Frenchtown Township, businessman
America’s most dangerous conflict with the Soviet Union was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Shortly after this frightening confrontation, the 1963 Michigan Glee Club traveled behind the Iron Curtain.
I was the only University of Michigan freshman on this 40-day tour. As I walked alone in destroyed cities (bombed out 19 years earlier) I noticed I was being followed. I tried to elude these suspected government agents by suddenly jumping on a rickety old bus, but these followers were very skilled. I then tried to embarrass them. I would walk quickly around a bombed out building and suddenly reverse direction. As I almost collided into them at a corner, they tried to conceal their surprise and pretend they were not following me. I thought this was fun, but it was quite childish.
One night, we were sound as asleep on a train going from East Germany to Poland. We were exhausted from a late night concert. Suddenly a Russian border guard opened our sleeping compartment and shined a bright light in our faces. This armed Soviet was not speaking our language and it seemed he wanted to search our persons and possessions. Awakened from a deep sleep with a bright light in my eyes, I was quite frightened. I had never been body searched by a Russian border guard (or anyone else). Suddenly a U of M law student spoke politely, confidently and briefly to this border guard. I believe he was speaking in Russian. The armed guard immediately shut off his bright light, turned around and closed our sleeping compartment.
The next morning I was simply relieved to be safe in Warsaw, Poland. Because I was socially backward, I never discussed this incident with the law student. After all, I was only a freshman. As agents followed us in Communist Poland, I stopped playing silly games.
We traveled back across the Iron Curtain and ended up singing in an international competition in Llangollen, Wales. Glee clubs came from all over the world, trying to be the world’s best in a very competitive contest. In 1963, we won it all, bringing home the first place trophy as the world’s finest glee club.
This April, we old singers will be practicing many times with the current Glee Club to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Llangollen victory. I have seen none of these singers in almost 50 years. I hope to meet this law student. I don’t even know his name, but I know exactly what he looked like in 1963. Before we sing at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, I need to speak with this law student: “Were you actually speaking Russian? What did you say to the border guard?” I want to thank this member of our 1963 Glee Club as I was a frightened, immature freshman.
By Karla Howey, Monroe Speech/Language Pathologist Monroe Public Schools Mom of four boys J (bigger job!)
Well, it was finally here...the day my best friend Pam and I were able to move into our summer apartment in Petoskey, Michigan. Little did I know that exciting first day of summer was nearly my last.
We were both college juniors, Pam at University of Michigan and I at Western Michigan University. For years, we dreamed of finding jobs Up North in Petoskey or Harbor Springs and spending a summer in beautiful northern Michigan. In 1980, it was not easy to find a summer job but we were both lucky. Pam was hired as a sales clerk at Cutler's, a high end clothing store in Harbor Springs and I was able to find a position as a concierge at the Harbor Inn on Little Traverse Bay. We couldn't have been happier! The two of us together, Up North, in downtown Petoskey! We just needed to keep our fingers crossed for good weather on our days off so we could head to the State Park dunes, Charlevoix or our favorite, Torch Lake.
Our rental was on the second floor of an old house that the young owners of the first floor flower shop decided to lease out for the summer. The basement of the store was used by a wood worker who made furniture and sold locally. That upstairs apartment was pretty bad. The furniture and fixtures were old and some even unusable. But we really didn't care. If we weren't working, we would be at the beach, anyway. And the price was right.
So, that first night, we decided to clean up the place and make it as livable as possible for our three months in heaven. We were the only people in the house since it was after business hours. The flower shop and wood worker’s shop were closed. Looking around we found a kitchen area with an old refrigerator and a questionable stove top. The bathroom had a tub, but no shower. Bummer. We opened a door to find what we dubbed, "the scary closet." There was no light, it was a rather large walk in, but dingy. No shelves or clothing rack. We couldn't imagine putting our stuff in there. We wouldn't even walk inside it. We imagined spiders and bugs or worse! It even smelled bad.
While cleaning and arranging furniture we found some old folding chairs that we didn't need. I suggested to Pam that we put the chairs in the closet since we weren't going to use it for any of our stuff. Pam said, "I'm not stepping one foot in that scary closet! You can!" Just to prove I wasn't as wimpy as she was, I took the two folding chairs and walked into the closet. The next thing I remember is lying on my back two floors below and looking up to see Pam laughing and yelling, "Karla, what happened? Are you alright?" I should point out here that Pam laughs when she is nervous or scared. All I know, it was freaky to look up and see my friend laughing at me as I lie on my back 20 feet below!
You may be wondering how did I fall through two floors. Well, I didn't walk into a "scary closet" after all. It was a false staircase. The stairs had been removed years before and ceiling tile was put up on the first floor ceiling covering the opening. Luckily, the ceiling tile cushioned my fall. Also, there was a pretty thick pile of wood shavings under me from the wood worker tenant.
I must have been knocked unconscious because I don't remember much of anything else. I believe Pam called the landlords to bring a key to the wood worker's shop so they could get to me and take me to the hospital. I could walk, with pain. I know our parents were called, but they were three hours away in Alma, Michigan. I do remember that my only concern was that we wouldn't be able to stay Up North. Maybe our parents would make us come home! Maybe the landlords would be mad at us and kick us out!
After being checked out at the hospital, I reassured everyone that I was completely fine. I broke a couple of rib bones and had a bit of a headache, but no harm done. Please, please, please let us stay Up North!
Now, here’s the real kicker. The next day the woodworker came to visit us. He told me the reason for the saw dust on the floor: His table saw was set up in that exact spot of my fall just hours before! He moved the saw to clean up earlier in the day, but didn't have time to sweep. He decided to save the mess until morning. I came very close to falling directly on to his table saw! I walked over and took a good look at the massive steel table and circular saw. I most definitely would not have survived; a broken back, at least.
I don't know what is more amazing: that I survived a big fall with very little injury or that this didn't turn into some long drawn out legal situation. Of course the landlord was at fault, but I was fine. I just wanted to live Up North for a summer with my best friend before going back to college. The landlords didn't purposefully leave the "scary closet" door unlocked. Times were different 30-35 years ago. I never even considered that somebody should pay for their negligence and my accident.
They were sorry. I was lucky.
The next morning the young florists brought over a lovely bouquet of flowers.
All good! Let's go to the beach!
By Karolyn Wojtowicz, formerly of Monroe, working at William Penn University/Oskaloosa, Iowa
I was seventeen; I traveled more than 6,000 miles without my family under the responsibility of strangers. I was going to Japan for three weeks as a part of the Monroe International Friendship Association (MIFA)’s program for high school youth.
The majority of my time in Japan was spent in Monroe’s sister city of Hofu, learning and experiencing the culture and history of the country. I participated in a tea ceremony and in judo and karate. I walked in three parades, dancing through the streets in town, and met a boy who thought I was cute (the feelings were mutual). I remember smiling and laughing almost the entire time I was in Japan.
The exception to the smiles was the day we went to Hiroshima. It was an experience I will never forget.
Estimates number more than 45,000 deaths on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. (To put this number into perspective, less than 3,000 people died in New York City on September 11th, 2001.) To stand in a place where there was instant death and pain on such a vast scale, caused by your country, is an emotion that I can’t easily put into words. The ones that come to mind are shame, pain, sorrow, and oblivion.
A museum now sits as the main tourist attraction in the city – close to where the bomb was dropped. The museum explains how the country attempted to recover from the atomic bombs, including long-term effects that caused health issues and how long it took to rebuild Hiroshima. The displays include items such as lunchboxes from an elementary school and steps where all that remains of a person is a shadow.
It is not for the weak.
A vivid display at the end was a wall of letters. Each letter was written as a tearful appeal from the mayor of Hiroshima to leaders around the world who were building or testing nuclear weapons. I was saddened to see the United States once again on that list of recent letter recipients.
The story of Hiroshima is not one to hold on to anger, though. I will admit my group of Americans received a few pointed stares when we were at the memorial area, but they turned into looks of acceptance as we stood quiet for moments of silence after hanging paper cranes with wishes for a better world. The story of Hiroshima is to look toward the future, so no other country feels the same pain.
In the years since, I’ve traveled around the world to locations of disaster on mass scales – including Ground Zero in New York City and the National Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda. I have learned there remains no way to prepare people for a visit to such a tragic location. But I hope that such visits remind people of the mistakes that humans have made, in order to build a better future for our world.
By Bonnie (Eadie) Swatek, Carleton, registered nurse/retired
“There’s a second one!”
Surely the doctor was joking…right? Yea, that must be it. I had been a Registered Nurse at this local hospital for the last nine years. This was just a joke - Funny. But wait, doctors don’t joke about things like this. Now she’s telling me to push again, seriously? I just had a baby, can’t I catch my breath? No – I can’t. Everything from nursing school comes flooding back…“You have to get the second baby out quickly or it may lose oxygen and be mentally impaired.” For a fleeting moment, I think wouldn’t it be great if it’s a girl. A boy and a girl; we’d be all set. The names we picked out are perfect ~ Richard Scott and Rachel Salena; Richard and Rachel. But then I realize “that was decided 9 months ago.” The nurses are scurrying to get more equipment and another bassinet. I muster my strength and PUSH. That’s it…he’s out, another boy! Three minutes apart! Three minutes that suddenly changed our lives! Twins! Surprise!
Where will we put a second baby? We just bought the one-bedroom bungalow-style home we’d been renting. The contractor hadn’t started the addition yet. There was a port-a-crib set up in the corner of the living room. What about clothes? Having gone into labor early, I still didn’t have enough clothes for one baby; actually, I only had one layette; they’ll have to share it! Now I’m being silly. We’ll figure this out…I state “God must think we can handle this” and my husband responds “I think God is laughing right now.” At that moment I believe God must have a plan…
Of course God had a plan. This was the beginning of many surprises in my life. At twenty months old, first-born twin, Richard David was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome; a random genetic disorder causing severe to moderate mental impairment and difficult behaviors. He is my “forever child.” Richie has taught me patience as well as gratitude for all the abilities he does have.
At the age of 19, second-born twin, Robert Scott, was pursuing his life dream of acting. He competed at IMTA in New York City and gave me a most exciting moment in my life when he was awarded one of the first place prizes, in front of an audience of thousands. Robert had several agents interested in him and was moving to NYC for three months when he developed numbness and tingling in half his body, imbalance, and double-vision. Several months later, the doctors discovered he had a brain lesion; three years later he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
The “three minute warning” set the foundation of my reliance on God. He has helped me cope with life’s challenges. He has surrounded me with wonderfully caring and supportive family and friends. He has kept my eyes open to see and enjoy all the blessings in my life!
By Boots Barlow, Monroe, retired
It was 1972 when I was left alone with five children. I thought my life was over, but by 1974 I realized God had other plans for me. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” He is also a God with a sense of humor. My house number is 1974.
Those five children, who I love dearly, have blessed me with their own lives and added 12 grandchildren to my life.
I’ve worked with senior citizens for nearly 40 years. Now I am one! It’s been one of the joys of my life and I thank God for His love and wisdom that I gleaned from my elderly friends back then. Having watched many go through the loss of their loved ones, some being rejected by family, others with great attitudes about the aging process which helped them get through difficult times in their journey, humorous things that happened and kept me laughing while I struggled in my own life and their gratitude for even the smallest service granted to them.
Let’s laugh together about a true story of two sisters who never married. I always hated the title “old maid.” Didn’t even like the card game. One day (around 1978) I was working in my little cubicle near the senior ladies who were doing crafts, when I heard one of them say, “We are not old maids; we are ‘unclaimed treasures.’” How true that was for them and for so many unmarried folks I met over the years.
That’s not the end of the story or as Paul Harvey would say, “and here’s the rest of the story.”
About five years later while having lunch with some senior ladies one asked about the two sisters she hadn’t seen in a long time. I said, “I’ve known a lot of sister sets over the years, I don’t know who you mean.” She thought for a minute, and then said, “You know, the ‘untouchables.’” After I picked myself up off the floor from laughing I said, “You mean the Unclaimed Treasures.”
Like Jimmy Stewart I can say, “It’s been a wonderful life.” Two important factors I’ve learned is to have a positive attitude and a heart full of gratitude for the blessings and the trials because they both help us to become the beautiful people God planned for us to become, no matter how long we live.
One more bit of advice I learned that has given me peace and joy to pass on to others is “to love long and to forgive quickly.”
God loves you and so do I.
By Megan Gross, Temperance, student/University of Toledo
“The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen,” said film critic Roger Ebert, who gave the movie four out of four stars in his review. He is speaking of The Passion of the Christ.
I understand this movie isn’t a new release, nor does it seem to be a box-office hit among our generation. However I had the opportunity to watch this movie for the first time recently, and it seriously had me in shock.
I’m not talking about the shock described by others for director Mel Gibson’s work in The Passion of the Christ. I’m referring to the shock of a 21-year-old Christian who, for the first time, witnessed a real and raw visual of what Jesus did to save us, according to Christian beliefs.
I disagreed when critics claimed the movie was too violent and wrathful. School children are taught the G-rated version of the story -- the people hurt Jesus badly and he died in order to save us, end of story.
At some point, we needed to grow up and understand the blood, love and pain behind such sacrifice. Christianity teaches unconditional love and a strong sense of faith. I am now old enough to finally witness this, even though I will admit, I did shield my eyes several times throughout the movie.
I share this with you, but not to preach or boast about the religion I grew up with. Rather, I share this with you because it soon will be Good Friday, the day this particular movie is based upon, the day when Christians remember how Jesus gave his life to save us all from death and evil and reassure us with eternal life. Good Friday isn’t just a day some of us get the day off. It’s an important day for Christians everywhere, and it should be respected in that way.
Another Passion of the Christ critic also wrote that this movie should be named, “The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre,” which thinks it’s an act of faith. This critic, David Edelstein, goes on to say Mel Gibson focused on the brutality of Jesus’ execution instead of his religious teachings and the movie “seems to arise less from love than from wrath and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it.”
Why should we sugar-coat everything about Jesus and the Christian faith? So it’s okay for other movies to show bloody murder, corpses and explicit visuals, but showing something like that when it has to do with the Christian faith is considered too violent?
So many people seem to think religion is all the same, strict and conservative. But it’s not, and this movie shows exactly that. Society seems to think all religions should be displayed in a non-disruptive way in order to not create chaos. Well, what if it was Gibson’s plan to create chaos and disrupt the usual framework society has made for the Christian faith?
For those of you who don’t understand what I’m saying, I want you to go to YouTube and type in “Jesus vs. Religion.” It should be the first video you see. Watch it. It’s an extremely powerful video explaining the difference between what society claims the Christian “religion” is and what actually following Christ means.
I understand many of you reading this may not be Christian, and I respect your decision. Just know you are living this life for a reason and, regardless of your faith, Easter Sunday is the day to celebrate just that – Life. The day of Easter egg hunts and sugar-coated Peeps are done. We need to wake up and realize there is a true reason for Easter weekend.
By Jean Johnson, Monroe, retired from J.C. Penney
My brother, Sam, died Holy Week in an automobile accident in 1995. When I returned home after the funeral I felt a change in me, a spiritual change.
I wanted to do something for someone, so I started taking communion to the residents at the Lutheran Home once a month.
As Sam’s first anniversary and Easter approached, I was consumed with grief and wanted to know Sam was okay.
As I took communion to a woman resident during this time I noticed her rosary. It was large and unusual. She said it belonged to her mother and was very old. It was broken. She asked if I could fix it. I tried, but couldn’t. I told her I would come back on my day off with a tool to fix it. On my day off I first went to church and on my way to the Lutheran Home I prayed, “Dear Lord, help me fix this rosary.” When I arrived I told her I came to fix her rosary. I picked up the broken rosary, laid it down to get my tool. When I picked it up again it was fixed. I didn’t fix it, but I know who did. I can’t remember the woman’s name, but I don’t think I’m supposed to.
The feeling I had that day is hard to explain. I felt the presence of God and peace.
Each day I look forward to see who God is going to put into my path and the messages we are to give other.
By Cristian Medina-Rivera, Monroe, student, Monroe County Community College
Ever since I was little, music was always a big part of my life. Either I was dancing to it with my mom or my father would have the stereo on whenever we were home. Our family would just listen to the radio, or even traditional Mexican music, which I found to be very relaxing. I never thought of it as being nothing more than just a catchy beat with equally catchy lyrics. But then our family started going to church and my perspective of music drastically changed. It became easy to clap my hands and slowly I began to sing along with the rest of the congregation, something I never would’ve done before. The songs the worship team played not only sounded good from a musical standpoint, but also the lyrics I found to be heartfelt and beautiful. It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced, and of course, instantly I was hooked.
I began to think to myself “Wouldn’t it be cool to be up there one day?” But unfortunately there were some circumstances that occurred. One thing led to another, and soon enough I found myself attending another church. I was utterly devastated, really not even knowing what had happened to begin with. But now I wouldn’t consider it a bad thing because it was there that I learned how to play the guitar.
A man I now consider to be a mentor as well as a good friend taught me as much as he could, his name was Mike. He even knew how to sing in Spanish, which I thought was pretty awesome. Every Wednesday afternoon, we would have class. The first class I ever went to consisted of myself, along with 3 or 4 other men and women, all eager to learn. But I was the one that was learning the fastest; now I realize that everything was very precise and worked out to perfection. It couldn’t have been anyone else but God himself that made it happen.
I learned as much as I could from him the short 6 or so months that I was present at those classes. But soon it was time to say goodbye. My family decided it was time to go back to the church where we previously attended. Saying goodbye was definitely bittersweet, but I think he knew that my time there was limited, and soon I would find my way back to my true home, my one and only church, the one I would never leave again. But I’ll always be thankful for everything that Mike did for me; he is definitely one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met.
As far as now is concerned, I have kept improving more and more as time passes. I’m blessed as well as proud to say that I’m now in my church’s worship team; the same group that I dreamed of being a part of since I was a pre-teen. While it didn’t come to fruition right away, God knows why he does things. Everything He does is perfect. I only hope that from this point forward, I can keep improving and fulfill my purpose that He has set for me. While I may not yet know what that purpose exactly is, I do know that it will please Him, and that’s all that really matters.
By Ryliegh Gillaim, Monroe, student at Monroe County Community College
It was a battered looking tree, had been ever since I could remember, riddled with cracked, dying limbs and crumbling bark -- but it was special, that I could not deny. My mother would to tell me stories of that tree. Of how it had been stuck by lightning, yet held steadfast, before it was struck again (Ha! lightning never strikes the same place twice now?), leaving a ragged hole in the base of the tree, and still he stood; only to be struck yet again years later. Three times that giant suffered, three times he faced the crackling forces of nature, and still he towered over us.
When I was younger the blackened hole in the rear of his trunk beckoned to me as a prime hiding spot, as it could easily conceal me, but I was always too cautious -- afraid if you must get technical -- to lurk behind there. As that was where the squirrels, raccoons, beavers, or whatever other animal my mind could think of made their home, and I was not eager to get rabies or heaven forbid the shots that followed after. Later as I grew, and overcame my foolish fear of small animals, it became the perfect sniping position, for I took the mock wars between my siblings very seriously.
What I truly want to get at is that I grew up with that tree, and as funny as it is, even came to love it. By now most of you reading this are probably wondering at my sanity, not that I blame you, for I seem almost obsessed with this. However, you must understand, that tree was ours. Ours to touch, to claim, to play with, and to our childish minds he was a god. Unique and untouchable, disfigured, yet divine, with no other to match him. He was like magic, and as children we were captivated by him and could not stay away.
So, when my father conveyed his plans to tear it down, as it had become a safety risk to us young ones, I was naturally upset and distressed. However, I, like most children, could do nothing against the adult’s decision and it was not long after that they felled the giant beast. He stood no chance. With ropes digging into his sides he let out a roaring great creak of pain, and as if in slow motion he fell, breathing a last trembling whoosh before he smacked down and rattled the earth. They carved into its body, hacked and cut away till he was nothing but pieces, given to strangers as lowly lumber to be burned away. It was appalling to my young mind, and at the time the epitome of tragedy. He had lived there, planted on the bank, leaning over the shallow river for how long? How long had that ancient being stood there, wrestling against the tests and trials of time, only to be broken by our hands?
However, my father left a piece for us. A hunk of the aged, round trunk. Whether it was because he was tired of his massive butchery, or that he could not rid himself of all the pieces of the old being I never learned and it did not matter.
The trunk was the only piece left of the carcass we had stripped and sawed at, and rested on its side. It’s there, on the remains of a being we cut down, that each of us came to think, or to just simply be. Where we connected to each other, and to ourselves. It was there, sitting on rotting wood, that I cried out to God in a fit of anger, and there that I prayed for the health of loved one. It was on that dead trunk that my sister went to cry, to scream and release her pent up emotions caused by a bitter and jaded world. Where my brother and father spent their time fishing and found peace, and where my mother would gaze at the beauty of nature we were blessed to have in our back yard. There each member of my family gathered, and we all became connected, simply because of a lump of wood.
That old tree gave each of us something, something that we desperately needed at the time. I like to think that it was that old tree’s purpose, wishful thinking I know, but at the time it truly seemed like it. Now, as a young adult, when I look back into our backyard it saddens me to not see the lone remains of the giant tree that once was there. My father had long since gathered the last piece and let it sink into the river, and I’ll admit even though it’s a little empty down near the river nowadays, maybe, just maybe, our family doesn’t need that old tree anymore.
By R. Levi Couch, Petersburg, fifth grader at Summerfield Elementary School
One day I woke up and thought it was going to be like any other day. Boy, we were all about to get a big surprise. This was the day my friend Bob was born.
“Levi,” my mom yelled from her room. Don and I are going Christmas shopping. You are going to stay with teenagers at the church. They are raising money for a mission trip.”
“Right,” I thought to myself. “I bet they are just going to the movies.” I went to the church, and I was still feeling a little mad. I wanted to just get the night over with so I decided to play basketball. After a few minutes, I was tired of playing and decided, of all things, to climb the basketball hoop even though they told me not to. The first time I climbed the basketball hoop I was fine, but I tried it again. The second time it didn’t go so smoothly because I fell off! The good thing was the lady caught me. The bad thing was my arm looked like some kind of strong man from a carnival had snapped it like a twig! My arm went over, then up, and then over again, like a question mark.
Soon I was in the car headed to the emergency room. At the Urgent Care in Dundee, I checked in and waited. Finally, when the doctor called my name, he took me to the X-ray room. When the doctor broke (get it? broke!) the news, I started to freak out. I broke the ulna and the radius in half! The doctor wrapped my arm in gauze and told my mom I would have to see a specialist at the University of Michigan.
The emergency room doctor was waiting for me to arrive. He looked at my arm and then told my mom something outside my room which wasn’t good. Apparently, when I got to the University of Michigan, the bone came out of my skin! Now I was thinking of all of the things I wasn’t going to be able to do anymore. The doctors let me relax while they were getting ready to operate on my arm. When I woke up after the operation, I had a cast, and the doctor told me I had pins through my bones. I knew I was going to see the University of Michigan hospital a lot!
In December 2012, I had the pins removed from my arm, and now I have three scars from that injury. The place where the bone came through on my arm is my favorite scar. The reason it is my favorite scar is because it can move. The scar tissue attached to the muscle and when the muscle moves, the scar moves too. I like to draw a face on it and let it talk to my friends. I call the scar Bob, and this is the surprising, painful story of his birth.
By Chris Selliman, Monroe, student at Monroe County Community College
It all started off when I was about 8 years old. I had tried out a few different sports such as basketball, baseball and golf. I seemed to do well in all these sports as well as anything else active I would participate in, but I just had this feeling that there was something missing!
My brother named Ryan is almost two years older than me and had been playing roller hockey and ice hockey for about two years at that point in time and I always attended his games and watched every minute. So I asked my mother, "Can I try hockey, mom? I think I would like it." She responded, "I don't think that I can afford for the both of you to play ice hockey right now, but you can start off in roller hockey."
I then began to play and loved it the moment I stepped on to the rink. A few years went on and I was doing extremely well in this sport, but it was still not enough! Ryan still currently played both roller and ice hockey and I was beyond jealous. So I sobbed to my mother and said, "Mom... It's been 3 years and Ryan has been playing both roller and ice hockey, and it's not fair." She looked let down and said, "Chris, I am doing all I can do and I still cannot afford for you to play both ice and roller." I thought for a few seconds and came up with a good idea. So I asked, "How about if I only play ice hockey and stop playing roller? It looks a lot funner." She replied, "Okay, we will try it and if you don't think it's something you would want to do, we will put you back in roller hockey." I got all anxious and screamed in joy, "Thank you so much!"
It was time. The moment I stepped on the ice, I knew this was my calling and I immediately fell in love with it. This was a little bit different than roller hockey and I progressed very quickly in this sport. The first year passed and not only did I completely understand the game and how to play, I also was very quick on the ice and a great team player. So the next season began and I was going to continue to play for the same team, which was the "Ice Hawks," and I was thrilled! I showed up at the draft skate, signed up, walked in the locker room and started putting on my pads to get ready. Unlike when I first started, I was not nervous at all and I knew exactly what I had to do. I stepped out on the ice and showed the coaches my all. They were very impressed and one of the coaches picked me first. This had made me feel like I finally found what I am best in. I always did pretty well in the other sports, but didn't compare to how I was when I played hockey. From here on out every year, every season I was always first pick, without a question.
So a few years went on and I was about to become a freshman and was going to attend MHS (Monroe High School). I started out at MHS and was still playing ice hockey for the "Ice Hawks" and was okay with it but was kind of looking for something bigger, where I would get recognized by scouts, but I held my patience and continued to play for the "Ice Hawks" this year. After this year had ended, I was now a sophomore, still attending MHS. And something spectacular and out of the ordinary had come about! MHS was appropriating their first own hockey team! I was beyond thrilled about this, considering how passionate I was about ice hockey and moving forward in it. This year went on and the final season had ended. I had done very well once again. Not only was I the leading goal scorer, I also was the leader of assists, which meant I was the leader in overall points. The coach of this team liked me very much as a hockey player and saw my potential, and told me he thought I was going to become an NHL hockey player. This meant a lot to me considering that was my dream.
So the next year came, I was now a junior in school and I realized I didn't have the required GPA at MHS to play any sport, let alone hockey. I was appalled and ashamed of myself, because I let myself down, considering how much hockey meant to me. I was all hung up and focused on this girl that I had been dating throughout high school. She meant the world to me, and was just about the only thing that I loved more than hockey. She was pretty much all I thought about and cared about. I figured if I had her, nothing else mattered. So I became less focused on school and my major priorities, and completely focused on her and making sure she was happy. The next school year came along; I was now a senior, and continued on the same wrongful path. I didn't improve my GPA at all and was still only focused on my girlfriend. The school year went along and eventually I got expelled for fighting some kid in school over her. My life as a hockey player came to an end.
Ever since then, this has affected me every day and I live in regret, but I am now currently attending MCCC (Monroe County Community College) and am doing great at this school. Next year I plan on transferring to a university and getting back in hockey and am very excited about it. If things do not end up working out in hockey, I have a backup plan, which is to continue doing well in school and eventually attend law school and become a lawyer. After my mistakes in the past, I realized to stay focused on my dream and my goals in life. It is my goal to succeed and to become somebody, and I will not give up until I meet this goal.
By Laurie Champagne, Newport, executive assistant
One cold November evening, my husband and I sat at our computer and submitted an extensive application for him with a highly reputable company. This company was located next door to where he had already been working for the past five years. We knew this job would be a huge change in our lives for the better as it provided all the benefits and bonuses his current employer had not. After two months of multiple steps, interviews, forms and tests he was offered a contingent position until he completed successfully the last two steps in their process. With good health, active lifestyle, and passing everything else we had no worries.
One afternoon, we received an unexpected letter from the company. All other communications have been through telephone and e-mail, so why now an official letter? The letter stated his contingent position had been revoked due to the following information: his medical test showed his levels came back that he was near diabetic. I must say that my husband’s daily eating habits are a.m. coffee, snack cakes and one Mountain Dew with his lunch, and very rarely does he eat his vegetables at dinner time. My husband was crushed and I was completely shocked.
Two weeks went by and even though my husband was in low spirits about not getting a position with this great company, he changed his snack cake and Mountain Dew eating habits. I guess he figured he could make a difference in his health now that he was aware. At dinner time I would mention vegetables and he'd simply say "I know" and eat them. I knew what had been bothering him since the letter as he would send me a text every other day about how disappointed in himself he was. I told him over and over that it wasn't the final answer from that company. I told him I felt he was meant to get employment in this company and this was the road he is supposed to be on; we just hit a bump. I felt so strongly about this regardless of having to tell him over and over, I kept telling him he was just as worthy as any other man working there and the past five years next door have only been his "hands on training" for this new job; this big job he applied for was meant for him, at this time. I believed this and I knew once I got him to believe it, it would happen and it did!
After eight more days of convincing him, he made a phone call to the company’s corporate office. The company’s recruiter remembered him and his file was reopened after a respectful discussion. I was thrilled and knew we made it over that bump. My husband, on the other hand, was shocked. I will never forget the day he said to me, "It was you who convinced me to call and not accept the letter as the final answer." It was after that phone call he knew if he hadn't made it, the opportunity would have been gone. I immediately wrote a personal reference letter and e-mailed it to the company. I knew it wasn't something asked, but what would it hurt? Nothing I did so far hurt and I wanted to make sure I had done everything in my power to help him. Who else would know this man better than his wife, right? Let's just say the company received it and commented that we were a very determined couple. Another week later my husband took his medical test again and he was cleared for employment. I believe my husband's change in eating habits did some good because his levels were now in the normal range.
This is just one story of how great of a marital team we truly are and every year we realize it more and more.
By Rickey Hurd, Newport
Growing up there is a series of tests and trials to many situations. These situations can be things such as learning what is wrong, learning good habits sometimes bad habits, and finding out who we are in life. It would be impossible for anyone to say that through life they have not encountered a time where they as an individual have never made mistakes. We are humans and I personally have made mistakes that have changed my life in a negative way.
While I was growing up I was very confused. My mother was really permissive or laid back and not caring, while my dad was authoritarian which means he couldn’t be questioned and punishments were harsh. Because of this case when I would go to my dad’s for the weekend, I would spend my time standing in a corner or getting yelled at. Then the weekdays are what got me in a great amount of trouble. Going back to my mom’s I could get away with so much more. Being as young as eight years old I would run around and do what I wanted. Growing older to the age fourteen I was introduced to fighting and drinking on a regular basis.
With this new style of living I felt empowered and it seemed to have so many benefits to begin with. I had friends for once and even at a point there for a second I knew every single kid at my school . Everything turned bad; although, I had friends they only hung out with me when I partied. None of my friends were actual friends anymore, just a bunch of faces. My drinking however did not slow down at all when there were no parties; I later found out I was born into this world with an alcoholic family.
My habit continued on for years until I met a guy named Jamie B. that changed my life. Jamie was my role model, best friend, and someone I could talk to and give advice to me whenever I needed it. He encouraged me for a time to quit drinking and straighten out my life, but he passed away. This, plus two days later my mom’s boyfriend of two years taking his life, pushed me into a self-destructive way.
I felt as if I was on a bridge swaying. Either God would save me or the devil would take me. Fortunately God made his presence known. One day after drinking all day I ran to the bathroom. While in there I starred at the mirror for about ten minutes thinking to myself “Why?” What I knew already is that he had given me an answer.
My mom’s friend came over about a week before all of this and had told me that I needed help. He also said that when I was finally ready he would like to show me a meeting. A meeting is an AA or alcohol anonymous place where you talk to others about drinking and working together to become sober. I went to that meeting after the experience with God and am sober to this day. God gave me the chance to be saved and I took the chance. I believe this was an unbelievable experience to learn . Knowing something can be so powerful and take over your life is frightening because once I lost my will power I appreciated getting it back and being able to make my own choices.
By Brianna Allen, Monroe
We met on a warm day in June and the year was 2006. It was sort of a set up. I knew it was eventually going to happen and he had no idea. We were meant to be, couldn’t stop talking and never ran out of things to say. Started dating and as all relationships go there is a learning curve. We met after some sadness: I lost my grandpa and he lost his son. But we knew that we were going to grow old together.
It was a wonderful start. We were both established. We had career-type jobs and we moved in together and started our lives. We then got married on September 19, 2009. During our first year of marriage, we had many loses in our families and he had serious hand surgery. With 2010 ending, I was told that I was going to lose my job, which I loved. They always say that your first year of marriage is the hardest, and that was very true. That year made us stronger and taught us that we can really depend on each other.
The toughest part after finding out I was losing my job was that I had to wait nine months of wondering when. It was near torture. The company was a large corporation with a lot of employees and many customers that came in on one day during the week. With the waiting and the unknown it became very unpleasant. And that was a shame because at one point it was a joy.
The day finally came in June 2011, I was handed a packet and was told that today was my last day. So no goodbyes to my clients after eight years of maintaining their finances, you are done. It was the happiest and saddest day; happy because that wait was finally over and sad because I was going to miss the weekly organized chaos.
So now I can move on. Right. Where to? What was I going to do? Take a long break or start a family, or maybe even start my own business. Too many questions. So thinking: Well, I guess I will enjoy my summer and see. Then one August morning I thought that I needed to take a pregnancy test. It was positive. Wow, I guess I just answered one of my questions.
Nine months later Mr. Samuel was born and so was my business 44 North. It is a very exciting time, a lot of new for me and us. Being a new mom has been the biggest life lesson for me, taught me that there is more to life. I still need to find some steady income, but I feel very lucky in my choices, cut myself from corporate America and stepped out on my own. My shop is on Etsy for now; I sell small antiques and I also repurpose many things. The goal is to keep it out of the trash and get them re-loved.
By John E. Pasko Jr., M.D., Monroe
My very first visit to Detroit, Michigan, was on Thanksgiving Day, 1962. Wayne State had contacted me regarding an interview for possible admission to Med School.
That Thanksgiving Eve I had spent in Cleveland, Ohio at the home of my college roommate from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. I flew out of Cleveland City Airport early on TAG airlines: A 12-seat wooden biplane with holes in the floor for a watery view of Lake Erie all the way to Detroit.
Landing was in Detroit City Airport on East Gratiot Ave., where a cab was hailed to transport me downtown for the interview.
A tall black cab driver was my chauffeur. I watched as the meter clicked off $1.80. Upon arrival at downtown Detroit, the driver announced, “What’s a white boy like you doing in downtown Detroit on Thanksgiving Day?” After my reply as to a med school interview, he stated, “That’ll be NO CHARGE!”
I have loved Detroit City ever since.
My interview was successful, and I spent 4 happy years at WSU Med School, as well as another great year as an intern at Detroit General Hospital.
The rest of that day was spent watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade on Woodward Ave., in Detroit, and a visit to old Tiger Stadium to watch Alex Karras and the Detroit Lions pulverize the Green Bay Packers before the flight back home. No wonder I love Detroit.
By Mary K. Fuhlbrigge - Monroe, MI
An accident reported recently in the Monroe Evening News reminded me of a story in my family history about which my father often talked. A tour bus with visitors from Korea crashed in the Blue Mountains of Idaho, with several fatalities. My heart skipped a beat when I read the mention of the Blue Mountains.
No doubt some of the MEN readers watched the PBS special on “The Dust Bowl.” Many of the victims of this time in our country’s history loaded up their belongings, and their children onto their trucks and trekked to California for a new and better life. They were called “The Okies.” Well, in October of 1941, just before I turned 7, my father made a life-changing decision for our family. His Portland brother convinced him that life for our family could be better in Oregon. My father, as a tailor, never lost his job during the depression, but his weekly income had fallen to just $5. So, we became “Okies”-- from Lincoln, Nebraska. Daddy bought a cattle truck with wooden slats on the sides and loaded up our belongings, setting out for Portland, with my mother, my 2-year old brother, Johnny, and me in the cab!
We crossed the Rockies safely, but when we got to the Blue Mountains and were well into our crossing, a dense fog settled down upon us, with zero visibility. Perhaps there are still no side rails in these mountains, but there certainly weren’t in 1941. However, there was one thing that saved our lives—a white line painted down the center of the narrow road. Daddy slowly but surely, followed the white line, bringing us safely through and down to the other side. A kindly gas-station attendant at the bottom told us we should never have been allowed to begin that frightening journey. These occurrences were not that unusual. But for the grace of God!!
By the time we reached Portland, my mother had pushed the floorboards through on her side of the cab, braking for my father all the way out. And no, when we moved to Monroe in 1949, he did not buy another cattle truck. This time we saw the USA in our new Chevrolet.
By Mary Ann McBee, Monroe
When I was about fifteen years old, my mother made me a coat. It was a long purple coat. Purple wasn’t my favorite color or the most fashionable color at this time. But I loved the coat and wore it often because my mother made it for me.
As the years passed, the coat got lost in the closet with the other coats. My mother passed away. I lived in the same house but now I owned it. The lady who lived upstairs asked if I had any coats to donate to a women’s shelter. I gave her many coats including my purple coat.
I felt bad later that I had given away the purple coat. Then I realized that it was a memory and would keep someone warm.
I love to go to garage sales and wondered if the coat would turn up at one. It never did.
Years passed. I still enjoyed garage sales. I will never forget this one: No, I didn’t find the coat my mother made me. I found something better. I found a purple coat just like my mother had made me in a size to fit my two-year-old granddaughter, Mia. It came with a matching hat and was the same purple herringbone as my coat from long ago. Mia fell in love with the coat. God sent the coat back to me only in a smaller size. What you give away comes back to you – Mia has since outgrown the coat which she says was her favorite, but I have many pictures.
By Dwight Werner, Monroe, Martial Arts instructor
A couple of years ago I was contacted by a casting company working for National Geographic Television who asked me if I would be interested in an all-expenses paid trip around the world.
They said they were looking for people who have medical conditions that modern medicine could not cure and were sending them to be treated by traditional healers in other countries.
I have had chronic back pain for the past 30 years, since I broke by back in a car accident and was willing to give it a try so sent in an audition tape.
They liked the tape and flew me to New York City to meet the producer, Carolyn Payne, from Bullseye Productions.
Eight Americans were to be chosen and sent in pairs to India, Hong Kong, Peru or Cameroon Africa.
The series was to be called "The Witch Doctor Will See You Now."
Thousands of people auditioned and I was quite surprised when I was chosen to participate.
They sent me and a Roller Derby Queen named Jenna Patel to Cameroon to be treated by traditional healers.
First treatment was performed by a Dr. Alfred who lived in the city of Yaounde. He is not a medical doctor but a doctor chosen by the people.
Jenna went first and since her condition was anxiety, the treatment was to eat the still-beating heart of a chicken they sacrificed for the occasion. Then she was to drink a concoction made of chicken blood mixed with honey. It did not relieve her anxiety, however.
I was up next and after diagnosing my condition (correctly I might add), by casting the bones of gorilla, lion, ostrich, and a monkey, he decided that I needed to be cut with a razor blade about 80 times on all the major joints and a potion of devils claw and other ingredients pushed into the cuts.
It was interesting because Devils Claw is currently being studied in clinical trials for relieving arthritis.
Then he used another potion and mixed it with snake fat and red hot ashes and massaged by back. That actually worked wonderfully for a short time.
The next day we went to see another doctor named Shana. She placed me and Jenna in a circle surrounded by idols, then made me hold a chicken upside down and spit on it and ask it to accept my illness into its body, then she slaughtered it and made a circle of blood around us and asked God to heal us.
The following day Jenna and I went to see another healer who buried Jenna alive in a shallow grave with lit candles as well as burying another chicken. Next thing you know we were surrounded by about 20 screaming Africans who do not speak English and all were pointing AK 47s at us. They arrested us and took the entire crew to jail. The American Embassy and British Embassy had to negotiate our release. This really did not help Jenna's anxiety, either. Someone thought Jenna was being murdered and called the police.
Next day back to Dr. Alfred for another treatment. Soon as we get there he brings out a goat and tells us that he is going to slit its throat and bathe us in its blood to purify us. Which he does. Then he skins it and we eat it. Kind of gross.
The next day is a day off and we go to the market. Ever since we were arrested we had an escort from the United Nations and another from the Army. We are driving through the market and the camera man is taking pictures out the window. Some of the townspeople do not like having their picture taken and start throwing stuff at our car and surround us. By the way, everyone is also carrying Machetes.
They start chanting "Go Home Frenchie;” they think we are from France and they hate the French. Cameroon used to be under French control. Luckily our escorts calmed them down and explained we weren't French and we got out of there quickly.
The last treatment was in the jungle rainforest. We drove for a day into the bush, and then walked another several hours until we came to a village of pygmies called the Bagili tribe. They were pretty happy to see us and performed a dance for us. But things turned kind of quickly when they found out that our "fixers" did not bring them the chickens they promised. They did, however, bring them plenty of gin, which they really liked. They said that they had to perform a secret dance to the forest God Minkora and that we could not watch so they placed us in a hut. Well, one of our drivers ended up walking through while they were dancing and they freaked out and said they were going to kill him. They were pretty drunk and angry. They said that the only way to resolve the issue was if they "cleansed" him, but they also wanted to cleanse me and Jenna. Cleansing consisted of blindfolding us and taking us into the jungle and punching and kicking and headbutting us as well as running through our legs. The drums were beating and they were chanting, it was quite hypnotic and kind of scary.
After that they demanded 400,000 francs and said that we could not leave until we paid up. Well, the producers did not have the money with them but we left anyway. They probably could have killed us and got away with it, but they didn't.
We still had a treatment to go and the producers wanted us to return the next day. Jenna did not want to go but I talked her into it.
They had sobered up and were happy to see us again; they took us deep into the jungle to look for plants for our treatments.
It was pretty sad, they did not trust white people and had only ever seen them once before, when some French scientists came looking for medicine, stole their plants and did not give them anything in return.
They are also losing their habitat to the logging companies who are cutting down the trees and relocating them. The Chief told us that medicinal plants grow next to the trees that they cut down and cannot survive without them.
It was an experience I will never forget and it makes me very happy that I live in Monroe Michigan USA.
The level of poverty was unbelievable to me. The poorest people in our nation have enough to eat, running water, electricity, plumbing etc.
The episode I was in is called "Goats Blood Bath" and after seeing what the others went through in India, China and Peru I am glad I went to Africa
Some of their treatments included drinking wine made with three different kinds of penis, vomiting, drinking urine, enemas, cupping, leeches, beaten with sticks, etc.
Most people in the world go to traditional healers. My overall impression is that there is some value in the herbs and plants, but I see no value in animal sacrifice or many of the other treatments.
Since going on the show I have healed myself by yoga stretching daily, martial arts, eating sensibly and losing 60 pounds.
If you get a chance check out the series on Nat Geo, it is quite interesting overall. I would recommend for mature audiences only.
By Paula Wethington, Monroe, reporter/Monroe Evening News
I was four years old when I picked up a children’s book and read the words aloud.
My mother thought I had memorized the story. Instead, she was startled that I stopped and asked, “What’s that word?”
I started kindergarten at age 5, as is customary. But even though I had to pay close attention during math lessons, I was bored with the alphabet worksheets.
My teacher adjusted by writing a lesson plan just for me. One of her assignments was revising the Christmas play to cast me as the narrator, the “grandmother” who told the story as scenes unfolded onstage.
Some people in the audience marveled that I had memorized such a long script.
They heard my parents reply: “She’s reading.”
The following year, the staff assigned me to a split classroom of students in grades 1 and 2. A new curriculum was late in arriving, so it was about three weeks into the year when my teacher showed me a pile of the first grade books and then a pile of the second grade books.
I chose the second-grade books.
My desk was moved to the second grade side of the room. For the rest of the year, I had math lessons with both groups of students so I could catch up.
While those students knew the circumstances, I had problems at another school after my family moved. Some of my new classmates could not understand why I was in their class instead of a grade behind. But by the time we were freshmen, I was accepted as a member of the class of 1984 and my age difference was forgotten.
This story from my childhood still amazes people today. And here’s why:
A dizzying array of everyday details are more age-based rather than grade-based. Further complicating matters is the fact my birthday is in the summer. Therefore, I was the youngest in my class by not by just one year – but by almost two years.
As a result, I was 16 when I graduated from high school.
The only jobs I could get during my high school years were babysitting and delivering newspapers, as neither required a driver’s license.
When I got a summer job after graduation, the manager called the state employment office to make sure he could legally schedule me for 40 hours a week.
I stayed in-state for my college freshman year because I freaked over the possibility of waiting hours for an adult relative to claim me at a hospital or police station. I feared I could not speak for myself even in case of emergency because I was only 17 that year.
And I have no stories of seeing live bands or attending events in the entertainment district when I did go away to college. Reason: I wasn’t old enough to get in the door. The drinking age was 21.
I had my bachelor’s degree and started my career as a newspaper reporter when I was still only 20 years old.
By Judi Boberg, Monroe, student at Monroe County Community College
In 1971 I was a seventeen year old high school girl with a big problem. My parents wanted me to break up with the boy I loved; they felt we were too young to be getting so serious, but my boyfriend, Mike, was desperately pleading with me to stay. In those days good kids obeyed their parents in these matters, and I was a good kid. My heart was being pulled two ways, and I didn’t know what to do.
After a particularly emotional discussion with Mike, I went home, and after much thinking and crying, I fell asleep listening to my favorite music by Simon and Garfunkel playing on the stereo. Somewhere in the night I awoke to a dark, silent room. Suddenly, gently there was a song, its words clear and quavering coming out of the blackness: “What a dream I had, pressed in organdy, clothed in crinoline of smoky burgundy, softer than the rain…” As I lay in the dark the strains of “For Emily Wherever I May Find Her” wound themselves out, the last note faded in the air, and in that moment I knew what I would do. Mike and I have been married over forty-one years now; we have ten children, and our twelfth grandchild is due about the same time as our anniversary, and all because a confused young girl heard a song in the night.
By Hyun A Steward, Monroe, physician
I came to United States when I was twelve years old with my two younger brothers: Steve six years and Robert three years old. My parents came to America one year before to further expand their education and training in political science PhD program at University of North Dakota and obstetrics and gynecology (OB&GYN) residency program at St. Vincent Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. It would have been too much for our parents to learn a new language as well as to complete their required rigorous tasks in their PhD and OB&GYN residency curriculum with three small children. Therefore, my two brothers and I stayed with my grandmother in South Korea surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins.
When I was in my junior high school, my parents sent our visa to bring us to the United States. I was pulled out of my seventh grade class in Kwangju, Chonnam southern province and traveled to Seoul, Korea, with my grandmother to stay at my second aunt's house with our two cousins until our passport was ready. I was excited finally to see my parents whom I had not seen past one year, yet I was sad and scared to leave my mother country Korea to pioneer the new territory in America.
My three-year-old brother, Robert, mostly stayed with my grandmother holding and rubbing her ear lobe; it was like his favorite blanket that made him secure and safe. On the other hand, my other brother Steve was one big terror, swaggering inside and outside the house -- one day we had an argument while playing a game and he became very upset. Next thing I knew, I was being chased by him in my aunt's house with a chopstick in his hand to stab me.
Finally we boarded the airplane, but the problem was that none of us knew how to speak English. My relatives must have arranged our flight to America and spoke to the airline stewardess to help us to connect to the right planes to our final destination of Detroit, Michigan. In spite of not being able to communicate freely due to our language barrier, we were treated very well by the airline stewardesses. Although their huge blue eyes almost startled me; I had never seen someone’s eyes that big as if she is a peculiar alien. My six-year-old brother, Steve, was restless sitting in the airplane over ten hours and spilt the Coca Cola on his meal tray and some on the floor. I was embarrassed and tried to clean up his mess, but the stewardess smiled the whole time even as she was wiping the wet muddled tray. Robert was fussy and cried off and on—I think he was looking for our grandma and her earlobe.
About 22 hours later, we met our dad and mom. It was like a miracle seeing my parents again. My heart was pounding with happiness and trepidation of starting a new life in this land of opportunity. My mother ran toward us and tried to hug my brother Robert, but alas, he gave a shrieking cry and grabbed my neck tightly. It has been too long, and he did not recognize his mother. He treated her like a total stranger that brought tears and jabbing pain through mother’s heart. Even during next several days, my Robert did not stop crying, constantly waking up during the night. After exhaustive nights, out of desperation, my mother gave Robert a small dose of children’s sleeping elixir to calm him down and rest. Eventually, Robert adjusted to his new environment and five of us started our new journey in America.
By Michele Mizell, Erie, teacher’s aide
The plan was to leave a few cars parked at the remote take-out lot and we would pack as many people as we could into a few of the larger vehicles and carpool to the canoe livery. Since our car is small, it would be left behind for the day. We hurriedly grabbed our large garbage bag packed with our lunch, water, sunscreen and all the things we would be needing for a day on the river.
Remembering all the warnings about not leaving valuables in plain sight in your car, and not wanting my purse to go floating down the river should we tip the canoe, I threw my purse into the car's trunk before running off to the waiting van.
It was a lovely day on the AuSable River. The beauty of Michigan’s rivers is beyond compare. You feel a deep peace while silently drifting past fly-fishermen and hovering dragonflies. All too soon, though, we reached the end of our trip. Friends that had arrived earlier came running when we pulled our canoe in. "Your car's trunk is open!"
My legs turned to noodles. My purse had been in the trunk. I'm mentally running through a list of credit cards that would need to be cancelled. Anxiously, we made our way to the car.
There it was. EXACTLY as we had left it earlier that morning. In our haste, my husband and I both thought the other had shut the trunk. All day my purse had sat there like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. While the parking lot filled and dozens of people had walked past, not one single thing had been touched.
Every day we hear about senseless vandalism and theft. Even though this happened many years ago, I like to think of my lucky day and be reminded that most people are truly good.
By Vinnie Maltese, dean of science/mathematics, Monroe County Community College
I was 17 when I first saw her in the hall at North Babylon Senior High School. Her spectacular green eyes elicited one’s attention through large blue-tinted glasses. I was very near the end of my senior year and had to act fast if I ever hoped to meet her. She was 16 and had a smile that made one sure that a piece of heaven was right there on Earth. I was certain that “Love at first sight” existed!
We dated through the remainder of my senior year and into my college freshman year. I never actually asked her, but was certain that I was going to marry this beautiful young lady and continued to believe that through my senior year at college, through the break ups and make ups characterizing the pain that young love requires to mature. In 1978, I graduated from college with a degree and a license to sail in the U. S. Merchant Marine. I was in love with a beautiful woman, had just secured a steady well-paying job, and was shipping out to see the world.
In 1978 communication was primitive by today’s standards. It was nearly impossible to call home from overseas while maintaining a work schedule aboard ship. Messages from the vessel were expensive and could be sent only by telex. I wrote daily knowing that I would probably be home before she ever received a single note. After five long months my ship docked in Houston, Texas. I was frantic to get to a telephone.
She said she was getting married. After a pause that seemed to last an eternity due partly to the numbness of five months at sea and partly to shock, I asked her if she loved him. She said she did. I resisted the urge to change her mind and wished her the best. It was a difficult thing to do. I shipped out as soon as possible, worked hard at my career, dreamed of what could have been, and existed as a confirmed bachelor, a sailor who would never fall from grace with the sea, for the next 13 years. I was certain that lasting Love did not exist.
I recognized her handwriting on the envelope, opened it, and read about her impending divorce and two young children. Her telephone number was there so I called. We spoke for 3 hours. I said I would stop by the next time I was driving north, expecting to say hello, meet the family, and continue on.
I arrived in the Toledo area late at night and got a room. The next day there was a knock at the door. I opened it, saw those spectacular green eyes and incredible smile, and instantly realized that this confirmed bachelor had really been in love with her all along. More than 20 years of marriage later I can truly say that my One Amazing Thing is the lasting Love we share.
By Donna McEachern, Frenchtown Township, retired
Assistance given in friendship and concern helped to save my life.
Back in 2008, a friend, the owner of a gift shop, was badly beaten by an unknown male as she closed her shop at night. After a two-month hospital stay, this brave lady reopened her store. As she needed help in cleaning and arranging items, I volunteered. One of the things I did was help her godson move a heavy table from the front to the back.
That evening while in bed I began to feel uncomfortable, a feeling I attributed to strained muscles from moving the table. However, the pain persisted, gaining in intensity through the next day. On Monday I was at the doctor and then the emergency room. On Tuesday the operation was done.
The surgery located a solid mass between the lower bowel and the liver. The biopsy was positive and the search began to find the source. It turned out to be ovarian cancer – stage three. I had had no warning of this problem. I quite possibly would not have survived if I hadn’t tried to help out a friend.
Three years later I was cancer free. During those years I continued my city council duties (in a Wayne County community). These sessions are televised which caused people to tell me which of my hats were becoming and others not so much.
Many of these constituents gave unqualified support to me in the form of prayer.
When I asked my oncologist to what he attributed my recovery, he stated, “medical advances, attitude and prayer.” When I asked in what priority he would rank these three, he unequivocally stated, “Prayer is number one.”
I have been blessed and I am most thankful.
By Joyce Collins, Monroe, retired secretary/ North Star Steel
In June 1969 my husband and I packed up our car, rented a pop-up camper to tow behind, and set off with our three children for a road trip west to Colorado. We had no prior camping experience but we were young and fearless and thought it would be a great adventure for our 8-year-old son and 10- and 6-year-old daughters. The trip started out well and we were fortunate to find camper accommodations at each juncture of the trip with the aid of a campsite guide we bought during our preparations.
By the time we reached our destination we began to realize that a trip of this length was probably not a good idea for our first time out. We never knew it would be so cold in the mountains of Colorado in June. So after just one day in the mountains we headed back east.
When we reached Nebraska we decided to visit a campsite that was some distance from our route east. But it sounded so good we thought it would be worth the miles out of our way for a visit. It was after arriving that we found out what the “proposed” symbol in the campsite guide stood for. There was nothing there but a small lake, no electric hook up, no washroom facilities, and no people for miles around. We were so tired, and now so far from the highway, we decided to stay for the night and set off the next morning.
We popped up the camper, made up the beds and settled in for sleep. During the night someone violently shaking my shoulder awakened me. I sat up ready to berate whoever was so inconsiderate to wake me in such a rough manner. But to my surprise everyone was sleeping. There was a strange smell in the camper and I had an overwhelming feeling of dread that I couldn’t explain. Stepping outside, I realized that the smell was not coming from outside but was contained in the camper. Waking my husband we began to investigate and found that the gas jet on the small stove in the camper was on and the camper was filled with gas from the propane tank. We got everyone out without incident.
We could all have died that night but for the hand that shook me awake. The incident has stayed with me all these years and made me thankful for my life and that of my family and the grandchildren who would have never been. I truly believe it was the hand of God that saved us on the banks of that lake in Nebraska in 1969.
By Mary Steinhauser, LaSalle, co-founder of Heartbeat of Monroe/retired English teacher at SMCC
I thought retirement was a time of rest without stress and with lots of relaxing freedom. So I said my good-byes and enjoyed the retirement party given by my children. Sadness, inspiration, and fun were the result.
I really had no plans for my time other than spending more of it with my young grandchildren. My older friends began experiencing health problems so there were lots of visits to their last days. Sometimes we brought meals, but mostly we spent time and had some good conversations.
On those trips with other friends, we talked of ideas for the looming years ahead. One of my fellow visitors suggested volunteering at the nearby metroparks. That led to classes on flora and fauna from the state university . This led to a class on interpretation, first aid, and highlights of the metroparks. The final vision came when the naturalist at the metroparks said that I was ready to lead walks for visitors at the different locations.
“I was ready.”
So now purpose reemerged with leading, in learning more, in teaching the young and old about natural surroundings, and in enjoying the outdoors. In addition, my husband and I had more time to complete our goal of running a marathon in all 50 states. The best of all, we were asked after 20 years of running to lead and to teach a group of new runners preparing for an upcoming marathon. Life is amazing.
By John A. Zarb, Luna Pier
In February, 1992, my company transferred me to Belgium for a four-year assignment as a director in our European Operations. As part of my duties, I was required to travel back to the United States once or twice a month.
After 18 months, or about 24 round trips, I received an unexpected letter from British Airways with a paid ticket on Flight #1, New York to London, on the Concorde – SST. The Concorde was not your typical commercial airplane. It resembled the United States Air Force, B-1 Lancer Bomber. It flew to altitudes and at speeds which no other carrier could achieve.
The Concorde area at New York’s JFK airport was like no other – it was more like an elaborate hotel lobby than it was an airport gate. Shortly, we boarded. What struck me first was the interior size – it was almost as narrow as a standard corporate jet. The 100 seats were all first class, gray leather, and plush. Headroom was more limited than expected but understandable given the thickness of the fuselage needed to withstand the pressure imposed on the plane at high altitudes.
Soon, the long awaited ‘cleared for takeoff’ announcement was broadcast and off we rolled, much like any other plane I had flown, until the pilot pushed it a bit – suddenly, we were pinned against the seats and we all watched New York City disappear.
The pilot came on the loud speaker and welcomed us aboard. He explained that FAA regulations denied an after-burner take-off in New York City as it would literally blow out the windows of the very same skyscrapers we were just admiring. He said that such an event would take place as soon as we had passed land, east of Maine.
It was no time before the Captain chimed in:
“Greetings again Concorde flyers. We are about to execute the after-burner sequence which will result in our attaining supersonic speed and put us at an altitude higher than any commercial aircraft can fly; 12 miles above the earth.” And, away we went! Again, we felt the amazing power of the four Rolls-Royce engines but this time the after-burners ignited causing G-forces as powerful as that of an F-15 fighter jet. We didn’t feel the sonic boom which resulted when we exceeded the speed of sound, Mach 1.
Once settled in, the highly professional team of flight-stewards began to serve the 31 passengers a royal feast. I struggled to decide between the choices we had for our dinner entrée: lamb, prime rib or swordfish; it took three flutes of champagne to reach a decision. Absolutely grand!
When the chance presented itself, I asked the Purser if there might be a possibility to peek into the cockpit; I had told him that my company was involved in the manufacture of the plane in Toulouse, France. He returned with an invitation to follow him to the cockpit door where I was let in and offered a look. The cockpit was cramped compared to conventional passenger jets but very efficiently laid out. I was completely overwhelmed by the view from the cockpit; I could see the curvature of the earth, like never before, not just a slight arch, but a very pronounced curve highlighted by the setting sun behind us. I noticed the gauges, many made by my company, ALT – 62000 feet and SPEED – MACH 2.02 (1,537 mph at that altitude).
The descent and landing at London’s Heathrow Airport was breathtaking. It was fast and direct as the Concorde uses about 90 percent of its 100 tons of fuel while flying supersonic over the ocean and has little room for error when it comes to circling or re-approaching.
While I did not know a soul on board this flight, I had a feeling of peace and tranquility beyond which I had experienced. The view from my small window became a private portal between me, my God, and those who I loved. This ‘New York to London’ adventure, all 3 hours and 19 minutes of it, was the ride of my life and one which I will always treasure.
By Eric Slough, Toledo, fund developer
Last weekend I attended a celebration of life gathering for a good friend’s mother. Unfortunately, she had been on the decline for the past several years; dementia and poor health ate away at the last few years of her life. This was not a somber affair and there was a buzz around the room from everyone in attendance. Pictures of her life dotted the room and friends and family hugged and shared memories.
Nearly 15 years ago, a chance meeting with this woman changed the direction of my life forever. She was now gone and I really didn't have a chance to tell her face-to-face how much she meant to me.
In my early 20s, I made the decision to relocate from the area to take a job and "move on" with the rest of my life. I thought big-city living and the hustle and bustle of a corporate job would fulfill my upward mobility goals. I moved away based on a job and relationship plan that backfired almost immediately upon relocating. The job was horrible, the relationship deteriorated and I was in a strange land without any ties to home. About eight months after I left town, I was home visiting friends and happened to bump into my friend's mom at a local restaurant. A chance meeting on the way to the restroom immediately changed my life. A hug and big "how you been?" started the conversation and before we parted she let me know about a dream job that had opened up and had I heard about the position? She easily could have passed with a simple hello or 30 seconds either way and we would have probably missed each other in the busy restaurant. She took a true interest in saying hello.
I couldn't speed dial my contact at the company fast enough. A phone interview and offer immediately followed and in a flash of lightning I was back home and happy. Some may say that you need to go away to appreciate what you have/had. For me I had made a domino-effect line of decisions based on bad information and immature life values. I could have stayed and my life would have followed a different path, but this chance meeting gave me the opportunity to start over and has paid dividends in more ways than I can list. Thank you, Mrs. W.; because of you I have a great wife, two adorable kids, a home and a career that is fulfilling and meaningful. Your two minutes of kindness have led me to a lifetime of happiness. Rest well
By Terri Dalton, Carleton, retired, Ford Motor Co.
The call came late one evening in the spring of 2004. “How are your kidneys?” my brother asked. “Fine,” I replied. “Do you need one?” “Yes,” he said, “Maybe quite soon.”
That was the call that changed both of our lives. My brother, Tom, was the transplant recipient who was freed from the need for dialysis. He didn’t have to spend hundreds of hours each year hooked up to a dialysis machine. He was free to work full-time, ride his beloved bicycle thousands of miles, spend time with his wife and son, enjoy their family cottage on Lake Bellaire and perform numerous good deeds for family, friends and strangers.
I have often been asked if it was a difficult decision to be a living organ donor. I always say, “No, there was no decision to be made.” There was no doubt that I would do it. I was sure that was why God had given me two kidneys – one was for me and the other was for me to share.
For eight years, my kidney worked in my brother’s body. Then last June he told me it had begun to fail. In July he had a massive stroke. We had 11 days to tell him we loved him and to say farewell. Farewell to a wonderful man whom I was blessed to call my brother. Farewell until we meet again in heaven someday.
But that isn’t the end of our story. Just tonight my sister-in-law called and read me a thank-you letter she received from a young woman who was a recipient of a tissue donation from my brother. That young woman will be able to play volleyball again with her “new” ACL. The chain of donation goes on. I gave to him and he gave to her.
Not everyone has the opportunity to be a living donor but almost everyone can be a donor when they pass on. You can sign up on-line at www.giftoflifemichigan.org. Be sure to let your family know your wishes
By Cheryl Johnston, Monroe, assistant professor, Monroe County Community College
January had been especially cruel that year. We had been pummeled week after week with snowstorms that were followed by icy sub-zero days. I had not been out of the house for weeks, and the gray days had taken their toll on our household. My husband had been working quite a bit of overtime and although the extra money was nice, I yearned for some adult company. My 2-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter were keeping me busy; we had made the best of the situation by playing games and watching movies, but I was glad to see the month end.
February arrived and that day was my birthday. We had made plans to go out for dinner at a nice restaurant when my husband came home. I had the sitter all lined up and had already contemplated my dinner choices. It had been quite a while since we had enjoyed a date night, and I was so looking forward to a special evening. While I was preparing lunch for my children, the phone rang, and my husband called to wish me Happy Birthday and to break the news that he was going to stay over and work overtime. Really? I could not believe it. Surely he could say no, come home, and take me to dinner. I was unable to hide my disappointment and the resentment that welled up inside me. While he did his best to explain, he knew that I was upset, “I promise, I’ll make it up to you. We’ll go to dinner next weekend. We’ll go shopping and pick out something special. Think about it. What would you like for your birthday?” Angry and hurt, I looked out the window at another gloomy day and said, “Spring. I would just like it to be spring.” I hung up the phone and cleaned up the lunch dishes. I began to feel ashamed of the way I had treated my husband. I knew he was trying his best to take care of us, and I had behaved like a spoiled child. So I put my son down for his nap, and invited my daughter to help me bake a birthday cake. We would bake a cake, decorate, and celebrate with daddy when he came home. She was thrilled and I began to feel better.
Around mid afternoon, the cake was cooling and the doorbell rang. As I approached the front door, I noticed a green shade covering the arched window at the top of the door. I quickly opened the front door to a large green- tissued object and a young delivery boy who peeked around and said,” I have a delivery.” He struggled with the large bundle and placed it inside on the tile floor of the foyer. As I closed the door and shut out the cold, I began to tear away the tissue. Branches and shiny green leaves emerged; it was a beautiful vibrant Ficus tree, nearly five feet tall. The card simply read: Happy Spring.
Somehow he had done it. Spring arrived early that year.
Last week was my birthday, and though my Springtime birthday gift arrived many decades ago, it is still a memory I cherish. My children are grown with children of their own, and my husband, Paul has been gone for 15 years, but this birthday memory remains, and it feels like springtime when I recall it. Stories and memories do sustain us and I am reminded that those we love really never leave us.
You, too, can give the gift of love. Someone’s life will be better for it.
By Suzanne Gene Courtney - Monroe, teacher/poet/author
Recently, I came across my oldest son’s passport. It contained only one stamp: Indonesia. Danny always wanted to surf Bali. He did...one year before his death. Born in Hawaii, he loved the sea and all of nature. The islands claimed him twenty-five years later in a fall from a mountain ledge in the
Valley of the Kings, his favorite place.
I unzipped his body bag and smoothed a lock of hair from his forehead. I placed my right hand over his heart and my left hand on mine. All those years of making him well, fixing his broken bones, straightening his teeth, and now…I could do nothing but breathe in short, ragged breaths. God, give me the strength to bear this, I mouthed. I felt strange warmth. I knew my Danny was beside me.
At his funeral by the sea, the people felt his presence. During the Hawaiian chants, the canoeists raising their paddles in salute, the blowing of the conch shell, and the placing of the lei petals on the gentle waves while the green sea turtles watched, a great love encircled us.
The same sea captain, who took Danny deep-sea fishing as a boy, steered the boat to my son’s favorite surfing beach as a green sea turtle appeared, seeming to guide. Taking a handful of his ashes, we each jumped into the ocean, completing the circle of life.
Strange, but wonderful “coincidences” kept happening, especially during that first year of his passing: cleverly-placed rainbows, sightings, strategic words to a song, dreams of actual visitations, help in crisis, specific animals appearing, and especially, the four messages that came through a channeler friend to ease our pain and to help us understand.
One of the messages said that Danny could help us more from where he is than he could have from his physical self. So many people who loved Danny have attested to this. I believe that my son went ahead to help us grow, trust, and believe. We were given these gifts of insight to help us develop into the wonderful people we are capable of being and to help others who grieve.
Years have passed and the connections are more finely-tuned. This is the way it is supposed to be. My son’s passing has changed me forever. Our family and friends all strive to become better, more tolerant, more insightful and loving people. I miss him terribly, but I know he is near, safe, happy, constantly learning, and helping me and others, especially children.
I am currently writing the third book in the trilogy about Danny. His passing over was the saddest, most gut-wrenching, amazingly profound event of my life. And yet, I survive, having found peace and happiness. He continues to teach me how to live. I have always feared death. Now, I do not...for I have seen through the veil. I feel the love.
By NaJwa McWhite, Monroe, full-time mom/part-time student
April 28, 2011, was the most emotional day of my entire life. At the time my husband and I were living at an apartment complex in Toledo, Ohio. My best friend and I had a fun-filled day planned for ourselves and my 10-month-old son. A day that was supposed to be filled with shopping, food and entertainment was suddenly replaced with tears, fear, and anger.
We decided that the Franklin Park mall would be our first stop; therefore, we headed out on our adventure to the bus stop, which was located toward the middle of the block. With my son on my left hip we looked both ways, the street was clear, and we decided to cross; this was the biggest mistake of my life. I stepped into the street and what seemed as though were moments later I found myself lying on the ground. When I opened my eyes I looked frantically for my son. I looked up and there he was about 3 to 4 feet away on my right side lying in the middle of the street. In a blink of an eye he was in my arms screaming and clinging onto my chest. I was surrounded by people yelling for me to give them my baby but I held him tightly screaming for them to call 911. That’s when “she” came; a lady driving by came to my side, got on the ground next to me and my son, and wrapped us into her arms. I cried on her shoulder and she held me close until the paramedics pried us apart.
At the hospital I found out I had broken my knee and had a fracture in my leg, however my baby was fine. Although he was scared tremendously and had a few scrapes and bruises my 10-month-old son was not seriously injured! At that moment all I could do was thank God and think of the lady who held us. I desperately wanted to thank her for that simple hug meant more to me then she will ever know. I tried my best to track her down, when I finally got a copy of the police report I noticed they had my phone number wrong (in case the lady tried to contact me), and they couldn't give me any of her personal information either.
I believe a miracle happened this day. I was speechless but very grateful that my child was not harmed when truthfully his life could have been taken. So what started out to be a fun-filled day turned into a living nightmare, but taught me a great lesson as well. There are great people in this world and one simple action can change a person’s life whether you realize it or not. The woman that went out of her way to console me that day was truly sent from heaven and nearly two years later I still think of her and thank her in my prayers daily.
By Joe M. Migliore, Monroe, retired
In 1945 at the end of World War II I was in the Pacific. After 3 years of it, I was in the Philippines near Manila. I was a combat medic with the infantry.
We were moving up our position. The infantry moves up, we follow them, and the field artillery, when the Japanese infiltrated a grove about 100 yards above us. We had a handful of infantry men there when the field artillery lower their 105 guns into the grove. We were told to move into it for casualties. Our sergeant told us that there were wounded boys of ours there. They sent us in to pick them up and bring them back.
When we got there we found two of our boys dead, so we decided to bring them back. While we were tying them to the litter, the firing started again. We look up. Our boys back up and the Japanese move up -- shooting at each other. We were in the middle of crossfire. I said we are dead; let’s pick up the litter and run for it. We ran expecting to fall dead, and then came to a small pond. It didn’t look deep so we ran through it. The water got up to our shoulders. When we got back to our position, I yelled at the sergeant with tears in my eyes for sending us in there for two dead men. He said he was told to send us there.
This is my amazing story.
By Mary K. Fuhlbrigge - Monroe, MI
An accident reported recently in the Monroe Evening News reminded me of a story in my family history about which my father often talked. A tour bus with visitors from Korea crashed in the Blue Mountains of Idaho, with several fatalities. My heart skipped a beat when I read the mention of the Blue Mountains.
No doubt some of the MEN readers watched the PBS special on “The Dust Bowl.” Many of the victims of this time in our country’s history loaded up their belongings and their children onto their trucks and trekked to California for a new and better life. They were called “The Okies.”
Well, in October of 1941, just before I turned 7, my father made a life-changing decision for our family. His Portland brother convinced him that life for our family could be better in Oregon. My father, as a tailor, never lost his job during the depression, but his weekly income had fallen to just $5. So, we became “Okies”-- from Lincoln, Nebraska. Daddy bought a cattle truck with wooden slats on the sides and loaded up our belongings, setting out for Portland, with my mother, my 2-year old brother, Johnny, and me in the cab!
We crossed the Rockies safely, but when we got to the Blue Mountains and were well into our crossing, a dense fog settled down upon us, with zero visibility. Perhaps there are still no side rails in these mountains, but there certainly weren’t in 1941. However, there was one thing that saved our lives—a white line painted down the center of the narrow road. Daddy slowly but surely, followed the white line, bringing us safely through and down to the other side. A kindly gas-station attendant at the bottom told us we should never have been allowed to begin that frightening journey. These occurrences were not that unusual. But for the grace of God!!
By the time we reached Portland, my mother had pushed the floorboards through on her side of the cab, braking for my father all the way out. And no, when we moved to Monroe in 1949, he did not buy another cattle truck. This time we saw the USA in our new Chevrolet.
By Deborah Saul, LaSalle, editor, Monroe Evening News
When this experience happened in early March, 2001, I wrote a column about it – naturally – and used a headline that said: A moment of truth on I-75.
Incredibly it has been 12 years. Concentrating too hard on it still leaves me breathless.
My two cousins and I had spent the day on what we called a “walk-about.” That is code for “shopping trip.” I was driving south toward home in late afternoon on a gray, overcast day. We were in my red Olds Cutlass.
I had just crossed the Monroe County line and was in the middle lane next to a green semi-truck and trailer when raindrops started splattering on my windshield. That’s not a good thing in 32-degree weather.
I eased by foot off of the accelerator thinking it would be safer to let the truck pull ahead and I could slip into the slower lane behind it.
Immediately, the car was not going where I am steering. In fact, it seemed to be floating and revolving on its own. If we had been alone on a wide-open ice rink it even might have been fun.
But I could see nothing but green as we spun and slid toward the semi. My car was gliding and I was watching my hood disappear beneath that trailer.
After so many years in the newspaper business , reporting so many stories about highway accidents, my first thought was, “So, this is how it happens.” For one crystal-clear second I saw the future: the surprising loss of control, the decapitation, standing at the Pearly Gates.
Then, like an invisible hand pushing a boat away from a dock, the car seemed to be spit out from under the trailer. As other vehicles spun out and swerved around us, we were hit by another semi, two cars and an SUV before we rammed a guardrail and realized we now were sitting still but looking straight into oncoming and out-of-control traffic.
Only one driver, an off-duty state trooper, actually stopped to see if he could help.
I found out later that 104 accidents were called in to Central Dispatch that night, mine being one.
My cousins and I did not suffer so much as a scratch. Despite damage to all four sides and the hood of my car, I ended up driving it home. The repair shop did a beautiful job; it looked like new and I drove it another four years.
But those were the outward results.
The inward aftermath remains. The questions. It's funny the things we think about after something like this.
Did I ever realize before, I wondered, the awesome responsibility when people ride with me? Have I been reckless with other people's lives?
For that matter, have I been reckless with more than others' physical well-being? How do my decisions, actions and words affect those around me? What would people say they’ve learned from me?
The next day at work I asked one friend what impressions he would have been left with if he had never seen me again. Not his impressions of me, but my impressions of him. I wondered if he felt I respected and cared about him, as I did, or if I had never really conveyed that. What about other people in my life?
Even after 12 years, these questions still haunt me.
By Dan Shaw, Lambertville, Journalism professor at MCCC
I carefully lifted a leaf, peered under it, and spotted a cucumber.
But when I reached to grab it, I quickly pulled back my hand. It was prickly. And the stems around it seemed to be armed with tiny green swords.
I glanced up at the rows and rows of cucumber plants, disappearing into the haze of summer heat.
How many spiky cucumbers are hiding under viciously armed stems and leaves? What will my hands look like at the end of the day?
What am I doing here?
It was the summer I turned 15 – that awkward age when everything your parents say is suspect. How had I let them talk me into a summer-long car trip, financed by working as a migrant laborer?
I could be home playing baseball.
Looking back 45 years later, it’s hard to imagine people like my parents ever existed. School teachers from Oregon, they had no idea how crazy it was to pick cherries in Michigan and cucumbers in New Jersey to finance a trip to Expo 67, the Montreal world’s fair.
Normal people didn’t do that then, and they certainly wouldn’t consider it now. But my parents weren’t fazed by raised eyebrows. It made perfect sense to them.
As teachers, they had the summer off. There was a world’s fair just a few thousand miles away. They didn’t have the money for the trip, but they did have strong backs and nimble hands and two teen-aged boys capable of putting in a solid day’s work.
So here I was, with the summer sun already baking my back, and no idea how to pick cucumbers.
A few rows away was a family of skilled, experienced migrant laborers – African Americans from Florida who made their living moving up and down the East Coast, picking fruits and vegetables as they ripened.
A middle-aged man – I assumed he was the father – moved over beside me, watched a moment, then spoke in a soft, kind voice, heavy with a deep-south accent.
“Not like that, young man. Use your elbows to push the leaves way, then your hands are free to pick the cukes. And tomorrow, wear a long-sleeved shirt.”
He didn’t add, “to protect your arms, you idiot,” but I got the meaning immediately.
Over the next few days, most of the two or three dozen black workers in the field wandered by my family, showing us the ropes, offering tips on picking, on preserving your strength, on eating a little all day long, and on using the outhouse.
They seemed to be as fascinated with us as we were with them. I learned a lot about picking vegetables, but I also learned a lot about life.
In a hundred small ways they made us welcome, accepting us into their little community. It was my introduction to the shared human existence that connects people – whether they’re school teachers from Oregon or migrant laborers from Florida.
When the farmer insisted on bringing the water to us first, bypassing the black workers, we refused to drink. He was amazed, muttering under his breath about damn school teachers from out west. But he was desperate for pickers, so he tolerated us.
When the week ended, we collected our paychecks and headed north to visit New York City, with spending money in our pockets.
The young black men who helped us survive a week in the cucumber jungle packed into a couple cars and headed north to Newark – to join the race riots in the urban jungle of northern New Jersey.
That was the summer of 1967, and while America was burning, I was learning a lesson that would last a lifetime.
That’s my amazing story.