Sunday, December 7, 2014

Today was the greatest day of my life

Despite being under the weather this weekend, I am excited to share with you that today was the greatest day of my life.

I didn’t get married or have a child. No woman fell in love with me and I didn’t win the lotto. But today, someone I have long admired gave me the most extraordinary compliment about friendship when I found out that he dedicated a twenty year chunk of his creative life to me with his new record. This is the greatest honor that has ever been bestowed upon me. Thank you Stewart Francke.

His new record "Midwestern" will soon be available at all worldwide digital stores and in retail stores. If you’ve never heard his music, you are missing out on something special; just ask Bruce Springsteen who was a fan before he recorded with Stewart a couple years ago or ask the legendary member of the Rolling Stones, Mick Taylor who said Francke was the best songwriter he’d heard in a long time after we played a gig at the legendary Bottom Line in New York City. Or closer to home, ask Bob Seger, who handpicked Stewart to open for him on his Downtown Train tour in 2011 and again in 2012.

Wheeeew. . .My back is achy after dropping all those names and having to pick them up again. But unless something extraordinary happens to me in the future, I do not see how this day could be topped.

The greatest day of my life? Yep. I am sure of it, and I hope something like this happens to you too.
Thank you for letting me share this note with you and your friends.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


To the best of my knowledge, in their 58 years of marriage, my parents have never spent Thanksgiving apart. This year, with my sister and youngest niece riding shotgun, I took my Dad to the visit his best friend in the Upper Peninsula, while my brother and his girlfriend loved and pampered our mother at their house.

Tom and Ron met at the rehearsal dinner when my parents were married in 1956. As they shook hands for the first time they laughed when they realized they were wearing the exact same double-breasted blue suit. 

But they had a lot more in common than their fashion sense (which has evaporated over the years) and they’ve been best friends since that day.

They don’t make ‘em like them anymore and friendships like theirs are rare. They both served our country; both married beautiful women who were best friends and both worked hard their entire life to provide for our families. Our families also picked up on that love and ran with it.

Each of the self-proclaimed “old farts” are fighting illness and memory. And that is what made giving thanks for their friendship that much sweeter this year. I wish everyone had someone like them in their life. Every day is a gift and every memory in the making is a gift for the rest of us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A day in the life

So what is it you actually do?

I get that a lot so I decided to have one day of my life condense into a video. The result is a documentary called Blind Spot.

It was shot last Friday and contains an unscripted view of my day. It also uses some terrific music by my friend Stewart Francke to tell a story. In it you will meet my dogs, some of my family and people who until that moment were strangers to me. You’ll get a look inside my home and my life as it occurred on Friday, November 14, 2014.

I hope those who watch it walk away knowing something more about me than they did before. It’s a little rough in places; not polished or professional, but it is life the way it was meant to be on that day for me, in order to share it with you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The blonde who changed my life

The first week of November will always be special to me. It was two years ago yesterday that Anita Wood, a blond, brindle greyhound, arrived at the welcome center located on Michigan and Indiana border on I-94. She was one of many in the new haul of greyhounds who raced in Florida and were being transported to various Greyhound Rescue and Adoption Agencies in the Midwest. The sad truth about these beautiful animals is that one of three things happens to them when they are no longer making money for their owners. They are either adopted; euthanized humanely or euthanized inhumanely.

Two years ago today I got a call from a friend of mine telling me about this little ball of sweetness who had just arrived and was being fostered at her home with her dogs. I could not resist the invitation and took Jack to meet her the next day to see if they’d be compatible. He immediately walked over to her and did not do the traditional “butt sniff” but rather rested his head on the back of her neck, which is often a sign of a dog expressing dominance. But I knew it also was an expression of love and that is an important part of the story.

Tiger Jack Burke was named after a wrestler from the 1930’s by his daughter, now in her eighties who was a lifelong greyhound lover and owner. She named him that because she had a hunch he would be a fierce competitor and he was. But after he was retired he and his sister, Lady Wolverine, proved to be too much for their beloved owner and Jack was kicked out of his retirement home. He landed with Greyheart, the rescue and adoption agency I am proud to be a part of. But for whatever reasons, nobody wanted “Hurricane Jack.” (I have since called him dozens of names with the name Jack in them). He had a “strong personality,” which is a nice way of saying he was a handful.
Almost six months passed and Jack was still living with his foster family. This is a long time in Greyhound adoption terms. But back to Needa. . .the blonde who change my life. Almost like Bogey and Bacall, Hurricane Jack followed Needa outside. The white tips of her feet stood out as she pranced between the leaves, something she had never seen before. Jack followed Needa around the yard and suddenly there was a spring in his step too. But I did not know if I was ready to take on the responsibility of another dog.

I thought about Needa after we left. For the next couple of days I prayed about it and thought some more. Was I ready for another dog? I wasn’t working and had very little money. But it was then I remembered a phrase that a wise old woman once told me. She said “nobody ever became poor by giving.” The next day Needa came to live with us and it was the greatest birthday present Jack ever received and one of the greatest leaps of faith I have ever taken.

After knowing nothing except life at the track, I got to watch Needa become a dog again. I was patient as she learned to walk up the stairs and become familiar with all the things Jack had already learned during his time as a foster and in the six months he’d been living with me.
Needa was still on kennel time. This mean she was up every morning at 4:30 AM and I was out of bed at 4:31 AM. I was not a fan of this early morning charade but would get them both outside and fed as the coffee brewed. This early routine lasted throughout the winter and into spring and I had no idea how important it would be to my life.

I had been in a slump and had a major case of writers block. I wanted to be a writer but hadn’t written a new book in over a year. Getting up each day at 4:30 meant I was at my computer working before five o’clock every morning, seven days a week, breaking only for walks and a meal until eight o’clock in the evening; month after month until July with only a brief break in March and April as I visited and said goodbye to my dear friend Mary Lee who was like a sister to me. But it was during those early mornings and long days that I completed my book “Bending Water and Stories Nearby” and it was released in late 2013.

Would I have written the book without bringing Needa into my home? No. I was also suffering the after effects of a heartbreaking divorce, a job loss, economic instability and was more than a year into a legal battle with a former employer. I was also living with the worst bout of depression I had ever experienced. Jack helped get me up and out every day, but when Needa came along, everything changed. If I did not have these two dogs, it is not a stretch to think that it is likely I would not be writing at all.

Dogs don’t just come into our lives; they invade them with all the love in a day. To be on the receiving end of that gratitude is nothing short of amazing and to adopt a greyhound is a special experience that you will not get with other breeds of dogs.
Yes; all dogs need homes, but people are irresponsible and let breeding take place when it shouldn’t and accept no responsibility for what is created. As a result, the canine population has grown to an unmanageable level.

Greyhound breeders breed dogs for one only purpose; to race them in an industry, but with little thought given to what will happen to them after they are done literally running for their lives. But as the tracks continue to close the supply and demand of the breed has also adjusted. I think it is getting better. I know it has made a difference for me because these two dogs have literally changed the trajectory of my life.

If it weren’t for Needa I would not have gained the momentum that carried me into 2014 as I try to write books people will enjoy. She has now learned to sleep in and when I look at life today I cannot imagine that I was starting my day so early for so long! And as for Royal Oak’s most celebrated greyhound couple? I can only imagine what will happen over the course of the next two years.
I am not a successful or famous writer, but I’d rather be living and doing what I am doing now rather than growing old and wasting my life getting told what to do by a clueless, miserable person in an office. I know what it is like to work and find happiness each day and I hope this story brought a little happiness to yours.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Birthday Stewart Francke. . .sort of

Sixteen years ago today I got a phone call in the middle of the afternoon from Stewart Francke. After being diagnosed with leukemia a couple months earlier, he eagerly took up residence at the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit because he wanted to live. He needed a bone marrow transplant and on that day was literally in the middle of it when he called to ask me how I was doing. How I WAS DOING!

I asked him to describe what was happening and he told me it was like a huge strawberry Slurpee being pumped into him from clear bags. This wasn’t how I imagined such an important medical procedure would look. It wasn’t how he imagined it either. But when the Slurpee machine stopped churning, everything changed. 

Ten days prior to this procedure we had a huge event at the Fox Theater in Detroit. It was the first of many fundraisers for the Stewart Francke Leukemia Foundation. The foundation that used his name was not for him or about him because he was a lucky guy in an unlucky situation. You see, one of Stewart’s sisters was a perfect match for this transplant.

 The strange thing about bone marrow transplants is that Doctors shock you with chemotherapy to within a hush of death in order to give you the new marrow, hoping your body will not reject it and hope instead, you will be healed. Everything went well for Stew for the first several weeks and then it turned bad . . . real bad. Most people don’t know how close we came to losing him around Thanksgiving. I got a call from his wife and sister and I wept and I prayed.

Many people did not know what God would say or do and I think his wife, sister, best friend Billy and myself were the only ones who knew he would not be giving up.

He was weak, thin and his diet consisted of only two things: warm Cream of Wheat or cold Cream of Wheat. It continued to be a tough road back. We had just recorded and released his record, Sunflower Soul Serenade. It was selling well and getting a lot of attention on the national stage and airwaves; something impossible to think of today for an artist not on a major record label. But we did it in the way nobody seemed to notice; which was by hard work.

Stewart had a ton of support from family, friends and fans, but there were still many people who didn’t get it. They’d call me inquiring if he could play a gig, or a party or if he could open at a venue. They thought getting a bone marrow transplant was like getting your oil changed and you’d be back on the road quickly.

After a tough winter for everyone, I got a call in the middle of it from someone who heard about Stewart’s illness and we understood each other. After a long, warm conversation they apologized for asking, but had to ask me if I thought he’d be strong enough to play a couple songs (not a full concert) at an upcoming event called “Creative’s for a Cure, which was to be held in March, just two months away.

This was a high profile event put together by Detroit’s advertising agencies to raise money for cancer and related illnesses. I thanked them for the call and told them I’d get back to them.
When I reached Stewart I knew right away how much he was struggling. He was bald, skinny, housebound, and bedridden and in a lot of pain from mouth sores and various other ugly and painful things, post-transplant. He was also still eating Cream of Wheat.

I was working and was not home until after midnight. He had a habit of calling me at “early-thirty.” When we connected I asked him about the gig and his response was a whispered: “Hell yes, I’ll play it. Tell ‘em I’ll be ready,” and then he hung up.

He’s never hung up on me since.

The winter was depressing. I was working a job I hated from 4- Midnight, but from 9AM-3 PM, I was doing the best I could to “work the record.” Meanwhile, Stewart was still eating cream of wheat. There were other complications that ebbed and flowed; each one scary in its own right. If getting well again wasn’t enough motivation for him, returning to the stage was. He began playing his guitar or piano every day.

When the curtain eventually rose at the State Theater in Detroit, his voice filled the room. I sat alone and wept.

The people were there to raise money, awareness and/ or find hope for someone they loved who might be suffering from some form of cancer. When the applause died down after the first of his three songs, Stewart uttered the most profound words of the night: “I want to thank you for what you are doing,” he said. “And I want you to know that I am living proof this works.”
We understood how Stewart knew the difference between being alive and living.

In the sacred brotherhood of friendship, Stewart and I had already exchanged blood through our veins. How he had willed his way back to the stage again so quickly is something I‘ve never understood. But he assured me that Rock and Roll held a trans-formative power. It has the ability to not just send you; but it change your circumstances.

And I thought to myself shit, I’ve known that for ten years. 

Unfortunately a lot of momentum was lost in his career during his time of illness because rock and roll is a fickle business. Suddenly he was known as Stewart Francke, cancer survivor. But this was a badge he was proud to wear. As I and others lined up interviews on radio, TV and in the newspapers I found myself reminding the writers that he was a great musician long before he had cancer and that he would continue to be a great musician for a long time to come. What stuck with them; I don't know.
Since his transplant and recovery he has spent thousands of volunteer hours in people’s homes, in other hospitals and of course at Karmanos where he’d talk to people while sitting on the edge of their bed, telling them: “I’ve been where you are and you will make it just like I did.”
Most of them did; some did not.

Stewart has never turned down a request to play a benefit concert, make a visit or talk to someone who found themselves in the same situation where he was when he took ill. And every penny I will ever make in my lifetime says he never will.

The Detroit media who once wrote about his brilliant music and lasting impact on the Detroit music scene has unfortunately ignored his last few records and so have those involved in the Detroit Music Awards. This is a fact that doesn’t bother him nearly as much as it does me. But we’re moving forward and getting ready to release “Midwestern” his sixteenth record. You will love it.

There has never been a songwriter from Michigan as consistently prolific, relevant and who has released as many critically acclaimed and audience approved records in their lifetime as Stewart. And I promise you; that will never change.

Sixteen years. Wow. Where has the time gone?
Please Tra-la-la l-la-la la-la with me and Neil Sedaka. . .even if it’s cheesy. After being infused with his sister’s DNA, these words ring true. . .even though he is not the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.

Happy Birthday Sweet 16 Counselor!

Friday, September 26, 2014

"This world will wash you away just for asking something of it."
From "All the Love in a Day"

In the past twenty years I have had the privilege of being closer to Stewart Francke’s music and career than anyone else has wanted or dared to be.

In 1994 I coaxed him out of “retirement” to record “Where the River Meets the Bay.” It was a record what was embraced by commercial radio, public radio, television, the film industry, critics and fans and was the start of a career that has been nothing short of amazing. It has been a career filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows while the things found in between have shaped his life, his music, his character, humor, soul and wit. Twenty years in any field is a long time; an eternity in the entertainment business and in these last two decades I have seen many musicians come and go. But I am here to tell you that Stewart is still ascending.

Now, twenty years burnin’ down the road he is still making great music and getting ready to release what I can already tell you is another amazing collection of songs. But this one is different; this one is special and this one is something you need to hear about now so you can literally be a part of it as it is being made.

Though this is Stewart’s record, we began talking about this 20th anniversary retrospective a while ago. We kicked around some ideas and finally came up with one that we think you will love. Whether you are a longtime fan or have only heard him on the radio, TV or seen him live, the new compilation; “Midwestern” is culled from his 14 records released between 1995 and 2014.
Stewart is a rock and roll story teller and his music could be the soundtrack to your life as you encounter your hopes, dreams and fears. It is a song cycle that reminds me how lovely, funny, somber, interesting and beautiful life is. No other musician in Michigan has assembled such an incredible amount of quality work over the last two decades; not even Seger, certainly not Kid Rock, Jack White or Eminem. . .nobody. It’s a gutsy thing for me to say isn’t it? With the obvious omission of Seger in this statement, do you really think anyone will be “rhythmically reciting the ephemeral words of those artists I mentioned, around a campfire in the years to come?” The answer is no; but Francke’s songs and his career have become a model for perseverance, humility, creativity and integrity in a fickle business full of snakes, thieves and unscrupulous people. . .and those are the good guys.

This conviction and is not mine alone. It also comes from some of Francke’s own rock and roll heroes like Springsteen. Bob Seger hand picked him to open his 2011 tour. Mitch Ryder has recorded with him and Bruce Springsteen was a longtime fan before he recorded a duet with Francke on his record Heartless World. Francke’s last record was ignored by the Detroit media and will no doubt be overlooked when it comes time for the Detroit Music Awards. But rather than campaign within the DMA crowd for an award (he’s won plenty) or get "likes" on facebook, his sole focus remains being artistically relevant and continuing to remain connected with his ever expanding audience.

As a music journalist he wrote for dailies all across the country as well as the Detroit Metro Times. People forget that Stewart Francke is to thank for bringing attention to much of what was going on in the Detroit music scene back in the 80’s when nobody was paying attention. He was an ambassador of the music movement whose reporting of Detroit’s burgeoning music scene was paramount to the success of many great bands and some that weren’t.

Rock and Roll still holds trans-formative power to still has the ability to not just send you; it can change your circumstances. Very few musicians can pull off one style of songwriting well, much less several of them over time. Francke has excelled at this throughout his career. He is singer/songwriter; heartland rock meets blue eyed soul meets something intellectual with the beauty of a Van Morrison melody and the complexity of the lush harmonies of Brian Wilson. There’s no songs with “love” and “dreaming of.” “sorrow” and “tomorrow” in his catalog and the faith he recites in his musical narratives has not been cheapened by overused clich├ęs.

Those who know his music have seen themselves in his songs. From Gusoline Alley in Royal Oak to the end of a long drive up north, his characters have grown with us and become part of our lives. With the social consciousness of Marvin Gaye his soulful music will take you on a ride through Saginaw, where he grew up. Next you’ll journey to perhaps his favorite place on earth, the view from Point Lookout on Lake Huron and finally through on the back roads and blacktop where lovers meet by the pylons late at night and determine the price of their souls.

They are a sunflower soul serenade, revisiting the feel good sounds of Motown written and performed by one of Motown’s favorite sons. They are about being here right now and living between the ground and God.

Being in poor health earlier this year prevented Francke from playing a lot of dates to support his most recent record, “A Familiar Fire;” one that was recorded about with pre-sales raised from a kickstarter campaign. So many of you generously supported my last kickstarter and I thank you. I am asking you now to please hit the link to Stewart's new Kickstarter and support this project. To sweeten the deal I will send you a free copy of my latest book with a donation to Francke's project.

If there is one Stewart Francke record you need in your collection, this one will be it. This new CD will be the definitive song cycle, with each tune carefully sequenced and re-mastered presenting an intimate and detailed snapshot of the amazing body of work Stewart has created over the years. He is a living legend to folks of Saginaw, MI and remains a gift to the rest of us.

As a cancer survivor and advocate, Francke’s songs are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. He’s survived the good times and fought back through the bad. Francke’s been there and chronicled his joys and struggles with his amazing body of work. He would not ask us to follow him into the mystery without first solving it himself. “Midwestern will be a record that is proof that he has.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Sometimes we find hope in the rusty evening sky. 

And sometimes there are angels who beg us to wait.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Not Grumpy Old Men

When I talk about my love affair with the Upper Peninsula, many know it was the result of my mother being “stuck” with a roommate in college who ended up being her best friend for life. It was her friend whose father built the cabin in Luce County where our families have enjoyed time together for over five decades and now spanning three generations. That was how it happened, but if it were not for my father and his best friend, a lot more in my life would never have happened either.

When my Dad met Ron (my other Dad) at their wedding rehearsal dinner before my folks were married, they were both wearing the exact same suit coat. The rest has been a treasured, hilarious, ridiculous and beautiful family history.

They were there when I caught my first fish, saw my first deer, bear and eagle. They taught me how I should handle guns, fireworks, fragile toys, sharp knives and trout the same way. They supervised my first campfire, kerosene lamp lighting and outside paper burn. They equipped me with what was needed for cabin life; good boots, a jackknife, BB and pellet guns and eventually a Rapalla filet knife as I was taught how to work the blade around the bones of a fish while impossibly avoiding swarms of mosquitoes outside the shed just after dark.

If it were not for “my two Dads” the summer cabin we love would likely no longer be standing. Throughout the 1970’s they had the foresight to start replacing the aging foundation and today it remains as solid as the day it was built. . . much like their friendship.

They gave me, my brother and our friend Norman the freedom of where an outboard motor could take us long before we could drive a car. They taught me how to whittle, whistle, play poker, gin and how to split wood. They demonstrated incredible patience when my rod and reel would get tangled and they had to abandon the perfect spot in the river to carry me upstream or coat me with bug spray for the tenth time.

They provided support for each other during the loss of a daughter and wife and now, as they face their own illnesses for which there are no cure, they are still enjoying life in the wilderness the same way they always have with the rest of us. . .which is with a smile.

They are finally expressing their love for each other out loud. 
They are amazing old farts. 
They are still best friends. 
They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cabin stories, part 3

A summer vacation at the UP cabin would not be complete without a trip to Grand Marais, MI to see the dunes. It took about an hour to get there over dirt and gravel roads. My mother and Rae (her best friend since college) were the “activity planners” for the five kids while the fathers got the day off from the family to fish Grand Sable Lake nearby.

Tote bags of sandwiches, hot dogs and snacks were packed along with soda pop, OFF, suntan lotion, towels, bathing suits, books, chocolate and other things we insisted we needed for our day trip. When we arrived at the Sable Falls there was no parking lot like there is now; no blacktop, no concrete, no wooden staircase to guide you down the falls to Lake Superior and no signs. . .of anything or anyone. We’d take a primitive (and in some years treacherous) path down the scenic falls and when we arrived at Lake Superior at the mouth the whole place was ours. To the right was a pristine beach for as far as we could see and the same went for the dunes to our left. It’s hard to imagine having the place to yourself today since so many of the destinations now have such easy access.

One year my brother Steve and our Pal Norman, decided to walk across the river and climb the dunes ahead of us so they didn’t have to change into their bathing suits in front of everyone. The rest of us walked down the path and arrived at Lake Superior. While picking out the perfect spot on the beach one of us (perhaps the youngest) let a tote bag drag in the water just enough to wet the small box of Diamond White Tip matches, rendering them useless.

Diamond matches were made to strike anywhere. At the cabin we’d strike them on a stone to ignite the gas stove, on a dry log in the outhouse to light our mosquito coils or with the friction of our thumbnail just to be cool. But the most entertaining method was striking it on the zipper of our blue jeans.

When it came time for lunch my Mom and Rae tried to start the fire, but the matches were too wet. Then, one by one, I watched Steve and Norm strike the remaining matches against the black strip on the side of the box without success. They were too wet; some of them fizzled or broke apart and others just did nothing. Strike after strike on dry beach rocks brought nothing but grief and the wind didn’t help either.

We all knew what was going on and were gathered around Steve holding the lone remaining match stick in his hands; the same ones that earlier held the latest issue of Mad Magazine. This was it; there was no build up, no suggestions, no crossing of fingers, just my brother Steve, holding our afternoon in his hands as he took the last diamond match and reverted to the last resort; the zipper method.

The red part of the tip fizzled in smoke for what seemed like a minute though I’m sure was only seconds. Then, the tip flared and a small white bubble of a flame perched itself on the end of the match. We held our collective breaths as he moved it down to the crumpled piece of newspaper surrounded by a pile of brittle beach sticks we gathered from the shore. When those took, more driftwood was placed on top to make the fire complete. Hot dogs would be ours that day and the unusual treat of having smores as a dessert after lunch made the afternoon complete.

It seemed amazing at the time, but in hindsight, stuff like that happened all the time when we were there making it not so extraordinary to us. But as I look around today I don’t know any city kids who can lite matches off their zipper, split a log, gut a fish or know how to perfectly adjust the choke on a temperamental outboard motor as the bruised puff of smoke disappears and leaves behind the sweet aroma of a gas/oil mix.

It was only a trip to the cabin but it brought happiness; a kind of happiness that to this day, none of us have become ready to part with.

Cabin Stories, part 2

If Reveille and all the hubbub downstairs still wasn’t enough to get us kids out of bed, my Dad would resort to plan B; letting loose with the old Brunswick Victrola. It had two volume levels; loud and soft, the latter of which was never used. First he’d try “Stars and Stripes Forever” as performed by the NHU Military Band. If that didn’t work, he’d try the B side, which was “The Caisson Song.”

If those didn’t work, the next selection would be the DeCastro Sisters. They were the dark haired, Brazilian version of the Andrews Sisters and their harmonies were just as lush and the toe-tappers, just as peppy. I would be awake and downstairs by the time they came on, sitting on one of the long pine benches bellied up to the kitchen table for flapjacks and bacon doused in Mapeline syrup.

I kept the fact I enjoyed the DeCastro Sisters a secret for years and I still love them to this day. I know every crackle and pop in Rockin’ and Rollin’ in Hawaii and Crybaby Blues. My Dad may have gotten wise to that, because there was a shift in repertoire one year and after “Stars and Stripes” and it went to all polkas all the time. I believe teenagers would sooner light their hair on fire and put it out with a sledge hammer than listen to polkas, so it always worked as a motivator for me.

One morning-mid seventies-in June my Dad and I went fishing after breakfast. The sky was overcast and soon the thickest fog I’ve ever seen invaded the woods and covered the lake like cotton. Back at the cabin the others began to wonder about us when we had not returned at our expected time, but the fish kept biting so we kept fishing. We carefully navigated through the fog until we heard a strange noise in the distance.

It was unmistakably one, J.P. Sousa.

My siblings, mother and other mother had carried the Victrola down to the lake and placed it at the end of the dock as a sound beacon to guide us home. It worked and I don’t think anyone who was there has ever forgotten it.

I’ve never been to the top of the Empire State Building. I’ve forgotten what rides I waited hours in line to ride at Cedar Point and I can’t remember much about the Magic Kingdom. But I know what quiet sounds like. I know how to catch and fillet a Northern Pike, pick wild blueberries at the right time, safely build a fire outside, make the perfect smore, cook for a family of twelve, shoot bottles in the dump, build a fort in the forest, catch minnows, pollywogs and garter snakes. And I still know how to scare my sister while walking through the woods; something that never grows old.

Cabin Stories, part 1

On summer mornings at the cabin we were often jarred from our sleep by the sound of the screen door slamming. It was intentional. It was Papa letting us know he’d arrived from his house up the hill and if he was ready to start the day, we ought to be ready too.

From upstairs you could hear his feet shuffle across the wooden floor covered with beach sand from the activities the day before. He'd stop in front of the piano and with one finger, this World War I Vet would tap out a version of "Reveille" in no identifiable time signature; one he could never duplicate again if he tried. Then he’d shuffle back to the kitchen and take his seat in a chair at the head of the table, where’s he’d set down his coffee cup, bang it on the table a few times, laugh at himself and wait for one of the parents to wake up and begin the process of filling it.

First there was the squeak of the pump priming itself as the pressure on the pump handle tightened while the water gushed out of the mouth and filled a large tea kettle. This was in the 70's and since the wood stove was replaced by gas the process of heating the water in a large tin tea kettle became a little faster. Then, Papa would wait patiently for his oatmeal, or whatever was on the menu that day.

It all began with a sneeze. Dr. Albert C. Carlson was a dentist in Lombard, Illinois and nobody in town went without dental work, even if they could not afford it. In lieu of money people would bring him eggs, chickens or IOUs when they could not pay. Nobody was ever turned away.

His hay fever was so bad in the summer (imagine a time without air conditioning) that he traveled to the UP for relief at the advice of a friend. He immediately fell in love with it and bought some property on Muskallonge Lake in Luce County. Over two summers in the 1930’s some of the men who owed him money came and helped him build the cabin that has not changed much in the past eighty two years. Though I’m not a blood relative to Papa he always felt like a grandfather to my siblings and I in the same way our friends always felt like cousins.

Would I have discovered the Upper Peninsula with my family or on my own? Maybe, but after all this time I am still wide eyed, excited and anxious to arrive each summer, where I never know what memory awaits me inside the walls of this log cabin fortress in the north

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Very Special Birthday

Recently I had the pleasure of hanging around a group called Horses Heal Hearts of Michigan. We attended the birthday party of a three old girl I didn’t know.  The girl’s mother and father planned a special party for her; one they hope their daughter will never forget. There were ample amounts of cookies, candy, cakes, pizza, soda, presents, decorations and three horses who were giving free rides!

Sometime people think a party like this is excessive, especially for a three year old, who may not even remember it later on in life. Her mother has a terminal illness and I pray this is a birthday the girl will never forget.

Can horses really heal hearts? While that may be scientifically impossible to prove, one thing is for sure; that day they carried the burdens of a family who needed a lift. They also provided memories which will be held in the hearts of everyone there, ensuring they'll be with them when it comes their time to heal.