1409 Hanshaw Road

16 Apr

Kathy with Books

Kathy with first Bible at 1409 Hanshaw

Masks at halloween at 1409

Masks on Halloween at 1409, Barth is wearing a paper bag

sledding at 1409

Barth and I sledding at 1409, 1960

We only lived at 1409 Hanshaw Road in Ithaca for a year and a half, but it was a pivotal year in our lives: our Grandmother Mapes died, and Barth, who was two, fell down the stairs and was also accidentally dropped on the floor.  Dad laughed after he was dropped and said, “That’s happened to every Mapes baby.”  In addition, I felt very adult when I learned how to plant corn and potatoes in the large vegetable garden.  A family named Ainslie owned the house, but they were on sabbatical in Kansas.  We were renting from them, while waiting for our house to be built.  Like most children, I thought of the house as ours, even though my mother neglected to redecorate–the Ainslies’ furniture became our furniture.

It was a small white house of 1920s vintage and close to the road, which drove my mother crazy, for fear my  brother would get run over.  I remember once he ran out in the road and was paddled to make sure he never did it again.  All the houses in the neighborhood had spacious backyards like ours, but they were ranch style, making it clear how much older ours was.  The land in the area wasn’t carved out the way suburban lots usually are and the soil was fairly rich and good for gardening., hinting that we were living on what was left over of a farm and our house was probably the farmhouse.  One of the Cornell farms was up the road about half a mile near Freeze Road.  On the opposite side of the road, Lucente, a local contractor,  was building cheap ranch and two-story houses on what came to be known as the cigarette streets: Tareyton, Winston, and Muriel.

One item we hadn’t had in our previous apartment was the television.  Our parents had decided that we wouldn’t grow up with T.V. so that we would become readers.  But that year I was fully indoctrinated.  The most popular shows at the time were the Flintstones, Ed Sullivan, American Bandstand, and Bonanza.  One of my favorite cartoon shows was Bugs Bunny.  I had a crush on Leslie Nielsen, who played the Swamp Fox on the Walt Disney show, and later became known as the zany guy in the Airplane movies.  The punishment that stands out for me was not being able to watch the Flintstones because I threw crayons at my mother.  I can’t remember why I threw the crayons.  On Friday nights my parents and I set up a card table and played Gin Rummy, and then we watched the Walt Disney show together.  Once we moved to  our new house we didn’t have T.V. for a period of years, but I don’t remember feeling particularly deprived.  I was not, however, very good at television tag.

Barth’s diapers played a role in several events in my memory.  Besides being used on Barth, my mother used them as strainers for the grape jelly she made.  We had a Concord grape arbor behind the house.  Back in the day all mothers used long cloth diapers that were soaked for several hours and then thrown in the wash.  Afterward, they were hung on the line outside.  But jelly-making wasn’t their only unusual use.  One night a car crash took place outside our house and the victims were brought into our kitchen and given diapers to staunch their blood.  I had never seen the aftermath of a car accident and had never seen bloody people.  I watched them fascinated from a corner while calls were made to the ambulance and sheriff.

The worst thing that happened in that house was when my brother fell down the steep stairs.  I had been playing with our toy cars on the stairs and was oblivious to him climbing down to me.  He slipped on the cars and took a header, falling  all the way down to the floor.  My mother picked him up and rushed with him in her arms to the backyard.  She sat down, still holding him.  “You could have killed him,” she said.  I already felt bad and she made me feel worse, but I sat down on the grass next to her and apologized.  I checked him out and found that he was none the worse for wear, although I have to admit I never forgot the incident.

For a fort, my father cleaned out the chicken coop in the backyard and laid down part of a straw rug on the ground inside.  It was here I ran away to when I was upset with my mother one day.  It was definitely not a place adults would want to come to because you had to get down on the ground and crawl in. I took my small round suitcase that all girls had at the time and my Sleeping Beauty book.  The book was short and with nothing else to do I went back to the house.  My mother said, “You’re back already?”  However, I was over whatever had upset me that day.

I had two girlfriends in the neighborhood, one named Verna who was my age and another named Donna who was a year older.  Verna was a very nice person but her mother left a little to be desired.  One day she chased Verna all over her backyard with a switch.  She finally grabbed her and hit her backside.   I thanked my lucky stars that my mother spanked me inside the house and that the one time I had been made to suck on soap the punishment took place inside the bathroom.  Verna was not allowed to touch several of her dolls.  They stood on shelves, a restriction Mom and I both thought was ridiculous.  On the other hand, Donna was the neighborhood sophisticate–she always decided what we were going to do that day and she had a certain hauteur about her.  I have no memory of her mother.  Donna  was in charge, except of her brother Tony who called me “Baby Face” and was consistently nasty.  I often wondered whether or not he would become a juvenile delinquent.  I think he actually may have become a cop.

I remember that year and a half better than many others because I was so happy there.  I was a shy, giggly girl, but once at Girl Scout camp, which came later, one of the counselors said “that nobody liked me” and I retreated into my shell.

 

 

April 4, 2018

14 Apr

April 4, 2018


Sharp pellets of angry hail drive through me,

hammering at my unprotected face,

and seeking to destroy my equilibrium,

as I walk straight into the wind, attacked.


The chestnut trees crackle their wrath above me.

A loose limb beckons me to stand beneath it.

It’s just me and the wind seeking to find my soft spots,

searching inside my coat to lift me and carry me off.


Fall Creek surges and spits its froth at me.

Green water slides alluringly across cold rock.

On islands dead trees poise predator-like over the stream,

to snag innocent passersby on wayward branches.

 

My Great-grandfather, Philip Michael Scheuren

9 Mar

Phil Scheuren.jpg

(1863-1938)

Phil Scheuren ( pronounced Shiren) outside the Mapes farm house

Often when I feel twinges of arthritis from my neck, knees, and thumbs, I remember the way my father Barth described his Grandfather Scheuren’s  hands: “This is how his hands looked,” and Dad would take his own large hands and hold them up so they looked like claws.  Whether the fabled hands of my great-grandfather were deformed simply by his arthritis, or whether his years of playing baseball without much protection also contributed, I will probably never know because I  was never able to meet him.  In 1938, he died in a car accident in Florida at the age of seventy-four that also injured his wife, and was long gone by the time I showed up.  I have had to recreate who he was and what he stood for from what I remember of my father’s memories and some written comments about his life by other people.

The Scheuren family lived in Girardville, Pennsylvania, a borough of Schuyler County, fifty-eight miles northwest of Reading.  Tragedy befell them when Michael, Phil’s father,  and Phil’s brother, Big Tom, died in a mining accident.  Big Tom was reported to have been close to 7 feet tall and we have always thought my brother’s height of 6′ 7″ came from the Scheuren line. Michael and his wife, Anna, were immigrants from Prussia with a modest income, but the family was able to pay the priest for the two burials.  However, Big Tom  had been a sexton and when the priest refused to turn over his earnings, they left the Catholic Church.  My brother tried to find the church in Girardville, Pennsylvania, but discovered that it had burned down with all its records.  After the deaths Phil, who was then age nine, went to work as a red point.  The red points worked at the side of a conveyor belt, picking out the slate from the other coal.  The slate was sharp and often cut their hands, hence the name red point.  In other words, even though the family had experienced tragedy at the mine, they still needed the money that Phil could earn there.

Outside of my Grandma Lela, one of Phillip Scheuren’s children, and my Grandpa John Mapes,  my great-grandfather was the one person who was remarked on most frequently by my father.  As a young man in Ashland, Pennsylvania, Phillip was a talented professional baseball player in the Central Pennsylvania League.  In fact, Miller Huggins, one of the friends with whom he played, went on to bat for Cincinnati and to coach the Yankees, and another friend whom he played against, Connie Mack, became a famous catcher  and the manager and owner of the Philadelphia Athletics.  The three men played in the area around Reading, Pennsylvania.  According to “Phil Scheuren is Popular Candidate,” an article on his race to be justice of the peace, in the Monticello Watchman (1927-1928), Phillip played the positions of short stop and pitcher.

Several years ago I read a book, Catcher,  by Peter Morris, that relates the physical damage that baseball players of the time experienced, especially the catchers.  They often caught baseballs with their hands and had little or no protective gear.  That this was true in Reading, Pennslyvania is supported by a blog post, “Play Ball! Baseball Town Reading, Pa,” from the Berks History Center website, “Reading, Pennsylvania has a long history in baseball, dating back to 1875 when the Reading Actives organized one of the first professional minor league teams.  Playing the game at what is now 17th and Perkiomen Avenue, players wore no gloves or other protective equipment.”  Someone who played short stop and pitcher would undoubtedly have damaged his hands back then.  The Watchman states that Phillip was forced to quit baseball in 1890 when “he fell down and hurt his leg and for seven weeks was in the hospital.”

Phillip turned out to be a jack of all trades when he was raising his family.  When his family was younger,  he worked as the Chief of Police in Deposit, New York.    He and his wife, Etta Mae Bell, had a brood of five in Deposit, including Ida, John, Phillip, Lela (my grandmother), and another Etta with the middle name Rebecca.  I also seem to remember that they lost a couple babies, but it’s been a long time since I looked at the census taken in Deposit.  The same Watchman piece remarks that “For ten years he had regulated the conduct of the people of that town and quit the job to come to Monticello to run a lunch wagon.”

That lunch wagon was to be his main stock in trade. In “From the Lunch Wagon to the Diner to Our Cherished Legends,” an article in the County Democrat dated September 30, 2005, John Conway gives the history of the Monticello “lunch wagon.”  Those that survived became diners.  According to Conway,  “Possibly the earliest lunch wagon belonged to Phil Scheuren; certainly it was the most traveled”. . . .”Scheuren’s original cream-colored lunch wagon had a counter and nine stools and windows decorated with pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.” An unlikely source of competition was his oldest child, Ida, and her husband, Harold Gager, who started their “lunch wagon in Ellenville as early as 1912” (Conway), later moving into Monticello with their business and opening a diner.  A rift appeared for a period of years when the diners competed head to head that my father Barth and his brother Jack ignored, figuring they were not a part of the family dispute.   It had long been smoothed over by the time I came along.

As happy as my great-grandfather was in his life, tragedy again reached its head when his son Phillip died in New York City during the famous swine flu epidemic of 1918.

Phil Scheuren and Savage Smith.jpg

Phil Scheuren and John Ashford (undated).  He looks like my Aunt Becky in this picture.

An article from the Sullivan County Republican, dated October 11, 1918, states that “[t]he funeral of Philip Scheuren was held Sunday afternoon at two o’clock at the home of his parents on West Broadway. The Rev. Mr. Walker officiated. Pall bearers were Willie Costa, Leon Mitchell, Clyde Stratton, Ralph Stratton, Harold Hamilton and Delmont Race. Myron Doyle was flower bearer. Four girls from the Methodist church sang and Mrs. Walker played. Burial in Rock Ridge cemetery.”  My father mentioned young Phil’s death several times over the years, but never stressed the impact the death had on his family.  If I’d known about it when I was young, I would certainly have asked my great aunts about their memories of him.  It’s notable that he was laid out in their house, a common practice at the time.

His experience of his son dying did not rob him of the joy of life.  He is described as follows in the Republican Watchman of 1923-24: “Phil Scheuren and his wife are
spending some days at Ashland, Pa.,and other* points, visiting relatives and friends. Phil, as he is known at the lunch wagon, takes much pleasure in meeting once a year the boys
of the Ashland Association. They have a get-together day on Sept. 1st.  Phil in his younger days was a lively fellow at the baseball diamond, and could run a race with the best runners of: his day.  They are expected to return to their home this week.”  The Ashland Boys Association was a group of miners who celebrated their past work and mourned the failure of the coal businesses in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania.  According to my brother, during the Depression, my father and his brother, Jack, accompanied their grandfather on a Pennsylvania trip where they visited the former mine where he had worked.  The mines in the area were closed, but the families were desperate for money and were actively taking coal out of the mines to sell, which was very dangerous work.  Jack remembered that the miners yelled at his grandfather for bringing the boys there since what the miners were doing was illegal and they didn’t want to be found out.

Dad said that his grandfather always liked to be at the center of things.  At Christmas he liked to be the one to hand out the packages.  This was before there were many different kinds of wrapping paper.  Each family wrapped their presents in a different shade of tissue paper, so as to be identified one from another, and then he would alternate when passing them out.  He was a popular person in town and popular in his own family.

My father always thought the best part of going to NYC was visiting Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees play.  Because of his connections, my great-grandfather was able to get good tickets to watch the games.  He would contact Miller Huggins, and, in turn, Huggins would send them tickets.  Dad was then between ten and fourteen years of age. The family usually had seats behind the dugout and there was a fair amount of good-natured calling back and forth between Huggins and my great-grandfather.  A group of people would often go down.  Later, my cousin Bruce related a story of how my grandmother became annoyed at someone who was ringing big bells with high emotion.  She grabbed the bells when he wasn’t looking and hid them for the duration of the game.

Dad took my mother and us back to Pennsylvania when we were teenagers.  It was a  grey and misty day and I began to get a headache as we drove back and forth around the mountain switchbacks.  We were looking for relatives and we finally found one at home, Mr. Bell, an older relative from my great-grandmother Etta Mae Bell’s Scotch-Irish side of the family.  My mother exclaimed at poor Mr. Bell’s nose, which was exactly like my father’s, but that man and that nose were to be our only discoveries of that day.

I felt more successful recently when I discovered Philip Scheuren’s mother’s grave online.  You can see that the etching on the stone was done in German, Anna’s first language. I also looked at the 1860 and 1870 census pages for Ashland, Pennsylvania.  In the 1860 census, both Phil’s father and his brother Tom are apparent, while in the 1870 census, both men have passed on, but twins Barbara and Francis make an appearance.

Anna Maria Scheuren

Anna Maria Scheuren’s gravestone

Somewhere in between 1860 and 1880 Phil’s family was intact, but we don’t know exactly when the mining accident occurred.

We know that Phil stayed in touch with one of the twins, Barbara, who married a man with the last name of Bittle, because one of Phil’s obituaries is titled “Barbara Scheuren’s Bittle’s Brother.”  We also have this picture of my father with one of his Bittle cousins:

Barth and Bittle, Monticello, New York 2

My father, Barth Mapes, with a Bittle cousin somewhere on the Mapes farm.  My grandfather apparently didn’t have his first name.

I like to think that Philip Scheuren would enjoy the fact that I have looked into his life and that of his family.  Family was obviously important to him.

Compiled in part from the writing of my father, Barth Mapes, and the research of my brother, Barth Mapes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Halloween Trickster

3 Nov

Halloween as Tricksters

October 31, 1963 (Several years before my night as a “Trickster”)

 

Sometimes it’s wearing to always be “the good girl,” at least that’s how it feels when you’re a teenager.  Once after my grandfather’s funeral a cousin whom I usually liked told me that some cousins I didn’t know that well  thought I looked “sweet,” or as it often appeared in my mind then as the “s” word.    I often felt like I was under a curse of “good girl” niceness.  In fact, I was shy which made me come across as docile.  During my junior year in high school I started offering my opinions in English class, as a partial attempt to crawl out of my shell.

 I had already started to rebel as a young teenager.  At Dewitt Junior High, Jeanne and I would often sneak out to Clinton’s Pharmacy in downtown Ithaca to buy candy during “Butler,” the name of one of our free period options after lunch.  Another option was watching old movies like Laurel and Hardy in the Auditorium.  “Butler” was the name of a long room with a corrugated roof where people played records and fast-danced.  Leaving Butler and looking both ways, we would dash across the street and head through an alley to the main drag of Ithaca, where we would dart into Clinton’s and back out with our booty.  We were looking for small ways to break out.  And that’s what led to our one and only night as “trick” or treaters.  We decided that for this Halloween we would be bad instead of good girls.

 That night I stepped out in my clown suit with its white background and big red polka dots.  It was a beautiful costume  made by my mother.  At a time when so many people were starting to make their own costumes and dressing up as hobos or pirates and looking scroungy, I felt that I stuck out like the princessy girl that my peers thought I was.  It also had a tall white cardboard hat that looked like a dunce cap with red pom-poms on it.  I definitely would not have passed my parents’ inspection without a suitable costume.  I carried my jeans and top with me in a paper bag that looked appropriate for collecting candy.  We were teenagers, so once we left the house we had no adult supervision. However, neither of us was driving yet, so we weren’t going anywhere fast.

 I don’t remember Jeanne’s costume, but I do remember that we met halfway between our two houses and started off as polite and “sweet” trick-or-treaters.  We had to cover our tracks with candy.  Normal Halloween tricksters of that time period carried rotten eggs and toilet paper.  However, although we did have shaving cream, our other weapon was cream rinse, definitely an unusual choice of weapon.  Collecting some candy on the way, we headed from the northeast area of Ithaca where we lived into Cayuga Heights, where we had gone to elementary school.  At some point we hid behind some trees and put on our regular clothing.

It was definitely cold and crisp, so we were glad we had shed our costumes.  Our targets were the houses of two boys from the other junior high in town.  It escapes me why we thought the two crushes were desirable targets, but I think we wanted the satisfaction of knowing we had caused some kind of excitement in both houses, without having to be unmasked.

At the first house we poured cream rinse into a empty mailbox in a frisson of excitement.  We turned around anxiously, but there was no one watching us.  It had taken us awhile to reach our destination and it was cold.  Only several years later did I realize that what we were doing was illegal.  We left with happy thoughts of the family opening their mailbox in the morning.

Next, we headed toward the other boy’s house.  We were getting nervous again.  But to our relief a station wagon was parked at the end of the drive, meaning we would not have to go near the house.  We took the shaving cream bottle and took turns pressing on its nozzle and smushing the cream on the windows with our fingers.  Again, we looked around and no one was out in this part of the neighborhood either.

We only had a small amount of shaving cream left, having poured out all of the conditioner into the mailbox.  Feeling somewhat deflated, our night of fun clearly done, we walked cautiously back to home.  At the edge of Cayuga Heights, we decided that we had enough goop for one more prank.  I sprayed the remainder of the shaving cream into the screen of some poor family’s front door, put the can down on the front stoop, and rang the door bell.  Then we quickly faded into the darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Levy

10 Sep

Michael Levy

(picture by Denise Haughian)

Last night I had a dream about Mike Levy, my former boss in the English and Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. In the dream, Mike was my teacher and I was his student. When I came to class, he berated me for not having read the first book in the Harry Potter series. Come morning I tried to figure out the dream. In the real world, Mike had given me an extra copy of the British version of the book, which used British terminology not in the American version. He taught children’s literature, among other courses, and the series was relatively new when he started using it. He told me he didn’t think it ranked with the best of children’s literature, and occasionally a religious student would resist the dark side of the book and he would have to find her an alternative, but it was definitely timely.

Ever since I had the dream, I’ve been puzzling it out. I’m one of those people who thinks every dream has a purpose, or meaning behind it. In the dream, he admonished me for not being prepared for class. In real life, when he suggested reading Harry Potter I followed through. So why did I envision him being such a scold? Freudian psychoalanysis often teaches that the main character in a dream represents a part of ourselves, which fits in with Saul McLeod’s analysis of Freudian theory: “Freud (1900) considered dreams to be the royal road to the unconscious as it is in dreams that the ego’s defenses are lowered so that some of the repressed material comes through to awareness, albeit in distorted form.” Recently I have castigated myself for not spending enough time on my writing. Perhaps the Mike of the dream symbolizes the authoritative aspect of myself that is signaling it is time for a change.

What first struck me about the dream, was that Mike was so stern with me. We collided a couple times, but my main memories of him were that he was an amiable person and a good conversationalist. Mike was gentle and kind by nature. Once I presented him with a seedum from a nursery. His response was to walk around the table and hug me. He was frank when evaluating colleagues, but would also go to bat for you when he thought you deserved it. I will always remember that he supported me in his talks with the Dean concerning my being given a special status sometimes awarded adjuncts. This move was typical of his generous attitude toward adjuncts, a point of view not always popular in the department.

He was my boss, not my teacher, although I often preferred to think of him as a colleague or chum. I did value his opinion and once when he came to hear a paper I had written on Robert Penn Warren I was disappointed when he didn’t compliment me, but he did show up. I think this harks back to the dream where he is giving me advice.

I often went to his office for good conversation and/or the cornicopia of drugs that occupied his office drawer (he had allergies). One time I was teaching The Natural by Bernard Malamud, and I told him that the character of Roy Hobbs was based in part on Mickey Mantle. Mike reached into his endless bag of information and said that the characterization was not a compliment. He said that Mickey Mantle was generally considered to be a man of low character, who liked to look up underneath the stands so as to see women’s panties. Mike, the feminist, definitely remembered that aspect of Mantle’s personality.

From there, we segued into a discussion of his childhood memories of baseball. My great-grandfather played baseball in the late nineteenth century with two of the men who started the the Yankees, and our family always received good seats while the men were still alive. Mike, on the other hand, was a diehard Cubs fan. As a young boy, Mike cut out newspaper clippings of famous Jewish athletes. Hank Greenberg, of the Detroit Tigers, also known as “Hamerin’ Hank,” was one of his favorites. The Colin Kapaernick of his day, in 1933 Greenberg received a lot of attention for refusing to play on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, although he seesawed back and forth on the issue before and after that date.

But Mike wasn’t always as responsive to subjects I thought he might be. Once when I told him a story of a friend of my mother’s from the Netherlands who was rescued by Christian members of the Resistance during WW II, Mike reacted by telling me he had spent many of his childhood hours listening to stories about the Holocaust. In other words, it was a subject he knew more about than I did. Instead he wanted to talk about his father who had painted pictures on fighters and bombers during the war. I later used his mother as an interviewee for a class paper I had students do on WW II participants. She talked about her husband’s experience, but also her own life in Chicago during that time.

Whether or not the dream represented a facet of my own subconscious or a recollection of Mike’s role in my life as an advisor, it indicated that I thought his opinions were important. Once when I remarked that I didn’t care for science fiction, he gently reminded me that I’d enjoyed the movie E.T., probably suggesting that my “categories” needed a little work. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, I commented on the cover of the science fiction book he co-authored in 2016, Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction. The cover was an illustration of the Iroquois creation story, a story many New Yorkers know, which involves dirt placed on the back of a turtle. He was pleased that I recognized it and I am now pleased that we had that exchange across Facebook. It seems a fitting way to end a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Levy

9 Sep

Michael Levy

(picture by Denise Haughian)

Last night I had a dream about Mike Levy, my former boss in the English and Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. In the dream, Mike was my teacher and I was his student. When I came to class, he berated me for not having read the first book in the Harry Potter series. Come morning I tried to figure out the dream. In the real world, Mike had given me an extra copy of the British version of the book, which used British terminology not in the American version. He taught children’s literature, among other courses, and the series was relatively new when he started using it. He told me he didn’t think it ranked with the best of children’s literature, and occasionally a religious student would resist the dark side of the book and he would have to find her an alternative, but it was definitely timely.

Ever since I had the dream, I’ve been puzzling it out. I’m one of those people who thinks every dream has a purpose, or meaning behind it. In the dream, he admonished me for not being prepared for class. In real life, when he suggested reading Harry Potter I followed through. So why did I envision him being such a scold? Freudian psychoalanysis often teaches that the main character in a dream represents a part of ourselves, which fits in with Saul McLeod’s analysis of Freudian theory: “Freud (1900) considered dreams to be the royal road to the unconscious as it is in dreams that the ego’s defenses are lowered so that some of the repressed material comes through to awareness, albeit in distorted form.” Recently I have castigated myself for not spending enough time on my writing. Perhaps the Mike of the dream symbolizes the authoritative aspect of myself that is signaling it is time for a change.

What first struck me about the dream, was that Mike was so stern with me. We collided a couple times, but my main memories of him were that he was an amiable person and a good conversationalist. Mike was gentle and kind by nature. Once I presented him with a seedum from a nursery. His response was to walk around the table and hug me. He was frank when evaluating colleagues, but would also go to bat for you when he thought you deserved it. I will always remember that he supported me in his talks with the Dean concerning my being given a special status sometimes awarded adjuncts. This move was typical of his generous attitude toward adjuncts, a point of view not always popular in the department.

He was my boss, not my teacher, although I often preferred to think of him as a colleague or chum. I did value his opinion and once when he came to hear a paper I had written on Robert Penn Warren I was disappointed when he didn’t compliment me, but he did show up. I think this harks back to the dream where he is giving me advice.

I often went to his office for good conversation and/or the cornicopia of drugs that occupied his office drawer (he had allergies). One time I was teaching The Natural by Bernard Malamud, and I told him that the character of Roy Hobbs was based in part on Mickey Mantle. Mike reached into his endless bag of information and said that the characterization was not a compliment. He said that Mickey Mantle was generally considered to be a man of low character, who liked to look up underneath the stands so as to see women’s panties. Mike, the feminist, definitely remembered that aspect of Mantle’s personality.

From there, we segued into a discussion of his childhood memories of baseball. My great-grandfather played baseball in the late nineteenth century with two of the men who started the the Yankees, and our family always received good seats while the men were still alive. Mike, on the other hand, was a diehard Cubs fan. As a young boy, Mike cut out newspaper clippings of famous Jewish athletes. Hank Greenberg, of the Detroit Tigers, also known as “Hamerin’ Hank,” was one of his favorites. The Colin Kapaernick of his day, in 1933 Greenberg received a lot of attention for refusing to play on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, although he seesawed back and forth on the issue before and after that date.

But Mike wasn’t always as responsive to subjects I thought he might be. Once when I told him a story of a friend of my mother’s from the Netherlands who was rescued by Christian members of the Resistance during WW II, Mike reacted by telling me he had spent many of his childhood hours listening to stories about the Holocaust. In other words, it was a subject he knew more about than I did. Instead he wanted to talk about his father who had painted pictures on fighters and bombers during the war. I later used his mother as an interviewee for a class paper I had students do on WW II participants. She talked about her husband’s experience, but also her own life in Chicago during that time.

Whether or not the dream represented a facet of my own subconscious or a recollection of Mike’s role in my life as an advisor, it indicated that I thought his opinions were important. Once when I remarked that I didn’t care for science fiction, he gently reminded me that I’d enjoyed the movie E.T., probably suggesting that my “categories” needed a little work. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, I commented on the cover of the science fiction book he co-authored in 2016, Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction. The cover was an illustration of the Iroquois creation story, a story many New Yorkers know, which involves dirt placed on the back of a turtle. He was pleased that I recognized it and I am now pleased that we had that exchange across Facebook. It seems a fitting way to end a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

George McGovern, pilot

26 Jul

George-McGovern

I just finished The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s  over Germany, a book by Stephen E. Ambrose about the experiences of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group that uses Senator George McGovern and his crew as its centerpiece.  A high school friend asked her Facebook friends for examples of good fiction she could read this summer, and I’m recommending it despite the fact that it’s non-fiction.

Ambrose starts out by describing McGovern’s identity as a p.k. or preacher’s kid, and the fact that he was one of four children from his father’s second marriage.  In many ways, he appears to have been fairly average, or at least that’s how he comes across in the book’s first chapter.  He was not a stellar student–that he would change later on–and he was not a gifted athlete like his father, who had been a professional baseball player.  Ambrose seizes on his embarrassment at not being able to perform a somersault after diving over a sawhorse as partial motivation for wanting to prove that he was courageous: “McGovern had never before been up in a plane but he agreed to be one of the students because he felt, ‘If I can fly an airplane that will show Joe Quintal [his gym teacher in high school]that it isn’t heights that I’m worried about, that I’m not too cowardly to fly a plane'” (32).

Most of the WW II men were very young, but as Ambrose illustrates, they grew up quickly.  McGovern was twenty-one and had been trained in several places across the country when he was assigned his crew in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The life of a WW II pilot was extremely dangerous as Ambrose indicates by citing the following statistics: “Because the formation flying was so demanding and led to so many accidents, Eleanor worried about her husband.   She was right to.  Twice as many air officers died in battle, than in all the rest of the Army, despite the ground force’s larger size.   In addition, in the course of the war, 35, 946 airmen died on accidents” (100).

 

I regret to say that I voted for Nixon, not knowing that he had been obstructing justice, but I have become more impressed with McGovern over time.  He made his name as a war hero and pilot of the B-24.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.  Stationed in Italy, he and his crew made 35 forays into parts of Nazi-occupied Europe, Austria, and Germany.  Every pilot had to complete 35 missions before returning home.  Because his group used more than one airplane, McGovern called every plane the Dakota Queen after his wife, Eleanor.  He took her picture on every flight he made.

Some think that his biggest mistake in the 1972 Presidential Campaign was not running as a war hero, especially given his exemplary service. A group of conservatives said he was a coward, because he was against the Vietnam War, but his record proved otherwise.  He was not a pacifist.  The comments made against him are reminiscent of comments made recently in the political realm, but I don’t want to sully my review by mentioning them.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for making a successful emergency landing  on an island called Vis in the Adriatic.  One engine was flaming and leaking fuel.  All the other B-24 pilots who had attempted to land on this island had crashed,  due to the short runway.  He had many close calls, including the time a piece of shrapnel landed between him and his co-pilot.  The B-24 was considered to be a very difficult plane to fly, partly because of its weight.