An app for that & Me

PhotoBooth Shots are not the most attractive and I'm not sure you can see the app on my Blackberry, but you get the point.

I know this app for My Blackberry is called the Weather Bug, but I am thinking of it more as the Misery App or the Suffering App.

And according to the check of places where friends and family live, it is daughter Maggie who has the honor of hitting the Misery index big time.

Today, Overland Park, Kansas, just out of Kansas City, will hit 101 degrees, 96 on Sunday and 91 on Monday for a combined 288 degrees.

Atlanta, where son Michael lives, will have 94 degrees all three days for a total of 282 degrees. A respectful second place. Or maybe disrespectful since Atlanta is called Hotlanta.

Washington, D.C., where my cousin Arthur lives, will have 99, 95 and 93 degrees for a respectable showing of  287 degrees. You, D.C., are no Kansas City.

New York City, where I have fake family, will be 103, 91 and 84 for a total of 278 total degrees. That Monday forecast, really brings down your numbers, NYC, although you have bragging rights for today.

St. Louis, where I grew up and still have a couple of relatives and friends, will be 96, 97 and 90 for the three days, a total of  283.

La Crosse, where I am and which hit 100 earlier, will have 90 degrees on Saturday, 81 on Sunday and 82 on Monday, for 253.  So I’m not complaining (at least to my kids).

The wimpiest temperatures award goes to Portland, Oregon, where brother Andy lives. It will amble up to 85 today, 87 Sunday and 73 Monday for a total of 245 degrees. Incidentally, he was complaining a few days ago in his blog that they hadn’t had summer yet. (www.pleasereadmybookbeforeidie.com)

Yes, Maggie, abuse Uncle Andy, not me.

But I’m not sure I’m helping Maggie in Kansas deal with the heat there by proclaiming it the winner on my Suffering index. But congratulations anyway, Maggie, and drink lots of water.

A matter of maturity (or not)

A photo with a cutout of the founder of Gundersen Clinic, Dr. Adolf Gundersen. This photo was taken about 15 years after the book came out and about five years ago.

A photo with a cutout of the founder of Gundersen Clinic, Dr. Adolf Gundersen. This photo was taken about 15 years after the book came out when I still was sporting my unnatural hair color.

I was no stranger to interviews when I sat down with the first heart surgeon in La Crosse for a history book I was writing on Gundersen Clinic, then among the ten largest medical practices in the country.

The discussion included how the medical team was trained to do bypass surgery, which was then relatively new in the country.

This doctor, grandson of the founder, said they established a heart surgery suite in the basement of the hospital that included everything needed to practice heart surgery on cows.

This was Wisconsin, after all.

Visitors to the hospital were puzzled by the moos coming from the lower level but apparently never suspected there was a dairy farm below them.

I asked what staffing and technology were in place and this surgeon mentioned they had all the equipment that they would for humans, including anesthesia. But then he noted the anesthesiologist hated working on cows.

“Oh, who was that?” I asked innocently.

“Dr. Guernsey,” he responded.

Dr. Guernsey did not like operating on cows? At that point I started laughing and could not stop. I pulled myself together only to spray out laughter again. And again. And again.

Who knew from this book would come a career as a personal historian? I discovered a passion for collecting and preserving histories of individuals, families, businesses, organizations and communities. And I’ve become a lot more polished in my interviewing technique and hopefully have better control over my laugh instinct..

Twenty-five years or so ago when I conducted that interview, I was much younger and clearly not wiser.

The good doctor, who had great respect for the anesthesiologist, said he had not thought of the name, Guernsey, as it relates to the bovine species.

How could he not? And I wasn’t even born in Wisconsin.

I’m Fur Elise or For Lisa?

Mr. Beethoven, who wrote Fur Elise. Listen to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mVW8tgGY_w

For Lisa from Brian Setzer Orchestra http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhr70CiaTtA

Or play it yourself.

My parents had great hopes for me as a little girl. When that ballerina thing did not pan out as a preschooler, I took piano lessons. Playing piano, my dad said, would make me popular at parties.

I began, like most kids do, with great enthusiasm. And then I discovered you had to work at it, meaning practice. A couple years later, I begged out of those lessons.

Dad tried still another tact: I should play the ukelele. That, he said, would make me popular at parties. How well did I do? See previous paragraph.

And now ukeleles are very popular, not that I’m going to take one up. Sorry, Dad.

These memories came to me this morning as I was on my morning walk listening on my iPod to a jazzy version of Fur Elise by the Brian Stetzer Orchestra, which is called For Lisa.

If Mr. Beethoven wanted to call her Lisa, he would have. So I am not fur For Lisa for the tune on the Brian Setzer Orchestra album, Wolfgang’s Big Night Out.

(I actually don’t care if they changed the name, I just wanted to write fur to show how bilingual I am.)

For Lisa triggered this memory because Fur Elise was about as far as I got on the piano a half century (gasp!) ago. I can almost pick out the opening notes to this day. Almost. Don’t ask.

I also can play the opening notes to Heart and Soul, which duos of campers constantly banged out on a piano at Camp Taum Sauk in the 1960s in Missouri. That was the tune for anyone who can’t play piano.

You never know what brings past stories from our past. But brain science actually shows that music triggers all sorts of recollections, according to Petr Janata, a cognitive neuroscientist at University of California, Davis.

“What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head,” he said. “It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye.”

(source: http://www.livescience.com/5327-music-memory-connection-brain.html)

What to remember a story from the 1940s or 1960s? Play a tune that you liked then. It will bring you right back.

A visit to the homeland?

It all began with my cousin, Arthur, who received a postcard from someone who had visited Hessel, Michigan. It was somewhere in the Upper Peninsula. Later he went to Hessel.

The first Hessel sign - we were approaching the promise land.

Then Maggie and I were visiting Paige and her mother, Julie, in northern Michigan for a long weekend. One day, the choice for the girls was going to antique stores or Hessel, Michigan. They picked Hessel. They never knew what hit them – or hit Maggie at least.

Someday I know Maggie will love being in this photo, just as I love the embarrassing photos of my youth - I will share in a future post.

Soon I wanted to take my photo – and hers every time we saw a Hessel sign. She was mortified. I talked her into being in a couple, but mostly she preferred I go solo on this.

It is a resort area, but it being October at the time most stuff was not open. I had to have a Hessel sweatshirt. I had to. So we walked around this small and frankly not-to-friendly town in 1996 looking for a sweatshirt. Finally, we were told that a woman who lived in some apartment owned some closed shop.

I even got spiritual in Hessel at a well named church.

We knocked on the door and she appeared in her pink bathrobe and pink scruffies. I explained I was a Hessel and had to have a sweatshirt. She opened the store and I bought two pricy Hessel Bay sweatshirts – there was no sale there. They had a live Hessel to gouge.

When I told my husband about my purchases later over the phone he said, “Oh did you buy one for your mom?” I made all sorts of guilt sounds and then said in a very tiny, quiet voice, “Yes.”

And I did give it to her because I was shamed into it. She loved it.

Michael and I had the opportunity to return to Northern Michigan on a project and had a return visit to the Promise Land. he didn’t mind the madness that is his mother named Hessel. He was still young enough to handle the photo ops, something that he has managed his entire life. But then he grew up with the ever-present digital camera.

This was not really about finding our roots. We have no relatives in Hessel; our family immigrated to larger cities, but it was a hoot to be there. It was the Promise Land in my amused mind only.

Bring out the embarrassing family photos. They are part of our personal histories and usually have great stories behind them.

If you haven’t seen it, check out http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com, where you will find hilarious stuff.  You can actually post your awkward photos there. I have not – yet.

Hessel. Get the point?

These Hessels baked from scratch so we were scratching ourselves.

So I had to pay back Michael for my losses at the casino in Hessel?

It's Hessel Block Company not Hessel Blockhead Company

A jaw-dropping memory

The Mindoro Cut was a classic Sunday drive destination in the early 20th Century after it was cut by hand and horse-drawn equipment through solid rock in 1907-1908. At 74 feet deep and 24 feet wide, it is thought to be the second largest hand hewn cut in the country.

When I speak to prospective clients about preserving their family, personal business or group histories, I make this statement: “If my jaw hasn’t dropped at least once during the interview, I haven’t asked the right question.”

These moments don’t have to be big things; sometimes they are quite small but are powerful or maybe just plain funny.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a man in his 80s for a book about his large family. He noted as kids they never went on Sunday drives as was common at the time. His dad always walked to work so driving was a very rare occasion. He was just too nervous behind the wheel.

The exception was once a year when they traveled across the state to visit family. He never wanted to stop so his wife solved the problem for him.

How? Giving all the kids – and there was a bunch  of them – enemas before the trip.

Enemas. Giving all these little kids  enemas? Imagine. Wait, don’t imagine it.

My jaw his the floor. And the rest of me could have been picked up from there as well.

Tell me your stories. I love them.

Heat as memory

The heat is on and I don’t like it. It was 83 degrees at 5:30 a.m.

Neither did my mom, who used to say, “God bless the man who invented air conditioning.” I can’t agree more.

One day, I did a little research for her on the invention of air conditioning by a man named Willis Haviland Carrier, who patented his “Apparatus for Treating Air” in 1906. That made him the recognized “father of air conditioning,” although a textile engineer named Stuart H. Cramer used the phrase earlier than that.

And I live in the home of the Trane Company, which gained its fame first for inventing a “heating cabinet” that replaced bulky, cast iron radiators. Only the vents were visible when the heating cabinet was installed in walls.

And then in 1931, Trane created a primitive air conditioning system. Trane President Donald Minard said in 1934 the utopia of air conditioning being right around the corner. “Not tomorrow, but today, a man can breakfast in an air-conditioned home, drive in an air conditioned car to an air-conditioned office; lunch in an air- conditioned restaurant, confer on business in an air-conditioned bank; take a trip in an air-conditioned plane, boat or bus; and then drop in to visit a friend who is convalescing in an air-conditioned hospital, aided by medicines and equipment made in air-conditioned factories.” (Source: A History of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the Twentieth Century, a book I co-wrote with Gayda Hollnagel.)

Trane became a Fortune 500 company primarily because of its air conditioning systems, both commercial and residential. Unfortunately, the company has since been sold, gobbled up by a bigger company.

When it is hot – as it is today – everyone in our family suffers. It ain’t pretty, to say the least.

In our family, we joke, “Precious doesn’t like to sweat.” I’m not exactly the previous type. But sweating, like bugs, are not my thing.

The worst heat I ever remember was 108 degrees in 1980 when I was very pregnant with daughter Maggie. I had to drive through La Crosse in a car that had no air conditioning and there had been a huge manure spill on the road.

By the time son Matt and I returned home, I was bordering on hysteric when I discovered electricity was out.  Matt went down to his undies and ate Popcicyle after Popcycle to stay cool.

I whined.

What are your memories of heat and air conditioning?

A brochure, available on Ebay, that shows early Trane air-conditioning equipment.

Sounds of memory

The sound of chalk squeaking across the board takes me right back to elementary school. My teacher didn’t squeak the chalk, being the pro that she – rarely he – was with the technology of the day.

But there was always a kid who knew how to drive those of us susceptible to the squeak up a wall, er blackboard.

Sounds, like the tastes we crave from our childhood, bring on the memories.

I’m sure, Dick Van Dyke dialed the phone for Laura and it just sounded cool.

I have some favorite sounds including the sound of Dick Van Dyke dialing a telephone in the old Dick Van Dyke Show. I have no idea why, but the sound of his rotary dialing just sounds so cool to me.

It also brings to mind the days when telephone exchanges had names. Ours in St. Louis was WYdown (WY or 99). Our phone number then was WY3-9740.   My husband’s was Hopkins in Milwaukee. It was HO3-2709. It just seems like telephone numbers had character then.

And I must add one thing about the phone. In an age when most folks might have had one extension phone, we had them in just about every room. No wonder I love to be connected by technology.

Another of my favorite sounds is of cowboys eating beans around the campfire. When I’ve mentioned this in the past, some have assumed I meant the scene from Blazing Saddles. That would be the sound after eating beans. I don’t think I need to explore that further.

I’m remembering cowboy pictures – and they were called pictures rather than movies  then – when the wranglers scraped their tin plate with a spoon. They poured their coffee from a tin coffeepot where it was boiled on the campfire. They wiped their mouths with the back of their hands.

It’s much like my pretending as a kid to drink whiskey in the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge CIty , pouring from a bottle of  Diet Dr Pepper into a shot glass.

I really was and am a cowgirl wannabe. Yee Haw!

Think about the sounds of your life – they bring back memories that enrich your story.

A Taste of Memory

Finding the yellow and red box of Streit’s Matzos since 1925, lightly salted or not on a very bottom shelf at Festival was a delight and truly a “Taste of Memory.” Peanut butter, cream cheese, spinach dip, humus, sardines or eaten plain out of the box – cracking off a long skinny section at a time. I just had to share my enjoyment of Matzos.

This comment on my blog really sent my mind racing a while ago. Betty, who had been in one of life history classes, wrote of Matzos as being a “taste of memory.” Although she didn’t call it this, she also had a “sound of memory” when she recalled breaking “off a long skinny section at a time.’

My return visits to St. Louis, which are uncommon now that my parents are gone, are often taste tours of my childhood. We stop at Steak n Shake on the drive to St. Louis  “to get in the mood.” And then every day at least once a day we’d go to this burger place of our youth.

Steak n Shake  is so important in our taste buds that when my brother Andy came to visit last November we drove three hours – each way – to get a burger at a Steak n Shake near Milwaukee. (Steakburger with lots and lots and lots of pickles and mustard for me. Don’t ask what Andy gets; I’m sworn to secrecy.)

Once in St. Louis, we always made the pilgrimage for an “encore salad” in the tea room at Stix Baer and Fuller, née The Grand Leader that is now part of the Dillards chain. From 1882 to 1984, it was considered the place of “high fashion” in St. Louis merchandising, which naturally meant a place where I belong. (Yeah, right.)

On Saturdays, Mom and I drove to the suburban Clayton store for shopping and lunch. Oh sure, there was a period in my adolescence when I was embarrassed to be seen with my mother, as I’m sure my kids were to be various places with me for a time. (Still?)

At the Stix store, I always ordered the Encore, a chef salad with cheese, turkey and yes bacon that was so delicious because it came with Thousand Island dressing already mixed in, which naturally meant a lot. Deliciously a lot. On the side was an “alligator roll,” a textured crust roll that was very much like the back of an alligator, not that I’ve ever eaten an alligator.

Even after we (sadly) started ordering our dressing on the side, we’d still go for the Encore Salad when I came into town.  On the way out, we spooned up complementary chocolate mints from a bowl. It was my mom who suggested the spoon for sanitation purposes. Go Mom.

That tearoom was later closed, I’m convinced, because Dillard’s turned that wonderful alligator roll into a very sorry imitation.

Other culinary stops in St. Louis included Via’s, although it closed sometime in the last thirty years. It offered St. Louis style pizza, which is very thin, slightly crispy and cut into small squares.

This was also the place that my brother went to hang out with his friends so frequently my father was enraged when Andy had to call home to get two cents he was short.  The owner, so appreciative of their business, insisted my dad bring in that money rather than waiting until the next time they came in – most likely the next day.

With Via’s closed, we turned to Talayna’s pizza (Talayna, my brother reminded me, is Yiddish for Italian).  There were others, including Rich and Charlie’s, which had an incredible Italian salad. But nothing could really replace Via’s.

Oh, then there was the fried clam sandwich from Howard Johnson, which also had many flavors of ice cream. One hot summer night we snuck over there despite not being dressed up, something my mom would never do. We saw so many people we knew that this young man said to my dad, “Sir are you somebody we should know?”

My brother provided me with more Tastes of Memories:

  • El and Lee’s deli – We went there to pick up deli on Sundays after United Hebrew Temple Sunday School. “Once I barely made back in time after skipping Sunday School and going to the Zoo,” Andy wrote.
  • Parkmoor — Famous for ‘King’ Burgers and Pork Tenderloin sandwiches. It was also a place where at a birthday party of a bunch of cousins, a huge ice cream cake slid onto someone’s lap.
  • Chu Wah. “Was that the name of the Chinese joint in the Olivette Shopping Center?” Andy wrote. Later, our parents discovered the Jade Tea House, where we went or picked up food at least once a week.
  • Garavelli’s, an Italian cafeteria where they carved meat for thick sandwiches right in front of you when you ordered. Originally it was at the intersection of  DeBaliviere and Degiverville, street names so great I had to write them (after researching their spellings).
  • Holloway House – another cafeteria, across from Famous Barr in Clayton, the suburb of St. Louis that also housed Stix.
  • Toddle House – We went there after our weekly family Spanish lessons at the Berlitz school. We learned Spanish because our dad didn’t want us to appear like “Ugly Americans” when we traveled to that country in the early 1960s. Added Andy about the Toddle House, “My personal ‘Hebrew School’ placebo.”
  • Kris’s – “German food on Lindbergh … oh, the schnitzel and potatoes,” Andy wrote.  The best friends of our family were named Passanante and there are many stories to be told about them. But the one related to Kris’s was that we went there one night on the spur of the moment only to be surprised they had a reservation for Hessel. It turns out that the Passanantes used “Hessel” for reservations because it is a lot easier than their name.
  • Schneidhorst, also a German restaurant once called the Bevo Mill Schneidhorst at first and had a windmill design to its building.
  • Straub’s, a very pricy grocery store with a tearoom. I remember their grilled hotdogs.
  • Fitz’s Root Beer Stand.  “It was famous for their RB and Hot Dogs, split, grilled, served on a hamburger bun in ketchup/mustard sauce with chunks of onion …,” Andy wrote. Clearly, the onion was not part of my order.
  • Craig’s Drive-In over by Lou Fusz Pontiac. Going to the drive in was always a treat. And later Lou Fusz had a franchise for every car built on planet Earth and likely is looking for Martian dealerships as well.
  • The bakery in the Olivette Shopping Center “was a favorite haunt for chocolate iced cake donuts, glazed donuts and sugar donuts … for the outrageous price of 6 cents,” Andy noted. A speech therapist once told me to go into the bakery and ask for milk to practice speaking in public. Not a good experience.
  • And finally, “Remember that Glaser’s had a great coffee shop … great cheeseburgers and fries.”  I went for the grilled hot dogs and cherry Cokes. What I remember most about Glaser’s, a local drug store chain, was that on Sundays things were covered over because of Missouri “blue laws” preventing sales of anything but essentials. That meant no toys on Sundays, as if they aren’t essential.

Late returns from Andy, who came up with even more: “Lynne sez, did you include Buckingham’s? Best fried chicken ever, rolls, including dinner and rum raisin, mashed Potatoes and gravy, lemon merengue pie six inches tall.” It was the place where baby Andy flung a spoonful of mashed potatoes in some lady’s eye. He and I always brought home leftover chicken to eat while we watched Bonanza.

“If only Lucille Buckingham (Mrs. Buckingham) was still alive and her restaurant (in an old house in Kirkwood?) still open …,” Andy wrote.

Home tastes, added in another email from Andy:

  • Frosty Root Beer
  • Sealtest Ice Cream
  • Hodge’s Chili (In the roll)
  • Braunschweiger
  • Fish Sticks (Mom’s homage to sea food)
  • TV Dinners like God intended
  • Corn Pops when you could still call ’em Sugar Pops (are tops!)

“Lucky for you, although my memory ain’t what it never was, I can still remember food related venues …,” Andy wrote in his email.

How true.

The problem with this tastes of memory thing is the tastes don’t always live up to our memories.  Sometimes eating the foods of our youth are more memories of taste than taste of memories. We remember the taste and so badly want what we remember.

The truth be known, the last few years of the Encore salad was more memory than taste.  But take a bite and I was there, just like at Steak n Shake, Parkmore and Via’s.

Margaret Mead, Quote of the Day & Me

Margaret Mead, the great American anthropologist, once said, “One of the oldest human needs is having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night.”

That random quote from Quotable Women: A Collection of Shared Thoughts, made me think of my frequent patter when I come home. “Did anyone call or care?” I ask.

The answer, more often than not, is “No one called or cared.”

To be more accurate I should add, “Did anyone call, voicemail, text, email or Facebook?” I don’t think my family and friends have carrier pigeons.

The question is just patter, not a search for truth.

I am lucky to have folks in my life who care for me and about whom I care even if they don’t always call.

Life recycled & me

Old Bonhomme Elementary School had the largest contingency at the reunion.

For years, I’ve said people get recycled in life. I get a kick out of interviewing folks again and again. It is like reconnecting with old friends.

This weekend was one big recycling – the 40th recycling of the Ladue High School class of 1970. Actually, it went beyond my classmates.

In late May, when my son, Michael, and his girl friend, Jenny, went to Atlanta to find a place to live in the fall, their new landlord looked at Michael ‘s name and asked where his parents grew up. Michael said his father grew up in Milwaukee and his mother in St. Louis.

“I went to high school with your mom,” he said.

Actually, Scott was two years ahead of me in school, graduating with my brother in 1968. I used to spend time at his home, however, because his sister, Barbara, was a friend in middle school.

Friday night, across the very crowded room, Barb and I saw each other for the first time in many years. She knew the story and was as amazed and amused as I am. On Saturday night, I reconnected with Linda, who lived across the street from me as a kid. She now lives in Atlanta and had heard the story as well. She offered to be a resource for Michael if he needs it.

But that’s not all. On Friday night, while a bunch of us sat in an outdoor café, I received a text from my daughter, wondering if I had gone to school with someone named Natalie who had graduated from my high school in 1969. It turns out she grew up in my neighborhood and is the mother of one of the groomsmen in my daughter’s wedding.

And, as we sat in a deli on Saturday, in walked a cousin of my cousin and her parents. I had reconnected with her via Facebook in the last year but hadn’t seen her for a long, long time. It was great to see her mom, who had breast cancer 27 years ago. She told me early in my treatment that she did not know it at the time but her doctor felt she would not live more than six months.

May her mother and I continue to recycle for 27 more years.

Reduce (my body could sure use it), reuse and recycle. If it works for the stuff in our lives it can work with the people of our lives.