New London, Texas: A 1937 Explosion. Eyes that Haunt Today

IMG_20200314_194023_86918Her eyes haunt me. This is 13-year-old Hazel Pierson. She died March 18, 1937 in the New London, Texas Junior & Senior High School, when an explosion leveled much of the two-story brick and steel building.  It was a Thursday, 15 minutes before the end of the school day.  The kids were scheduled to be off that next day.

Hazel did not die alone. victimsThe town lost 288 children in the 5th – 12th grades.  A total of 311 people lost their lives or were severely injured in an event known as “The Day a Generation Died.” Some families lost two children.  One family, three.


There is a small museum in New London that captures the horror.  It is filled with photos and videos, but what makes a visit especially moving are the artifacts, many that belonged to children and teachers who died that day: A pocket knife, a purse, clothes, books.  There’s a photo of a girl’s baseball team taken two hours before; the coach and four of the girls died.  Others were seriously

b4 explosion13Rescuers, many from nearby oil fields worked far into the next day, removing the dead and wounded from under tons of debris.  A 22-year-old named Walter Cronkite was one of the first reporters on the scene.

An investigation determined that a gas leak had built after explosion212up in the crawl space under the school.  When the shop teacher turned on a sander, a spark triggered an explosion that was so powerful it sent a 1,500 pound piece of the concrete floor 200 feet in the air crushing a nearby car.

IMG_20200314_194023_89619A new school was built on the site and it opened in 1939.  It is still being used. A memorial to the victims with each name and their grade of stands nearby.

Some good did come out of the tragedy.  As a result, a malodorant is now added to all natural gas in the U.S. Before 1937, none was added to what is a naturally odorless, colorless gas.  That’s why no one in the school was aware that day of the build up in the crawl space. So the fact you sometimes smell rotten eggs is a good thing.

I knew nothing about this event until I read about it yesterday.  I felt I needed to visit the hazel marker16site today.  I also visited a nearby cemetery where 112 children, including Hazel with the haunting eyes is laid to rest.

Here’s a link to the museum.  There is also a video on the site you can watch:


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Making Maple Syrup is Not at all Sweet


Two and a half  gallons of sap (320 ounces) makes roughly one cup of syrup (8 ounces).


or Venting my Spline

I did it once and will not do it again. Like marriage and skydiving, making maple syrup is a one-time activity. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the right equipment. Maybe it’s because I did it all wrong. Maybe it’s because I’m retired and I’ve gotten lazy. Whatever the case, I am done.

I like to think I knew what I was getting into. I read up on making maple syrup. I even attended the Michigan Maple Syrup convention last year as a full-fledged member of the Michigan Maple Syrup Producers Association.  Of course, I never received my renewal application this year so maybe they had already written me off and knew something I didn’t. Whatever the case, I thought I could do it. After all, people have been making maple syrup down through the ages.  At least, as far back as the days when Native Americans walked these woods.  I had purchased the splines and buckets last spring so those items I already had. (A spline is a small metal tube you insert into the hole in the tree to extract the sap. The sap enters one end of the spline and then drips out into a bucket directly underneath the tube.)

I need to make it clear that I DID make maple syrup. Almost a cup’s worth. Yeah, it was a little cloudy since I didn’t filter it properly at the end) and it is a bit off flavor (although not disagreeably so) and it IS plenty sweet.  It’s just that…well, making maple syrup is time consuming and expensive given the outcome.

Maple0I tapped three trees.  I think they were all Sugar Maples.  I have to admit that I didn’t mark them last summer like I should have, and so when it came time this March to tap my trees, I could only remember one of them as a sugar maple.  In theory, the bark should have helped me recognize them, but it didn’t.  During my search, I ended up tapping three oaks before I finally found the two maples I needed.  (Since oaks don’t give sap, it was evident early on that the trees weren’t maples and I was the only sap.)  Maple1

The tapping went well and within two days I had plenty of sap–or at least enough to work with.  I then preceded to filter the sap using a coffee filter, a relatively easy and quick job.  It took care of a few pieces of bark and a couple of assorted bugs.

Then the work started.  I had read that syrup making should be done outside because of the amount of water that has to be boiled off, which in my case was going to be more than 2 gallons.  I had read horror stories of people boiling sap inside and having their wallpaper peel off.  I also read that one could use a gas BBQ grill and that seemed to be the simplest way for me to do it.  Well, it wasn’t simple.  I put two wide pans of syrup on the grill (wide allows more of the sap to be exposed to evaporation) and turned the grill on high.  Then I waited for it to boil.  But it never did. The sap got hot but even after nearly three hours it never boiled.


The water in the sap did evaporate though, just slowly.  To help speed things up a bit, I put a pot of sap on my gas stove and got that boiling rather easily and as the sap on the grill warmed away, I added the sap from the stove and my syrup making progressed.  There was a problem however.  Since I started this project in late afternoon (dunno know why), night started to fall before my boiling was done.

Luckily, by the time dark fell, I was done to my last gallon of sap and so I turned off the grill and brought everything inside. Put a pot again on the stove and  began to boil in earnest. And I boiled.

Maple3       And I boiled and I boiled.            Maple4

And I boiled until a candy thermometer in the sap/syrup mixture hit 220 degrees, which is the temperature the sap needed to reach to be considered syrup.  The wallpaper didn’t peel but the windows in the house did fog big time.  At least low humidity wasn’t a problem in my house that night.

That’s when I turned off the stove and poured my syrup into a mixing cup.  I had about the amount I should have.  One lousy cup.  Well, not quite. (Deep sigh…) Maple5




And so I called it a night and refrigerated the syrup.

The next day I reheated it and poured the contents into a pint bottle I had boiled to sterilize. I should have filtered the syrup to get out any crystallized sugars and remaining items of a non-sap origin. However, being cheap I did not buy the proper filter.  Instead, I tried to use a coffee filter  (as some articles suggest), but found the syrup way too thick; all I ended up doing was losing some of the precious liquid.

So, I just poured it into a bottle and heated it all to 180 degrees, capped it and let it cool before placing it in the fridge. Theoretically, the sterilizing and the heating of the syrup in the bottle should allow it to be kept at room temperature for a couple of months if not a year; however, I am not that confident of my boiling job, especially given my syrup making experiences, so I will just leave it in the fridge, thank you very much.

So my maple syruping career is over.  I have some syrup, but it’s an expensive half bottle. How expensive. I figure the total cost at $15.  Now I’m looking to recoup my investment. Anyone out there need three spiles?

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Death Came Crawling: The Rising

By Zitz Freeman
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

The following three chapters are from my friend Zitz Freeman’s novelette about zombies.  Sure there are lots of zombie stories out there, but the undread that Zitz writes about are not your conventional run-of-the-mill, garden-variety zombies. These zombies are babies with wicked teeth.

This is from the first of two novelettes he has written.  Let me know if you hunger for more.

Regards, Marty Johnson

And now…

Death Came Crawling

Chapter 1

Zombie BabyDeath came crawling. The baby was moving rapidly on all fours. The carpet in the hallway was thick and the baby moved noiselessly over it. The door to the master bedroom was ajar and soft rhythmic snoring came from within the darkened room.

The baby crawled through the opening. It scented the two people on the bed in the center of the room and headed quickly for them, pulling itself upright using the large comforter that had slipped off one portion of the huge bed.

“What’s that horrible smell?” asked a sleepy voice.

The baby struck. It was a cannibalistic zombie baby. There were sudden screams and a tearing sound. Then there was silence. Except for the chewing.

 Chapter 2

The police radio was alive with frantic calls. “All units, all units, report of a body at 311 Woodhall”…”Mobile three, see the man on the porch at 5730 Houghton. Something about multiple fatalities”…”All units, all units, please check on mobile three. They were checking a report of multiple fatalities and have not reported in since arriving at the scene…”

Art Gorski was running. His lungs were burning and his legs felt weak. He didn’t think he had ever run so hard in all his 58 years. Mud caked his pant legs and clung like glue to his shoes as he ran through the farm field. The thunderstorm that had been building earlier had passed, but everything now was wet and had turned to mud.

He looked behind him. The babies were gone. At least he had been able to outrun them or maybe they too had trouble maneuvering through the muddy furrowed field. Were they still chasing him? They had for a while, their little arms and legs churning, propelling them along the road right behind him before he had run into the field. How long ago had he been running? All he knew is he needed to outrun these whatever-they-were is he wanted to stay alive.

His life that day had begun with him and Virginia, his wife of 13 years, sitting outside on their porch swing in the cool of the morning. They were looking up at the storm clouds gathering above them. Although rain was forecast, most of the news had been about reports of carnage in major cities across the globe. Something about zombies and babies. Things that seemed just too weird to be true. He and Virginia were talking about the newscast when three babies came crawling up the Gorski’s long gravel driveway that cut through the woods to their isolated rural cabin. Never had Art seen babies crawl so fast. They moved across the drive, oblivious to the jagged stones digging into their hands and knees. The babies were naked and filthy, except for a dirty diaper each wore. The babies’ eyes focused on Art and his wife. Looking at them and through them at the same time. And the babies had teeth; Art could see that as they drew closer. Razor sharp teeth.

Virginia had cried something about “oh those poor babies,” and had gotten up and ran to rescue them. Art was going to warn her, tell her something wasn’t right with those babies, tell her about the teeth, but it was too late. As she bent to pick up the closest babe, it launched itself up into her, clawing, biting, and slashing. He heard his wife begin to scream, the scream turned into a gurgle and then all was silent. Except for the baby in her bosom who was chewing.

The other two babies closed in on him now. Their eyes were hollow, their mouths opening and clothing rhythmically. And as their mouths closed, he could hear their teeth. He looked at the door to the house. He had guns in there. However, something told him to run away from the house. Art had run.

 Chapter 3

Depending on the reference source one uses, there are approximately 300,000 babies born each day. Most crawl when they are six months old and walk within a year. That means that at any given time there were about 55 million babies able to crawl but not yet able to walk.

It was that group of crawling, chomping, and diaper-wearing batch of babies the virus hit. The first scattered reports came out of North Korea on April 1 of a biological experiment that went really, really bad. Those reports were dismissed as April Fool’s prank (although later investigators would remember that there are no April 1 pranks in the godless north). Then spy drones picked up baby hordes crawling across the demilitarized zone.   When soldiers sent to rescue the babies died horrible deaths, alerts sounded. By the time the military and the government became aware of what horror was transpiring, it was too late. People were dying all around the world. Planes were crashing as cannibalistic zombie babies ate their way through coach, first class and into the cockpit. Ships were sinking as captains, pursers and passengers turned into entrees.

Who first called the creatures “cannibalistic zombie babies” isn’t known. That person is probably long dead and chewed. The name wasn’t correct anyway in that the babies weren’t technically cannibalistic, since they didn’t eat their own. They ate living human flesh. They were definitely zombies though. Dead babies. In super secret government installations, super secret cameras mounted in super secret locations showed baby births that immediately turned into baby zombies… Crawling, gurgling, razor sharp teeth bearing, long taloned zombies.   Although the virus first affected babies who were six months to a year old, the virus quickly mutated so all babies under walking age became CZBs.

And what scientists found especially incredible is they could change their own diapers (although since they were zombies and didn’t eat, their diapers rarely needed changing).

End of sample section.

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Making Laws. Making Sausages.

Sausage grinderThere’s an old saying that you should not watch laws and sausage being made since both of them are distasteful to watch. Sausage because raw, ground up meat with its bits of fat, gristle and maybe an occasional beak, snout or hoof is especially unappetizing. Legislative measures are included because getting the necessary votes for a bill’s passage frequently includes “horse trading” as individual legislators and even an entire parties demand items be made part of the measure in order to receive their vote for passage.

Michigan’s Proposal 1 that will be voted on in early May as a way of repairing the roads is what happens when a bill containing the legislative equivalent of gristle, beaks and snouts ends up out in public instead of becoming law behind closed doors. While a big deal is being made of its various pieces that have nothing to do with road repairs, I’m not sure this proposal is any different than what politicians in Lansing or Washington, D.C. have been doing for decades—or even a century or more. For example, the reason our nation’s capital is on the banks of the Potomac is the result of an agreement between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison on the assumption of the states’ war debt following the Revolutionary War by the federal government, also known as the Compromise of 1790.

So while Proposal 1 is an ugly piece of legislative sausage, we shouldn’t be too surprised by it. It’s politics and the legislative process and it’s normal. The question is, can we live with it?

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Rooted or Why Trees Don’t Frolic

I wrote the following story either in high school or my first year of college. So many years have passed that I don’t frankly remember.  I ran across a copy of it a few years back when I was moving (kicked) out of my house and saved it for some reason.  Now, a few years later, I have my reason, well, five in fact: my grandchildren.  Whether they will ever want to read it or have it read to them is another story.  However, I’ve always liked it and maybe one day someone will let me know what a Timbleflit looks like.  It sounds like an interesting animal.  

Rooted or Why Trees Don’t Frolic

tree faceThe sun rose slowly, covering the land with its warm, rich light.  Here and there, small furry creatures scurried through the underbrush in search of their morning meal.  In a large grassy clearing, a nimble Timbleflit performed his morning dance.  His blue and yellow body shining brightly in the early morning light as he jumped high in the air, flipped completely over and came down again on his three broad feet, his cheerful “tip, tip, tip” filling the air with sound.  With the approach of a small, toothed Treke, he hopped quickly in the dense woods nearby, his small white powderpuff tail disappearing after him.

At the edge of the clearing Tilly Tree watched the Timbleflit disappear with a tinge of sorrow.  She enjoyed watching this early morning ritual even though she had seen it many times before.

Tilly yawned and stretched her branches.  Turning she skipped  toward the lake, moving as easily on her strong supple roots as nimbly as the Timbleflit had moved on its legs.  Tilly looked into the lake and she saw her reflection and smiled.  Even after these 40 years she was a good-looking tree.  She stood tall and majestic with good cover, no dead branches, and her bark still had a good color.  Yes, she had a lot to be proud of.

She heard a whistle and turned toward it.  She smiled as she recognized its source. “Good morning, Mary Maple,” she said cheerfully.

ash small“Hi,” Mary replied as she extended a limb and poked at a small Bitterkiss that was hiding in Tilly’s upper branches.  The Bitterkiss shrieked as it lost its footing and tumbled toward the ground, before its long soft yellow fur opened like a flower to catch the wind that allowed it to fall gently, blowing to and fro like a leaf, but leaving a slightly unpleasant odor in its wake.  Mary watched it until it floated to the ground and scampered away, then said, “You seem to be in an extra good mood today.”

“And with good reason. I’m going to see Elwood,” Tilley replied.

Elwood was a tall handsome oak and Tilly’s treefriend.  He was also the top tree in the forest.  It was his job to make all the decisions concerning the welfare of the tree tribe.

“Well, have fun,” Mary said, walking away, her leaves shaking slightly both from the breeze and from envy, for all the girl trees considered Elwood to be a good catch.  After all, he came from sturdy stock and was not simple softwood.  

Soon, Tilly was skipping toward Elwood’s home, her manicured roots barely touching the ground and a song on her bark.

2013_September_Clare_Manor _yardSuddenly, below her she saw a large foot lash out and entangle itself in her roots.  With a cry she pitched forward onto the hard ground.  Tilly laid there yelling and hoping help would arrive.  After many hours in the hot sun with termites swarming over her, it finally did.

Elwood was busy providing shade for the smaller trees and telling them stories when Tilly arrived, battered and bruised, her beautiful branches in disarray.

As she explained what happened, Elwood paled. “Then it’s true,” he said at last.

“What’s true,?” all the trees around him asked.

Lately I’ve been hearing stories of things like this happening on our forests.  Until now, I haven’t believed any of it.”

“What haven’t your believed?,” all the trees around him asked.

“Tekien Tree Trippers.” Elwood spat the words out.

A gasp ran through the assembled trees.  Tekien Tree Trippers were believed destroyed many generations ago and the only place they were thought to exist were in horror stories told around camp non-fires, for aside from fire, Tree Trippers were the worst enemy a tree had.  As the trees would skip merrily along, the Tekien Tree Trippers would sneak up and trip them.  Unless help would arrive, the fallen trees would die because they could not pick themselves up without help.

“Elwood,” a tree cried from the edge of the group. “We’ve gotten reports of three tripped trees that tumbled due to Tekien Tree Trippers. We must do something.” The tree ran toward Elwood, his limbs extended in a plea for help.  Suddenly, he gave a little yelp and pitched forward.  As the other trees watched in horror, a little Tekien Tree Tripper ran between them giggling loudly and jumping up and down on its skinny, very long legs.  Elwood stepped on it with one of his massive roots.  It squeaked, its toes curled, and then went silent.

The woods were deathly quiet, until a voice asked in a barely heard whisper, “What can we do to stop them?”

There’s only one thing we can do,” Elwood replied firmly, “and that is to secure ourselves to the ground so we can’t be tripped.”

“Can’t we destroy them instead?” asked a sapling.

“Most of the time we can’t see them since they are short and close to the ground.  Even when we do see them, they’re usually too fast for us to catch and stomp on.  That leaves us almost defenseless. Unless we are secure to the ground,” Elwood said with authority.”

An old Aspen stepped forward, its face sad, its leaves quaking. “If we bury our roots deep into the ground as you say, we won’t ever be able to skip and frolic in the sun.”

 Elwood nodded.  A look of sadness on his handsome bark-lined face.  “I realize that, but there’s nothing else we can do.  Therefore, I want all of you to find a spot and root yourself to it.  Eventually, the Tekien Tree Trippers will tire of waiting and leave, and when they do, I will let you know.  You need to be patient since it may take decades, even many centuries.”

So the trees began to spread the word across forests throughout the world, from Chinese Elms in the Orient all the way to American Beeches in the U.S. and each found a favorite spot to root.  Some chose to be close together with friends and relatives and others chose out of the way spots far from other trees. 

Elwood took Mary’s limb in his and they found a spot on a bluff overlooking a small lake favored by Timbleflits, one with no other trees.  When they were satisfied it was a good spot, the two of them sank their roots deep into the moist brown earth, except for a few of their roots they allowed to curl together.  In time, Elwood and Tilly were no longer alone.  A forest grew around them—their forest of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It’s there they all stand to this day waiting for the Tekien Tree Trippers to disappear.  But the tree trippers have not gone and to this very day they still look for victims.  So the next time you see a fallen tree, look closely.  Maybe you will see a Tree Tripper running away. 


Copyright 2105 Martin Johnson/Bluelemon Communications. All rights reserved. This manuscript cannot be printed in its entirety without express permission of the author.


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One Death, Two Goodbyes

We change with time in ways great and small.  Sometimes we change and don’t exactly know why.  Like yesterday, for example.

Yesterday, I went to the funeral home to say goodbye to a friend of mine that I had not seen a more than a quarter century.  Mike Soper had been a leader in the Skiwi Ski Club long before I joined the organization in the mid-80s.  He passed away Jan 4. 2015, at the age of 68 leaving behind a wife and two adult children.

Mike had been a fun-loving guy, charismatic and a leader back in the days I knew him. He enjoyed socializing, especially when there was alcohol to be had.  Yet, he was also financially astute, knew how to organize and run activities and knew skiing.  When, a couple of years later I took over the 200-member organization as president,  I asked Mike to chair the ski committee.  I always appreciated the fact that agreed to do so, although he had not wanted to serve again having done so multiple times over the years, including serving as club president.  I knew with Mike in charge of skiing, I wouldn’t have to worry about that position.  I was right.

And though Mike and I were good friends, we had lost touch over the years.  In fact, I lost touch with all my Skiwi friends.  It was all my doing.  They primarily lived on the far east side and I moved to the far west side because of work.  I also met and married a widow with two young children from the westside.  Those responsibilities plus the fact that my new wife didn’t like me associating with any of my pre-marriage friends, closed the door on my friendship with Mike and others I had grown close to over the years.

In time, via Facebook, I reconnected with a few former Skiwis and it was through that network that I learned of Mike’s passing.  When I heard, I knew I needed to say goodbye.  So yesterday, I made the two-hour round trip in heavy rush hour traffic and said my goodbye to Mike and my condolences to Sandy, his wife who I had also known too back in my club days.

About 35 years ago, I had a similar chance to say goodbye to a friend I had not seen in five years.  Back then, I passed on the chance and that thought as gnawed at me since that time.

It was back in the late-70s.  A one-time close friend of mine from high school passed away following a freak accident while playing touch football.  His name was Mike Fischer, and although I was contacted about the arrangements I didn’t go to the funeral home.   My reasoning then was that my friendship with Mike (and other high school buddies who had been part of our little group) was over; that door was closed.  I had not seen any of them in four or five years.   I had moved on to other interests and friendships, and so had they.  Why take time to say goodbye to former friends?

Yet, here I was this week, paying my condolences to a man I had not seen in more than 25 years.  And the fact that I did so has now brought up memories of the time when I did not pay my condolences to the grieving family of a kid who had been a close friend not that many years before.

Why the change?  Maybe the fact that I am closer to death and/or that I have seen death a number of times since then.  Maybe it’s my renewed faith since then.  Maybe it’s the fact that I see life as being more precious now.  Maybe it’s all of them.

I firmly believe I was wrong back then.  I should have gone to the funeral home as a show of support. I should have let his widow and infant daughter know that Mike’s life mattered to me as did his passing, that I cared and that Mike was worth my coming and saying goodbye.

Maybe my saying goodbye to Mike Soper was also a way of saying goodbye to Mike Fischer.  Maybe it’s a way of facing up to my thoughtless act and saying I was wrong and I’m sorry.  I’m also sorry it’s taken me this long to admit it.

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Wade in the Water or Stuck in the Muck


A section of Mosteller Creek. Not it’s most scenic spot but gives you an idea of the width of the creek and some of the land the creek flows through. Because I did not get out of the lowlands section, there were few trees here. Further south, the land is higher and pines and cedars predominate. Unfortunately, I did not get that far south in my travels. Unfortunately…

I have one less item on my bucket list.  Sadly, it’s not because I accomplished the goal, but because I lacked a chainsaw, some dynamite and a bit of common sense.

This particular item was to wade Mosteller Creek.  It’s a shallow creek 5 – 10 feet wide with a sandy bottom whose waters flow lazily out of wetlands south of the little community of Dodge City then south passing through pine forests and groves of white cedar passing under M-61 until finally merging with Cedar Creek.

I would look at the creek every time I drove Mostetler Road and over the small bridge that spans its waters.  I had, in fact, made an attempt several years earlier to wade the creek when I was still married parking near the bridge and entering the creek from there. Getting in the water was easy that time and although I didn’t walk far on that particular trip—maybe a 100 yards—due to time constraints, I felt such a walk would be relaxing and interesting when I did have enough time.

It wasn’t until a hot Sunday afternoon in August that I finally resolved to walk

The red line shows my intended route; the yellow line shows my actual route.

The red line shows my intended route; the yellow line shows my actual route.

the creek, maybe fish some of the deeper holes its waters offered.  After all, what could go wrong?

Well, to start, something like forgetting the bait, although that turned out to be the least of my worries, and besides, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So this particular Sunday, I packed a small pack with a collapsible fishing pole, and bug spray put my wallet and cell phone in plastic bags (one can’t be too sure), grabbed a compass (I easily get lost), climbed in my car and set out for the creek, which is a couple miles from my home.  In a few minutes I was walking down an old railroad bed that parallels the creek, one I had been on 100 times and thought I knew well.  My goal was to walk the trail for a couple hundred yards to a large clearing and then head east to intersect the creek when it was relatively wide and easy to access.

White sand and black goop. Amazing how deep the goop (well, really decayed vegetation) was compared to the creek bottom itself. Step off the sand and you would sometimes sink a couple of feet.

White sand and black goop. Amazing how deep the goop (well, really decayed vegetation) was compared to the creek bottom itself. Step off the sand and you would sometimes sink a couple of feet.

But this time my walk down the railroad grade was different.  This time I got turned around.  The vegetation along the trail had grown so thick due to frequent summer rains that I soon lost the trail and where I was in relation to the road, the clearing and civilization.  So I decided to just head east knowing that sooner or later I’d intersect the creek.  However, as I headed eastward I quickly found that the land here quickly turned from firm to spongy to marshy to swampy to a thick, odorous goop that sucked at my shoes.  I pushed and climbed and levered my way through some kind of thick water-loving shrub that was 10 maybe even 100-feet hig2014_July_Harrison_Blog_legs b4loser to actual creek bed and once I was there, it would be smooth sailing so to speak.

Well, I did finally reach the creek but not before finding myself stuck up to my thigh in the goop. Or mud.  Or quicksand, fighting not to lose my balance, my shoe or my life.

I avoided all but the first and dirty, tired, wet and scratched (I was in shorts and short sleeves), I reached the creek.  It’s waters were crystal clear and the sand at the bottom was white.  The water level was six inches or so and flowed gently along.  Unfortunately it flowed under a bridge of vegetation.  I took a deep breath and plunged on through the mat only to find a downed tree, then more vegetation, then an island with vegetation blocking my course around one side of the island and a downed tree blocking my way along the other side.  I tried to go up on the bank but sunk ass deep again into the black goop that was between the sand of the creek and the ferns of the bank.  In a way it was amazing how deep that muck could be when the creek bottom not two feet away from it was all sand and firm.

2014_July_Harrison_Blog_creek narrow

A majority of the creek I walked through looked a lot like this. In places, the vegetation created a bridge over the creek making walking challenging to say the least“Screw it,” I muttered to myself, or words to that effect, and turned around and headed back.  Wished instead of a fishing pole and tackle I had brought a chainsaw and some dynamite.  It was about that time I decided to fish as I walked north to the bridge.  It was about that time I came to the realization I forgot the bait to go with said pole and tackle.  “Screw it,” I muttered to myself or words to that effect.

2014_July_Harrison_Blog_legs after

My poor little legs after my trek, although to be honest, they look a lot like this most of the summer. I tend to wear shorts but don’t stick to pathways, plunging instead off-trail.

I made it back to the road and my car.  At home, I took a long shower and carefully cleaned my battered legs that were so full of cuts that I took anti-bacterial ointment and slathered it over them much like one does with suntan lotion.  Then I had a beer.  Then a second.

I tried.  I really did and it was enough to remove “Wading Mosteller Creek” off my bucket list.  While it was not the most rewarding of treks, I did find a little history:  In the banks of the creek north of the bridge I found some logs that were part of the cribbing used to construct the old railroad bed that once crossed the creek in the late 1870s  or early 1880s long before Mostetler Road was built.  The railroad was built by an unknown logging company to help transport logs, maybe to the railroad that once ran along the grade I originally walked in on.  It’s cool to find logs still there from 140 years ag and it makes one wonder what else is in that creek or around it.  Maybe some evidence of the town of Mosteller.  Maybe evidence of the men who worked the camps.  Maybe the bleached bones of a hiker who tried walk the creek.  In any event, they aren’t mine.  Not this time, anyway.

Note: Mostetler is a misspelling of the name Mosteller.  Sometime a couple decades ago, someone mistakenly transcribed Mosteller as Mostetler and gave that name to the road.

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Passing of a Father Figure

The death of William Edwin Stickney…

The following was a eulogy I read at a Celebration of Life service for a man who was like a second father to me.  Bill passed away in May at the age of 83.  I will miss him and never forget him.

I was blessed in that I had two sets of parents: My own and two others—Bill and June—who adopted me as what June calls “their pseudo son.” They accepted me as one of their own and I got to do a lot of good stuff, from watching weekly episodes or MASH and Monty Python to food and drinks. Because of Bill’s generosity, I got to go on fishing trips, golf outings, wild game dinners, ball games and more, mostly on his dime (but maybe a few on Joe Aristio’s). In any case I was able to experience many wonderful things I could not have done otherwise. In a lot of ways Bill was a greater influence on me than my father in that he taught me about hunting and fishing and canoeing and swimming and flying and more. I developed a love of nature from Bill. And odds are I would not have become an Eagle Scout if not for that man. I learned a lot of other things from Bill:

  • I learned not to sit directly behind him in a moving automobile when he was chewing tobacco with the windows down because the juice goes out the front window and comes right back in the rear window.
  • I learned if you ever wanted an answer to any question to go to Bill. He always had one. It might not be the right answer but he had an answer. And he’d throw in an opinion or two free of charge and some advice from “Never sell your soul for two weeks of vacation” to “Them that don’t pay rent gotta get.” (Come see me later and pull my finger, and I’ll explain.)
  • I learned that you always want to beat traffic and leave early no matter how exciting the event or how beautiful the day. I think the only way I saw the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds perform the climax of an airshow was with my head sticking out the window looking up as we were driving home.

2009_June_Bill_FishingHe was a great storyteller. Hunting stories, fishing stories, going down the Tahquamenon falls in a canoe stories and my favorite about the time he spent 30 days in jail in some little burg up north.

Yeah, he was opinionated, pigheaded, and obstinate, and he could rub people the wrong way. He sometimes even went as far as breaking relationships; however, he was also blessed in that he was given some extra time on this earth and he managed to repair a few of those. We may not be as lucky. Maybe the best lesson there is not to break them in the first place.

He’s gone but I don’t think anyone here will soon forget him. I’m richer because I knew him as a father, as a mentor, and as a friend.

Many of you here knew Fred Vogt who was a character in his own right. When Fred died Bill said that after God made Fred Vogt he broke the mold. That his kind would never pass this way again. I believe we can all say the same thing about Bill Stickney. He was one of those larger-than-life personalities and when God made Bill Stickney, he broke the mold there too.

To his grandkids and great-grandkids and nephews and nieces, I want to issue a challenge. You have some of Bill’s genes in you, his blood and maybe a little of his tobacco juice coursing through your veins. Maybe you can be next defying convention and be a one-of-a-kind, God-broke-the-mold kind of a person. But most importantly, maybe you can be next to share your wisdom, your wit, your passions and more importantly your time with others, be they friends, family or pseudo family.

That’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

Bill is the white shirt and orange suspenders standing on the left side of the photo.  The photo was taken in the early 1980s at the Vogt Farm. Fred Vogt who was referenced in my talk is the short elderly gentleman in the hat standing to the right.  He deserves his own post!

Bill is the white shirt and orange suspenders standing on the left side of the photo. The photo was taken in the early 1980s at the Vogt Farm. Fred Vogt, who was referenced in my talk, is the short elderly gentleman in the hat standing to the right. He deserves his own post!

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The History Hunt

What is it that makes history interesting? What is it that brings history to life? I suppose that is for each person to decide, although for many, there is nothing about history that is interesting. To them, history means a bunch of boring facts, figures, dates and names, along with dusty museums and static displays with “Do Not Touch” signs.

To me, what makes history interesting is the people: Their stories; their motivations; the challenges and adversity they faced and overcame—or didn’t overcome; and the result.

Reed TombstoneTake the story related in Three Area Soldiers. One Epidemic. Three Graves that appears on my Clare County history blog. It’s the story of Ervin Reed, James Garrity and Arthur Looker, three area men who enlisted in the service during in WWI and within just months of enlisting, were dead. Reed enlisted first in the National Guards; Garrity and Looker were cousins and enlisted together in the Navy the following year.

I ran across the gravestones of Reed and Garrity in a small, partly overgrown cemetery in the northeast corner of Clare County’s Hamilton Township. I had stopped there to get an idea of the work required to clean up the cemetery, and had noticed the two discolored gravestones and metal flag holder with flags that identified the graves as those of military personnel.

Then I noticed the dates of enlistment and the dates of death.

I was saddened and intrigued. The thought of a small community losing two men in such a short time and not long after enlistment got me wondering. What had happened to them? Why had they died ? And from what? Their tombstones seemed to indicate they had not even left the states.

Returning home, I pulled up the Find A Grave, a national database that provides information on the dead. While not all deceased individuals are found on the site, and the amount of information can vary from grave to grave (it depends on what data the volunteer chooses to enter), there was a wealth of information on Garrity and Reed, including their two obituaries.

It was from those obits I learned that Garrity had enlisted with his cousin Arthur, who died one day before James and at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois. It was also from the obits that I learned that all three had died from pneumonia.

Now I have always considered pneumonia a killer of the elderly and something that is treatable.  Plus, I thought, what was the odds of three young farmboys all dying of pneumonia?

So I went back to the Internet and conducted some research. It was there I learned a few things that fascinated me:

1)   Back in 1917, we didn’t have antibiotics to deal with bacterial infections like pneumonia.

2)   The period the three soldiers enlisted coincided with the Great Flu Pandemic of 1917-18 that primarily killed young people, sometimes within hours of the first symptoms and that many times, the flu caused the lungs to clog with fluids—pneumonia, in other words.

3)   Military training camps were perfect for spreading the flu virus. In those camps were thousands of young men training, sleeping, eating, and bathing together. 

As a result tens of thousands died.  In fact, more men died of the flu then died form German bullets.

My heart still breaks when I think of the family and friends of the three men. I wonder if they have any family still in the Clare and Gladwin area. I wonder if anyone in those families knows the stories, visits the graves. I wonder if anyone out there cares…

On Memorial Day weekend this year, I cleaned the Garrity Cemetery, cutting invasive Autumn Olive and trimming branches. I also brought some water, soap and a brush and cleaned off Garrity and Reed’s tombstones,  so the words etched on them are a bit easier to read.

The two men in that cemetery mean something to me now. I know about them. I know their story a little and, as a result, I can imagine the pain their families and friends felt when the boys returned to Clare County in flag-draped coffins just a few months after they left.

Those boys are more to me now than names. After all, I know their stories. I know their histories. And that makes them real. That to me, is a big part of what history is about: Making the past live again.

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A Mad Good Bye to Eddie Bauer

angerI really screwed up. But so did Eddie Bauer as far as I am concerned. In fact, I am so angry at that national retailer that I cut up my credit card and closed my account with them. Good bye, Eddie. Adios. Over and out.

I’ve also learned a valuable lesson when it comes to dealing with retailers that issue a credit card through a vendor bank. Don’t.

Here’s my story.

I requested and received my credit card from Bauer a long time ago. The card was only good at Eddie Bauer and carried their name and logo on it. I used the card whenever I shopped there, which was relatively frequently when I was flush with cash a few years back since they had a store in a nearby mall. That was all before my marriage fell apart, I moved three times and I lost my job and was no longer flush with anything except problems and heartache. I kept the card, however. I hoped I might someday be able to use it again.

My time of finally being able to use it began earlier this spring. I’m working and although no longer flush with cash, I am able to purchase nicer clothes. This time around it was some much needed dress and casual pants. I went to the E.B. website, logged onto my account (which was still active), updated my address and contact information and placed an order. It was promptly delivered. Also, I started receiving catalogs and other mailers from E.B. Now logic would dictate that since they had my address I would also soon receive my bill, right?

Wrong, as it turned out. The bill never arrived. And here’s where I made my big mistake: I didn’t follow up. Although I always pay my debts, I am not the most detail-minded person in the world. As a result, I would think about the bill, wonder why I hadn’t received it, and then would forget about it. After all, why worry? E.B. had my address and KNEW where to send the bill, right?

Wrong, as it turned out. I finally got around to calling them last night. Eddie bauer customer service redirected me to what I thought was the billing area where I told my problem to a woman named Melanie. She told me my account was overdue and I was being charged late fees and interest on my purchase, as a result.toilet

When I asked her why I hadn’t gotten a bill even though I had long ago updated my address, she responded by saying that I was no longer talking to Eddie Bauer; instead I was talking to some entity in San Antonio, Texas called Comenity Bank. They are the issuer of the E.B. credit card and they are the ones who send the billing statement. The fact I updated my account with E.B. didn’t mean squat to them. I had not updated my address with them and the billing address they had on me was from five years and three moves ago.

Melanie was very sweet as she explained how I was at fault in all this. When I explained that I didn’t know I had to update my address with a bank that I didn’t know existed and told her I was very unhappy with Bauer’s and her bank,  she invited me to rant and rave if I wanted to. I thanked her but declined her invitation, since it would not change anything and she was not who I was–and continue to be– angry with. She then told me I could mail in a payment and gave me my balance due that included all fees and interest (although she did remove one late fee and saved me $15). She then gave me the address and instructions on mailing the payment to ensure my account would be credited.

I did as I was told and the check went into the mail this morning.

However, I took one additional step to ensure this never happens again. I enclosed a letter asking that my account be closed and included the cut up credit card (I wanted to cut the card into 100 pieces but restrained myself and just cut it in two). I will never make that mistake again with Bauer and its bank. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me. I then sent a copy of the letter to Eddie Bauer’s customer service department letting them know I have cancelled my account and the reason.

Yeah, I should have checked on the lack of a bill long before I did. My bad. At the same time I don’t understand why Eddie Bauer never provided the bank with my new address or at least told me to contact the bank when I placed the order. Their bad.

One last thing, this morning, a woman from the bank called me to let me know my account was delinquent and asked if she could take a payment over the phone. She mentioned the full amount due, which included the late fee Melanie had waived. When I mentioned I had already written a check for an approved lower amount the woman instantly knew what that amount was. (I suppose I should have asked her why she didn’t ask for the lower amount from me originally.)

Anyway, I am still angry at this turn of events. The good part is once the payment is credited I will never have to worry about it again. I lost money. Eddie Bauer and the Comenity Bank have lost a customer.

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