Wednesday, July 14, 2010

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Head Out To the Lake: Step 144

Wisconsin is probably best known for its cheese and the progenitors of that product the cows: Guernsey, Holstein and Brown Swiss. While its license plates proudly proclaim it America’s Dairyland, many people wonder if the state might have been better served by taking the title its neighbor asserts. Minnesota bumpers display plates with 10,000 Lakes emblazoned on them and their DNR counts 11,842 lakes of ten acres or more. The Wisconsin DNR reports, in this running dispute over which one has more, approximately 15,000 lakes, many smaller and unnamed but with a lot more water largely due to the greater depth of most Wisconsin lakes.

Having lived in both places I can assure anyone who wants to know they both have enough lakes for everyone desiring to fish, ski, sail, swim, or whatever. What they both forget to tell the tourist is the mosquitoes are large enough to be named the state bird in either place. When someone is young, equipped with a vehicle, and looking for something fun to do with friends, insects, even the size of birds, are not a deterrent.

Growing up in Milwaukee whenever anyone spoke of the lake they were talking about Lake Michigan. However, if they added the words up to or out to they were referring to one of the aforementioned smaller lakes. Among these inland or outlying lakes the one my friends and I were most likely to head out to (thus, outlying) was Friess Lake.

One of the great tests for my ’58 Rambler was how well it handled the rolling hills on Hubertus Road after we turned off of old highway 41 and headed to the lake. Unfortunately when they put the freeway in they didn’t take this into account, because now cars pass over Hubertus in favor of the much more level, despite its name, Holy Hill Road. Fortunately the pride of American Motors held together over every hurdle.

Although the car had no difficulty making it into the parking lot, sometimes getting a self-conscious teenage girl out of the dressing room required a skillful approach to shift her into gear. I’m not certain about the first time I went with Marcy out to the lake, but I know on at least one occasion I was grateful Randee was there. Compared to the bathing suits my daughters wear the suits most girls wore that summer were like full-length robes.

Naturally none of the boys gave a second thought about what they looked like in their suits, and they were out in the water as fast as they could change and go. Once the girls became acclimated to the water, which had a much more favorable temperature than Lake Michigan, the fun began. We would toss the Frisbee around, chasing and diving to catch it before it skimmed the surface of the water. After thirty minutes to an hour of catch there would usually be a good splash fight. Once in awhile a couple of girls would sit on guys shoulders and battle each other to see if they could knock the other couple into the water. The rest of the time was spent treading water just out beyond the drop-off point, or if the girls were feeling less self-conscious we might find ourselves lying on air mattresses floating on top of the water.

To me the best part was driving home after everyone had exhausted himself or herself having fun at the lake. Quiet would fill the back seat and Marcy would put her head on my shoulder as we drove for three quarters of an hour (only a half hour now on the freeway) back to town. Once we were through the town of Hubertus, except for the turn onto highway 41 I gained great satisfaction perfecting my one-armed driving skills.

Do you remember summer at the beach? Share with us in the comment section.




Thursday, July 8, 2010

Unbridled Spirit of Adventure: Step 143

At first I thought my only connection to Marcy prior to our starting to date was Hector, but it turned out I had actually run into her a few times through cousin Natalie who was also a member of Kander BBG. For those who may not recall, BBG is the female portion of BBYO, which is like CYO or other religious youth groups, only Jewish. Actually, cousin Natalie may have had more to do with our getting together than I originally thought because she was one of those who enjoyed flirting with Hector, but then again cousin Natalie was extremely vivacious and enjoyed flirting with everyone.

Among the members of Kander, and aside from Doe, the closest friend Marcy had was Randee. As previously noted, Randee was a redhead. Not the bright orange redhead of Lucy, or the sultry red of Deborah Kerr, but rather something in between. It was thick, curly, bordering on frizz, and reflected her loud, cheerful, full of life personality.

We often drove the few blocks south and couple blocks east down the tree lined streets to visit with Randee and her family. Her mother had the same sort of effervescent personality with similarly curly, frizzy hair, except it appeared to have vanilla added so it came out to a sort of strawberry blonde, and it was always pulled into a fashionable shape. Her father had limited strands of a similar shade of hair and was a jovial man with a little bit of a paunch. Her younger brother had darker hair but more freckles. He would join Witt AZA in a year and become a close friend of my younger brother.

Now, Mr. F had some sort of regular nine to five job, but he was always a bit of an entrepreneur. That summer he had invested in a fairly large residential housing development. When construction ended for the week there was always a great deal of cleanup to be done. Instead of having expensive contractors do it a common practice was to find day laborers at the rescue mission.

However, Mr. F challenged a few of my friends and me to attempt the backbreaking work for five dollars an hour. That was more than three times what I was making at Wiro, but of course less than whatever he was paying the day laborers. Larry was quick to take up the challenge, and I was reeled in by the appeal of “big money.” One or two others joined us. Maybe M or cousin Jim, that part is not clear in my memory.

If anyone symbolized the exuberant unbridled spirit of adventure Twain gave to us in his depiction of Huckleberry Finn, it was Larry. Not only did he start a fire in the house with his chemistry set and become an amateur Hamm radio operator, long before the internet, he proudly displayed a decal of bullet holes in the lower corner of the windshield on the driver’s side of his late model Impala. By eighteen he would join the Navy and have a career as a sailor traveling around the world.

When we arrived at the construction site that Sunday there were heaps of scrap lumber and piles of broken drywall scattered everywhere among the circle of four family units, which had only been partially erected. We filled wheelbarrows full of wood and hauled it to the dump truck at the side of the road. Taking turns with the sledgehammer we busted up large pieces of drywall, coughing as the dust filled our lungs. Larry made a game of knocking a leg at a time off a daddy longlegs using the sledgehammer.

The best part of the day came when we drove the truck to the dump. Larry claimed to know how to drive it, and except for stripping a couple gears he managed to get it there the first time. It had two sets of gears with a lever to change from one set to the second. I managed to make it through all of them without so much as a single grind on the second trip. We all went home tired, filthy and extremely proud.

Did you have a great teenage adventure? Tell us about it in the comment section.



Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Setting for Our Romance: Step 142

As summer drew to a close Marcy and I spent more and more days together. Looking back it is amazing how quickly the pain of rejection subsided. As swiftly as the name Donna faded from my memory my ego became willing to endure a repeat performance given the possibility what now lay ahead was the real thing. Of course that meant it was fueled with the hope Marcy’s memory of her romance with Hector was similarly transfigured by her feelings for me. Amazing is the resilience of the young.

Even though I had little experience getting familiar with the households of the girls I had dated up until that time, since most of them were of the singular variety, I still recognized the setting for our romance involved unusual circumstances. First, as noted before, the adults in the home were a series of rotating social workers. Second, besides her actual biological sister, Sandy, there were six to eight other unrelated kids from ages nine to sixteen living in the house with her. Finally, some of the kids in the house had parents living in the community, which was a constant cause of confusion for me.

One of these kids was a thin black haired girl about the same age as Sandy whose parents attended our synagogue. Nothing in her appearance or demeanor seemed out of the ordinary, and her parents looked physically and socially capable of providing a nurturing environment. Yet, there she was.

Turned out the boy Marcy considered a social deviant, Terry, was actually related to me. He had the same surname as my maternal great-grandparents and a number of great uncles and aunts. Although he had a constant scowl and rarely socialized with the other kids, as far as I could tell there was nothing menacing or deviant about him.

Some of the younger kids shared bedrooms upstairs, but Marcy had her own bedroom on the main floor. Whether the door was open or closed the rules forbid any male from entering. The living room, dining room and kitchen were a jumble of continuous traffic with little opportunity for anyone to enjoy a moment of privacy. There was a back hallway where boots and coats went during winter months, but it had peeling paint and a bad smell that made it less than ideal despite the privacy it provided.

While there was little if any backyard there was a wonderful side yard with a large oak tree sprawling over the lawn near the rear. From the street the ladder leading up to the tree house was barely visible. Like everything else at the home it had rules, too.

During the school year completion of homework was required before entrance. No fighting, profanity or indecent behavior was permitted. No one was allowed in it after dark. Finally, any non-resident friends had to be pre-approved by one of the staff before climbing up into it. Otherwise, it was the perfect place to go to neck.

More often than not there was no one in there and Mrs. Earl or Horny gave us a quick nod and we were on our way. Marge was stern, but usually just warned us not to put on a show for the younger kids. Occasionally Sandy and one or two of her friends were up there, but often when we showed up they would leave and go to Sandy’s bedroom giggling and laughing like someone had just let them in on a big secret.

We had some wonderful times in that tree house, and it wasn’t always just kissing or exchanging gum. Sometimes we came up for air. Many dreams and aspirations were shared up there, and I have to wonder if any of them came true.

Did you have a special place to get away to with your high school sweetheart? Tell us about it in the comment section.



Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Useless Mythological Stereotypes: Step 141

Growing up in a Jewish household I knew expectations ran high. Without any real discussion in our home my sister, my brother and I knew we were college bound. In an even more stereotypical sense we knew our parents wanted us to become doctors, lawyers, or at least scholars. Oy vay!

So, what were the expectations in the non-Jewish homes in our neighborhood? For the most part people in the area around Lancaster Avenue were church going Christians. Actually, from what I could tell most of them attended church every Sunday, and a few on other days of the week. Whereas the Jews who made it a point to show up for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which come in the fall but are better equated to Christmas and Easter in the Christian world, rarely made it to the synagogue on Friday night or Saturday morning.

Unlike the Jewish homes, however, it appeared the other kids in the neighborhood had choices. Some definitely planned to attend college, but others even talked about “dropping out” before graduating high school. What amazed me even more was a few thought they would drop out so they could make some “good money.” Maybe my parents had done too good a job of brainwashing me or some of those dropout minded kids knew something I didn’t. After all, Bill Gates dropped out of college and look what happened to him.

As Marcy and I started dating our worlds began to expand, hers into mine and mine into hers. My parents and siblings always seemed supportive of our developing relationship, but I will delve into that in due course. Her sister, Sandy, who was a couple years younger quickly became my friend.

Since Marcy was growing up in a world without parents it was only natural for me to treat the social workers in the home as surrogates. On the other hand there were the adult role models in her life before her mother died whom I would come to know.

Her mother had a boyfriend for seven years who picked the girls up every other Sunday, but who I did not meet until several months into our relationship. So, I will add him into the mix later, too.

When Marcy first took me back to her former neighborhood I have to admit I was shocked. Her home was part of a row of houses in a housing development known as Parklawn (see photo). Each little square house opened up into a small living room with a kitchen off to one side and two small bedrooms in the back.

Marcy introduced me to Doe, her best friend, who happened not to be Jewish, sometime before we went to visit her in the old neighbor. Her siblings, I don’t remember how many or what gender but all a lot younger, were playing on the floor. Her mom was doing something in the kitchen while her dad got up off the couch to shake my hand.

Then, he went over and turned off the television. It had been playing a western starring John Wayne, his favorite actor. We sat down in chairs across from him and Mrs. C brought over a bowl of popcorn to pass around and joined him on the couch. They talked about Marcy as if she were their own daughter. Laughing and sharing stories of how Doe and Marcy would get into trouble when they played together their warmth was contagious, and I quickly grew to like Doe and her parents.

After we left Marcy explained how Mr. C had traveled to Madison for medical school and was now finishing his residency at a local hospital. She helped enlighten me and allowed me to shed some useless mythological stereotypes.

Do you recall enlightening moments? Share them in the comment section.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Movie We Saw on Our First Date: Step 140

One of the most popular ways to get to know a girl when I was a teenager, which if I am not too far off base remains popular today, was to take her on a date to a movie. So, I asked Marcy to go with me to a movie.

How we selected the movie we saw on our first date escapes my memory, but here again the protagonist in the story remains a popular character in motion pictures being produced today. His name is James Bond, and the motion picture released that summer was titled, You Only Live Twice. In the years since several actors have assumed the role of Bond, but in my opinion none of them have captured the essence of the character created by Ian Fleming in the novels I had read in junior high as well as the one on the screen that night. Sean Connery knew how to ask for his martini stirred, never shaken, so as not to bruise the ice when he portrayed secret agent 007.

Having spoken to Marcy on the phone several times prior to that first date I was aware I was going to have to answer a number of questions before we would be able to leave for the movie, so I arrived early. Hector had shared with me the story of her mother dying shortly after they started dating. Although neither the details of her poor health that led to her death, nor anything about what happened to her father were revealed to me at that time I knew she lived with her sister at the Jewish Children’s Home.

Since I had taken her home that night we met in the Pizza Wagon parking lot, I knew it was an older two story house in a neighborhood not too far from where Aunt Jane lived, and not some official looking building like the YMCA or JCC. From our phone conversations I learned she and her sister lived with about eight other kids. She said she got along with everyone except a creepy boy named Terry, who she said was always trying to sneak peaks at her while she was dressing in her bedroom.

The home was supervised by several social workers that worked rotating shifts and brought varying skills and personalities to the tremendously difficult task of raising teenagers. To their credit while each of them had their own unique method of enforcing the established rules of the home from what I could tell all of them performed their duties in a loving and nurturing manner.

That night Marcy’s two favorites, Mrs. Earl and Horny, a nickname related to his last name Horness and nothing else, were on duty. As I recall they mainly wanted to know about how I got along with my parents and siblings, a little bit about my interests, and most importantly if I planned to bring Marcy back on time to avoid their wrath. Other than Mrs. Earl being maybe ten years older than my parents and Horny being maybe ten years younger, they acted just like real parents did when I had picked up other dates at their homes.

When the movie was over I remember Marcy saying she could never be a “Bond girl” because she wasn’t petite and her boobs were too big. I don’t remember my response, but I know I thought she had a wonderful body, but then I was thinking with the mind of a hormonally charged sixteen year old. I also figured she was just fourteen and would change her mind as she grew older and wiser.

We had pizza at the Wagon before heading to Menomonee River Parkway where our lips became locked together for the better part of an hour. She had me wait on the screened in porch while she ran in to let Mrs. Earl know she was back before her curfew. Then, she came out to the porch where we kissed for another twenty minutes.

Do you remember your first date with your high school sweetheart? Where did you go and what did you do? Share in the comment section.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

From Where I Stand: Step 139

All right, so where is this new blog that is going to take the place of Time to Reflect and From Where I Stand. Announcing the new blog written by yours truly is called Hi Oh Silver. If you click on the link it will take you to

Of course that is the big story of the day. While my life story will continue to appear here at Every Step of the Way, the blog for people interested in an exchange of ideas from politics and business to entertainment and the economy with a bit of humor thrown in as a bonus will be found at Hi Oh Silver.

Have a Fantastic Fourth of July!