I am ashamed to admit it, but I have yet to fully read one of Anne-Marie Oomen’s memoirs or books of poetry, even though I own two of her books (signed) and have attended a couple of her writing sessions (one for teachers and other, this past spring, open to the general public), as well as a reading from her latest book, As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’ve only read and heard snippets of her work … so far.
What I’ve read and heard thus far is wonderful, and knowing the topics/subjects/genre included in many of her books, I know that I will love them. How could I not purchase a book titled Love, Sex, and 4-H? Then there is As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I can’t wait to read it. The passages that she read during her author event, along with the anecdotes she shared about herself, her mom, and writing the book, definitely left me hooked.
What I really want to discuss today is her capacity as a teacher. Just over a month prior to the shutdown orders signaling the official start of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to attend a day-long writing program aimed at teachers. Titled “Homecoming: Coming Home,” it was sponsored by the Saginaw Bay Writing Project. Anne-Marie Oomen happened to be one of the presenters that morning.
During her allotted time, she taught us the term ekphrasis – a method of using different works of art to create various forms of writing, whether poetry, personal essay, or short story. Imagine studying a painting and then creating a poem from your experience. That is ekphrasis.
After explaining the process and providing us with examples of her own work, Anne-Marie Oomen had us create our own art inspired piece. She brought with her a large collection of postcards. I chose one with a portrait of Annie Oakley on the front, “little sure-shot.” I enjoyed the experience and still have a digital copy of her presentation from that day. I left realizing that I could easily create vision boards on Pinterest to gather my thoughts and ideas for various writing projects.
As wonderful as that experience was, a few months ago I learned that Anne-Marie Oomen was to be a guest scholar at Saginaw Valley State University. During that time, she conducted a similar writing session open to the general public at the Marshall Fredericks Museum on SVSU’s campus. I am so glad that I attended. It made me look at one of my favorite museums in an entirely different light. I left with a notebook full of ideas and even a rough draft. The following evening, Anne-Marie Oomen held a reading at the Wirt Public Library in Bay City, sharing snippets from As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’m so glad that I attended as I brought back so many memories of the short few months I had living with Grandma Reid before she needed more care than I could provide. It is never easy watching someone you love age and decline.
I took something away from each of Anne-Marie Oomen’s events. On top of sharing her love and knowledge of writing, she is a wonderful teacher. Better yet … she is a Michigan author willing to help aspiring writers and teachers.
“All Things Must Pass” is a documentary that covers the rise and fall of Tower Records during the second half of the 20th century and the first few years of the 21st. What I love about the documentary is the fact that I experienced a lot of changes that took place in the record industry, particularly in the record stores, during those years. As a businesswoman, I loved the discussion surrounding the birth and death of Tower Records’ business model. At the end of the documentary, I left thinking what a great case study it would make.
I can just imagine the beginnings. Supposedly Tower Records started as Tower Drugs. After World War II, leading into the 1950s, Tower Drugs began carrying 45s in an effort to tempt their teenage customers hanging out at the soda fountain. As the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of entrepreneurs who owned a pharmacy in Marshall, Michigan during this same time period, I can picture it.
In fact, my maternal grandparents met at Peck’s Drugstore in Marshall. My grandfather’s parents were partners in the business, and at the time, before graduating from high school and enlisting in the US Navy during World War II, Grandpa worked there as a soda jerk. Grandma, who attended then nearby Marshall High School, loved their lemon Cokes. I’ve visited Marshall and located the corner where Peck Drugs once stood. Marshall Junior High School, once Marshall High School, is located right across the street. Even though my grandparents were gone by that time, I could easily envision the circumstances under which they met.
This burgeoning teenage culture in the 40s and 50s led to rock and roll and the astronomical growth of the record industry from the 40s through the end of the century. I happen to be just old enough to have witnessed the heights of the 1980s, the changes experienced all throughout the 1990s, and the chaos that followed in the first decade of the 21st century.
I lived it. Madonna and Michael Jackson’s reign as Queen and King of pop were a huge part of my childhood, as were Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Wilson Phillips, Paula Abdoul, and so many others. As grunge exploded in the 1990s, the music industry fractured in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death and the advent of the internet. The music industry wasn’t nearly as tightly controlled as it once was and formats were changing yet again.
As a teenager, I understood the frustration. During the early part of my childhood, vinyl and cassette tapes dominated. Before long, CDs took over. WIth each new format, some felt the need to repurchase their music collection yet again. However, by the late 90s, people had had enough. During that time, I remember the anger that the equivalent of the 45 didn’t really exist in the CD format. You might be able to purchase singles, but they were never the hit songs. In essence, the record industry reached a point where they were pricing teenagers out of the market. Full CD albums during that time period usually ranged from $15-$20, depending on the artist and popularity. Today, I spend $8.99 a month for Amazon Music, which includes electronic access to whatever is available via Amazon Music – i.e. pretty much anything and everything.
The sad thing is that rural teenagers in the 90s, like me, mostly had access to the big box music retailers of the time, such as the behemoth Tower Records – or the CD clubs of the era, Columbia House and BMG Music. Oh, how I wished there were used record stores near me! When I arrived on campus at Michigan State in 1999, my friends and I made regular visits to The Wazoo, a mom and pop used record/CD store run by an old hippie who truly loved music, or WhereHouse Records, another great used music store. We could get an entire pile of albums for the price of one new release.
This atmosphere and the business model became a recipe for disaster. Enter the file sharing frenzy that took place in the early aughts. Napster and Limewire were king at this time. Why purchase music at all when you could download your favorite songs for free from a friend of a friend of a friend? While it wasn’t that simple – mislabeling ran rampant and download times could be excessive – it worked well enough. If anyone had actually been prosecuted for downloading music illegally, our judicial justice system would have quickly collapsed. Colleges, universities, and even many high schools would have been empty with students rotting in jail instead of receiving an education. That may be hyperbole, but not by much.
In the end, it could not last. Businesses such as Tower Records, so heavily dependent upon real estate and inventory, could not survive once people refused to repurchase their music collection yet again, pay full price for CD albums with only a handful of well-known songs (if lucky), downloaded whatever pirated music they wished via Napster and LimeWire. The electronic music market, now dominated by Amazon and Spotify, had not yet come into its own. Today, Tower Records lives on in Japan, a testament to its homegrown slogan – “No Music. No Life.”
“All Things Must Pass” is entertaining if you are interested in music and the history of the music business at all. It brought back a lot of memories for me, and frankly, I feel for teens today who do not have the experience of spending time in stores dedicated solely to music. Creating a Spotify or Amazon Music playlist just isn’t the same. The title “All Things Must Pass” comes from the sign a former Tower Records employee put on their sign as their original store was closing. “All Things Must Pass … Thanks Sacramento.” It is, of course, also the name of George Harrison’s triple solo album and hit, “All Things Must Pass.”
WordPress, which I love, has a new feature that provides a writing prompt each day. One that caught my attention was “what makes someone unique?” The idea of individuality – ie uniqueness – gets right at the heart of what it means to be human. Sadly, there are times when our individuality sets us apart from the rest of society due to no fault of our own.
When do we learn in elementary school that the “other” is not OK? I’d love to think that things have changed since I was bullied in early elementary school due to my appearance, mostly height and weight, but I’m not that naive. I’ve watched in recent years as various school districts have tried to address the root of bullying with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, it all starts at home. Children need to learn from a young age that we are all different. We all have different talents and ambitions, as well as strengths and weaknesses. All of us – all eight billion people on Earth – face challenges at different stages in life.
There are certain things that a person may experience in life that no one will fully understand unless they have been through it – or something similar. For example, unless you have lost a parent or a child, it is impossible to truly understand that level of grief. It is similar when dealing with infertility. Unless you are affected, it is impossible to imagine the depth to which it alters one’s life.
Aside from all that sets us apart from one another, including our challenges, there are interests. My interests are vastly different from that of my siblings or parents. I’m used to it, and over the years, I’ve developed those interests through various opportunities and friendships, both in real life and online.
If I had one wish for students today, it would be for them to have all the resources necessary to first find their interests and then have the ability and support to pursue them further. How many people have stopped doing something they enjoy simply because someone discouraged them, saying they had no talent? I see and hear about it all of the time. It saddens and sickens me. We should be encouraging healthy interests, as well as providing students outlets to develop them. For example, a student who enjoys art should be encouraged to pursue that interest as much as possible, even if there is no interest in making art a career.It comes down to expectations. At times, we focus so much on making ends meet that we need to make a life. We need to teach students that there is so much more to life than material things. It is more than OK to be yourself. You need to be your authentic self.
Below are my thoughts after one year teaching through the pandemic. As a writing exercise, we were asked as teachers what we had learned through the experience. In my opinion, two years later, it sill holds up and summarizes nicely how I felt and continue to feel. Originally published on the Saginaw Bay Writing Project (SBWP) website, you can find a link to the original piece below. I’ve only corrected minor errors here.
What did I learn about myself as a teacher over the past year? First, I clearly understood just how fragile our everyday lives are – students, teachers, and administrators alike. Most people seem to have underestimated the power of their daily routine, their “normal.” I certainly did. Second, I learned just how much I continue to not know. I am still learning how to teach effectively online. Finally, I learned how to focus on what truly matters.
As 2019-2020 was my first full-year teaching, I continue to feel robbed. Plans for March is Reading Month, field trips, and so much more – all gone. Memories with my first 6th grade class never made. The little things still haunt me. I am a big believer in class read-alouds, and when we shut down for the school year in March 2020, I was in the middle of the first Percy Jackson book: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My 6th graders adored the book, and I still regret the fact that I was unable to finish the book with them in-person – or continue the series.
If I still feel this way a year later, I can only imagine how my middle school students felt and continue to feel. There appears to be little to no concern regarding the impact prolonged shutdowns can have on emotional, social, and academic well-being. It just doesn’t seem to matter to anyone. Somewhere along the way, we lost our humanity. We, educators and students alike, are not alright.
As we entered the Lenten season this year, memories of last year came flooding back. On Friday, March 13th, 2020, as I participated in the Stations of the Cross with my students, we learned that we would not be coming back to school. Little did we know that we would not finish the year. The uncertainty, the miscommunication, and the worry will always stay with me. At the time, no one had any answers, only an endless list of questions.
During the lockdown, I worried about every single one of my students. Would they fall behind? How would they survive without seeing friends on a daily basis – or ever? I also learned what I didn’t know. No one taught me how to teach online. Yet, that is exactly what I did. I was not prepared last spring. When my class was quarantined this fall, I was still not fully prepared. Only now, in a virtual week built in after spring break, am I now beginning to feel as though I can somehow teach online. It took over a year.
I can’t imagine trying to navigate it all without faith. When I talk about faith, yes, I am referencing a higher power, but I am also referring to a general faith that everything will work out in the end. No matter where we are today as educators and students, there is hope for tomorrow. All hope is not lost. We can and should do better. We will. If given the choice between faith and fear, I choose faith.
On Friday evening March 31st, 2023, I joined scores of others to attend “Madonna 40” at the Delta College Planetarium. A sold out show, it was incredible – and a lot of fun! Designed to honor Madonna’s 40th anniversary of her first hit single “Holiday” and her always controversial place in Bay City history, it did not disappoint. My only wish: I would have thoroughly enjoyed another hour of her classic music videos and would have gladly paid accordingly. There is nothing quite like watching the music videos that made Madonna a superstar and an inspiration to a generation of girls and women, for better or worse, on the big screen. It is an experience I will never forget. Her early music will always be a part of the soundtrack to my early childhood memories. In designing the program, the following original, unedited music videos were shown in all of their ‘80s and early ‘90s glory:
Frankly, the music video portion of the program outshone everything else. The videos have held up over nearly four decades. What struck me most in the vintage videos was Madonna herself. Definitely not model thin or “fat,” she exuded old-school glamor in “Material Girl,” “Vogue,” and “Like A Prayer” with the dance moves that made her famous. As for “Papa Don’t Preach,” she looks like any fresh-faced midwestern high school or college girl.
Personally, I felt that the organizers/designers missed a huge opportunity by not including at least the videos for both “Promise to Try” (1989), which was largely filmed at her mother’s gravesite in Kawkawlin, Michigan (just north of Bay City), and “This Used to Be My Playground” (1992), which was included on the A League of Their Own soundtrack and supposedly written about Bay City becoming her refuge after her mother’s untimely death. The only actual footage of Madonna in or near Bay City was not included in the program. How?
The next segment of the program, “Smelly Little Town,” is originally why I wanted to attend the event and even moved around my schedule to do so. Debuting as part of the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival in Bay City in 2021, I doubted I would ever have another opportunity to see it. Growing up with the controversy, knowing Bay City a little too well, and having been born in Bay City myself, I had to check it out.
First and foremost, it is quite possibly the most Bay City thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Let me just say this: It began and ended with scenes of people polka dancing at the St. Stan’s Polish festival to the Steve Drzewicki Band, both Bay City institutions. I half expected to see my ex’s parents go dancing on by. In general, the film did a decent job describing Bay City, covering all aspects of the “smelly little town” controversy with Madonna, and explaining how ever-corrupt Bay City small town politics is the answer as to why Bay City has never really been able to capitalize on the fact that it is the birthplace of Madonna.
For those who don’t know, Madonna Louise Ciccone was born at the former Mercy Hospital in Bay City, Michigan on August 16th, 1958. Madonna is her actual given name as she was named after her mother. Upon her mother’s tragic death in 1963, Madonna spent time in Bay City with her grandmother, who lived in the Banks area, then home to a nearby oil refinery (hence the “smelly little town” comment that caused such an uproar). To this day, there is very little commemorating Madonna in Bay City. Then again, this is the same city that passed on becoming home to a casino and a minor league ballpark, both of which went to nearby communities.
If something wonderful is planning on coming to Bay City, one can be sure that public outrage will ensue in some way, shape, or form. I am speaking from experience. When I moved back to Michigan with my ex, a Bay City native, in 2005, the controversy over the then new Wirt Public Library – a gorgeous new anchor for downtown Bay City – had yet to wane. While I agree it doesn’t have the history of the historic Sage Library in Bay City, people were genuinely upset over a beautiful new library downtown. I will never understand the mentality.
Then again, back in 2005, Michigan experienced a one-state recession which was about to turn into the Great Recession. 2008 is covered well in the documentary. It is rightfully called one of the darkest times in Bay City history, and frankly, I consider my life in Bay City (2005-2012) one of the darkest periods in my life as well. Yet, while Bay City is almost unrecognizable from that dark hour, there is still nothing formal honoring Madonna in the city.
As much as I wanted to see “Smelly Little Town,” I doubt it would have been half as entertaining if not for my own experiences with Bay City and my early love of Madonna’s music. In fact, much of it is forgettable. However, it did a good job highlighting the ridiculousness of the entire situation and Bay City politics. I actually understand the controversy now. A little explanation and context behind Madonna’s comments would have changed everything. In the same infamous 1985 interview with Jane Pauly, Madonna goes on to say that she has “great affection” for Bay City.
By the way, Bay City still is a “smelly little town.” In a hilarious coincidence, I happened to drive by the Michigan Sugar plant on Friday on my way to see “Madonna 40.” For those who don’t know, processing sugar beets can smell like hot garbage on a good day. Friday, as I drove by, it never smelled worse.
Clearly, Madonna’s relationship with Bay City remains complicated. I fully understand why. My love/hate relationship with Madonna – I will always love Madonna’s music, but question her methods of self-promotion – mirrors my love/hate relationship with Bay City itself. I do hope that she is commemorated in Bay City at some point. Not every small town can claim to be the birthplace of the best-selling female musical artist of all time.
By the way, if you want a quick, accurate outline of Madonna’s complex history with Bay City, the article below does a wonderful job of doing just that.
Have you ever fallen so in love with a place that you still dream about it years later – and you fall so in love with your memories of that particular time and place that you instinctively know that reality will never come close to what you remember? It can happen. In 2002, I fell in love with Austin, Texas. In reality, I fell in love with a time and place that no longer exists.
It started out innocently enough. When I began planning my year abroad – one semester in Quito, Ecuador and another in Caceres, Spain – I knew that I would also need to make plans for the summer after Spain. I lucked out. The spring of my sophomore year at Michigan State, I landed a position as a paid intern at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota. I must have been on a roll that semester because I also landed a paid co-op opportunity (6 month contract) with Applied Materials (AMAT) in Austin, Texas. Ultimately, I accepted the position with IBM and asked Applied Materials if I could pursue the co-op opportunity the following summer/fall. They said yes, and I left East Lansing for a series of adventures that would take me away from campus for over a year and a half. I was well on my way to pursuing several of my dreams at once, including a career in tech.
My time in Austin did not start off well. When I arrived in June 2002, I didn’t know anyone. I ended up subletting my first apartment from a UT student. It was OK, but my only roommate in our four bedroom apartment spent all of her time with her boyfriend. Often the only trace of Carly was the reeking skunk smell of pot. Soon, things would change.
The first week or two at Applied consisted of orientation classes and touring facilities in what’ve been loving termed bunny suits. What I loved about AMAT was their place in the tech industry. We didn’t make the chips; we made the machines that make the chips. After a long day of orientation, an engineer I’d just met, Melissa, asked if I wanted to go get a drink and have dinner after work. Little did I know just how much she would impact my time in Austin.
Melissa and I became fast friends over dinner. Once I began describing my experiences studying abroad in Ecuador and Spain, she began telling me about her former coworker at Motorola, Andy, a fellow engineer. She thought that we should met, and frankly, I think she was trying to set us up. There was only one catch: Andy was currently exploring Machu Picchu in Peru and wouldn’t be home for some time. It would be worth the wait.
In the meantime, on July 24th, 2002, on my way to work, a huge moving truck made a left-hand turn in front of me when I had the green light. He hadn’t seen me. In the accident, I broke my big toe and the metatarsal. The molding on the driver’s side door of my car also sliced me behind my ear. If I had had a passenger, he or she probably would not have survived. In the aftermath of the accident, things somehow came together. My mom flew out to Austin to help me find a lawyer and a new car. She couldn’t believe how well I knew the city even though I had only been there just over a month. I had to help navigate in the days before Google Maps due to my cast.
By the time I had a walking cast, all bets were off. I quickly found out that the six month sublease I’d been promised was really only for three. Livid, I needed a new place to live within a few weeks. In the end, I found a much better place to live just in time thanks to Applied Material’s internal listings. The months living with Karen and her toddler son were great. It was almost as if I had the good fortune to live with a fun aunt for several months. Things were finally looking up.
In all the chaos of the accident and moving, I finally met Andy. We ended up on a blind date at the type of place that could only exist in Austin – Flipnotics. The first floor was a quirky retail t-shirt shop. The second floor included a restaurant/bar with a small performance space for live music. We were there for the music. I wish I had a video of Andy’s face when I opened my car door. He was horrified to realize that I had a walking cast up to my knee and that he had invited me to a venue requiring climbing a large set of stairs. Fortunately, we hit it off right away.
One of the best things about Austin, then and now, is the live music. It isn’t called the live music capital of the world for nothing. Andy was the perfect companion with whom to check it all out. It turns out that as a hobby Andy had a radio show – ATX Live – on the local co-op radio station KOOP. Soon I would met his friend and manager Cheryl. Andy would later serve as president of KOOP for several years. It isn’t every day that a man you admire and respect introduces you to someone who soon becomes one of your best friends. That is precisely what happened.
Over the next few months, Andy, Cheryl, and I had numerous adventures. I admit, I had a huge crush on Andy by this time. Cheryl did her best to try to get us to end up together, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, the fun I had that late summer and fall are never to be forgotten. The three of us attended the first Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park. Cheryl “conveniently” couldn’t join us the second day. The antics that took place that weekend are stories in themselves that belong with other songs. At the end of the festival, Andy and I ended up at a favorite local restaurant called Shady Grove. As it was within walking distance of the festival, we had to order takeout and eat/drink on the lawn, it was that crowded.
Later, Andy had LASIK surgery, and unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. He ended up blinded for a week. As it was near his birthday, Cheryl and I threw him a party at his house once he regained his sight. I finally got to meet a bunch of his friends, coworkers, etc. It ended with Andy having to smooth things over with local cops late in the evening. Our “dress to be seen”/birthday party was a complete success.
As Halloween approached, Andy asked if I wanted to go to a house party hosted by local musician Chelle Murrey. Once we arrived, I dressed as a gypsy and Andy dressed as Zorro, Andy told me that he had a surprise for me. It turned out that a Beatles’ tribute band were going to play at the party, and knowing that I was a Beatles’ fan, he wanted me to have the opportunity to check them out first. I will never forget it. I bought Chelle’s CD that evening, and even though the music hasn’t quite held up, it will always remind me of Austin.
Shortly after one more party – this time a birthday/going home/Christmas party for me in mid-December at Karen’s house – I had to pack up my new-to-me 2002 silver Grand Prix and make the long journey home – alone. I arrived back in Michigan right before my birthday and Christmas. A year and half and a thousand adventures later, I would be returning to Michigan State in January 2003 to finish my degrees. I would graduate in May 2004. I never wanted to leave Austin behind.
On December 15th, 2002, a cold, foggy day in Austin, I left, listening to Chelle Murrey, trying to keep it all together. Austin represented everything I wanted after graduation – a good job, great friends, beautiful place to live, and for the first time in my life, a social life that actually felt like me.
My senior year at MSU, I did everything in my power to land in Austin. I made it to second round interviews with both Dell and Applied Materials. Unfortunately, my manager at AMAT left a few weeks before I did. He didn’t even get a chance to do my review before he left, that was left to someone I had only known for a week. In essence, I had no one on the inside fighting for me. Only half of the engineers and supply chain grads were hired. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them.
I did put my time back in Austin to good use, however. I met up with Andy and finally told him how I felt. In essence, he told me that he viewed me as a little sister. He explained that he was at a completely different stage in life. At 22, devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. Looking back, I completely understand where he was coming from at that point. At 29 and about to finish his MBA, he already owned his own home and was established in his career. I still needed to finish undergrad.
It is funny how I should have seen it coming. He bought me a cowgirl hat at the Austin City Limits Festival because he was afraid I was going to fry otherwise. As cold weather set in, he warned me about trying to drive on ice in Texas. In essence, I may know how to drive on ice being from Michigan, but others in Texas do not. My dad would have been impressed.
Today, Andy is married and still lives in Austin, now owning his own business. I’d love to track down Cheryl. I have a feeling that if we were able to catch up after all these years, it would be as if no time had passed at all. The only person with whom I am in contact is Karen, who keeps reminding me from time to time that Austin has changed – and not for the better.
In essence, this is a love letter to the Austin I knew in 2002. Some of my favorite landmarks and haunts, namely Flipnotics and Shady Grove, no longer exist. I still follow AMAT and the semiconductor industry. How could I not after 2020? The Austin City Limits Festival has grown beyond all recognition. I can only imagine how the city has changed and evolved. I just hope that it is still as weird as I remember and remains a welcoming place for young undergrads trying to find their place in the adult world. Those memories of Austin will always be a part of me.
It seems so obvious, and frankly, it is a piece of advice that everyone loves to share with writers: “Write what you know.” It just isn’t quite that simple. There are things you know – and then there are things you know – the gut-wrenching realities that no one wants to truly admit. I’m beginning to see the difference. For me, that is passion. There has to be a lot of enthusiasm behind whatever it is that I’m sharing if it is going to be any good. I have to love what I am about to write.
Early last week, I found myself writing an article outlining different tips for writers regarding their reading lives. In short order, I had nearly 2,000 words. It is something I know and perfected over the years. I take reading seriously. It simply amazes me how I tend to have almost too much content when I write about certain subjects. If it involves reading, books, music, or education, I could keep going for hours.
Why, then, haven’t I been focusing on just those topics all these long years? The simple answer is I don’t know. The full answer is a bit more complex. WIth music, copyright laws surrounding song lyrics are tricky. I needed to come up with a unique way of sharing the music I love. I think I may have finally accomplished that. When it comes to books and reading, I spend so much time reading and discussing books in person that it seems silly to write about it much, book reviews aside. In essence, I need to get over myself.
Then there is education. As at least a 5th generation teacher (yes, I’ve traced the teaching tradition in my family back at least that far), I have definite opinions and insight – far more than my actual experience in the classroom would suggest. I have to be extremely careful. Sometimes when a writer is a little too close to the subject, it is easy to get burned. In private conversations, I’m content to know that I am not alone. One day, once I’ve made some definitive decisions regarding my teaching career, it is going to get interesting.
It may have taken me quite some time to find my voice, niche, and style, but I am just getting started. In spite of the fact that I am 42 and a certain TV “personality” – I refuse to use his name here or mention the network – stated that women reach their peak in their 20s-40s, declining once they hit 50, I have so much more to accomplish that it isn’t even funny. It will take me well beyond 50. Stay tuned!
There are one hit wonders, and then there are one hit wonders that reside on Grammy nominated albums. While I’ve never been a fan of award shows, even the Grammys, I did pay some attention to the Grammy albums that came out each February as a teen – just in case there was something I’d missed the year before.
I don’t remember when I first heard One of Us, but I immediately fell in love with the song. It was the perfect song to belt by yourself in your car when you think no one is watching. Half the fun of getting your driver’s license as a teen is the anticipation. I couldn’t wait to be the one behind the wheel, belting whatever I pleased.
Growing up, the only thing better than waiting to get my license was waiting for my older cousin Abby to get hers. We are only ten months apart in age and grew up together. We shared a first Christmas at Grandma Buttrick’s house in 1980 – and every one thereafter until Grandma passed away in 2014. Now, at Christmas, we bring the party to Abby, even in the middle of blizzards. We did elementary school, junior high and high school, and even college together. We, along with her older sister Emily, studied supply chain management at Michigan State. Freshman year, she was my ride home. Safe to say, my childhood would have been much different without Abby J. She was very much the older sister I never had.
In February 1996, the Grammys were over, we were celebrating all of the February birthdays at Aunt Robin’s house, and Abby was just about to turn 16. Her first car was similar to mine. I ended up with my beloved ‘89 red Grand Prix and hers was a white ‘88. Both of those cars ended up saving our lives.
I don’t remember specifically what Abby received for her birthday, aside from the car, but we ended up listening to One of Us on the CD player she had had installed in her car. There is nothing to compare to giggling in the back seat of a car with your older cousin and younger sister singing along to a great song at top volume. This image of the three of us singing One of Us with as much emotion as we could muster continues to haunt me. In a few months, everything would change.
The day started out normal enough. A typical beautiful early June day not long after school ended for the year, it was to be my first day of driver’s ed. I had just enough time to down a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats before Mom was to return from the gym and drop me off at the high school.
I met Mom in the kitchen after I heard the door to the garage open. I knew immediately something awful had happened. Mom couldn’t stop crying, and generally, Mom wasn’t a crier. On the way home from the gym, she had heard that Abby had been involved in a tragic car accident. I don’t know for sure, but I have the idea that she heard it on the radio on her way home. However it was reported on the radio, it made it sound as though Abby was at fault. That certainly wasn’t the case. In reality, Abby was hit head on by a drunk driver. Another car had been immediately in front of Abby and swerved out of the way of the drunk driver, leaving Abby with no time to react. Tragically, the other driver died.
Abby was OK but certainly not unscathed. Once she was home from the hospital, I remember visiting her with my mom, sister, and brother. My younger brother Garrett, 5 at the time, made her laugh so hard that he had to stop. It made her stitches hurt. He still has that effect on people.
My intention here isn’t to tell Abby’s story as I could never do it justice and it isn’t mine to tell. Instead, it is to finally admit just how deeply Abby’s accident affected me. Keep in mind that her accident happened on my first day of driver’s ed. Shortly after learning the true story of the accident and that Abby would be OK, I was sitting in a classroom listening to the driver’s ed instructor talk about her accident. I wouldn’t feel comfortable behind the wheel for years. It would take two road trips well into college – one to Minnesota and one to Texas – to make that happen.
In the end, Abby and I joined SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) the following school year. She went on to suffer braces all over again and became class president her senior year. Eventually, we both ended up at Michigan State. It is thanks to Abby, who still didn’t feel completely comfortable driving the expressway, I learned the back roads home from State.
Everyone always seemed to chalk up my issues behind the wheel – fear, basically – to Turner Syndrome (TS). Most women with TS do not get their license on time due to depth perception/spatial issues. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to deal with those. No, it was my fear and anxiety after Abby’s accident. One of Us will always take me back to a much simpler time.
My grandparents are never far from my mind (or heart), but over the last several days, they’ve been on my mind even more. As my parents were preparing for a trip to Ireland, my dad asked me a little about the Irish ancestry on the Russell side of his family. It is fascinating! I didn’t realize that his grandfather (my great grandfather), Elijah (EC) Russell, was the son of Irish immigrants. As Grandpa Russell passed away long before I was born, I happen to know the history of the Suszko and Buttrick/Hoffman sides of my family better. Realizing that my ancestors on the Russell side made sacrifices for their descendants by leaving their homeland in search of a better life is humbling.
Today also happens to be Grandparents Day. My grandparents may no longer be with us, but I simply would not be the same person without their influence. As a child, I somehow won the grandparent lottery. Both my Buttrick and Reid grandparents lived close by and played a huge role in my life. I spent my summers spending time and working with Grandma and Grandpa Reid. They both taught me so much about life in general. I’ve written extensively about their influence.
Grandma and Grandpa Buttrick’s house was always open to us grand kids and our friends. They lived close to Standish Elementary, and we often visited after school. As an adult, trips to Standish were not complete if I didn’t visit Grandma and Grandpa. Even today, when I am running errands in Standish, I think of how nice it would be to be able to stop in for a quick visit. I still miss the book club for two that I had with Grandma B. I also think of all of those August trips to hunting camp in Kenton, piling in Grandpa’s station wagon or Suburban with our cousins.
There is so much more I could say. I didn’t even discuss our “adopted” grandparents, our neighbors Joyce and Carl. That is all together another subject for another day. By the way, I didn’t post a picture of Grandma Buttrick for a specific reason. She was a private person, and even though she is no longer here, she would hate having her picture here.
Even though I never knew him, Grandpa Russell’s legacy lives on in the canoe livery. Grandma and Dad may have kept the canoe livery running after he passed away, but it was Grandpa Russell who started it all over 60 years ago. In fact, all of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs in their own way – a fact I love.
So, to all of my grandparents, thank you! Thank you for your love, guidance, memories, and so much more.
By mid-June, things were starting to come together at the canoe livery … but would our customers return? Boy, did they! We had a wedding at our main location in Omer towards the end of June. After the wedding, with one more weekend in June left, we became increasingly busy, experiencing volume rivaling what we normally experience mid-to-late July or even early August. True to form, we remained busy right up until the mid-August.
Normally, this would be welcomed and wouldn’t have been an issue. However, this year, thanks to COVID, we didn’t have adequate time to properly prepare. During a “normal” year, we have much of June to prepare for the crowds. Things ramp up during June until it becomes crazy from the 4th of July until mid-August. Well, we lost that time to hire and train. We had a week, maybe two, before we started to become that busy. Add in the pressure of new safety precautions, difficulty in getting merchandise, and rebuilding from the flood, and one gets a sense of why it became so stressful. I feel as though I have been running a marathon since May.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am eternally grateful that our business not only survived but grew during COVID. I refrain from saving thrive because it would not be sustainable long-term. Simply too many hours and too much work in such a short period of time. Still, it haunts me that so many small businesses didn’t survive or are in danger of closing permanently. All I could think of this spring is the decades of work the canoe livery represents – my family history and my personal history. It would not exist if not for the hard work, dedication, foresight, and planning of my parents, my grandparents, and now my brother and I, along with countless others over the years. So much in my life simply would not have been possible without the canoe livery. In it, I see my future. Whether I like it or not, the canoe livery and the Rifle River is a part of me. The very idea of it no longer existing is unimaginable.
If nothing else, I do hope that I have turned the corner and truly have a fresh start this fall. It feels that way. I could use some routine and consistency in my life – along with a healthy dose of “normal” – whatever that is now. It is time to figure out exactly what it is that I want. I know that I have returned to that theme dozens of times here over the years. Yet, I still don’t know.
Who is to say that I will be content to spend the rest of my life alone? If I met the right man – and I repeat here, the right man – I can see myself in a relationship again. Yet, I have a difficult time seeing how I would meet him. Same goes for children. I would love to be a mother. I know I would nail it. Yet just the mere thought of the foster and/or adoption processes is enough to make me want to break out in hives. I know what can go wrong all too well. Maybe it will be time to “jump” sooner rather than later. I do know that I do not want to regret what I didn’t do in my life. Until then …