Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cookie Jar Full Of Memories

The older I get the more I treasure memorabilia and memories from my childhood. Occasionally you can relive those memories or recover a piece of that childhood.

This was the first Christmas without my Mom and it did create a hole in our lives. I knew how much work she put in it, but didn't realize how much until I tried to help my sister Diana recreate that through the cookies, pork pies and pasties we made together. Although she did the lion's share of the work.

But it also gave us a chance to reminisce about Christmas's past. For instance for awhile  when we were kids we had a separate Christmas tree decorated with sugar cookies that were wrapped in Saran wrap with ribbons on top and hung from the tree. If we were good that day we got one before we went to bed.

Hanging Christmas ornaments on the family tree also brought back memories. I remember a lot of the ornaments that went up on the tree and how far back the ones that survived the occasional holiday disaster went.

The last gift we opened all five of us received cookie jars, each similar in appearance to the one in the photograph. This represented about 8 to 9 years of internet searching by my sister Diana who managed to find the jars, not of course in mint condition but the flaws are negligible. All were made by a company out of Cleveland. It was a great surprise!

The jars are fragile, but then again the best memories from childhood are.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


During a vacation in Michigan's U.P. in early August I attended a church potluck dinner. The food was great with a side order of good conversation.

I was talking with a guy who is semi-retired and drives one of those public transit mini-buses. He was talking about a woman he works with who he says could ruin the start of anybody's day. He said someone like that is in the wrong job. They deal with people who don't drive or have handicaps that limit their mobility.

That got me thinking about a woman I met in Fond du Lac. I had gone into one of our local convenience stores to gas up and get some coffee. When I went up to the counter to check out I looked up at the woman waiting on me and couldn't help but notice she had a blooming shiner under one of her eyes. I did not stare or say anything to bring attention to it. She was very pleasant to me despite whatever circumstances had brought it about. I mentioned this incident to the mini-bus driver saying she had every reason to be unpleasant, but wasn't. I said in my line of work a shiner like that is usually associated with domestic abuse.

He said it could have been due to a fall and I agreed, but I also know the ugly truth of it having been in the news writing and reporting business for nearly 40 years. The number of domestic abuse cases actually reported to authorities is just the tip of the iceberg. Should I have said something to the woman? Perhaps. I guess I'm saying something now in case you know someone who is in that type of situation.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Mom's Final Gift

It's no secret my Mom loved Christmas. She was like a little kid every Christmas morning. We thought it was because she liked getting gifts, but I suspect it was also because she wanted to see my brothers and sisters, and nephews' reaction to the gifts she gave out. Last December was her last Christmas with us.

We were waiting for a diagnosis that eventually revealed she had lung cancer. She got radiation treatment, but when I went to Manistique for Easter she was in constant pain and I ended up doing some cooking and cleaning for her.The least I could do after all these years of her taking care of us.

When I went up Memorial Day weekend she was in great pain and we set up a hospital bed in the living room so she could watch TV and see the birds she fed through the windows on the back deck. She ate baked beans and hot dogs with us (although a small portion for her) and even had a little glass of beer. Of course she added a little salt to it, that was the way she enjoyed it. The following day we took her to the hospital and she had a port put in so she could have her pain managed with morphine. In so doing we realized she was now considered a hospice patient with a DNR order.

The following morning I had to leave to go back to Fond du Lac. She was laughing and smiling and tried to fix me up with a hospital cook. It would be the last time I would be able to hold a conversation with her face-to-face . She was taken home later that day. She wanted to die at home and not in a hospital or up at Medicare where she played the organ for masses for the residents.

Two days later my brother John texted me that Mom had been given last rites. She was no longer conscious and was having difficulty breathing. I was able to make the four hour trip back to Manistique and be with my brothers and sisters before Mom passed away. She was no longer conscious or able to talk to us, but we held her hands and talked to her. Her dog Chewie curled up under the sheets next to her providing the body heat she was having a hard time generating. She died with as much grace and dignity as cancer would allow.

The day after the funeral  we were going through cards and I read a letter from an envelope Mom had marked with the message "kids stick together." The letter contained her wishes as she wrote them in April of 1995 about which possessions she wanted to go to us. Some of them like the car and home had changed over 22 years, but  many times over those years she had expressed a wish that we stick together after her death.

In fact the weekend of her funeral the five us were constantly together. That afternoon after the funeral it rained. All five us were gathered at the door of the back deck when this rainbow appeared. If we hadn't stuck together we might not have enjoyed it. It might not be easy as we get older, but if we can give Mom one final gift it will be an effort to stick together.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

One of the things I've regretted over the years is not taking time to do more reading and writing. My Dad ordered a series of Hardy Boy books for me and my brother John and Nancy Drew books for my sister Diana when we were little. Diana and I read them as fast as they came in. The next logical step was a series of classic books from Airmont Books. While we hungered for mystery, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Jack London, etc didn't get our same attention. 

Sometime last year I decided to start reading all the books I had in my own library beginning with a biography of former New York Jets Quarterback Joe Namath that Diana had given to me. It was warts and all and I lost a lot of respect for Namath as I read how he took for granted his talents and what others had to offer him. 

I went through every book I had including several on writing and style. Best advice "Keep it simple stupid!" Finally on a visit to my Mom's I grabbed a fist full of the Airmont Books and to my surprise began enjoying the classics. So now you have the reading and writing in the title. Further evidence of the writing being this blog and how I used what I learned in the books on writing for my every day job as a news director for KFIZ radio station. 

As for the arithmetic that comes in several ways. I found that in addition to personal libraries and public ones, used books can be quite cheap. You can find them at used book stores, online, garage sales, even at St. Vinnie's. One other thing about arithmetic. My Dad was an accountant. He died in 1980 and I often think of him. Imagine my surprise when several of the Airmont Books I read I found a subtle, but loving reminder of my father. He used adding machine paper as bookmarks and I found it in two or three of the books. My Mom has more at her home. I wonder what other books may have those reminders in them.

Although I have a renewed appreciation for books I have to says that my favorites have always been biographies. Some recent books I've read have included a biography about Lombardi and autobiographies from Frank Deford and Charles Kuralt. All led fantastic lives, part success, part regret, but as human as you or I.

I've included a photo from the Kuralt book I recently finished now on to a Stephen King short story collection. But a few words about the Kuralt book first. His best stories about "A Life on the Road" were about the extraordinary people he met. So it was only fitting that when I opened up the book I found a dedication, not from Kuralt but from the person who had bought the book and given it to a favorite aunt for Christmas one year. From the few words I gathered there was a special connection between them. How appropriate given the book and author. I'm going to pay if forward and share it with someone I love.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Reasonable Doubt

"I don't know!" A Fond du Lac County jury must have heard that uttered by Dennis Brantner dozens and dozens of times during his murder trial.

Brantner recently stood trial for the murder of 18-year-old Berit Beck in the summer of 1990 in Fond du Lac. After 2 1/2 weeks the jury couldn't decide if he was guilty or innocent.

Some jurors had tears in their eyes as they were dismissed. They clearly took their duty as jurors to heart. But fingerprint evidence, testimony from witnesses Brantner worked with and for establishing his knowledge of the area where Beck's body was dumped was not enough.

In an audio interview taped in Brantner's kitchen in Kenosha and a video interview later that same day in March of 2014 at the Kenosha Police Department, police and Fond du Lac County Sheriff's detectives pressed him about Beck's murder.  Did you kill her? "I don't know." How did your fingerprints end up in her van? "I don't know." You must have been in her van. "I don't know." He repeatedly used the phrase, "I don't know" to answer their questions.

The jury heard the audio three or four times and watched the video at least as many times. "I don't know," became a mantra. I'm not sure if that influenced the jury, but they had their doubts about his guilt or innocence. They weren't the only ones.

After the jury was dismissed the press waited in the jury assembly room for a press conference with District Attorney Eric Toney and Dan Miller a pastor at the church the Beck family attends. While we were waiting there was a lively discussion about whether Brantner was guilty or innocent of Bert Beck's nmurder. Even the professional skeptics couldn't agree and we can sometimes be the most unreasonable of doubters. Should there be another trial. "I don't know."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunities are important during your career, but don't sneer at those fresh to your field when they are presented with what may seems to be an overwhelming opportunity. 
Recently I had a chance to do a one-on-one interview with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He was in Fond du Lac and had a couple interviews lined up with local media, five minutes each. While waiting I saw someone who had worked for one of our stations as an intern. He is now working for another station.
He was filling in for someone who was on vacation and was nervous. He commented that this was probably old hat for me. In fact I've interviewed at least five or six governors in my time and Governor Walker on multiple occasions. But I offered what words of encouragement I could. 
A day or so later I told a few people about seeing our former intern. A couple of them said what does he know about talking to the governor. I didn't say anything in his defense, but it reminded me of something that happened to me soon after I started at KFIZ. 
I was invited to moderate a candidates forum for the Dodge County Sheriff's race. It got back to me that some people at my previous station had laughed when they heard about it and said what does he know about moderating a debate. In fact nothing, but for more than eight years I covered the Sheriff's Department for that station and knew most of the seven candidates. I was told I did a good job moderating the debate.
Getting back to our former intern. I wish I had stuck up for him, I guess I am here. The important thing is he got a chance to do a one-on-one interview with the governor. Maybe that's not something you list on your resume, but it's experience and it counts.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

R U Connected?

Back in the late 1990's I started working with a computer at work. I'd worked with a word processor before that and some more ancient forerunners before for programming, but this was the first PC I used to type and file stories.

About that same time I got a PC for home. I had an old Apple in the 1980's, but never got it up and running. It was given to me second hand and even dial-up was a new concept and spotty at the time.

Recently I took stock of just how connected I've become and to say the least it surprised me. I have two computers in my news studio. One to type and file stories and edit sound. Everything we do now is digital. Another computer is used to record and send newscasts and interviews to our AM studio. On the infrequent days I do my own engineering for our AM talk show I work with three computers in that studio. At home I have a laptop.

Then there is email. I have my personal account at home and 5 at work. I'm also responsible for news on our website and a newsletter. At work I have two phones and a smart phone to take to meetings and news events. At home I have two phones and a cell phone.

Then there is social networking, it's just crazy. I have two Twitter accounts and four Facebook accounts. And somewhere along the way put together a LinkenIn account. With the smart phone I am now posting on Facebook and Twitter during meetings and news events. This gives the news more immediacy. My work smart phone is on 24/7.

It strikes me as funny that when I worked in Minocqua, Wisconsin our AM station programming was actually run off a Commodore 64 keyboard and the system was hooked up to a marine battery so if we lost power the memory wouldn't also be lost. That was the late 1980's.

In 1981 I was in my senior year at Northern Michigan University. Taking stock of what I might need for my professional career I asked my advisor if I should take any computer courses. That sage professor said I wouldn't need them! And while I'm taking stock I also write a blog.