Saturday, October 01, 2005


Years of working on a newspaper has brought me many memories. It was an education in the ways of the world, especially the ridiculous and the bizarre. I'd like to recount a few of those memories here.

It was pouring down rain, the kind a rain that comes down in sheets, drenches you within minutes and continues to pour without letting up. Ron, the Youth Officer for a local police department, had come to the office to ask me to come with him, to write a story and take pictures of his exciting discovery, a huge marijuana patch in a woods.

"I staked it out all night," he explained. "I'll be there tonight, too! It will be a great picture for you!"

Reluctantly, I climbed into the police car and we traveled on graveled country roads to where the Patch was located. Before we had walked into the bushes and brambles for a few feet, both of us were soaked, Ron in his uniform with his gun lashed to his belt, me in heels and hose, not exactly the best attire for hiking through woods.

We sloshed along, dodging branches and climbing over fallen trees. The rain finally began to ease and I thought perhaps a picture would be possible after all. But when we stepped into the clearing where the Patch was located, it became clear that someone had been there before us. In between the time that Ron had discovered the Patch, left the area and came to pick me up, the farmers had stripped the earth of its bounty!The entire crop had been harvested and only the stems and stubble remained on the ground of the clearing. I took a picture, but it was of a nonexistent marijuana patch and the best pose was of a disappointed and sodden Ron viewing the remains of the find that he had nursed through a sleepless night.

Another story I like to remember is the time I got lost in the Governor's mansion. I had traveled to Lansing, Michigan, with other members of the Press and we dutifully shook hands with the new Boy Governor, Jim Blanchard, a boring process where everyone wishes they were somewhere else and wants to get the handshaking and congratulatory comments over with as soon as possible.

I was fine until I decided to go out to the car. I have very little sense of direction and can get lost in a K-Mart, so it is little wonder that I ended up wandering the rooms of the Governor's residence in confusion. Finally, I found myself in the laundry room. There was a lady there, stuffing clothes into a washer. I chatted with her for a while, found out that she had worked for several Governors, but hadn't voted for any of them. She offered me coffee and a slice of cake and the two of us munched and lunched in the gubernatorial laundry room, enjoying our respite., Finally, following her directions, I made it out the door and into my car. The moral of this story, I guess, is that people should never put politicians on a pedestal..their sheets and shirts get as dingy as everyone else's.

Then, there was the story I never printed...the multiple grave story. It seems that in a certain township in Michigan, there is a cemetery owned by this township. One day, they started to bury a gentleman, but in digging the grave, ran into the coffin of another gentleman. This caused an alarming situation. They found that many of the graves thought to be empty were actually occupied...and vice versa! The problem was, they did not know who was who, since the coffins had no identification.

The puzzle was solved by sorting out old records and calling upon area funeral directors, until the tangle of corpses and coffins were sorted out. It was a chilling few days, but finally, the dead were laid to rest, hopefully where they were supposed to be. No one really knew for sure that all was as it should be, but it beat digging up coffins and finding relatives to identify skeletal remains.

In today's world, DNA tests could sort out this kind of confusion.

I decided not to print this story, because it would have caused heartbreak among those who had lost their loved ones and undoubtedly huge lawsuits for the township. Also, the then township manager begged on bended knee for my silence. I have never known whether this was the right decision.

But one of the most ridiculous events I have ever attended was the trial of the man who invented the Chicken Cure. It's hard to believe, but an undercover policeman spent months gathering evidence that this gentleman, an aging black man with wildly flying hair and a kindly, wrinkled face, was practicing medicine without a license.

It seems that ill and ailing people were visiting this old man's house, where he would chant a few words over a customer, kill a chicken, then hold the chicken over the customer's head, chanting a few more magical words as the chicken blood dripped downward. Then he would charge a fee. The news of his cures traveled the area and a flood of ailing people beat a path to his door. Among them was this undercover cop.

Eventually, the arrest was made and the trial began. The old man's lawyer used as a defense his theory that the whole process was religious. The old man, the lawyer said, was just practicing his religion.

A local judge sat stone-faced throughout this bizarre situation, occasionally rolling his eyes as the policeman described the squawking death of the chicken, the corpse of the fowl held over his head, and its warm blood trickling down his face. It was, he said, supposed to cure the imaginary ailments he had complained about. Then, he said, he had to pay for the services.

The Old Man took the stand and mumbled almost incoherently as he was asked questions. Yes, he could cure people with his faith. He could summon the spirits of Wellness and bathe the Ill and Injured with the nectar of Good Health and Happiness, with chicken blood serving as the medium.

Finally, the judge had had enough. He shook his head, pounded his gavel and said, "I don't know if this is practicing medicine, but it sure isn't religion!" With another pound of the gavel, he dismissed the case. The poor, confused Chicken Blood Sprinkler was free. His toothless smile was joyfully bestowed upon all of us covering the case as he invited us all to come down for the Cure.

I have enjoyed many a smile of amusement over some of these events. Even now, I cannot help but laugh at the memory of that undercover officer, or the scrambling township officials trying to sort out corpses. Actually, if you want to practice medicine without a license, just enjoy a laugh now and then. It's better than aspirin....and cheaper!