Wednesday, November 07, 2007


When I was growing up, I figured I had two career paths I could follow. I could become Mrs. Clark Gable and bask in the lights of Hollywood, or I could become a writer. Previously, I wanted to become a poet until Helma vetoed that idea by saying, "Poets live in attics and starve to death!"

I decided that I might make it in an attic, but starving to death was beyond my capabilities. Occasionally, I tried to diet, but those biscuits and gravy were just too tempting. I didn't think I could write poems if my mind was on food.

When I went to Milwaukee to live with Helen and Shippy after I graduated from high school, I thought I knew everything. I might have learned something in college if I hadn't been so crammed with ego that I felt able to run the world without advice from anyone. Mostly, I haunted the Milwaukee Library and left the overdue books for Shippy to worry about. I worked for a while at Shlitz Brewery, but I wasn't old enough to claim the case of beer they gave away every month to every employee, so they allowed Shippy to take that. I think it paid for the overdue books.

I was so homesick for the Farm that I would have walked barefoot back to Michigan. I missed Mom and Pop, my brothers and sisters, and my dogs. I moped around, cried into my pillow, and felt a huge vacant place inside me. But there were places in Milwaukee that I learned to love, the lakeshore, with its beautiful, open vistas, the water reaching as far as the eyes can see, the downtown area, where I would walk in the early mornings, smelling the city air with those odors that one can find in all cities everywhere, sensing the excitement in the air, the hustle and bustle of traffic and of people walking on the sidewalks.

But it wasn't that little patch of ground in Michigan, with the gnarled old apple trees that dropped their wormy windfall on the ground in the fall, and bloomed like blushing brides in the Spring. There was no smell of alfalfa, of wild roses, of coffee bubbling on the old woodstove.

So I came home, and it was years later when I really began to write in earnest, working at various newspapers in the area, until I met a man named Don Davidson, who believed so firmly in my abilities that I wrote for him for l7 years and never thought of leaving.

He was a big man, had graduated from architectural school, designed the Pontiac Silverdome, as well as a monolith in the center of Pontiac called the Phoenix Center. The Silverdome was booming back then, with stars like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones giving concerts. Today, it has been driven out of business by the more compact Palace and I don't know what its fate will be. It may be torn down to make room for more development.

Don was a man prone to great, overwhelming anger from time to time. He would insult any Corporate executive, because they were on his list of mortal enemies. He hated t-shirts printed with dirty words and usually took people wearing them out of any restaurant or store and deposited them on the street outside. An ex-basketball star and an ex-Marine, he was strong and well-muscled but his habit of sitting in local restaurants shooting the breeze with anyone who happened along, stuffing his face with food, led to the heart attack that eventually killed him.

He died in Florida, alone. His health and his escapades had caused him to leave Pontiac and close the newspaper. When a young policeman had been charged with rape, Don decided...and rightly so, I believe...that it was not fair that the policeman's name was released in the newspapers and his reputation maligned, while the woman's name was not allowed to be published. So, he learned the woman's name from some elusive source and published it. This brought the police after him, of course, and with his fading health, he left town to die, alone, in a Florida hospital. The policeman was found not guilty in the rape case, but Don would never know that. I spent the next few months warding off calls from the police department asking if I knew what person had been Don's source for the woman's name.

If I had to name those people who influenced my life the most, I would put Don Davidson at the top of my list. Arrogant, confused, brilliant, emotional....he steadfastly stood behind me in everything I did, gave me free rein to write anything I wanted, and taught me the meaning of loyalty. Don, along with my brothers and a few others, would certainly lead that list.

Now that I am old and retired, I think back on all of those years and realize what newspaper work gave this girl from the farm. I have met movie stars, governors, tycoons and officials. I have sat in kitchens with people so poor that rats gnawed through the woodwork and roaches traveled the counters as we talked. I have met beauty queens and prostitutes. I have met people from all races, and learned that...give or take a skin color or a sexual preference...a majority of us are all alike. We want the same things, people to love, a little security, a feeling of usefulness.

I am still homesick. I still miss the Farm. It is a part of me, a slice of my life that takes up a good share of the person. Running in that orchard, sitting in the twisted branches of the old trees, I became the person I am today, part dreamer, part realist. You can think a view is gorgeous, but if the mosquitoes are plaguing you, the realist takes over. If you pluck a rose, you will probably bleed from the bite of the thorns. That was the farm, old, ramshackle, off kilter, graying in the wind and rain, but with a rare, unforgettable those old apple trees, incapable of giving edible fruit, but clinging to life with desperation and blooming a lush pink every Spring.