Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ernie Harwell

A bit of my childhood is gone. Longtime Detroit Tigers personality Ernie Harwell passed away yesterday. My dad and I would spend hours in our garage tucked away in the woods outside Ypsilanti, listening to Harwell call Tiger games with sidekick Paul Carey. Those times with my dad are some of my fondest memories of being a boy. Ernie, you will be missed. Thanks for so many great games.

 Hear the Detroit Tigers WJR theme music here:

Detroit Tigers march - Instrumental Version

Detroit Tigers march - featuring Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey

Note: More memories of Tiger baseball and Harwell are posted earlier in this blog.

Friday, May 9, 2008


I attended a very small elementary school in Milan, Michigan in the 1970s. George Allan Elementary was grades 1-5 with only one class of each. Our class composition changed very little during those years, so we all grew to be quite close.

As the weather would grow warmer during the late winter/early spring months, our entire school (fewer than 100 students) would spend a morning watching a classic short filmstrip — Paddle-to-the-Sea, which was based on the Caldecott-award story by Holling C. Holling. We did this every year, from first grade through fifth. Watching Paddle-to-the-Sea was sort of a Michigan tradition that I'm sure a lot of you who spent their young years in the Great Lake State in the 1970s will remember.

And, yes, it was a filmstrip. Garbled audio. Big projector screen. That's dating myself.

I can still remember the little Indian boy painting the canoe he had carved by firelight, and setting it on top of a cliff, ready to travel the journey through the Great Lakes on the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Or the murky shots of the canoe traveling the waterway between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

I hadn't seen Paddle-to-the-Sea in at least 25 years until yesterday. The film was just released on DVD a few weeks ago, and when I heard about it, I ordered it immediately. Last night, I watched it with my seven-year-old daughter (she loved it, too). It was just as if it were yesterday that I saw it; not a quarter of a century ago.

It's a nice little film. And you can find it here at Amazon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Exhibit Museum and Drake's

The Exhibit Museum of Natural History in Ann Arbor

Somewhere around 1974 or 1975, I became fascinated with dinosaurs. I couldn't have been more than six or seven, and at that time, dinosaurs weren't marketed to kids like they are now. Most boys wanted to be baseball players or astronauts. I wanted to be a paleontologist.

My mom can recall this much better than I can, but somewhere around that time we took an AMTRAK trip to Chicago to see the city. I couldn't wait to see the Field Museum and the wondrous dinosaurs skeletons that I could see. Apparently, on the train trip a paleontologist was on the trip, and, as it's been related to me, I kept him entertain with a precocious amount of knowledge on dinosaurs for a lad in first grade. Latin terminology, correct pronounciations, knowing what "saurischia" and "ornithischia" meant, the extinction of the dinosaurs...I was a six-year-old who wanted to learn more and more and more...

Just as a side-note, so much has changed about the study of dinosaurs since the early 1970s. Back then, it was still widely accepted that an ice age was ushered in as a result of fairly natural causes. Today, the theory than a comet impacted the earth, thus leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs is far more widely accepted. Also, it was more widely accepted in the 1970s that dinosaurs were a branch of the lizard family, not birds, which is the general concensus today.

Anyway. the man gave me a book that he had with him, and my fascination only grew more. The Field Museum was wonderful.

Back in Michigan, my own museum w
as the University of Michigan's Exhibit Museum of Natural History. It's probably my favorite destination in all of my boyhood. Located on the campus, the museum is a testament to all that is great about the town of Ann Arbor.

The museum was old and austere, even when I was young. You knew you were stepping into a very special, revered building. Its rotunda with bronze busts of directors of the museum dated back more than a hundred years. Marble and granite everywhere. You would travel up two flights of stairs, step out and the majesty of skeletons, fossils and displays would greet you.

One of the first things to be discovered was the complete skeleton of a mastadon. Behind it, a sabre-toothed cat. An allosaurus with its blackened jaws gaping over its kill. A tyrannosaurus rex skull was a favorite. Hours and hours were spent here.

On the upper levels, a huge amount of Michigan's native flora and fauna snaked their way through the building. The level above that the crafts of Native Americans, the anatomy of the human body and a small space observatory.

One time, I brought a few bones I had discovered on our property to be identified. My mom and I were taken to the research room of the museum, rarely seen by the public. I remember huge drawers with skulls of giraffes and hippopotomi being opened and shown to me. The research assistant even gave me a complete skeleton of a mouse in a small plastic box stuffed with cotton, it bones long picked clean of the flesh by special beetles that the museum kept to do just that.

After visiting the museum, my mom and I would walk a few blocks to Drake's, an Ann Arbor tradition since the early 20th century. Drake's was a soda fountain/candy store with huge glass jars of jawbreakers, lemon drops and other sweet treats. Our snack was almost always a sliced, toasted bagel with butter and a fresh-squeezed limeade in a big glass soda glass, accompanied by an aluminum milkshake-style tumbler to pour the remainder in your glass. Drake's closed after I moved to El Paso. It's such a shame. The high-backed wooden booths tucked away to the back of Drake's, dated back more than 60 years.

Drake's Sandwich Shop in 1987 (after I had moved to El Paso, but this is the way I remember it). Photo found on the web, but cannot find the photographer's name to give credit to.

My memories of the Exhibit Museum and Drake's are as vivid today was they were for me more than 30 years ago. I've had the good fortune of visiting the museum a few times since then, including a trip with my daughter two years ago. I could see the wonder in her eyes, just as though they were mine. I'm glad to say that not much has changed about the museum, and I hope that it will stay that way.

I know my mom often thought that I would grow up to work at the museum. And in some ways, it's still a dream that lies tucked back in my mind.

The Exhibit Museum's home page

A cool Drake's tribute page

Wiard's Orchards

The world seems so much larger when you're too young to drive. I was 14 when we moved from Michigan to El Paso, Texas, so I had never gotten behind the wheel of a car and truly learned how to navigate myself around the Ypsilanti, Milan and Ann Arbor areas. Visiting friends was a drive away, as our house was beyond a bike ride.

Of course, certain patterns would become more familiar. The way to George Allan Elementary School on the school bus, or the short drive to Meijer's Thrifty Acres or the Exhibit Museum on the University of Michigan campus with my mom.

When you're a kid living in a rural area, the street names become less important than just the route that you take. Familiar trees, houses or dogs at homes become your waypoints.

But one place in my kid-size world that I would journey out to solo was Wiard's Orchards. Wiard's was probably only a mile-and-a-half from our house. A bumpy bike ride up the dirt-and-stone Crane Road, left turn at the open field (Merritt Road), and continue on. Wiard's on the left. No need to lock up my bike.

Wiard's was one of those places that seemd to stand still in time. Of course, I was unaware of that at the time, but looking back, I realize that it could have been 1920 or 1978. Apple cider (sweetened, of course!) was pressed right there and a sugar or cake doughnut (also made right there) would match it perfectly. Small farmer's market with produce inside. Pick-your-own apples in the orchard. Some of my great memories of Wiard's was picking apples in September with my mom and dad.

A few years ago, on a return visit, I drived by Wiard's, but it was closed for the day. Disappointment! I'm traveling back to Michigan in a few months and will try again.

Wiard's Orchards is on the web! I guess time does change some things, but then again, it still looks pretty much the same! Wiard's Orchards

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Detroit Tigers

A huge part of my boyhood in Michigan was the Detroit Tigers. I think it was impossible for them not to be. I don't remember the Tigers ever having spectacular seasons when I was young. In the 1970s, especially the late 70s, they seemed to be in a constant battle for fourth or fifth place with the Cleveland Indians.

But who cared? I lived and breathed the game. The best games to listen to were the night games. I'd hang out with my dad in our garage, the sounds of evening filling the air. WJR 760AM would be on our little portable radio. And then, it would cut through on the speaker: "Detroit Tiger baseball is on the air!" — a mighty roar — and then the familiar march. Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey. Legendary voices calling the plays. Harwell would call the first and last three innings, the baritone of Paul Carey in the middle.

The names of the players are still with me. Guys like Alan Trammell. "Sweet Lou" Whittaker. John Wockenfuss (I'll never forget his crazy batting stance!). Aurelio Rodriguez. Kirk Gibson in the later years. And, of course, Mark "The Bird" Fydrich. His pacing at the mound was the stuff of legend. I think they used to play "Surfin' Bird" or "The Bird is the Word" when he would pitch.

Being a baseball narrator is a true talent. Little did I know how privileged I was to be able to hear such legends as Harwell and Carey.

I did get to some games at Tiger Stadium. The stadium was one of the biggest in Major League Baseball, with a 400+ foot center field. You'd definitely want to sit in the upper deck, as the lower deck was so deep that it was possible to miss the majority of the action. It was quite the big, old stadium of the glory years of baseball.

For years, the familiar Tigers theme music has bounced around in my brain, especially during summer. I've searched for it on the Web, contacted WJR several years ago, and even made posts on Detroit Tiger fan sites. Many were familiar with the theme, but no one knew the name. Last night, the song started playing in my mind again (maybe the haircut from my father was channeling Michigan in my skull). I started looking on Web pages again for a copy of it — the song I haven't heard in more than 24 years. And I found it. On WJR's page under an audio history of the station. I've removed all the extras of the nine-minute feature, down to the core minute. You'll also hear snippets of Harwell and Carey calling a game — most likely from the 1968 World Series, when the Tigers beat St. Louis. You'll hear Al Kaline, long-lover Tiger Hall-of-Famer being name-checked.

Every note, every nuance was exactly as I remembered it.

So, here, I present the Detroit Tigers march from WJR 760AM. One of the most important pieces of music from my boyhood in Michigan.

Detroit Tigers march - Instrumental Version

Detroit Tigers march - featuring Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A summer cut with my dad, 24 years later

The perfect Father's Day in El Paso, Texas and Anthony, New Mexico. A wonderful breakfast from my wife. Presents from my wife and daughter. A movie and bowling with my father and daughter.

After dinner, which my mom made for us all at their house in rural Anthony, New Mexico (only about 10 minutes from our house), my father broke out the old Double Ducks thinning scissors I mentioned in a previous post.

They were still in their little red plastic case. And while my daughter watched, my dad trimmed my hair, 24 years after the last one he gave me before he moved to El Paso.

And for a few minutes, I swear I was right back on the deck at 6508 Crane Road.

Friday, June 1, 2007


Watson and me. My guess is this photo was
taken in
summer, 1975 or 1976. It's probably the first photo
we had together. He's just a puppy here.

Watson was a funny dog. After the death of our family's beloved basset hound, Jenny, who lived to be 14-1/2, and passed away when I was five, I desperately wanted another canine companion. Watson came from the Huron Valley Humane Society on Cherry Hill Road. He was named after his veterinarian, Dr. Watson, and his name fit him perfectly (think the slightly dense Watson to the razor-witted Sherlock), so we decided not to rename him.

Watson was half basset hound, half cocker spaniel. There seems to be something in a mutt that makes them more indestructible. Watson would run away from home, once even prompting us to take out an ad in the local newspaper (yes, he was found). He also outlived two other dogs we adopted. The first, a pointer named Lindy, after Charles "Lucky" Lindbergh, was not as lucky as her namesake, and was killed by a car. She had been lost for a couple of days, and one morning, after being brought home from a sleepover at a friend's house, my mom and dad broke the news.

Shonto, our Irish setter joined the family in about 1979. He and Watson both came with my family to El Paso, and lived to be nine years old, and passed away after a short bout with cancer.

No, Watson was a survivor. I would make up songs about him. He could shed enough hair to clothe a family. And, surprisingly, those short, stumpy legs could carry him quite quickly.

Watson bridged a huge part of my life. From the time I was seven until I moved out from my parents' home at age 20, he was always there. He was there from my boyhood to my adulthood. And still there for a year after I had moved out.

Watson, like Jenny, lived to be 14 years, passing away a good ol' boy in our backyard here in El Paso, Texas.

Queen Anne's Lace

Summer in Michigan was always abloom with Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot). It would literally grow anywhere, and lots of people considered it a weed.

As I would wander our property, I would occasionally try to pull out one of the stems from the rich Michigan soil. It was always difficult, as the root of Queen Anne's Lace is very, very strong. If I could wrangle one out, you could see the white, carrot-shaped root.

While not like a typical blossom, Queen Anne's Lace is more like a hemisphere of small, white, clustered blossoms; their fragrance was one that simply defined the scent of summer. Sweet, but not too sweet. I had actually forgotten that Queen Anne's Lace was this fragrance until five years ago on a trip back to Michigan. My wife, daughter and I went to the Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, and one of the many beautiful walking paths, the scent struck me. I was literally stopped in my tracks. The mixture of the flower and the sweet, dewy grasses sent floods of boyhood memories washing over me.

I don't see too much Queen Anne's Lace these days. It does grow in the mountains of southern New Mexico, a few hours from where I live today. On a trip to Alto, where my parents have a cabin, I sometimes catch a note of it in the air. And I'm right back in Michigan.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Getting a haircut on the deck

I never had a haircut from a barber until I was 14 or 15. I guess I never really thought too much about my appearance. It seems kids didn't think about that stuff as much back then.

My dad was my barber. During the summer, we would sit up on our deck which overlooked our woods. The air would be sticky with humidity, and it was certain that horseflies or mosquitoes would be searching for a scalp or arm to make its victim. We'd coat ourselves with a thorough coating of Off to make sure we were left bug-free.

I'd go shirtless, sit on one of the stumps that had been cut from out woods and my dad would break out his comb and two pair of shears. I'll never forget the name of the thinning ones: Double Ducks. They had a little red plastic carrying case.

I had straight bangs on my forehead. In fact, I think I had the same cut from the time I was five until I reached about 14, when my dad moved before us to El Paso. Again, no worries. I was a kid. A cool haircut didn't matter. And my dad always did a great job.

If we were lucky, we'd catch a Detroit Tigers baseball game while the cut was being done. WJR 760 AM with Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey. But more on the Tiges later.

In the background, off in the woods, locusts would buzz their song of summer. You would get so used to their drone that it would seem positively silent when it was gone. It's a sound I miss.

When we'd get to cutting my bangs, my dad would always tell me to sit very still. I'm sure there was a time when I'd flinch; perhaps a mosquito decided to ignore the Off. If I did, the bangs would get a little bit shorter.

At the end of the cut, I could be sure that I'd be itchy until I'd get a shower. The humidity would make certain that the small locks of my auburn hair would stick to my neck.

Getting a haircut in summer always felt good. The air would feel cooler, and Tigers baseball cap would definitely fit better.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Drive-in movies at the Ypsi-Ann

Me, attempting my best Rocky Balboa pose, Summer 1977

The first movie I can remember going to the drive-in was Woody Allen's 1969 classic Take the Money and Run, although it must have been at least three or four years after it was made in order for me to remember it (I seriously doubt that I remembered it as a 10-month-old!).

But it was the summers of 1976, 1977 and 1978 that give me really fond drive-in memories. My dad had purchased a Ford Econoline van — silver blue with a silver top. It had a ladder on the back and you could climb to the top of the it. It was the perfect movie-going experience.

Where we lived in Michigan, it sat far west on the Eastern Time Zone, which meant that it would stay light until 9:30-10 at night. I'd wear my pajamas, since it was so late. Mom would pack cans of orange pop from the Meijer's Thrifty Acres. Dad would buy a bag of popcorn at the concession stand. We'd wheel the van in for a prime spot, and as it got dark, I'd climb up on top, and gaze at the giant screen.

Star Wars. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Rocky. Jaws. Grease. The Revenge of the Pink Panther. Huge movies that weren't on TV, video tape or DVD.

It could be past midnight when my dad would wake me, woozy with sleep and the balmy early morning air. Down from the van I'd come and fall asleep on the bed in the back for the short drive home. I don't think I ever saw a movie at the drive-in to completion.

I was the prime age for Star Wars. Yet, I never got into it like many of my friends did. I didn't have — nor did I ask for — action figures, or the desire to dress up like Darth Vader or a Storm Trooper like many kids would do. Still, the film, and the way I saw it, was a definite part of my summer.

1976, 1977 and 1978. They truly were blockbuster drive-in years.

As I remember, the Ypsi-Ann Drive-In closed by about 1980.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When I was a boy, in Michigan

This blog will probably mean nothing to anyone but myself. As I get older, I've felt I needed to put some of my memories to print, in some form or another. I would hate for them to be lost. I dedicate everything here to my daughter, Anneliese, as well as to my mother and father, who may not know it, but gave me a childhood I could only dream of.

The memories I'll share will probably match the season I'm writing in. It's now summer 2007.

Today, I live in El Paso, Texas. And, despite my love of the city and people of El Paso, there's a part of my soul that's still in the Great Lake State. My home. My Michigan. It will always be there. And when I've departed this earth, I hope that someone will return my ashes to the woods that I spent my boyhood.

I was born on October 19, 1968 at Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit. Nine days before, the Detroit Tigers had come from behind to win the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Tigers would have a big impact on me during my boyhood.

Until I was three, I lived at 29799 Linden Avenue in Farmington, Michigan. Our home was a log house, way out of place in a growing town like Farmington. I was an only child, so my days were spent with my mom and dad. Upon my birth, my mother stopped working as an elementary school teacher to be with me. My father worked as a professor of art at Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti.

In early 1972, my father decided it would be a good idea for our family to move closer to his job. He met a designer who built modular homes, and bought a plot of land deep in the woods between the communities of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and the small towns of Milan and Saline. In November, 1972, we moved into the house; still not completed, but definitely well underway. These are some of my most vivid early memories. I remember our house in Farmington, but our new home, was a study in contrast to the single-level log home. This house had five levels. It was extremely contemporary; cubes and juts mounted on top of more cubes and juts; all tucked deep into a forest of oak and maple.

The three of us lived at 6508 Crane Road until January, 1983, when we moved to El Paso. But 1977 through 1982 are the years that are truly burned into my boyhood memory. In those scant five years, when I think back, I feel I lived a lifetime.

My home. My Michigan.