Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Police blotter.

Sunday, 9:09 A.M.: Caller reports someone is driving under the influence in his mother's mail car.

Monday, 5:46 P.M.:
Complaint about neighbor that keeps knocking on her door at early hours asking to buy cigarettes.

Thursday, 12:34 A.M.: Caller reports her husband no longer lets her "love him up" and also shoves her away.

Saturday, 12:24 P.M.: 911 caller reports a car parked at the high school wedged between two other cars, "it's not a real parking spot."

Saturday, 1:35 P.M.: 911 hang-up call. Update: upon callback, dispatch spoke to a male who stated his kid was playing with the phone. He handed off the phone to an adult female who stated that her 11 year-old daughter tried dialing 911 because she was going to hit her with a wooden spoon. (Sidenote: man, if only me & my brothers had known we could call 911 when we were kids and drove our mother to chasing us with the wooden spoon!)

Remembering J.C. Penneys.

In light of the store closing this past weekend, my mom wrote up some of her recollections from working at the J.C. Penneys store in Ashland in the 1960s-70s and submitted it to the Daily Press, thinking they might excerpt part of it and run it on the Letters to the Editor page...instead, she wound up on the front page. It's available on their website for the next week or two, but I thought I'd post it here for posterity...


End of an era.

This January, our J.C. Penneys store will become just a memory. I’d like to share some stories from the early years at this location, when the store had recently relocated to their brand-new building on 4th Avenue West.

Yes, these were the Sixties – a time of hot rod cars and young people making “runs” on Second Street, as we called Main Street in those days. Folks still shopped locally, both in small surrounding towns and in Ashland. A trip to Duluth was a rare event…there was no Miller Hill Mall. We had the Marathon Paper Mill, the LSDP Power Company, and DuPont was busy making dynamite over in Barksdale – both for the ongoing war and the mining in Minnesota. These were our major employers, and our town was full of small businesses from East End to West End. Hundreds of small family-owned dairy farms still operated, and many of our immigrant grandparents were still with us. Iron ore and coal boats came in to our docks, and trains ran in all directions. Ashland had a whole different look and feel.

I had been working in Milwaukee after graduating from Ondossagon High School, running a drill press in a factory. I wanted to live back “up North” so in 1965 I found a clerking job at Mary Povaser’s The Vogue. This wasn’t my kind of store, so when a friend named Kaye Krietzman told me she was leaving her window trimmer job across the street at the Penneys store, we decided I should apply for it. I wandered over there one day, and honestly don’t even remember having a real interview. The store manager Mr. Weix was leaving in a week and a new manager was coming. Tom Jenkins was the assistant manager, and he said “start anytime.”

The same week I started, the new manager came to town. Mr. Anderson stayed for decades, raising a daughter and many sons in Ashland. He and his wife Lois were very involved in the community and their church, and he always really cared about the store. Everyone knew “Andy.”

I soon discovered my new job involved a few other tasks, such as all company signing, in-store displays, making handmade rack signs on a 1930s-style typesetter in the basement, newspaper and radio ads, and even helping Georgie Deeth in the stock room. With a special platform ladder to haul all over the store, we were well-decorated with lots of banners and decorations for every season – all hung off the ceiling light fixtures. It helped to be young! And what a great new store it was, with full windows across the front and around the corner.

Having grown up on a farm, Penneys merchandise was more what I was used to. In those days they sold work boots, barn boots, house dresses, aprons, men’s work sets, bib overalls, coveralls, overshoes, grandma dresses, work gloves, long underwear, girdles and nylons. Fabrics and yarn were available, and trendy things like bell-bottom pants, miniskirts and even wigs all came in, then went away as they went out of fashion again. Ladies dressed up a lot more then – gloves, handbags and matching pumps were the style.

Mr. Anderson was never shy about promoting his store. One autumn he convinced Glendenning Truck Lines to park one of their semis by the store, and got the paper mill to donate rolls of paper. I painted “Here Comes Penneys’ Coat Caravan” on the paper and hung the banners on the truck.

We had fashion shows in the front windows from time to time. Gary LaPean, our radio personality, would emcee, and the models would parade in the windows while folks watched from out on the sidewalk. Maxwell Street Days were huge events with street dancing and entertainment. Moonlight Madness in the fall meant all the clerks downtown came to work in their fanciest (or funniest) sleepwear. Good times.

Ashland had an Irish following, many of whom met at Woolworths’ lunch counter for coffee each morning. Mr. Boyle from Woolworths, Mr. Flynn from Wards, and Tom Tibbitts got some St. Patrick’s Day parades going – snow or no snow, down our Second Street.

There was no Thursday night shopping then – it was on Friday nights. On Friday evenings, our town was full of people, and the police directed cars turning at Vaughn Avenue – this was a major social evening in Ashland with people visiting on the streets and enjoying ice cream at the Pic.

There were no credit cards at first. A few years later, Penneys decided to start their own J.C. Penney card. A contest was held to see which stores in the district could sign up the most applications. I took my share and more to my favorite hangouts, Andy’s Tap and Sketch Korner, and signed up many friends that way. Needless to say, I wonder how many were ever approved! The catalog department also came in after a few years. Suddenly you could order just about anything – even riding lawn mowers and appliances. I often think about that loading dock behind our Penneys store…what a million dollar view! While most other stores seem to have delivery areas in alleyways facing brick walls, here we had an amazing view of Chequamegon Bay and beyond. We left that big door open all the time – there was no air conditioning early on, and this was our fresh air source. People didn’t steal so much back then, and we never worried about it being open. I remember watching weather come over the islands, boats going back and forth, fishermen out on the ice in winter, trains running along the shoreline, and especially the pulp rafts coming in to the pulp hoist, where our marina is now. Amazing sights.

We could still smoke pretty much everywhere. Most stores provided ashtrays. Ours were mainly in the shoe department and the front lobby – folks could sit, chat and smoke. Times have changed! But, then, we smoked in hospitals back then, too. Morgan Meyers at the Walgreens store was the first merchant to quit selling cigarettes downtown, I remember. We were shocked – but he was wise.

Mike Boehm was our janitor. Mike took his job very seriously and was happy to work there. He kept his daily routine with the front awnings, the sidewalks and all his cleaning chores.

Mr. Anderson knew, as we all do, that life is different up around here. Our seasons last longer – especially winter. So when he’d get wind of a district manager coming to Ashland and we had merchandise out that he thought needed to sell longer, we would scurry about packing it in boxes and hiding it in the basement. After the district manager left, out it could come again. And there we’d have it – our long underwear still out for sale in May… there were no barcodes or computers to track every item back then!

When Mr. Penney died in 1971, we decided to drape black fabrics over his wall portraits, and we had an afternoon off. Mr. Penney believed in the Golden Rule, even calling one of his first stores by that name. We had real friends with our coworkers, getting to know each others’ families over the years. We had wonderful picnics at the park, wedding and baby showers, and bake sales in the lobby. The windows were often decorated to display 4-H, Scouting and charity themes. Mr. Anderson let me bring all the ABC Raceway trophies and pictures every summer to display when the racing season ended. The Vietnam War was going on through most of these years, and I made large collages for the windows with newspaper clippings glued on to show the political unrest of the times and used them as backdrops. This would never fly in today’s corporate America! The windows were allowed to have hometown personality, color and be well-lit, not like the somber black walls in recent years.

In all, I worked in that store for over twenty years, coming back two more times while raising my family. The changes, while mostly good, have also made it a much different place. But it’s the people who worked there and shopped there who made it such a fun place to be. You can’t beat a small town for getting to know folks. But what really made working in those windows, on that busy downtown corner all those years was being able to watch the people and events of our town. Everyone remembers someone who worked at Penneys. So many long-term folks, and countless short-term, part-time and student helpers. I try to remember some, knowing I’ve forgotten many:

Esther Swanson, Leona Greene, Esther Magnuson, Hildur Thibeault, Jerry LaGuire, Lil Beauto, Kay Gurske, Anita Lindberg, Vera Forsberg, Gen Petrik, Madge Houle, Mary Ann Hedlof, Dee Fresacher, Adeline Arnold, Lois Kirklewski, Mary Lou Huber, Lorraine Kemppainen, Mary Stelmach, Dorothy Stemm, Lily Hegg, Betty Martino, Lil Tolonen, Rosie Oschner, Nina Fox, Elsie Mannisto, Joan Samuelson, Penny Beloat, Barb Ottman, Jerry Sukula, Gloria Suminski, Sue Wolniakowski, Sue Jenicek, Carol Samuelson, Fran Benson, Dori Grage, Louise Manydeeds, Rae DeMars, Linda Stone.

And, loyal to the end, Toni Callies and Joni Bratley, who I’m sure will be there to lock those lobby doors one last time. Thanks for the memories…

Practice makes perfect (or perfect-adjacent).

After sort of half-succeeding when I tried a new scarf pattern last month, I decided to give it another go-'round. The first time, I'd misread the pattern and used the wrong stitch, and didn't realize it until after the fact when it was too late/I was too lazy to pull it all apart.

Scarf for Sarah.

I mean, to anybody else, it looks perfectly fine -- it only looks "wrong" to me because I know I screwed up.

Anyway -- I gave it another try:


This looks "better" -- it's curlier and fluffier and it has a little more length to it. But still, when I finished it, it seemed sort of tight and I wondered if I tried again with a larger crochet hook and with a little looser tension in the yarn...

Spread out.

Now we're cooking with gas!

I had two more skeins of the same brand of yarn in my stash, so I gave it one more try:


There we go -- fluffy and ruffle-y. It's not exactly like the pattern intended, but using a little thicker yarn like I did gave it some bounce.


A Bessy update.

Bessy's still here.

Waiting between the garage & the garden.

She's been parked between the garage and the garden since the new-to-me car went into circulation in the middle of January. It's kind of bittersweet -- I like having her around, but on the other hand, it's also a constant reminder that she'll be going soon.

We didn't really get to take that final joyride I'd talked about -- apparently, the State of Wisconsin might frown on me taking the license plates off the new-to-me car and sticking them back on Bessy once the registration's been switched -- but a few weekends ago, we did throw caution to the wind and make a couple of laps around the yard and up & down our side road. She ran like a dream.

I found some funny stuff when I cleaned her out. Parking lot stubs from downtown Helena (and a few from my last year at UMD -- though to be fair, I'd found those on many previous cleaning binges but just hadn't had the heart to toss them), trinkets from vending machines in restaurant and grocery store lobbies that my friends had left in there over the years, a swimsuit in the trunk, Virgin Mary-themed air fresheners and a bumper sticker I hadn't gotten around to affixing to the back bumper yet: "This is not an abandoned vehicle."

(In all seriousness, I kept Bessy pretty clean over the years, but I could always find a little room in the glove compartment or the pockets behind the seats for a few "treasures.")

Meanwhile, Bessy and the new-to-me car appear to be getting along nicely.

Bessy & the new-to-me  car.

(The new-to-me car doesn't have a name yet. One mustn't rush these things.)

There are many things I find tiring about this time of year...

...but one thing I don't get tired of are the awesome sunsets.

Sunset, 1/6/2012.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


The troubles really started about two months ago, on the way home from a weekend in Wausau. That "low coolant" light led to a leaky gasket that the mechanic estimated would cost about $700 to fix.

"Your car is getting awfully old..." my parents cautioned.

"I know, but I want at least one more winter with her -- once this is fixed, it'll be fine. And if another big problem comes up, I'll know it's time."

Two weeks later, when I was leaving work on a Friday afternoon, I put her in reverse, tapped the gas...and nothing really happened. The engine revved when I hit the pedal, but Bessy just slowly rolled backward a few feet before running out of steam. All the way home, every time we came to a stop, the same thing happened -- when I'd take my foot off the brake, we'd just slowly roll forward, no matter how much I tapped the gas, until finally some mysterious, arcane gizmo inside the engine would catch and off we'd go (until the next stop sign, anyway).

I knew it was bad, but I kept trying to convince myself it wasn't anything major. "The mechanic said something about the accelerator cable, maybe it's frayed? That's probably what's doing this."

On Monday, she went back to the mechanic. I went to work and waited for the call.

"Yeah, it's the transmission. I can't quite figure out what's going on, but I think it's failing."

I held it together while I walked back to the repair shop to pick her up; I held it together while I talked to the mechanic (who looked almost as sad about it as I felt). But as soon as I plunked my butt in the driver's seat, I cried like a baby.

Brand-new (to me) Bessy.
(Brand new [to me] Bessy, September 2000.)

I got Bessy in August of 2000, a week or two before I moved back to Duluth for my last year of college. Up until then, I'd been carless in Duluth -- on weekends when I came home to Ashland to work at the motel, I drove the 1978 garden-hose green Oldsmobile I'd been driving since my last year of high school (deemed "too old" to go beyond a 50-mile radius of home)...so having the freedom to go to Target without taking a two-hour bus ride on the DTA was pretty exciting. Plus, a car with a tape player? Four doors? Power locks?
Cruise control? It was like I'd died and gone to heaven. Compared to a '78 Oldsmobile, a 1996 Chevy Lumina was pretty damn luxurious.

The next summer, Bessy moved me and some of my stuff (the rest rode in my parents' pick-up truck) to Montana. From our home base in Helena, we visited almost every corner of the 4th largest state in the union (and pretty solid chunks of Idaho, Washington and Wyoming, too) -- east, west, north, south. We went on interstates where 75 mph speed limits were more of a suggestion than an iron-clad rule; we wound our way at a snail's pace on one-lane back country roads with boulders on one side of us and sheer drop-offs on the other. We got stuck in the middle of cattle drives, snapped pictures of bison in Yellowstone, danced along the edge of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, twisted around mountains and through blankets of drifting snow, and spent countless hours behind the wheel taking in the alien (well, alien to someone from the close, thick, wet woods of northern Wisconsin) landscape around me.

In Ewan, Washington.

Four years later, Bessy (and the truck, and my parents) moved me back to Wisconsin. There weren't any mountains to drive over anymore, but we made do with stuff like trips to the world's largest badger and the world's largest twine ball, long drives around the south shore of Lake Superior, and drives that went, well, right over Lake Superior.

Driving the ice road from Bayfield to Madeline Island.

Bessy hit 100,000 miles. Then 112,000 miles. Then some more. She got dented and pooped on and made she funny noises when we went over big bumps. (And sometimes when we went over little bumps, too.) The tape player quit in 2003, the cruise control in 2008. (The power locks are still going strong!) There were stains on the floorboards, a tear or two on the seats, the occasional mouse turd in the trunk. None of that stuff bothered me. I was just glad she kept running.

I've driven Bessy since I was twenty-one years old. Eleven years. That's nearly one-third of my life.

Bessy had 65,000ish miles on her when I got her; I didn't get to put another 100,000 on her like I'd always hoped, but hot damn, we got close.

(January 5, 2012)

After the news about the transmission had sunk in, I realized it was time. I started looking at the used car ads. My dad started highlighting things in the paper. Trips were made to used car lots...lists and phone calls were made. Meanwhile, Bessy kept running -- more sluggish than usual, but she's never done the no-get-up-and-go gas pedal thing again since that fateful Friday a few weeks ago. No one's really been able to explain why.

If anything, that made the whole process harder. As silly as it is to anthropomorphize a car, over the years, that's what's happened. Bessy's not just a car, she's another character in the story of my life -- call it stupid, but to me, she's a personality, a spirit. I knew if I traded her in somewhere, they weren't going to re-sell her...she'd be going to the junk yard. The thought of her getting smashed in a big ol' car crusher literally makes me sick to my stomach. So does the thought of her parked out in a field full of junkers...I mean, she's not dead. She feels fine.

"I just hate to see her get junked out. If someone who likes to monkey around with cars could get their hands on her, I'll bet they could get her to 200,000."

The long goodbye.

The wheelings & dealings went on hold at the end of the year -- Christmas kept us busy, and my brother's wedding kept us even busier. At the reception, I noticed my dad spent a lot of time shooting the breeze with my cousin-in-law, Matt. The next morning, I found out what they'd been talking about.

"Matt'll take it -- he's got a buddy that works on cars in his garage and he's not convinced the transmission's shot since it hasn't done it again. He'll give you whatever the dealership offers for it."

I felt like a 3,600 pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Two weeks later, on a Friday afternoon after work, Bessy went into retirement. And the new new-to-me car came home.

(It doesn't have a name yet. We're still in the getting-to-know you phase.)

There's a few loose ends to tie up -- we're not sure when Matt's coming to retrieve Bessy, and I need to clean her out before he does. But before I do that, we need to take one final joyride -- maybe I'll treat her to a trip to the car wash, or give her a shot of that premium gas at the pumps. Whatever we do, I want her to go out in style.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Police blotter.

Saturday, 12:57 P.M.:
Caller reports someone came into her residence and stole all of her meat out of the freezer.

Sunday, 9:39 P.M.:
Called to report someone rang their doorbell and ran away.

Wednesday, 4:00 P.M.:
Caller reports seeing "the black kind of cows" on the edge of the highway.

Friday, 7:57 A.M.:
Caller in Barksdale reports a Christmas tree in the middle of Highway 13.

Friday, 12:22 P.M.:
Caller on 14th Street West reports that his delivery vehicle dropped a pool table and it's in the middle of the road.

Friday, 5:28 P.M.:
Caller quite upset about snowmobiler smashing the door off their mailbox. States this must be a federal offense and she wants something done about it.

Friday, 8:27 P.M.:
Caller reports large chunks of ice or something in the roadway on 8th Street West between Chapple Ave. and 6th Street. Update: officer advised it is a snowman in the road.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Hey, look who finally decided to show up!

January 6, 2012.

Oh, winter. You playful scamp.

January 6, 2012.

Unrelated: enjoy this picture of Flannery looking extremely relieved to have been sprung from cat jail (aka the boarding place) after we got home from the wedding.

Home sweet home.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Finally, someone to share my My Little Ponies with.

Dewey got married!

Just hitched.

Finally, another girl in the family. I'll have to show Sarah where all the Cabbage Patch Kids & My Little Ponies are out in the garage in case she wants to borrow them sometime.

In the meantime, Nick's extensive collection of mustaches and lucha libre masks came in handy.

Nick's extensive collection of mustaches and lucha libre masks comes in handy.

The bridesmaids, however, needed no props when it came time for the traditional heaving of the groom.

The customary heaving of the groom.

It was an awesome way to spend New Year's Eve, and a pretty fabulous way to start 2012. Welcome to the family, Sarah!

Dewey & Sarah with Grandma Rosie. Uncle Tom.

Monday, January 02, 2012

If Great Aunt Ruth were around to see this...

Great Aunt Ruth's old house.

...I think she'd dig it.

(Great Aunt Ruth's old house, 12/29/2011)