Saturday Laundry

“What’s in the washing machine, Debbie?”

“Your dirty clothes, Dad.”

“Some I wash in cold water. They shrink.”

I pull all the clothes out and we separate them, leaving the non-shrinkables in the washer.

“Dad, why don’t you just wash them all in cold water?”

“I do.”

“Why did we separate them then?”

“I don’t know.”

I throw them all back in, “Well, that was fun!”

 

(This Facebook post memory from February 28, 2015 popped up on my phone this morning. I didn’t want to lose it. :))

Advertisements

Little Van

A lot of miles were put on Volkswagons in our family—from Bugs to Carmen Ghias to Westfalia Vans—Dad loved them. My parents made many trips to Tucson in their white Westfalila to visit my sister and her family. Dad, the Eagle Scout, liked to camp, Mom liked hotels. Dad liked to sail, Mom preferred B & B’s. He usually won because, well, because he was Bill. Once he had an idea, he was set on it. Mom was a trooper.

Dad loved road trips and could drive straight through from Milwaukee to Tucson with just a few hours’ rest while Mom took the wheel. He had a CB radio and worked his way into the truckers’ VIP circle with a little van as only Dad could. He would talk through the night to the truckers while Mom tried to sleep—like pilot to pilot, or sailor to sailor, only this was trucker to the guy in the VW van. He told me he’d have great conversations and would sometimes get help with directions. Halfway across the country one night, on wide open interstate, Dad heard, “Little Van, Little Van! Your turnoff is just ahead!”

FullSizeRender (87)

After that van was sold, Dad regretted it, and before long was on a search for a new one. When he found a used one in California, he talked Mom into flying out with him to pick it up. With a couple boxes of camping equipment in tow so they could take their time and enjoy the drive home together, they were off to California. They landed in pouring rain, loaded their equipment into a taxi and went in search of the van owner’s address. It was still pouring when the cab driver dropped them off with all their equipment, and it was still pouring when they discovered the van was filled with mildew. Mom said, “You can buy it if you want but I am not riding in that vehicle with you.” She called a Honda dealership and bought a little bronze CRV  which she loved and they had a great trip home staying in B & B’s and hotels.

It’s the same little Honda that arrived to pick me up every Sunday morning for church with Dad these past five years. It’s the same little Honda that would pull up our driveway to pick up Sam and me for trips with Dad to the Island. It’s the same little Honda that Todd and I drove  out to 80th and Capital this afternoon to have shipped to Tucson for my sister’s daughter, Kira.

And now it’s the little Honda named Billie Dee. I know Mom and Dad are smiling.

FullSizeRender (88)

Sunday with Dad

I was following behind Dad as he took charge of the walker that has lived for two years in the basement storeroom. Anytime we made the slightest suggestion to get it out for him, the answer was, “No”.

He’s good at getting around with it now though and with the wheels, I call him Billy Speedster. As he makes his way around the tight corner between the bed and the dresser I hear him muttering, “It says in the Bible, when you get old, you’ll need help.” These days are blending together and like Dad, I lose track which day is which. But there is some freedom in that, even joy.

I want to have the scriptures Dad treasures engraved in my heart and I spent yesterday morning reading through his favorites–the Book of John, Chapters 14-17. It begins with Jesus comforting his disciples and I love how, all these years later, the words sound as though they could be spoken directly to us. The first verse is one of Mom’s favorites, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for them and will come back for them. When Thomas says that he doesn’t know the way, Jesus tells him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

These are the words Dad has lived his life by. Ask a cashier at his grocery store, a neighbor, my son or my husband, or even one of my best friends who might just happen to run into him at CVS, Dad will want to know how your faith is and isn’t afraid to ask if you know Jesus. Dad’s touched hearts and ticked others off.

“Love each other as I have loved you,” Jesus says in Chapter 15:12. I counted seven times that he says, “Remain in Me.” And three more times, “Remain in my love.”

I have the privilege of spending these holy days with Dad and I can’t help but want to share them. Dad is sleeping now so I can’t ask him but I would guess that if he wanted to share anything from his heart to yours today, it would be just that–remain in God’s Love.

“Debbie?” I hear Dad’s voice calling from his bedroom.

“I’m here, Dad,” I yell back as I run down the hall. He’s sitting up and turns his head. Out of the corner of his eye I catch the twinkle.

“I thought this was a Bed and Breakfast ”

“You ready for breakfast, Dad?”

“Yes!”

June 19, 2016image

Little Black Dresses?

Late last fall, Dad and I were in the car on our way to the Sunday service at a church he had designed. He’d been asked to give a talk on it for Doors Open the following week. It was a church designed with a hill around it, a solar tower and grass covered roof—green before too many architects were thinking green.

It probably would have been good to have asked him a question about the church that morning but instead I said, “I’ve been thinking about starting a new blog—one of my own—a place where my stories can live so they aren’t randomly mixed in with yours.”

“I think that would be good,” Dad responded.

“Really….?”

“You certainly are moving in several directions with your writing. Why, I think you’re going to end up with a series of books.”

“Really…? I’ve thought about a title for it, Not According to Plan……reflections on love, life and little black dresses.”

“…..Little black dresses…? I don’t think I like that. That’s what got Clinton into trouble.”

What? “…..I think that was a red dress, Dad….” But who cares?

“No….I don’t think so. I don’t like it.”  I will always be my dad’s daughter.

I turned and looked out the car window. Why that’s my most practical wardrobe staple! It can be worn day or night with boots, tights, jeans, heels, sandals, flats or…. I’ve worn little black dresses my entire adult life. I’ve learned to pack a suitcase with little more than a black dress. I felt accused of having dressed inappropriately for decades. My father’s opinion can do that to me.

“I’ve got my mind on my talk.” He said then. “I can’t think about this right now.” I let the subject drop. For months.

It had become clear not long after we started Sundays with Dad that the path we had started out on had turned into a landscape. I was writing more than Dad’s stories—which didn’t really go with the blog title. I could hear him thinking, why is that story there, stay focused Debbie.

I didn’t know when we started out that I was about to discover I liked writing stories as much as Dad liked telling them. So the space we shared became a little crowded. It amused me that even a cyber-home occupied by parent and child could reach a point when it was time for someone to pack up and move out.

We continued on though, with our shared blog space. I weaved my stories around his. We had fun. We made it work. I recorded the memories that shaped him into the man he is and some about me into who I am.

After writing my last story, My Baby’s Getting Married, I realized it was time for a change…one where I get to be the parent too.

If you want to follow me there, you can do it here Not According to Plan…..reflections on love, life and little black dresses..

20140621_115405_resized

Dad has a new project in mind too, so Sundays will still be here.  I love my Sundays with Dad, and I love sharing them with you.

Disruption to Joy

Students set the gym mats on fire in the school basement and tables and chairs were flung through the windows of the third floor cafeteria. There was obvious tension created by bringing kids of different backgrounds together and it blew up not long after we arrived at Riverside in 1970. I remember the day teachers had to lock the classroom doors from the rowdiness filling the halls.

I sat at my desk and watched the anger on the faces of the mob of kids passing by and looking in the glass window of the door. Our teacher kept teaching. Todd was in French class and some kids smashed his classroom door window and came in. One of the kids danced with Mrs. Lynch, the French teacher. “They ballroom danced,” Todd said as we remembered the day together. “She was really cool about it. They just danced and the kids left.”

I thought to myself, once again, if there was more dancing there would be less fighting.

Dad had heard about the school disruption that day and was coming up the front school steps when he ran into Mr. Kennedy, one of the four assistant principals. The kids causing the disruption were all in the auditorium by this time with a local radio announcer who had shown up because he heard about the school ‘riot’. Dad started to go into the auditorium.

“Don’t go in there, Bill.” Mr. Kennedy said. “You’ll only make it worse. They’re meeting together. Let the kids talk it out.”

“I’m going in Joe. They can’t just take over the school like this.”

“Let it be. You won’t help.”

I’m going in.”

“Bill. I’m asking you. Let them be.”

Dad gave in, “Alright, I won’t go into the auditorium today. But I will never come back to this school and be told where I can and can’t go.”

The days passed and things calmed down. Mom and Dad were at the school a lot, walking the halls. They got to know the administration, teachers and eventually some of the student leaders like Rodney Drew. They went to the SPTA meetings and tried to help the school raise money.

20140301_192200_resizedBrookfield fundraisers had been ice cream socials where everybody baked things and brought them to sell. When Dad suggested something like it, the kids laughed—‘Ice cream? Why not sell barbecue?!’ And so Riverside had its first barbecue fundraiser.

“Usinger’s was a client at the time,” Dad said. “I talked to them about getting a good price on spare ribs. We had no idea how many people would turn up so Usinger’s agreed to stock Sentry on Oakland Avenue which was a couple blocks from Riverside. We would be able to easily pick up more meat if we needed it and avoid having a bunch of ribs leftover.

We needed a big grill and I remembered a client who had had a barbecue grill made out of a horse water trough. So I found one of those and took it to Riverside Park on the top of our Ford station wagon. The idea of having the barbecue was a risk because there was such tension at the time between the white and African American students. But everybody agreed to try it as a way to bring the Riverside kids together and hopefully raise some money.

We lost $275.00—I should have known you can’t make money on meat—but it went well. A newspaper reporter from the Journal came and wrote a story on it. I could not believe his headline:

Races Stay Separate at Barbecue

I just couldn’t believe that. It was such a great opportunity to make a positive story—from disruption at school to a barbecue picnic…..from disturbance to joy. Of all the things he could have said, that’s what he chose. I did call him but it was such a missed opportunity.”

I reflected on what Dad said about the reporter. I’m sure he just wrote about what he saw that day. He was probably right—friends hung out with friends. The point though, was that we were all there together. Compared to what we had all just been through, it was a hopeful step in the right direction.

I was sitting at my desk this past week scheduling my visits to our Ballroom and Tap classrooms throughout Milwaukee. This is no small task—there are eighty-seven of them in fifty schools this year. Each school, like each student, has a personality and history all its own and deserves special attention. I like to ride my bike to the schools, though many are now out of riding distance. Last year, I got lost around Hadley and 1st Street on one of my trips and asked a lady on the street for directions. She said, “Honey, you have to ride your little fanny right back up that hill you just came down, take a right at the top then go about six blocks.”

One of the public schools in our program is Lloyd Barbee Montessori. Lloyd Barbee was one of the most important figures in the Milwaukee Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. He started his own law firm in 1962 and headed up a number of civil rights organizations including the Madison NAACP. He was a longtime advocate of total school integration and led the struggle to desegregate Milwaukee Public Schools. His daughter Daphne Barbee was in our class at Riverside—she was a cheerleader and in Todd’s AP (Advanced Placement) English class.

In the 1970s, Riverside High School was one of the first MPS schools to bring kids from different neighborhoods together and try to make it work. For the most part, it did, though some may feel differently. Today, Milwaukee teachers and administrators are working hard under difficult circumstances. When I think of Danceworks faculty traveling throughout the city to bring ballroom and tap into the classrooms, I think of Lloyd Barbee’s work in the 60s to bring students together. I wonder what he’d have to say about seeing our students working together today and our schools coming together through a dance program. I think of the Riverside Barbecue.

Maybe it took a little longer than you would have thought Dad, but maybe, just maybe we are moving in the direction from disruption to joy. It takes time to get to know and understand and love and trust each other. You have to give it time.

“Human progress never rolls on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” Martin Luther King Jr.

20140301_191953_resized

Why Move?

Our stories have aligned—my parents’ and mine. I look at my work today and can see how the connecting line is drawn back to our Church on Fourth and Meineke.

4th Street

4th Street

Walk with me up the steps of the red parish house next door. Come in and meet Dad’s Senior High class—the Glisper sisters, the Ingram brothers, James Allen and his brother Gregory, the trouble maker. Smell the donuts Mom and Dad would pick up at the bakery down the street. See the big metal coffee pot to heat up water for Swiss Miss Cacao mix. Hear the voices and the laughter. The students in Dad’s class didn’t always show up though…they almost stopped coming at one point. Then Mom and Dad came up with a new approach to teaching Sunday school.

Ask Dad about our move back to Milwaukee and you’ll get a chronology of his church experiences. I kept trying to get him to talk about how he wanted to see Milwaukee schools integrated and stabilized but he kept talking about the churches we attended.  Then I realized the stories were one and the same.

It begins at Grace Reformed Church on Ninth and Chambers then continues to Faith United Church of Christ. Faith Church was one church at two different locations—Seventy-Eighth Street, in a white neighborhood and Fourth Street, in the inner city. We started at one and ended up at the other.

Dad will tell you he could write a book on his church experiences alone. That might upset some—he was always taking on the rabble-rousers. Everybody has their own version of the stories and we all usually think we were in the right which doesn’t create the harmony a church is called to. Nevertheless, if there was a constant throughout our family history, it was the church.

“After graduating from the University of Illinois and moving to Milwaukee, Dolores and I attended Grace Reformed Church on Ninth Street. We were very involved—I was superintendent of the Sunday school, President of the Council and Dolores was in the Music Ministry and played the piano. After we returned from Europe we found out that the council had reached a conclusion it was God’s will that they sell the Ninth Street church to an African American congregation and build on a new piece of ground on Seventy-Eighth and Hope, just north of Capital.

Grace Reformed was the first German reformed church in the city of Milwaukee. The first German evangelical church was located on Fourth and Meineke. After much debate, the two congregations agreed to merge into one and sell the Ninth street location to an African American Methodist church. So the process moved forward— selling the Ninth Street church, constructing a new church on Seventy-Eighth Street, and continuing ministry at the church located on Fourth and Meineke. This is how it happened that there became one congregation with two locations. Personally, Dolores and I did not feel that it was right to leave Ninth Street and spoke out to that affect. We didn’t get any support. We never fully agreed with or understood the decision that was made.

We became very active at Seventy-Eighth Street, singing in the choir and teaching Sunday school but we also felt drawn to the Fourth Street location. This was more than just a passing feeling and we soon became aware of the fact that God was calling us to minister at Fourth Street so we started to get involved there. Before long, we made the change and settled in. Dolores picked up the musical responsibilities—playing piano and the beautiful pipe organ and I taught the Senior High Sunday School class.

It’s strange when I reflect on it, how great everything worked out, originally moving from the city into the edge of the suburbs, having the barn and eventually a bunch of animals. The truth is, I genuinely loved the farm as all the family did. But we spent a lot of time going back and forth from Brookfield to Milwaukee.

On a Sunday in January 1965, I found myself with no Sunday school students showing up for my class. “What have I done wrong?’ I asked the pastor Reverend Gordon Sperry.

“Probably nothing,” he told me. “Maybe the youngsters have some ideas.”

So I called some of the kids together on a weekday and learned they had no objection to me or my teaching. But they needed more activity. I asked them where their hangout was and they said, “What hangout?”

I knew they were telling the truth—they didn’t have one. Some of the kids came from homes with no fathers and had many problems in their lives. They needed a place to talk with people who cared and I knew they had little use for the traditional church activity.

Dolores had been to a coffee shop on Prospect Avenue on Milwaukee’s east side and thought the kids might enjoy something like that. So we took a group of my senior high students to it and they did seem to genuinely enjoy it. We thought the idea of a church coffee house might be the way to go. The basement church school room seemed like an ideal space for us. So my students helped us get it all cleaned up. We painted the walls white and threw out a lot of junk. It got the name the Ash Can because the kids filled eleven ash cans with trash. They also fished out much of the furnishings for it from other ash cans…there’s something about using material thought to be useless. Anyway, we thought it was a good name.

Mike Johnson from my office designed round tables for us. Mark Frank, who did carpentry work for me, built them and Dolores made burlap tablecloths for each table. We used candles and she ended up having to work like crazy to get that wax out of those tablecloths every week.

We got a record player and I bought a bunch of 45s. We thought it would be a nice place for the kids to have conversation. The first Saturday night the kids flocked in. They ignored the records we had and brought their own music. The kids didn’t want to talk, they wanted to dance!  Soda pop replaced coffee and tea on the menu. You found little theological discussion but lots of dancing from a record player that seemed to be bursting its lungs. So after that first session, our plans changed.

Journal Sentinel 1965

The Ash Can with Dad and kids from his class. Journal article ’65

There were a lot of kids showing up and we started to have discipline problems. We got friends and peers to help out as chaperones. I discovered quickly that the only way I could communicate with the kids was to know their families. I had everyone sign up, so I could get their addresses then I went around to all the homes and visited with the families. The trouble makers changed their attitudes once I knew their families. Lester Ingram, one of my senior highs, was a great help—he was a natural leader and had a big influence on the kids who came. We had seven hundred names on our sign-up sheet.

All we were interested in was applying the Christian Gospel as we understood it.

The city was getting rough with rioting at the time and before long the church council voted to close Fourth Street—they wanted to tear down the building. I met with them and told them they couldn’t do that. I asked what the expense was to keep it open and they told me $1000 a year. I found $1000 and got them to keep it open for a year.  I took Ed, Deb, John, Joan and their friends down to clean the building on Saturdays and get it fixed up.

Around this time, our family was returning from a summer camping trip and when we got to the city line, the National Guard wouldn’t let us go in. Our country was in a racial uproar. This was the point we felt it was time we move back. We believed we had a very clear calling from the Lord to put our kids in public schools and we responded.

Faith Church did close down the Fourth Street location and sold it. When we finally moved into our house on Shepard Avenue, we began attending Plymouth United Church of Christ several blocks from our house.”

As I finish typing this story, I am quieted by my unexpected tears. So many memories…I can see Mom and Dad’s faces, hear their voices, remember the burlap and 45s. I think of visiting some of the families with Dad. I remember joining in to play double Dutch jump rope with the girls in front of the houses. I remember the smell of the church, the winding basement hallways, the big kitchen in the fellowship hall where we’d eat plates of scrambled eggs after the Easter Sunrise service. I remember Dad putting a raw colored egg in with the hard boiled ones and pulling a prank on someone. I remember vacuuming the stairs that led up to the balcony and sneaking up into the bell tower to ring the church bell.

I think of that enormous bell now and realize that was exactly what the city needed—the joyous sound of the bell ringing. Ringing so loudly that it quieted the sounds of fighting and gun shots. ‘Let the children dance,’ Mom and Dad said.

Yes, let the children dance.

Back to the City

On Sunday nights, Todd and I often walk to Boswell bookstore on Downer Avenue, have a latte and buy a book—the final stretch of our weekend. Then it’s back home for popcorn and we open a bottle of wine. Growing up, my family would always have Sunday dinner after church, so Sunday nights Mom made popcorn. She would hide pieces of homemade fudge in it.

On a Sunday night in January 1970, we were all out snowmobiling, stretching the weekend out as long we could. I got thrown off the back of Ed’s snowmobile, and landed face first in a snow bank. I felt the crunch of the ice and got up feeling like I had a face full of needles. The next morning was our first day at new schools in Milwaukee. Mom and Dad had made the decision to move from the farm back into town. This was the period of time that families were leaving the city for the suburbs but Mom and Dad felt it was time for our family to leave the suburbs for the city. I looked like I had the measles. Dad told me no one would notice.

Like the farm ten years earlier, Mom and Dad found a great bargain on a house on Milwaukee’s east side; the purchase price was seventeen thousand dollars. It needed some work but the neighborhood was close to our schools, there was a park and Lake Michigan nearby.

We traveled into town that next morning—Ed, John, Joan and I—all squeezed into Dad’s Carmen Ghia, along with our backpacks and John’s trombone. Ed got the front-seat. I had the center back because I have claustrophobia and there was more leg room. John and Joan were squished in on what was left of the seat on either side of me. I didn’t mind the trombone in my lap as long as I didn’t have a seat in front of my face like they did.  Somehow we fit and survived the thirty minute drives each way without too much trouble—for the next four months while the house got renovated. We moved in on the first day of April…Fools Day.

Ed was a sophomore and I was a freshman and would be attending Riverside High School, Dad’s Alma Mater. John was in eighth grade and Joan in third, both at Hartford Avenue Elementary. Every day after school we would go to the Wenzler Architect demolition project on Shepard Avenue—walls came down and beams were exposed and sandblasted. Dad was opening up the first floor and building a central fireplace that created a loft in a house feel long before lofts were cool. Ed and John helped. Joanie made friends in the neighborhood. I camped out in the old Victorian bathtub with feet and did my homework.

Go Riverside Tigers!

Go Riverside Tigers!

When Dad was a kid, Milwaukee Public Schools taught music lessons at Roosevelt Junior High. At the time, this was the center of the African American community in Milwaukee. Dad wanted to take trumpet lessons and they were offered at Roosevelt on Saturdays so he went. When his dad and brother found out what he was doing, they had a fit and told him it was too dangerous. Dad told them that that was ridiculous and continued on with his lessons. That’s how he raised us—to not be afraid. For example, after September 11, Joan was flying home a lot because of Mom’s cancer. The attack had made her nervous about flying. Dad said, “Joan, do not be intimidated. Get a seat on the aisle. If you see anything suspicious, take them down!”

That empowered her and she flew without fear from then on.

Riverside was one of the first schools at the time in Milwaukee that brought different neighborhoods of kids together to keep the city schools from becoming segregated. There was racial tension. When Todd, who also attended Riverside, was on his way to his first day of class, he got punched in the face by two guys—one on either side of him, in front of the Ben Franklin on Oakland Avenue. He went to the auditorium for orientation that day feeling a little sniffley at age thirteen, standing five feet four inches with red hair. We would have done well to have had a Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap program back then.

What I remember about my first day of school was the color of the Bobbie Brooks skirt and sweater I wore—lime green. It wouldn’t be long before I would be wearing the same pair of bell bottom blue jeans day after day. I also remember seeing Todd walk down the hallway—as I hid my measle spots behind my hair—and thinking he was cute.

20140219_174613_resized

Homeroom. Todd second row, second from right. Facebook friend Doug Hoyt top row first on left.

20140219_174908_resized

Homeroom. Deb second row center. Facebook friend Dawn (Silas) Dunkelberger, second row third from left.

So we moved into Milwaukee at the height of the civil rights movement. ‘Crazy,’ people said about what my parents were doing. They were right—crazy about equal rights. Mom and Dad wanted to expose us to diversity—to life.

20140219_175157_resized 20140219_175141_resized

20140219_175111_resizedPictures from the 1971 Riverside Mercury Yearbook. The dedication reads:

We wish to dedicate the 1971 Mercury to all those who cannot laugh with us because sadness, poverty, sickness or loneliness have touched their lives. It is our hope that the changes we so desperately need will come about within our own lives. It is on the expression of this hope that we close this book.