Category: Friends


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“Springer Barn” Photo by Carl Johnson

I met Evelyn Johnson in 2006 while speaking out in support of saving the barns at Maple bay during a city council meeting.  She was full of energy and described herself as “the barn lady.”  Later, I purchased her book, The Barns of Old Mission Peninsula and Their Stories, and found myself immersed in a delightful series of stories stored for years beneath the rafters of these great structures.  

Earlier this year, as I began research for my own historical narrative on Old Mission, I received and invitation from the barn lady to work on quilt barn squares for some of the historic barns out on the peninsula.  Quilt barns can be found throughout the Appalachian States, where they originated as a way for people to tell the story of their community and family history and display it proudly on the side of their barns.  These barns are found traditionally off the beaten path and quickly spur the most adventurous to explore less traveled roads to learn more about the region.  

We’ve been painting all week alongside some wonderful people from our own community, all committed to sharing our story with future visitors to the Grand Traverse Region.  Yesterday, my mother-in-law, an artist, accompanied me and helped detail a square featuring cherries at its center.  It’s wonderful to see this coming together and in the next few weeks, as the remaining squares ascend, we’ll see the beginning of a new chapter in our history – a manifested adventure for people from young to old.

Photos by S. Tengelitsch

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A vision takes shape.DSC_0005

Anne and Christy demonstrate their technique to Popo.

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Evelyn, Tina and Samantha work to finish the first coat on a square.DSC_0007

Windmill pattern.
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Choosing yellows.DSC_0012

Popo at 2Ladds Winery overlooking East BayDSC_0022

Stacia works on the cherries.
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The tape still adhered, two squares take shape.
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A close friend of ours was recently diagnosed with cancer.  She’s a farmer’s wife who has always been good to us and treated us like family.  She’s a second mother to me and the news hit with a ferocity unmatched by my own diagnosis.  I say that because, as with most things in life, we know what we can handle, but when the same infliction is paired with someone else, the doubt we shelved on our own behalf is more easily recovered.  

And then there’s an anger that resides in the memory of what it was like to survive cancer.  The horror of it, the fear that will emerge and the knowledge you can’t fight it for them.  At the same time, the experience of cancer can draw out strengths we didn’t know we had and it’s a comfort to know our friend will experience, in her hardest battle, a courage that everything else will, eventually, surrender to.  

When you are diagnosed, your battle isn’t to fight the disease, but to fight to remain in the moment; to stave off the need to know what lies ahead, to find solace supplied by each breath unaware, as we all are, whether ill or healthy, of what future we’ll meet around the next corner.  That is primary.

Secondary is our need to survive by whatever means we find acceptable.  And for those co-survivors, there are no sidelines.  It’s our duty to our loved ones that helps us focus on the here and now and survive alongside them.  We find our own courage – a word that reflects a strength that does not come from muscle or brawn, but from the heart.  And again, as I discovered emerging from my own illness, we find ourselves feeling fortunate having come to some understanding that we are all in this together.  And that is something cancer will never destroy.

I’ve spent the last several months trying to come to terms with Bill’s death.  And when I say this, I don’t mean his death alone, but the complexities of our former time together, how things ended, my behavior, his behavior, our separate paths and what might have been a good pairing of friends, his decision to end his life, the method he chose, his last postings, Facebook, how networking sites function to superficially bridge gaps, etc, etc, etc.  

My textual artifact is the suicide note; my last assignment involved another textual artifact pertaining to suicide and my first assignment was no less cheery.  In all of this, I had spiraled into a functioning depression; struggling to reconcile so much without anyone to talk with who really knew anything about Bill.  

Somehow this mattered to me.  I process through talking and in this case, I just couldn’t find my voice.  In finishing up this final project, I feel like I am finally letting go of everything Bill has represented in my life.  There were wonderful warm feelings, but there was also a lot of regret and wishing I could have ended things with more maturity or handled my life at that stage with greater dignity.  I’ve found myself obsessing over it – night after night of dreams filled with visions from the past, but with no sure way of venting my feelings other than to funnel this process into my schoolwork.  

I’m really fortunate to have patient friends and family.  Though Erick wasn’t around and only met Bill once in passing, he’s been a good support.  He can’t speak to who I was, but he’s wonderful about reminding me who I have become.  And in winding up the semester, and with spring offering a gentle nudge, I’m finding the strength of character to let go of the past and to move on.  

I’ve finally come to accept that Bill may truly have gone to his grave not liking me very much and this was really, truly hard for my ego to acknowledge.  At the same time, it’s so like Bill and that was one thing I loved about him.  I’ll not let go of the positive memories I have of our time together, but the grieving has ended and is being replaced with a renewed sense of responsiblity to those I love.

Today I drove out to Lake Norman to see a house for rent.  The house was beautiful, but moreover, seeing the lake got me thinking about something Erick said about Lake Norman being the largest fresh water lake other than the Great Lakes.  It’s an enormous sprawling lake with roads crossing at various points.  In fact, I believe it’s the only site in the US where a fatality occurred when a boat came out of the water and hit a moving car.  

Erick had to work late, so I drove to the house with the girls and brought Celli in place of him.  He asked me why I like taking the dog whenever he’s not in the car and I explained that while I’m driving, she leans back into the seat sideways and spends half her time concentrating on the road and the other half giving me kisses or puppy-dog eyes.  Who could ask for more?

On the way home, as I pulled onto Moorehead, I saw a man holding a cardboard sign on the side of the road.  In grim economic times, we see a lot of men asking for work, but this man’s sign read simply, “God bless you.”

I’m not religious, but it felt good to know someone believes in something enough to stand on the side of a dirty and dangerous road with such a simple message.  

I thought if I were to dedicate an afternoon to a message, my own sign would read, “You are loved.”

Click here for the last lecture.

Our vacation home to Michigan went well, though it was cut short by a week do to unforeseen circumstances.  The above photo was taken from a tin-type and features Erick’s great*4 grandparents (the small woman center and man just to the left of her) in front of their home once located at the corner of Seven Hills Rd. (Peninsula Dr.) and Kroupa.  The rear end of the house still stands and is now used as a shed.  

Christy and Liz threw a party for me at the Old State Hospital (GT Commons).  We enjoyed homemade chocolate pie, coffee and a walk around the grounds.  I gave the girls my “ghost-hunting” equipment and they uncovered several haunted areas.  Even my shirt was haunted!

After walking and talking, we decided to take the kids over to the Civic Center for some play-time and for us, it represented some much needed chill-out time.  

I have girlfriends who really are super-women.  They made it a point to get us out and about town.  The following afternoon was spent at Grass Lakes swimming and playing with clay.  Christy and Liz worked on teaching the girls how to swim.  The following afternoon was spent trying to teach our oldest how to ride a bike.

And then there was the slip-n-slide.  Erick made it look easy and eagerly (and gingerly) showed everyone the proper jump-slide technique.  All modesty went out the window that afternoon. 

The girls loved having the freedom to play outdoors all day long and especially enjoyed Grandpa’s extended driveway on which we created a chalk roadway for them to navigate complete with stop-signs and cross-walks.

We brought new meaning to the phrase “dog-tired,” didn’t we Celli-Belle?

And lastly, my parents threw me a second 30th birthday party in Elk Rapids where my cousin, Medora, made a surprise visit.  Dori and I are the only grandkids on my mom’s side and we’re just a year apart.  She got the looks, as you can tell.  Dori has three boys to compliment our three girls.  Her father, Craig, and I shared the same birthday.  For my birthday, my mom gave me a note my father had written the morning before my birth.  It was for my uncle and it directs him to the maternity wing.  On the back, it reads, “Happy Birthday!”

And that concludes this batch of vacation photos.  Greetings from Michigan!

Leaving MI

Some events Friday lead us to conclude it was a good idea to depart MI early so Erick could return to work tomorrow.  We’re now back in Charlotte and I’m as homesick as ever, but there’s plenty to do here to distract me from the immediate homesickness.  

The thing I miss most right now is Shetler’s milk in the glass bottles, seagulls and Lady dogs, friends and family and the opportunity to meet new friends with similar interests.  We didn’t see the dunes or Lake MI, nor did we visit the islands, but we did enjoy our visit very much.  So much so we thought it might keep us from ever leaving for Charlotte.

Today is the last day of my twenties; tomorrow I turn 30.  I used to dread growing old, but in life post-cancer, growing old is a goal.  I thought the urge to reminisce would catch me off guard last minute; threatening to enact some hint of regret, but instead I feel content and satisfied in reaching my thirties.  

I’m also very glad to be in Michigan at this time in my life.  Two years ago on my birthday we took a trip to Mackinac Island.  I looked out over the bow of the boat at rainbows forming in the freshwater spray.  The wind whipped through our hair and out over the straits of Mackinac, the iron bridge took on a soft look in the bright sunlight.  It was a moment so well-engrained that while my body was secretly host to a silent mutation, I dreamed of my good-byes to family.  Each time I said goodbye in dreams, I walked into the spray and knew then I was passing into a new realm, though at the time I didn’t even believe in Santa Clause.  I discovered the lump two days later and my life was forever changed.  

In a way, being up here feels like the closing of some loop.  Like I’ve been here before, but my path has changed.  Left untreated, NHL kills within two-years.  Most recurrences take place within the first two years into remission.  Whatever the significance, this experience has completed a two-year cycle.  At a time when I believed I would regret the turning of a decade, I am elated to put my twenties behind me; to embark full-throttle on a new adventure; to leap into the next phase of my life uninhibited; to count rainbows on the spray and to take on the softer look wisdom grants us as we age.

We made it to Michigan (and through Michigan taking a more scenic, albeit much longer route winding our way through forests, farmland and little towns).  Total duration: 18 hours.

I forgot to mention a previous adventure which subsequently made for a lot of fun had on the longer trip north.  Friday morning, Erick woke the whole family and hurried us out the door and down to the Apple Store to wait in line for the new iPhone.  I thought he was insane – the line was hundreds of people long (five-hundred during our six hours) and the wait was boring, but the reward well worth it.  I’ve never before been so enthralled with technology (you know, the word that means magic). 

At first glance, the unassuming little device appears to be little more than an iPod, but spend some time surfing the internet and email photos while driving through a mountain tunnel and you’ll know the little iPod-GPS-camera-phone has super-powers.  Rather than using satellites to locate your position on the map, it triangulates your position by bouncing signals off nearby towers.  Maybe not as cool as satellites, but someone had to come up with the idea and I’m impressed.  I’m also impressed that Erick needed only stand near his computer while his personal data was uploaded “magically” to his iPhone.  And that during our trip, I snapped a photo of the “Welcome to Michigan” sign, attached it in an email and sent it to Erick’s family awaiting our arrival up north with the message, “We’re here.”  Me, a simple human being, capable of wielding such power!  Bwah-ha-ha!

Anyway, wow.  Again, wow.  Cooler even than the personal computer.

 

Eight years ago this afternoon, I got married to this man in a beautiful ceremony on the shoreline of East Grand Traverse Bay on a narrow strip of sandy peninsula uncovered by low water levels that year.  Grandma Maxine (Marker) had commented to me one afternoon, as we swayed on the old porch swing overlooking the bay, that this peninsula only appears once every 75 years.  I thought it would make a beautiful spot for a ceremony!  One that would reminisce on its own long after we were dead and gone from this earth.

Josh walked me down the isle and doted on me the whole afternoon, having never fully approved of any of my male counterparts – he was reluctant to let enter into the confines of matrimony.  We walked barefoot down the beach as we had done many times before, only this time Josh wore a tux and I lifted my satin skirts above my ankles to protect the dress lovingly made for me by my close friend Kate.  Kate made all of the dresses in our wedding by hand and I love to this day that she so resembles Audrey Hepburn in all the photographs. 

Later, I would run into acquaintances from school who had heard I had finally married that Joshua Marker boy because people had seen us walking together across the street at our wedding.  Close, I would say, but not quite.

 

I think for both Erick and myself one of the most beautiful things about our ceremony was the love poured into every detail.  We had only $1200 to spend on the big event and asked for help in every aspect of preparation.  Kate’s mom made us a delightfully tasty cake (carrot – Erick’s favorite), Kate made the beautiful dresses and subsequently made them priceless, Uncle Doug made his famous ribs, everyone brought a dish to pass, the Markers outdid themselves offering their home for the reception – and decorating it splendidly, Erick’s father serenaded us down the isle and my step-father brought down the table he had crafted by hand to hold our cake.  It was such a fun occasion and I will always remember the people who made our day special. 

And it is the people still we remember more than anything.  So many have gone.  My uncle, who in the photos looks vibrantly healthy, died of cancer that winter.  My grandmother and Grandma Maxine, who called me (and everyone who joined her on the porch swing) “Darlin'”, Sandy Bottoms, Uncle Jack, Anne and others – it seemed this gathering for our family was one of the last to include so many of our elders.  And in such, we have some wonderful photos that we will always cherish.  

One of my favorite memories of that evening was Erick sitting down with my Uncle Craig to play some music.  They played together well into the night.  Erick’s father later joined in and the music transported us into the same nostalgic state I feel whenever I see the photos.   

Here, we’ve just uncovered the beautiful table made by my step-father.  A cottonwood slab balanced over the base of a large cedar stump.  Wow, we say, wow!

 

We didn’t get fancy with the guys.  Just black and white with attitude.  Behind John and Andy, you can see the sandy peninsula where the ceremony took place.  We were married unintentionally on Friday, the 7th in the seventh month (July) at seven o’clock.  Lucky us.  We were embarking upon the adventure of becoming a family.  Today we can look back and see how the fabric was carefully woven to include not only our children and immediate family, but also our friends and people who entered our lives after this date who will always be a part of the journey. 

*Please note, these are some of the few digital photos I have of our wedding.  The majority of photos are still packed away in boxes up north, but whenever we land somewhere, I’ll scan and share some of them here.

The word paranormal combines two words “para” or beyond and normal.  It’s the study of things that seem to defy scientific explanation.  Really, there are plenty of things in science this heading might encompass – For decades, the neutrino, a subatomic particle with little to no mass, defied our human understanding of how particles function, but you didn’t see scientists labeling the activity “beyond normal.”  Paranormal research began in at the turn of the last century as a way to study extra-sensory perception, or ESP.  Today paranormal research groups study everything from psychic phenomena like telepathy to channeling to ghosts to astrology.  In other words, literally anything beyond normal.  

I had always thought of the word differently: para as in parallel or a world or concept parallel to our laws of binding our physical universe.  I thought of paranormal as the research enveloping all things non-physical.  I’d still like to think of it as a science with the same approach to all things scientific – using hypothesis, conducting experiments, gathering evidence, conjecturing, debunking, etc.  

Poltergeist phenomena is my favorite.  Found in nearly all cultures and religious groups, the activity of the “noisy ghost” is widely reported and documented.  So are hallucinations.  And yet, a single poltergeist event can be witnessed/encountered by multiple people, so I put more validity into claims of this activity.  As a child, I experienced something that would be defined as poltergeist activity.  I don’t feel silly admitting this because I believe strongly there is a valid explanation for these experiences.  

In my opinion, we don’t have to believe in the supernatural, to better understand the paranormal.   In talking with people, I’ve found most have some story to share – even the skeptics – of something they just can’t explain.  And yet, they all share a desire to find some explanation.

Modern day ghost-hunters invest a good deal of time and money into capturing evidence of paranormal activity.  Whether actual ghosts or residual energy, these pseudo scientists employee EMF meters to measure electric-magnetic fields, recording devices to record “EVPs” or electronic-voice phenomena, infrared and thermal cameras to measure and capture movements or sudden changes in temperature in a room and other tools to assist the investigators with seeing in the dark.  

When I first met a “ghost-hunter,” I had a lot of questions and I wasn’t very polite about asking.  Questions like, “Isn’t hanging around grave-yards cliche?” or “Don’t you think walking around houses in the dark is a good way to scare up experiences that might not occur in broad daylight?”  

These questions were quickly answered.  Graveyards tend to make people uncomfortable at night so investigators take new people there to see how they handle fear.  Okay, makes sense, but why the dark?  I was told this was the quiet time and it was more likely you would capture genuine activity than during the day.  There are just too many noises during the day and investigators prefer to turn off any unnecessary electronics to avoid EMF interference. Hence, dark places at night.

I’m actually more impressed than anything getting to know people who study ghosts on the side.  They’re not crazy as I expected.  They’re not charging people money to do bogus investigations.  I was told if someone charges for their work, beware.  Most investigators will do anything to discredit their own findings because they know these findings will be equally scrutinized by any skeptic.  Still, the fact remains, if you haven’t experienced the paranormal, can you ever really believe it?

Then again, I’ve never seen a neutrino, but I am no less a believer.