Day 3

This is another long driving day. We were 5 minutes onto the freeway when a yellow light came on that looked like a gravy dish. Since it was yellow and not red I wasn't too worried but I was concerned because it might be an oil light. Since I was driving I couldn't look at the manual and since we were on an expressway, I couldn't stop. Today is going to be another driving day. We just pulled onto the freeway and a yellow warning light came on that looked like a gravy boat. It was yellow and not red so I didn't panic but I was concerned because it looked like an oil light but I was not sure and couldn't look at the manual since I was driving and couldn't stop because we were on an expressway. Jan was also concerned and said, "If its not a oil light, what could it be?" I said, "It might be telling us we are out of gravy!" The light went out a couple minutes later. The manual said that it means the oil pressure is lower than some threshold and it can come on while accelerating or going up hill. When we started the trip, I suggested a possible second route going further south and avoiding Chicago and the tolls but it would add 100 miles to the trip. Jan didn't want to do that so we took the shortest route. The tolls didn't stop at the Illinois border. They continued all the way to DC and totalled over $50. So much for saving money by reducing the driving distance. As we approached DC, I started to look for last minute deals on hotels and there were several. Then I asked about parking. Every hotel charged anywhere from $25 to $40 dollars per night and had parking ramps with 6' 8" clearance. With our roof rack, we need 7' 4" of clearance. After hours of surfing and talking to uninformed people on the phone, I changed strategies and looked for parking places. It turns out that the Amtrak station has 12' clearance where buses and RVs can park and its only $22/night. Next, I looked for hotels around the parking lot and found a Hyatt at a resonable price a few blocks away. When we got to the Hyatt, we found that it has outdoor parking for $35/day. This is the fanciest hotel that Jan has ever stayed at in the states. After settling into our room, we went for a walk. After walking a block in the dark, we found out why we got such a good price on the hotel. The neighbourhood looked like the one we stayed at in San Jose Costa Rica. All of the doors and windows had steel bars on them. A liquor store was a tiny room with a bullet proof window. You asked the guy on the other side of the window for what you wanted and he would slide it under the glass. When we walked in the other direction, we found an area going through gentrification that was really nice. At least the room is nice.

Day 2

We are in Milan. Not that Milan, Milan Ohio. We are traveling today so there is not much to report except the roads in Chicago suck. At least half of the interstate crossing Illinois was under construction. They narrowed the lanes down so it was really stressful trying not to hit the trucks that were wider than their lanes. These were toll roads so we got the privilege of paying for the agony of using them.

We went to the Wonder Bar in Milan and their chicken wings were amazingly good. Too bad I didn't order them. I had the Italian sausage sandwich which was just a weiner on a hamburger bun. If you are ever around here, order the chicken wings. Here is a picture of the town square.

Day one

Several people that followed the biking blog last summer asked if I could blog about this winters's getaway. This is an experiment to see if it is worthwhile. Where to blog?

I started this journal a long time ago as an autobiography but took a several year break after my first entry. Since it existed, why not use it to write about our lives as they happen. If there is nothing to write about, then maybe it will be time to write more backstory.

We started our trip at midmorning after loading the car in the rain. As we drove it rained and then rained some more. In Wisconsin, the rivers that we crossed had flooded their banks and started to cover farm land. About half way across the state we got a reprieve from the rain. It started to snow. Not the light fluffy snow that blows off the road, it was the wet slushy stuff that made the road slimy. There were about 15 cars in the ditch over a thirty mile section of road.



We were listening to a local public radio station and someone said something that is so profound, I had to share it. "There is no pain so great that surgery can't make worse."

We made it to the Hostel Shoppe where I bought my bike last year. On the bike trip I discovered that there was a tiny flaw in my rear rim that gave me a flat tire every 150 miles until I taped the flaw. They gave me a free tune-up and replaced my rear wheel for free. They are such a nice bunch of people.

We got a hotel room, walked on a treadmill, soaked in a hot tub, and then went out to eat. The bar had this crazy entrance/exit that looked like a giant barrel.

Day one

Several people that followed the biking blog last summer asked if I could blog about this winters's getaway. This is an experiment to see if it is worthwhile. Where to blog?

I started this journal a long time ago as an autobiography but took a several year break after my first entry. Since it existed, why not use it to write about our lives as they happen. If there is nothing to write about, then maybe it will be time to write more backstory.

We started our trip at midmorning after losing the car in the rain. As we drove it rained and then rained some more. In Wisconsin, the rivers that we crossed had flooded their banks and started to cover farm land. About half way across the state we got a reprieve from the rain. It started to snow. Not the light fluffy snow that blows off the road, it was the wet slushy stuff that slimmed the road. There were about 15 cars in the ditch over a thirty mile section of road.

On the radio there was a good quote. "There is no pain so great that surgery can't make worse."

We made it to the Hostel Shoppe where I bought my bike last year. They gave me a free tune-up and replaced my rear wheel for free. They are such a nice bunch of people.

Did i mentioned that it rained? They had 4 inches of rain.

We got a hotel room, walked on a treadmill, soaked in a hot tub, and then went out to eat. The bar had this crazy entrance that looked like a giant barrel.

My mother

My mother's side of the family has been in the country for a very long time. During one of the few times that she spoke to me she said that one of our ancestors came over on the Mayflower. The paternal side of that family were all ministers; all that is until my grandfather whom broke tradition by becoming a farmer. The farm was in Northern Minnesota where he and his wife raised a large family. Someone did a family tree on my grandmothers side of the family and by 1600 there were already people living in the states. One owned a small island in the New York harbor.

While still in school my mother met the fate of many unlucky people in those years. She got polio. For those of you who do not know much about polio, polio can range from a minor illness with no symptoms to a paralyzing killer. My mothers disease was somewhere in the middle and she suffered permanent damage to her left leg. When she stood her leg bent backward kinked at her knee joint in a very unnatural way. Although she could walk, she was slow and she could not walk far. She used crutches most of the time but could hobble without them. When she grew old she used a wheel chair. Her incapacitation saved my life on more than one occasion.

In her youth she was a very nice friendly person with a lot of friends. She was smart too graduating salutatorian of her class. She started college but dropped out for reasons I do not know. It may have been to travel to California to marry my father. I am not sure because she rarely talked to me or to anyone for that matter. From pictures left behind one can see that my parents were very much in love, and did a lot of things with friends. My sisters say that she was a caring mother too but all that changed when I was only a year old.

My father got cancer in his right arm when I was just a baby. When he lost his arm he lost his business. I can only imagine the intensity of the moping, insistent complaining, and inevitable bickering that developed. With my dad staying at home and watching the bank account dry up, it became too much for my mother and she had a nervous breakdown. This was 1950 or 1951 and her doctor gave her the best treatment of the day, a shock treatment. Someone told me that in the early days doctors used much higher voltages than they do today and that caused permanent brain damage in some people. If one shock treatment is good then two would be better right? Well, they gave her many over the course of the next year. It was about the same time that relatives convinced my father to move back to Northern Minnesota where he was guaranteed a job. They sold just about everything, loaded the car and drove to Minnesota where the five of us moved into a tiny cabin. My mother still suffering from her mental illness no longer had follow up treatments and she never got better. The job that was guaranteed to my father did not materialize when they saw the extent of his handicaps. Now the family was stuck in this little cabin with a two year old boy and two girls aged 6 and 7, a mother with a severe mental disability, a handicapped father with no money, no job, and no prospects.

I do not remember much about the family life the next two years except that we moved a couple of times. I don't know if it was because they couldn't pay the rent or because of all the yelling, screaming, and fighting. It was probably the latter. My father eventually got a job selling Fuller Brush Products door to door. In the best of times this would seem like a job that does not pay well but these were not the best of times. This was a rural area with high unemployment. Very few of the people that did work made more than a meager wage logging pulp wood, working in a paper mill, or working in the mines. Somehow he made enough to put food on the table and get a long term mortgage on a $10,000 house. It was a very small house with two bedrooms. My sisters shared the smaller of the two rooms and I slept on a surplus army cot in my parents room. With the cot and a double bed there was barely enough room to walk in the isle between the two. The house was the second house from the end of a dead end street in a small town and was surrounded by woods on three sides.

You may be wondering what was wrong with my mother. I never knew. There would be times when she would just sit in a chair staring off into space mumbling or whispering and then laugh to herself. I often wondered what she was laughing at or who she was whispering to while in these trances. All I know is that those were the good times. Sometimes she would seem somewhat normal but reclusive. That is when she would shuffle around a bit, cook food, and clean the house. Sometimes she would go into a wild rage screaming. Since she couldn't run she would throw things. She had very bad aim which was another good thing for she rarely hit anyone. It was especially fortunate when she threw scissors or knives. When she got in a tirade I would usually just run away from her and leave the house. It was one of those times when a pair of scissors just missed my father and me and stuck in a wooden door inches from us.

As you can imagine, growing up in a house like this one learns to keep an eye on my mother at all times day and night. There were a few times when I woke up in the middle of the night to see my mother sit up in bed reach over and stab my father with an imaginary knife. She would say "you're dead!" Then she would laugh a little lie back down and then go to sleep. There were a few times when I let my guard down and she got me. Once when I was engrossed in some TV show she sneaked up behind me and buried a fork in my shoulder. Another time she grabbed my arm and in a panic to get away I pulled so hard that the sleeve ripped off of my shirt. When I left I would usually wander around in the woods for a couple of hours not knowing where to go and then I would come home. Each time, everything at home would be back to normal if you could call our life normal. It was as if nothing ever happened.

My father's childhood

We are all a product of our environment and if someone wants to understand us, it may be helpful to understand the circumstances that mold each of us into what we are. My ancestors had a hard life but they were hard working survivors. These are bits and pieces of many stories told to me by my father.

My grandmother was one of nine children. Their family immigrated to the US from Poland when she was a young girl. When they arrived in Minnesota, they had nothing and so they stayed in a one room cabin with two other families. On her first Christmas in her new home, her father left early in the morning and walked to town through deep snow. He came home late that night with a single orange. Their Christmas present that year was a single slice of orange. She said it was the best Christmas present she ever received.

A few years later she met the son of another polish family that immigrated here and they married. They had 6 children, 5 boys and one girl. All six children slept in two small beds sleeping head to toe so they would fit. My father was the fifth of the 6 children. When he was three years old he got sick which is not unusual for a three year old but this was not an ordinary cold. Then again, maybe it was an ordinary cold but the outcome was not. He ruptured both eardrums.

The family earned a living by farming most of which was subsistence farming. They moved from Minnesota to Montana to Western Minnesota and then finally settled in Northern Minnesota a few miles from Keewatin. Northern Minnesota is a bad place to farm. The soil is thin, rocky, and there is a short growing season. The main industries in the region are mining, logging, and paper. On the farm they had animals and grew what crops they could like potatoes and cabbages. The farm was on the edge of a large forest 20 miles from the next road. In those woods they hunted and trapped to supplement their income and put food on the table. Like all farms, there was always a lot of hard work to be done. Sometimes my uncles used my father for wolf bait. They would climb a large tree and wait with their rifles in hand while my father walked a couple of miles in a large circle in the woods. The wolves would get the scent of man and follow my father out of site while he walked. When he completed the circle, he passed under the trees where his brothers were waiting. They shot the wolves for the bounty.

When it came time for school my grandparents had a choice. Send my father to a school for the deaf or put him in public school. The school had some financial help for needy families so my grandparents could have sent him but it also meant losing a farm hand. My fathers youngest brother was mentally handicapped and spent most of his life in a nursing home so he was not able to help on the farm. His next older brother was not much use either because of an accident. He was playing with some blasting caps that he found. When hit one with a hammer it exploded and blew his hand off. Since my grandparents needed help on the farm they chose to put my father in public school. This was before hearing aids were invented (with the exception of those big horns resembling megaphones). A small town school in a rural area in the 1920's was not equipped to handle the special needs of a deaf person and his education suffered.

The great depression was a terrible time. My grandfather worked even harder than he did before trying to feed the family and hold onto the farmstead. He did not take care of himself, instead, he only thought of his family. Because of his sacrifice he did not eat properly, developed anemia and died. This left my Grandmother with a farm, and 6 children. About the same time, another family met tragedy. A man had a thrashing business but because of the depression, nobody would hire him and his machine. His wife died and he fell into debt. Somehow he met my grandmother and they married out of desperation. They never had any children together. When I visited them, I noticed that they never slept in the same room. My grandmother slept in the bedroom and my grandfather slept on a cot in the kitchen. When they died each was buried next to their former spouse.

My step grandfather only had a 3rd grade education which taught him how to read, write, and do a little math but nothing else. However, he was very handy and had some blacksmithing skills. On the farm he saw the miles and miles of forest and thought of it as an opportunity. He made a small sawmill using his blacksmithing skills, logged some of the land, and sawed lumber. While he was doing this, the boys tended to the rest of the farm. He never liked kids, worked them hard, and treated them poorly. Because of the depression, he didn’t have a market for his materials so he built a large one room shack and called it a dance hall. One of my uncles brewed beer and another made a still. This little wilderness speakeasy came to life once a week when the weather permitted and helped pay the bills. That is, until the day it burned down. It never made much money and so they did not rebuild it.

While the dancehall was running, the local sheriff got a letter that said that a federal man was coming to town to look for bootleggers. To prepare, he arrested my uncle and put him in jail. The sheriff said that it would keep him out of trouble until after the revenuer left. During his stay, my uncle ran out of cigarettes and needed a nicotine fix. He shouted for some help but there was nobody there. He grabbed the jail cell door with two hands to shake it but to his surprise it just flew open. It was never locked. My uncle left, bought his cigarettes, and then let himself back into his cell. A few days later the federal agent left and the sheriff drove him back to the farm.

When my father was 16 he had a bad experience. My step grandfather was running the tractor in one of their fields where my father was working. Because of his deafness, my father couldn't tell that the tractor was getting close and my grandfather wouldn't stop the tractor for some dumb kid. He was nearly run over. That is when my father decided to leave home. He ran away and moved in with one of his brothers in a nearby cabin. One day a fly found its way into the cabin and started to pester them. How do a couple of boys kill a fly? Well, they shoot it naturally. In the end, the bullet hole riddled cabin leaked every time it rained and the flies could come and go as they pleased. They never had much sleep after that.

That year my father quit school at the age of 16. At the time he was failing the eighth grade just as he had failed many other grades before. He joined the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) where he was sent to Washington to build roads. He became the powder monkey. The powder monkey was the person in charge of the dynamite, the most dangerous job in the camp. For entertainment he played pool, boxed, and visited the business women near the camp.

After he left the CCC he traveled to California where he managed to get into a trade school. I don’t know how he did it because the trade school required a high school diploma. They waived the education requirement even though my father was a long way away from graduating and his grades were terrible. He managed to finish a two year course in 18 months and became a body and fender man. Today people replace fenders or putty up the dents but that is not the way it was done in the 1930’s. They had to pound the fender as straight as possible, fill in the voids with weld, and then fill in the remaining voids with babbitt. They had to grind, file, and sand the metal to make it smooth so it could be painted. It was a hard labor intensive job.

He just started his profession when WW II broke out. They were desperate for men and tried to draft my father but when it came time for his physical the doctor gave him a choice. He said that my father was marginal because of his hearing but the army needed soldiers. My father decided not to serve and was given a 4F for flat feet. It is ironic that a man whom was nearly deaf got rejected for flat feet. With his metal working skills he got a job in the shipyards.

It was about this time or shortly after that my father sent letters back home to convince my mother to join him. Eventually she did and they were married. They bought a house and had two girls born a year apart. After the war he partnered with a mechanic and together they started an auto repair business. Five years after the second girl was born they had a son. That was me, born in 1949. Times were finally looking up for him. He had a happy family, a house and some money in the bank but it didn’t last.

A few months after I was born he was diagnosed with bone cancer and was told he only had a 1 in 5 chance of surviving. They amputated his right arm and treated him with a new experimental medical procedure called radiation treatment. He survived but lost his arm, his business, and his happiness. He had to learn how to cope with a new handicap while recovering and supporting a family of 5.


It is hard to imagine what something like this does to a person. They work hard all of their lives striving to survive hardships and then when things are finally starting to look up they loose it all. It not only affects the one person, but it affects everyone around them too. There will be more about him later but first I want to talk about my mother.

Read this first.

I should have started this journal a long time ago but livejournal did not exist at that time. For that matter, neither did the Internet or personal computers. In fact, I think I had more fingers and toes than the total number of computers in the US. Someday I may make entries about daily affairs like most users but first I want to catch up.

My first memory was falling down stairs. I don't know my age at the time but it was probably about one. My family owned a two-story house and the living quarters were on the top floor. I fell down a wooden stairway leading from the second story to a concrete patio. All I remember is tumbling down steps and that it hurt. You would think that this would have taught me a lesson about the dangers of exploration but it didn't. Little did I know at the time that this was only the first of many times that my life would be in danger.

My second memory was also about an adventure that went awry when I was about a year and a half old. My big sisters, who were 6 and 7 years old at the time, were supposed to watch me but they decided to go on an adventure instead. They planned to leave me alone while they explored a cave. Caves are dark so they were going to light their way with a quart jar full of lightning bugs they caught the night before. But, they made a mistake. They creating this devious plan within earshot of me. I had no idea what a cave was but I was not about to be left out of this marvelous journey. It had to be good because of the way they acted. As soon as they left my room I climbed out of my crib and started to follow them. I got as far as our front door when they spotted me and put me back in my crib. This time they shut my door. I just climbed back out of my crib but no matter how I tried I couldn't open my door. Devastated, I climbed back into my crib and cried furiously until I fell fast asleep.

I only have one more memory of that Oakland California house that we lived in. That was the first time that I put on my shirt all by myself. I was so happy I just jumped up and down on my bed. We left California shortly after that to live in Minnesota. I was just two and one half years old.

You may be wondering how I remembered all of that with such detail at such an early age. I didn't. Oh, the memories are real but they are sketchy. I pieced the rest together years later after talking to members of my family and visiting that childhood home. You may also wonder where my parents were while I was getting in trouble and why 6 and 7 year olds where put in charge. That will be in covered in the next log.