25 A Week In Sydney
26 Interview with the Widow - 1
27 Interview with the Widow - 2
28 Three Kings of Orient
29 1969 - Year of the Rooster
30 Summer in Europe
31 Bellybuttons & Maggots
32 Yes/No vs. Maybe
33 Blood, Beer and Warm Feet
34 Mine Universe
35 Hands off, Boots on
36 The Accidental Cure
37 It's the Only Thing
38 The Professor's Stable
39 Little House on the Highway
40 "9/11 is OK"
41 Suspected Child Abuse
42 Midlife Crisis
43 Where Am I Today - 1
44 Where Am I Today - 2
45 The Rosebud Period
46 Angular and Giddy
47 Sandin, N. A., Computer
48 Hot Trailers
The snow started on Monday while kids were in school and the day shift was in the mines. I didn’t like the fact that Mom made me stay indoors, but I went out on the storm-window-covered front porch to play and watch the snow fall. There wasn’t much activity on the street and soon nothing at all.
Snow is a normal part of winter in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan – the average snowfall is around 200”, and 300” is not that unusual. Even so, the storm in January of 1938 was remarkable. It snowed a lot and the wind made for huge drifts. When schools were dismissed on Monday, most children managed to get home. One bus taking children north encountered severe drifting, stopped at a school by the airport, and the kids, driver, and school personnel all ended up staying overnight at the school. Some snowplow operators were stranded and sought refuge at nearby homes. Day shift at the mines ended and most people found their way home. The snow continued over night and all day Tuesday.
From the “street” – ours is the middle house.
From Tillner’s – Anvil mine in background.
On Tuesday the schools were closed. Day shift at the mines was cancelled and most of the Monday night shift stayed at the mine when their shift was over. My dad was a constable at that time. That morning, he got up and got ready to go to work. It was pitch dark outside when he opened the back door and storm door. He braced himself, took two steps, and stopped cold (pardon the pun). The wind had swirled around the back of the house leaving a drift higher than a man just a couple feet from the wall! Dad left a perfect impression of himself in the drift. He turned around and came back inside.
After breakfast, I went back out on the front porch and saw … nothing. FEET of snow covered the street and there was no activity. During the day we actually saw a miner neighbor who had apparently given up on waiting for the snowplow. He was making his way to the tavern at the end of the street with barrel staves strapped to his hands and knees! The tavern was probably open since the owners lived just a few yards away.
Read the details and see more pics my parents took of the event starting at http://www.sandinfamily.com/gallery/1938-storm-htm/1938-storm-all.htm
My universe at that time had four corners. Our house was my primary corner. Clockwise from there the next corner was what we all called South Location. Herbie lived there and the dairy farm was nearby. The next corner was the Anvil Location iron mine, probably the primary corner for adults and the reason for the name of this missive, Mine Universe. And finally, Grandpa Sandin’s house across from the local doctor. Lines between these four points pretty well defined the boundaries of my life and activities.
Inside this quadrangle and near the center were the school, the ball field, the store/post office, and Grandpa Tillner’s house. On the line from the mine towards Grandpa Sandin’s house were the mystery woods, the red pond, and the gymnasium. I knew there was life beyond these borders but it had little to do with me and I had little to do with it.
It took a few days after the big snow before things got back to normal. The plows opened the street and eventually even the alley that went up past Carlson’s house and then down past the Tillner’s garage and on to the store. The roadways were left in perfect condition for kids! We trudged up the alley to Carlson’s to start the run. From there we could zip down the alley, take the street past my house, steer a sharp right and sled all the way to South Location! What traffic? There really weren’t many cars then and if we ever needed to dodge one, the snow bank on either side of the road would stop us in seconds.
Dad, Pono and our ‘37 Chevy.
Grandpa Sandin’s house.
The snows of winter were great for sledding; fort, tunnel and snowman building; snowball fights; and general slipping and sliding; but warmer weather stopped all that. However we weren’t done yet with the white stuff.
Snowmelt meant water – running water – and that was a challenge to budding engineers. We found the nearest rivulet and set about to dam it. The fact that this was in the street was not surprising – that was the venue for all of our winter sports, wasn’t it?
It was great fun to pile snow in front of a stream and pack it down and watch the water build up behind it, but even more fun to see a car wheel break the dam and then watch the rush of water carry our paltry efforts away. We would do it again and again.
But then, the snow was gone. The spring flowers were blooming, the temperatures allowed for outdoor activities, and I found the sandbox and playhouse at Carlson’s up on the hill. I’m not sure how I got in on that since the Carlson boys were older than me, but I was a neighbor and we all congregated without much regard to age. I also don’t know what started the turmoil, but somehow I was in the playhouse and got hit in the head by a glass bottle. It really wasn’t much of a cut, but being on the forehead, it bled profusely. Picture a 4 ½ year old running down the hill bawling like a banshee with blood coursing across his face. Mom nearly had a fit!
After a quick exam, Mom could see that both eyes were in place and the running, crying, and drama far exceeded the importance of the wound. A trip to the doctor up by Grandpa Sandin’s led to a couple of stitches and a return to normalcy.
As the weather continued to improve, a community trip to the Saturday movies was planned. I was given an entire quarter to spend on the movie and anything I wanted for a snack. We walked up to Grandpa Sandin’s house and then actually set foot outside of Mine Universe. We took the stairs to Ramsey, where the movie house resided.
The road down from Anvil to Ramsey was winding and treacherous, so they built a stairway for pedestrians. By my count there were exactly 444 brazillion steps! Of course, that was the count on the way back up, after getting a bit nauseous from the unsteady movie and the sickeningly sweet fluid wrapped in a wax form purveyed by the movie house. But the adventure of leaving the quadrangle without Mom and Dad was worth the walk and the upset tummy!
It was getting pretty dark, but I prepared to throw the ball anyway. I got into position, lined up to just miss the chimney, yelled ”Anti anti aye O-ver”, and heaved the ball on the syllable “O” so Herbie would have plenty of warning that the ball was coming. Soon I heard Herbie yell ”Anti anti aye O-ver” but didn’t see the ball. Then he yelled “Pig tails” to let me know he failed to clear the building. Then nothing.
I waited a bit, but it was getting really dark, so I ran around to Herbie’s side of our house. He didn’t see where the ball came down and he was scratching around trying to find it. We were obviously done with that game and would have to find the ball tomorrow. But we weren’t done playing yet. We jogged the couple hundred yards over to where the street light attracted kids after dark and got into the Red Rover game that was already in progress.
It was July or August in the UP in the late 1930s. The light breeze was pleasant but it was very humid, even though the sky was perfectly clear. There were stars in all directions. As was common, the northern lights were active, but we didn’t let either the stars or the borealis distract us from our games.
After dark I was allowed to go as far as the street light by Pribble’s house. The light made a circle of about 60 yards diameter that was suitable for playing after dark. Playing in the street? Yes, of course we played in the street, but we almost never had to stop our activities to let a car pass. And everyone knew to watch for youngsters.
It seemed like just minutes after we started playing Red Rover that I heard my father’s distinctive whistle and had to start for home. As I did, I realized that I was tired, thirsty, sweaty, and dirty with the red iron ore dust that covered everything on the Gogebic Range. I cleaned up, hit the pillow, and was out in minutes. I barely had time to think about the picnic planned for tomorrow.
Our bungalow was near the top of the hill, but Carlson’s house was higher up off the alley and the water tower was the real summit. We were the center house of three on the uphill side of the street – all the rest of the houses toward the school were on the opposite side. Just past the Zadra house next door was the bottom of an undeveloped slope that led to the summit. It was that slope that we took to our picnic.
The glacier fashioned the Great Lakes and all the lands around them. Our hill was a granite knob that the glacier worked on but failed to conquer. Near the top was a flat granite outcropping with nothing but light patches of lichen covering the glacial scratches and gouges. We left our lunches there and set out to explore.
We had all done this before and knew precisely where to go and what to do. Raid the raspberry patch and eat all the ripe ones. Raid the gooseberries and eat a few. Gather a few hazelnuts. See if any crabapples were ripe enough. Find some dandelions that had gone to seed and blow the seeds away. Find some buttercups and rub them under your neighbors chin to see if it made a yellow spot indicating he or she was in love. Find some “wild sauerkraut” and munch it to get the flavor. Throw some rocks and see if we can hit the water tower. Try to find a milkweed pod that’s ready to pop. Try to catch a bee in a hollyhock flower. Introduce the younger kids to Queen Anne’s lace and Indian paintbrush. Find some timothy and chew on the tender end of the stalk. Take a break in the cool shade of the water tower.
Queen Anne’s Lace
Eventually we all got back to the rock and lay flat on our backs to enjoy the sun, the buzzes of insects, and the songs of birds. We were lucky – there were huge white clouds scudding by and we would try to find recognizable shapes in them. Finally someone would get hungry enough to grab his or her lunch and then we all set in. The sandwiches were warm and soggy from being out in the sun – a wonderful taste never to be recreated for most of us in later life.
Back to the exploring for a while, and then, the trek back home. It was down hill, but our feet didn’t want to go. Frannie was older, and she kept us moving when our motivation flagged. Home, a brief rest, supper, and then out for some playtime until dark.
One week a flurry of activity warned me that some change was in the works. We made trips out of Mine Universe, bought heavy pants and shirts, tried on restrictive shoes and jackets, learned new words like enrollment and registration, and cut back on picnics and playtime. I didn’t like it a bit!
The first day I got up and got ready but complained about my stomach hurting. I went to school but in spite of Miss Gustafson’s ministrations, I really disliked every part of it. Each new day I complained – each new day I went to school. Finally one day I snapped.
By that time, Grandpa Tillner had retired from the mine and was working as the janitor in the school. He lived just across the street from the school and knew everyone, so it was a good position for him in his later years.
Miss Gustafson noted my absence and asked Grandpa. Grandpa contacted Mom who said I had left home to go to school. Grandpa said I had never arrived, and the search was on. Mom’s first thought was the red pond – I don’t know why, but that was her thought. Mom, Grandpa, and I don’t know who else walked all over Mine Universe calling my name.
I know, because I heard them – and I didn’t answer – I was NOT going back to school!
Grandpa Tillner had a low spot behind his house that extended about 10’ before the ground rose to about the level of his back door. Rather than have steps go down into the low spot and then back up to the yard, he built a “ramp” that made a flat access to the door. Someone in the search party spotted me crouched under that ramp and ratted on me. I was loved and scolded and loved and scolded and loved – but then, I was taken BACK to school. I NEVER really liked school!
I had a home, parents, siblings, G & G Tillner lived a block away, and G Sandin and his second wife Lucille lived about 4 blocks away. G Sandin was surface boss at the mine, G Tillner was janitor at the school, Aunt Rubie was Postmistress, everybody knew everybody and all was well. School notwithstanding, I was secure and happy in Mine Universe. Surely, nothing could ever interrupt this life. But then …
These experiences were pretty much the dawning of awareness for me. I was told about things that happened earlier, but these I actually remember. This is a compressed version – there were many play nights, many picnics, and many snowmelt dams, but only one bloody coat and only one skip day from school. Loose ends like “the mystery woods” suffered from the compression – perhaps you’ll learn more about that in another Ponogram.
Anvil Location was an iron mining town. The store was a company store. Most of the houses and buildings belonged to the mine. We rented our bungalow for $2 a month. G Sandin’s two-story house went for $4! Nearly everyone worked for the mine or worked in an endeavor that supported the mine. Anvil was Mine Universe.
About fifteen months after these events, my father was employed by the Michigan State Highway Department. My sister married and moved into our house, my brother elected to stay with the grandparents to finish high school, Mom, Dad and I moved into a house trailer to follow Dad’s work, my universe underwent a huge and rapid inflation, and the halcyon days of my youth were over. But that’s another (much longer) story.