March 3, 2019

From the Vaults: Home


    How many places have you called ‘home’?  This popped in my head when I found my old American Federation of Musicians Local 219 card in one of my high school yearbooks.  I was sixteen in 1970 when Mike, Gene, and I applied for membership the summer before we started playing paying band jobs as The Twig.  The AF of M president at that time, John Majors, lived on Kaye Street two houses west of the first house I remember living in when we arrived in Marquette circa 1956.  Two of the questions on the application asked, “Where did you reside before applying for membership?” and “Were you a member of AF of M at your previous address and if not, why not?”.   Mike had picked up the application forms and Majors told him to bring them by when they were ready. As he scanned the information on our forms, he noted that Mike also lived on Kaye Street, albeit on the “other end” east of Front Street.  When he noticed my previous address, he asked me, “Which house did you live in on Kaye Street?” so I pointed a couple of doors down and said, “But that was when I was 3 or 4 years old, which is also why I didn’t join the AF of M when we lived there.”  “Right,” he said, “You probably weren’t gigging back then.”

    Being born into a State Trooper’s family in the 1940s and 1950s was not much different that being an Army brat or a P.K. (preacher’s kid).  Back in those days, one expected to be moved around a few times before getting to set down more permanent roots. After doing a couple of transfers between posts in Lower Michigan, Dad was stationed at the L’Anse Post.  I was born in 1953 and a year later he was transferred to Manistique and then to Marquette in 1955. Understandably, I don’t remember anything about our living arrangements in L’Anse or Manistique. My earliest remembrances all start with the house on Kaye Street in Marquette.  We lived a short block from the Northern Michigan University campus just around the corner from the Forrest Roberts Theater.

   One of the earliest things I remember from our Kaye Street house was the coal chute.  Long after we moved from that house, Mom used to grumble about how much she hated the automatic feeder on the coal furnace.  When it would jam up, she would have to go down and poke and prod at the stuck chunks until it started feeding again. Standing on a bed looking out the side window as the truck poured coal through the chute door into the bin in the basement was a big event.  Perhaps that is why I have always had a fascination for big trucks and construction vehicles. For obvious reasons, “Stay out of the coal bin” was the law of the land for us.

    Everytime I look in the mirror, I have a visible reminder of another Kaye Street memory.  It has faded some, but I have a scar in the middle of my forehead from my first two stitches.  The next door neighbor girl and I were playing outside one day and for some reason, she lobbed a brick my way.  When my brother came home from school, he found me standing in the driveway with blood and tears running down my face.  For many years, anytime I got bonked in the noggin a very noticeable goose egg would form in the middle of my forehead. I was half convinced that one day it would sprout into a unicorn like horn.  I don’t even remember her name, but when I learned that her father had gone to work for the Green Bay Packers, I used to kid that she probably could have played linebacker for them (or with her arm, maybe quarterback)!

    At age three going on four, I wasn’t old enough to be the ‘helper’ yet, but I remember being a key ‘watcher’ when my dad set about doing home improvement projects.  The first one I remember was building a garage set back just behind the house. I may not have helped pound a nail or set a cement block then, but that didn’t keep me from playing in the work area.  The other major project I remember from Kaye Street was the fieldstone fireplace dad built in the basement. My memory banks fail to recall if he was the prime builder on this project or if he hired a mason and assisted him, but I do recall hauling the rocks.  It wasn’t so much made of ‘fieldstone’ as it was really made from ‘lake stone’ we gathered from a beach on M-28 between Marquette and Munising. Lake stones had been smoothed by water and wave action and when a beach is lined with them, they act as a natural rip-rap that makes the beach very stable.  I distinctly remember playing on the beach when dad was loading rocks and maybe helping throw a few smaller ones off the truck when we got home. What pops to mind most vividly is the windy ride in the pick up box nestled between the load of rounded rocks and the cab of the truck.

    During the summer of 1974, I worked at NMU’s Field Station at Cusino Lake which is located some miles east of Munising and a bit south of Pictured Rocks.  Early in the season I had one weekend when I didn’t have to stay at the station, so I hopped a ride back to Marquette on a Friday night so I could bring my truck back out on Monday morning (I had to drive out in a university owned vehicle with supplies when we first opened things up).  I left bright and early Monday to get back for my 9 AM Field Geography class. Not too far beyond Rock River, I passed a car that was stuck in beach sand on the lake side, just off the highway. There was a young man trying to push while his wife tried to rock the car but they were buried up to the hubcaps.  I did a u-turn and went back to see if I could help but no amount of shoveling or pushing gained us enough traction on the slippery beach sand. The man mentioned he had some clothesline in the trunk but I knew that wouldn’t work. They had a baby and another young child with them and at 8:00 AM, none of them were enjoying this little tourist adventure.  I took the father down the road to a restaurant where he was able to call a wrecker and then deposited him back with his family to wait. Before departing myself, I took a little walk down to the water’s edge as I had driven by this spot numerous times but had never pulled over to take in the view. It dawned on me immediately that I had been here before:  sixteen years earlier gathering rocks for dad’s fireplace project. My NMU advisor, professor, field station boss, and Norway Avenue neighbor Pat Farrell was angry when I arrived an hour plus change late for class. He cooled down quite a bit after the delay was explained, commenting, “Typical Yooper Finn – driving around looking for someone to help.” Finns never failed to perplex poor Pat.

    Having a fireplace in the basement became an unending source of fun.  My brother and I had a great time making various primitive wooden structures in the fireplace just to burn them down.  Dad’s woodshop had plenty of scrap wood so as long as we didn’t burn the house down or set ourselves on fire, dad was okay with it.  We spent a lot of time playing with cap guns so we also investigated using the tiny dots of black powder used in the cap guns as fuses or igniters.  The basement would at times have the perpetual smell of burned cap gun powder and a layer of haze drifting in the air. I had gotten a little metal fire truck with a black rubber pump ball in the center that allowed me to suck up a glass full of water and then squirt it out the hose using the same pump ball.  Thus began my fireman phase: Ron would light one of his little structures on fire and I would wheel in with my firetruck and try to put it out. The fire truck and the burning game was one thing I remember carrying over to our new house but the fireplace there was in the living room. Mom would only allow so much blue smoke in her living room before chasing us outside.  Dad just said, “Whatever you do, don’t spray any water on the metal fireplace liner if there is a regular fire burning – if you do and it cracks, you will find how much work it will be to take apart and repair a fireplace.” I took this to mean it would be more work than just building one! All of that burning fun and neither of us ended up to be an arsonist or fireman.

    There were other interesting things about the Kaye Street neighborhood that kept us busy.  There were quite a few empty lots on both sides of the street and on the south side of Fair Avenue which was the next street to the north of Kaye Street.  Marquette was expanding to the west so empty lots meant new construction. For us kids, new construction meant ‘temporary playground’ as soon as the day’s work ended.  If it wasn’t piles of sand to dig in, it was piles of bricks or lumber to climb on. We were mildly disappointed when the new homes were done, but there were always more being built.  Finished homes also meant new neighbors and in this growing part of town, that also mean new kids to play with.

    A block to the east of our house, one crossed North Seventh Street.  There was a cedar hedge there that ringed a bowl-like practice field just behind the Don Bottom University Center.  NMU’s football team practiced there and we spent many days alternately playing hide and seek in the hedge and watching the team practice.  

    I have no recollection what prompted mom and dad’s decision to build a new house on what would become the corner of Norway Avenue and Center Street.  I only remember occasional trips to the building site and a carpenter that was doing the building with assistance from dad. The area was so new to development that the one block of street between our new house and Whitman Elementary School hadn’t even been cleared yet.  We hadn’t been on Kaye Street long enough that I was sad to be moving, but I remember my sister was quite upset that she would be farther from her friends. My folks pointed out that we were moving exactly two blocks west and three blocks north for a grand sum total of five blocks and that she and her friends would still be going to Whitman School together.  As with all moves, this one wasn’t devoid of a little unplanned drama.

    The folks put the Kaye Street house for sale before the Norway Avenue house was completed and it sold almost immediately.  Delays in the construction of the new house ran about six months behind but the new owners of the Kaye Street house weren’t swayed.  They had a closing date and expected us to be gone by then. This is when I lived what my wife refers to as my ‘Prince Kenny’ days. When we were first dating, I mentioned that I had lived in a castle for six months while our new house was being built.  She had her doubts until I finally found a picture of the Old Castle Brewery that was located across the street from where the current Jilbert Dairy facility now stands. We rented the old office building turned rental unit that was built from sandstone replete with the typical turret block roofline found in medieval castles.  Part of the main brewery building was still standing (and it had an actual castle turret that towered several stories high) and was being used by the Clairmont Trucking company as a warehouse. The larger brewery building is gone now, but the old castle house is still there, now housing a business instead of serving as a rental property.

    There were adventures at the castle house (like swimming in the ditches when it rained and dodging bumble bees along the garden path), but I don’t remember anything about the actual move to Norway Avenue.  I suspect that it was done a few pieces at a time as the cost of a moving van to transport our worldly goods barely two miles over Lincoln Street hill would not have made sense. State Troopers were also famous for mounting ‘moving parties’ so I suspect there was plenty of help available when the time came.  Very few things about the Norway Avenue move pop in my head so I also suspect while the final move was taking place, we kids were out and about exploring the new neighborhood.

    I began kindergarten in the fall of 1958, so I had the run of the joint for most of a year before I had to start school.  Not only was it exciting to have a new house, we were only the second house on the block and we got to watch seven new homes and families join the the neighborhood over the years.  The next fifteen years living on Norway Avenue were full of fun and adventures, but that will have to be a tale for another day. I still like to drive through the old neighborhood once in a while and remember what an exciting time it was to watch west Marquette and the western campus of NMU grow.  

Top Piece Video:  Okay, so I didn’t live in a council flat and I am not British . . . but is there a better HOUSE song than Suggs and Madness served up?  I think not!