Depredations of the Summer Harvest Gang and other mostly true stories

By: Don Curto

There usually were four of us, but once in a while, parents got in the way and our gang was reduced to three or even two. Two members of the gang were eleven years old and two were twelve.
For at least one year, we were—without challenge—the most successful, quiet, criminal operation in the City of Marquette. We never failed in our mission, were never apprehended and thus, never prosecuted. Marquette’s Police Chief Hurley and his assistant Don McCormack were real professionals and had a great force working with them.
We were sure they had informers all over town to report on us kids. One of the more famous cops, “Woody” Betts, lived directly across Third Street from my house. The Pasta Shop is there now.
This is the first confession of our crimes, and I think there is a statute of limitations covering them, but even at this late date, more than seventy-five years later, I don’t think I will give out the names of my fellow criminals. They are all dead now, and I am the only survivor of the Gang. However, they left families behind and it might be possible to prosecute a grandchild or a great-grandchild or two.
Our operations were conducted mainly in the early evening. You might think we would dress for our depredations in clothing that would not distinguish us and that we might darken our faces, wear hats and possibly make some facial changes. Our planning actually was pretty sketchy, even for eleven- and twelve-year-olds. In homage to the truth, I have to tell you we really only made a single preparation.
Each brought a salt shaker from home with the top first removed and piece of waxed paper placed over the opening, then the top again screwed on over the paper. If there had been such a product as plastic film, I guess we would have used that. It was an easy-to-remove covering and prevented the salt from leaking into our pants pocket where we kept the shaker.
Our mission was to steal ripe tomatoes, ripe plums, and the very rare pear. Tomatoes were the prizes, eaten just off the vine with a small sprinkle of salt from our shakers.
For the life of me, I cannot to this day figure out why we bothered with tomatoes when each of us came from a family, with more than adequate tomatoes in the family garden plot. Tomatoes stolen from a neighbor garden seemed to taste better. During the Depression days, Marquette was a very good tomato town.
I remember we already had done our scouting to determine which garden was about to be ready to produce great tomatoes. We thought we were very cautious about going into the gardens of others, but I am not sure we really knew what “cautious” meant. However, we did no harm to any part of the garden or to any of the shrubbery.
I am not sure if we ever were seen, but knowing now how clumsy we must have been, it seems likely someone figured out what we were doing, but did not report us to the police. We never raided a garden a second time, which probably saved us.
There was a wonderful pear tree on East Crescent Street, several blocks this side of the Lake, and I remember managing to get some ripe-enough-to-eat fruit from this tree. Maybe all the members of our Gang were healthy because we ate such good seasonal fruit and vegetables during our growing period. Not a bad rationalization.
We were not greedy and did not steal more than we could eat. I don’t think we ever shared with any other kid. Even as a callow youth, I felt the need to join “revolutionary” movements and began by fighting the tomato capitalists. I was there before Michael Moore.

In the immediate Marquette city area, all of these grocery stores pack your purchases for you after going through the cashier line: Super One, Jack’s IGA, Valle’s, Walmart, Marquette Meats. One popular store does not: Econo Foods. Strangely, their stores in Iron Mountain and in Houghton do pack on all lines.
I have tried for at least six or seven years to get the local Econo store to pack on all lines. Tony, the former manager, now the owner of LoFaro Foods in Ishpeming, managed to brush off this topic with real professionalism. “Well,” he would say, “many of our customers really like to pack their own stuff.” Sure, Tony.
So, recently the local store got a new manager, Zack—a nice enough, very young man. Foolishly, I thought he would be interested in conformity with the other Econo stores and making shopping easier for us increasingly older shoppers. Foolish me. The same answers. It saved money and his customers really liked to pack their own. Tell me how much you enjoy packing your own groceries.
Zack has to be called on something: did he tell a truth or a major fib when he told me, with more than a little exasperation at my lack of attention, that all cashiers are instructed to ask when one approaches the cashier and offers a “More” card whether one would like help in packing the order. I said this has never happened to me, though I have from time to time requested a packer.
Immediately at this juncture, Zack called over one of his minions and instructed her in a firm order that all cashiers, immediately, were to be informed of this order and to do as instructed henceforth.
I’ve returned several times to check whether this is being done. Not on any of my visits was it ever mentioned. I think they can just tell I really enjoy packing my own order and would be insulted if they thought I might need help.
The customer choice is to shop somewhere other than Econo. But it is hard to break old habits.

Munising Recipe
1/3 cup olive oil
1.25 pounds Italian hot sausage (5 links)
2 medium onions
6 cloves garlic
4 medium yellow or red potatoes, 1/2 inch diced, skin on
4 small turnips, peel and 1/2 inch diced
3 bay leaves
3 T flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 T fresh thyme, chopped
2 t salt
2 t pepper
1 piece parmesan-reggiano rind, 1” x 3” piece
1 pound kale, washed and chopped
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 15-ounce cans cannellini beans
4 15-ounce cans of chicken stock
In a large dutch oven, heat half the oil on medium heat. Remove casings and tear sausage into bite-sized pieces. Brown on all sides so meat retains its shape.
Remove sausage and add chopped onions and garlic. Saute in meat oil scraping as you go to deglaze pot. Cook about three minutes and remove from pan.
Add remaining oil, potatoes and turnip. Saute while stirring frequently for ten minutes. Add meat and onions to pot and season with bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper.
Also add piece of parmesan-reggisno. Stir in kale and cook until kale wilts. Add tomatoes, chicken stock two cans of beans. Reserve the third can.
Bring to simmer and cover, cooking stew for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree remaining can of beans and add to stew to thicken. Simmer for ten additional minutes.
Serve with rustic bread and pass grated parmesan-reggiano.

On this trip “out East” to visit Sandy and Jeff Inskeep-Fox in Clear Spring (Maryland), I came face-to-face with some very aggressive local oysters and in defense have conducted a well-planned massive attack on them.
I confess to having been an oyster addict since earliest childhood. I most probably ate my first raw oyster before I was three years old in (of all places) Marquette. Here’s how it began.
Each holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving, my grandparents, John and Ida Tobin, ordered a gallon of shucked, raw oysters from a firm in Baltimore. They were Chesapeake Bay oysters, freshly shucked and packed into smooth, heavy, metal cans, dark green with gold printing on them. They were shipped by Railway Express in refrigerated cars and always arrived safely, good to eat. They were ordered for the Christmas holidays, too.
The primary use for them was to make oyster dressing, an amazingly wonderful dish as only my grandmother could make. I know the recipe and the method and I have made it many times…none of them as good as Ida’s.
No one, no matter what their experience, has made it that good. After the dressing was made, remaining oysters were used for oyster stew, more a rich milk soup than a stew. Coarsely ground black pepper topped it off. If things worked out just right, some of the oysters were eaten raw by me and some were fried, lightly coated and gobbled by the first to get them.
I am not certain just how many dozen raw oysters on the half shell I have enjoyed on this trip, but Sandy tells me I have ingested enough that had we crushed the shells as they do in this part of the country, we could have “paved” a long path or a short driveway.
And a parting note from Jeff Fox: “The newest definition of fusion food is a pork chop with egg foo yung on it.”
—Don Curto

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