Holding hands with ghosts

By: Don Curto

The holiday season has begun. Some local stores are leapfrogging over Thanksgiving and plopping right into Christmas.
But it is a mistake to slide over Thanksgiving. Before the turkey is carved, before the oyster stuffing gets its gravy, before the baked potato is squeezed, massaged and gently broken in half as my grandfather did, before the cranberry sauce with walnuts is passed around the table…meditation—followed by thanks—is required.
The great things we need to be thankful for have been addressed over the centuries by philosophers, statesmen (and women, now that Hillary Clinton is here).
Several of my favorite sayings are by FDR, my first president.
In 1939, a year that very few of you remember: “…all the lectures on nutrition will avail nothing unless there is food for a child to eat.” And, in 1936, a pronouncement that unfortunately is applicable to these times: “We are poor indeed if this Nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world.” And in 1941, a year of great peril: “We will not, under any threat, or in the face of any danger, surrender the guarantees of liberty our forefathers framed for us in our Bill of Rights.”
These freedoms always are under attack from without and from within by those who wish to control us. Have you ever noticed that those people who hate authority seem to lose that opposition when they assume authority? Beware!
There are many things to be thankful for at this time, and we invite peril if we ignore our duty.
Almost all of my great memories of Thanksgiving holidays are from the Depression days of the 1930s at my grandmother’s house. I have few memories of bountiful times before Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in March of 1933. I was nine at the 1932 election. We were not desperately poor, but for a few years, we did hover over the abyss of poverty after my father was laid off from the DSS&A railroad for two years and eleven months.
Somehow, my grandparents always found money for a local turkey of high quality and fresh shucked oysters from Baltimore used in turkey dressing, in oyster stew, and if there were enough left, fried oysters. We had baked “white” potatoes and butter, mashed rutabaga with butter, and buttered carrots with chopped mint. Yes, there was a lot of butter in everything. Butter came from LaBonte’s store and sometimes freshly churned butter from my grandmother’s dairy lady in Skandia, who also supplied our milk, top heavy with cream.
Despite all this fat, I was not overweight. We were very active outside, summer and winter. There was no TV, of course, but we did listen regularly to Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, on the radio. (I weighed only 158 pounds when I joined the Marine Corps in December 1942.)
If we live long enough and keep our faculties, we watch those who are dear to us die and become ghosts. They go away, but they are not gone; they are silent, but they talk with us. They are ghosts because they are gone from us, but they are right around the corner of reality. They remain very real. In the darkest quiet of the night, we converse. They never tell us what Death is like, but we know the answer to that, without asking.
I have learned it is best for me to put my ghosts in the closet, softly close the door and get about my life with those still living. Yet, my life would be barren if I did not, from time to time, open the closet door, let the ghosts come out and give each of them a big embrace.
It is Thanksgiving time.
Some Needed Notes:
• In last month’s column, I included a recipe, headed “Munising Recipe.” This was all fine and dandy except I neglected (while traveling) to note it came from Steve Tracey of Munising, a retired photographer who also loves to cook and is very good at it. He made and donated the dish for a Pathways board meeting in Munising and agreed to give up the recipe. I have since made it and wish to thank him again and to tell you that while it is preparation-rich, all the work is worth it.
• This is a “lo-and-behold” note. Again, in last month’s MM, I quoted my friend Sandra Inskeep-Fox in Clear Spring (Maryland) about walks and drives made of oyster shells. This was relative to my large intake of fresh oysters on our visit there. The “lo-and-behold” derives from an oyster-shell driveway in Marquette, of all places. We are not known for harvesting fresh oysters from Lake Superior, but that imaginative chef Scott Sult saved and will continue to use oyster shells from those served at Elizabeth’s Chop House. You can see what is probably the only oyster-shell driveway in the U.P. by driving by his house on the southwest corner of Front and Fisher streets (see photo above).
In another lo-and-behold item, note that Sult is reopening the New York Deli in the former Border Grill Express building at Washington and Seventh. Opening is set for early December. More next month on this needed venture.
• It is a mystery to me why it is even necessary to comment on the following matter, but Marquette’s citizenry and certainly Marquette’s government ignore the “garbage can” that is the former entrance to the old Delft Theater.
Uncaring ownership and the pigeons are in charge, if one can label it “charge.” As it was time to rid the City of the old rail overpass on south Front Street, it is time to rid the City of the ugly and deteriorating movie theater canopy on Washington Street.
Besides, it is an untruth—this is not an entrance. Visit and make your comments at the City Commission meeting. Perhaps our energetic and generally efficient city manager can get something done. Marquette is better than this.
—Don Curto

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