As a kid living in the country we enjoyed a seasonal treat sent to us by my grandad who vacationed at Vero Beach every winter. He sent a bushel of citrus fruit packed in green straw for Christmas. Inside we found dozens of oranges and monster grapefruit, tangerines, and strange little kumquats.
The memory comes back to me now as last Friday the USPS delivered a box to our front door. Puzzled, we opened it to find a similar trove of tangelos. Nearly three dozen, unbidden, but happily accepted. It turns out that a distant friend in California went out to his backyard and picked them for us.
I say unbidden, because we had no idea he lived in Claremont, California, and that his home was built on 40 acres of grapefruit. He sent these along, perhaps as a thank you for a couple of books which I had sent to him. The return of the tangelos was a happy surprise, but the best was yet to come.
We in the north do not grow citrus fruit, or certainly not to eat. I have a few Texas grapefruit plants in a pot taking up the winter sun in the den. They get outside in the summer. These plants will be converted to bonsai. It takes about 25 years, so I am planning on that. But that’s another story.
The tangelos are larger than tangerines, but smaller than oranges. At least these were. In fact, they are hybrid of a tangerine and pomelo, a type of grapefruit. They peel like a tangerine, very easily, and are particularly absent of any pips.
After reading the friend’s accompanying letter, I learned that he picked these from two trees in his backyard. That in itself is nearly astounding. We are forking out $$1.99 a pound for oranges at the grocery store, and he’s growing them wild over the shed out back.
He went on to explain that they are easily peeled, but his preferred entree is chilled and then quartered to be eaten like Don Corleone did in The Godfather. Orange smile!
So, waiting no longer, I grabbed one, and literally popping off the skin, sectioned the fruit into segments and stuffed them into my mouth. One bite, and the juice spurted out like a tomato, and the flavor of fresh citrus exploded in my mouth. The tangelo was sweet and tangy, and rich. I could sense thousands of little vitamin Cs all lining up for a march across my tongue.
We could not believe our good fortune, or the thoughtfulness of our distant friend who marched his product down to the post office for our pleasure. Paying it forward, we bagged up a dozen for an older couple who lived down the street. At their door I assured them these were a sure complement to any COVID vax they might get, a certain cure for scurvy, and twelve doses of pure delight.
Our task ahead is to finish up the box rapidly while these little gems convert to pure sugar.
As kids we found it was smart to have a safe spot to head to whenever it got a little too hot or too crowded around the house. The public library in Delhi was our escape hatch. This tidy little building with the gabled front porch and rounded windows was the perfect destination. At least in the eyes and minds of our parents. And that worked for us.
The library was in the center of town, nestled beside the fire house, just off Main at Church Street. You could reach it from the farthest reaches of our suburbs in less than five minutes by bike. If you lived anywhere near the school, it was a two, or three-minute walk, and for many of us, we did that by skirting down a path between Quance’s house and Hills’ backyard.
Because of its integrity as a public educational institution, our folks could only nod as we pulled on a jacket at night, and headed out the door, “off to the library”. In reality, those sorties rarely followed the flight plan. Out for a romp? Library. Soap a few windows at Halloween? Library. Need a smoke? Roam the streets? Meet some friends? Hit Chainway? Shoot some pool? Make it to the Dairy Bar? Library-Libray-Library.
We had a willing if unintended accomplice. Mrs. Roberston was the librarian, and on any evening, from 4-9pm she was seated at her desk at the back of this small repository of well-thumbed books, magazines and periodicals. As we strode up the concrete steps, through the door, and into the single room, we would see her studiously sorting through library cards, opening and closing books, stamping dates on cards and filing. All the time she continued a quietly confident narrative with the borrower in front of her. “There you are. I have your number, and we’ll see that book back here in two weeks, all right Philip?”
The card system was possibly our first introduction to institutional control. At some time in our early consciousness, our parents had escorted us into the library, and we were registered with a subscriber number. That was a huge advance forward for many of us who up until then only had our name as an identity. But Mrs. Robertson had carefully recorded all of our details onto a card: address and phone number, to which she assigned each of us with a number. The card went into one of her many wooden boxes. Who knows what that meant to us?
But we could pull a book off a shelf–there was a limit of two–and presenting that to her, she would open to the front pages where an envelope concealed another card. That was entitled with the book’s name. She extracted this 3×5 card, and with the dexterity of telepathist, would quickly, magically recall and inscribe our number onto the card, and rubber stamp it with a date. The little stamper was geared to change by month, date and year. She placed the card into another wooden box. That box was partitioned by little dividers with metal clips segregating groups of cards by date. While the rubber stamp was still wet in her hand, she then stamped a lined slip of paper stuck on the envelope in the book with the same date. Handing the book back to us, she reminded us it was due on the date.
Failure to meet that due date would incur a fine of two cents a day. There was never a time that we visited the library where Mrs. Robertson wasn’t collecting fines. The revenues would clatter into a cash box, and with a quiet, but sternly enunciated warning, she would exhort the tardy miscreant to be more punctual in the future.
For all of the protocols of checking out books, the library itself was a warm, welcoming place. It was a one-room establishment, not larger than most rural schools in size, and was shelved on three sides, with two long oaken tables in the center for study and display. Heavy oak chairs lined the tables. Mrs. Robertson regularly groomed the shelves, straightening books, sequencing by the extraordinary Dewey decimals.
The library was her treasure. The shelves were packed with hard covers, propped up with metal supports. Running her fingers across their spines, each labeled with a number, she could retrieve a subject in seconds. The room was her vault and it whispered volumes while a faint scent of glue and perfume floated in the air. She demanded quiet. She respected the privacy of those who sat at study tables, but would also encourage young readers to try out a title. She was genuinely interested in seeing us pore over these books.
My favourites: Tom Swift, woodcraft, indian lore, and biographies. I alternately scoured the bottoms of oceans and soared through ionospheric clouds in wildly imagined vehicles with Swift. Closer to earth I learned how to build traps and snares, skin beavers and build bows, arrows, and tomahawks with Ben Johnson. I was inspired by Churchill and Eisenhower, all thanks to Mrs. Robertson’s direction. She was “Ginger” to her friends, named for the colour of her wavy hair. Not an imposing figure physically, she had a wonderful command of english, delivered with a brogue of Irish. When she spoke, we listened, and with respect.
I point out the ironclad system that our Mrs. Robertson managed, because it added to the credentials of our purported evening’s activities. How could anything go wrong if we were at the library?
Delhi kids were essentially masters of their small universe. There were no particular boundaries, no warnings about strangers, no admonishments about distant expeditions, no guard rails other than daylight, school hours and meal times. As a result, we were habitually off to the woods, to the dam, to Quances Mill, or in town, roaming the streets and alleys, window shopping and dropping in to the local barber and pool hall for a quick look-see, maybe get a popsicle or a coke if we had money.
But somewhere during our circuit, there was a definite rendezvous at the library. We got a book, had it stamped, and were on our way home.
If I could imagine anything better, I would. It just happens that the COVID lockdown has actually delivered an unintended dividend which has captured my conscious state most every day. Cowboys and horses.
I am not much of a daytime TV viewer, but as we are under a house arrest, since March 2020 for the record, I have seen a lot more TV than I ever dreamed. The center of my attention has been a parade of cowboy shows: Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Laredo, Alias Smith & Jones, The Virginian, Branded, Rifleman, Palladin.
Now you may think that I have dissolved my brain and body into a bowl of mush after viewing these chestnuts. Not quite, but I have come to discover the glory days of TV-show series productions that no longer grace our screens. The “horse opera”, or “oater” was edged out in the mid-70s. They fell ratings-victims to the more glib sit-coms, pant-suited police shows, and family drama shows.
In the 60s, and I mean 1960s, we sat as entranced kids, knees akimbo, or chins on hands, hunched in front of the black and white TV watching westerns like Bonanza. But a decade before that popular series began, we could choose to witness the escapades of Wild Bill Hickok, The Lone Ranger, Hop Along Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, Rin Tin Tin, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Cheyenne.
There are plenty more, and just to check them off for you detail-minders: Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, Wells Fargo, Maverick, Bronco, Wanted, Dead or Alive, to name the many.
But by the 70s these had mostly been displaced by shows that deleted three items from our consciousness: cowboy hats, six-shooters and horses.
Instead, we alternately suffered or enjoyed the Partridge Family, Odd Couple, Three’s Company, Jeffersons, 8 is Enough, All In the Family, Brady Bunch, Mary Tyler Moore, Happy Days and Here’s Lucy. There are more, but let this marquee of family-centric shows suffice.
In the time that many of us breached puberty, we had lost the thrill of leather, cattle, wagons and corrals. We were deep into relationships.
I realized this as I settled in to a season’s COVID binge of cowboy shows. My realization also cast some light on a lost art and science of TV and movie production. Actors needed to master these techniques: riding a horse, drawing a six-shooter, faking a jaw-breaking punch, managing a team of horses and wagon, staunchly taking a bullet to the shoulder, shooting while galloping, sipping mugs of sudsy beer and bolting shots of bad whiskey frequently. The broader science of running a herd of cattle comes to mind as well.
I mention these activities, because they are gone from sight. Hollywood can’t do it any more. Yet they were at the time, a serious accomplishment, a competency equal in every way to playing professional sports, race car driving, gymnastics and kick lines. You can’t fake it.
As a young kid, I was immersed in these early cowboy shows and learned the swagger, the tilt of the hat, the quick draw, and taking the eventual body shot that required a complete tumble, head over heels and into the dirt.
The High Production Quality That Followed
There are two family shows, both from the 70s, which I do admire for their high production quality and diverse, detailed stage production: Little House On The Prairie, and The Waltons.
Little House boasted a full fictional community in Walnut Grove, Minnesota during the 1870-1890s. In 204 episodes viewers were taken into the workplaces of the saw mill, Oleson’s General Store, the church, the ice house, the school, the post office, the bank, Nellie’s restaurant, and Doc Baker’s office. We sat at the table of the Ingalls, the Olesons, the Garveys, Mr.Edwards and the blind school.
All the while, we followed Laura, Mary, Albert Ingalls and all of their school friends over the fields, through the streets, and to the ponds and streams. Sometimes they rode horses, plowed dirt rows, delivered calves, milked cows, fed chickens and held piglets in their arms. In spectacular scenes they climbed mountain sides, rode railway cabooses, forged steel bells and ran through burning houses. Where do you see that today?
The Walton’s gave us a rural mountain picture of life in the 30s to 40s with the same comprehensive production settings: a two-story farm house, a 1929 Model AA Ford truck, a cow named Chance, a working saw mill, Blue the docile mule, Reckless the dog, Rover, the occasional peacock, plus a menagerie of other pets and wildlife. The characters lasted for almost the entire series of 221 episodes. We watched as they worked the mill, cut and dipped fence posts, drove their jalopies to school, visited Ike Godsie’s General Store, hiked the back woods, went to church and college, sat at the kitchen table, circled around the radio, birthed calves… these scenes aren’t happening on TV any more.
For the record, Little House was mostly shot around the Big Sky Ranch in the Simi Valley, all under the direction of Ed Friendly Productions.The Waltons was filmed around Hollywood Hills and Burbank by Lorimar productions. Walton’s Mountain itself was on the backside of the same chunk of granite that displays the Hollywood sign.
I am not criticizing the state of television viewing today. But I am marveling at just how full an education the young actors and actresses of Waltons and Little House received.
And at the same time, what young viewers also learned from these classic family shows. Waltons and Ingalls children took their viewers out of their homes, out of the cities and alleys, and gave them some wide open spaces to enjoy and appreciate.
When this COVID blows away, I hope we get outside some more. Mean time, there’s Wagon Train.
Thanks for reading! Take a preview at my latest book, Norfolk Chronicles, a treasury of 50 tales, sightings and vignettes from the tobacco fields, alleys and roads of Norfolk County, and Delhi, my hometown.
I just received an inquiry about my health. I have not posted since April, (Birthday Buzz) and one of my readers suggested that I was not well.
Not so! Never been fitter!
The truth is, I last posted in April, shortly after our COVID attack, and then was busy finishing up the final pages of my third book, Norfolk Chronicles. It was published in May, and I am happy to report that it has sold out. I am waiting for my second bulk delivery to arrive on our doorstep soon.
Since then, I volunteered to help supply content for a very special website, NorfolkRemembers.Ca. The site is dedicated to memorializing the great expense of the many sons and daughters who fought for peace and freedom in World War 1, The Great War, and World War 2.
Norfolk County, scenically and prominently, takes its place on the north shore of Lake Erie, in Ontario. Between 1939-1945 the farms and towns of Norfolk gave up 153 soldiers, sailors and airmen and women who never came home to their families nearly 80 years ago. Today, their names may appear on a brass plaque in a park somewhere that we might pass by on our way to the variety store or the coffee shop.
RCAF Pilot Officer Donald George McLeod, age 21.
The website is fascinating and inspiring. It has numerous exhibits of stories, letters, photography and events. Our current effort is to research and write a more comprehensive story for each our fallen heroes. These stories speak to their youth, their families, plans, hobbies and loves, and how they lined up to enlist. The narratives will also reveal their final hours and how they were remembered some 75 years ago.
The statistics on the 153 are eye-opening and gut-wrenching, but cutting to the chase, the youngest I have encountered so far was 19, and the oldest was just over 33 years of age. Imagine the loss. Had they returned home, they may have been our parents, grand parents or great grandparents.
So, for the time being, I am pursuing the job given me with a group of others. I may not be posting much until done.
Be safe, and get on with the things you like to do.
Why did Benjamin Franklin think it a good idea to fly a kite in the rain? And why did he further believe that tying a key to the kite string was a helpful experiment? Never understanding the whole event, I learned that he really was determined to prove that lightning was electricity. The kite string was hemp, which was soaking wet in the rain, but contrary to many depictions of Franklin standing, drenched to the ears, in the middle of a field, he was not. He was standing dry in the doorway of a barn, where he was holding onto a dry piece of silk string tied to the wet hemp. He tied the key to the hemp. What happened next is important in preserving life. As the winds tore around the kite, it collected static electricity that was transmitted down the wet hemp cord. When the charge began to accumulate, Franklin saw that the strands of the hemp bristled like a brush. Impressed, he moved to touch the key with his knuckle, and got a little buzz for his curiosity. This was enough for him to conclude that there was electricity in the air around the kite. Had he hung in there for a lightning strike, he would have been a cindered lump, incapable of later writing up his findings. I present the true events of this mythical story because I am not good with electricity. I do not understand the relationship between amperes and watts and volts. I have experience with volts, but limited at that. I hate electric shocks. Like scrubbing across the living room rug and zapping yourself on the stereo. Once, I stepped out of my car and the shock was so strong I nearly welded my hand to the door. I cannot imagine the blind temerity of electric car owners who drive about, sitting on top of twelve hundred pounds of lithium battery, the same stuff that spontaneously ignites laptops and cell phones in one’s pocket. My electric experience was early in life, but indelible. There was a time in history, before the advent of digital cameras, that I was charged with taking a family picture at a birthday party. The flash extension on my camera used disposable flash bulbs. As the crowd grouped together, I called cheese, and at the critical moment of a united smile, the flash did not work. So off I went to the photographic shop—remember those? With the old flash battery in hand, I entered the store, and placed it on the counter. It was a small metal cube about the size of a thimble. The girl across from me looked at it. “I think it’s dead. Can you test it?” “Yes sir,” she responded and pulled out a contraption with wires and a needle under a plastic window, “let’s see what we’ve got.” The needle wavered lethargically. “Yep, you need a new battery. This one’s flatter than a hat on a highway,” she smiled. But I wasn’t so sure. “Just hang on,” I said. “What if I just do the old taste test?” With that I placed the little cube on the tip of my tongue, and touched its other end with my finger. It felt a little warm on the tongue, which meant the battery still had some juice. “I think it still might be good.” She looked at me like I might stick a pen into an outlet, or put my thumb into a light socket. “No, it’s dead. You need a new one.” “Well, just wait,” I countered, and lifted the battery again to my mouth. “Let’s give it another go.” With that said, I touched my tongue to the bottom of the battery, but inadvertently my lip touched the other end. Shazowee!! The shock arced through my brain like a giant blinding klieg light with tinsel exploding in all directions. For a moment my eyes froze wide open like Buick hubcaps in a car show: bright, spinning and impossibly shiny. I had never seen stars before. The jolt was so strong I nearly swallowed the battery. Then my eyes slammed shut and I spat the battery onto the counter. It skidded to a rest beside her calculator. “You okay?” she asked, incredulous. I jiggled my head. My mouth was limp. “Could you teth it again? I hink it thill hath thome juith lef.” She picked up the little brute and studied it closely, and then the tester. “Oh! No wonder,” she chuckled. “It’s fifteen volts. I set it for one and a half! Hah! Sorry!” I pointed out that you can start a Mack truck with twelve volts. She tested it again, and it registered “replace”. I took her word for it, and bought a new battery, which was egregiously expensive I thought. “Eight bucks?? That’s adding insult to injury,” I protested. “Would you like to test it?” she countered. “Ha ha. Wrap it up.” I stomped out of the store and returned to the party which was in full session. I had missed the cake and candles, and the ice cream was relaxing in a pool at the bottom of a crystal serving dish. I installed the battery, and again herded the partiers to the couch for the birthday shot. Everyone retrieved their smile. The camera clicked, but no flash. A collective groan followed. “Hey maybe you bought a dead battery!” “Yeah, did you test it?” “Yeah, why don’t you test it now?” “Yeah, just put it on your tongue…” I cut them all off. “We are going outside to the picnic table, now!” I instructed. “Out! Out! And when we’re done, you can all go fly a kite!”
The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug: perennial invader.
For the two previous summers, our community has been infiltrated by legions of quietly intrusive stinkbugs. They seemed to magically appear, just out of the corner of our eyes, posing on a wall or lampshade.
Amazon Prime van passes the broken shell of a Macy’s store.
Little did we know that these were just the first wave, doing reconnaissance for the main invasion: Amazon. Now, virtually on every street, at every corner, we catch a glimpse of an Amazon delivery truck slipping in and out of view.
Amazon first broke into our consciousness in 1995 with a simple concept: a place to buy books online. Their ads claimed access to all of the world’s contemporary literature available, and their warehouse was in outer space, “The World’s Biggest Bookstore”. We might have listened.
Today Amazon is the world’s second largest company, by market capitalization, following Microsoft, and just ahead of Apple. It has the world’s second largest retail sales volume, following Walmart.
Barbarians at the gate: Amazon vans use shuttered Macy’s parking lot in Northbrook, IL.
The most physical sense of Amazon’s presence is its growing fleet of delivery vans. In 2019, Fedex and UPS and the United States Postal Service delivered approximately 13.9 billion parcels in the United States. But on its own, Amazon dropped 2.5 billion pieces at our doors. According to Morgan Stanley, that will increase to 6.2 billion in the next 3 years.
The Amazon convoy. Dispatched regularly in 10-15 vehicle sorties on Butterfield Road.
I remark on these stats primarily because we watch the daily procession of Amazon trucks that travel Butterfield Highway, between Libertyville and Mundelein. The company has leased space to stage its fleet in an available lot on Technology Way on Libertyville’s west side. There, independent owners and employees are regularly dispatched in squads of 10-15 vehicles at a time to head south to Allanson Road in Mundelein where they will pick up their allotted parcels for delivery. The system is efficient, and it is supported by a good road, courtesy of Lake County.
Staging area in west Libertyville.
Just over the Illinois/Wisconsin Line, there is a vast Amazon distribution center off of US Route 94. It measures several football fields in size, plus parking lot. Not coincidentally, directly across the highway sits an equally large U-Line facility that makes shipping boxes. One wonders if there is a tunnel. According to Amazon’s 2018 statements, the company has 230 million square feet of fulfillment space. Its premises house nearly 650,000 employees. One might also wonder how many of those people used to work for Sears, Macy’s, Pier One Imports, Abercrombie & Fitch, Office Depot, Victoria’s Secret, The Gap, and Payless Shoes.
This is not a critique of Amazon in any way. The company’s mission statement is in part to serve a “customer-centric obsession”. To that end, it has grown from simply books to sales of more than 100 million items. Its website lists not a few business diversifications, but a vast portfolio of divisions relating to fashion, video streaming, groceries, pharmaceuticals, publishing, music, movies, web services, home automation and home security.
We can mourn the loss of the local store, but we have gravitated toward a business model that for much of our wants and needs, is just plain easy.
The Delhi arena was our community center. It housed our public skating in winter and summer, our hockey teams, our figure skaters, our bike races, wrestling matches and the odd magic show. But chief among its attractions was the Ice Carnival, that happened every March.
Small towns like Delhi enjoy a trait you can’t find in a big city: togetherness. The Ice Carnival brought together hundreds of parents, children, fans, performers, business leaders, round-the-corner store owners, and just as many more contributors who worked tirelessly in the background, unknown to many of us as they mobilized for this annual event.
Juniors in full clown get-up.
The Delhi Figure Skating Club put on the Ice Carnival. This was the capstone to four months of figure skating instruction. Youngsters would show up every Wednesday afternoon to learn the basics of skating. They scrabbled over weak ankles and catchy toe picks that tripped them every time they moved. Yet four months later, they had mastered forwards, backwards, modest hops and skips, and skating hand in hand with their groups. The Intermediate and Senior skaters appeared on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and had learned or polished their ability to execute spins and mid-air jumps, dances in pairs and precise figures.
Fulfilling the dream of being the next star on ice.
All of these accomplishments were the fulfillment of many parents’ dreams of one day seeing their child be the next Karen Magnussen or Toller Cranston. But in the short term, they would be happy just to see them applauded as a star on ice, and that’s what the carnival promised.
The themes generated ideas for costumes and duets.
Every year the DFSC would choose a theme. Maybe one time it was Peter Pan, or Wizard of Oz. The musical Gypsy was nominated one year. Other times it was Deep In The Heart of Texas, Nutcracker and Aladdin. The theme became the platform for choosing characters which might be Munchkins, or gum drops, Tinkerbell, scarecrows, clowns, broncos, cowgirls, roughnecks, roses, skunks, elephants, pink panthers, candy canes, Belles of The Ball, you name it.
It was a war effort of volunteerism, sewing 100’s of costumes.
The carnival ignited a war effort of volunteerism. The juniors show would require possibly 200 costumes. And for each of these, a mother would get a pattern which might be for a teddy bear, to be sewn in three segments. If she couldn’t deliver, there were sewing dynamos who were skater mothers like Jackie Byron, Hazel Osborne, Yvonne Kelleher, Georgette Rapai, Marjorie Klein who would bang out ten teddy bear costumes, or fifteen skunks with stuffed tails, as long as you brought the material.
A milk maid with her charges.
The theme was rounded out with backdrop and props. Moms and dads would show up to staple 40-inch tin foil around the entire boards of the rink, and string electric lights. Under the direction of Gord Franklin, sheets of plywood and lengths of 2x4s would appear, and were pounded into scenery walls across the back end of the rink. Teams of painters would arrive with buckets of tempera to draw forests, and houses, and oil wells, windmills and whimsical street scenes.
Odd man out: boys were in high demand.
Truly, if there were 200 skaters in the carnival, there were 200 parents who helped sew, paint, build and deliver. One year we required 30 tambourines for a big number. With some ingenuity Cy Stapleton acquired enough steel pie plates into which he cut and welded flattened, perforated bottle caps that rattled raucously. Not quite symphonic, but still impressive.
A Swiss Miss with smiling escort.
The music was key for the Ice Carnival. Under the direction of Floyd Thomas, the Delhi Band would practise and perform perhaps 20 different tunes and bumper segments to bring our solos, dances and parades to life.
The Delhi Community Band delivered sound and rhythm to mobilize the acts.
Meanwhile at the business end of the production, every skater was assigned a group of tickets to sell. These challenges were as daunting as a walk to the principal’s office. Neighbourhoods were canvassed door-to-door by mumbling, addled urchins with handfuls of card-sized tickets, going for $2,$3,$4 each. We were exhorted to get them all sold, or don’t come home.
Elves waiting backstage for their cue.
As the day approached, dress rehearsals were convened, and under the stressful din of our instructors we were given our routines. The Juniors were herded in groups of ten or fifteen. Their performance consisting of a couple tours around the ice, perhaps a rotating ring or parade of bunny hops. The more accomplished were picked to do solos. The soloists usually got exclusive costumes with more colors or frills or trim. They were stars.
The girls were dressed in sequins, gloves and tiaras.
The intermediates and seniors had more complex routines to maneuver and there were more opportunities for truly gifted skaters to create and perform solos and duets, showing off impressive turns, spins, jumps and speed. They looked special, and the crowds loved them.
There were always a few dance numbers. A dozen or more seniors would waltz around the ice while the band played. The Averys, a very senior and elegant visiting couple would skate the equivalent of a ballroom dance, dressed in tails and evening gown. They glided around the rink, gracefully, classy, smiling and wowing the audience with their apparent ease on ice.
The guys grabbed all the comedy routines, in ridiculous outfits.
Ice Carnivals also provided comic humour, and the few remaining senior guys, Paul and George Rapai, Skip Lumley, Mike Byron, Chris Brown, Rob Lammens, contributed. The crowds enjoyed their romps in weird cow costumes, throwing confetti into the bleachers, riding steel wash buckets, pedaling two-seated bicycles backwards on tacked tires, skipping rope and lassoing each other.
The Precision Line on ice was spectacular, and good.
One legacy of the Ice Carnival was its famous precision line. While most of us at the time did not know of the Rockettes, it was certainly the model after which the senior girls and ladies were instructed. Thirty or more would appear in stunning short-skirted outfits, embellished with ruffles, ribbon, sequins and gloves to dazzle the crowd with powerful confident moves in unison, rocking and skating to the up tempo sounds from the band. They circled, counter-circled, wiggled and swayed, and finally lined up to deliver a jaw-dropping kick line forwards and backwards. The precision team became a show piece in the region for years after under the direction of Karen Haskins.
Wizard of Oz, in full dress.
All of these things are indelibly etched in my memory for the years that I participated. The experience of putting on a show, the excitement and tension of huddling behind a backdrop, surrounded by giggling groups of pretty girls, goofy guys dressed in party gear and faces smeared in grease paint, lipstick and Nivea cold creme like Mardi Gras, waiting for a cue…and the music would start up, the lights dimmed, the spots went on, out we went, and the crowds would cheer… it was a special time.
Thanks for reading and sharing! I hope you too remember a special time when you were down at the rink!
Cutting to the chase, I highlight these numbers:
1. First Class revenues are off $161 million, down 2.3% just for the quarter. This was supposed to be the Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween and holiday greetings season.
2. Direct Mail or “Marketing Mail” as they have renamed it, down $252 million, or off 5.4% during what was traditionally a good season.
3. Direct mail volume for the quarter was off 1.7 billion pieces…down 7.9%. Hello??
4. Periodical mail continues its slide, revenues off 7.7%, volumes off 7.4%
5. Competitive Packages and Parcel mail, revenues up $137 million, or 2.1%, but quantities down 68 million pieces, off 4.0%.
I suppose I am naiively conservative, but I really expected for this past quarter to shine, and I have been rudely shaken to grasp what everyone else has been saying for years.
On an annual basis, the numbers are no more encouraging. I have created the chart below, converting the USPS fiscal year reports to normal business calendar years: January to December.
Compared to 2018, here are a few highlights about 2019 volumes:
1. First Class revenues off 2.2%; pieces off 3.4%
2. Direct mail revenues off 3.7%; pieces off 5.6%
3. Packages and Parcels revenues up 3.5%; pieces down 2.8%
Clearly, email, chat, web, and social media has displaced the need to use the mail. The only beneficiary in this trend is the package delivery business, which the USPS has carefully cultivated, though the decline in pieces is still a concern.
If there is any bright spot in this numbers soup, it might be that the direct marketers who mail to live know what they are doing; that it’s the small local businesses which used to mail have opted for web and social media instead.
We’ll see, but unless they do, this is my last post on the USPS.
Thanks for reading and sharing. If you are in the DM business, and have an alternative observation to make, I would love to hear it!
Down at the rink there was a constant stream of guys from youngsters to teens who slogged in and out, all winter, with bags of equipment, tapes, pucks, pads, skates and sticks. They came at all the hours of the day and night.
In this small hockey-crazy town, how did I end up in the figure-skating club?
Of all the gifts my parents bestowed, this was the one that took the longest to understand. But whether it was their intention to produce a figure skater, or just to keep me occupied, I eventually saw the light. And it was dazzling.
Barbara Ann Scott, 1948 Olympic Gold Medalist for Canada
My parents moved to Delhi in 1948 and in a short time took a lead role in starting the Delhi Figure Skating Club. It was the same year Canada’s Sweetheart, Barbara Ann Scott, won the Olympics. This may have been Dad’s idea, but Mom would have pushed him along, and with the help of those many post-war friends who landed in this small tobacco-growing community, the DFSC was born. It drew widespread endorsement, especially by parents whose daughters couldn’t play hockey. Within a couple of years there was a long list of members aged 7-70 who came to the rink on Wednesdays and Saturdays to cut figure 8s, do steps, spins and jumps and dance in wavy processions around the rink. You might say it was a little Arthur Murray mixed up with some chilly ballet.
CCM skates, built tough for hockey.
While all my friends went the hockey route, I went figure skating, primarily because it was my ride home. So, I owned a pair of black, shin-high laced skates with long, slim silver blades with chiseled picks on the toes. My buds all had CCM hockey skates: black with brown trim, yellow laces, reinforced tendon guards, and wide, hard, puck-stopping steel blades riveted into the soles. Their scarred and dented toes resembled miners’ helmets. Mine shone like OPP boots. There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two sports.
Or could there?
The girls came in numbers: a serendipitous awakening.
In fact, I discovered in figure skating that for every boy there were at least five girls. This may have been the unintended consequence of my membership, but it was a serendipitous awakening that I have never regretted, much less forgotten.
In the earliest of my stumbling skating career as a Junior, I wandered around crowds of other newbies on the ice, learning to push out for forward and butt-wiggle for reverse. Once ice-friendly we graduated to Intermediates where we attempted three-turns and hops like little bunnies in the snow. We raised our legs and arms for spirals, imitating clumsy birds landing on the feeder. I perfected the nose-plant.
Paul Rapai, Marion Pitts, Suzanne Klein, Skip Lumley nailed it.
In the midst of my imperfect executions however, there were some real stars. Paul Rapai, Suzanne Klein, Skip Lumley, Marion Pitts, Jack Kellum, Mary Ann Coyle, Nora Marie VanHove–these older kids were excellent skaters. Gifted with balance, strength and grace, they captivated their audience, both those of us on the fringes, and the adoring crowds on the benches. They had nailed it.
But as a 12-year-old, I found the boy numbers had thinned, my skating buds had evaporated to the hockey track, and I was accompanied by a few guys who hung on, to witness like I did, that we were surrounded by girls. It was a stunning, magical, delirious moment for an addled kid who until then had been happiest with a pellet gun in the woods.
The girls always dressed up for figure skating. They wore colourful toques, scarves, furry ear muffs, white gloves or mitts, smart tunics and on occasion, impossibly short skirts and tanned tights. They had immaculate white skates with bows or jingle bells laced into the toes. To a one, they had fresh rosy cheeks and bright eyes, lovely curls and some even sported earrings. In the middle of a cold grey winter I had somehow stumbled into a warm, sunny bakeshop at Easter.
Chris Brown, Bunny Klein. Boys came at premium in the DFSC.
The task of serious figure skating still advanced however. We were now instructed in drawing crisp, neat figure 8s on our outside and inside edges. My 8s looked like shaky ampersands. We learned to launch into the air with 3-jumps. Mine looked like 4s and scratchy 5s. A simple cutback into a spin left me doodling aimlessly, slowing to a halt after one rotation. In short, I was a figure skating klutz.
And I was treated that way, pretty much. But still there were high points. In the annual competitions I could draw a bronze medal for third place because there were only two other guys in the field. But best of all, I was indispensable as a dance partner. We needed boys to partner with girls to perform dances. So I may have been a solo wash-out, but I truly learned to deliver a passable Dutch Waltz, a Swing Dance, or my favourite, the Canasta Tango.
These dances guaranteed a pairing, arm in arm, hand in hand, eye to eye, with some of the prettiest girls Delhi had. We strode around the ice to orchestra tapes of Perfidia, Blue Moon, Wonderful Copenhagen… it was surreal, exciting and riveting all at once. While I may not have ever shared a social word with these girls at school, on the ice it was a joint challenge to perform, and that seemed the winning ticket.
While my hockey friends were scrambling and whooping around the ice like scrappy junkyard dogs, slamming the boards and crossing sticks, I was gliding along smooth arcs, laughing and talking our way through a complicated foot-move in time to Andre Kostelanetz. While the guys were groaning in the sweaty change rooms breathing the high-sulphur coal-heated air, I was enchanted by the occasional wafts of Breck shampoo, Noxzema and Juiceyfruit gum. How bad was that?
The ice carnival, exciting, enchanting, memorable.
The climax of the skating season however was the Ice Carnival. This was the DFSC’s presentation to the town. It was a top-tier war effort, and in addition to its spectacular performance, the carnival was, to many of us, the most exciting and enchanting event of the season.
“Opinions are like noses: everybody’s got one,” which is what one of my best bosses ever advised me. And so it is, the 2nd Appellate justices reviewed the Libertyville appeal, buttressed by eloquent oral arguments, and came to the opinion: “No dice.”
Our appeal to reverse the Lower Court Judge Michael Fusz’ ruling was refused. The ruling stands. The Archdiocese of Chicago may now expect the Village to re-zone the 40-acre lot on Butterfield for residential building, and along with that, allow the final plats to be submitted and approved for building the 148-units which were proposed in 2017.
This of course is subject to the Village Board’s acceptance of the decision, which will be deliberated in the next few weeks.
There is no upside to predicting future events. However, if there is an upside of any sort, it is that the proposed development still has to respect and comply to the fifty-plus requirements which the Village planning department had stipulated two years ago. And that is assuming that there is a developer who still is eager to pursue the enterprise.
Putting it all aside, we hang on to the original objections to the development as values and concerns the neighborhood held about this development. We hope that the Village departments will remember these too.
Chief among our concerns today is the forecasted population of 150 children who will live and play a stone’s throw distant from Butterfield School, and its magnificent and inviting playing fields. They are there within sight, viewed from the opposite side of a 4-lane Butterfield highway.
Hindsight is perfect vision. While the Village focused on the difficulties in local motorists making left turns out onto Butterfield, little light was shed on the dangers of pedestrian traffic– young kids, minors, venturing across the highway over which 24,000 cars speed through at 47 mph. every day. The lower court judge never heard that insight, and the opportunity to remind him now is moot.
However, the developer will still have that, among many other hurdles to pass before the shovels go into operation. We will wait to see what the Board chooses to do next, and how the parties involved will respond.
Thanks for reading and sharing, loyal Butterfield Friend and Neighbor. We will see how it all works out!