Culture, Government, Legal

Red Light-Green Light

The Church’s 148-Unit Subdivision continues to bubble.

Libertyville: The Village had its day in court this morning, with a brisk Q&A between a panel of three appellate court justices and two lawyers who represented both sides of the debate– “Did the lower court make a mistake when it green-lighted the Church’s plans to build a 148-unit subdivision on Butterfield Road?”

As you can guess, the proposed answers were, “yes” and “no”.

As you will recall, in February 2019, the Lake County 19th Circuit court held in favor of the Church that their development could go ahead. The court ruled that the Village could offer no credible proof that the traffic on Butterfield would be dangerous to the health and safety of Libertyville residents. This ruling hinged on the court’s belief that Lake Street at Butterfield Road would not be a dangerous intersection, and that the development’s single access point further south would also not be dangerous to residents entering and exiting the development.

Inherent in that decision was the court found the Village had been unreasonable and capricious in refusing to change the zoning of the area to accommodate the development.

Northbound traffic on Butterfield: tough for left turns.

The Village chose to appeal this ruling.  It’s reversible, on the basis that the developer had not complied with the Village’s subdivision code. The code is steeped in engineering and planning requirements, out of which bubbles a concern for our health and welfare. To wit: traffic is dangerous.

The 2nd Appellate Court is located on the banks of the Fox River in Elgin, Illinois just off route 25, and south of I-90.  It’s a well-dressed building with free parking and pretty efficient entry, unlike Lake County’s 9th Circuit Court in Waukegan where parking is iffy, conflict is more apparent and real, and the justice is being dispensed retail.

Inside the Elgin courthouse you can see large, high-ceilinged courtrooms, paneled in cherry, with a raised bench for the three black-gowned justices.  A foot lower is the single-miked podium and desk for the attorney.  There is ample desk space to lay out volumes of material.  But frankly, not enough time to use it all.  The counter-space could afford two attorneys lying nose-to-nose in a final thumb wrestle if necessary.  The court room also provided for a couple visitor rows.  Interesting to note, there is no steno taking minutes of the proceedings.

What the courthouse does enjoy however is the continual train whistles echoing across the Fox as the freights labor their way back and forth, oblivious to the closed-door grumbling and pleading going on just yards away.

The justices–who commendably had prepped by reading the Village’s 3,000-page appeal statement, plus review the lower court’s 8 days of testimony and final decision– peppered the Village with questions. In 15 minutes, the basic question was formulated, “Where in the lower court trial did the Village ever talk about the subdivision code, while instead only testifying to the traffic safety issue?”

Our response was that the Church never complained about the subdivision code, only the negative zoning decision. So that’s all we defended against.

With that established, the Church’s attorney stepped forward to bat away the justices’ questions. These generally focused on any challenges or approvals that might alert the developer to change plans to comply. “No, in fact we were agreeing to comply, or getting approvals in every negotiation of a planned development. A planned development allows for Village and developer to side-step zoning rules in favor of creative alternatives. For example, narrow alleys and no driveways with small lots provide room for more open space for all residents.”

Following that 15 minute dialogue, the Village attorney resumed for a 5-minute rebuttal where again he re-iterated that both zoning compliance and subdivision code had to be upheld, and that the lower court ruling should be reversed.

The chief justice then closed the session with a promise to find a decision. No time-line was offered, but outside the court, we heard it could take months.

When I asked the Village’s attorney to sum up our position, that despite the Planned Development process, both the Zoning Ordinance and the Subdivision Code both had to be upheld, to paraphrase, he observed: “You can’t have one without the other.  You can’t plead innocence to the judge that you were obeying the speed limit while you ran the red light.”

 

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Agriculture, Culture, Marketing, Thank You

Own Your Burger!

A welcome sign on route 94 into Wisconsin.

One of the great treats of living in northern Illinois is being able to hop over the state line into Wisconsin. The land of beer, cheese, sausage, milk, football, hunting, fishing, camping, farming and hard work is a near infinite portal to the pursuit of happiness.

I need to tell you about just one of those diversions: the Culver’s Butterburger.

In an era when dairy products are viewed as gateway fats, it’s crazy to promote a burger naming butter as a signature ingredient.  But in Wisconsin, what else is more appropriate?  This burger is not politically correct.  It’s frank, and honest.

In fact, the Butterburger is a winning trademarked name that has been touted proudly since 1984.  And its sidekick?  Fresh Frozen Custard, which is made with, yes, you guessed it, eggs.  Not a lot, but they are in there.

The Butterburger is raw culinary honesty at its best.  Culver’s makes no bones about promoting the zest and robust fullness of their foods.  Yep, it’s got fat, and it tastes good.   The Butterburger is a visual treat too.  Packed with yellow cheddar, red tomatoes, green lettuce, pickles, and purple sweet onion, it looks like a miniature carnival carousel.  It lacks only a calliope and an operator.

The Culver’s bag is all message. “Welcome to delicious”.

We were told about the Butterburger nearly 20 years ago, but never had the temerity to go to Culver’s and try one on. The thought of it repelled.  We visualized a hamburger swimming in butter, squirting mayonnaise, dripping juice with every bite.

And then the ads started.  We saw Craig Culver, capped and jacketed in blue, coaching the cook staff on the proper way to flatten the fresh beef patty on the grill.   It had a family feel about it, and somewhat reminiscent of another family burger business, Wendy’s.

We ordered two sandwiches, well beyond our appetites and good guidance.

But the ads persisted, and one day, they introduced the Butterburger Deluxe Double.  Two beef patties, mayo, and all the colorful rest.  That was when I learned that the butter was actually brushed onto the bun and grilled before the burger was assembled.  Well, that’s not so bad, is it?

So on a hot day in September, we drove to a Culver’s in Wisconsin, just over the line, and against all dining habits and trashing healthful instincts, guiltily ordered up two Deluxe Doubles to go. We waited a full five minutes as they actually cooked the burgers for us, squashing them down just like Craig instructed. Then, presented with a bulging bag of two you-know-whats, we drove like bootleggers off to a neighboring lakeside park to enjoy our feast with some ice-cold beers.

The experience was “our first” of a sort, and it was sinfully delightful.  Forbidden foods should be like that.  Reaching into the bag, we pulled out two promising, boxed beauties.   They looked just like the ads.  Sitting down on a bench, we marveled at the sensory delights of a bulging fat, colorful, shameless sandwich, dripping in beef juice and mayo.  It was hot, succulent, cheesy, and messy, with chunks of tomato and purple onion escaping out the sides of our mouths.  To some it might just be a burger.  To me, it was ambrosia.

The sandwich bulges with color, meat and veg, and oozes cheese and mayo.

Just wondering how deeply we had entered into the badlands of fat, I checked the Culver’s website, and found that our Butterburger Deluxe Double weighed in at 810 calories, with 155 mg. of cholesterol.  Bad?  Eaten every day, not good.  But once in a while, I could live with.

Incidentally, I took the fight to Wendy’s and bought a “Double Dave” named after the late Dave Thomas, founder, and felt the experience similar, but lacking the purple onion and extra mayo and raucously celebrated butter, it was a second place presentation.  The Double Dave also boasted 810 calories and 175 mg. of cholesterol, but without the hutzpah, the bravado of the Butterburger’s brazen image, it didn’t deliver the guilty satisfaction I felt in Wisconsin.

To some, a burger. To me, ambrosia.

The Culver’s website also gave me a look at the larger picture.  It’s a family run, privately owned business, 736 restaurants sprinkled across the midwest and south.  Wendy’s has 6,000.  The company is HQ-ed in Sauk Wisconsin, a smallish town north of Milwaukee.

Culver’s targets its charitable giving and philanthropy towards agriculture, supporting the education of young farmers with activities in the National Future Farmers of America, Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, and most intriguing, Cows on the Concourse, in Madison Wisconsin.

Welcome–a burger most proud!

 

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childhood, Culture, Thanks

Where The Time Went

The James Park Grandad from Preston Lancashire.

As I’ve mentioned before, the curse of the Baby Boomer is to inherit their parents’ estates. It is a blessing too, but the cursing starts when you search for a place to put it all. Nevertheless, in our case, we have been blessed with time…time in the form of clocks.

Taking a stand in the workshop.

The Park Grandfather Clock
As a very young fellow, barely walking, I was enchanted by the tall, wooden long-cased clock that guarded over our hallway in our first home in Delhi. The antique was built sometime between 1816-1855 by James Park in Preston, Lancashire, England. My great great grandfather had acquired this handsome old wooden gentleman when it was fairly young, and had kept it running, just as his son, grandson, and great grandson, my father, would continue to do. A gorgeous piece of cherrywood sculpture, graced by a brass works that with regular winding would tell the time of day, the day of the month, and chime the hours with a beautiful bell.

As a toddler, I scrambled and slid across those hardwood  floors with baby fat knees, making it up to the glass-windowed front door of the clock. Inside, a long pendulum punctuated by a baseball-sized brass medallion swung slowly behind two ominous, bullet-shaped weights. These weights were cast iron, hung on pulleys, and tipped the scales at 20 pounds each. They looked like ’88 shells from a WW2 anti-aircraft cannon.

The grandfather clock’s windowed door presented a tiny brass handle which I found intriguing, and happily, just within reach. Fascinated by the pendulum’s slow swing, and the twin 88’s, I pulled the door open for a closer look. The bob was suspended on a steel pendulum connected to a fragile tin hook called a feather, at the top of the clock. With the strength that only a curious tyke can offer, I pulled at the bob, stopping it in its perpetual track, and without a moment’s delay, gripped it hard while I climbed into the case. The tin feather gave way, and I fell in.

As you might guess, calamity followed, and the clock tumbled  over on top of me, spraying the hardwood floor with shattered glass and chunks of 150-year-old lacquered cherry and clock hands. When my horrified parents lifted the clock up, they found me nestled between the two 88’s, unharmed.  The clock’s case was demolished, and after a forceful, shrill, and pointed scolding from my mother, dad picked up the pieces, and packed the works into a box.

Grandad’s works. The gnarly toothed wheel counts the strikes of the bell.

Forty years passed before dad opened the box again.  Using some plans he purchased from a clock company in Kitchener, he built a new case, out of Norfolk County cherry, installed the aged brass works, and had the clock up and going.  It was another thirty years later in 2012, with some transitions along the way, that the now shrink-wrapped clock was retrieved from storage and made its way into our home. I mentioned storage because that is an essential tool for seniors today: a place to store our late parents’ stuff.

The clock was a mechanical puzzle for me.  It took literally 2 months of leveling, machine cleaning, tinkering, timing and fiddling with the works of the clock and its chime to get it to run.  During this time I scanned the internet to identify its maker, James Park, and thereby, date the clock.

Today, the revered piece quietly and solemnly ticks away beside my workshop bench in the basement.  It’s not exactly a man cave down there, but it’s home to the clock.  I visit regularly, and address it as my old friend, winding up the 88’s, a reminder of my heritage, and its place in our family.

The Seth Thomas Clock

The Seth Thomas. It had not moved in over 70 years, but comes to life.

Still again, as a young boy, I sat at an ancient cherry desk, once owned by my grandfather, worrying an eraser across a smudged arithmetic drill sheet. Above the shelving of the desk rested an equally aged mantel clock.  Its rectangular wooden case stood about 16 inches high, and housed a chipped black and white face.  By opening the hinged, windowed door, one could wind the works.

This clock, in my entire history with it, never worked.  It merely sat as desk candy, adding some dignity to our den, but no timely input.  The brass bob hung still, and the black  bedspring that acted as the chime, stood mute.

When we were emptying out my parents’ home, it was one of the first items we took for our own home.  It was placed on top of our piano, a previous inheritance, still and quiet.

The Seth Thomas works, made by Ansonia Clock Company, which was sold to the Soviets in 1929.

Having revived the James Park, I felt emboldened to bring Seth Thomas back to life, or at least, find out why it was comatose.  Taking the machine apart, I discovered that the works were brass, and made by the Ansonia Clock Company of Connecticut, and New York.  Seth Thomas was started in 1813, but Ansonia came 62 years later, so the clock was built after 1875, but before 1929, when Ansonia was sold to the Soviet government under the direction of Joseph Stalin.  A little known legacy of Stalin is the birth and robust growth of Russian timepiece manufacture which still prevails today.

Having bared the brass works, I viewed a spotless brass and steel jumble of springs, cogs, spindles, bushings and wheels.  They were wound up tight.  I removed the bob, and laying the machine on its side, washed it down with some mineral spirits.  Suddenly, the pendulum started to quiver sporadically.   More scrubbing, and the pendulum rattled to life, flicking back and forth unimpeded by the brass bob.   After a few minutes, the clockworks were up and at it, relieving wound-up spring pressure frozen since the early 1940s.

The Seth Thomas has now taken a new position on a side table in our family room.  It needs winding every three days, and faithfully attempts to strike its bedspring marking the hours and half hours.  I turned off the striker to avoid the continual reminders that time is passing.  But still, I enjoy twisting the brass key to re-wind the clock, and it gives me a moment to reflect on who has touched this antiquity.

The Railroad Clock

Our railroad station clock. Sparkling, shiny, stainless bob and weight.

Our first acquisition was a wall clock that was hung in the house of my wife’s family.   It has no apparent brand stamped on it, but was reputedly taken from a railroad station in the years before WW1 by her grandfather, and passed along to her family, and then to us.

The rail road clock is a beautiful weight-driven clock with a sparkling, engraved stainless steel bob and cylindrical weight. Tom, my father-in-law saw to it that this time piece worked flawlessly, and had it refurbished by a professional years ago.  It keeps perfect time, and that’s all.  No chimes.  No rising and setting suns and stars.  Perfect for predicting arrival wait times in a train station.

An instruction in DYMO.

This clock is distinguished in two ways.  First, Tom placed a cautioning instruction inside the case using his ever-present DYMO labeler: “Do Not Wind Weight Above This Level”.  This is no small point to recall.  Everything that moved in his home was liable to be DYMO-ed. He loved labels.  Second, Tom left a small tin inside the case which held a tiny oil cloth, soaked in paraffin and Packers Pine Tar Soap.  I don’t know why, but perhaps he cleaned the works with it.  In any event, I open the case and wind this clock once a week, never above the line, and breathe in the pine tar bouquet.

It is a warm reminder once again of the person who gave it to us.  I think he did that on purpose.

 

Thanks for reading! I hope you will share your own experiences with inheriting precious items from your folks!  Here’s another story, too.

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Culture, Government, Legal, Marketing, Media

When Your Number Comes Up

You know that funny feeling when the cell phone vibrates in your tight jeans pocket, and you struggle to extract it before the caller hangs up. Sitting in a movie theater is tougher because you know to leave it alone. But, it continues to zing—zing—zing, vibrating like a terrified june bug caught in your pants.

A couple days ago, my phone wouldn’t stop zinging. Starting at 10:30 in the morning, I got a call from San Antonio, TX. I know no one there. It’s hot, dusty, and except for the Alamo and the acclaimed Riverwalk, San Antonio doesn’t figure on my list of destinations, let alone origins. But the phone zings insistently.

It’s an unrecognizable number. Area code 210. I skip it.

A few minutes later, another call. San Antonio again. Flush it.

Two more calls after that, and I decide to pick up.

“This is to inform you that your Social Security Number has been suspended, and that there is a warrant for arrest under your name. Please call back immediately…”

I give high marks for originality on this call. It turns out that so does the caller, because they continue to zing in my pocket until a little after noon. 13 calls in total. 13 spoofs: each number changed, but the origin and area code remained San Antonio, Texas.

Next to our annual plague of stink bugs, I think the robo call is the most obnoxious–and noxious–element in our midwest existence. What amazes me is that nothing much is ever done about it.

The telemarketing channel has been a constant irritant to me, and to probably 99% of the adult American public.  In fact, it was the subject of my very first post in 2013: Let Me Get This Call.

In a typical day, we will receive at least 5 calls.  I am thankful for these, as:

  1.  They force me to get up and walk to the phone, providing necessary joint movement;
  2. They frequently remind me that I am eating dinner when they call;
  3. The calls provide a fleeting moment of excitement thinking a family member is calling.

We’ve nearly reached the tipping point to give up our land line, which was the main robo conduit into our normally quiet existence.  And then the cell phone becomes the new target.  What to do?

I looked up the Do Not Call registry, and confirmed that all three of our phones have been registered since 2005.  Fat lot of good that has done.

Checking the FCC page, I read some business-like claims by the department head that multi-million dollar fines have been handed out recently.  $80 million.  $40 million. Serious money, but the zinging doesn’t stop.

The government site points to the measures that phone companies are taking.  AT&T, my server, offers a Call Protect App for the zinging cell phone.  It’s free, and I install it.  Then quickly and effortlessly the app reports I have had no robo calls in the last 30 days!  What about the last three hours?

A Facebook friend has suggested I take a third party anti-robo app.  I may do so. We’ll see how AT&T performs over the next few weeks.

Surely AT&T wants us to keep all of our phones, right?  But mean time, I have this nagging concern.    AT&T is now HQ-ed in Dallas, Texas, area code 210.

Could it be possible?   No, don’t even think of it.

 

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Cars, childhood, Culture, Thank You

Gus’s Coffee Shop

Mobs of students crossed Hwy #3 every day to Gus’s.

Gus Vander Elst was a genius. He was a father, uncle, pump jockey, counter clerk, cop, teacher and short order cook. But most of all, he was a genius who bought the Cities Service gas station directly across from Delhi District Secondary School.

Can one grow wealthy selling burgers and 10-cent coffee?  Yes.

My first memorable experience with a diner hamburger was Gus’s, and like 800 other high schoolers, I reveled in the unshakeable aromas of grilled hamburgers served up under chopped raw onions, and spiced with the intoxicating clouds of cigarette smoke that floated across the tables of this busy, bustling hangout.

Gus’s was our off-property school cafeteria. Like the M*A*S*H Rosie’s Bar, Gus’s attracted a majority of kids, just for its noise, warmth, foggy windows, forbidden foods, back room and unstoppable traffic.  The coffee shop was a magnet, a cash cow, and Gus was king.

So it was that every lunch hour we exited the school driveway to the eastern curb of highway #3 and strode across to the center line in crowds, intimidating the stream of drivers going to and from town. With a break in the oncoming, our hungry mob would cross over the second lane to the white, two-story concrete block building, occasionally pounding on the bell wire by the pumps, and enter ground zero, our family teen haunt.

Lunch counter, or teen haunt, prepared for the daily rush at noon time.

Inside Gus’s was a lunch counter with six red, swivel stools. Diners could face the cook’s window, or turn to the two large picture windows that looked out onto the gas pumps. But more likely they faced two banquettes separated by a Wurlitzer juke box. The banquettes were perennial turf of the seniors–that’s high school seniors– and pretty much filled with bubbling squads of girls who laughed, screamed, rolled their eyes, primped, gushed and stared dismissively at the guys shuffling in front of them, the guys who studiously ignored their looks as if the table was circled by bags of oats.

At the south side of the small diner were two more tables where a junior or soph may get lucky to be invited to sit, but space was limited, so most visitors took their lunch standing up, the whole time, bumping shoulders and elbows while they downed their burger.

Gus managed the crowd like the Music Man. He was loud, smiling and all business, hustling orders to the cook’s window, spinning burgers onto buns, and dressing the patties as they appeared, “what’ll you have, mustard, relish? Onions with that? Cheese?” He bantered with his young eaters flipping on the extras.  He knew everyone’s name.  When an order was built he’d smack a bun top onto the mountain of condiments with a cupped hand like he was slapping down a set of dice on a sponge. We took our food happily, while his wife Jeanie took our coins in payment.

Wurlitzer: the heart beat of Gus’s Coffee Shop

The jukebox was a powerhouse.   It was always in motion, pounding a super bass speaker that shook around our ankles.  Sounds of Freddy Cannon, Little Eva, Gene Chandler, Chubby Checker, and Dion moved pairs of girls to dance in the crowd.  The guys would swagger and slouch as Dion would tell his story of The Wanderer.

The back room was where Gus stored the empty pop cases: stacks of large worn wooden crates that nested four 6-packs of empty Coke, Canada Dry and Wishing Well bottles.  These were lined along the walls, and leaning up against them was a cadre of guys, staring at each other through the haze, smoking, and telling impossible, implausible, and richly impressive stories about girls, cars and teachers.

Out front were the cars.  Old Fords and Chevys mostly, but always with doors and windows open for more conversation and music.  These were driven by seniors, all in grade 13, ready and restless to escape, off to university, off to work, back to the farm, off to the lake.  One drove a beautiful plum-coloured Volkswagen, and with help from four of his buddies, would rev up the engine, spinning the wheels while they lifted the rear of the Beetle a foot off the ground.  As the engine whined its loudest, they would let go of the bumper, and the car came down on those tires that screamed as he scooted across the pavement.

When Gus couldn’t reach the pumps in time, the guys would get their own gas.

Jeanie and Gus fed us from 1951-1969.

Gus looked after his customers like a parent.  On a wintry January day, a silly joke nearly turned violent until Gus walked out to settle the score.  It was cold, and the frozen, Brylcremed hair of a young student looked like it might repel water.  Experimenting with a bottle of Coke, a second student poured a couple drops on his head, and indeed, the Coke did bead up and roll off.  Moments later, a third student decided to pour a whole bottle of Coke down the neck of the second in retaliation.  That was enough to enrage student #2 who then smashed his bottle against #3’s bottle.  The tense exchange was viewed through those picture windows as the two kids faced each other with broken Coke bottles raised towards each other.   Gus suddenly appeared between the two, and with a few words took their weapons and shut them down.  I was thankful he showed up when he did.

Everyone who went to DDSS has a story about Gus, and the student body loved him and Jeanie for the place they took in our youth: steady, reliable, hard-working, dependable and non-judgmental, they were the older couple who parented us for an hour every day as we journeyed through our high school career.  He watched over us for nearly 20 years.

The last time I saw Gus, he was a much older man.  He lived in the Delrose Retirement home at the south end of town.  Always the spark plug in a crowd, Gus led a daily exercise and work out routine for the residents who lived with him there.  They loved him too.  He was wealthy in the best way.

Thanks for reading and sharing!   You can add your Gus memories below, too!

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direct mail, Economics, Government, Media, USPS

USPS: A Six-Month Stagger Into 2019

What can you say about a cursory glance at the most recent USPS Revenues Pieces and Weights report other than “CURSES!!” ?

What else can one say? They raised their rates around 2.5% last January, and six months later, revenues, pieces and weights are down.

SPOILER ALERT: This is all about numbers, which mean little, unless you are thinking about money.

You can see the details for yourself, but a cautionary word: the official RPW report above covers 9 months, from October 1 to June 30.   I have extracted the numbers below to cover from January to June, 2019.

 

In First Class Mail, which is all about bills, statements, cards and letters to mom and the folks, volume was off 3.2%– 904,000,000 pieces less than 2018.

Marketing Mail– direct mail was off 4.9%, — down 1,839,000,000 pieces from a year ago. Even more disturbing, the weight of those direct mail pieces also shrank about 2% from 1.49 ounces in 2018 to 1.46 ounces in 2019.

Leavened economics: 4 for $8.00 or 1 for $3.50?

The lesson here is that when you raise prices, despite your dominant position in the marketplace, people will buy less. We experienced a similar phenomenon at our favorite bakery when they raised the price of a cinnamon bun from $2.00 to $3.50. We used to buy 4, for $8. Now we buy one. Who’s happy?

The only bright light in the USPS tunnel to perdition is the package volume. Thanks to Internet orders, parcel shipments are still growing revenues, up 3.6%, though pieces and weights are off 1.7% and 3.3% respectively.

For wholly different reasons, magazine volume is also continuing its slide. Pieces are off 7.7% to 2,345,000,000 total delivered to as many as 159 million addresses in each of the past 6 months. If these magazines are all monthlies, there are approximately 391 million subscriptions in effect. About 2.4 for every household in America. While that may seem like plenty, just 5 years ago, the USPS delivered just over 3 billion periodicals, honoring approximately 502 million contracts, or 3.2 for every household.  But face it: if it wasn’t for the waiting rooms outside doctors’ offices, lube shops and office lobbies, the count would be less.

None of these figures should surprise you.  We all know the effect of the Internet on hard copy, paper, ink, and postal delivery.  Still, it is distressing to see a vital communications channel slowly price itself into a retreat, fulfilling a prophecy of irrelevance.

USS Ronald Reagan, a meager 110,000 tons.

But it’s not irrelevant.  Total mail volume in the fiscal year 2018 was 146 billion pieces.  That weighed 12.3 million tons. For those of you who are counting, that’s 108 USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carriers, soaking wet.

I have said it several times before, that the USPS, as an independent government agency has lots to be proud of, starting with its relatively minuscule cost to the US taxpayer.  Its 2017-2018 annual report showed an operating loss of $3.9 billion.  Sounds like a lot!  It’s 0.095% of the total U.S budget.   Less than one tenth of a percent.

The reality is, the USPS is still the bargain of all the media choices: it’s part of our lives, 6 days a week, with door-to-door pick-up and delivery, costing the taxpayer household about $23 per year, plus stamps.  Beat that, Amazon Prime.

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Agriculture, childhood, Culture, Thanks

History Lessons

 

A swing bridge over Big Creek, long ago.

My hometown of Delhi has a Facebook group site exclusively purposed to recall the days of our youth. Growing up in Canada’s most unique farming community, the premier source of flue-cured virginia tobacco for nearly a hundred years, the Facebook members post daily about their early experiences. They also remind us of what our parents and grandparents did to get us here in the first place. A couple world wars and a hostile political environment in Europe pushed our ancestors to Canada’s open doors, and Delhi was where they landed.

It struck me this past June, as I read the many stories emerging from the 75th anniversary of D-Day that we, as its beneficiaries, have an awakened reverence for what our parents did for us.

RCAF’s finest, off to Europe.

Is it just a function of getting older that we spend more time remembering, or is there a sense of responsibility to our predecessors of not letting them be forgotten?

Lest We Forget

But to my point: we now look back with respect. There is a lady in Delhi who is daily researching and compiling a history and narrative to describe the little town and its inhabitants from decades ago.

Kilnwork: our main stock in trade.

Another gentleman posts documents, clippings, ads, pictures, bills of sale and civic events, clearly from materials he has sought after and kept for posterity.

When my parents passed, we inherited a library of photography and letters, some dating back to the 1890’s. The pictures are eloquent, in their black and white motif, depicting the youth of a different time. Vacations, school, romance, marriage, kids.

1914: Canadian Expeditionary Force

They also include military poses: those ‘before’ shots, getting ready to ship off to some unknown and dangerous place, dressed in perfect uniforms, spotless, neat fitting and inspiring.

The hand-written letters dig below the pictures though, and reveal what’s really going on. I photo-scanned them all for sharing with our family.  Unlike Facebook, where our lives are generally perfect, the letters from 50, 75, 90 years ago talk of privations and scarcities. Life in its rawest forms was much more daunting back then, than we would know it today: lining up for rations…looking for materials to sew a dress… finding a place to live… battling an illness…waiting for news of a loved one.

A 16th birthday.

Yet there was a confidence, a resilience and persistence like moss stuck to a wave-washed rock in the shoreline that these ancestors of ours would grin and bear it, and get through it.

We have a neighbor who is writing a book about her father’s service during the war. Her source is the collection of papers and manuscripts which he had written 50 years ago. Within these letters are the details which are news to us today. Who knew? It may be half a century ago, but the revelations are still mind boggling.

My conclusion is that for the Baby Boomers, who are now enjoying retirement, or looking forward to it shortly, we have an obligation to use our spare time to dig up the past.

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An expressive lesson in lighting a coal fire.

Our kids need to know the table that was set for us and for them.  In today’s digital environment, where every piece of history is accessible, it’s really only there for background, a general context of the times, and only if you have a user-name and a password to see it. What we find in our attics and closet shelves is much more telling.  We owe that to our parents, now long gone.

The Diary

My young grandson reinforced in me once of the value of writing it down: “Don’t put it in an email.  That’s technology, and it will just disappear.  You’ll never find it again.”  Out of the mouths of babes…

As an experiment, I started a small diary. This is a 2-1/2 x 4″ moleskin which I keep in my pocket, with pen. Originally I used the book to write down things I didn’t want to forget: passwords, shopping lists, names of bartenders, song titles, movies, plumbing fixtures–you name it. But starting in July, I wrote about my day. Not long windy stuff, but a factual account of my travels. At first it seemed a self-praising pastime. But about six weeks later, I paused to read what was in the diary. The surprise was that I had forgotten most of what I had done, and there it was, in print. Multiply that awakening by 12 months, and you start to realize how much we experience in a year, and then forget forever.  It’s like a beige mush of time spent, and little retained.

As a business manager, I regularly advised my staff to write down their accomplishments for the month. “You are going to need this one day. I won’t always be here.  Someone will come to you, and ask what you are contributing, and your mind will go blank. Your job security is in the balance. So make a list!”

Thankfully, they did this, and their accomplishments rolled into mine, and we always had a resource to explain our worth to the company.

So I am keeping the diary going, not to explain my worth, but at least as a hard copy reminder for me, or for whomever follows, that this is how life was today.

Thanks for reading and sharing, and thanks too, to Dave Rusnak Sr. and Doug Foster for the images! 

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