Practicing Safe Social Distancing

I realize it’s been months since I posted anything here. It’s not like I’ve been too busy. Too lazy, maybe. Yes, definitely.

But first, a word about Safe Social Distancing: I’m packing a tape measure and I’m not afraid to use it.

So rather than just sitting home, watching the endless Covid-19 coverage, with scenes of overworked medical personnel and crowded facilities; endangered seniors and compromised individuals; bickering politicians; and concerned epidemiologists and virologists pushing constant handwashing and strict social distancing, interspersed with upbeat, bouncy, innocent, and typically shrill TV ads imploring me to get on down to Menard’s and Best Buy and FELDMAN CHEVROLET!!! (among the shrillest of annoying ads, and a personal pain in my ears and the mostly-empty space between), to say nothing of the reports of irresponsible Covidiots who are generally-but-not-always young enough to think they know everything, and who also erroneously think they are invulnerable, bulletproof, immune, and don’t care who they might infect (“Let’s party like it’s 1917!”). And everybody hoarding toilet paper, of course.

And then there are the daily emails encouraging me to get out to Office Max and Dunham’s and– at least three times a day– Guitar Center. I just got another one, the first of the day– like I need to humiliate myself with more hopeless guitar-related frustration. And… and…

Where was I? Oh yah. Rather than sit home through all that, washing my hands, staring out the window, and feeding the cat… I decided– since this past Wednesday was a rare, mild, beautiful, sunny spring day in March– to jump in the old Ford (certainly not the Ford pictured here) and sneak across the county line and multiple township borders for a ride in the country…

To visit my grandparents.

Don’t be alarmed. We were indeed practicing responsible social distancing. We didn’t stop for food, gas or snacks. We stuck to the back roads, many of them dirt and gravel. Despite the sad lack of spring foliage, it was a pleasant drive. Forests and plains and gently rolling hills; narrow roads canopied by massive, gnarled old trees; picturesque, derelict barns and abandoned houses. We saw very few people on the drive, and interacted with none of them.

Please know that we did not put my grandparents in peril!

I’ve been doing a lot of genealogical research, lately focusing on my mother’s father’s family.

(An aside: In these tense and testy days, I’ve decided to slow down, to be more tolerant and forgiving of others. De-stress. Calm myself. For instance: when I encounter someone driving in an unpredictable, distracted, even possibly dangerous manner, rather than vent my spleen and blow my horn at them, I imagine that it’s my dear, beloved grandfather at the wheel. It works. Of course, it’s also a bit disturbing to think about, since he died almost 37 years ago. He would turn 125 this year. But I digress.)

We sought out the little, inactive (but not quite abandoned), very old Wright Cemetery in Iosco Township, Livingston County, Michigan.

Among the grandparents and other family members we visited there were my thrice-great grandparents Henry Sharp III and his wife Hannah; two of their sons: Henry Sharp IIII, and my second-great grandparents William and Mary Melissa Sharp. Also in attendance were William’s first two wives: Phebe Chalker and Jane Dawson, both widows with children when he married them (sequentially, not simultaneously). There were also three of his children: Charles Erving (son of Jane) and little Gracie and Susie (daughters of Mary). There was even room enough for Louisa, a daughter of William and Henry IIII’s brother Samuel.

In all, William Sharp (1830-1901) fathered 11 children– that I know of for sure– and adopted 3, although possibly not in the legal sense. Those were different times.

None of these dear family members were at risk of catching Covid-19, or anything else for that matter. Henry III, gone 162 years, would be 218 now. The youngest, Susie, who died in her first year, has been gone 139 years. Mary Melissa is the newest resident of this plot in the Wright Cemetery, joining her extended family in 1936, at the age of 90. My grandfather was a pallbearer at her funeral. He knew her, and I knew him, and I find that connection amazing.

I really can’t speak for any of the Sharps, but I certainly enjoyed my visit, and I hope they appreciate that they are not forgotten.

First World Problems, Technology Edition

Yah, I’m spoiled. And I know Ford has has had issues with its Sync technology since its inception, with steady but gradual improvement over the years. But I can’t buy a new car every 12 months just for that. For now I’m stuck with a 2012 Fusion. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto probably weren’t on Ford’s radar back then.

Small inconveniences: why oh why would they bury the lone USB port in the bottom of the center console, a tiny dark hole deep down in a large dark hole full of cables and sunglasses and tissue boxes and hand sanitizer bottles, and… and… and… It takes a flashlight, small hands and several minutes of digging to find it, and a lot of fumbling to plug in a media player. Then there’s Sync itself. Occasionally it’ll recognize a device and play it through the radio, but not always, and when that happens just unplugging and re-plugging, or turning off the radio (entertainment system), unplugging again, rebooting, turning off again, in all possible sequences, will yield… nothing! The only fix then is to pull off to the side of the road, park, shut off the engine, open the door to make sure the system is dead dead dead, then start over. And cross your fingers. What the hey?

The media device I was plugging in is a nearly obsolete iPhone 5S– understand that iPhones are now beyond 9 and X and into the 11th or 12th generation to infinity and beyond. I am not an Early Adapter. I use it only as a media player, for music and podcasts. I’m not a fan of Apple or iTunes, but they work… generally, most of the time, and in many ways better than Android phones. Originally I had a 4th gen iPod Touch, which worked great, but it got so old Apple denied knowledge of its existence. “You are dead to me,” Apple growled as it turned away and counted its $billions in cash reserves stored in overseas bank vaults. So I was forced to upgrade. A little. But just try to find out how to REPEAT a playlist of songs in a continuous loop. Or play podcasts in chronological order, old to new, and not new to old. I don’t want a Wayback Machine. Go ahead and google it. They’ll give you very specific instructions on opening menus that don’t exist so you can tap buttons that are invisible, or not included in my unit or my ageing and non-updateable iOS, or whatever. I don’t know where they exist in the googleverse, but they’re not to be found where I live and curse.

Had to buy a new water heater last week. It pains me a little that the “old” one was acting up and no replacement parts are currently available, especially since the previous water heater, retired when we switched from propane to natural gas, is still perking away in the U.P. without a glitch. (Could it be a case of Location, Location, Location?) And probably the new owners can still get parts for that one, ancient though it is. The new one was the same brand and similar in all dimensions to the “old” one– simple plug & play, I thought, up and running in an hour or less. Except that it was just slightly taller, and the vent fan was on the opposite side, and on, and on, necessitating hours of cutting and soldering and gluing. Can we say Planned Obsolescence?

Yah. We can say that. Planned Obsolescence not only exists, but it rules our universe.


The Things You Find When You’re Looking for Something Else

I was searching for some costume accessories we’d squirreled away last year. This would be for a masquerade ball we were to attend recently. Don’t ask. Okay, it was a fundraiser event for an education association raising money for, well, education. Which is not to say I’m generous in that respect, but I do sometimes want to help out. Plus the meal was great and the musical entertainment was fabulous.

The stuff I found was not noteworthy, but along the way I found other things when the search took me to a dresser in the spare room. There were old cameras, including a rare Kodak 828 I picked up at least 50 years ago. (That box of film expired in 1982.) Also an even older Argus Argoflex dual lens camera that probably belonged to my parents, if not my grandparents. A couple other cameras, including a panoramic camera that still has film in it. Oops, I think I ruined the film making that discovery. (I think I sold my first camera, a Kodak Starbright, at a garage sale a few years ago.) The odd folding rule and string levels were my grandfather’s. I’m still using his whetstone for sharpening the kitchen knives. And speaking of sharpening knives, I’d been wondering where my old Boy Scout Camp King jack knife had gone.

The big find for me was the Lloyd’s tape recorder. This came to me on a Christmas day when I was… I have no idea how old I was. Possibly 10 or so. There were also four tapes sitting there in the drawer, and I got to wondering what might be on them. I do remember that when I got the tape recorder, I made my grandfather play Santa Clause and say “Merry Christmas from the North Pole” into the microphone. Beyond that? I had no idea.

Their was a lot of rust and corrosion in the battery compartment. Not good. This is a battery-only unit: one 9-volt for audio (I assumed) and two “UM-2” batteries to run the motor. I did a quick search on eBay and found an identical unit in non-working condition listed for $60. Um, no thanks. I also found that UM-2s are more commonly known as “C” cells.

Yesterday I retreated to the basement, turned up the lights, unscrewed all the little screws, and pulled the unit open. Hmm, it didn’t look as bad as I might have expected. I cleaned up the rust and corrosion with a knife, some contact cleaner, and a little emery cloth. I worked the mechanisms, lubed the platters and spun them around until they turned freely. I had found a a 9-volt battery, but had to put out a call for a couple C-cells. I popped the 9-volt in. I got sound out of the speaker! A crackling hiss, but sound is sound, right? Then! I found some C-cells in another drawer and plugged them in. The platter turned. I had forward– play– but no rewind. I can work with that.

So I carefully loaded two reels on the platters, the empty take-up reel and the shorter of the four full reels.. I switched the knob to PLAY. The reels turned, and sound came out, hesitantly at first, then a little louder and stronger as it gained confidence. Here are a few seconds of what can only be a 50-year-old recording of me strumming my old six string, likely the arch top which was my first guitar. The quality is a bad as it gets, but the playing was worse.

I didn’t know anything about music then. I still don’t. Can’t read it, can’t write it, it’s all Greek to me, and not just Greek language, but a combination of algebra, calculus, trigonometry and Rubik’s Cube. I can’t even clap in time to a disco beat. But I think I recorded this rhythm tape so I could “write” a lead guitar riff to play over it. After a few painful minutes of this it switched to a recording of some other recording that’s indecipherable.

But there’s more on this tape, and three more tapes that are at least twice as long. I’m going to need some free time, some strong energy drinks, and, I’m sure, a whole lot more batteries. I’ll report back if I hear my grandfather’s voice. That would make it all worthwhile.


Yurrup called, we answered… FWIW

There is a clue to our sudden departure in this photo

Having loosely reviewed my previous post (below), I’m compelled to come back and–briefly–say that, yes, we returned to Europe again, for 12 days. How was your vacation? you ask. And I’m glad you asked. Now I have about 20 seconds to respond:

Although we didn’t bring back very many souvenirs, we did manage to snag a couple killer sinus infections before making it home by the skin of our teeth. Not to say we almost missed the boat–we almost missed getting off the boat! In which case we might still be there, trusting our lives to the benevolence of the Viking Cruise line and the Hungarian health care system.

Oops, my 20 seconds are up and you’ve already wandered off to get another cup of coffee.

“No, Aunt Em. This is a real, truly live place. And I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice. But most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, ‘I want to go home.’ And they sent me home.” –Dorothy

Yurrup calls

Roughly 27 years, 5 months and a couple of weeks ago (but who’s counting?) we spent some time in London, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Florence, Italy, and Paris… I think that’s in France. They seemed like good places to celebrate my 40th birthday. That happened in Florence, although upon reflection it just meant that age 40 hit me 5 hours earlier than it would have otherwise. But I haven’t noticed any ill effects. So far.

Now, all this time later, we’re planning yet another excursion overseas, which brings back a lot of old memories. Not so much of London, Florence, et. al., but of days and parents gone by.

My parents traveled extensively, especially in retirement, but without ever leaving the United States, and rarely by anything but car, van or trailer. There was enough for them to see right here, at least if you include Hawaii and Alaska, which they did. We’ve seen several states, from Cape Cod to San Francisco and Seattle, but we’ll save any more than that for when we’re too old, timid and confused to venture overseas again. Which will probably be sometime next month.

My dad caught the tail end of WWII, ya know the Big One, as Archie Bunker used to say. He was stationed in Italy, guarding the Allied end of a bridge while Soviet troops guarded the other end and artillery sailed overhead toward enemy holdouts. He and a buddy decided to take a Jeep and cross the bridge to shake hands with the commies, but thought better of it when the Russians declined to let down their guard and offer a big welcome. So Dad and his buddy spun a U-turn and headed back to safety, rather than risk getting shot– after the war was already over.

Beyond that neither of my folks never had any interest in travel beyond U.S. borders.

They picked us up at Detroit Metro when we came back from two weeks of fun and adventure in Europe. We climbed into the back of their car and they were polite enough to ask us how the trip was, and we enthusiastically started up with some amusing anecdotes of the wonders we’d seen and experienced– we did not travel with a tour group, we did it all out our own: two innocent kids sussing out the train schedules and finding our way to hidden hotels in unfamiliar lands where they didn’t speak our language, especially in England. To their credit, my folks let us ramble on for five minutes or so, before Mom said, “well, nothing new here, not much was going on,” then they proceeded to relate everything that didn’t happen in our absence for the rest of the hour-plus drive home. Europe and our experiences were obviously of no interest to them. *sigh*

Which brings me to the point of this tale, the advice given to us by a friend many years ago. She said when you come back from a fabulous vacation and someone– family or coworkers– ask how your vacation was, you have 20 seconds to tell them it was great… and you’re done. Shut up. Move on. They’re no longer listening. Good advice, which I will follow, as I pretty much always have. But that’s not to say I might not write about it here. If there’s anything to say about a couple days in Munich, a couple more in Salzburg, and eight days on the Danube from Passau to Budapest. Well, maybe something interesting will happen with customs or the TSA. It usually does. We’ll see.