Archive for February 2012

Remembering Grandpa

February 27, 2012

Today would have been my grandpa’s 107th birthday. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think of him, so I thought today was a good opportunity to post the section I wrote about him for My Marquette.

Lester Earle White (1905—1987)

Grandpa with his car decorated for a Fourth of July Parade in the 1930s

            My grandpa, Lester Earle White, was the oldest and therefore the “big brother” to the rest. He was named for Miss Lester, the nurse my great-grandmother had in the hospital. He was born premature and about the size of a kitchen knife. Consequently, he suffered with health problems throughout his life. He was a workaholic, but when he got sick, he would be laid up in bed for days.

My grandfather, as the oldest child, helped to support his family. At fourteen, when he graduated from eighth grade, he went to work with his father. In time he would own his own salvage and scrap metal business and was known as Haywire White in the 1930s. However, most of his life he spent as a carpenter building houses, cabinets, furniture, fences, and anything else anyone needed. Many people said he was the best carpenter in Marquette and if nothing else, his work was always sturdy. He retired when he was seventy, but he never really retired. Until a couple of weeks before he died, he was daily in his workshop putting in more than an eight-hour day making tables, lazy susans, benches, mirrors, and anything else he thought he could sell. My brother and I spent many hours in his woodshop with him and to this day I have many of the little houses, wagons, and other toys he made for us.

Like Henry in Superior Heritage, my grandfather died as a result of his flannel shirt catching on fire one morning when he went to light his woodstove so he could start working. Although he was flown to the Milwaukee Burn Center, after two weeks his body could not take the pain and his kidneys failed.

Other than his work, I remember my grandfather most for his kindness. I wanted to be with him every minute I could. I always wanted to sit next to him at the table, and I always had to go with him to help with his craft sales. He never complained about having me around, although he didn’t like me getting dirty or getting crumbs on the floor. He was always giving my brother and me money or treats, as did my grandmother, and often, he would stick dollar bills between paper plates at supper so we would discover them later when we cleared the table.

The scenes in Superior Heritage of Henry Whitman feeding the animals at Ives Lake are all based on my grandfather. He would have chipmunks come into his woodshop, jump into his hand, and take peanuts from him. One time he took care of a pigeon with a broken wing in his shop until it was able to fly again. He always had peanuts to feed to the squirrels and fed all the pigeons even when the neighbors complained. Until late in his life he always had a dog, and after, when I had my dog, Benji, he would tell us we weren’t allowed to visit unless we brought Benji with us.

Grandpa did everything he could for his family, including giving his brothers and brother-in-laws work, and buying the property for his parents where their house on Wilkinson Avenue would be built.

Grandpa and Grandma in Chinatown, Los Angeles in 1948

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my grandpa and my grandma. They were the happiest married couple I ever saw. When my grandpa went to Florida to work for three months, my grandparents wrote to each other almost every single day, and my mother remembers when Grandpa came home, how he jumped out of the truck and ran into the house to see Grandma. I’m sure they are happy together in heaven. I don’t think I will ever stop missing them.

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Marquette’s Historic Delft Theatre

February 20, 2012

The following article is an excerpt from my book My Marquette, beginning with a scene that takes place at the Delft Theatre in my novel Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three

Delft Theatre Marquee

Delft Theatre Marquette, circa 1998, courtesy of Sonny Longtine

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On Saturdays, John and Chad often went to matinees at the Delft Theatre. The movies were not always spectacular, often children’s shows they had outgrown. Robinson Crusoe, The Journey of Natty Gann, The Watcher in the Woods were films soon forgotten, but that hardly mattered; the true glamor was being at a movie theatre, especially the fabulous old Delft. This theatre, perhaps more than any place in Marquette, evoked history to them. When the boys saw Annie, they were impressed by the glamorous scene when the characters from the 1930s go to the movies at Radio City Music Hall, and the ushers danced down the aisle with flashlights to show them to their seats. The boys could just imagine that in its heyday, the Delft had been a similarly magical movie showplace. For seventy years, the theatre had stood along Washington Street, the most notable building on the block. During its long life, the theatre had shown films and been the sight of public performances. Now, as the theatre fell into neglect, its former grandeur made it all the more enticing. It was the only theatre in town with a round little ticket window inside the front door. From there rose a long hallway that led to double doors where the usher collected your ticket so you could enter a splendid fantasy world. Then you went down a tall flight of stairs until you came to the concession stand where a cluster of people competed for the cashiers’ attention to buy popcorn, raisinettes, coca-colas, and sometimes, even ice cream! The concession stand was against the left wall while the right wall had a giant window that looked into the theatre itself so even the concession workers could watch the film when they were not busy serving customers.

The theatre walls were covered with winter scenes of children sledding. Protruding from the ceiling was the magnificent big round metal thing no one could define—it was not a chandelier because it had nothing to do with lighting; it had giant rings, one inside another, like a spaceship hovering over the audience, which only added to the atmosphere when watching Return of the Jedi, The Last Starfighter, or 2010.

Most impressive of all, the Delft boasted the largest screen in the Upper Peninsula—they did not make movie theaters with such big screens anymore. Drive-ins were now all but extinct and most old movie theaters had been replaced by multiplex cinemas. John had heard tales of such theaters from friends who had seen them downstate; he had heard that if you did not like a movie, you could sneak into another one, so you could see parts of three or four films on the same night. John thought this silly since you would never get to see a full film. He did not imagine Marquette would ever be big enough for a multiplex cinema. Three theaters, each showing one movie, was enough variety for Marquette. — Superior Heritage

The Delft Theatre was actually part of a chain. Iron River, Munising, and Escanaba also had their own Delft theatres, built to look like Dutch buildings—hence the name Delft. Marquette’s Delft Theatre has survived the others.
The theatre was built in 1914 and initially, besides showing silent films, had a stage for vaudeville and other performances. The Marquette Opera House across the street would have provided more “cultural” forms of entertainment.

About 1950, the stage was closed off and the movie screen—the largest ever in Upper Michigan—was permanently put into place. Then in 1985, it was divided into two separate rooms and screens, thus breaking up the U.P.’s largest screen. In the next decade, it was divided again, this time into five screens. Considerable remodeling was done at that point, including having the main entrance transferred from Washington Street—where the lighted marquee still hangs, to Main Street. As children, my brother and I always thought it a mystery how one could enter on Washington Street and exit on Main Street; we could not believe the metal shaft that crossed the alley was really all of the Delft Theatre.

The original entrance to the Delft Theatre was on Washington Street where from the ticket booth you walked up a long sloping floor to another door where your tickets were collected. This large room is now the top floor theatre. When this section was remodeled, a Chinese painting was discovered from the theatre’s early days. It has now been preserved and graces this individual room. The stairs to reach this top room were initially the stairs down to the concession stands on the left wall, and the giant theatre was on the left. In the back of the main theatre was a low wall, so if you got up from your seat to go to the bathroom, you could still watch the movie as you walked past the concession stand, or if you waited for your popcorn.

Despite the magic of going to the Delft Theatre, the bathrooms were another story. You had to go down into the basement, where a sort of lobby existed which had off it the dirty smelly bathrooms with old looking plumbing. The lobby always seemed to be filled with high school and college students who were smoking, a scary experience for little kids—especially in those days when parents thought nothing of sending their children to the bathroom on their own—but despite scary smoking college students, children were safe in the Delft Theatre. Today the main lobby and concession stands are where the restrooms once were located.

The interior of the main theatre room in the old days is accurate as described in Superior Heritage. I could not even begin to list all the movies I watched there, but I do remember the very first one. It was a few days before Christmas 1974 and I was three years old. My family had just moved into our new house in Stonegate by the Crossroads, and my dad took me to the movie so my mom could focus on unpacking. The movie was terrible—it was a Christmas film with Santa Claus being chased by the Devil who was out to stop him from delivering presents; in one scene, the Devil moved a chimney so Santa could not get inside a house and in another Santa had to climb a tree to escape an angry, barking dog. I’ve never been able to find out the name of this movie—nor am I surprised it’s never been released on video. It wasn’t fit viewing for a three year old.

Other early films I remember seeing at the Delft were the Disney cartoons—Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Snow White. By middle school, my brother and I could go on our own—my mom would drop us off at the Saturday matinees to attend the same films Chad and John attend in Superior Heritage.

I miss the Delft’s giant screen and reasonable prices for candy at the concession stand, but I think Marquette residents will agree with me that even with five screens, we are happy the Delft is still there with its marquee brightly lit to make Washington Street distinct. Long may the movie magic live on.

Winner of the Great Lakes Romances Book Drawing

February 15, 2012

Thank you to everyone who read and left comments on author Donna Winters’ recent interview.

The winner of the drawing for the set of the Fayette Trilogy is Ann Hilton Fisher.

Congratulations to Ann!

And thank you again to Donna for helping to make our Valentine’s Day a little more special.

~ Tyler

Happy Valentine’s Day from Donna Winters of Great Lakes Romances

February 1, 2012

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’ve asked my friend and fellow author Donna Winters to be a guest on my blog. Donna is the author of the Great Lakes Romances® series, which includes many books set in Upper Michigan, including Mackinac Island, Fayette, and L’Anse. Her other books range throughout the Great Lakes, including Traverse City, Saginaw Bay, and currently she is working on a book set in New York’s Erie Canal region. I’ve asked Donna to tell us today a little about writing romance novels and what makes for good romance.

Donna Winters

Donna Winters, author of the Great Lakes Romances series

Tyler: Welcome, Donna. It’s a treat to have you here today. First, will you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write romance novels, as opposed to other kinds of books such as mysteries or science fiction?

Donna: Back in the early 1980’s, TV newscasters reported that the romance industry was booming and that untrained writers were getting published. I suppose if I’d heard the same thing about the mystery or science fiction genres I might have tried writing those instead, especially if the news reports had claimed that women were having great success.

Tyler: How do you begin with writing a romance novel? Do you first create a female or a male character, or the location, or an incident?

Donna: Because of the regional theme of my series, Great Lakes Romances ®, I always begin with the setting. A standard assumption is that a story springs from the main character. I agree, but I first decide on the setting for the character and delve into the area’s history so I can develop an appropriate heroine and hero.

Tyler: Are there any basic elements that are a must for writing a romance novel?

Donna: Romance must be the focus of the story, and it must have a happily-ever-after ending.

Tyler: What about the Great Lakes area appeals to you as a location for romance, compared to say Paris or regency England or the California Gold Rush?

Donna: Familiarity. I’ve spent my entire life living in states that border on the Great Lakes. Additionally, my husband is a Michigan history fanatic who encouraged me to use Michigan settings.

Tyler: Besides being romance novels, your books are also historical fiction and Christian fiction. Will you tell us a little about how each of those categories shapes your books?

Donna: The times and customs of the historical period determine much about how characters relate to each other romantically. In the nineteenth century, during courtship, couples rarely touched skin on skin. The standards for Christian publishers required that unmarried couples not engage in premarital sex, and for married couples, sex scenes take place behind closed doors, so the reader is never confronted with blatant sensuality.

Tyler: So, can you have good romance without it necessarily being centered on sex? I remember once hearing the famous Dr. Ruth saying that the Victorians had good sex. Do you think that’s true?

Donna: I’m sure the Victorians had good sex, if Queen Victoria is any indication. According to the royal.gov.uk website, her marriage to Prince Albert resulted in nine children between 1840 and 1857. In my opinion, romance can be fabulous without focusing on sex. The Victorians were incurable romantics without being blatantly sexual. They even assigned romantic meanings to flowers so they could send a message of love in a bouquet without ever saying a word! For example, a red rose meant love, but a yellow rose meant friendship. If you were hoping for love and received a yellow rose, you’d have been disappointed back in the Victorian era!

Tyler: Of all of your novels, do you have a favorite in which you think the plot works really well?

Donna: I had a lot of fun writing Bridget of Cat’s Head Point, and I’ve been told by some readers that one of the plot twists took them by complete surprise.

Tyler: Have you ever experienced any stigma with writing romance novels—such as being told they aren’t serious literature—and how do you deal with that?

Donna: There’s plenty of elitism, arrogance, or whatever you want to call it, by readers of serious literature and bestseller fiction. I ignore it and write for one specific readership: those who want a good story that is free of offensive language, sex, gratuitous violence, and main characters with a world view that is not Christian.

Tyler: Besides your own novels, do you have any favorite romance novels or authors?

Donna: One of my favorite authors, in fact the “mother” of the inspirational romance genre for our times, is Janette Oke. I especially enjoyed her “Love Comes Softly” titles which were made into movies.

Tyler: Do you have any advice to give your readers about how to find romance in their own lives?

Donna: I’ve been married for forty years, having found my mate before the Internet, dating services, and other modern social options were the norm. One thing I would stress is that whatever your social venue, look for someone who shares your faith and moral values. Those are the core of a successful long-term relationship.

Tyler: Any big plans for Valentine’s Day?

Donna Winters novelsDonna: Not that I’m aware of. Maybe my husband should answer! We usually swap cards and kisses and tell each other how successful we’ve been with our romance. He’s the hero in every book!

Tyler: When can we look for your next book, Donna?

Donna: I plan to release a new title in June: Bluebird of Brockport, A Novel of the Erie Canal, set in my hometown of Brockport, N.Y., and on the canal in 1830. Here’s a little about the story:

Dreams of floating down the Erie Canal have flowed through Lucina Willcox’s mind since childhood. Yet once the boat is purchased and her family begins their journey, unexpected tribulations and challenges arise. An encounter with a towpath rattlesnake threatens her brother’s life. A thief attempts to break in and steal precious cargo. Heavy rain causes a breach and drains the canal of water. Comforting thoughts of Ezra Lockwood, her handsome childhood friend, temper the rough times, and also give rise to an ever increasing desire to be with him.

Ezra Lockwood’s one goal in life is to build and captain his own canal boat, but two years into the construction of his freight hauler, funds run short, progress stalls, and a renewed acquaintance with Lucina Willcox causes an undeniable longing to make her his bride. Can he somehow find a way to finish his boat and build a future with her?

Tyler: Donna, I’m struck by the difficulties of life in this period from your book’s description. Is romance then a comfort for people in times of turmoil? Do you think that’s why romance novels appeal to readers?

Donna: Readers of romance novels often say they prefer the genre because of the guaranteed happily-ever-after endings. They know the story will be uplifting and therefore fulfill their needs where “escape fiction” is concerned.

Tyler: What would you say is the reason you keep writing romance novels rather than try your hand at something else, or do you have a murder mystery or science fiction novel up your sleeve?

Donna: Actually, my novel about the Erie Canal is better classified as historical fiction with a strong romantic thread than straight “historical romance.” I say that because several chapters go by when the hero and heroine are far apart geographically, dealing with separate challenges while longing for the time when they will be together again. As for writing a murder mystery or science fiction, I have nothing up my sleeve at the moment, but I haven’t ruled anything out. I’d more likely attempt writing humorous fiction, fantasy, or fiction for mature women.

Tyler: Donna, will you tell us about your website and how to find out more about your novels?

Donna: Visit www.greatlakesromances.com to learn about my books and enter the ongoing book giveaway. Each week, I give away a different book from my series to one of the readers who enters following the instructions on the home page. Connect with me also on twitter @bigwaterpub, and on Facebook at my book page, Great Lakes Romances books

Tyler: Thank you for letting me interview you today, Donna. Best of luck with your writing and may you and Fred have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

The Fayette Trilogy by Donna Winters

Blog readers, Donna has graciously offered to give away one autographed set of her Fayette trilogy titles, Fayette—A Time to Love, Fayette—A Time to Laugh, and Fayette—A Time to Leave, to one of the commenters on this post. To enter the drawing for the trilogy, leave a comment that includes your e-mail address, eg. Donna [at] webmail [dot] com.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. on February 14, 2012.

Thanks for stopping by!