Posted tagged ‘superior heritage’

Shoveling Off the Roof – a Scene from Superior Heritage

January 19, 2013

On such a snowy day as today, I thought I’d post a snowy scene from one of my novels. This passage takes place in Superior Heritage, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Three and takes place in 1992 when John Vandelaare, a college student and living at home, helps his father Tom with cleaning off the roof. Enjoy. I hope none of my readers have to clean off their roofs any time soon, but if you do, be careful!

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three covers the history of Marquette from 1952-1999.

The first weekend of January, Tom Vandelaare was convinced the three feet of snow on his roof, and the several more feet still to come before winter ended, were certain to bring the ceiling crashing down, burying his family under a blanket of snow and ice. After days of hemming, hawing, and hoping for a warm day to melt the snow, he resigned himself to shoveling off the roof.

“John, you want to come up and help your dad?” Tom asked at breakfast.

“No.”

“Come on, be a nice boy and help Dad.”

“I’d probably fall off the roof,” John said.

“No, you won’t. Not if you’re careful.”

“I can’t, Dad. I don’t think I’m coordinated enough to keep my balance.”

“Chad, will you help me?”

“No,” said Chad. “You always yell when I help you. Besides, I have to go to work.”

Chad worked at the NMU cafeteria. John had a job as a tutor at the campus Writing Center, but he could not use work as an excuse today.

“It wouldn’t hurt you boys to help your father,” said Tom.

“Tom,” said Ellen, “they don’t need to go up there. I wouldn’t risk breaking my neck up there either. If you don’t think you can clean the roof off on your own, we’ll hire somebody.”

“The neighbor’s son goes up on the roof to help his dad. I’ve even seen him up there shoveling by himself,” said Tom as he put on his boots. No one replied until he had gone out and slammed the door.

“Maybe I should help him,” said John.

“Just ignore him,” Ellen replied. “If you don’t think you can keep your balance, you shouldn’t go up there. I don’t need two of you falling off.”

“Well, it’s a big job,” said John, “and Dad’ll wear himself out doing it alone.”

“You’ll just fall off because you’re so uncoordinated,” said Chad, putting on his coat and kissing his mother goodbye.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ellen said. “Your father’s a fanatic about cleaning snow. He wouldn’t even clean it today if he had someone to go ice fishing with.”

John helped his mother clear the breakfast table. When she started the dishes, he went in his room. He tried to work on his novel since it was the last day of Christmas vacation and tomorrow he would be busy with school. He had wanted to write all during vacation, but instead he had spent his time doing genealogy and watching movies. He sat down at his desk, turned on the computer and waited for it to boot up. He found himself staring out the window as shovelfuls of snow were thrown off the roof. He could hear his father stamping his feet so no one would forget he was up there working. If Tom had to clean off the roof, no one else would be able to concentrate on anything until he was done.

“Negative attention, that’s all he wants,” John thought. He opened the document that contained his novel, rewrote a paragraph, then found himself staring out the window again.

“Darn it,” he thought. “Why do I always have to feel guilty?”

“Where are you going?” Ellen asked when he passed through the kitchen in his winter jacket.

“To help Dad.”

“Oh, John, just ignore your father. He doesn’t need your help.”

“It’ll take hours to shovel off all that snow. It won’t hurt me to help him for an hour.”

“Well, just be careful,” said Ellen.

“Dad, I’m coming up!” John shouted once he was outside, shovel in hand.

“Okay, I’ll hold the ladder for you,” Tom shouted down.

John had expected at least a “Thank you” for his help, but he should have known better. Now wishing he had stayed inside, he climbed up the ladder, careful not to let his feet slide off the slippery rungs. Soon he lifted one foot onto the roof.

“Be careful,” his dad warned.

For a minute, John imagined himself falling backward, plummeting into a five foot snowbank, but once his feet were planted on the roof and he stepped away from the edge, he felt secure.

“Start shoveling there,” said Tom. “Try to throw the snow as far as you can so it doesn’t land on the bushes beside the house.”

John only partly listened. He gaped at all the snow. He wondered how long this job would take; he imagined it would be time consuming if the roof were slippery. He wished there were a way to bring the snowblower up here.

“Don’t worry about getting close to the edge,” Tom said. “I’ll do that since I’m more steady on my feet up here.”

“All right,” said John, stepping only where snow on the shingles gave him traction. He had expected to have trouble balancing himself, but other than shoveling on a slope, he did not feel as endangered as he had expected. The work was tiring, but he did not mind. He stopped every few minutes to catch his breath and to watch his father work like a machine. Tom liked to complain about work, but he was only happy when he was occupied.

John threw the snow onto the already imposing banks. Soon his back hurt from his crooked stance and the repetitive movement of shoveling. The snow was coming down lightly, but it was a warm winter day, nearly twenty-five degrees. The constant movement kept John warm, and he enjoyed the cool air; he had nearly forgotten how fresh air tasted after two months of being cooped up in the stale house.

Father and son stopped a moment to watch an air force jet fly overhead.

“They can make planes fly and send men to the moon,” said Tom, “but they won’t heat our highways in winter or find ways to make the snow melt off our roofs. The government sure has its priorities messed up.”

John ignored his father’s complaints. He wondered where the plane was going and what it felt like to fly one. He decided it was worthwhile to help his dad, if only to see the snow covered trees stretching in all directions and the chimneys peeking out of snowcovered roofs. He could even see Marquette Mountain’s ski hill and the edge of town where the trees ended. Up here, he realized how small Marquette was—only a little clearing in a giant northern forest; it had grown from a village of a hundred people to over twenty-thousand, but when compared to the size of the forests, it had grown little. All the snow burying the houses reminded John how insignificant people were beside the power of Nature. All people could do was to build shelter for protection, to claim a piece of land for a little while, maybe a few generations, a piece of land that would remain long after its owners were gone. Yet John was descended from the rugged pioneers of Upper Michigan, and here he wanted to stay. John had not traveled much—he wanted to see the land of English literature, and Ireland, India and the pyramids of Egypt, and the Netherlands where his father’s father had come from, but wherever life might lead him, he knew he would always come home to his snowy little town on Lake Superior.

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Welcome Autumn–You’re Worth Writing About

September 25, 2012

Welcome, Autumn. My favorite time of year. So I thought I would post a passage from my novel Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three about my character John Vandelaare (yes, he’s loosely based on me) and how he begins to write about growing up in the U.P. one autumn:

 

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three covers the history of Marquette from 1952-1999.

            As autumn approached, he became aware again of the Upper Peninsula’s special environment. That year, the autumn colors appeared more brilliant than he had remembered them in past years. In the mornings, the smell of rotting leaves gripped his nostrils with a comforting feeling he had not known since childhood’s countless autumn walks with Dickens. The sunlight sparkling on orange and yellow foliage reawoke a sensitivity to light and color he had long forgotten. Soon, the snow would come with its blinding reflections, its cold, its white wonderland possibilities. One evening, he heard the harmonious honking of the Canadian geese on their southern flight. He looked up into the cold northern sky as darkness spread across it. Quickly he tried to count the V of geese—twenty-six, twenty-seven—he was not quite sure how many, but they were a miracle.

His senses had reawakened to the voices of birds and the wind, the beauty of leaves and the lake, the smell of snow and an approaching rain shower, the taste of blueberries, the bitter cold biting at his cheeks and fingertips. The singular elements of this land began to mold his imagination, to heighten his senses and his aesthetic appreciation. He had been isolated from Nature’s powerful influence while downstate. If he moved away again, he would not have this oneness with his environment that was so essential to his writing; he refused to let himself again forget these little details that made life so splendid. This land had shaped seven generations of his family, until it had seeped into his being, claiming him as its native son.

He began to make lists of his sensual memories—the feel of deer munching dandelion leaves from his hand at the Shiras Zoo, the smell of his Grandpa’s cheek when he kissed it, the ivory soap smell of Grandma’s bathroom, the glow of light streaming over Grandma’s lace tablecloth, the comforting dusty warmth of his grandparents’ old furnace turning itself on, of going sledding and then coming home with frozen fingers he had to thaw in hot water, his mother always baking until the house smelled perpetually of chocolate chip cookies, the texture of Aunt Eleanor’s crumby date bars, the festive wrapping paper on presents brought to him by Lucy and Maud. Memories came flooding back, one leading to another, and with them came back stories, memories of childhood, tales Grandpa had told him of his own grandparents and of his mother’s childhood, of Aunt Eleanor’s divorce, Grandpa and Grandma’s religious differences that had postponed their marriage, a hundred little family dramas. He quit worrying about writing—that would come. For now, he was cataloging memories. He began reading historical articles whenever they appeared in the Mining Journal, Marquette Monthly, and Marquette Magazine. He cut out articles and filed them, realizing the potential source of fiction in Marquette’s history, in the environment, the buildings, lake, trees, all of this land that had helped to form him.

A few days before Thanksgiving, he called Mr. O’Neill.

“I’ve begun to write again,” he said proudly. He asked whether he might come to lunch to discuss the novel he wanted to set in the Upper Peninsula. They set a date for the following week, by which time, John intended to have drafted a few chapters to show his prestigious mentor.

“Splendid,” said Mr. O’Neill. “I can’t wait to see it.”

For more information about Superior Heritage and all my books, visit www.MarquetteFiction.com

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.

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

:

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.

The End of the Blizzard

January 5, 2012

After we finally had our first winter storm this week, I thought I would post one of my favorite passages from my novel Superior Heritage. This scene takes place after a blizzard keeps John and Chad Vandelaare, in their early teens, home from school for the day. The boys go out into the storm as it is dying down with their dog named Dickens.

From Superior Heritage:

Being cooped up in the house all day made John and Chad anxious to explore the newly created landscape left by the blowing wind and drifting snow. Ellen was hesitant to let them go outside, but after supper, when the visibility had increased until individual snowflakes could be distinguished as they fell, she finally consented. It would not be dark for another hour, so the boys had plenty of time to trudge over the snowbanks and burn off their excess energy.

John and Chad put on their long johns and flannel shirts, then their snow pants and jackets. They wrapped scarves around their necks, pulled hats down over their ears, and slipped on boots and mittens. Before they went out the door, they were already starting to sweat from wearing so many layers, but they would be well protected once outside. John suggested Dickens should join them since he must be equally tired of staying inside. During the day Dickens had only made quick bathroom trips into the driveway, just a few feet from the garage door, but now he could wander free until he complained of cold feet.

Soon the boys and Dickens were outside. They quickly discovered the wind was still strong, so seeking protection, they set Dickens up on the high snowbank, then climbed up themselves. They trudged on top of the snow, at times six feet above the buried grass, until they reached the shelter of the neighboring woods. They found a giant pine tree whose lowest branches, usually eight feet above the ground, were now heavily weighed down with snow, until they curved down three feet to touch the top of the frozen banks. The boys were forced to bend down to enter beneath the tree whose branches were too high for them to reach on summer days. Beneath the tree’s bent limbs, they felt sheltered in their own little lodge house. A small depression around the tree formed snow walls to provide further insulation from the bitter chill wind, while leaving room for John, Chad, and Dickens to sit and watch the dying storm. Exhausted from the heavy trudge into the woods, the boys and Dickens were content to listen to the storm’s fury. The dazzling whiteness of everything was breathtaking—snow was clustered against the brown and gray tree trunks, turning them into giant white poles, while tree branches had glazed over with frozen ice and snow that perched precariously until the morning sun would come to melt it away.

Neither brother was eloquent enough to express his awe over the beauty of the scene, but neither could fail to notice it. Now free from the stifling, still air inside the house, the boys gratefully opened their mouths and breathed in the fresh coolness, enjoying the pleasure of it biting down their throats. They pulled off their gloves to coil their fingers into fists, then replaced their gloves with their fingers curled together to ward off the numbness a short while longer. They took turns petting Dickens with their fisted gloves, while Dickens huddled against them to stay warm.

Serenity filled the moment, yet in this serenity was an exhilaration surpassing yesterday’s anticipation of the storm. As the wind slowly died down with less frequent gusts, the boys felt proud to have survived the storm. Nature’s fury had left behind three feet of snow, broken tree branches, enormous snow drifts, hundreds of hours of snow removal work, and downed power lines, but it had also revived the courage of its witnesses; they were survivors like their pioneer ancestors who had fought similar storms a century before when snowblowers and electricity had not been imagined; the pioneers’ survivor spirit had resurrected itself, making the Vandelaare boys respectful admirers of Nature’s sublime power.

John’s spirits had been especially stirred by the wind, now no longer a screeching banshee voice wreaking havoc, but a simple whisper carrying the last twinkling fall of snowflakes that resembled confetti more than ice bullets. John recalled the Bible story of God’s appearance to the prophet Elijah. There had been a wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God had not been in any of them. God had been found in a gentle whisper. Now John felt he understood that passage. The wind had subsided to a whisper, a promise of peace and renewal as the snow cleansed the earth to create a new landscape. John felt a deepened sense of contentment, as if he had learned a secret about Nature’s incredible power, yet sheltered beneath the pine tree, he felt he would always be safe in the northern wilderness, no matter how fierce the blizzards might blow.

“We better go in,” Chad broke into his brother’s thoughts. “Mom’ll be worried if we’re not in by dark.”

“Yeah,” John reluctantly agreed, “Dickens looks cold.”

The boys and their dog trudged back out of the woods. Where before the storm had caused a blinding greyness, now a tiny pink streak in the Western sky promised a fine day tomorrow.

Ellen had seen her sons heading toward the house, so she had water boiling on the stove for hot chocolate when they came inside. She told them to change their clothes before they thawed out and were wet. Then, with the storm all but forgotten, the family sat down to drink hot chocolate and play Monopoly until bedtime.

But in later years, when John would live in a far away city where fierce Northern winters were unknown, the memory of that storm would come back to him. A strong wind would recall the powerful snowfilled gusts of his childhood, and he would imagine himself once more at home, hearing the wind wailing down the chimney, or sitting beneath a pine tree’s branches to watch Nature’s sublime fury. Then he would realize how impressionable he had been to his native land’s natural rhythms where he had formed a bond with the wind, the trees, the snow, Lake Superior, and the seemingly neverending Hiawatha forest that encompassed his childhood world. Wherever he went, John was branded with the knowledge that he belonged to this place; whatever majestic sights he saw, the serenity of a snowfall surpassed them all.

For more information about Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three, visit www.MarquetteFiction.com

The Superior Dome Gets a New Look

July 11, 2011

Those of my readers who are expatriate Yoopers may not yet have seen that the Superior Dome is getting a new look. Originally built of wood, its wooden look disappeared when the gray rubber was placed over it, but now a new layer in a beige color looks like it will restore a semblance of the wooden look to the building. Here are a couple of photos I took about three weeks ago when the change was beginning. As of today, about half of the Dome’s roof is now the new color. In addition, I’m posting the section from My Marquette about the Superior Dome.

From My Marquette:

The Superior Dome

Superior Dome

The Superior Dome's new color

 

            “Your mother’s right,” said Eleanor. “We can’t take our safety for granted anymore. Marquette isn’t like when I was young and everyone knew everyone else. Why there’s something like twenty-five thousand people living here now and that big sports building they’re putting up—the world’s largest wooden dome or whatever they claim it is, it’s only going to attract more people here.”

            “I doubt it,” said Tom. “No one’s going to come all the way up here to see that dome.”

            “They’re only building the dome,” said Ellen, “because NMU is going to be an Olympic training center, and they want to impress the governor so he’ll give the school more money.”

            “It just makes me sick to think what that dome and the Olympics will attract to this area,” said Eleanor. “All those kids training for Olympic boxing will be coming up from Detroit, nothing but a bunch of undesirables from the ghettos. They’ll only bring trouble with them.” — Superior Heritage

 

SuperiorDome

Superior Dome

The Superior Dome was controversial from its start when it was first proposed in the late 1980s. People claimed it was built to impress the governor so the university would receive more money, including to fund the new Olympic training program. Many people felt the nearly $3,000,000 price tag was a waste of money, and people mocked the project and wanted to name it “The Yooper Dome.” Nevertheless, it was built and opened in the fall of 1991. While impressive from a distance, up close one wonders about the rather messy looking grey roof. The building was supposed to have a wooden appearance, but from early on, the Dome leaked and the rubber material had to be placed over it. Despite the leak, on May 1, 1993, commencement services were held in the Dome for the first time. I was part of that first graduating class.

The Superior Dome replaced the old football field, a huge advantage since half of Northern’s football season is played when snow is likely to fall, so games could now be played inside. The Dome, and later the Berry Events Center, built for hockey, also shifted community activities away from the Lakeview Arena. Today, numerous recreation and other shows are held in the Dome. Every year, I can be found there the first weekend of December at the TV6 Christmas Craft Show, the largest craft show in Upper Michigan, where I sign and sell my books as thousands of visitors stream through the Dome.

After twenty years, it’s fair to say the Dome has become one of the most recognizable sites in Marquette and part of its history. Despite how people felt about it when it was first proposed, I doubt anyone would part with it now.

Lady’s Slipper Season in Upper Michigan

June 25, 2011

It’s Lady’s Slipper season in Upper Michigan, and thanks to some of my Facebook friends, I heard my favorite wildflower was in bloom around Little Presque Isle near Marquette and set out on a rainy day to get photographs. I plan to have a photo of lady’s slippers on the front cover of my next novel, Spirit of the North, which will be published in Spring 2012. In the novel, there is a pivotal scene around lady’s slippers.

In fact, lady’s slippers have been my favorite flower since I was a child growing up in Stonegate near the Crossroads where the flowers grew profusely in the woods. Even back then in the 1970s, they were illegal to pick, but we picked them all the time anyway. I don’t recommend anyone doing so now since they appear to be more rare than they were back then, although by looking hard, I easily spotted about 100 of them, growing in groups of 1 and 2, but I remember them often growing in much larger clumps when I was younger. I was more respectful when I went out to photograph them this past week, and I swear they knew I was there, admiring them and they were ready for their photo-shoot. I think because of their shape they look almost like they have faces and their own personalities. You can decide for yourself.

I did not neglect to mention Lady’s Slippers in some of my other novels, so I offer here a scene from my novel Superior Heritage in which young John Vandelaare, who is only about six years old, goes fishing with his brother and older cousins at Ives Lake where his grandfather is the caretaker, and on the way back, they stumble on a field of Lady’s Slippers.

From Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three

They were all a bit tired now from the long day, and less talkative than they had been on the way to the fishing hole. They walked with a bit of urgency because they knew it would soon be nightfall, and the forest’s thick trees would block out the remaining light.

Then, as the beautiful summer evening ended, they stumbled upon a little copse, almost a meadow really, where sunbeams broke through the trees, illuminating a small patch of the forest floor.

Suddenly, Chad cried out, “Ooh, look at the lady’s slippers!”

All turned their heads to see the meadow packed with the little pink flowers that looked like fairy slippers hanging from their stems.

“How’d we miss seeing all those before?” asked Alan.

“I saw them,” said William, who had not thought flowers worth mentioning.

Chad struggled to get out of the wagon.

“Where are you going?” Jason asked him.

“To pick some for Gwamma and Aunt Ada,” was Chad’s obvious answer.

“Hey, ain’t these flowers the kind that are illegal to pick?” asked Jason.

“Why would flowers be illegal to pick?” asked Alan.

“Because they’re rare,” said William.

“They don’t look rare,” said Alan. “There’s about a hundred of them here.”

“Let’s pick them all,” said Chad. “We can give some to Gwamma, and Aunt Ada, and some to my mom and some to your mom.” He felt overcome by a desire to give all the women pretty flowers until they would all feel as beautiful as Princess Ada.

“It’s almost dark,” said William.

“It’ll only take a minute to pick them,” Alan replied. “Besides, maybe the flowers will cheer Mom up.”

            “Mom’s not going to cheer up until Dad quits being a jerk,” William muttered; as the oldest, he was burdened with understanding his parents’ marriage better than his brothers.

“If we pick them all,” said Jason, “won’t they die from being exposed? We don’t have any water to put them in.”

“Aunt Beth will give us vases, or at least plastic bags to wrap them in,” said Alan.

While his cousins debated, John joined his brother in gathering flowers. William refused to pick any—he was too old for flower picking, even to make his mother happy. But Alan did not mind pleasing his younger cousins by joining in. Chad’s little hands filled too quickly, so he enlisted Jason in carrying his flowers to the wagon for him. Meanwhile, Alan picked ferns to make backgrounds so the bouquets of lady’s slippers would look even prettier in vases.

In ten minutes, the meadow was cleared. Heaps of delicate pink air pockets of flowers were gently laid in the wagon. Chad did not object when told he would have to walk home so his feet did not crush the flowers. He thought it nicer to walk beside the wagon and look at the pretty flowers.

lady's slippers           The boys started back down the path. John looked back to where the flowers had been. He remembered just minutes before how stunned they had all been by the flowers—how there had been a seemingly endless field of pink rising up from the decaying leaves of last autumn. Now, he only saw the decaying leaves and little broken stems sticking up where once the flowers had been. The evening sun had lowered as well, leaving the field almost dark. Already he was starting to strain his eyes to see ahead of him. He wished they had not picked all the flowers; then he could have come back tomorrow night to see the pink field again.

“I hope the DNR doesn’t catch us,” said William.

“What’s the DNR?” asked Alan.

“The Department of Natural Resources. If they catch us illegally picking all these flowers, they’ll probably throw us in jail, or make Dad pay a huge fine, and then he’ll probably ground us for a month.”

John was frightened by the thought of jail. But he felt it would serve them right if the DNR did catch them. It seemed wrong to have picked all the flowers. They had not left behind a single one. He felt the trees would be lonely and sad without the lady’s slippers.

When the boys got back to the house, Ada and Beth marveled at so many delicate flowers. Beth quickly found more empty coke bottles to serve as vases so Ada could go home with a bouquet, and the Whitman boys could bring another home for their mother.

“Thanks for having me, Beth,” Ada said, as she picked up her vase and kissed her sister-in-law goodbye.

“Any time, Ada,” said Beth.

“We wish you’d come to visit more often,” said Henry.

“It was a perfect day,” Ada said.

“Boys, what do you say to your aunt?”

“Thank you for the pwincess,” said Chad.

“Thank you for the ship,” said John, and then he turned to his cousins and added, “Thank you for taking me fishing.”

William and Jason said nothing, but Alan mussed his cousin’s hair.

“We better get home before dark or Annette will be worried,” said Bill.

William thought his mother might prefer if they did not go home, but he would not argue with his father in public. Instead, he carried his and his brothers’ fishing poles to the car trunk. A sprinkle of rain started up as everyone piled into the car.

“We’re going to have another storm tonight,” said Henry as the visitors drove away.

“Well, at least the boys got out of the house this evening,” said Beth, “though I don’t think they minded being inside since they had Ada to entertain them.”

“Did you boys have a good time with Aunt Ada?” Henry asked.

Both nodded enthusiastically.

“Well, you better get to bed now,” said Beth. “John go brush your teeth while I help Chad put on his pajamas.”

John got ready for bed, then came out into the kitchen to get a drink of water before he went to sleep. When he saw the lady’s slippers sitting on the kitchen counter, he wished he could replant them in the woods, but he knew they would not grow now.

As he started to fall asleep, a loud thunderclap made him hide his head under the blankets. He was surprised Chad could sleep through the noise. He felt the thunder was a warning he had done something wrong to pick the flowers. They had been so beautiful in the forest; they were nowhere near as pretty sitting on the counter. He wanted to cry, but he felt if his older cousins knew he cried, they would think him a baby. That he refused to cry did not make him feel any less guilty.

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