Tag Archives: Michigan

Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Adrienne at Middlemay Books allowed me the opportunity to guest post about family history, a subject close to my heart and that of Kin Types! Thank you so much, Adrienne.

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This weekLuanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and…

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Time Warp

We’re back from a trip to Michigan. Mom had heart surgery in Grand Rapids at the heart center, and she did so well she was out of the hospital in 48 hours! So we were able to bring her back to Kalamazoo and get her set up at home. This was really a medical miracle because she had a 6th stent put in and a new heart valve without having to undergo open heart surgery. I am not impressed easily by modern medicine (though I probably should be), but this knocked my socks off.

While she was in the hospital, the gardener and I went for a drive one day and visited both Saugatuck and Holland. We really wanted to stare at Lake Michigan, so when we saw the sign in Saugatuck we started walking.

Walking without asking. Now, mind you, I have a reconstructed foot. This was a rare surgery done because of damage by a rare tumor. So even though I almost always wear my orthotic-adorned New Balances, I never know when the foot will start to hurt like crazy and I will have to stop walking.

Before we had gone too far I asked a woman who was passing by how long the trail was. “About a half mile,” she said. “But it’s very hilly.”

Yes, ma’am, it was very hilly. But it warn’t no half mile.

I looked it up afterward. 2.5 miles each way. HEH

I was lucky that my foot didn’t seem to mind and see where we ended up.

Worth it? MUCH.

A beach and a view with very few people.

After that we drove to Holland because the gardener had an antique store to check out, and I wanted to visit Windmill Island as I had as a kid.

Back to my Dutch roots ;).

These shoes would need some magical orthotics for me to wear them haha.

We found a restaurant the gardener could eat in without worry. Celiacs note: Persian restaurants are the next best thing to completely gluten free restaurants! Usually, only the bread, desserts, and a few appetizers have gluten.

Chicken koobideh and a rice dish with barberries.

My mother looked great after her surgery, and the only real hitch was when the discharge nurse told mom she can’t drive for a certain period of time. That made her really unhappy. Next day, she said she wanted blueberries from the blueberry farm. Which, of course, was way out in the country. And we had lots of errands and chores to get her settled in. She even pouted/whined a bit. “I can’t drive myself there.” Sniff sniff.

So we took her. When I walked inside, the smell of blueberries was overpowering. She bought 5 pounds and gave my brother and sister-in-law some of them.

The blueberries seem blurry, and I don’t know why. But we also walked around the farm a bit to give mom some exercise.

Yup, that’s me driving the tractor.

Last year we had Mom’s retirement community plant a plum tree in my father’s memory. We used to have a plum tree in our backyard growing up and Dad would take a pic every so often–as it grew and as we grew. So a plum tree seemed right.

The tree is on the outskirts of a woods that abuts the retirement community. The gardener drove us in Mom’s golf cart through the woods.

When we came out of the woods we saw the beautiful gardens planted by the residents of the community. Flowers and vegetables–so lovely.

It was also my birthday on the day we took my mother home from the hospital. My uncle, my dad’s twin, did what he did last year: called to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. That’s what my father used to do every year we were apart. I love that my uncle is carrying on the tradition.

The gardener and I checked out a few of our old houses, visited his parents’ graves (Dad’s is not in town and there wasn’t time), and appreciated the wild flowers (Queen Anne’s Lace, Chicory, Day Lilies, Ironweed). We left Kalamazoo 27 years ago, and at our last house, we noticed that they still have the same drapes in the living room. That was astonishing because those drapes were actually hung 32 years ago, and they are made of massive amounts of off-white sheers. I can’t imagine them lasting this long. But what I do remember is how much work I put into designing them and finding someone to make them–and how much I loved them! I wrote a poem about them and put it in the portfolio of poems I submitted to Western Michigan University for my application to the MFA program. The last stanza goes like this:

Through shadowed glass,

with guarded eyes,

my neighbors wait

for me to swoop my fingers

through the sheer

and clutch the volume

to my chest.

The poem is called “New Drapes,” though these are far from new, and none of the neighbors could still live there any more. Just one of the many time warp experiences I had.

And so it goes.

 

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Filed under Family history, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Food & Drink, History, Lifestyle, Liminality, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Cover Reveal of Kin Types

 

Finishing Line Press has revealed the new cover of my chapbook Kin Types. They put it on their website with my headshot, taken by my friend Renee Rivers.

PRE-ORDER HERE

Release date: June 23

A little background on the cover image: this is a tintype from my family collection. It was handpainted, and the jewelry was painted in gold leaf. We don’t know exactly who the photograph is of, but believe it is of the Remine (Remijinse) branch of the family. My great-great-great-grandmother was Johanna Remijinse De Korne, born in Kapelle, Netherlands. I love how the Dutch spelling conjures up the word “reminisce.”

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Get It Now! (Pretty Please with Sugar On Top)

It’s time!!!

It’s time to preorder Kin Types from Finishing Line Press.

Press here to order my book of poetry and flash nonfiction. Why Kin Types?

  • Wide variety of creative poetic styles
  • Insight into the lives of the women who have come before us
  • Flash nonfiction–what is life like for these men after their wives have died?
  • Quick but indepth glimpses from the history of women: infant mortality, vanity and housewife skills, divorce in the 19th century, secret abortion, artist versus mother, mysterious death, wife beating, and my favorite: a brave hero(ine) saving a family’s home
  • Much more, but you get the idea

Why preorder?

  • You won’t miss out when you’re busy
  • You want the book to go to press
  • Only way to ensure getting a copy!
  • You are supporting the arts
  • The press run of Kin Types is completely dependent on the preorders
  • You don’t want to hear me whining every week
  • I will love you forever ❤️

 

ORDER HERE

Unidentified ancestor from Cadzand, Netherlands

WHAT IS SHE REALLY THINKING?

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Coming Soon from Finishing Line Press

Maybe you thought I am only interested in cats and books and writing and wine food, but my love of local history was fueled by the vintage photographs (that are now antiques) and glass negatives my grandfather gave me. Many of them are interesting shots of locations and people in actions, but more of them are portraits and Grandpa assigned names for every person he knew. Another thing that reinforced my history interest was that my father was a “collector” of old buildings, especially downtown. He would buy old unloved commercial properties and rent them out, usually to young people who wanted a start in business. Since my mother’s great-grandfather had built some of the old buildings in our city, I came to believe that I was meant to coordinate the family photos and documents and to see where the family fit into our hometown.  I’ve documented some of the information I’ve uncovered on my other blog.

But you know I’m also a poet and writer of the more lyrical sort. So it wasn’t enough for me to write blog posts about people long dead. Where the more typical family history research left off, I wanted to add the power of imaginative research. That’s when I started writing my Kin Types poems. These poems are meant to uncover and reveal the lives of women in my family who are long gone. But they could be women in anybody’s family. That’s what family history really should be: the history of the world as seen through the lives of “regular” individuals. The women in these poems endure difficulties and tragedies: the death of an infant, waiting to hear about the fate of a soldier brother, a clandestine abortion, emotional illness, inability to pursue art, a mysterious death, a horrific fire, and more.

My chapbook also contains two prose pieces–flash nonfiction–and, strangely since all the poems are about women, the viewpoint of both these stories is from two men in my family. They are men who, in some ways, lived the male American immigrant story of the late 19th century. But they also had their own troubles and tragedies, and they too cried out (in my head, at least) to have their stories told.

So it’s super exciting to announce that Finishing Line Press is publishing my book, and the stories of the people who have come before us will be available in poems and lyrical prose. Kin Types will be available for pre-order soon, so stay tuned!

My great-grandmother with Grandpa

circa 1910

(yes, she’s in the book)

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A Matter of Taste

When I was in 3rd grade, my father built us a new house across town. At the time we lived in a small bungaranch (or it is ranchalow?) with a bomb shelter in the basement. In 2014 I wrote a post telling a bit about that bomb shelter.

But this post is about our next house, sort of. My parents pored over architectural plans and made changes so that the house would be exactly what they wanted. It was a very well-constructed white aluminum siding and pink brick ranch with a full basement. My bedroom had a built-in desk, vanity, and bookshelves. We had a wood-paneled family room with fire place, and the living room had a wall of glass looking out to the woods behind. The house was 1,787 square feet (thanks, Trulia), which seemed of castle-like dimensions to me, particularly since I had most of that big basement to play in.

My father had some help from subcontractors, but all the framing, the masonry, and extras like concrete walks and patio were done by my father. With me watching and fetching.

When the house was almost completed, my father said my mother could choose the finishing touch. She could select the color of the front door.

This is where I wish I could put a little cardboard swinging door over the answer so that you would have to guess first. Then you’d pull open the door (like on a page of a child’s cardbook book) and look in shock at the color.

I remembered this story because I read Joey’s red door post on Thursday.

But our door wasn’t red (which is always striking on white or gray houses). Our door was turquoise. Yup. Gulp.

Maybe you love blue for decorating (I generally don’t as I prefer warmer colors). Or even turquoise. Or think it’s teal.

But it’s not. Turquoise is turquoise, and I’m sorry but it is not an appropriate color for a door, even if the rest of the house is lovely.

Flash forward. I moved into my house in Phoenix with its gold-tan stucco walls and dark brown trim–both in a sort of mottled faux finish. The colors suit the landscape here. And they are “house colors.”

After we moved in, I noticed that the faux brown around my windows and doors had started to peel. I went up to the door and pulled at a paint shred that was just hanging. As I ripped it up, I saw the color underneath.

It was turquoise. I am NOT kidding. The whole dang house is trimmed in store-bought turquoise trim. It’s not painted, but permanently coated with turquoise. And it defies paint on the top of it, which is why it peels all the time.

###

When the gardener and I visited Michigan just before my father got sick, we went to see our old houses, schools, and haunts. This is a pic of the pretty house that no longer has a turquoise door. The only thing is, the house was more distinctive looking with the turquoise door. So maybe it’s all a matter of taste–not good or bad–but individual. Sadly, we only lived here for a year and a half because, even after all my father’s work on the house, we couldn’t afford to keep it.

house

I’ve been really busy preparing everything the publisher needs for my chapbook, as well as doing a little work on the memoir. Fingers crossed on how all this goes . . . .

I hope your Valentine’s Day is lovely even if you don’t have a special love. Find someone who would be warmed by a valentine–and deliver. Word of warning if you plan on a bouquet: if they have cats, try to stay away from lilies and carnations, which are toxic to cats. Roses and orchids are safe. And the fewer greens the better because nobody ever seems to know which ones are toxic and which ones aren’t.

Muah!!! xo ❤

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What Does Your Memory Smell?

I’m slowly putting my memoir in chronological order (from age eleven) and deciding which scenes to leave out and which to put back in (that I had already taken out). The story has to be told differently in the order it happened in, as opposed to a present day telling that dips back and forth. Stories connected in a more thematic way before, but now the reader has to be able to follow threads where they may stray farther afield for a while.

There was a scene I’d first written several years ago where my mother tried to persuade me to go to medical school. It has connections to two major threads, so I was thinking of putting it back in. I couldn’t find it anywhere and now wonder how much of my story I’ve inadvertently deleted or lost. But I did find some old writing exercises that were kind of fun.

Here is one from a class with Faith Adiele:

In trying to work on the muscle memory assignment I became very frustrated by all the memories which are not available to me.  I wanted to smell the dirt in Kalamazoo.  When we dug on the playground at McKinley school, which was next door to the celery fields, we pulled out spoonfuls of rich black muck.  Muck holds a lot of water in it, maybe because of the clay base to the soil.

When we planted petunias in the dirt behind the filling station, Grandpa told me that the muck was like Dutch soil and that we knew how to work with it, that it was in our blood.  When we moved to Portage, which is a suburb of Kalamazoo, the soil was brown.  Mom said it was sandy soil from all the lakes in Portage, but I’m not sure it wasn’t just plain brown dirt and that she thought it was sandy in comparison with what she grew up with on Burdick Street.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time digging in the dirt, building forts and hiding treasures.  I’d like to put my hands into these soils now, squishing the muck between my fingers and spilling the Portage soil from my cupped hand.  I’d like to smell them and see what I can remember.

Instead, I’ve got the Arizona dirt now.  On dry days, it’s tough, light-colored and packed too tightly.  When it rains just a bit, like it did today, and I step outside, it smells like wet sand in the air.   Looking down I see that the dirt has packed even tighter, its matte finish more dense.  It takes me farther from home and my memories.

So I wasn’t able to do my muscle memory exercise, but if I could find a Be-Mo potato chip, I might be able to do it.  Or maybe those little wax pop bottles.

Reading this is like reading my own writing in some ways, but in others, it is like reading something by someone else. After all, I have changed in recent years–and so has my writing and my thoughts about my past. I wasn’t sure what a muscle memory assignment was meant to do, so I had to search for Faith’s assignment. I found it here:

Muscle Memory: Begin to collect sensory souvenirs that you can incorporate into your standard investigations. Avoid the visual, as we tend to over-rely on sight; instead, eat a childhood candy, listen to what was popular on the radio the month your brother left home, lay your cheek against the hammock you brought back from Guatemala. The sense of smell is particularly evocative; spend several minutes with your eyes closed experiencing a jar of your grandmother’s favorite spice or a bottle of your father’s cologne. Now freewrite whatever memories come to mind.

So the idea was to use sense memories as triggers for writing.  I desperately wanted to remember what Kalamazoo muck smells like and was unable to do so. If I recall, I asked someone–probably my father–to mail me some soil.

It’s funny that I was asking for a Be-Mo potato chip or those wax pop bottles of my childhood. I can remember very well what the chips smelled and tasted like and how it felt when the tiny amount of “pop” slid into my mouth from the wax bottle, then the taste and texture of chewing up the wax.

Using your muscle memory, what can you remember?

CAT OF THE WEEK

This is Maverick. I posted earlier about his brother Moe. They need to be adopted together.

Just as I finished this post, I was notified that the shelter is having a lowered fee week for cats and dogs that have been at the shelter longer than 6 months. That includes Moe and Maverick!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Pliers Lined Up by Size

My son has a cat stroller he uses to take his cats for walks. It was quite pricey, so although he encouraged me to get one I didn’t for over a year. But then I saw one at 1/3 the price online, so I ordered it. It arrived in great need of “putting together.”

I left it lying on the living room floor and every time the gardener asked me why I hadn’t put it together yet, I explained how busy I am. (I am busy; that’s not a lie).

Finally, he started putting it together himself.  [Big winky face]

But the instructions were not correct and the gardener is not a patient person. I could hear him complaining to beat the band, so I offered to help. He asked me to get a long skinny screwdriver and a pliers with a regular style jaw in a medium size. When he started to explain a little more, I had to remind him: “I’m my father’s daughter, remember? I was raised alongside Dad’s workbench.”

My father had a workshop in our basement, and when I was younger than six I could often be found at his feet as he toiled at his building, fixing, creating. I loved the vise, the lathe, and all the different tools lined up by order of size on the pegboard over the workbench.

When I was six, my father built a bomb shelter out of his workshop–and moved all his stuff out to the garage. This “poem start” (not a completed poem, but a first draft) documents that first workshop and its disappearance.

Winter

 

A small, square space at the bottom of the steps.

One casement window ajar

just below

the ceiling hinting

at the black and unknown winter.

 

The man working, a little girl,

face like a cup,

watching his arms crank

the vise handle,

tighten the grip

like Superman.

 

False walls invoke a room from

the open basement.  The workbench

so like that of the elves,

its thick wooden surface scarred

slick by hammer blows.

 

He presides over the saw

with precision, aiming

for the pencil line, sawdust

falling away on each side

like the snow from a plow.

 

A rack of baby food jars

containing nails and screws

revolves overhead, and at the back

of the planked surface families

of pliers and screwdrivers line up

by size like Goldilocks’ bears.

 

The girl sits behind him

the chilled concrete twanging

her backside through her thin

pajamas.  She pounds the

wooden posts in her little workbench

all the way through and then

flips it and pounds them back again.

 

Everything in its place.

His sleeping bag and snowshoes

from the war

hang from the rafters.  The caricature

of the man pinning diapers on her,

her head bald except for

two hairs sprouting heroically

as Tweety Bird.

 

He carries the contents she thinks

are the room

up the stairs and out to the garage.

The claw and the ball hammers, all

the members of the pliers and screwdriver

families, the cardboard box

of sandpaper.  Sleeping bag and painting.

 

After much labor slabbing mortar,

constructing dual-layer cinder block

walls, the man rests

his chin on the ladder rung, surveys

 

a small, square space at the bottom of the steps,

dark and cold.

 

On the way out, he slaps

a fallout shelter decal

on the door he has just hung.

 

The man toils over his bench in the garage now.

She’s not allowed.

The space heater is too dangerous.

For a couple of years I couldn’t follow my father into the workshop the same way. The coziness and security were gone. But then we moved when I was eight and he created another wonderful workshop in the basement.  He did so everywhere he ever lived.

Designing the Butterflies are Free set in Dad’s workshop–11th grade

When my father was dying he gave me a beautiful set of wrenches to take home. As I tried to get through security at the airport, TSA took the wrench set from me. I never saw it again.

After Dad’s funeral, family members and friends began plundering his workshop of its tools and gadgets.

What place reminds you of your father or mother? My grandmother’s kitchen reminds me of her, and my other grandmother’s sewing room expresses her spirit. My grandfather’s place was his vegetable garden.

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For the rest of the summer, I plan to blog once a week instead of twice. I’m behind in my conversations with y’all and want to catch up! I’ve got some new eye problems, so I’m trying not to spend as much time on the computer, writing and reading, and then, after all, it is really really hot here.

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A Truck to Remember

When I was just past thirty,  I wrote a poem about my father. It took an Honorable Mention in a contest sponsored by The MacGuffin literary journal and judged by Diane Wakoski.  I gave him a copy of the journal after it was published, and he acted like he always did when he didn’t know if he was being subtly criticized or if he should be flattered. I told him to be flattered.

“Little old ladies” (his term) always loved my father. And I think that’s how he found some of his treasures. Maybe that is where my trunk came from, now that I think of it!

A Scout Truck Grows Older

 

The only time my father did not bury

himself with obsolete and imperfect things–

rice-paper widows with old iceboxes and documents

to give away to someone who cherished them

for their age–was when he loved a ‘sixty-four

gray-green Scout, still toddler-new and shiny.

I took this as an omen of better times;

not knowing he wanted to see the decay of beauty.

 

My father and I travelled long and alone

in that truck that was not really a truck–

no caked mud flaps, corroded door frames,

three-year-old garbage under cab seats.

In January he cranked its heavy plow,

flexing the biceps of the Scout’s compact body.

It whined and startled from the weight

of Kalamazoo’s heavy winter, my father

pushing it on and on way into dark.

 

That summer he steered us bouncing across

the spongy edge of Long Lake, passing closest

when breath-near the bottomless drop-off.

I imagined the truck tipping and me

with no orange life jacket to endure

the cold whirlpool, those obsidian depths.

But we spun on, tilting, along that damp sand,

crushing the last fishtail-smelly driftwood

and snail shells that lake would ever spew out.

 

The Scout began aging–coughing and slowing.

When it held enough soiled shirts and rusty tools–

things not new, too common to call antiques–

I was too grownup to dress in boy clothes

and pretend to be my father’s son, loving

the feel of destruction beneath our wheels.

The MacGuffin 5.3 (1988): 18

I couldn’t find an old photograph of the truck. I realized I don’t have many photos of those years.

I’m not sure if my dad’s truck was #1 or #3 in the ad. I remember running away and getting out to the garage and seeing the Scout sitting there. The world looked exhausting from the garage, so I hauled my little laundry bag of clothes into the truck and fell asleep.

 

 

 

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Our Cemeteries

In the past, when we’ve visited Michigan, hubby and I visited his parents’ graves. This time, we went with my mother to the veteran’s cemetery where my father is buried. When we got to Toronto, we also visited hubby’s grandparents’ graves.  Sherri Matthews gave me the idea to write about our cemeteries.

In Michigan, it was “pouring rain,” (is that a Michigan expression where pouring is used as an adjective meaning the rain is coming down in a downpour?) and we had left the umbrella back home.  There is a government building on the very large property, and I stopped by to see if they had an umbrella to borrow. A nice young man ran about looking for one, even running out to his own car, but alas no umbrella.

The cemetery feels very spacious because there are a lot of grounds with a curving road that cuts through. All the newer sections use flat markers, rather than gravestones, so the illusion is as if one is in a park. It looks clean and contemporary.

When we got to my father’s section, the rain stopped.

Graves are dug in the order of date of death, and many have come after my father. There is an institutional feel. Everything is large and impersonal. Big equipment just beyond my father’s grave is carving out room for more of our dead veterans, and in some cases, their spouses.

I’m grateful for the sacrifices of our veterans, and I am glad that this national cemetery is well cared for and in a beautiful setting. But it’s not where I would have liked my father to be buried. Originally, my parents had plots in a family section of a local cemetery. He would have had a regular headstone, where we would not have been limited by government rules. I also don’t like this idea for my mother because eventually (she’s in very good health and a very young 80, to be clear) she would have to go in the same grave with him, I believe. But near the end my father became more and more focused on his military service in the Korean War, and he changed his funeral and burial plans.

In Toronto, we found old traditional cemeteries. We were told the name of the Jewish cemetery where we would find hubby’s grandparents, so we followed my iPhone directions to get there. We were told it was on the north side of the road, and when we got there we discovered two cemeteries–both Jewish–one on each side of the road. We went to the appropriate side, but we couldn’t find any of the relatives, although we searched the names on every stone. I kept thinking we were in the wrong place because in general the dates appeared too old to me. Although there were a few where the deaths were past 2000, for the most part I thought these plots had been bought 100 years ago.

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I felt bad about this cemetery because although someone was taking care of the grass, many stones were falling over. I didn’t know how much vandalism had to do with this and couldn’t help but wonder why nobody had fixed them!

Jewish cemeteries are sometimes subjected to vandalism. Quite recently in France hundreds were vandalized. But these are old stones and maybe they have fallen over on their own?

Eventually I wandered across the street to the very neat and orderly, but crowded, cemetery.

I searched for some time, as the sun was moving down in the sky, creating shadows. Finally, hubby reached a cousin on the phone. He drove over and showed us that there was yet a third cemetery just up the street! That’s where we found hubby’s grandparents.

Although this cemetery had the right feel and was quite beautiful and old, I won’t show you my photos of hubby’s grandparents’ gorgeous stones because his relatives are what hubby and I think of as superstitious, and I don’t want to annoy anyone.

These Toronto cemeteries all had the look of big city cemeteries where the rows of gravestones are quite close together because land is precious.

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