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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

We are tested in many ways.


Will Sunny be on trial Thursday morning? It will be our first puppy class! Will the other puppies be younger, smaller, and less obstreperous? Will we "pass" the class, or will she be so wild that we'll be kicked out? She’ll be excited, I know, when we enter the big working arena, as her dog mom repeats a calming mantra to herself to calm her nerves!

At least puppy class will give me a break from Widowland, this strange new challenging country I now inhabit. Some widows tell me, “It gets easier,” while one said the third year was worse than the second, and yesterday I was told, “It doesn’t get easier. It gets worse.” Obviously, experiences vary across the widowed population. One woman could not bear to look at old photographs or read old letters, whereas I cannot keep from what are to me precious and tangible evidence of past happiness. 

Evidence. There’s a concept that brings me to larger national events. Hearings proceed on the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and while many Americans are glued to their TVs, just as many (or so it seems) are steadfastly avoiding the unfolding story. I have neither television nor the leisure to watch it nonstop if it were available, but I have tuned in on the radio a couple times in the car and have read news summaries of various days’ presentations. 

I was distressed, though, when one friend said her reason for not watching is that the hearings are a “show trial.” What? The term “show trial” indicates the pretense of a trial (i.e., not a hearing or hearings but an actual staged trial, and a rigged one at that), in which the verdict has been decided beforehand, with evidence often manufactured and confessions of guilt forced. Example: the Stalinist show trials that took place from 1936 to 1938. 


The trials were held against Stalin’s political enemies, such as the Trotskyists and those involved with the Right Opposition of the Communist Party. The trials were shams that led to the execution of most defendants. Every surviving member of the Lenin-era part was tried, and almost every important Bolshevik from the Revolution was executed. Over 1,100 delegates to the party congress in 1934 were arrested.  The killings were part of Stalin’s Great Purge, in which opportunists and Bolshevik cadres from the time of the Russian Revolution who could rally opposition to Joseph Stalin were killed. He did so at a time of growing discontent in the 1930s for his mismanagement of the Soviet economy, leading to mass famines during periods of rapid and poorly executed industrialization and farm collectivization.




My friend did not mention Stalin but pointed to the Watergate hearings, which she finds unproblematic, because “most Americans thought Nixon was guilty.” (If his guilt was assumed beforehand, wouldn’t that have been a “show trial,” if it had been a trial and not a hearing?) The whole point of a hearing is to decide if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. If the prosecution’s case is weak, perhaps there will be no trial, but if one does take place, the defense at least has a good idea of what it will face in the courtroom. From the little I have heard and read, plenty of evidence that we did not have before (example) has been placed before the public in the January 6 hearings, reams of it now public record. Of course, self-selected segments of the public can choose to avoid looking at the record, lest their opinions be challenged by documented facts....

Then there is … Facebook. Here confusion between hearings and trials reigns supreme, with the addition of those refusing to follow the hearings or dismissing the evidence (without having heard it) objecting to the procedure they do not understand and are not following. Example: One comment on a friend’s Fb thread reads: “This Stalinist inquisition has NO rebuttal or cross examination.” (Ah, there! Someone has brought in Stalin! See above quoted passage and compare and contrast Stalin’s trials to today’s hearings.) Well, it happens that the former president did issue a rebuttal statement, twelve pages, and here it isTypically, he repeats claims already found to be baseless and attacks the current administration’s record, which is not at issue in the hearings. As to cross-examination, that would take place at trial stage, if criminal charges are brought. 

As Abraham Lincoln might say were he alive, in a larger sense America itself is on trial today. Can a nation conceived and dedicated to equality under law long endure, and are we dedicated to the task of preserving our heritage? 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Postscript to Previous Post


Photograph by Angie Wolney

Photographer and long-time bookstore customer Angie Wolney was at the Old Art Building in Leland last Thursday for our David Grath memorial gathering, and she shared a few of her photographs with me. The painting on the wall (right) above is one of David's, as you all no doubt recognize. The portrait of David (left), a gift to me by the artist who painted it, is by Joe Borri, and the mounted metal "Art is Life" disk was a gift to David by its maker, a veterinary medicine professor-turned-sculptor whose name does not appear on the piece. (I am trying to find that name in various collections of names, addresses, and phone numbers.)

Photo by Angie Wolney

I'm not sure if this is a "before" or "after" (I think "after"), but on the left you see two members of the Jeff Haas Quartet, percussionist Randy Marsh and flautist Nancy Stagnitta. (Jeff Haas on keyboard and Bruce Dondero on bass are not in this particular photo.) At center are two of David's friends who spoke at the event, Charlie Hall and Joe Tiedeck. To their right are Barb Tholin and Maiya Grath (David's youngest), and finally, far right, Tom Streasick and Judy Livingston. David's iconic "Grand Piano Canyon" is onstage on the easel to the left, David's painting and a portion of one of Jim Harrison's poems reproduced together on the poster on righthand right. Flowers under the lectern are by David Chrobak. Beyond stage to left (behind musicians) is a poster from Summer 1989 with a reproduction of one of David's paintings. Beyond stage to right is Joe's portrait of David and, behind Tom's head, another of David's paintings.

Photo by Angie Wolney

I love the photo Angie took with the OAB sign showcasing its 100th anniversary, the building in the background outlined in lights, guests at the memorial gathering spilling out the door. What a beautiful evening! And obviously, no photographer can resist Leland sunsets, either from the bridge, looking down the river to Fishtown, past the Cove (right) and Falling Waters (left), or straight over Lake Michigan.

Photo by Angie Wolney

Photo by Angie Wolney

Truth: For weeks I had been dreading the gatherings in Kalamazoo and Leland and only wanting to get beyond them, afraid my emotions would be too much for me, that I would be completely done in, a blubbering idiot. After the Kalamazoo evening went so well, my friend Laurie (emcee at both) asked me if I weren't now a little less nervous about Leland. I told her no, because David's daughter had organized everything in Kalamazoo, while Leland was all my doing! But both events came together beautifully, and in fact they helped me a lot. Seeing so many good friends together, having the family all together, listening to everyone's memories of my beloved was a heartwarming experience. So many people felt the loss of David that I knew I was, though still grieving, not at all alone. 

When the time came for it to be all over and everyone to leave, I didn't want it to endAnd so, four days later, with family was gone and flowers fading, I salvaged what I could from two arrangements and combined them with a few additions from around my yard. The reds glowed in the evening light. 

Now, my store of memories further enriched, once again I can say that I have been and am a lucky woman. It isn't that I have finished mourning, but I am coming slowly back to life for at least part of most days. Well, that's one day, and the next brings a setback, but what more can I say? It's complicated. A fuller text of the memorial week can be found in my previous post, here

If you haven't experienced the loss of someone whose heart was entwined in yours for many years, my reports on gratitude co-existing with mourning may seem an outrageous contradiction, but I can tell you that both feelings are real, and neither cancels out the other. I miss him grievously, every waking minute, and I am deeply grateful for our life together and for our loving family and friends. 

Books Read Since Last List

63. Youngson, Anne. The Narrowboat Summer (fiction)
64. Maum, Courtney. The Year of the Horses: A Memoir (nonfiction)
65. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451 (fiction)
66. Giffels, David. Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life (nonfiction)
67. Erdrich, Louise. The Sentence (fiction)
68. Griffin, Gail. Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces (nonfiction)
69. Griffin, Gail. “The Events of October”: Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus (nonfiction)
70. Tuchman, Barbara W. Notes From China (nonfiction)
71. Williams, Elizabeth Whitney. A Child of the Sea, and Life Among the Mormons (nonfiction)

Monday, June 20, 2022

Revisiting the "Old Vienna"

In Leland, many years ago

"Ah, but that was the old Vienna!” One of the Artist’s favorite phrases. Yes, life brings change, day by day and year by year, but if we are among those fortunate enough both to have known many happy times in our lives and to remember them, the latter years are saturated with rich memories. 


On Tuesday, June 14, family and friends of the Artist gathered in Kalamazoo to share stories of the man we all loved, David Grath. The weather was hot but the venue (Bell’s Back Room) large and comfortable, and David’s daughter Carson had outdone herself with the arrangements. I took a couple of the memory boards I’d put together and also the bust of David done by John Martel of Kalamazoo. Carson had many memory boards of her own, including a marvelous one of the legendary “House in the Woods” down on Shell Lake in Leelanau County. Our dear friend Laurie Kaniarz (who also provided me with room and board overnight) was emcee for the evening, and James Burkett led off reminiscences (of which there were many) and played music and encouraged others to jam with him after the talk became more informal. 

Photograph of family in Kalamazoo by Susan Kallewaard

I drove home the next morning, after picking up Sunny Juliet at the kennel where she had stayed overnight (Was that puppy glad to see me! You would have thought we had been separated for years!) and was happy to make the trip by myself, with just the pup, because it gave me quiet time to reflect on conversations from the night before, as well as all the changes I’d observed in burgeoning Kalamazoo. I took a different route home, too, west on M43, north on M40 through Gobles and Allegan, and so on and so forth, providing occasional commentary to Sunny on places her daddy and I used to visit, such as Crane’s Orchard in Fennville (for apple pie in the fall), before falling silent once more.


My sisters from Illinois had driven to Kalamazoo and came on up to Leelanau County afterward, so Wednesday evening found the three of us gathered on my front porch, and by Thursday all three of David’s kids and their spouses and three of our four grandchildren (one sick with COVID in Maine) and my son had arrived, and we got everything set up at the Old Art Building (OAB) in Leland for another memorial gathering that evening. And let me say that right from the beginning, when I called the OAB from Arizona to secure a date for the building, and throughout the planning period and the event itself, I felt extremely well cared for by staff Becky Ross, Sarah Ross Mills, and Abby Chatfield, while Board president Dan Lisuk was another pillar of strength. Great people, great place, full of David Grath memories and connections over the years -- we could not have gathered anywhere more appropriate.


Although in my mind I can see on Thursday evening, from the front (southeast) corner of the room, people filling rows of chairs and standing all around the back and clustered in the doorway, none of us in the family took photographs of the evening. Carson had arranged for a photographer in Kalamazoo, and I could have done the same in Leland but didn’t think of it, so all I have are those few (above) of our setup earlier in the day, one of the Jeff Haas Quartet taken by Pam Yee (which I stole from Facebook) before many people had arrived, another of Laurie Kaniarz with Jeff Haas (who took that?), and a lovely shot of the building from back toward Main Street by photographer and long-time bookstore customer Angela Wolney. But that’s okay. We were all “being present in the moment,” as one of my sisters put it, and everything came together almost perfectly: Everyone loved the beautiful music (JHQ), raved the artistic and delicious catering (Island Thyme), and enjoyed the wine (Verterra). David Chrobak’s floral arrangements were fabulously colorful. Laurie Kaniarz once again acted as emcee, and all of David Grath’s old friends who spoke of him to the assembled crowd shared meaningful and often emotional memories. 

Jeff Haas Quartet (photo by Pam Yee)

Jeff Haas and Laurie Kaniarz

Photo by Angie Wolney

James Burkett told of how he had met David Grath when he, James, was only six years old and David was 23. Cris Telgard talked about old days at the Bluebird, including the autumn when David talked Cris into giving him a temporary bartending job and invented two legendary drinks (recipes were lost long ago, but their names live on), the “Muscovy Duck” and the “Cosmic Crowbar.” Charlie Hall spoke of a unique friendship built on caring and absolute trust, and Charley Murphy addressed the life of an artist and how David told him to “revel” in it. [Correction: what Charlie said David told him was to savor living the life of an artist. Savor.] There were lots of connections made through art and through the Bluebird, but Joe Tiedeck met David when he, Joe, came to Leland as David’s mother’s hospice nurse, providing a different perspective on David and his gift for love and friendship. Susan Ager asked at the end of her remarks, “Who will enchant us now?” Of course, there was much, much more, including Will Case from the sidelines and Bob Adler from the audience.


The kids and grandkids and I agreed afterward that we could have listened to people talk about David Grath all night, but as the crowd was S.R.O. it was only kindness to the people who didn’t have seats (and some who did but were probably tired of sitting) to adjourn for food and wine before the evening got too long in the tooth. And then I began to make the rounds, although I did not get the chance to speak to everyone, which is the way such times always are. Finally, as they had with setup, family and friends pitched in to help put everything away.


“Are you happy?” I was asked by two people. The question took me aback. Happy? Now a widow? But I understood what was being asked, and yes, I was very satisfied with the occasion. It was beautiful in so many ways, and people kept saying, “David would have loved it!” and that had been my goal all along: to put together an evening for him


The next day, Friday, was a family day, at David’s gallery and in our farmhouse yard, under the trees, for a big family dinner – another time we were simply present to each other and not documenting with phones or cameras. By late Saturday morning everyone was gone. I spent a couple of hours mowing grass. It was a beautiful day....


But ah, yes, books! On Tuesday night at Laurie’s house, instead of reading either of the books I’d packed (for less than 36 hours away from home), I started into a book from her shelves, the title having caught my eye. Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces, by Gail Griffin, could not have been more pertinent to my week. 


In the past 15-1/2 weeks, I’ve read several books about death and loss and grief and mourning and bereavement, but this one, although the circumstances under which Gail was widowed were vastly different from my own, jibes most closely with my experience. That is to say, this particular widowed writer expresses feelings that most closely mirror my own. That is not to say that she describes general feelings on losing a beloved partner better than anyone else, because responses to such a loss vary widely from person to person, but that she writes, for the most part, of feelings I have known myself since David died. She is a beautiful writer, too, which never hurts. 


I am paralyzed by contradiction. It is impossible that this has happened, yet I know this has happened.


Some part of me seems to be functioning as a kind of emissary from the unavailable remainder of myself. 


I tried to quiet and calm myself viscerally, as if I were a traumatized animal in my own care. 


I want to be put somewhere safe until I am fit to live.


My house is the only safety; it feels like a cave of comfort and protection from a random and terrifying world.


My mind is still a minefield. I move around it cautiously.


I can’t bear to tell the story …, and I can’t bear not to.


That is a sampling, fewer than the number of lines I copied out in my journal but illustrative of passages that resonated with me. 


It turns out that my friend Laurie is friends with the author, who lives in Kalamazoo, and that the book was published by Wayne State University Press as part of their Made in Michigan series, so I will be ordering it for my bookstore soon. 


“One foot in front of the other.” That’s my answer to the unanswerable question, “How are you doing?” 



So, looking back, there was my old life with David in Kalamazoo and our more recent life together in Leelanau County, first in Leland and then, since 2001, at the farm. It was, as he would say, the "old Vienna." On Sunday morning I found photographs from our drive north from Avignon through central France. Blesle! That village in the Auvergne where we spent a magical evening, night, and morning! I also found announcements and invitations David had saved from artist friends for their shows, a literary magazine containing half a dozen poems by an old friend, letters, cards from his children, more and more photographs. It was/is the “old Vienna,” over and over -- here, there, and everywhere -- and it is priceless.


I’ll close today with a poem the Artist himself wrote. It’s called “Eschewing.” At least, I consider it a poem and suspect he intended it as such, but the scrap of paper is undated and contains no additional notes beyond these lines, and when I found it I was seeing it for the first time. Sorry I can’t seem to type in the numbers he used without having Word insert a number at every line break, but this is as close as I can come to transcribing. 


“Eschewing,” by David Grath


I’m taking time out

of nothing to practice

the practice of eschewing.

I will become expert at:


The laying off of hands


Pissing behind doors

while the dinner

parties quack on


Having several or

no meals a day


Not acknowledging

months like January

June and July


Will “feckless” cover me

When I get good at it?


There was no one else like him, ever, and there never will be again.

Photo by David Brigham

Sunday, June 5, 2022



There was a new novel, The Ways We Hide, by Kristina McMorris, included in my most recent published list of books read (following my review of The Education of Betsey Stockton) and I want to tell you enough about it to pique your interest in that book, as well. Regular readers of Books in Northport may recall that I was able to reconnect not long ago, through a local friend who has studied close-up sleight-of-hand for years, with someone from my graduate school days who now makes his way in the world as a professional magician. It was in part because of Mark and Larry’s fascination with the world of stage illusions that I was intrigued when an ARC of The Ways We Hide came to me in the mail from Sourcebooks, but I found added appeal in the connection to Copper Country in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


A traumatic event in the childhood of the main character, Fenna Vos, has outlines that will be familiar to students of Michigan history. In real life, the Italian Hall Disaster took place in Calumet in 1913, where 73 people, 59 of them children, died in a stairwell trying to escape from a building they thought was on fire. Someone had yelled “Fire!” but there was never any fire; however, the street entrance door at the bottom of the stairs was apparently locked, and children were literally buried alive. For the purposes of her novel’s timeline, McMorris places the event in a fictional town, Eden Springs (also in the U.P.), at a later date, but Fenna’s near-death experience provides clear and obvious motivation to her life-long interest in escapism – not into imaginary worlds (say, through literature) but out of actual physical containers. 


The novel’s hair-raising opening scene, however, takes place onstage in 1942 Brooklyn. Young adult Fenna and her partner are performers, and she who appears to the audience as a mere “assistant” is in fact the designer of the containers and escape mechanisms, as well as the instructor of Charles, the apparent Houdini who makes the onstage escapes. What happens in that particular performance unexpectedly takes Fenna far from Brooklyn to behind-the-scenes war work in World War II England with M19. Here again, as was true of the Christmas Eve fire, Fenna’s story involves actual wartime projects little known to the public even today. 


I knew about the Italian Hall in Calumet, but not all the other facts-behind-the-fiction in this novel. In fact, as I was reading, I was impressed with how many lifelike events the author created, not realizing how many she had drawn from history. The writing never seems didactic or overloaded with too many dates or details: The story is always front and center. 


Fenna has an indissoluble bond with Arie, with whom she survived the Christmas Eve event deadly to so many other children that night. Then there is Charles, her stage partner, who disappears early in the saga but reappears later. Major Hutton, an Englishman who recruits her to work in British intelligence, is based on an actual historical person. Through her experiences with these and other people in her life and unexpected twists and turns along the way – things not always being what they appear -- Fenna gradually grows in self-knowledge and strength.


Who will want to read this book? Those who enjoy history and/or historical fiction and/or love stories and/or intrigue and suspense and/or stage illusions, as well as anyone who simply wants to be pulled into another world and time. 


The good news is that The Ways We Hide will be issued in frugal, affordable paperback when released; the “bad” news is that the release date isn’t until September 6. But remember, delayed gratification builds character!  


The Ways We Hide

by Kristina McMorris

Sourcebooks, September 2022

Paper, 496pp