1969-2009 The Calm Before The Storm

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Gary Rice
Posts: 1605
Joined: Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:59 pm
Location: Lakewood

1969-2009 The Calm Before The Storm

Postby Gary Rice » Thu Jun 20, 2019 9:16 pm

1969-2009 The Calm Before The Storm
An updated re-print of my Lakewood Observer Column
By Gary Rice

Good Friends in Lakewood Land:

A few years back, I wrote a Lakewood Observer column looking back on 1968 Lakewood. I suppose, in a great many ways, that year set the stage for many of the changes and upheavals that marked 1969. This is an updated re-print of my follow-up column regarding 1969.

If 1968 brought the rain, 1969 brought the storm; literally and figuratively, locally and nationally.

In a great many ways, 1969 changed everything. Just about anyone alive at that time knew it too.

Many writers allude to a time in history when innocence was lost forever. If any year filled that bill, it was 1969. It was also quite a time for this young writer, who was about to graduate from Lakewood High School. This year marks the 50th reunion for my class.

We’ll be getting together soon in July; at least, those of us who can still make it.

Let's step back in time to those Lakewood streets in 1969; in those weeks just before our graduation, at least...for a little while.

You would have seen a city having marked differences from today. Giant elms, sycamores, and maple trees stood along the serene tree lawns of Lakewood's side streets, lending cool green shade and a womb-like sense of security and peace to the residents. Most impressive of all were those elms, with their V-like branches reaching heavenward, and overarching the nearby homes; providing the illusion at least, that every street was cocooned in its own little world. Many of those streets back then had not yet been paved over with asphalt. Those streets still retained their red-brick luster, and while that made for slick driving during the rains, and bumpy moments for our middleweight bicycles, the overall effect was much like that of a halcyon, idealized portrait of front-porch middle America; as it was ever meant to be. Ice-cream trucks, as well as bicycle-borne knife sharpeners and fruit vendors advertised their presence by pleasant bells and plaintive calls.

Many of those moments were captured by Dad's Ansco 35mm camera, a cool little heavy metal machine that took stunning photos, IF you set all those little doodads just right! There was also the family's fantastic Polaroid, a fold-out black-and-brushed-metal affair that you also had to manipulate with a multi-step process of cocking it, clicking a button, and then first, carefully pulling out a little paper, followed by just-as-carefully pulling out the picture paper- as it was squeezed through metal rollers. You then set a timer and waited. If the photo was black and white, you had to carefully coat the print with a jelly-like substance after you pulled it away from the backing. It was amazing how Dad got the great pictures that he did.

See...there was more time for all of this back then.

There was also time in the '60's to get on my Sears J.C. Higgins Flightliner bicycle and enjoy a ride. That red-and-white vehicle gleamed like a space ship, with its two headlights, fancy horn, and comfy seat. That first bike is long gone, but a few years ago, a used-bike seller had a mint-with-tags example of that same bike, except for the red fenders. (mine had been chrome)

It's mine now.

Let's take an idealized bike ride, shall we, because... all that time that I just wrote about? You know...that Lakewood frozen underneath that jell-swathing of Dad's old Polaroid pictures? That city's time was about to run out.

Firstly, that's me over there on the front porch, in those brown hopsack jeans, and blue silk "Ben Casey" shirt, looking for all the world like a cross between a hippie and a nerd; with those funky black horn glasses, plucking out a folk-rock tune on my little acoustic guitar, accompanied by that wonderful girl up the street. She had a really cool electric guitar, and we'd often swap up and play each other's instruments. I also had a cool Lakewood rock band back then named SKIE. That band lasted through 1970, and battled the rival band “Haze” in 1970 to a draw on the Lakewood Park bandstand, but our lead singer went off to Vietnam and came back changed forever.

Truthfully, before long, we ALL changed forever, but I digress here.

Anyway, we finish our jam session and I put my guitar away. (Oh yeah, that original guitar is also long gone, but, like my bike, I found another one just like it, not long ago. It too, followed me home) It's after rush hour now, and it's time to take the bike out. The psychedelic blue "Ben Casey" shirt is carefully hung up and exchanged for a loose-fitting madras plaid short-sleeve, open and indeed, blowing in the winds of time.

I had yearned for one of those new racing bikes when I was younger, but having my physical issues, Dad seemed to feel that the Flightliner's big balloon tires and coaster brakes would be so much safer for me back then. That Flightliner's fenders and center tank had finally been stripped away, so that my bike would be as light as possible, but I still found it hard to keep up with the other guys on the block. Before long, I bought my own racing bike. Maybe I even had one by that time, and that first Flightliner had already gone away. A few things here, I just don't remember all that well... but...let's just bask in that imagined sunny spring evening in 1969 for a bit longer, while you and I take our virtual ride back into time.

Cruising along Madison, heading westward, with the warm sun at our backs, we pass Jameson's Barber shop and MG Motor Sales Inc., as we decide whether to drop into either Elmwood or Wagner's Bakeries. Either would have been a good choice, but we settle on a cone at Coneland, having had a banana split at Malley's the last time, and a sundae at Bearden's on Warren, the time before that. We turn north, by Union Carbide, onto Highland Ave, (now called w.117th street) and then make a left onto Detroit. We pass Fairchild Chevrolet and Koepke Mercedes. We pass Bobson's Hardware and Hornack's Bowling Center. We savor the great smells wafting from the doors of Chicken Delight and Kelly Donuts as we proceed past Educators Music and the Lakewood Elks Club.

Coming into the downtown area, we pass the hospital, along with Lorbach Opticians, Geigers, First Federal, Carson's Dress Shop, and also, both Keith and Everden Jewelry stores, as well as McCollum Insurance and Lakewood Camera Shop.
Farther along, we pass the Masonic Temple, the Christian Science Church, the Detroit Theater, and of course Miller's Restaurant, with no alcohol served, and there were always plenty of those sticky buns for those unforgettable after-church (coat, tie, and dresses please!) Sunday dinners! Along the way, we pass the numerous bars and churches that dotted Lakewood like the daffodils of springtime.

As evening's shadow's lengthen, I remind myself that my bike no longer sports that streamlined center tank with those twin headlamps to light my way. That tank had been lost, along with a great many other things in life. I had no idea what else was about to be lost, before very long...

In those weeks before graduation, all of that ubiquitous mixing of hopes and dreams transpired in the class of '69. There were elements of fear and uncertainty on the part of the guys, as a military draft lottery was planned to soon start up, (It happened in December) and of course, there was that war in Vietnam. We were losing sometimes hundreds of guys every week in a war seemingly without end, and it was time for many in our class to serve. Some of us were also planning for college. The gals were asserting more independence, as "Women's Lib" became an everyday term. Schools were losing more and more battles over hair length, and freedom of expression in speech, dress, and behavior, and radio stations came into the classrooms. Lakewood High had won a stereo console from a radio station for their "L Room" social area. As seniors, we hung out there a lot, lounging on those hopsack couches, and watching as the wooden furniture around us was gradually replaced by fiberglass. We often shared our straw-served drinks from the same red and white wax-paper cups with the gals there too, as we enjoyed those pretzel rods from that see-through container sitting on the counter.

Our class motto? Yesterday, only a dream- tomorrow, just a vision, but today we live.

Some of us, anyway, I guess...

On July 4, 1969, Lakewood changed forever. A storm roared through our city about 7 p.m. that evening, in the midst of the 4th celebrations. Trees toppled like matchsticks, and people died, including a very dear classmate friend who was a former co-member of our high school’s Ranger Marching Band's drum line. (She'd played the glockenspiel) We'd endured many Friday drum line dinners together, and often marched as a unit up to the high school to join the rest of the band with her playing the LHS fight song melody on those bells, but again, I digress here, and if you'll pardon me, I need to pause for a moment.

Too many salty old tears seem to be getting in the way of my typing.

These days, Lakewood's are gone, either victims of that storm, or of the Dutch Elm Disease. Most of the brick streets are gone too, along with so many other things...Many other friends are long gone too, victims of alcohol or chemical abuse, disease, war, and life in general.

Our country changed, as well. Violence increased in the streets, and in Vietnam. Campuses erupted in protest. Cities burned. It seemed that anything on a pedestal got knocked off, never to be placed back on again. Trust went from a being a given, to a taken. Never again would Lakewood be quite as beautiful as it was in those halcyon days of spring in 1969.

The pulse of this city would survive, but at best... it would indeed be irregular, and quite frankly, still is, I think, but yet again,

I digress here...

(I’ll attach a photo here of my replacement bike and guitar, both very much like the old ones. As well, here’s a photo of damage done in Lakewood on July 4th, 1969.)
Attachments
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Gary Rice
Posts: 1605
Joined: Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:59 pm
Location: Lakewood

Re: 1969-2009 The Calm Before The Storm

Postby Gary Rice » Sat Jun 22, 2019 6:10 am

I just thought, as an aside here, that I might add a probable connection between my red and while Sears J.C. Higgins Flightliner bike above, and the designer/creator of the iconic Early Settler figure, who is planting those seeds above the entrance to the Civic Auditorium.

That connection would quite likely be the amazing Viktor Schreckengost.

Viktor Schreckengost was one of America's great industrial designers. He's even been compared favorably with Leonardo Da Vinci in his creativity. He designed everything from pottery to prosthetics, from radar designs to riding toys, including bikes for Murray of Ohio and of course, for Sears. Schreckengost lived in Cleveland Heights and was over 100 years old when he passed away.

It does seems quite likely, although I can't prove it, but just by logic alone, that Schreckengost designed my bike too. He is commonly credited for designing the very similar Sears Spaceliner bike that followed my own bike's production. (My bike's design was made from roughly 1958-63)

Amazing to me that Mr. Schreckengost actually started designing bikes before WWII!

Just a word about that so called "Early Settler" too here. You know, and I know, that he LOOKS like Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) in just about every respect, but two factors seem to have intervened that may have kept old Johnny's name off of it.

1) Lakewood already HAD a famous resident naturalist, Jared Potter Kirtland, whose land our high school is actually sitting on!

2) And while the statue bears absolutely NO resemblance to the portly bearded Kirtland, it seems that, when research was done on the amazing apple-tree-planter Johnny, (who also happened to be around in our area a good bit back then at the same time as Kirtland, and may well have even known Kirtland with their shared interest in trees!) it appears that Johnny's radically simple, sometimes even barefooted lifestyle might have been just a bit TOO radical for a 1950's school board leadership to officially recognize...

Hence the "Early Settler" naming compromise? I suppose we'll never know for sure... :wink:

Back to the bicycle, err...banjo... :D


Meg Ostrowski
Posts: 449
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2009 10:42 am

Re: 1969-2009 The Calm Before The Storm

Postby Meg Ostrowski » Sun Jun 23, 2019 8:48 am

Gary, Thank you for a good local Sunday morning read.


“There could be anywhere from 1 to over 50,000 Lakewoods at any time. I’m good with any of those numbers, as long as it’s just not 2 Lakewoods.” -Stephen Davis
Gary Rice
Posts: 1605
Joined: Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:59 pm
Location: Lakewood

Re: 1969-2009 The Calm Before The Storm

Postby Gary Rice » Sun Jun 23, 2019 4:37 pm

Thanks Meg!

You're very kind. :D

You know, you just might be onto something. Perhaps those of us who either have written columns, or would like to do so, might think about putting something together for a casual Sunday reading presentation here on the 'Deck that might provide something other than the usual posts about politics or persuasions... :lol:

I'll think about this too. :D

Best Wishes! :D

Gary


Gary Rice
Posts: 1605
Joined: Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:59 pm
Location: Lakewood

Re: 1969-2009 The Calm Before The Storm

Postby Gary Rice » Thu Jul 04, 2019 8:09 am

Good Friends in Lakewood Land, a wee bit more of a remembrance and reflection here...

And yes, to you too, little sister Susan. :D

Thanks for your own remembrance, and kind words in the Lakewood Observer. :D

Thanks too Jim, for putting together such a fine issue, this week particularly. The causes of Tradition and Tomorrow were both well served. :D

Susan, your big sister Greta was one of the most beautiful people Lakewood ever knew. Her engaging smile, willingness to listen, fine musical ability, and interest in everything that was interesting in life, made her a friend to everyone whom she encountered.

Perhaps the most noticeable of of her many exceptional virtues, were her constant smiles and loving kindnesses expressed to others. For me personally, living with my speech, hearing, and other physical challenges, she was one who looked beyond those conditions and accepted me for who I was, in an era when many others did not. She met every challenge in her life without complaint.

All who knew her were deeply impressed by the exceptional person she was. :D

You get to know someone very well if you are in band together, and particularly if you share the same section in a band, as Greta and I did. In sun, rain, mud, or dust, we all prevailed together to put on a good show every Friday night while always keeping our "white buck" shoes spotless. A good band functions like a well-oiled machine, and as a critical cog in that machine, the drumline is the heart of a band. The Lakewood Ranger Marching Band, under the superb leadership of Director Richard Strang and other exceptional directors before and since, was simply the best of the best. Friendships formed in that band, even a half century ago, remain strong today. On September 27th, the Ranger Alumni Band will march again at the stadium with the present band, keeping those ties of past and present strong...

...but I digress here. :roll:

See, there's another aspect to all of this. There's that so-called "Early Settler" planting those seeds over the entrance to the Civic. Sure, you and I and Greta and even its creator Viktor reportedly knew that terra cotta form represented Johnny Appleseed, who, among his other occupations, was also a Swedenborgian missionary. Lakewood's nervous movers and shakers back then wanted the sculpture to simply represent something a bit more generic, but we all knew who it represented, and most of all, we all well knew the significance of planting seeds.

The banjo player, Pete Seeger, often sang a song about that old Bible parable concerning seeds. Remember? When the sower cast those seeds out, some fell on pathways and were stepped on. Some fell on the stones and did not grow, but some seeds fell on the good earth, grew, and multiplied many times over...Remember?

Greta was good too, even at her age, with planting good seeds.

See, she’d wanted to give her life to teaching. Her passing helped me to decide that I needed to do the same thing.

I ended up teaching school for over 30 years, and every single day, she was teaching right along side of me. :D

That’s just how planting seeds works... :D

Pete helped me with the decision to play banjo. Greta helped me with the decision to teach. Hopefully over the years, I've been able to plant a few seeds of my own. :wink:

but again, I digress here... :roll:

Back to the banjo... :D



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