YOU REALLY CAN GO HOME AGAIN

 

Summer in Michigan — just the thought of it brings a smile to my face. Both my husband and I hail from a small town in southeastern Michigan, and this summer we returned for a whirlwind of a trip that examined our past and our ancestry. Day after day brought new discoveries and old places into focus. By the last days of the journey, my mind swirled, and I yearned for the quiet necessary to examine and absorb all I saw and learned.

The sojourn to our home state contained many elements of serendipity when the Tecumseh District Library in Michigan contacted me about making a presentation on my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal. He enlisted in Adrian, Michigan, on April 20, 1861, just down the road from Tecumseh. I agreed and decided to approach other organizations and ask if they’d be interested in my presentation. Within weeks, I’d booked three over a ten-day period in June.

A month later, a friend of my husband’s contacted us and asked us to save the date for a weekend in June for his fiftieth high school reunion. The weekend fell right in the middle of my presentations. I then made a Facebook page for my classmates asking if anyone would like to get together during my visit home. Twenty-plus people said, “Yes.” I did the same thing with cousins and yet another reunion came together.

Class of 1973

Stockbridge High School – Class of 1973 Forty-four Years Later

My memory was very much put to the test. Many of the folks we saw remained in the area or had parents still in the area. I left Stockbridge when I was eighteen. My husband moved away about the same time. Both of our mothers moved from the area in the 1980s. Except for Facebook, I’ve had very little contact with any of these folks in four decades. I brought name tags, but even then I made mistakes with names.

The kids I’d gone to school with had all gotten older! Of course, I wasn’t looking in the mirror when I made my discovery. Once I identified my former playmates–some of whom I knew from my first memories–I could see those former faces in the eyes and gestures of their current conditions. The years floated away as stories spilled from the fountains of our memories. We still carried a bond born of drinking the same water and attending the same schools. While growing up in a village of 1,200 people always seemed boring to me as a kid, I can see now how our childhoods were really very blessed with simplicity, discipline, and love.

The stories of their lives poured forth. Some brought smiles, and yet others brought tears. The divorces, diseases, and death mark us and bring forth a solid and courageous character that few could have imagined back in Mr. Johnston’s history class the day we drove him to distraction, and he lit a cigarette right in front of us in the classroom. When he’d realized what he’d done, he tossed the offending fag out the window.  We all remembered that day, and amazingly, we all had the same exact memory of it.

One of my former classmates lost a son in the line of duty as a police officer several years ago. Just starting his career, the young man had been in a high-speed chase when he lost control of the vehicle. The pain on my friend’s face when he spoke of the horrific accident while in the line of duty moved me to tears, and we shared a moment of grief for what we both had lost.

We flipped through the pages of our senior yearbook, and I heard one of the women in our class had been murdered by her husband. Another had died from complications with diabetes. And yet another, sat alone in his apartment miles away, afraid to come out and join us because of what he deemed a life of failure.

It might have seemed that the evening was full of tears. Yet, it was not. We shared our stories, we sympathized, and then we laughed about the pranks, the teachers, the silliness, and the fashion of 1973. We parted with promises to meet again next year for our forty-fifth. It had been nineteen years since our last reunion, and I think we all felt the passage of time. When warmth remains after so many years, it’s worth embracing and repeating.

But the reunioning wasn’t yet over. We still had my husband Bob’s fiftieth to attend. And for me, this would be bittersweet. My brother Don, who committed suicide in 2008, was also a member of this class. These were the guys and gals I grew up admiring. They all remembered me as Don’s kid sister, Patti, a little tow-headed nuisance who followed them around whenever they came to our house. Here I was married to one of their own and one of Don’s best friends to boot. I was more emotional during this reunion than my own because it brought back the pain of losing my brother–long before his suicide.

Two of my cousins also graduated that year, and when I saw them standing together, I felt the first inkling of tears. Linda and Judy and Don–they were the family trio the year of their graduation. Their open house was combined and held at our house. During the banquet, roses were placed in a vase for all those who had departed. I teared up again when they read the name, “Don Camburn.” Then the final event was the singing “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow, the musical the class put on their senior year. It was the first musical ever performed at our high school, and Don had a starring role. When the class members stood to sing the song, I saw Don on the stage–all six-foot-six-inch of him–singing, and my eyes began to fill once again. But the rendition was slightly off beat and key. What a relief. It’s hard to cry when you are trying not to laugh.

InMemoriam.jpg

Donald Camburn – Top 2nd from left

Two weeks of memories of places and people I haven’t thought about in years. Now they are bombarding my brain. And the more I remember, the more I wonder about those who weren’t there.

Visits to grave sites and former homes, chats with family members and old friends, and rides on the backroads of Michigan showed me that I had nothing to fear from the past that sometimes has appeared as a monstrous apparition over the years. Time and distance have allowed me to soften the dark memories and embellish the good into myths that warm my heart.

We ended the trip with a birthday party for Bob’s mother. She turned ninety-five on Friday, and six of her seven children gathered at her nursing home to pay her tribute. She didn’t say much, but she smiled and gobbled down her cake with gusto.

She deserves it, as we all do. May I still enjoy my cake and eat it, too, at ninety-five.

95 birthday.jpg

 

 

Poisoning the Poor Redux

I posted this post back in February. Yesterday I heard a report on NPR that Flint residents still can’t drink their water. They must still pick up water from city hall. The donations of bottled water have fallen off. And still, the people suffer because of horrid decisions made by those in power.

The Detroit Free Press reported in November that Michigan’s governor blocked a bill to provide bottled water to the poisoned city. Shameful.

Click here for an NPR report one year after the crisis broke nationwide.

For ways to help the residents of Flint, click here.

 

FlintWater

Flint’s dirty, lead contaminated water

 

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The adjectives overwhelmed my brain, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on writing a cohesive piece.

Then for days, I would forget.

I would forget until the headlines forced me to remember.

Flint, Michigan.

Yesterday, the headline that made me take notice and remember, “Flint residents paid the highest rate in the nation for contaminated water,” forced me to sit on my rear to write this post.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The Detroit Free Press‘s article announced the results of a study by the Food and Water Watchgroup that studied the 500 largest cities in the country and found that Flint charges twice the amount as the national average for its water. Insult upon horrific insult made even worse by the fact these residents being served up contaminated water for more than a year had to even pay in the first place.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

General Motors essentially made Flint from the 1920s to the 1980s, when it decided to move their plants somewhere else. They moved the factories, but not the workers. Flint has suffered the fate of all company towns when the company no longer wants to be there.

The companies don’t even bother saying, “Sayanora and good luck, we must leave you, taking your jobs, your economy, and your dignity. In turn, we leave you with unemployment, crime, and hopelessness.” They just leave. And no one gives a damn about it.

Towns like Flint become wastelands of poverty, dissolving into vacuums ripe for drugs and violence. The human spirit deflates faster than Tom Brady’s footballs.

And no one cares, especially the ones who caused it.

As a result, Flint went into economic decline, and by 2011, the city was in a financial state of emergency. To cope, Flint cut its budget by changing the source of their water in April 2014.

That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. After the new water lines were installed to bring water in from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron, residents complained of discoloration and foul smells and tastes coming out of their faucets. The residents complained, but no one listened. Residents, who can’t afford bottled water and who most likely struggle to pay the exorbitant water fees, were charged for dirty water.

No one listened for almost two years. No one listened to the families living below the poverty level who knew one thing for sure. Water should never taste or smell or contain color. From April 2014 to late 2015, nothing was done, until folks starting dying of Legionnaires, and children began suffering from the symptoms of lead contamination.

water

The noncolor of water

Today, The Detroit Free Press reported that a man suffering from headaches, sweats, and exhaustion has levels of lead in his blood that are five times the level that is considered toxic. Most of the worry previously had been about children, rightly so. But now it’s becoming obvious that adults will see the impacts as well.

Since April 2014, Flint residents bathed, brushed their teeth, drank, and cooked with toxic water.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

Bring us the bottled water and the filters now that this national disgrace has made headlines. Stop drinking the water now, dear residents, and don’t slip up and forget when you’re standing at the sink getting ready to brush your teeth. Don’t forget to close the lid on the toilet when you flush so you’re not spraying more than crap into the air. And pick up your bottled water–provided free of charge, of course–when you come to pay your water bill for the water coursing through your pipes that could poison you and your children if you use it.

What are the solutions? Unfortunately, the damage has been done in Flint, but there are things we could do so this doesn’t happen again, but we’re going to have to change our view about the poor and their right, yes their right, to clean water.

  • Make corporations that create these company towns or communities accountable when it’s no longer feasible for them to stick around. This happened in the towns surrounding Pittsburgh, too, in the 1980s when the steel companies pulled out. WalMart creates the same hole when they close out stores in communities where they destroyed the small businesses when they opened. I read that one town in Arkansas will no longer have a grocery store when WalMart closes their store this month. Why? Because WalMart ran the smaller stores out of business when they could not compete with the giant’s low prices. These corporations are given incentives and infrastructure to build in these small communities, so they should be forced to do something when they leave that will help the community they’re destroying.
  • Don’t allow local governments to cut back on infrastructure for essential services, such as water. I’ll say it again. Clean water is a right, not a privilege for the rich. If we think otherwise, we’re responsible for genocide. In fact, the folks in Michigan who allowed this travesty to continue for nearly two years did practice a form of genocide. Let’s hope it’s limited to just ten residents (which is still ten too many).
  • Listen when residents speak. I don’t care if the first complainers are the ones who always complain. Water should never smell or taste or be the color of tea. Didn’t the folks in Flint who made the decisions about changing the water source drink the water themselves? Or are they in some ivory tower somewhere drinking water brought in from Lake Huron? Or maybe only bubbly from France will suffice.
  • Never, ever make residents pay for services they can’t use. This is simply unacceptable. This means the folks in Flint paid premium dollars to poison themselves. I would encourage all residents to stop paying those bills en masse.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will risk repeating because it has to be pounded into our collective head until we stop treating the poor communities we created as if they deserve less than the rest of us. Or worse. The residents of Flint were treated worse than we’d ever treat our pets and wildlife. They were treated as if their lives didn’t matter.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

woodstork

Let’s make it better for all living creatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEHIND THE BAR – #New release by P.C. Zick

Burtis Harmon Camburn 1904-1981

Burtis Harmon Camburn
1904-1981

One hundred and eleven years ago today, my father was born in a small town in Michigan. He passed away in 1981, but I still think of him often and feel his guiding hand in all I do. Today I pay tribute to him by releasing my eighth novel. Thank you, Burtis Harmon Camburn for your wisdom, love, and support. You’re never forgotten.

I’m thrilled to announce the release of Behind the Bar, Book Two in the Behind the Love Trilogy. Behind the Bar picks up right where Behind the Altar ended–at the wedding of Dean and Leah. This time it’s Susie and Reggie who must struggle to find out if their love can endure through a separation and rivals trying to drive them further apart. Reggie’s gambling and Susie’s struggle with her past push them further apart. Join the crew at the Victory Tavern, including Sally Jean, Charlie, and of course, the cheerleaders and best friends of Reggie and Susie–Dean and Leah.

teaser2

 

 

Click below for purchase links

Amazon Kindle

Paperback

Barnes & Noble Nook

Kobo

Apple iBook

 

 

 

Serendipity at Sixty

Serendipity in San Antonio

Serendipity in San Antonio

Next month a milestone birthday visits me when I turn sixty years old. Sixty? Are you kidding me? How can I be sixty when I still feel thirty?

I’ve become more intro- and retrospective this year because I know for sure I’m beyond what we refer to as “middle-aged.” And I’m not sure how it happened.

Serendipity seems to follow me these days, or perhaps because I’m contemplating my life from all angles, I’m much more aware of those things. The latest serendipitous moment occurred this week when I traveled to San Antonio with my husband, who was attending a conference in the river city. I happened to be cruising on Facebook our second morning here when I saw that my childhood friend, Jodi, was also in San Antonio visiting her son and family.

Such a serious child

We grew up together in a small Michigan town. Her family lived four doors up from me, and Jodi and her brothers were my only childhood friends until I started school. My mother was very protective of me, and I was not allowed to play much outside of my own side and back yard. So Jodi and Jimbo often came to me, thankfully. I didn’t have a happy childhood for the most part, but Jodi’s free spirit and friendly smile brought some of my happiest memories to me there on Cherry Street.

Jodi moved to Denver, and I moved to Florida. We lost contact with one another until the advent of Facebook, where we reconnected once again. We met up at her house two years ago in Colorado when we traveled there from our home in Pittsburgh for yet another conference. It was lovely meeting her husband, seeing her house, and catching up.

So when I saw she was in the same city, I messaged her, and we met for lunch yesterday, without the hubbies. It was a lunch where we lost track of time–Jodi was almost late for picking up her granddaughter from preschool.

Here’s what I most enjoyed about the lunch: I’ve known this woman since my earliest memories, which means I’ve known her almost sixty years. We’ve borne children, gone through serious and fun times without each other knowing; we bear some lovely white hairs, have a few wrinkles around our eyes, and we’ve lost loved ones. Yet as I sat there amid the dirty plates and mostly empty margarita glasses, I saw her as the young playmate who brought her toys down to play with me in my yard. And I realized that because of this pretty woman sitting across from me, I do have some childhood memories worth remembering.

When Elvis walked by our table in his white cape and pumped-up black hair, our day was complete, even though he ignored our requests of a photo with him. He didn’t even throw us a scarf as he left the building. But we giggled like ten-year old kids when he swept by without a word.

Serendipity is the “phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for” according to Merriam-Webster. Our lunch together was both valuable and agreeable, so if turning sixty means these phenomena happen more frequently, then bring it on. I’m ready.feather

Serendipity can come softly like a feather floating down from the sky or it can hit us like a sledgehammer on the head. No matter how it enters my life, I’m ready to embrace it.

Do you recognize serendipity when it floats softly into your life?

 

#Oil Spills Continue

Last December, scientists announced that dolphins in Louisiana were experiencing lung diseases and low birthrates in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that released more than 636 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Now, researchers have also found evidence of potentially lethal heart defects in two species of tuna and one species of amberjack — all economically important species for commercial fisheries. This news, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today, comes less than a week after the announcement that BP will once again be allowed to explore the Gulf of Mexico for oil. . .

. . .But a BP spokesperson contacted The Verge to state that “the paper provides no evidence to suggest a population-level impact on tuna, amberjack, or other pelagic fish species in the Gulf of Mexico,” as the “oil concentrations used in the lab experiments were rarely seen in the Gulf during or after the Deepwater Horizon accident.”

 

To top off my morning of reading, I read that a tanker has spilled oil into Lake Michigan, which occurred less than two weeks after the United States lifted BP’s ban on seeking new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. (Click here for complete article)

 

Four years ago, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. I handled all the media and public relations for a bold effort by scientists to save sea turtle hatchlings from the oil encroaching on Florida’s offshore habitats and beaches.

Photo by P.C. Zick

Photo by P.C. Zick

Today, four years later with two more oil spills threatening our environment and innocent wildlife, I ask where will it all end?

The answer is not in giving up petroleum-based projects, but in forcing the industries involved in farming, harvesting, and producing fossil fuels to abide by safety standards and insisting that our enforcement agencies do their job.

Click on cover

Click on cover

 

My book Trails in the Sand follows the disaster of the BP oil spill and sea turtle nest rescue as the main character, an environmental writer, attempts to rescue her family from destruction.

 

#Civil War on New Years Day 1863

free-happy-new-year-2014-clipartHappy New Year 2014. As we enjoy the parties and celebrations and resolutions, I wanted to share another New Years Day. The new year is 1863 and soldiers from both sides of the Civil War enjoyed fireworks of a different nature as the fight between the north and south factions continued their pursuit of victory. President Abraham Lincoln began the new year by signing an important document known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Here’s an excerpt from my great grandfather’s journal chronicling his days as a Union soldier.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

From Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier

January 1, 1863

The disagreeable inclement weather of a southern winter was upon us. Wet, slushy snow was falling, making outdoor life very unpleasant. The two armies lay watching each other across the Rappahannock. Batteries of light artillery were stationed at intervals along the picket line. Captain Thompson’s battery of the regular artillery occupied a position opposite the eastern outskirt of Fredericksburgh. Thompson notified the general, commanding that he never omitted the custom of allowing his men unlimited whiskey on New Year’s Eve and requested to be withdrawn from the front for that occasion. Being denied, he asked that a strong infantry guard be posted around his camp, as none of his men would be asked to do duty on that evening.

The 2nd Infantry was detailed for this duty, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, while the men of the battery indulged in the free use of commissary whiskey. The relief on duty splashed their dreary round through the slush of snow and mud, while those off duty huddled close to a big campfire to keep warm. While we toasted one side and chilled the other, the bacchanalian revels waxed strong, and the sounds of ribald songs and boisterous mirth floated out to us on the heavy night air. On duty or off, the wet and cold prevented us from sleeping. During the night the “Grand Officer of the Day,” Colonel Fenton, tarried awhile at our campfire. He told us the officers were having a “high old time” in camp and that considerable of the “creature” was afloat. The private soldiers had nothing to celebrate the advent of the New Year with, nothing to jubilate for, and no spirit for merry making. Discontent was very general. The men were dispirited and gloomy. There was a feeling that we had endured privations and hardships, fought hard battles, and squandered the blood of our bravest to gain ground, that had been lost and yielded to the enemy, through the incapacity of generals and the jealous disagreements of politicians, both in Congress and in the field. The private soldiers felt that they were being used as tools for personal aggrandizement and were unwilling to be sacrificed for such causes.

This feeling, inactivity, and the discomforts of a winter camp began to tell on the discipline of the troops. Three weeks of inactivity dragged away. The absolutely necessary camp duties being all the men were called upon to do.

The view from our camp presented a dreary succession of camps planted in the mud. Fences and outbuildings had all been pulled down for fuel. The very few inhabitants that remained in their houses with intent to save their property were in a strait for provisions. They looked pinched with cold and hunger. Desolation and misery were theirs to the full. Respectable women became wantons from the direst necessity. Virtue was sacrificed for bread. History can never record the woes the private citizens of Virginia suffered. The “sacred soil” reaped a terrible crop from her secession seed.

[On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasized the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union Army.]

Tipping My Hat to My Ancestors

@PCZick

Synchronicity led me to write this post.

What other people think of me is none of my business.” I read this statement recently, and it stayed with me as the song heard on the radio in the morning that stays in my head throughout the day.

In the past few months, I immersed myself in the journal of my great grandfather on my father’s side. I’ve wondered about this man whose life story I knew nothing about until I read his account of his days as a Union soldier in the Civil War. As I finished readying the journal for publication, two bloggers I follow (Staci Troilo and Lori Crane) began posting about their ancestors and heritage. All of these events made me think of another of my ancestors, whose story intrigues me.

Emilene Stephens Hooper, my great grandmother on my mother’s side, was born 100 years before me in 1854 somewhere in southern England, most likely Cornwall. Twenty-two years later, she gave birth to my grandfather, Edwin Stephens. A few years before that, she gave birth to another son, Harry Stephens. That’s right—she gave birth to two sons whose surnames were the same as her maiden name.

But here’s where it gets rather fascinating rather than mundane. In the census from 1880, she is listed as the owner of an inn in Cornwall. The two sons are listed, and it’s stated she was pregnant. A roomer at the inn was a Frederick Hooper. By 1881, she was married to Mr. Hooper and gave birth to a daughter named Katie Hooper.

After her marriage to Fred, she gave birth to nine more children, all with the last names of Hooper.

My grandfather, Edwin, left school early to work in the China clay mines of Cornwall. He also became a minister–all before the age of twenty. In 1900, he left England forever and came to the United States where he worked in the copper mines of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Several of his half siblings followed him to the States, and I remember Aunt Katie and her minister husband Uncle Simon. I remember Uncle Charlie Hooper and Aunt Lillian Hooper. My mother and her sisters kept in contact with these relatives, both those in the States and in England. None of us questioned why they didn’t carry the name of Stephens.

My Aunt Nellie, the matriarch of the Stephens side of the family, took an interest in genealogy after her retirement as the school librarian and choir director. When she started the search, she realized something was amiss, and like the good stoic she was, she put away all the papers and told the rest of the family there wasn’t much to research.

Aunt Nellie didn’t want anyone to discover that her father, the beloved Reverend Edwin Stephens had been born to an unmarried woman.

I went to Cornwall fifteen years ago and met my English cousins.

with my English cousins

with my English cousins

Most of my grandfather’s siblings were gone by this time, but the stories remained. After Emilene’s marriage to Fred, she became a pillar of the society in their small town of Roche, Cornwall. How she did that in Victorian England I have no idea, except that she must have followed the adage, “What other people think of me is none of my business.”

The cousins who only remember Emilene in her older years told me stories of her famous hats she wore to church every Sunday. Not only was she respected, but she was a fashionista as well.

Here’s one humanizing story told by one of her grandchildren. In her final years, she would often pass gas at inopportune moments. The grandchildren remember when it happened in church. Their grandmother Emilene would turn around to the children and give them a scowl so everyone in the nearby pews would assume one of the Hooper brood made the offensive sound during the Sunday sermon. I giggle to think of this woman in her wide-brimmed hat all prim and proper letting loose with a big one, yet blaming it on her poor grandchildren.

So who was the father of my grandfather? We’ll never know. A cousin near my age in Cornwall did some research but found that all the birth records in the area where it was suspected Emilene was born had been destroyed by fire. All he found was the census of 1880 and her record of death in 1933. One of the cousins here in the States found the obituary of our grandfather where it lists a Joseph Varcoe as his father. That could have been invented for the sake of propriety as my grandfather died while a minister in a small Michigan town.

The older English cousins told me that Emilene would never say where she came from and she had no contact with her parents. She told one of her children that her father was a very mean and cruel man.

Emilene could have been sent to a large farm to work in the household. That would not have been unusual during that time for poorer farmers to send away their young daughters to work for wealthy landowners. She could have become the mistress of a landowner and perhaps his name was Joseph Varcoe. Then there’s another theory—one that is unsavory to consider. My English cousins told me their parents (children of Emilene) could never get their mother to tell them where she came from or who her parents were.

This woman, my great grandmother, defied the societal rule of Victorian England and raised twelve children. She lived her life in her own way, and obviously not caring a whit what others thought.

Emilene Stephens Hooper

Emilene Stephens Hooper

 

I tip my wide-brimmed hat in your direction, Emilene Stephens Hooper, and say thank you for teaching me lessons long after your death.