Stories Told

Summer’s denouement

(originally posted 9/14/08) During my 1970s kidhood when schools started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry all that had been green, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs.

The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes. We squeezed in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Armsalways organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”). And then came the telethon, which was on almost everybody’s TV, and we all knew it was over.

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive

On the day after school started, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew). But we didn’t, hardly. We lost our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.

Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. Kids have been back in school for weeks already. The grass hasn’t grown much lately because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was even too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home. I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter.

Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!

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Faith, Vintage Television

Channel 16, Father Hesburgh, and the Prayer for Peace

Kids today don’t know how good they have it, with Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network delivering animation to their living rooms 24x7x365. During my 1970s-80s childhood, we got cartoons on Saturday mornings and for an hour after school, and that was it. My brother and I liked animation so much that we’d rise early on Saturday morning to not miss a single show.

We started on Channel 16 because they aired the Japanese anime Battle of the Planets right after sign on. Channel 16, WNDU-TV, was our local NBC station. We had no idea how unusual it was that it was owned by the University of Notre Dame. All we knew was that during sign-on they played a recording of University President Father Theodore Hesburgh reading of the Prayer for Peace of St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

I heard that recording so often that even today I can recite most of this prayer from memory. I haven’t heard that recording in 30 years until someone recently uploaded a 1985 sign-off that included it. Here it is!

I wasn’t raised in the faith. What I saw of Christians as a kid tended to repel me. (Here’s a story about how.) But hearing Father Hesburgh read this gentle prayer on those Saturday mornings gave me hope that perhaps somewhere people lived their faith in these ways. That’d be a faith worth following. When I sought God, I looked for him in people this quiet and humble.

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State Theater

Tree blocking the State Theater sign
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF
Ferrania P30 Alpha
2018

Memo to cities everywhere: stop planting trees near your downtown walkways, as they block clear views of your classic architecture and signage!

This theater in my hometown of South Bend needs an owner and a profitable purpose. It is one of the last two remaining theaters of many that South Bend used to have; read about them here. And see a photo of this theater from when South Bend replaced its main street with a disastrous pedestrian plaza here.

Film Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Tree blocking the State Theater sign

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Photography

Revisiting the Canon PowerShot S80

At the encouragement of fellow blogger Dan James I got my Canon PowerShot S80 out and have been shooting it. This 2005 camera is positively ancient as digital cameras go, but it still works and delivers fine shapness and color in its eight-megapixel images. It’s been frightfully cold so I haven’t been out shooting much, but now that it’s March it should start warming up.

The S80 was a gift from a reader. (Lone Primate, are you still out there?) It became my chief road-trip camera, such as on a trip exploring all the old bridges of Putnam County, Indiana, in 2010. (Read about that trip here and here.)

Hibbs Ford Bridge
Hibbs Ford Bridge, Putnam County, Indiana.

I also used the S80 as I explored US 50 across Indiana in 2010. It’s a spectacular road.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana
View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana.

If you ever get a chance to drive Indiana’s US 50, do. It’s lined with charming little towns with plenty of great old architecture.

Hillforest
Hillforest, Aurora, Indiana.

This wooden bridge was on US 50’s original alignment in Jennings County, Indiana. It’s been demolished in a road realignment. Never delay taking a road trip — what’s here today might not be tomorrow!

Wooden bridge
Wooden bridge on Base Road, Jennings County, Indiana.

I made this quick shot in my hometown of South Bend while there on business one afternoon.

Ready to Strike
At South Bend’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

When each of my sons turned 13 I took them on the train to Chicago, just son and father, for a weekend of sightseeing. My older son and I explored Millennium Park one foggy morning.

The Bean
The Bean, Chicago.

The S80 whetted my appetite for a high-quality compact digital camera. Canon had recently released the S80’s successor, the S90, which they shortly updated as the S95. That’s the camera I went for in late 2010; my S80 days were brief in comparison to all the years I’ve used the S95. But when I charged the S80’s battery and inserted it, the camera fired right up. Let’s see what it can do.

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Road Trips

Lit neon at the South Bend Motel

South Bend Motel

On our recent Michigan Road trip, we whizzed right by the South Bend Motel. It was cold, we were tired, and some of the neon was out on this great old sign anyway. Not much new to photograph. So these photos are from earlier road trips. Above, 2009; below, 2007.

South Bend Motel

Fortunately, little has changed (except the non-functioning neon). This little motel has been plugging away here for as long as I can remember. I grew up less than a mile away.

This motel is on the Michigan Road (and Dixie Highway and Old US 31) on South Bend’s south side. It’s always stood alone in this heavily residential neighborhood. Here’s a daylight shot of its sign.

South Bend Motel sign

Online reviews of this place range from “cheap but decent” to “dirty rooms and rude staff.” So if you ever decide to stay, set your expectations accordingly.

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Film Photography

From the archives: Wandering around with a camera in 1985

I think I always wanted to do what I started only in my 40s: wander around with a camera and photograph whatever interests me.

It was 1985 and I was about to graduate high school. My life had been about strict routines, and I was excited that they would soon end and my life would be much more mine to create. I felt a desire to document the waning days of my soon-ending life, so I dug out a camera and loaded it with film.

I’ll bet I owned more than 100 cameras then. I’d already been collecting for upwards of ten years. But which camera I chose for this roll is lost in the mists of my memory. The negatives attest that it was a 35mm camera. I’m trying to remember what decent 35mm cameras I owned then. The only one I remember is my Argus A-Four.

I wanted very much to photograph the downtown of my hometown, South Bend. I rode the city bus downtown, just me and my camera. I made just one photograph, this one — and my self-consciousness overcame me and I got right back on the bus and went home. I feel compassion for my then-self now. I wish I could step back and give that fellow a shot of confidence that the things that interested him were perfectly okay, and to hell with what anybody else might think about it. And then I would have told him to keep shooting that day, as downtown South Bend would change dramatically over the next 30-plus years and it would be great to have a record of how it was. The pictured WSBT building is a great example. WSBT moved out some years ago and the building has been so extensively remodeled it’s hard to recognize it.

Downtown South Bend, 1985

Most of the rest of this roll is of mundane subjects and a few photographs of my classmates at the Senior Picnic. But I did make a few more photographs that showed the world I lived in, and I treasure them. This is the high school I went to.

Riley High School

The building is no more, demolished after some years of neglect, replaced by a gleaming modern school a block away. I got to tour the building just before it was torn down and it had fallen into sorry, sad condition. I felt bad for the students who had to use it.

Riley High School

I climbed the oak tree in our back yard to make this photograph. We lived on a corner; this is the side street. That’s Dad’s work van, which we affectionately called The Iron Maiden. Read its story here.

Up a tree

My subject was this fire hydrant in our yard. It had recently replaced one that had been painted to look like a Minuteman. Most fire hydrants around the city had been so painted in 1975-76 in honor of the Bicentennial. Fortunately, I did not know yet to fill the frame with my subject, and so I got a pretty good photo looking down the street I grew up on. It was a good place to grow up. Have a look at some more recent photos from this street here.

Down Erskine Blvd.

I scanned these negatives a few years ago with my Wolverine Super F2D scanner (review here). The flatbed I own now would do a much better job, but these are good enough.

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