August was a month of both musical love and precious, renewed friendships. Most importantly, I celebrated my 55th Cass Tech High School Reunion this month with former classmates – opening with dinner and a program at Sinbad’s Restaurant in a room overlooking the river on the first night, then lunch and a bus tour on Belle Isle, and finally at a Tiger’s ballgame (oh my, they even won for us!).
My friend Bob Allen was my guest in the fun put together by an incredible committee led by Jeff Crockett that included Ocie, Jacquelyne, Trey, Morry, Susan Patricia, Helen, Sarah, Mildred, John, Anne and Jacquelin. I was lucky enough to be active on the committee in the early planning. We had about 90 active participants over the two days, many from out of town who stayed at the Atheneum Suite Hotel on Brush Ave. and many took a sightseeing bus tour as their opening event. I am so grateful that I got to experience my high school years with these incredible comrades and hope more good times lie ahead.
The first dose of musical love this month was at DTE’s evening concert with “Heart” (with sisters Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson) on the band’s “Love” Alive tour — including opening acts Joan Jet & the Blackhearts and Elle King. I had first seen only Ann on tour a few years ago at a Detroit waterfront festival. But I had always loved their music – and the crowd seated on the DTE hillside around us went crazy as Heart ended their set with their biggest hit, “Barracuda.” I shared in the exhilarating experience with my friend Bob, and we joyously stumbled when we arrived across more of his friends. They already occupied a large space on the grass and shared their blanket for seating on the hillside as they used folding chairs behind us. Amazing.
I also got an exhilarating dose of musical “love” from the 60s by watching PBS’ American Experience documentary “Woodstock”, a chance to remember three days of peace, love and music in upstate New York. I was just graduating college and starting my journalism career when that musical milestone in upstate New York produced 400,000 fans and four days of musical history that miraculously stayed peaceful and produced many signature musical moments, including the unforgettable Jimmy Hendricks, Santana, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin – plus many more evolving superstars. What an August!
I loved having a Canadian family growing up. My dad was born on a farm in Brigden, Ontario, the third of seventeen children of a Scottish mother and English/Scotch father. Dad quit school after 8th grade to go to work and help the family. He eventually landed a union job at Chrysler in Detroit and became an American citizen. My grandparents later retired to a house on Lake Erie, where my family often spent weekends. We used an outhouse and as kids, my brother and I found that was fun. In fact, my mother’s Slovak parents had a farm upstate near Vassar that had an outhouse, too!
In June, I finally traveled back to the Bear Creek Cemetery to visit the grave of my parents and my dad’s parents – along with other relatives. I used to travel there with my brothers when I first returned from New York. We always took the ferry from Marine City across Lake St. Clair, then traveled along the river on the Canadian side to Brigden. It has been several years since my older brother Gil died and I stopped the trips.
This year I went with my friend Bob and we had to take a longer trip to the Blue Water Bridge that links Port Huron and Sarnia, since the ferry has been discontinued. The adventure seemed gone. The ferry never had long lines, although you might need to wait 20 minutes for it to return from the other shore. Once on the way, you were allowed to get out of the car briefly. It was fun to enjoy the breeze and look for other ships further up the river.
After driving off the ferry, we rode up a highway north along the river, sometimes pulling over when we saw a huge ship coming in order to take photos. Eventually we had to turn away from the river and drive inwards to Brigden, passing a museum that included a wing named in honor of the Shaw family. My grandmother was born Mary Alice Shaw and was close to her brother Francis Shaw, who became a successful communications entrepreneur.
My stay at the Bear Creek Cemetery was brief this year, just long enough to honor my parents and grandparents – and also to walk around to view some of the other Shaw gravestones. I still have many cousins in the Sarnia area and we have promised to stay in touch, even though it could mean long waits now in line to cross back and forth across the bridge.
Remember me when flowers bloom early in the spring
Remember me on sunny days in the fun that summer brings
Remember me in the fall as you walk through leaves of gold
And remember me in the wintertime in the stories that are told
But most of all remember Each day, right from the start
I will be forever near For I live within your heart
Over the Memorial holiday this year, my nieces and other family gathered in a Cemetery Chapel to remember and bury a very special mother and relative – Carol McFarland, who had passed away peacefully in hospice of end stage Parkinson’s Disease. A retired teacher, Carol had always rejoiced in her love of music and her beautiful soprano voice. On Sundays, I attended Church of Christ services at the nursing home with her, my beloved sister-in-law, where she loved singing gospel music. At the funeral, relatives sang a verse of Amazing Grace with the Chaplain. I read the poem “Remember Me.” And yes, we felt her in our hearts.
A first for women in space?
What better timing than March 29th, during Women’s History Month.
That’s when astronauts aboard the International Space Station are scheduled to conduct the first all-
female space walk. Yes, it just so happens the astronauts venturing out together about 240 miles above
Earth are finally women – Anne McClain and Christina Koch. Women will be at the controls as well – Mary
Lawrence will serve as lead flight director and Jackie Kagey will be the lead spacewalk controller.
Turns out it wasn’t orchestrated to be this way. According to NASA, these spacewalks were originally
scheduled to take place in the fall and are meant to upgrade batteries on the space station. Astronaut
Christina Koch noted the importance of conducting her mission during Women’s History Month, calling
it a unique opportunity…”and I hope that I’m able to inspire folks that might be watching.”
For additional background on women’s history month, click on https://nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org/2019-theme-and-nomination/
This year I discovered the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory – and was saddened recently to realize that the
show’s Inspiration, British scientist Stephen Hawking had died in March at the age of 76. I first learned
about his genius by reading his bestseller “ A Brief History of Time” when it came out in 1988 and later
saw the film “The Theory of Everything” in 2014.
Hawking was one of the world’s best-known scientists, with a talent for bringing
complex theoretical physics to the general public. Hawking also was as recognized for
his wheelchair and synthetic speaking voice as for his work in the sciences. Diagnosed with
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease at 21, he achieved greatness
even while his condition eventually all but paralyzed him. He also married twice and had three devoted
Hawking was one of the figures who constantly reminded me that I had no excuses for not realizing my
own dreams. As we celebrate the holidays and make our resolutions for 2019, it’s always good to
remember our challenges only make us stronger. Dream big.
As the funeral and final musical tributes to Aretha Franklin played out in Detroit just before Labor Day, I felt saddened, realizing how much I will miss our city’s reigning Queen of Soul.
Aretha was only 14 when her first album hit the airwaves – I grew up with her music and will miss looking forward to powerful new performances. It was fascinating to learn how her version of “Respect” transformed a song by Otis Redding into a powerful anthem for women
I also realized as I listened to the coverage that Aretha flourished in an environment that was similar to my late husband Tim Robinson’s upbringing. Aretha’s love of music was nourished at her father’s Baptist church in downtown Detroit – although the family had moved north from Tennessee when she was two years old. Tim’s father was a Baptist preacher in a small Alabama town and Tim grew up playing piano at the services from a young age.
What made Aretha so great? She was a perfectionist and tightly controlled her performances. But in the interviews it was emphasized again and again that she sang from her heart. She loved her audiences and also shared her father’s devotion to furthering civil rights. Although her marriages failed, she had four sons and fiercely protected her family’s privacy.
As tributes poured in following her death, recording artists from soul, gospel and rock and roll all over the world affirmed Aretha’s right to the title internationally of Queen of Soul.