Out there in the square vista formed by the Breakfast Nook window, Chingo's short, furry, red ears flipped to sharp attention, a scowl of teddybear-like fascination came over her face, and she lurched with her extraordinarily rapid clumsiness out of the snowbank and began a grotesque dance of glee, faintly reminiscent of a dragon in a Chinese street carnival. At the same time came the exuberant cry, "That's the old girl! That's my old Chingo, gained another twenty pounds! How'd you like to trade coats?" -- and into the picture pounced Uncle Clyde, making a series of short feints just to the edge of Chingo's glistening teeth, which were bared in pure delight.
Uncle Clyde, at that time 45, was clad in a coonskin coat he had purchased 10 or 15 years previously and which was now worn here and there to the hide; he wore a pair of black bearskin gloves about the size of tennis rackets and thoroughly motheaten, and a hat worn at a severely jaunty angle, the rim turned down all the way around, the crown adorned with three or four grease spots, evidently from the motor of his old yellow Pontiac. His unbuckled overshoes flapped batlike around his ankles as he cavorted capriciously among the flakes, occasionally seizing Chingo by her bushy tail or rubbing her behind the ears. He was holding with his left arm a large bag of groceries, from which waved celery leaves and carrots; nevertheless, he resembled [Detroit Tigers baseballer] Ty Cobb as he dashed around and jigged about the harassed and happy Chingo; he had an expression of mingled gay roguery and threatening concentration, his coonskin coat scraping swathes from the snowbanks.
In the middle of one of these manoeuvres he glanced toward the Breakfast Nook window, through which Lady Bluntboots [younger sister Margaret] and I were rather intently gazing, and waved a huge bearskin glove. Then he started abruptly for the back door, with a brand-new and apparently powerful limp.
I opened the door and he stamped into the entry, set the groceries in a corner, and brushed cascades of snow to the linoleum, exclaiming, "Hello, Uncle Nelson and Aunt Margaret." "Hello, Uncle Clyde," we replied as he began batting his ears and lamely moving from one foot to another. "It's a pretty bad storm for you to be out in. Isn't the Pontiac running?"
"No, that Pontiac is like a damned cinnamon bear. It's been hibernating ever since November. I've walked up and down Five Mile Road this winter until I've worn a trough a foot deep in the cement."
"Won't you come in?"
"No, thanks, I can only stay a minute." He hobbled about the entry, stroking a four-day's growth of whiskers, which glistened silverly as he turned his head. Uncle Clyde had never, as far as anyone knew, shaved himself; for a good many years, he had driven, or been driven, down to a droll and clublike barbershop on Grand River near Grand Boulevard, where, as the razor roved through the lather, he reclined, describing, for example, to a devoted audience, the large number of no-hit games he had once pitched at South Lyon.
"Don't let anybody tell you it's not cold today. Baby, baby, baby. When I went past that cast-iron dog by the Totem Pole Waffle Shop, it had turned blue. The only living thing I've seen outside today is Chingo, but she never really looks comfortable until it's near zero. I came straight here from the grocery hell bent for election, in spite of a fallen arch and a broken kneecap. Oh dear!" He gently seized the knee. "My heart feels like a three-ring circus."
The Bentleys' Elm store
"Uncle Nelson," he said abruptly, massaging the knee, "how'd you like to start helping out some at the Old Dutch Mill?" I was too surprised to reply; he continued with sudden dolor. "Things have been slow as molasses in Greenland; I've stood around the Mill twiddling my thumbs for hours on end without serving a single soul." He sneezed with a kind of casual violence. "Nobody has played that damned fool Old Dutch Mill Golf Course but you and I and Uncle Ora Chilson since 1931." Then he added, amid frequent anguished groans and while staggering into and about the kitchen, clutching his heart, "You'll soon see things humming like a top (groan) though. Your Dad's going to close the Elm store and join me at the Mill; right off the bat I'll start an old-time (groan) ripsnorter of an advertising campaign. There's no use just waiting for business (groan) till you're old as Methuselah."
TO BE CONTINUED...
Some of the photos are borrowed from:
Looking north across the South St. Paul stockyardsOn the advice of an acquaintance, in July 1902 David, still hunting elusive success, takes his wife Lena on the brief train ride from Minneapolis to the new community of South St. Paul to "look the place over." The main industry was the enormous stockyard for cattle en route to the butchers.
Lena felt very disheartened. It happened to be just after a warm rain. An east wind was blowing, the streets were muddy, and there was an awful stench from the cattle pens. It was terrible, she thought.
South St. Paul was a real frontier town with hitching posts all along in front of the saloons and the few business places. Cattlemen and cowpunchers were mostly on horseback, and farm wagons were drawn up along the main street, which consisted of one block on Concord Street. Horses hitched along the curb were flicking their tails in hopeless warfare against the summer pestilence of flies. On the shady side of the street sat a few farmers swapping politics.
It was hardly possible to walk in the mire and the roadway in most places was two feet below the sidewalk level.... A dingy packing plant with many windows and a tall chimney belching forth volumes of smoke darkened the air above and made filthy the earth beneath.
A bit closer in...the Cattlemens'Exchange building is the castle-like structure in the backThe unpaved street was almost impossible to cross from one side to the other. ...There were no real sidewalks, no sewer. Water was obtained mostly from pumps. Outhouses were located at the end of lots and there were stables in the backyards and odorous cesspools.
David and Lena observed the perplexing change in the atmosphere, the clouds curling along the Mississippi River, the stream in the distance, the sky pale as far as they could see, the sound of the animals. Into their disturbed consciousness sank the distant lowing of the animals, the noises of thousands of cattle and swine. Here and there through the alleys men were galloping on horseback, men booted and with long whips. They were calling to each other and driving cattle to the scales to be weighed. These men were mostly Western stock-raisers who came from Montana.
Near the Blumenfeld store (which was beyond the Exchange building seen in the background)David decided to open shop [there] in August 1902. He began to do quite well and was able to support his family. The next spring David took his family [from Minneapolis] to South St. Paul to make their permanent home there. Lena felt a little improved in health but was very much discouraged with such country life.
Yet it was here the Blumenfelds finally settled. David lived there until his death in 1956 at the age of 91, outliving his wife by ten years. His daughter, my grandmother, raised her own children in nearby Saint Paul.
The Exchange, the only historic building now standing in South St.Paul
Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:
And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog
This is looking down from the Acropolis across Athens. Three thousand years of human history in a single focal length, and perhaps a warning.
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplicaton of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.
- Theodore Roethke
Captured via webcam
The arrested idols
The Frigidaire graveyard
The ghost door parade
The hits of Spring
My college-age father, George Nelson Bentley, Jr., and his father, George Nelson BentleyI discovered "Uncle Clyde: A Comedy" while going through my father's innumerable papers and old manuscripts after his death.
Nelson (no one called him George) was a prolific journalist in his youth, keeping diaries all through his teens; additional notes on his day-to-day life, particularly sports scores, appeared in The Daily Blah, the one-page newspaper he produced by hand for several years. Although diary entries for 1933 don't mention a late-April blizzard (some did occur in earlier months), they do show that he began regularly, if somewhat reluctantly, going to the Old Dutch Mill in May during his fourteenth year. (Prior to that, he had often worked at the Elm General Store, which his father, George, had operated with his brother Clyde.)
A younger George Bentley Sr. and his diminutive brother Clyde"Uncle Clyde: A Comedy" was to be part of a longer work. The manuscript is marked Chapter 1, and is followed by a fragment of a second chapter. It probably dates from no later than the early Fifties, before Nelson stopped writing prose altogether (he'd produced many stories, essays, critical pieces, and prose poems while in college, and a full-length novel by 1945, in addition to many poems).
The story was written, in Nelson's accustomed pencil, in a spiral notebook evidently dating from the Forties; however, the handwriting and the signature on the cover appear to be more recent: his angular and cramped hand, familiar to his students, is barely decipherable at times.
Clyde's "Old Dutch Mill"
Uncle Clyde: A Comedy - by Nelson Bentley
It was during a somewhat violent blizzard in late April, 1933, that my weird period as an employee of Uncle Clyde actually began. My sister Margaret and I, at 4:30 in the afternoon, were having a blissful game of tiddlywinks in the Breakfast Nook; between casual snaps we gazed out across fields 18 inches deep in snow, over which fell swirling multitudes of large, soft flakes the width of agates. Lying 25 feet outside the window was Chingo, our cylindrical chow, the top of her woolly back and her paradoxically gentle countenance sticking sphinxily from a snowbank.
I was 14 and Margaret 12; the days were still ringed by make-believe quite undisturbed by facts such as my shoes being worn to the point where each resembled a hungry crocodile. The drifting pace of the days was calm and nearly pure with timelessness. As I snapped an adhesive-patched and wildly warped red tiddlywink into the air, watched it clink on the rim of the glass jar and fall back to the cotton mat, and then, while Margaret as Lady Bluntboots of Houndsditch uttered a derogatory "Ha!", gazed placidly into the blizzard, I was only one minute away from the indirect inauguration of my career and the transition from a land of pretend to that of stark reality.
TO BE CONTINUED...
My father was addicted to writing from an early age. Furthermore he never threw anything out. I have inherited that foible. So my basement houses a great collection of his juvenilia, including letters, class notes, doggerel, novels and stories, and "prose poems" from grade school through the University of Michigan, where he finally graduated in the late 1940s with an English Masters.
For many years, at his small school he had posted on the bulletin board issues of his hand-produced newspaper, The Daily Blah. After high school he collected the issues and glued them into scrapbooks, which were at last handed down to me at his death in 1990. I had heard of them for decades and only now saw the actual product. Here are a few choice issues. I recommend clicking for full details!
Most of the issues concentrated on sports scores, either of his animal baseball team or, in highschool, the Redford Union teams and their local adversaries.
He also included cartoons under the name "Lew Kneas" (Loonies), cartoon strips (including Bill Libb the Detective), and caricatures of his school mates and faculty.
Occasionally if the news was exciting enough, such as the death of Will Rogers, he'd issue a special edition.
My favorite pieces are the long, amusing stories of local goings-on. The Sept. 10, 1934 issue gives us a great insight into life in the Detroit area during Prohibition.
His prose fairly roils when describing the Reford Union games. At the time (his mid-teens) he envisioned pursuing a career as a sports writer.
Here his family's fabled hunk of junk, the Marmon, is immortalized, as well as the practical jokers he grew up with.
In his adult years he wrote voluminously about his rural childhood, with very funny and colorful descriptions of the bizarre characters (not excluding his family) in the hamlet of Elm -- now incorporated into Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. This thrilling Feb. 17, 1936 issue foreshadows those writings, featuring his father George as well as a couple of uncles in an episode reminiscent of a W.C. Fields comedy.