Saturday, May 27, 2017

Summer 1971: Endings and Beginnings

The summer of 1971 brought huge changes in my life, beginning with a family death and ending with love.

Gary and I, July 4, 1971
Early in the summer I went to Adrian to visit for a few days, seeing several friends who were in summer school--including Gary. At the Pub the guys flipped the pressed metal ashtrays for fun. I had a midnight curfew to get back to the dorm; until then, Gary and I walked around campus and sat on the hill in front of Peale Hall.
A bit flattened, but this is an ashtray
from the Pub which the guys liked to flip.
On July 1 a Kimball friend visited me, struggling with personal issues. I did not know how to help and I did not want to get sucked into the drama. I was burned out from trying to keep Adrian friends away from drugs. Now I just wanted to be happy with Gary. I never called her back. I felt guilty for a long time, feeling I had let her down. Thirty years later she said she did not recall I had ever let her down.

On July 3 Gary took me to meet his family. I wrote that they were nice. They grilled and we ate outside. His Grandmother Bekofske was there. She was a character with a glint in her eye. She told me how she became "emancipated" from the "tyrant tea."
Gary and I at his parent's home
On July 4 Gary joined my family for BBQ in the back yard. My Ramer Grandparents and Uncle Dave and his family were there.
I am on the right, dad across from me.
Grandpa Ramer is at the far end on the right.

Grandma and Grandpa Ramer, July 4 1971
When Gramps learned that Gary had never seen The Shrine of the Little Flower he had to take him for a ride to see it right then. Learning that Gary was considering seminary, Gramps offered him his sermons.

My Grandfather Ramer, my mother's father, was born to an unwed mother in 1905. They lived with his maternal grandmother in Milroy, PA. Before Gramp's tenth birthday, both his mother and his grandmother had died. He went to live with his mother's sister's families.

My grandfather Lynne O. Ramer with his mother
Gramps was a good student and a quick learner. His Uncle Charlie Smithers would reward him for memorizing the state capitals or Pennsylvania county seats. Gramps was accepted to Susquehanna University, working in the kitchen to pay his tuition. After earning his BA, he stayed to earn a Master of Divinity.
Grandpa Ramer on the Susquehanna College kitchen staff
Gramps was Evangelical Lutheran. When he did not get a call, he and his college friend Roger Blough attended Columbia University Teacher's College in New York City. Gramps was hired to teach mathematics and history at Hartwick Seminary, near Cooperstown, NY.  He fell in love a student. After working his way across the country during his summer break, he returned and asked her parents for her hand in marriage.
Grandpa Ramer in the Kane High School yearbook
They moved to Kane, PA where my grandfather taught high school math. My mother and her siblings quickly arrived so that by age 21 my grandmother had four children. During WWII Gramps worked as an engineer at the Tonawanda, NY aviation factory testing airplane struts and his family lived in war housing in Sheridan Parkside.

Gramps at the Tonawanda, NY plant
In 1955 my grandparents moved to Royal Oak, MI. Gramps was an engineer at Chevrolet, taught at trig and calculus at Lawrence Tech, and was a deacon at an Episcopal Church in Ferndale.
Granpa Ramer in the Lawrence Tech yearbooks
Gramps, far left, as a deacon
Somehow he found time to write hundreds of articles for his hometown newspaper and hundreds of letters to people all over the country. In the late 1950s he became interested in research out of Columbia University's Lamont Observatory and obtained funding for the project through his old friend Roger Blough, who was then head of U.S. Steel.
Gramps 
On June 7 I got a job at Burger King on Main Street. I bought a uniform and shoes and studied for the job. A lot of us had been hired and we crowded the kitchen. I was not proactive and waited to be told what to do. The job lasted one day. I didn't make the cut.

On Friday, July 10, Gary arrived for the weekend. He almost stopped by to see Gramps first. On Saturday, July 11 my family and my Ramer grandparents had dinner at the Wigwam.

After my grandfather's first heart attack he gave up smoking, walked more, and lost weight. But on Sunday morning, July 12, I wrote, "Last night around 6:00 pm Grandpa died. I loved Grandpa much. He was a wonderful man. "

I was devastated. "I cannot word the sorrow, I cannot pen the knowledge and burden of truth, I cannot spell the doubt of what actions to perform. I can only feel and wait for enlightenment."

I hated going to the funeral home. I wrote, "I bit my lip and hung to the back of the family, with Gary at my hand. I wouldn't go up and look at Grandpa because it wasn't natural, it wasn't really him." Gary reminds me that I said "that isn't Grandpa; it is only the house he used for a while."

Someone was finally taking care of me. I wrote that I never had thought about marriage before, especially before I had completed college. And I was only 18. And Gary was still deciding about seminary or teaching. But, "I needed him so much and he lent me strength."

I continued, "I saw the family that Gramps began, raised, loved, and I knew his ideas were in us, and his memory--the memories of his actions, an example to follow. I knew he would never be gone because he left himself behind--I knew it was not a sad funeral because he lived a full life, accomplished much, found happiness, and created love--what more could a person want from life? Even Gary had been touched by Gramps." Tom and I and our cousin Mark came home about 7:30 pm. We ate and watched TV until everyone returned around 11:30 pm.

"Grandma called this morning. She found a letter in Gramps' desk, [which] he wrote it in '69. He said he wanted a simple, closed casket funeral. I was to get all of his writing and correspondence and the family tree information. I always said I wanted them."

On July 12 my college roommate Marti and her boyfriend Sam came to the funeral parlor. That evening I cried listening to Limelight [Charles Chaplin's theme song from the movie by that name]. I wrote I was "filled with joy for the love Gramps bore for me, the ideas and help he gave me. I thought of the family he made when he had none, and how we loved him."

July 13 was my grandfather's funeral. I wrote that "it was not a sad funeral because he had accomplished much, found happiness, and created love. What more could a person ask? A sad funeral would be for the man who never loved, never was loved, but forever dwelt on his own pleasures." I noted that I was rereading Thomas Wolfe's chapters about Ben's death.

Gramps was interred at White Chapel cemetery, near a Blue Spruce like the one in his Berkley back yard, and not far from a giant cross.

Mom stayed with Grandma that evening. I contemplated the future and life. I wrote, "the sky was blue and the trees were green and the wind blew down strong--The stars against the evening sky shone brilliantly. Grampa said, "sentimental bunk--but what make us tick?" I realized it was at Gardenia the summer we moved when I found Gramp's 101 Famous Poems and discovered poetry. And now he's got me into the Maryland Anthology."

Grandpa Ramer had shared my poems with Maryland poet Vincent Godfrey Burns who edited an anthology and had accepted my poem. I don't know how Gramps knew Burns, but he had a copy of the book he wrote, I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang and I had read it.

Gramps had shared his books with me. He had taken me to visit a professor whose son had a large telescope for summer studies and I saw Jupiter's rings. He gave me mimeographed educational materials on nature and science prepared by one of his friends. On a trip to New York State, Gramps took me to see his Hartwick Seminary student Pastor John Kisselburgh who wrote Shadow of the Half Moon. When a girl, he took me to see a Tarzan movie and The Story of Ruth. And I had met his friends and family in his hometown of Milroy, PA and in Tonawanda, NY.

When I went to college he sent me a weekly letter full of family news, and always included coins taped to a paper in the shape of a smiley face.
Grandpa Ramer taped coins to index cards to
include in his weekly letters to me when I was at college
I wrote, "I feel him in me-- his strength, ambition, ideas. I believe I inherited a lot from him."

Over the years I tried to be like him. He never met a stranger, always finding some mutual ground to build a relationship upon. Many years later, on the morning of my Grandmother Ramer's funeral, I was outside of a store waiting for it to open, chatting with a man who was also waiting. It turned out he had been one of my grandfather's students in Kane, Pennsylvania! He had ended up working in Detroit also. He told me that my grandfather was a wonderful man.

Grandma Ramer asked me to write to Ben Meyers, the Lewiston Sentinel columnist who shared hundreds of Gramp's letters recalling Milroy in the early 1900s. I wrote that Gramps passed away in his backyard among his 'posies' and trees.

Gary had to study for his psych exam the weekend after the funeral. I played my records and looked over my scrapbooks.

July 14 I was working in telephone sales for a real estate office. I hated the job. I had to take a bus and transfer to another bus, costing 45 cents. "I always get lost and the drivers are never helpful, and everyone on the bus sits unsmiling and alone so all the seats are full and I have to go to the back of the bus for a four block ride because no one wants you to sit with them, except violin players."  I had sat with a girl with a violin who took lessons at Wayne State. I ran into her several times.

"I wish I could read and write and play piano and read Gramp's books and letters and visit the cemetery--no time with this stupid job. I'd rather be active, or outside, but no, and every day a dress and stockings--I hate it."

On July 17 I wrote, "The only thing that kept me sane was selling raffle tickets for church, the rocks in the parking lot where I ate lunch, and walking to Save-On in the evening." I always liked rocks. I hated the windowless room and my boss and the commute.

The next day I went to Swanton, OH, to attend the birthday party of my Adrian friend George. He and his girlfriend Nancy took me on a tour of their hometown. From there I went to Adrian to see Gary. I left Adrian at 9 pm and ran out of gas coming home and had to walk to a Texaco station!

June 21 Gary was visiting and we went to Great Scott where I saw a Kimball friend. Gary had brought his Jesus Christ Superstar album to lend me and I gave him Clair de Lune piano music and my copy of Voltaire's Candide. The boy I used to date now and then called. I expect I told him I was seeing someone from college. I always knew he was in love with someone else anyway. I lost my telephone soliciting job.
Margie
I was in contact with Kimball friends, including Peggy who told me Shirley and Lynn were camping with their boyfriends. Margie from Herald staff brought her 1971 Lancer to show to me. I felt sad hearing Margie talk about Kimball and I wondered if "tomorrow will measure up to yesterday." Margie was going to Albion in the fall. We 'rapped' about college. A girl called me to update me on Kimball kids gossip. Somehow she knew all about who was dating who.

I watched Love Story and The Sterile Cuckoo on tv at Grandma Ramer's house.

Sunday, July 26  Gary and I went to see my roommate Marti, and with her boyfriend, we went to the Detroit Institute of Art. For my birthday on July 28, Mom made hot dogs and cake. Gary gave me a bronze incense burner.

Gary announced that he had decided to go to seminary after college. He was deciding between Garrett in Chigaco and METHESCO in Ohio. I was supportive of Gary's decision.

In August I picked up my Grandfather's papers and books, which my parents would store for me. Gramps' sermons, stoles, and surplice were also put into storage for Gary to use in the future.

It was coming up to a year from when I met Jim, and over a month since I let him know about Gary. I said I was finally "getting over my hate, I mean, defensive dislike to override my guilt complex. Looking back he [Jim] was really ok." Earlier in the summer, on June 5, I wrote that I had broken up with Jim because I "am a creep with a guilt/doubt complex" who was unable to find it "seriously possible to really love" since my heart was broken by my old high school boyfriend. Gary was the first to make me feel love again.

Over the summer, Dad took Tom and me fishing. I went to K-Mart to buy records, had dinner at Arby's and ice cream at Ray's, visited my Aunt Nancy, Uncle Don, and Uncle Dave and their families. Mom, Dad, Grama Ramer, and Aunt Nancy and my brother Tom all had birthday parties.

Gary and I had joined my folks and the McNabs at the Galaxy Drive-In, all in separate cars. The McNabs, my family, Gary and I went to Algonac and on the St. Clair River. Gary took me to picnic at Bloomer Sate Park and we went swimming. I mentioned going to the cottage of a boy from my church who was also at Adrian.

On August 30 Gary and I went to the Michigan State Fair for the Sunrise Service, which was televised. The Youth Revival sang hymns and a song by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Grandma Ramer joined my family for pizza that night.

I was preparing my shopping list for college: contact solution, Ten-O-Six, Dew Kiss lotion, toothpaste, instant coffee, new slacks, nylons.

Summer was over. It was time to return to Adrian. Several of my freshman friends were not returning including Elaine and Jim. I was considering changing colleges to be nearer to Gary. Western if he went to Garrett? Kenyon if he went to METHESCO? But I would loose my state scholarship. Gary even talked about renting a room from Grandma Ramer and commuting to METHESCO.

I looked forward to a semester together at school with Gary, but I knew that come December he would be leaving for seminary and I did not know what that meant for our relationship.