Monday, July 14, 2008

From Aunt Connie

Laura,

What a wonderful gesture to remember Mike in such a special way! You have put together some beautiful memories of a terrific young man.

Although Mike was only with us for just under a year, he became part of our family. At least that's how we felt about him...I'm not sure he allowed himself to feel fully a part of any "community" at that point in his life. I do believe, however, that that's exactly what happened when he joined the service. He was indeed part of his military family. He accomplished mastery of all his assignments, and received positive feedback about his accomplishments, and - most importantly - he believed he was competent, and that he was contributing to a greater good.

As Courtney mentioned, I was pregnant with her when Mike lived with us. Kelly was 4-1/2, and enjoyed every speck of attention Mike gave her. And Mike, who had a natural affinity for kids, never seemed "bored" or "too old" to "bother" with Kelly. Kelly missed him dearly when he moved back to Shakopee. (She would have rather had Mike around than that new "interloper" baby, Courtney! Just kidding, girls...sort of!)

While Mike was with us, Steve had an OAAA meeting at the Grand Hotel in Mackinaw Island, MI. This is a beautiful island off the upper pennisula of Michigan where the movie "Somewhere in Time" with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve was filmed. The island does not allow any motorized transportation, so once you arrive by ferry it's bicycle or horse drawn carriage. I think it was a great vacation for Mike, because we could really let him explore the island on his own...the fudge factories downtown, the "beaches" all around the island, and the pretty, green bike trails and walking paths throughout. He could also check out the girls at the pool! (He was able to get a break from us that week, as long as he showed up for meals and bedtime.)

One day at Mackinaw, Steve was in meetings all day, and I decided to take Kelly on a bike ride around the island. (Keep in mind I'm showingly pregnant with Courtney.) The bikes were the old fashioned, wide-tire, "no speed", heavy bikes. The hotel gave me a box lunch and blanket to take with us which went into the basket on the front of the bike. (Get the picture? Full basket, heavy bike with no gears, pregnant "belly", big momma, Kelly in a bike seat on the back, many steep Mackinaw hills, hot and humid late summer.) I was doing fine at first, but "we" decided to stop for lunch (read rest) a little earlier than planned. We found a nice spot and enjoyed a nice lunch. As I was reloading Kelly on the bike to continue, Mike drove by on his bike. I was so glad to see him (an excuse to rest longer!). He sensed that the bike ride was a little easier for him than for me and OFFERED to switch bikes for the remainder of the ride. So, he drove Kelly and the lunch basket back, and I rode the unencumbered bike back. It was a much easier ride for me, and Kelly enjoyed having Mike drive her, and it may have saved some premature labor! The point is, I didn't have to ask. Mike sensed what I needed, offered the perfect solution, and his generous spirit intervened.

Mike had Sophomore year classes to make up that summer in order to enter Wahlert in the Fall as a Junior. He worked hard in summer school with a full load, completed everything, and did very well. He had all the credits he needed to begin as a Junior, and he took a full load at Wahlert. Again he did well in school. Parent-Teacher Conferences were uneventful. The teachers said his work was in, up-to-date, and that he was a pleasure to have in class. Some classes were definitely more difficult for him than others, but he did well. He made a really nice three level stand (curio stand or bookshelf) in wood shop that we still have and use. Mr. Sheston, his shop teacher, was a big fan of Mike and his abilities in the shop. He also got kudos for his creative writing in his English class, and he did well in (tough) Mr. Delaney's history class, and he enjoyed religion class. I think he ended up in a class or two that were a stretch for him because of his "lost" Sophomore year. Summer classes, though full credit, aren't quite the same in content. So I think the Advanced Algebra and Physics were a burden. (He actually was very good at mastering the physics concepts, but didn't have enough math to do well in tests and build on the base learnings.) I can't recall if we were able to switch him out of physics to another elective, or if he stuck it out. What I know for sure is that he did well.

As Courtney said, one of my pregnancy "glitches" was an aversion to the smell of bread. I could not open the bread bag without gagging. At first, I would make Mike's lunches by holding my breath, leaving the room to breathe, then holding it again to continue. Then Mike and I collaborated...he would make his sandwich and wrap it in a baggie, and I would pull the rest together. (Usual lunch: PBJ sandwich, Twinkie or SuzyQ, Doritos or Fritos or Chips, apple or banana.) If Grandma Hardie had baked - and she did often for Mike - there were Scotcheroos(instead of the Twinkie). Scotcheroos were hands down Mike's favorite snack, and they became a favorite of my kids, too. I have made hundreds of pans of Scotcheroos for soccer, football, volleyball, and basketball games thru the kids' HS years.

A favorite meal of Mike's was Pork Chops baked in Golden Mushroom soup, with a baked potato (with the GM soup as "gravy"), corn, and baked applesauce with cinnamon. We had this meal at least once a week. I would occasionally substitute chicken for the pork, but Mike preferred the pork. Of course, Grandma Hardie would invite us over for dinner once a week - usually Sunday - for a truly good meal. Mike always enjoyed her cooking, and she varied her menu more than I did.

It was pretty exciting for all of us, of course, when Courtney was born. (January 15, 1982). Mike came up to the hospital with Steve and Kelly to visit Courtney and me, and was a really big help with Kelly during that time. She needed the extra attention he could give her when I couldn't. He would often hold and rock Courtney when I was fixing dinner or doing laundry in the evening. He really enjoyed that, and so did she! I would say that the only negative about Mike being with us during that particular time, was that I felt a little less comfortable about nursing. I felt that I couldn't nurse Courtney in the LR, family room, or at the table. I felt I needed to seek the privacy of her bedroom or our bedroom. After all, nursing then was not as accepted or universal as it is now, and Mike was a teenage boy, not our son, who did not grow up with us.

When Mike was stationed in Germany, he called on Courtney's birthday to talk to all of us, and wish her Happy B'day. She would have been two or three. (He didn't forget her birthday!) He sounded so happy. He was proud of himself. He was being promoted and being given greater responsibilities. He was successful, and able to acknowledge that to others, but most importantly, to himself.

Mike had a favorite white t-shirt...just a plain white undershirt. It must have been 10 years old...it was perspiration stained, and threadbare, and had holes in it. But it was SOFT! I asked him if I could replace it..I'd get him a pack of new ones. That was a definite "NO!" If he worked in the yard he wore it. He wore it to bed. He wore it under shirts and sweaters. I washed it about once a week, and I was getting worried because it was beginning to shred. I was preparing him for the worst as I held up a shapeless mesh one day to show him. He wore it until it was literally a web of strings. Then he kept it in a ball under his pillow...a security blanket of sorts.

Mike was tough but vulnerable; he was as docile as a bunny and as firey as a momma bear; he was smart and quick-witted but could play dumb like a pro ("Who? Me?!"). One of the qualities I loved the most about Mike was his generous spirit. He was unselfish and giving. He was eager to jump in and help. He was quick to console with tender words or humor (whatever was called for!). He was easy to love.

Good work, little sis.

Love, Connie

Here's a photo of Mike when he lived with Connie, Steve, Kelly, and Courtney (still on the inside).

1 comment:

Laura said...

Wow! What a great store of memories you have about Mike. I loved reading every bit of it. I recall none of it except hearing about your trip to Mackinaw Island...but not the great biking story! All of your stories fit right in with what I remember the true Mike was like.