Friday, July 27, 2012

“Pittsburgh Calling – The Next Chapter”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a hazy morning in the Icehouse home office.

I was on my first cup of coffee. Riley and Quigley, our Black Lab and Pomeranian duo, were snoozing on the floor.

Suddenly, the telephone began to ring.

I rubbed my eyes. Strewn over the desk were unfinished writing projects, random business cards and copies of the Maple Leaf newspaper. Somewhere in the pile was my mobile device.

“Hello?” I answered after a half-dozen rings.

The voice on my phone sounded vaguely familiar, like an echo from the past. I struggled to understand while clearing my desk.

“Hey, dis is Al,” he boasted. “Al Luccioni. You remember me?”

“Who??” I asked.

“Al!” the caller said again. “Luccioni!”

Recognition cleared my head. It was a long-lost neighbor from the Pittsburgh area.
“Ain’t you dat Buckeye kid who lived here in New Ken?” he huffed. “I’m callin’ you!”

“Yes,” I replied. “Great to hear a voice from the ‘Burgh. But… I’m in my fifties now. Not a kid anymore.”

“Whaaat?” he grunted with disbelief.

“My family moved away from Pittsburgh in 1978,” I explained. “Don’t you remember?”

“All I remember is a lot of Superbowl rings for the Stillers!” he boasted.

“Right,” I agreed.

“So, we’re gettin’ close to the start of football camp,” he said with excitement. “That always makes me think of you, kid.”

I laughed at his remark. “Football makes you think of me?”

“That’s right,” he cheered. “Here comes another losin’ season for your Browns!”

I sighed out loud. “Well, in January, Tim Tebow took care of your team in the playoffs, didn’t he? It’s all downhill from there…”

“Hah!” Al exploded. “Go pound salt, kiddo!”

“Admit it, you guys were the losers,” I reflected. “29-23. Welcome to the club.”

“Losers you want?” he grunted. “How about Billy Belichoke? He’s halfway to losin’ as many Superbowls as Marv Levy!”

“Careful, Al,” I cautioned. “Your Steelers have also lost two Superbowl contests.”

My erstwhile neighbor sounded angry. “C’mon! Yinz Cleveland people got nothin’ to cheer for. We got rings – a whole six-pack of ‘em!”

“And we have eight,” I exclaimed. “Four in the NFL, four in the AAFC…”

He was about to hyperventilate. “Hey, loudmouth kid! Show respect for the ‘Men of Steel’ or I’ll reach through dis phone and twist your neck!”

Suddenly, my stamina evaporated. I felt like a parishioner going to confession. Our long-running disagreement had turned stale.

“Okay Al, no more argument,” I admitted. “We say the same things every year. And the result is no different. Cleveland can’t even win eight games in a season. So there you go. Hats off to you…”

He was flabbergasted. “Huh??”

“Pittsburgh is the better city,” I said without emotion. “Do your victory dance.”

“Hey, wait, wait, wait… dat is the smartest talk I ever heard outta Ohio,” he thundered. “Let me write that down! But I don’t believe it. What about the Rock Hall? Or the Great Lakes Science Center? Them two always get brought up when we argue Lake Erie versus Three Rivers. You feelin’ okay, kid?”

“Just fine here,” I explained. “It has been a long time since the era of Bernie Kosar and Ozzie Newsome. Since then, Giant Eagle bought Rini-Rego Supermarkets. PNC Bank absorbed National City. And there are Steeler fans all over northeastern Ohio. Heck, we even have Yuengling and Iron City beer to drink, despite the fact that Great Lakes Brewing products are far superior. Game over. We might as well be in Pennsylvania.”

Al babbled with disbelief. “I am speechless, kid!”

“It dawned on me the other night, while sitting around a campfire with my neighbors,” I reflected. “We were discussing local sports, and I realized that everyone else in the neighborhood was a Steeler fan. That wouldn’t have been the case thirty years ago. But a whole generation of people has grown up on Lake Erie without ever seeing the Browns win more than a handful of games in a single year.”

My neighbor whistled to himself. “Dang, you sure sound smart, all of a sudden!”

“Every season turns out the same,” I sighed. “High expectations that crash into bad team management and questionable coaching. Plus, the typical amount of negative headlines in the press. Even Mike Holmgren hasn’t changed that.”

“Hah!” Al snickered. “He ain’t so smart. We took care of him in the Superbowl! But what about Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson? Yinz people on the lake keep barkin’ about those new guys.”

“Hopefully, they make a difference,” I said. “It would’ve been great to have Richardson and Peyton Hillis together, for a dynamic running attack like Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack in the old days. But I guess it wasn’t meant to happen.”

“You want to run the football?” he jeered. “Just take a lesson from the Stillers. Dick Hoak, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Merril Hoge, Barry Foster, Frank Pollard, Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall. They just keep marchin’ on, kiddo!”

“Sure,” I agreed.

“What, ain’t you gonna bark about Jim Brown, like usual?” he laughed with confusion.

“One of the guys at work has a friend who is a tattoo artist,” I said. “His number one request is the Pittsburgh Steelers logo. Thirty years ago, you would have been lucky not to get a broken arm for showing something like that in Cleveland. But a lot of water has gone under the lift-bridge since then…”

Al snorted into the phone. “I miss dat rivalry we used to have. But face it kid, the Dawgs are better off layin’ on the porch. Yinz people can’t run with us.”

“Maybe not,” I replied. “We’ll see…”

“Okay,” Al interjected, “Ma is makin’ her best ‘kielbasa spaghetti’ tonight. She’s simmerin’ up some tomato and Iron City sauce, right now. I’m gettin’ hungry.”

“Thanks for calling, old friend,” I said.

“You bet!” he growled. “Be good, kiddo!”

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

“Tim’s House – Final Chapter”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

I worked with Tim Weed for eight years, in Chardon.

He seemed energetic and outgoing, with many who cherished his company. A soul made to brighten the path for others, by nature. His broad smile and gentle manner touched everyone.

Then, in September of 2006, he was gone.

Tim’s choice to exit the mortal world struck friends and family like a bolt of lightning. In the aftermath came waves of confusion, disbelief, mourning, introspection and finally, a plan.

Carole, his mother, founded ‘Tim’s House’ on Court Street. It was intended to be a sanctuary for those affected by such a tragedy. In 2007, she spoke powerfully about this new beginning:

"After Tim's death my world forever changed. My goal and dream was to buy my son a house so he would always have a safe place to go when I was gone. Now, my hope is that dream will become a reality in his name to help others. Tim's House, Inc. was formed to assist and support those suffering from the loss of a loved one to suicide.”

The ‘house’ became a meeting place that attracted a diverse group of local residents. In attendance were notable figures like storyteller Robin Echols Cooper, amateur historian Rick Briggs, and former public servant Mary Bramstedt.

Weekly support meetings offered shelter for many who had lost brothers, sisters, parents and children to suicide. A library provided resources for those struggling to understand. And improvised music sessions produced a theme song to demonstrate the healing spirit that had been created:

Tim's House
Out of the dark
Tim's House
Into the light
Tim's House
Only the day
Tim's House
No longer night.
Tim's House
Your heart is broken
Tim's House
But the door is open
Tim's House
Come for the healing
Tim's House
We are singing.
Tim's House
Across the nation
Tim's House
From station to station
A beautiful spirit
Tim's House
We won't forget.

Reflecting on her journey, Carole spoke with maternal strength:

"As a parent our job is to teach our children many things, to be kind, patient, respectful, honest and loving, forgiving and helpful, productive people. However, my son also taught me many things. He taught me how to love unconditionally and to be patient and forgiving. He taught me that I had to provide, and to be strong in the world even when I felt weak. And even in his death, my son taught me that I must be forgiving, helpful and productive. He was such a gentle, loving soul and the greatest gift. Lastly, Tim taught me great sorrow only comes from great love. You cannot have one without the other. He was my rock, my touchstone and the love of my life…He was everything to me, my life’s work. His kindness spilled out as hundreds of people came to his funeral service, and the stories told were always of him helping people and trying to make them happy."

Tim’s House became an ever-present part of the community. There were pledge walks, candlelight vigils, benefit auctions, all organized by the volunteer staff. Many businesses in the area shared Carole’s desire to offer help, and gave invaluable support.

My own work at the ‘house’ included writing website news posts, along with public relations material. I was on duty every Thursday.

While pondering the loss of Tim himself, I also lingered on thoughts of Mark Lebowitz, a Cornell University graduate and friend from yonder days in New York.
Mark had ended his own life in July of 1980.

For decades I yearned to comprehend what moved this gifted, poetic fellow to bid us farewell. Being at Tim’s House finally brought a personal measure of peace that had never been attainable, before. In each group meeting, I was surrounded by others who had similar stories to tell.

Often, visitors to the ‘house’ remarked that they literally felt Tim’s presence was near. And undeniably, he had brought us together. In our music, poetry and art, his spirit soared.

Carole’s own lyrics also kept Tim alive:

With the cool crisp bite in the air,
I was standing on the sideline, with the dads,
Watching the football game go by,
A single mom, yes momma and poppa to my boy

(Chorus) My precious boy a gift from God,
Tim’s story must be told,
Tin Man spirit will live on,
Will live on

From a small little lion,
To the roar of a Redskin lineman,
A shining star, he did what he could,
To hold back that line, hold back that line

(Chorus) My precious boy a gift from God,
Tim’s story must be told,
Tin Man spirit will live on,
Will live on

The best games were held at night,
Under the bright, bright light,
As cheerleaders shouted to the crowd,
The fans cheered real loud

(Chorus) My precious boy a gift from God,
Tim’s story must be told,
Tin Man spirit will live on,
Will live on

While other moms sipped cocoa in the stands,
They did not know what they were missing,
While shouting on the fifty-yard line,
I tried to capture every second in time
I was the lucky one, oh I was the lucky one

(Chorus) My precious boy a gift from God,
Tim’s story must be told,
Tin Man spirit will live on,
Will live on

We performed her song every week, along with the Tim’s House theme. Robin Echols Cooper called our sessions ‘healing through music.’ It was a perfect description.
In 2009, new employment and personal concerns overtook my own ability to participate at Tim’s House. I missed the familial togetherness we had experienced, and tried to stay in touch with other volunteers.

Eventually, the original ‘house’ closed due to funding issues. Support meetings continued at St. Mary’s church.

Then, in June, came the news that Carole herself was gone:

“Carole A. (Brazis) Dunn (nee Bartholomew), 52, of Chardon, passed away June 19, 2012, in Cleveland. Born Dec. 14, 1959, in Cleveland, she had lived in Montville before moving to Chardon 10 years ago. Carole was a member of the Chardon Christian Fellowship Church and founder of Tim's House.”

Tears filled my eyes after reading her obituary. As with Tim, she left too quickly. Yet I took solace in knowing that she could at last join her beloved son in eternity.

The legacy of their kindness, both mother and son, will last with us forever.

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Saturday, July 07, 2012

“Mailbox Contest”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

“For all the challenges the Postal Service of the 21st century faces, it still retains its traditional place as a key cog in how American businesses conduct their affairs and how Americans all across this land communicate.” – John M. McHugh

A recent visit to the ‘Thoughts At Large’ mailbox in Chardon produced mixed emotions for this writer. While considering the meager volume of material that waited for my key, I thought about the struggling state of our national postal system.

Gloomy reports about debt and declining mail volume had echoed for many months. Now, there was talk of closing rural offices and reducing weekly deliveries. Yet I continued to feel the same undeniable bond with this service that has existed for most Americans since antiquity.

In yonder days, my mailbox was blessed with letters, cards, congratulations, complaints, publisher offers, obscure magazines and suggestions for future writing projects. But the rise of e-mail and text communication had slowed this stream of tangible, printed matter to a paper trickle.

I couldn’t help missing the kind of hold-in-your-hand messages and manuscripts that had flowed into my mail slot for so long.

Standing silently before door number 365, one question lingered.

What could I do to help?

The answer came from a discarded ad that had been dropped on the floor. It boasted colorfully about prizes to be awarded in a flashy, future drawing:

“Publisher’s Clearing House – It’s all about winning! We make Millionaires. In fact, we've been giving money away since Jimi Hendrix played the National Anthem at Woodstock! People just like you have won up to $21,000,000.00 entering our sweepstakes. Meet some of our Millionaires and imagine what it would be like to be them. Entering the PCH Sweepstakes changed their lives forever -- IT COULD CHANGE YOURS, TOO!!”

Suddenly, the solution was obvious. I could create my own Geauga County contest, to attract entries to the TAL mailbox, and help the post office thrive. As I drove back to Thompson, this personal ‘postal stimulus plan’ began to take shape:


Take pride in America. Help save the U.S. Postal Service in Geauga County – by helping yourself to fun and prizes!

Put away your computer. Set aside your cell phone. Take out your sharpest pencil or fullest pen – and write to P.O. Box 365, Chardon, Ohio 44024.

Dig out your grandfather’s typewriter and tap out a terrific toast to those who take time to transport our daily mail.

Send your cantankerous comments, silly suggestions and pithy proclamations to P.O. Box 365, Chardon, Ohio.

Do you have an old news clipping about the county? A photo of the courthouse or other noted Geauga landmark? A family story worth telling in the Maple Leaf?

Send it, today!

Do you remember a thrilling local sports competition from fifty years ago?

Send it to P.O. Box 365.

Do you have a UFO story, ghost tale, or bologna recipe?

Send it, now!

Have you been hounded by black helicopters, wiretapped, videotaped or pursued by the FBI?

Send your story without delay!

Did you work at a local supermarket, department store, or gas station in the distant past?

Send your memories to P.O. Box 365. You may be a winner!

Do you know a local celebrity like Paula ‘The Christmas Tree Lady’ Horbay? Or author and instructor Grace Butcher?

Send your reminiscences about them to my address!

Were you a radio broadcaster in the county? Or a journalist at one of the many lost newspapers that once thrived in Geauga?

Send your best recollections today!

Do you have a faded ad from Kresse’s Bi-Rite? Or Fisher’s Big Wheel? Maybe a yellowed copy of the Geauga Times Leader? Or the Weekly Mail?

Send it now!

Have you had a spiritual vision on the Chardon Square or at another familiar local venue? Are you a member of a little-known political party? Do you cultivate flowers to relieve everyday stress? Are you a musician, poet, author, sculptor or painter?

Remember the address - Thoughts At Large, P.O. Box 365, Chardon, Ohio 44024.

Entries will be judged solely by this writer. Prizes will be awarded after Labor Day, 2012.

First Prize – An autographed copy of the “Thoughts At Large” book.
Second Prize – An original document copy of this column, signed by myself.
Third Prize - An autographed copy of the Geauga County Maple Leaf newspaper.

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“Geauga in Print: Part Nine”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

The adventure continues – my quest for old newspaper stories about Geauga County has turned up a wealth of journalistic material from bygone days. The language used in these reports is often quirky and anachronistic. Yet the subject matter frequently resonates with themes that are timely in nature.
What follows are more glimpses of our region, from the wordsmiths of yesterday:

Painesville Telegraph, July 23, 1927

“‘Two hundred and fifty new Buicks in Lake and Geauga counties in 1928!’ is the slogan of the entire personnel of I. M. Crowther, Inc., Buick dealers for the two counties. The enthusiasm with which the salesmen have received the 1928 models spells assurance that they will succeed in the attainment of the high sales record that they have established for themselves. Headed by R. I. Patterson, general manager of the organization, since April 1st, the firm has taken remarkable strides forward in the further establishment of Buick standards in the two counties… Mr. Patterson has re-organized both the service and sales ends of the company since succeeding the late I. M. Crowther as manager… at Chardon, T. W. Murray is in charge of sales and is surrounded by an experienced staff of assistants.”

Painesville Telegraph, March 15, 1933

“At Chardon this morning, two banks were open for full business. Officials of the Chardon Savings Bank Co. and the National Bank of Chardon said that deposits were received far in excess of withdrawals. There was more activity than usual, but only because people had been forced to wait half a month to transact necessary banking business and were taking advantage of their first opportunity. The spirit of confidence exhibited by the people in doing business at all the banks convinced banking officials that there is no public anxiety over the situation.”

The Southeast Missourian, September 1, 1934

“Chardon, O – Drouth or no drouth, the Hoover brothers in Troy township, have just dug up 428 bushels of Irish cobblers from a single acre. It’s their bid for the northern Ohio potato championship.”

Painesville Telegraph, October 5, 1935

“MADISON – Three touchdowns marked Chardon High School’s grid win over Madison, 18-0, here Friday as the teams opened their Lake-Geauga football league schedules. Touchdowns were scored by Eglston and Thrasher of Chardon. An aerial attack played a very important part in the Geauga county team’s 18-point shutout win over the Madison eleven, passes scoring two touchdowns and another pass putting the eleven in scoring position for the final tally. After advancing the ball downfield on a series of passes, Chardon scored its first touchdown in the second quarter when a seven-yard pass from Davidson to Eglston opened scoring. The try for (an) extra point failed. A 12-yard pass in the third quarter after the ball had been advanced downfield in similar manner made the Chardon team’s advantage 12 to 0. Varney’s toss to Thrasher accounted for that one. A long pass from Leggett to Capron put Chardon on Madison’s 15-yard marker where a trick play sent Thrasher across from the 15-yard stripe to score. Chardon’s passing attack worked perfectly Friday as the team connected with 10 passes in 10 attempted. Madison threatened the Chardonites only once, and that was in the third quarter when a fumble gave them the ball on Chardon’s 30-yard line. The Hillmen quelled the threat, however.”

Painesville Telegraph, February 11, 1939

“Twenty years ago, today, February 11, 1919 - An item carried in The Telegraph and taken from the Geauga County Leader read as follows: ‘A Painesville minister objects to his church members going to the movies instead of prayer meetings. No such complaint in Burton, as few go to either.’”

Painesville Telegraph, December 2, 1941

“COLUMBUS – Paul McNish of Chardon is the new acting master of the Ohio State Grange. Mr. McNish succeeds Walter Kirk of Port Clinton who had died after an automobile accident. The acting master will preside at the Ohio Grange convention in Columbus from December 9 to 11. The meeting will be conducted as a memorial to Mr. Kirk and to the late Rev. W. C. Patterson of Cadiz who was Grange chaplain.”

Youngstown Vindicator, April 11, 1950

“Columbus – Gov. Frank J. Lausche said Monday night if visitors to the Pettibone Club decline to give the grand jury testimony about gambling for fear of being indicted, he ‘will have no fault to find with them.’ The governor issued a statement after learning of the charge given a grand jury Monday in Chardon. Judge Blake C. Cook of Portage County, sitting as a criminal judge in Geauga County, told the grand jurors: ‘…If you find that a person or persons have operated games of chance in violation of the law, you will return indictments against such person or persons, and all persons who were unlawfully playing such games of chance.’ The state has been trying to close the Pettibone Club for violating the building code. At a hearing last week persons who said they had gambled at the club were introduced. But Judge Cook suggested they appear before the grand jury. They did not appear when the grand jury convened Monday.”

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