Memoir Writers – Current Work in Progress

Current work of members of the Memoir Writers Group at the Bloomfield Township Public Library –Winter 2020

MEMOIR-Me and Swim
by John Reddy


I really don’t like swimming and water sports.  Here’s why.

Growing up in Chicago we lived in a couple of small apartments, both just two blocks from the Lake Michigan waterfront. We walked to the lakefront parks often and caddied at the lakefront golf course.

Those activities were a big factor in my parents insisting that we take swimming lessons at the local YMCA, which was less than a block away. That’s when I learned that I didn’t do a good job of washing behind my ears. The teenage lifeguards had to check us out after having taken the required showers. They were officious about ears.

I learned the proper strokes but never had much confidence. I managed to swim from one side of the pool to the other.

After enlisting in the Navy (I was 18) I went to Boot Camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. To find out if we knew how to swim, they lined us up pool side and had us climb to the highest diving board. Some guys dove, I walked to the end, swallowing my fright, stepped off. I managed to thrash my way to the side after splashing into the water. That proved to be sufficient evidence that I could swim, so I didn’t have to take lessons.

They enjoyed swimming and water sports. And when the YMCA had a “Super Dads” contest they signed me up. Guess what; one of the tasks was to dive off the high board into a circle of red balloons. I really didn’t want to do it, but I was intimidated by the loss of respect I would suffer in eyes of the kids.

I did the other gymnastic tasks, then found myself climbing to the high board. I couldn’t just jump; I had to aim for the circle. I dove; and as the circle of balloons grew big around me, this was my thought: “John, what in the hell are you doing here?” I survived but later enrolled in an adult swimming class.

I learned to swim a little bit, but not well, and my confidence sucked.

Later in life, in my 40s, Joan wanted to go on a sailboat tour of the Caribbean. Guess what; The trip included snorkeling in some harbor. So we took snorkeling lessons at Cranbrook. I could do a bit, but I never had confidence.

So there we were, anchored in the harbor, getting ready to go into a small boat that would take us to the snorkeling area. I told Joan to stay close to the boat. But her venturesome spirit led her farther than I dared. I returned to the boat and went quickly to deck side so I could keep track of her.

In short, I never again ventured near water where I was expected to be a swimmer. How did I feel about all that? Let me say simply that each event carved its own definition of fear into my memory; I can’t–I refuse- to talk about it.



YOU’RE On Our 60th Reunion  By Theresa Shen, Alaska Cruise, 9/12/2019

We met when we were young and innocent.

We met again when we were old and forgetful.

Where did the time go? 64 years slipped away,

Were we happy or sad?


Remembering the old days, we crammed in a dorm,

filled with bunk beds, small desks, and wooden benches.

Rushing to the dining hall to whet our appetite with fried,

smelly fish and thinly sliced pork when we were hungry.


Staying in the studio, we designed, drew, and told jokes till dawn.

No complaints, no regrets, only tall tales and laughter.

Four years slipped by; we graduated and each went separate way

to Europe, US or other parts of the world.


Yet we kept in touch wherever we were.

We met, separated, and reminisced

our age of innocence, unfulfilled dreams,

and daunting adventures.


Now we are celebrating our 60th reunion.

Our hair turns gray; our vision blurry,

but our admiration and love for each other,

staggering with ocean waves, will last forever.


IN THE ARMY NOW By Jerry Stanecki, August 5, 2019  “Who among you has been in the military before?” The Sergeant yelled to the platoon of men somewhat lined up in order. No one answered. “Who has had any military training?” I hesitantly answered. “ Does R.O.T.C. mean anything?” “Yeah,” the Sergeant said. “You are the platoon Guide.” “What’s that?” “The Platoon Guide,” said the Sgt, like everybody in the world knew what a Platoon Guide was.,“ Is like a Sergeant. You are responsible to me for yourself and all the rest of the men.” Hmm, a couple of hours in the Army and already promoted., Jerry thought, I like this. Acting like he knew what he was doing, Jerry called the men to attention and marched them to the barracks that would be home. The barracks with toilet bowls lined up, no stalls, just toilets, sitting there like thorns on a rose, in a large bathroom. Being Platoon Guide,  I got a private room, where assistant platoon guide Richard Skrezyna and I would sleep. Skrezyna was from the Chicago area and would be a lifesaver for me. I’d made a good choice when I selected him as the number two in charge. He was truly an assistant platoon guide and when the shit hit the fan, he hit back. “Anybody wants to cause Jerry harm should know they will have to go through me,” Skrezyna shouted to the platoon members. That said it all. I may have had a private room, but in the bathroom it was a different story. I had trouble sitting down on a toilet with another one, usually occupied, two feet away and no privacy wall in between. Oh well, practice made almost perfect. The training was brutal, six days a week. We had most Sundays off, and those Sundays went too fast. I came down with a cold, and went to sick call several times. I was given red cough medicine and basically ignored. The coughing got worse and the fever came and I was given more red liquid. Our first leave came at the end of the seventh week. Two others guys and I hit Louisville with a vengeance. Bill Bailey, one of the two, had his girl friend come to Louisville so he would have something to do. He rented a hotel room to do that something in. It was because Bill, and his girl, and a hotel room that Bill refused to leave in time for us to get back to Company C, 3rd Training Brigade and sign in. The three of us were AWOL, Absent Without Leave, from the U.S. Army. Not a good move.



OUR KRUGER PARK SAFARI Annette Lerine Steenkamp, May 27, 2019 My recent safari experience was an adventure in more than one respect. It was a rare visit for me to be accompanied by my daughter and grand-daughter, who has not been in the Kruger Park in her young life. I had made the arrangements in January 2018 using the credits we have as development donors of the Park, and we had reservations for two nights in a bushveld camp and two nights in a large Kruger safari camp. My daughter’s itinerary involved flying from Michigan to Johannesburg, South Africa on December 21, spending Christmas at our family home, and traveling to the Kruger Park on December 26th. I joined the family in Johannesburg at midnight on December 23rd, and was travel weary after the flight from Detroit via Amsterdam with an inflight time of 21 hours. After a joyful reunion with the family we had a few hours’ sleep and then it was Christmas Eve. We prepared the evening dinner in traditional way and gathered on the entertainment deck for the meal in the beautiful twilight with candle light. Christmas Day was sunny and warm and the pool inviting, especially for those of us from the Northern hemisphere with Winter cold a couple of days earlier. Before going to bed that evening we repacked our bags and provisions for the safari trip which started early the next day. The drive to our first overnight camp was around 300 miles, part of which within the Park at 30 miles per hour. One enters the Park at a Park Entry Gate where reservation related papers are checked. And from that point on we were on safari and had a contest for seeing the first game. Equipped with maps and guide books about fauna and flora, scenic viewing locations, dams and water holes we were en route to our destination for the night. There is a travel curfew in the Park which varies by season, and it is important to ensure that one reaches the overnight camp before the gate closing time. Those of us familiar with Park like to revisit places where we had experienced specific game viewings or events in the past. That afternoon we meandered along the river drive to the spot where my husband’s ashes were scattered a few years ago – a poignant occasion for me to witness the beautiful tree by the riverbank where my daughter had performed the act of honor when I was unable to undertake the drive. We were fortunate to see most of the big game and a large number of beautiful birds – I think we saw 66 distinct species. Being summer season it was hot outside, but the air-conditioned vehicle kept us comfortable. On the third day a member of our party announced that a heat wave was approaching according to the Weather Channel. Well, by 2 pm that day the temperature reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit – this was the hottest I had ever experienced in my life. When stopping for lunch we found it almost unbearable to move from the car to a temperature controlled area. With normal blood temperature at 98.6 degrees F this is understandable and it was life threatening. I overheard a German tourist declare that he was ready to pass out. We found that the game looked lethargic and seeking shade under trees. Fortunately there was plenty of water with many streams running and collecting in the water holes. We also made sure to have the portable fridge packed with water and light beverages. By the time we reached camp the temperature was coming down from over 120 degrees to around 110 degrees F, but the ceiling fans in our lodge were not making much of a difference and the tiles were warm to the touch. I immediately started running cold baths and encouraged the party to take a dip for a couple minutes, and then step out without using a towel for drying, My theory being that there would be evaporation and for a short while some relief. I also heard on the radio that one should spray the top sheet with water vapor which would have a cooling effect. But our American family had just collapsed on their beds and were not responsive to my daughter and my requests. When we emerged from taking a bath dip we walked to our bedrooms in the nude and stayed that way just to get some relief, splashing ourselves with water vapor. Then my daughter thought of rolling up dry hand-towels and putting them into the freezer for a few minutes. She then to turns to revive each of us by spreading the cold towels over our faces and chests. She kept this routine up most of the night while intermittently taking a bath dip herself. The temps dropped further during the night but was still above 100 degrees. In the morning we heard thunder and then large raindrops came splashing down – the most wonderful reprieve! By mid-day the temperature was below 80 degrees – the heat-wave had passed. On our game drive that day we witnessed the animal kingdom in buoyant spirits, the young ones sprinting and jumping about. Our last camp of the safari had air-conditioning and even with normal summer temperatures it was still hot outside. A nice surprise after arrival at the camp was to see a herd of five rhinos grazing close to the security fence just next to our lodge – I liked that lodge and had picked it when I made the arrangements a year earlier. That’s all for today. There’s much more to tell about this safari trip, but I trust you get the idea….   ______________________________________________________________________


THE HIKE  by Annette Steenkamp, August 22, 2017 I was awakened by a fish eagle’s call. It was just before dawn rolls back the night blanket, and the trees are revealed around our camp. The chirping and tweeting of birds sounded their early morning conference before they disperse to their feeding grounds for the day. We were in the Kruger National Park, South Africa for a 4 day safari hike, with our base an eight hut (rondawel) bushveld camp. We had entered the Park at the southern entrance the previous afternoon, parked the car at the game lodge, and joined our game ranger who was taking us to the bushveld camp in a safari vehicle. I was excited about this outing in the wild after a strenuous period of work, and looked forward to quality time with family members and a couple of friends in our party. It was time to get up and prepare for our early morning hike. We gathered at the lapa where coffee en tea were served with rusks to sustain us until breakfast. The game ranger joined us and reviewed his hiking rules – we had all received a package of information about the game park regulations and have signed the Terms and Agreement form. Most important were that we obey all instructions and directives of the ranger, and to refrain from talking unless he allowed it. As the first rays of sunlight shone through the trees bathing the camp in the first rosy light, we set off in single-file behind the tracker; the game ranger brought up the rear. Both were carrying powerful hunting rifles and binoculars. I enjoyed the freshness of the dew-laden flora along the trail as we proceeded at an easy pace, pausing when anyone fell behind – the group had to stay together at all times. In this season before the summer rains come, the vegetation is sparser so that the animals are more easily visible. We came across several groups of young antelope – my husband used to call them the kindergarten – a few zebras and a lone giraffe, busily grazing from tree to tree, ambling in their languid fashion. We had expectations of seeing rhinoceros, prevalent in the the southern region of the Kruger National Park, but so far no luck. Around 10 am we came upon a rocky rise overlooking a dam – this was our breakfast spot, and the food was already laid out invitingly. A reward was a few hippopotamuses surfacing and snorting every now and then. Refreshed by the delicious breakfast we started the last leg of the morning hiking through a scenic landscape. All at once we saw a young rhino calf trundling across our trail to the left of us about 50 feet away. The ranger stopped us short holding his hand up, the tracker scouting the terrain for the mother cow and announcing that there were two rhinos to the right of our trail. Now we were in a potentially dangerous situation. I felt a surge of fear making my pulse race and had a strong inclination to just make a run for it. But the ranger was in control. In our favor was that we were down-wind from the rhinos, who have a keen sense of smell but poor eyesight. Despite their size they are quite fast once they get going and can outrun a human over short distances. There are regular goring and trampling incidents due to people venturing too close these beasts. The rhino cow showed her anxiety by lifting her head, sniffing the air and sensing our presence, and turning back and forth unsure of our position.  The ranger indicated his intent to unite the mother with her calf, while we continued to retreat to a safer distance. We all realized this was not the time for antics and did as we were told. The ranger had by now approached the adult rhinos trying to herd them in the direction across our trail towards the calf. After more nervous moves, her whole body turning towards us so she seemed much closer to us, the cow took off in the direction of her calf followed by the others. Like everyone in our group I felt a huge sense of relief wash over me, and I suddenly felt so tired. We were not far from our bushveld camp with lunch waiting followed by a siesta, and I was ready for it after the rhino experience and the 10 mile hike. Recounting this experience of long ago makes me realize that was some hike!



Toilet-Talk Author:  Melissa Fosgate Ng, Winter 2019 Growing up in a middle-class home, it was important that as a family we joined together each evening for dinner.  My two sisters, my mom and my dad would join hands and would say a prayer and give thanks to God.  And as we then would continue to eat the dinner so graciously made by our mother each and every night, we would share tidbits from our day or just have simple conversation.  And at our goofier nights, my sisters and I would venture onto discussions concerning bodily functions and what it looked like, smelt like, or sounded like.  And with this my father would get upset and state, “There is no toilet-talk at the dinner table ladies…” I must apologize in advance to my father for I am going to get into toilet-talk.  I have learned better manners since childhood, but I really must tell you about something that I completely and thoroughly enjoy on my few trips to Japan.  Not only do I love the beautiful architecture, the gardens, the markets, the food, and the ever-so-polite nature of the people of Japan, but I really adore their toilets. Just like you’ve never had pizza until you eaten it in Italy, or you can never comprehend jet-lag of a17-hour flight to Australia while sitting in coach class, you’ve never really had the pleasure of sitting on the toilet until you’ve sat on a Japanese toilet. In Europe, you must pay to pee.  Whether it is at a store, restaurant, train station, the mall, or even a outhouse, you must always pay.  No wonder the streets of Europe have a stink around each corner…if you don’t have the right change, well, nature calls, and people suddenly lose their manners.  In parts of Eastern Europe and northern Africa, squat toilets can be found readily available, but they do leave a stench in your nostrils.  And maybe a wet trickle down your leg. In Japan, you will never need to pay to use the toilet.  And all toilet areas are kept neat and sanitary.  I think it comes down to manners and being polite.  No one can help if they have to use the toilet.  There’s like a code of integrity.  You enter a clean space, you leave a clean space. Whether you are in a train station, a private home, the mall, or an elegant restaurant, the toilets in Japan all have the same characteristics.  There’s no social hierarchy when it comes to the toilet. The toilets are all remote control.  The control panel is stationed on the wall next to the toilet.  There are many options for the guest to choose from to better your experience: lift lid, lift lid and seat, small flush, large flush, down lid, down lid and seat, and a bidet option. Some upgraded toilets also have the option of playing soothing gentle music or nature sounds as you perform your toilet duties. And my favorite function of the Japanese toilet is when you sit on the toilet seat, you will find a nicely heated seat – no matter if it is winter or summer, night or day, the seat stays warm and cozy for each participant. The control panel erases the fear of all the little germs and bacteria nesting in the most frequented seat in the world.  It’s amazing that once your job is complete, a simple button provides the comfort of putting the toilet seat down, and with a simple push of another button, a nice clean flush – no handle to push down, no cord to pull down, just a simple clean flush.  It also saves countless arguments about who left the toilet seat up… Well, I hope my father would be proud that I kept this toilet-talk “clean”…and away from the dinner table!