Hitting It Out of the Park
Yesterday, I saw a tweet from CNN that mentioned how the National Park Service had just announced the newest National Park to the system, one that was located in northwest Indiana. I was scratching my head because I know that area very well. It's not only up in the corner of Indiana that basically borders Chicago, but I grew up with a lot of relatives there, in Gary. My grandmother Rose lived there -- and I spent lots of vacation time with her on the lakeshore in area called Miller Beach -- and the family had a department store, H. Gordon & Sons. Down the sandy road from Grandma Rose was her brother, my Uncle Ben and Aunt Esther, and next door were their kids the Kaplans, who are my cousins. (The youngest son, Jim, lives out here now. In fact we're having lunch on Thursday.) And down the street from them were Stanley and Margie Kohn, wonderful people, who are cousins, too. And then others in the city itself.
So, as I said, I know that area well. And I couldn't think of what in the world would be a National Park. I knew there was the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which is centered around where they live and then up the Indiana coast of Lake Michigan. But nothing else -- so other than turning the deserted steel mills into a National Park, I was flummoxed.
Side note. The Indiana Dunes are wonderful. And some of the family was even involved to a slight degree fighting for them to get some sort of protected status, since it's a very fragile ecosystem. Oddly, an Illinois senator back in the 1950s, the great Paul Douglas, worked hard for protecting the Indiana Dunes, and Stanley Kohn was involved, as well, working with Sen. Douglas. So, it was a huge deal when the 15,000-acre dunes area finally got recognized with National Lakeshore status in 1966. Stanley was a great guy -- he worked at H. Gordon & Sons, and was as quiet and gentle and nice a man as you'd like to find. Tall and lanky, he was the opposite of his dear wife Margie, who was a pistol -- open, honest, outspoken, directly blunt and nurturing to all, I think she did social work and a lot of community service. They lived on the Dunes, and had an open-air porch separate from their house where I just looooved having barbecues.
By the way, I think Margie's favorite food was popcorn. And one year, probably about 50 years ago, she'd heard about this local popcorn company in northeast Indiana that supposedly had the best popcorn anywhere. So, she had to drive out and find it. It took her a while to track the place down, and finally getting there she knew she had to buy a huge sack of kernels in major bulk, since this wasn't a trip she'd make often. She brought it all back, and sent packages of popcorn around to family and friends -- including us. And that was the first time I'd heard of this small, local company that hadn't yet gone national called Orville Redenbacher.
Another diversion. It was for Margie and Stanley's 50th anniversary party that I got the biggest laugh of anything I've ever written. My brother John had the idea that since I wrote parody songs, I should write one to the tune of the old song, "Margie," made famous in the 1920s by Eddie Cantor, and he'd accompany me on guitar. While I knew a bit about Margie and Stanley, I asked my mom for some additional details, since she grew up with Margie as her older cousin when a little girl. (Though they were second cousins to me, they were significantly older, probably in their 60s when I barely hit my teens.) Anyway, one thing my mother mentioned is that something that drove Margie crazy was that -- living on the Lake Michigan dunes -- people's shoes always had sand on them, and that acts like...well, sandpaper when one walks through a house, shredding the floor, so Margie insisted that people take off their shoes before entering the house, and if you were going to put them on later, you'd darn well better smack them around good and get every grain off. Anyway, armed with my memories and notes, I went off to write the song.
Came the night of the anniversary, our family drove to Indiana for the event, held in some town south of Gary that had a nice French restaurant. (I'll always remember that, this being Indiana, the nice French restaurant had a basketball hoop in the employee lot behind the place.) When it came time for the song, my brother played, and I did my best singing. It went fine, the room of about 75 people seemed appreciative, and then I got to one verse which ended --
And let's all strike up the band
And not track in any sand
For Margie, Margie. For you.
Well...I got to the words -- "...in any sand..." -- and couldn't go any further. The room exploded with the most laughter I've ever gotten for, as I said, anything I've ever written. My brother and I just had to sit there for about 15 seconds before we could continue.
But I digress...
Okay, so I had to figure out what in the world the National Park Service had found there in northwest Indiana to add to their list as a National Park.
And it was -- the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore!!!! They upgraded its status. It never even occurred to me that they would do so. It was such a long battle just to get National Lakeshore status that moving it to any greater designation just didn't seem possible. But it is.
I sent a note to my cousin Jim -- who grew up on the Dunes -- and asked him if he'd heard the news. He hadn't and was overjoyed. Me, too. Mainly for Sen. Paul Douglas...and Stanley Kohn. And Margie. And all the other relatives involved and people of the area who grew up on the Dunes.
You can read an article about it here. But mainly, I love this tweet and photo that the National Park employees sent out today with their new "sign" covering up the old "Lakeshore" designation.
February 15, 2019
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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