Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day!

Michigan Civil War Soldiers' Graves. Alexandria National Cemetery in Virginia
No words capture what Memorial Day means to me more than Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. We should read President Lincoln's words from time to time to remind ourselves that, despite our political, economic, and cultural differences, we are one nation and one people and that we must live with devotion to the ideal of a nation conceived in liberty and equality

If we live by Lincoln's words, then every day will be Memorial Day, and that is the greatest thanks we can give to those who died for us.

The Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Little Things I Miss About Michigan

I am a proud Michigander, even though I currently live out of state. Here are some of the little things I miss about the Great Lakes State:

The smell of burning leaves in the fall.

July fireworks in Detroit or over one of Michigan’s many lakes.

The return of baseball in the spring reminding us that, though it may still feel like winter most days, summer is right around the corner.

Driving on snowy roads with people who know how to drive on snowy roads.

Michigan lefts: If you miss your turn, there’s always another one soon after.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On the Road at Camden Yards

Scoreboard clock at Camden Yards
I finally went to my first game at Camden Yards in Baltimore yesterday to see my Detroit Tigers play. Even though I have lived in the D.C. area for a while, I had never been to a Tigers game in Baltimore because the games always seemed to land on days when I had a conflict. Plus, it is a lot easier for me to take the Metro to a game at Nationals Park in D.C. than to drive an hour (or more) to Baltimore, especially for a night game.

I had this game circled on my calendar ever since the Tigers exhibition game against the Washington Nationals was rained out in March. After having two of my last three Tigers games rained out, I decided to wait to buy tickets so I could keep an eye on the weather. A few days before the game, possible rain was forecast, so I waited until the day before the game to make a decision. After confirming that rain was not likely, I went on StubHub and found a cheap seat in foul territory in left field.

Getting to Camden Yards

The game was scheduled to begin at 12:35 p.m. on Wednesday morning. I left my house in Northern Virginia at 9:20 a.m. I avoided most of D.C.'s rush hour and made it to the stadium’s parking lot in an hour. I parked in Lot F, which is south of Camden Yards near M&T Bank Stadium where the Ravens play. The lot is under an overpass, which probably would help to keep a car cool on a sunny day, and it only costs $8. I read about other lots that were closer to Camden Yards or near Baltimore’s restaurant scene in the Inner Harbor, but most charged significantly more. I had been to Baltimore before, so I went with the cheapest parking option.

Johnny Unitas Statue outside M&T Bank Stadium
Lot F is not too far from Camden Yards, but people who have trouble walking might want to find parking closer to the ballpark. Other than walking past the Ravens' stadium, the walk from the lot to Camden Yards was not scenic…pretty much just concrete.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Q & A: Sean Murphy of Tuebor

Tuebor's Detroit Will Never Die shirt
After graduating from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Sean Murphy started Tuebor (previously called Tuebor Tourism) in 2013 to provide shirts and products that both residents and visitors to Michigan and Detroit will enjoy. The company now offers a handful of gift items from the city, most of which are made in Detroit. Tuebor collaborates with local designers, artists, and craftsmen to create unique made-in-Michigan products. The word "Tuebor" is Latin for "I will defend" and is one of the three mottos on the Michigan state flag.

I had the opportunity to ask Murphy some questions about his company and his feelings about Michigan and Detroit.

What is your background?

I grew up Downriver in Taylor. I have been fortunate to experience different areas of Southeastern Michigan growing up. I have lived in Taylor all my life, but I went to high school in Wyandotte and college in Dearborn and have worked in the city of Detroit since I was 16.

What inspired you to start the company?

I decided to form the company because I believe that there is a need for a business that focuses on offering Detroit/Michigan apparel that appeals to not only Michiganders but also to visitors. I created the company after working for over five years in downtown Detroit at a sports store that features a tourist section. This section of our store, at one time, was the only place you could pick up a souvenir from the city, so if you liked the style of the shirt or gift, that was great, but if you did not, you really had no other options. Things have picked up in this section of our store since I started there, but the lack of stylish souvenirs that represent both the city of Detroit and state of Michigan are hard to come by. I hope that Tuebor will one day be the go-to store to pick up awesome Michigan-made products to bring back home.

Tuebor's Tiger Head shirt
What do you have to offer that other Michigan/Detroit T-Shirt companies do not?

I believe that anyone who is trying to help shine a positive light on the city of Detroit or the state of Michigan is doing a great thing and should be recognized for it. The cool thing about Detroit specifically is that everyone there has a unique craft that they are using to help contribute positive things back to the city. Detroit used to be a melting pot of people from various nationalities. This is still true, but now our melting pot is full of people from various job fields as well.

Tuebor is different from other companies because we try not to focus on inside jokes that only people from Michigan would understand. The biggest thing that allows us to set ourselves apart from other companies is where we print our shirts. We believe that if we are using Detroit's name on our products, then it is important that we maintain our connection to our city in some way. We are proud to say that our shirts are printed in Detroit, our wood products are made in Detroit, and our other handmade goods are mostly crafted in Michigan. There are companies out there, not to throw any under the bus, that like to claim they are a Detroit company, but the city of Detroit does not play a role anywhere in their  product creation process.

We would like to believe we are a fresh choice for people to express their love for the state.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

At Home in Wyandotte

My grandparents' house
Last week, I spent the better part of two days visiting my dad’s hometown of Wyandotte for my grandma’s funeral. Despite the sadness of the occasion, I was happy to return to the city where I spent so many Saturdays and Sundays as a boy visiting my grandparents and cousins.

Wyandotte has been the home base of my father’s family since 1906, when his paternal grandfather, Joseph, arrived in town after leaving his home in Poland. Joseph’s wife and two children joined him a year later, and they had four more children, including my grandpa, who was born in Wyandotte in 1912. 

Wyandotte has a lot to offer, including restaurants, festivals, and a riverfront with parks and marinas, but when I visited Wyandotte as a child we only spent time at my aunt and uncle’s house, my grandparents’ house, or occasionally other relatives’ homes. If we weren’t at a relative’s house, we were at church or a local hall celebrating a wedding or anniversary. Wyandotte meant family.

Before visiting the funeral home, I was able to drive by my grandparents’ house and old neighborhood near Fort Street and Ford Avenue. The house and street where my dad, aunts and uncle grew up looked the same. I remembered playing football in the street on Thanksgiving Day (better than watching the Lions lose) with my cousins and yelling “Car!” whenever we needed to clear the street to let traffic go by.

The rest of the neighborhood looks the same as it did 20 to 30 years ago. People have taken good care of their homes. The park and playground a few blocks away have been updated with newer equipment and look nicer than they did when I was a kid. Driving by JJ’s Pizza on Ford reminded me how my two oldest cousins and two older brothers would walk there from my aunt and uncle’s house to pick up pizzas for us to eat, but they never let me and the other young cousins tag along.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel photo by Dwight Burdette
My grandmother’s funeral mass was held at my grandparents’ second home, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. It is technically called Our Lady of the Scapular now because Mount Carmel merged with St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, but I will always know it as Mount Carmel. 

Polish immigrants founded Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1899 to serve as the center of their community as well as a place to worship. My great-grandparents were among those who helped build the current church in 1915. It was the center of the Polish immigrant community at the beginning of the 20th century, but so many Poles followed friends and relatives to Wyandotte that the diocese eventually built two more Catholic churches (St. Stanislaus and St. Helena) to accommodate them.

Mount Carmel held an annual Polish festival each summer beginning in 1972. The festival overwhelmed me the couple of times I went as a child because it seemed like every time I took a step, I ran into a great aunt, great uncle, second cousin, or someone who knew my grandparents or dad. It felt like a family wedding, but with even more people pinching my cheek and telling me how I was growing like a weed. The new parish has continued this tradition, and I hope it does for a long time. St. Stan’s had its own festival, which has not continued, unfortunately.

I have vivid memories of going to Mount Carmel for Christmas Eve mass as a kid. When I was not dreaming about the presents Santa was going to bring me, I was lost in the beauty of the church’s interior. Like many of the old Polish churches in Detroit, the walls are covered with ornate paintings and statutes of saints. During my grandmother’s funeral, I thought of the countless hours she and my grandfather spent in this beautiful building. When I looked down at my 20-month-old daughter in my lap, she was lost in the artwork on the church’s ceiling. I wondered if my grandfather and father stared up at that ceiling in the same way when they were small boys.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel photo by Dwight Burdette
After the burial at Mount Carmel Cemetery, we then proceeded to a hall on Biddle near the Detroit River, where we ate Polish food, and then to my aunt and uncle’s place on the Detroit River, where we reminisced about my grandma and the wonderful times we had with each other as kids. I loved watching my five-year-old daughter play with her four-year-old second cousin and seeing the older children of my first cousins, most of them for the first time.

I had not seen most of my cousins since my grandpa’s funeral 12 years earlier, even longer for some. Despite this gap in time, there was a special comfort in being together again. We drank. We joked. We laughed. No one openly cried though. I think we left our tears at the church and cemetery. We may not have been in our grandparents’ house, but we were with each other in Wyandotte.

We were home.