The Saga of Cement Sue

my christmas gift

This is the special wonderful gift that my Linda gave me

I’ve often waxed poetic (or at least posted prose) about my love, Linda Herman.  I’ve worn out my list of adjectives trying to describe how wonderful she is, and how good she is for me.  This Christmas, she demonstrated her love with the best material gift I have ever received.

What could this gift be?  It is a two-foot high concrete statue of an Irish Setter.  Yes, you all know that I love Irish Setters, but that wouldn’t make this the best gift ever.  So what would?  I hope you have a few minutes as this is a convoluted answer.

The story starts with my great-grandfather Hall.  I don’t know much about the man, I don’t even know his name.  The generation before me simply referred to him as “Grandpa Hall.”  By the time I was aware enough to ask his name, my father no longer remembered it.

My great-grandfather's property in Spring Lake

My great-grandfather’s property in Spring Lake

Here is what I do know about the man.  He owned a farm in Spring Lake, MI bordered on the south by modern-day M-104, on the west by Fruitport Road, on the north by the railroad tracks, and on the east by the swamp.  On this farm he raised pigs, which he smoked and sold as bacon & ham in the surrounding communities.

The other, more interesting thing, that he did on his property was breed and train what he called “Irish Bird Dogs.”  We would know them today as Irish Setters & Irish Red & White Setters.  Even then they were trying to breed the white out so that they could develop into the red dogs that we know today.

Great-grandfather Hall always kept three dogs for breeding – a male named Patrick and two bitches named Molly & Sue.  When one passed on, or retired from breeding, he would replace it with another dog with the same name.  So he always had Patrick, Sue, & Molly.  This allowed him to sell to returning satisfied clients another dog with the same parents as their previous dog.  And disgruntled customers could be offered a dog from the other mother.

John & I with Jojo

My brother John & I with our dog Jojo.

grampa and dog

My grandfather with a Sue or a Molly

This practice of Patrick, Sue, & Molly was carried on by my grandfather, Melvin Bristol Hall.  He didn’t do the dogs as a full time profession like his father did, but he kept the Patrick, Sue, & Molly tradition alive.

Now my father, Melvin Edward Hall, didn’t breed dogs.  We always had at least one dog in the house, most of them Irish Setters.  But in my little atomic family, my mother claimed naming rights for all pets.  So we had Duke, Jojo, Koof, Kerry, & Scarlet.

Then in 1992, Dad retired from teaching.  It turns out that there was an Irish Setter breeder near Coldwater, MI who had a bitch that was descended from one of my great-grandfather’s lines.  And he presented the dog to my father as a retirement gift.

This was one of the rare occasions where my father stood up to my mother.  He explained to her that the dog was a gift to him, the dog was part of his family history, and he would be naming her Molly!  My mother didn’t speak to him for weeks afterword.

grandma and a dog

My Grandmother Irene Vos Hall with a Sue or a Molly

My uncle Ken Hall (Mel’s younger brother) had a much more entertaining response.  Uncle Ken located a concrete, life-sized, concrete statue of an Irish Setter.  Since Mel had a Molly, Ken brought him a Sue – Cement Sue (you have to say it like Jed Clampett – See-Ment Sue).  And from that point on, we had Cement Sue stationed in our back yard.

The years were not kind to Cement Sue, as she stood sentry day and night in all kinds of weather.  She may have lost pieces of concrete, leaving just bits of rebar hanging out.  But she was always there, and Dad & I made a habit of saying hello to Cement Sue every time we came or went through the back door.  As time went by Dad did indeed add a Sue to go along with his Molly.  After many good years with Mel, Molly final had to go to the Rainbow Bridge.  Fortunately, he still had his Sue, who stayed by his side until his death – and Cement Sue was still on station in the backyard.

ken hall & family

My Uncle Ken and his family

Mel & Molly

Dad with a Molly from his grandfather’s line

When the bittersweet time came for me to leave 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, MI to join my lovely Linda in Durham, NC I discovered a sad, sorry truth.  Cement Sue was so damaged, and so sunken into the very ground of the backyard that it would be impossible to move her.  So with a very heavy heart, I left her behind at 712 Winter St.

In my heart, Cement Sue not only meant Molly & Dad but also 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, Uncle Ken & a grandfather & great-grandfather that I never met.  Of course, being so sensitive, loving, caring, and attuned to me – Linda knew all of that.  So she gave me not only a brand new Cement Sue – but also all of those important things left behind when I left Michigan.  I have never received a finer gift with more love behind it.  Thank you Linda – I love you.

The Original Cement Sue (back) with Paladin

The Original Cement Sue (back) with Paladin

Happy Birthday Dad

Hey Boss,

I just wanted to write you a quick note as the dogs and I wrap up the preparations for your birthday tomorrow. It sounds a bit strange to me to be celebrating your birthday more than four months after your passing, but I decided that it will make me happy to celebrate you – and the special love that we shared.

We are going to start the day with a trip to Doggie Fun Land in Ferrysburg.  After dropping the dogs at home, I’ll pop over to Orchard Market to pick-up a big old porterhouse steak and some of those little cupcakes that you always enjoyed.  I debated about baking a cake for you, as I did every year, but I’ve been doing really well with my blood sugar lately and I don’t want to mess that up.

In the afternoon, Pal has an appointment at Harborfront Hospital for Animals.  He just turned nine this month and he’s due for his annual physical.  It just seemed appropriate on your birthday to take an old man to an appointment with a doctor.  Paladin graciously offered to fill in for you.

After his visit, we’ll stop in at the City Farmer to pick up a box of peanut butter bones for the dogs.  They are still Sue’s favorite food to play with, and she teases Pal and I mercilessly when she has one in her mouth.

Then it will be home to make dinner.  I’ll grill up the steak just the way you liked it – marinated in Worcestershire sauce and seasoned with salt and pepper.  I’m going to split it three ways with Sue and Pal.  I’m also going to share the cupcakes with them.  You should see Sue and Pal on a sugar buzz!  When I came home from your memorial service, I put the leftover cake on the kitchen counter while I changed.  When I came back into the kitchen, there were two happy looking dogs laying on the kitchen floor with some cardboard and plastic wrap between them.  About half an hour later, the two of them were running around the house like young pups – playing with all of the toys, teasing each other, barking at each other, and just having a great time.

After they eat their 9:30 treats, the three of us will snuggle in together on Pal’s couch for our moment of Irish Setter Zen.  And we will sing happy birthday to you.

It won’t be the party that we’ve thrown for you the last several years.  I haven’t invited anybody over, I didn’t buy balloons, or any of that party stuff.

It is still pretty lonely in the house without you, but as I promised you, Sue, Pal and I are taking care of each other.

Happy Birthday Dad!  We will always celebrate your memory.

Mel Is Still Being Mel

My father & I at a Piston's game

Dad & I at a Piston's game

I’ve often said that you haven’t really been to a place until you’ve been there with Mel.

Dad always enjoyed going to new places – not just to see new sights, but also to meet new people.  He fully enjoyed life everywhere he was, and he shared that joy with everybody that he encountered.  It didn’t matter where or when, there were always people that he hadn’t met yet – and they would become new friends.  And more often than not, there were people there that he already knew – creating a joyful reunion of old friends.

Camden Yards ballpark in Baltimore

Camden Yards

For example, in 1996 I was working on a job site near Baltimore, MD.   As I often did, I flew Dad out for a weekend visit.  We had tickets for an afternoon Orioles game at Camden Yards, where we not only had a great time watching the game, but we got to stuff ourselves on Boog Powell’s BBQ in the outfield concourse.  To fill time before the game, Dad had said that he would like to visit the grave of Edgar Allan Poe.

The gravesite of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore, MD

Edgar Allan Poe's grave

So we added a trip to the grave to our itinerary.  Since I had no idea where the grave was actually located, we left fairly early in the morning to allow ourselves time to locate the site.

We had no trouble locating the site.  We found it immediately on the first try.  It was fascinating, and we spent almost an hour there.  This still left us with several hours to kill.

Dad decided that since we had time to kill we should try to locate the old Memorial Stadium.  Dad had fond memories of watching Johnny Unitas on TV, as well as all of those old Oriole greats.  So off we went to find Memorial Stadium.

Baltimore's Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium

And find it we did.  The stadium is tucked away in a residential neighborhood.  We walked the entire perimeter of the facility from across the street to get a good look at the outside of the famous horseshoe shaped building.  And it was amazing.  But since nobody was using the facility at the time, it was a bit boring.  As we stood outside the fence at the open end of the horseshoe, a security guard walked past.

Dad struck up a conversation with him, and in no time we were enjoying a private tour of the place, from the locker rooms to the press box and all stops in between!  That’s just part of the fun when you traveled someplace with Mel.

Behold, the power of the Dum Dum!

Behold, the power of the Dum Dum!

On Wednesday, I posted the eulogy that I presented at Dad’s memorial service.  Part of that eulogy included a tribute to the power of the Dum Dum sucker.  Coach Hall always used Dum Dums to recognize and reward the accomplishments of the athletes on his track and field teams.

Lo and behold, on Thursday morning I found this e-mail from Dean Spangler, the Chairman and CEO of the Spangler Candy Company, the makers of Dum Dums!

Jim:
It is apparent that your father, Mel, was a remarkable man.
Our sincere condolenses to you and your family.

Your blog popped up because of the reference to Dum Dums.

As I read your "Eulogy for My Father" I was quite moved. I
have great fondness for good teachers and people that find
the good in life.  Your father had both those traits.  While
we hear many wonderful stories about Dum Dums, I just wanted
you to know that this one probably resonated more than any 
other.

I too was blessed to have a wonderful father.  He has been 
gone 34 years now and still thoughts of him brighten my days 
and inspire me to be better.  I will try to be a little 
better person today for him, and for Mel.

Dean L. Spangler
Chairman & CEO
Spangler Candy Company
"The Dum Dums Company"
The Spangler Candy Company

Spangler Candy - makers of Dum Dums

Even from beyond the pale, Dad is still reaching out to others.  I’m so proud that Mel is still being Mel!

last hopes

My younger brother John found his way through life by writing about it.  As I was working my way through Dad’s stuff today I came across one of my favorite of John’s poems.  I’ve often taken the advice he presents here on difficult days.  I think I’ll do so tonight.

last hopes

john lee hall

the woman

i thought i’d loved

had left

me.  my rent

went

unpaid

because dear father

stopped payment

on his check

“just to show”

me.  my last

close friend

had o.d.’d

on strychnine,

and my checks

bounced higher

than a head-first

suicide

off a six-story

parking tower.

i had five

bucks

left.  the phone

was restricted

to local.

i dialed:

three

five

one, seven

one

hundred,

was put

on hold, came

off hold,

and asked

for what i needed

most —

and it came

with two

free

pepsis.

 

god

won’t answer

my prayers,

but dominoes

delivers.

A Comfort To Dogs

This photo was taken a month before my brother John’s untimely death in January 2004.  As his wife Karla stated in his obituary, he was “a comfort to dogs.”  Pictured here snoozing with John are Barkley & Alexander.

I like to think that this is exactly what John is doing at this very moment – sharing love with and being a comfort to dogs.

I Got Tagged With A Christmas Meme

Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate

1. Hot Chocolate or Egg Nog?
Either one is fine – but one or the other must be consumed both while decorating the tree and again on Christmas Eve.  If snow shoveling is required on Christmas Day, then Hot Chocolate is required after the shoveling is done.

Sue inspects her presents

Sue inspects her presents

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Wrapping – in different paper than what is used for all other gifts.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
Colored lights on the tree are a must.  We also use colored lights outside, but that is not a requirement.  White lights are allowed inside specific light-up ornaments and decorations.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Nope.  I don’t want to share Christmas kisses with Dad and Sue doesn’t need any incentive to give sloppy wet kisses to everybody all the time.

Not before December First!

Not before December First!

5. When do you put your decorations up?
After the first of December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Chex Mix.  I always make huge batches of it for the Holidays.  We give lots of it away and eat even more of it.

My brother John (left) and I with our dog JoJo

My brother John (left) and I with our dog JoJo

7. Favorite Holiday memory?
Christmas 2003 – the last time I saw my younger brother conscious.  Dad and I had a great two days at John’s house for Christmas Eve/Day.  Cash was tight for me that year, so I made a lot of gifts, including a video that I gave to both Dad and John with a photo montage of us Hall boys through the years.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I’ve always known the truth about Santa Claus.  And the truth is that yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as surely as love and generosity and devotion exist.  Period.  Amen.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
NO!  The anticipation of the gift opening ceremony must be built to a fever pitch.  No gift opening until after breakfast and chores on Christmas Day – at the earliest.  Best if it can be drawn out until after lunch.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
With minimal stress, maximum joy and love, and much supervision from both Dad and Sue.  Lot’s of lights, a few key ornaments, and enough tinsel to hide how little actual decoration took place.

When John & I were kids my mother always insured that the tree decorating process was as stressful as possible.  Dad & I have eliminated all of the stress.  We just have fun with it.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
It isn’t Christmas without snow.

12. Can you ice skate?
Forwards and backwards.  But you’d better let me carry a hockey stick for assistance these days.

The Classic Hot Wheels Garage

The Classic Hot Wheels Garage

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
When I was a little guy my Uncle Ken gave John & I a marvelous Hot Wheels garage with a working (hand cranked) elevator AND EVERYTHING!  We loved that immensely.  I think it was also the same year that Dad made G.I. Joe tents for us out of his old Army dress slacks.  They were the coolest tents ever – and they were hand made for us by Dad.  Nobody else in the world had them.

As an adult, my favorite gift is each Christmas morning that Dad & I get to share together.

14. What’s the most important thing?
Being with family and friends.  As I get older the size of both groups continues to shrink, but the significance of spending that time together, enjoying each other’s company grows each year.

A Hay Stack Cookie - YUM!

A Hay Stack Cookie - YUM!

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Surprisingly, to me, it was the Haystack cookies that my mother used to make.  They consisted of clumps of chow mein noodles held together in a rough haystack shape by big globs of melted butterscotch chips.  I haven’t had them since she stopped cooking in ’82 or ’83, but they will always remain my favorite.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
As a child, it was Dad baking bread.  We would be chased outside to play in the snow so as to avoid disturbing the critical dough raising process.  Eventually we would be called inside and treated to warm slices of fresh bread dripping with butter.  And the smell would fill the house for days.

As an adult it has been the requisite viewing of “A Christmas Story” with Dad.  This year Dad and I are going to resurrect the bread making process on Christmas Eve Day – so that may return as the favorite tradition.

17. What tops your tree?
This year it is a big gold star with a dozen colored lights on its face.

That's the look!  Dad at Christmas last year.

That's the look! Dad at Christmas last year.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
Giving, hands down, giving that specially selected gift that the recipient didn’t even know that they wanted.  The look on their face as the figure out that while they didn’t know they wanted it they now can’t imagine life without it is priceless beyond belief.  It is difficult to pull off, but SO worth it.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
It is hard to beat “Silent Night” – although “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” comes awfully close.

20. Candy canes, Yuck or Yum?
O.K. I guess.  It wouldn’t be Christmas without them, but I’m tired of them before I finish the first one.  Although now that they come in a bunch of different flavors my opinion of them is rising – Chocolate Mint and Cherry Cream are moving up on the list.

O.K. Dod – consider yourself tagged!

A Thanksgiving Prayer

I originally recorded the audio of this piece for my radio show on WGHN-FM Thanksgiving Day of 2007.  Last night, I made a quick slide show out of some family photos to accompany the audio

The text is “Thanksgiving” a poem by Michigan’s Poet Laureate Edgar Guest.

We hope that your Thanksgiving is indeed a happy one.

Prop it up.