Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kiss of Peace

An image from last Sunday is stuck in my mind.  From where I am with the choir, behind the altar, I can see out into the congregation.  Just a few pews away a young couple caught my  attention.  She was kind of petite, stood just a little higher than his shoulder,  just as Gwen did with me.  That was the first reminder.  Of course, they held hands through most of the service, just the way we did, even toward the end when Gwen was in a wheelchair.

At the part of Mass called the "kiss of peace" people shake the hands of those near them and say something like "peace  be with you."   Gwen and I never went for the handshake, it was literally a kiss of peace--on the lips.  Again I watched the young couple; he embraced her and then the kiss they exchanged was much more than a friendly peck on the cheek.  It brought me such joy to see that.  Call it what you will, an old guy reminiscing about past glories, it made my heart feel good to see that young couple and be reminded of the gift of love that Gwen and I shared for so many years.   And, they even kind of  looked like us.

At the kiss of peace I give all the youngsters in the choir a big hug.  They tell me I smell good, Dear, but I think it has more to do with being some sort of grandfather figure.  

Monday, January 30, 2012


Why then does my heart still feel sad and lonely?
Why then does this feeling, like fear, settle in my stomach
at each memory of a touch,  an  embrace?
It’s been more than one full year—
why then does it still matter that I come home
to an empty house?
Why then does time seem irrelevant and empty—
the same time I used for matters
that don’t matter anymore?
Why then does it seem like this will last
forever and ever—
what was supposed to be the two of us?

John A. Bayerl, January 30, 2012

Sometimes it's good to have a Blue Monday.  Today is one of them.

It is a quiet Monday, Dear, the kind of day when you and I would enjoy being comfortable with each other, or perhaps a movie.  Definitely not a mall kind of day.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


This morning at the lecture
I watched couples as they strolled in
found a seat
drank their coffee
shared a donut
all so normal and ordinary.

I wondered if they know
how fortunate they are
to have each other on this winter morning
do they take it all for granted
chalk it up to only eating an occasional donut
good genes
good luck
good God!

The lecture is about humor
we laughed a lot
even mocked the dark disease
that came to take her away
it gave us strength
then she was gone
and here I am—alone—
at this lecture
with all these damn couples.

John A. Bayerl, January 27, 2012

It's not always bad being around couples.  Last night was a case in point.  I had a ticket to the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.. Tonight I have two tickets and have asked a good friend to accompany me.   

Back to last night.  This was going to be a new experience for me, so I arrived plenty early, parked the car across the street from the auditorium, and found my seat.  I remembered being in that auditorium when we first moved to Ann Arbor.  The occasion was a concert by new young singer named John Denver.  Then, I sat alone for a while, and the blues kind of settled in--I couldn't help but wish with all my heart that Gwen was sitting in the seat next to me, as she had done so many times in the past.  

A couple, a few years younger than I came in and took the two seats next to me.  I leaned over and shook hand with the guy:  "Hi, I'm John.  Hi, I'm Jim."  His wife finished taking off her coat and sat in the seat next to me. I haven't forgotten my manners.  I shook her hand; "Hi, I'm John."  She had a firm handshake; "Hi," she said, "my name is Gwen."   There was something about hearing that name spoken out loud that moved me deeply, even now, on Saturday afternoon, as I type these words my eyes tear up.   I kept my composure, and said, "Oh, that was my wife's name, that makes you pretty special."   They were a lovely couple, and the conversation that followed was delightful too.  The Gwen sitting next to me was every bit as charming as her namesake.  When she told me that she was a retired accountant I knew that my Gwen was messing with me; she had been an accountant the year before we married.  Call it what you will, there are no coincidences.  

During an intermission I met a friend who was working as a volunteer usher, and I had worked with him as a volunteer usher at UM football games.  He introduced me to a person he was talking with who looked familiar to me.  He should have looked familiar, we had been neighbors a long time ago, and I was his three sons' counselor in high school.  It turns out that he retired from his job and bought a publishing company.  One thing led to another, and we are going to sit down over lunch and talk about self-published a book of poetry.  Another coincidence?  

You were sure with me last night, Dear, and not in name only.  You are always a welcome presence in my life.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Gwen’s mother, Bertha, and I had a good and loving relationship all the while I knew her.  She put a lie to every mother-in-law joke ever told. 

It didn’t start out that way.  Initially Bertha was not in favor of Gwen getting married; saying that she was too young and immature. As I would come to see later, this was a convenient explanation.  There was more to it than that.   Because of her mother’s stated concerns, and, in spite of the fact that at the age of 19 she was working as head bookkeeper at a construction company that had in excess of 300 employees, Gwen worked hard at proving she was ready to assume the responsibilities of being married.  On one occasion she wrote me about two days during which her brother and his wife had been visiting with their two boys, ages three and one.  “The kids are driving me crazy,” she said, “but I’m proving something to my mother!”  And, prove it she did; when Gwen set her mind to something she always saw it through.

When I first met Bertha I was taken by her non-stop approach to living.   Like her daughter she was petite, filled with energy and had an ever-present smile on her face.  Often, as she would lie asleep on a couch after a busy day of caring for those she loved, I would comment to Gwen that her mother had only two speeds, wide open and dead stopped. She was of Italian heritage and adopted that culture’s profound love of family.  She lived for her family. Initially, she was not pleased with my intentions regarding her daughter. 

As my new bride and I were preparing to leave our wedding reception, Bertha took me aside, saying she had something she wanted to say to me.  “Aha!” I thought, “This will be my official welcome to the family.”  I had given up expecting any sort of welcome from Barney, although he did man up and walk his daughter down the aisle in church and then put her hand in mine.

 Instead of the anticipated welcome into her open arms, what Bertha said was, “John, Gwen is now your wife, but never forget that she will always be my daughter.”  My initial reaction was one of anger, but I resisted the impulse to try to convince Bertha that I would always love, cherish and care for her daughter, and that she needed to let go.  A while later, as Gwen changed from her wedding gown at her parents’ house; I had time to think about what Bertha had said.  Over the course of the year preceding our marriage I had many opportunities to observe Bertha’s interaction with her daughter, and it was obvious to me that they were best friends.   Then it all became clear to me.  Bertha’s initial resistance to our decision to get married had nothing to do with Gwen’s age, and it had nothing to do with me.  It all had to do with the fact that she was losing her best friend, and she was going to miss her terribly.  

I always tried to be sensitive to that special mother-daughter relationship, and it continued to flourish throughout our time together.  Overall, it was never much of a concern, although on a couple of occasions Gwen and I had some “silent movies” around the house because I thought Bertha had overstepped her boundaries in some matter, usually having to do with child-rearing practices. 

During the sixth year of our marriage, Gwen, who was six months pregnant at the time, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and we lost the child she was carrying. It was Bertha who comforted and consoled me when I called to give her the news.  It was also Bertha who boarded a bus to Ann Arbor and stayed with us until we were back on our feet.  My mother was battling cancer at that time, and, when she died in 1974, Bertha became my surrogate mother, a role that she filled admirably until her own death in 2004.

Our daughter, Jeanne, was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in August of 1965.  Shortly thereafter, I loaded the car with our belongings and drove to Portland, Oregon, to begin a year of graduate studies..  Barney and Bertha took Gwen and our two children home with them.  Two weeks later Gwen flew with the children in tow to Portland to join me.  I’ve always felt that the bond between Gwen and her mom was tested during those two weeks.  Although she never said anything about it directly, the first thing she said when I met her at the airport was, “I have never been so happy to see you as I am right now!”  I couldn’t help but notice that the love for me she expressed was tinged with a sigh of relief that more than a harrowing flight with two small children had ended. 

Having said all that, I loved Bertha dearly, particularly her zest for life. She enjoyed playing games of all sorts, from badminton to pinochle.  I was pretty good at pitching horseshoes, but it wasn’t uncommon for her to beat me at it.  She loved to dance, and would fly around the dance floor with me when a polka was played.  She was a great cook with an even better sense of humor. After eating one of her meals, I complimented her on it, commenting that she must really like cooking.  “John,” she said, “of all my wifely duties, cooking is real low on the list of things I enjoy doing; right next to sex.”

We lived in Marquette from 1998 through 2004, and were able to spend much quality time with Bertha when she was diagnosed with leukemia in the year 2000.  Once again that special bond between mother and daughter came to the fore as Gwen took her to doctor appointments, helped her with her medications and assisted her sister, Patti, who, following a divorce,  had moved back home with her parents, and was the primary caregiver. 

On a bitter cold morning in January of 2004, the telephone rang at 5:30 a. m.  I picked up the receiver and heard Patti say, “John, we lost mom this morning.”  My tears told Gwen what the call was about.  Two days later, at her mom’s wake, I was not surprised when my wife, a somewhat private person who didn’t enjoy speaking before a group, insisted on kneeling  beside her mother’s casket and leading the gathering of friends and relatives in reciting the rosary—still her mother’s best friend.  

And, I was proud to kneel beside her.

Happy memories of you and your mom, Dear, enjoy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I would watch her
in wonder
sitting quietly
knitting a sleeve
on the sweater
she made just for me,
putting on makeup
she never needed,
gazing at her reflection
in the mirror
as she brushed her hair.

She might
catch me
give me a smile
and capture me
with a wink—
assurance of what was—
of what was yet to be.

I would tell her
how my heart filled
to overflowing
each time
I saw her
as though
for the very first time,
and breathed a prayer
of thanksgiving
that she loved me
as I loved her
beyond explanation.

John A. Bayerl, January 26, 2012

That's how it is tonight, Dear, beyond explanation.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Gwen and I returned from a shopping trip on Friday evening, September 25, 2006.  I noticed that the antenna on our telephone was blinking; announcing that we had missed a call and there was a message.  I pushed the Play button on the telephone, and the thick U. P accent of Gwen’s brother, Ted, filled the room.  “Gwen,” he said haltingly, obviously choking back emotions, “I just got a call from the nurse at the nursing home in Crystal Falls.  Dad passed away at 7:05 this evening.”  He then went on to tell us about funeral plans, but we only partially heard them.  The news was not unexpected.  Casimir, or, as his friends knew him, Barney, was 90 years old, and had been in failing health.  Nevertheless, the news of the death of a loved one is always sudden.  We had called Barney on a weekly basis, and our conversations with him hadn’t contained any indications that his death was imminent. 

Just four months before this we had received the devastating news that Gwen had Stage IV lung cancer.  We had not told her father about it; feeling that, in spite of the grim prognosis, ongoing treatments had at that point stabilized her condition, and there was no point in adding to his burden.    We now made reservations at a motel in Iron River, and prepared for the long trip to the U. P. to bid him a final farewell.

Specific requests concerning his funeral that Barney had made were honored.  His casket was surrounded by his “toys:” a fly rod, his hunting rifle, a pair of snowshoes, and his favorite pair of boots.  Deer horns and beaver pelts were also on display.  And, oh yes, there were some traps there too.  He lay in his coffin in full glory—wearing a red and black plaid flannel shirt and wool hunting pants.  On his head he wore a hunting cap that matched his shirt.  As a tribute to his beloved wife, Bertha, his hands, roughened by years of hard work, held a rosary; even that, out of character as it may have been, seemed OK.

As I stood before his casket with Gwen, our four children and three grandchildren, I reflected on how my relationship with him had grown over the years.  A relationship that began with a gruff NO! when I told him of my desire to marry his daughter, to grudging acceptance and numerous misadventures as he tried to make me into the kind of man he wished I had been had evolved into an easy friendship.  I was grateful that there was no unfinished business between us.

As I turned and walked away from his casket I saw a pedestal, and on it was his most treasured possession; the book that Gwen had typed and I had gotten printed and bound for him.  The name of the book was in gold lettering on the cover:  Memoirs of a Hunter, Trapper, Fisherman and Jack-of-all-Trades by Casimir Arthur Bartczak. 

I thank him for his daughter, my soul mate for 50 years.   In spite of our rocky beginning, I grew to love him, and I miss him.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


This is a post that I made a year ago.  It feels right to reprise it today.  

Shortly after my daughters had done me the favor of removing all of Gwen's belongings from our home, I found a drawer they had forgotten to empty. The drawer was filled with undergarments. Most of them were "everyday"undies. However, way down on the bottom of the drawer were two pair of black silk panties.

Others who have suffered the loss of a loved one have told me about how it's often the discovery of little things that make it so difficult to adjust to the "new normal" of living without the normalcy provided by one who died. 

Gwen and I were both born and raised in the U. P. It goes without saying that a proper "Yooper Woman" wouldn't wear those black, silk panties on just any occasion. They were meant for special events, as I allude to in the poem. And, I, a "Yooper Man" to the core, understood that better than anyone. It is the reminders of those special events that comprised our life together that now conspire to prevent me from dashing headlong into whatever the "new normal" is to become for me. As far as I'm concerned, the "old normal" was just fine--at least for a while longer.


Black silk panties
with frilly lace around the edges,
how they teased and pleased me
on those special times she wore them,
birthdays, anniversaries, nights out,
a hotel room in Las Vegas.

Now they lie in a box
there on the closet floor
so out place, on their bed
of white cotton underpants,
like the living among the dead.
And they tease me still.

John A. Bayerl
December 16, 2010

While there is the risk that special things with their special meanings will keep me tied to the past and prevent me from becoming the strong, centered person Gwen asked me to be after she was gone; I know that I will get to that point eventually. As I've told my children; it will take as long as it takes. Meanwhile, I find great delight and no harm in enjoying the teasing reminders of my perfect partner that I happen to encounter. I believe them to be messages from her.

This morning I drove to a charter school in Pontiac and observed a student teacher doing a superb job of teaching fifth-grade students how to do long division.  On the way home, an hour drive, I found myself feeling that lonesome longing for Gwen that occurs for no apparent reason.  

In the afternoon I got to the gym, something my body has been telling me I need to do.  I feel so much better when those endorphins start circulating.

You are very much with me today, Dear.

Monday, January 23, 2012


We walk in eternity
you where time is no more
I where time is measured
by teardrops.

Do you also weep
for me
during that blink of an eye
until we meet again?

Trusting in hope
 we walk
side by side
where time is all
I have.

John A. Bayerl, January 23, 2012

It's a foggy, chilly, rainy Monday morning.  How could one not be in a reflective mood?  It feels good to be back home.  My day didn't start off well.  Water was leaking from under the sink; the garbage disposal had sprung a leak.  Replacing it is one of those things like putting new tires on a car; not much to show for it but the peace of mind that comes with knowing things are in their proper order.  Gwen had a good philosophy about this sort of thing; get it fixed right away and do it right. I called a plumber, we now have a  new disposal.

Yesterday, on impulse, I bought a bouquet of roses, remembering how much Gwen liked them: today they look so bright and pretty on an otherwise dismal day.  Hope does spring eternal.  

This is another of those mornings, Dear, when I so wish  you  were here, by my side. On my way home from the U. P. I stopped for a cup of coffee at the Mc Donald's at The Bridge.  There was a woman in line ahead of me who looked like you.  For just a moment, my mind was flooded with thoughts of sitting with you and enjoying a cup of coffee, as we so often did.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Family, Friends and A Funeral

I was great having breakfast with my sister, Cookie, and her husband, Bob, this morning.  Bob cooked me a great omelet, and then we headed off to church for Ray's funeral.  The church is kitty corner from the old brick school where I attended grades K-7.  What memories that brought back.  The Little Room, then The Big Room.  Locking the teacher in the cloak room. . .

I felt strange viewing Ray in his casket.  Of course, it brought back memories of when it was my sweet Gwen to whom I said goodbye.  Later in the day I took a drive by myself to the farm where I grew up, and I felt such a complete sadness, and I wept.  I'm wrestling with this.  What am I sad about?  Of course, I miss Gwen every single moment of every single day, but beyond that there is something I can't quite put my finger on yet.  I think I need to write a poem about it; it has to do with trying to rebuild a life with a big hole in the middle.  There's also a sense of regret that I didn't enjoy as fully as possible all the moments of joy that Gwen and I shared together.  I have to think about this in the car tomorrow.

In the afternoon I visited with a friend with whom I've had many e-mail contacts.  It was a welcoming homecoming.

In the evening I had dinner with my best friend from high school, Bob, his wife Carol, and Jim, a cousin.  Perfect!  Later, although I was tired, Bob was able to talk me into a visit to his home.  I'm so glad I did.  He has completely remodeled an older home, building all the cabinets and closets himself.  It was good to relax for a while with an old friend.

This is kind of hodge-podge, but I needed to write down some words.

Gosh, how I missed you today, Dear, it was just wrong that you weren't with me.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


It was he who taught me
to throw a curve ball
hit a 7 iron
dip shiny Smelt
from  a cold, spring creek
when we were just kids.

It was he who
blessed us with his presence
and asked us
to repeat the words
with this ring
until death do us part
and then said
go ahead, kiss her.

Now today I hear
that he has died
and it is my turn
to recall
when he once again
blessed us with his presence
in a time of deep sorrow
seeking only solace
and understanding
and we did all
that we could do
and it was enough.

He has left the peace
he had in this world
For a greater peace by far
he knows our sorrow
we remember the blessing
of his presence.
John A. Bayerl, January 18, 2012
on the occasion of Fr. Raymond Hoefgen’s death.

Today I heard that Ray died of a heart attack yesterday.  He was a first cousin, we played together as youngsters, then he went off to be a priest, and I went about living my life.  Surely it was not a coincidence that Ray was ordained as a priest the week before Gwen and I were married.  I served as an usher at his ordination.  The next Saturday he officiated at Gwen's and my marriage.  Then we lost touch with each other except for occasional contacts until about ten years ago when Gwen and I were living in Marquette.  While there we had a visit from Ray right after he had received some devastating news.  I won't go into detail about that; it's not important anymore.  On that occasion Gwen and I were able to be with Ray as witnesses to his pain.  We felt that life had come full circle.  Ray will be missed.  He blessed everyone with his presence.

Tomorrow I will take the long trip to Menominee for Ray's funeral on Friday.  

Today I had intended to write about yesterday when I had healing and rewarding talks with my friend Carl, then Bob, and in the evening Mary.   Sometimes I need reminders that I am not in this alone.

I was so proud of you that night Dear, when you opened our front door and your heart to Ray.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


(An aside:  Based on what I've read on a lot of blogs, this is not what comes to peoples' minds when the word beaver is mentioned.)

I loved my work as a school counselor, and even now am proud to say that there was never a Monday morning when I didn’t look forward to arriving at school.  I wasn’t prepared to retire from that job in the fall of 1997 when I was contacted about a position as director of the K-12 Michigan School Guidance Counseling Program at Northern Michigan University, my alma mater.  I flew to Marquette and had an interview with the Deans of The College of Education and Graduate School as well as a committee of Education School faculty.  Shortly thereafter I was offered the position.  They liked my unique combination of personal, professional and political experiences, and, much later, one of the Deans who had interviewed me confided that I had “saved their butts” because they had written a description of a program that required someone like me who was somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades (Where have I seen that word before?) professionally, and they had no idea whether or not such a person might exist. 

Gwen and I didn’t hesitate about deciding to accept the position at NMU.  All four of our children had completed college and were successfully started in their careers.    In addition to the professional and personal challenge the move to NMU offered me, it was also an opportunity for Gwen to be near her parents, who were now becoming advanced in age.  She would also be near her brother, who lived in Rock, and her sister who lived with her parent in Gaastra.

I accepted the position with NMU with the provision that I be allowed to complete the school year at Huron High School.  They agreed, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.  Well, not exactly, there were some  nagging details that would need to be attended to, beginning with the fact that Gwen wouldn’t be able to join me in Marquette until her birthday early in October, when she would be eligible to retire from her nursing position with the UM Hospitals.  We had come full circle; whereas early in our relationship it was I who drove 115 miles to be with her on the weekends, it was now she who would drive to be with me on weekends.  A major difference, of course, was that  it was 420 miles from Ann Arbor to Marquette.  She didn’t make that trip alone too often.  During the summer one of our children might accompany her, and, during breaks in my schedule I would make the trip to Ann Arbor.  No matter how we did it, our reunions after a week apart were always reminiscent of those long days we were apart the year before we married.  It seemed that even then, 35 years into our marriage, we continued to take the part about travelling the road of life together quite literally.

As things turned out, our move to the U. P. could not have been better timed as far as Gwen’s relationship with her family was concerned.  She had always been very close to her mother, and was now able to visit whenever she felt like driving over to see her.  Sadly, shortly thereafter her mother was diagnosed with leukemia.  With her nursing background, and with the help of her sister, Gwen was able to be of loving assistance to her mother until she died early in 2004.  Her father, Barney, never got over the death of his wife of more than 60 years. He became quite frail and fragile, and, shortly after Gwen and I returned to live in Ann Arbor in 2004, it became necessary to have him placed in a nursing home in Crystal Falls, where he died in 2006. 

It was not all sad times with Gwen and her family.  Often I would accompany her on visits to Gaastra, and by now Barney and I had become, if not good friends, at least two people who could spend time together alone in a car as I accompanied him on many trips he asked me to take with him.  Most of these trips were on “Forestry Roads” in the midst of State and National Forests where he had spent so much of his life hunting, trapping and fishing.  I now regret that I didn’t record those conversations as Barney relived his younger years.  It is fair to say that his life had certainly not been a boring one. 

On one of our visits the subject of trapping again arose when Barney asked me to accompany him as he checked some traps he had set earlier that week.  This was early in April, when beaver pelts were prime, whatever that meant, the best time to trap them. I readily agreed to accompany him, seeing this as my chance to finally, 35 years later, redeem myself for my faux pas during our previous trapping misadventure involving my spitting on the trap he had carefully set.  We got into his pickup and headed down the road toward Chicagouan Lake.  Our first stop was on a side road where a culvert crossed under it.  Barney told me that he had set an otter trap there; he rambled off into the underbrush and soon returned with a beautiful otter in his hands. 

Our next and last stop was at the spillway of a dam that formed a pond at the cottage he had once owned but since sold to a Coca-Cola salesman from Houghton.  Shortly before arriving there we had come across a place where beaver had built a dam in a creek, causing it to flood over the road.  The Department of Natural Resources had come in to remove the dam, and a local wag had posted a sign that read Beavers 1, DNR 0. 

The beavers were quite a nuisance in this way, and Barney had set a beaver trap, hoping to remove at least one of what were considered to be pests.   He carefully made his way down a steep embankment, and I recall feeling saddened by the sight of this once strong man, whom I remembered striding confidently through the woods, now bent over and stiff with age.  He was in his early 80s at this time.  He managed to get to the stream below the spillway, and then called my name, saying that he would need some help with the beaver in his trap.  “It’s at least a blanket,” he said.  As I later learned, the beaver’s pelt would be measured both vertically and horizontally at its furthest points, and then those two measurements were added together.  It the resultant total was between 60 and 70 inches it was called a “blanket”, if the total were more than 70, it was called a “super blanket.”  These terms had greater meaning when beaver trapping was a livelihood for some, and the pelts they had acquired were offered for sale.  For today, they meant that Barney had a beaver that was too large for him to carry up the embankment, and he needed my help.  I took no pleasure in knowing that things had now come full circle with Barney and me.  I scrambled down the bank and grabbed the beaver by its back legs.  It was heavy, must have weighed at least 40 pounds, but this was not a time to show weakness.  If it were today, I would say that I “manned up” and carried the beaver up the steep embankment as though it were something I did every day. 

When we arrived back at the house, after taking a few pictures, Barney placed the beaver on a table he had for this purpose and began removing its pelt.  When he had completed that, he laid it on a flat surface and measured its length and width; “63 inches, it’s a blanket,” he announced.  He then placed the hide in a refrigerator in the garage and told me he would later that day salt it down and send it to a place in Wisconsin where it would be tanned.  We then crossed the back alley into the woods behind the house and cut a couple of willow saplings that were just beginning to show spring buds.  Barney cut the sapling into what he judged to be a suitable length and then instructed me to peel them, which I did.  He then showed me how to bend the supple wood into a circle, securing the joints by wrapping them with a rawhide shoe lace.  The frame was then hung to dry on a nail on the wall of the garage. Eventually, it would serve as a frame for stretching the pelt he had just removed from the beaver.

Late in the summer of that year, on one of our visits to Gaastra, Barney informed me that the beaver hide had been returned from the tannery and was ready to be stretched on the frame we had made.  He showed me how to carefully punch holes in the skin at the proper intervals, thread a nylon cord through the holes, and then tie the cord onto the frame, thus stretching and mounting the beaver skin.  I succeeded in doing that in a way that met even Barney’s exacting standards, and, although we both knew that I still left much to be desired as far as being  a trapper was concerned, I admitted to a sense of pride as I beheld my handiwork, and knew I had moved along on the jack-of-all-trades front.  Barney made my day by telling me I could keep it.  For several years I proudly displayed that hide on garage wall in Marquette.  When we returned to Ann Arbor it remained in storage in the basement until our eldest son moved into a new home with a recreation room with a wall that begged for a beaver skin.  My son took a picture of it and sent it to me:

Monday, January 16, 2012


The curves
on County Highway 424
the rotary in Alpha
the loops
through the woods
near the shore
of Chicaugoan Lake
past the birch tree
once young and supple
where you stood
for only me to see.

Once again
I trace our route
this time alone
recalling those times
but especially
the night we wed
when all was perfect
for us
only knowing
when we held tight
to each other
it was
times forever.

John A. Bayerl, January 16, 2012

 The house seems empty again today, and hollow; since Anne returned to her home in Dallas. I'm in one of those sentimental moods where it doesn't take much to start the tears flowing.  Healthy tears as I call them.  

I write a lot about the past, Dear, but I miss you constantly in the present.  The poem is about things that maybe only you and I know about.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Light, fluffy
Warms my heart
Like cake from oven

John A. Bayerl,  January 13, 2012

That's how the snow is today, it's like living in a snow globe. No wind, it falls straight down.  Yes, snow can inspire warm feelings, even warmer memories.  Always of precious times with Gwen.  This is what we thought winter should be like; that and bright, crisp sunny days when the snow crunched and crackled as we walked together.

Down here, in the land of trolls, we most often get what I call rusty snow.  No more need be said about what that's like--think salt, slush, sloppy and that other word that begins with an s.

It's good to have Anne with me today.  She will leave later for a wedding in Detroit.  Until then,  it's good to have her lively presence and spirit.

It's an emotional roller coaster.  Today, no tears, Julian of Norwich's words again come to mind: "All will be well, and all will be well, all manner of things shall be well."  At least today;  inside the snow globe.

Time to go shovel some of that frosting.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Tearful Day

Yesterday was a bummer of a day all around.  To begin with it was the 12th— fourteen months since Gwen died.  It was a cold rainy day. 

Last Sunday I let a friend talk me into auditioning for a men’s singing group that he belongs to, and today they informed me that they weren't going to invite me to join them.   (I find any sort of rejection, real or perceived, quite difficult to deal with since Gwen died.)  I so wanted to talk about my disappointment with Gwen, she would always understand and have the right things to say.  I don’t know how many times today I’ve wanted to go down to her bedroom and talk with her.

Later in the morning I attended a lecture by a professor from UM.  He spoke on humor in Shakespeare’s works.  Not only was the talk informative, it was also entertaining—he spoke in character as a Shakespearean actor.  As much as I enjoyed the lecture, as I looked around the crowded room, I couldn’t help but notice that almost all the people there, most of them my age and older, were sitting with their mates.  As I walked through the parking lot afterwards I cried.

Yesterday afternoon I went to the gym for an hour; that always helps—yesterday, not so much. 

Then, I decided to see a movie, and, of course, it was in the theater where Gwen and I enjoyed being with each other, and I sat in the seats we always sat in, and it just didn’t seem possible that not that long ago she would have been sitting next to me, holding my hand or sharing a bag of popcorn with me.  On my way home from the theater I had to pull into a parking lot for a while because I was crying. 

I talked with son Mike out in Pennsylvania, and he reminded me, as son John has also done in the past,  that it’s been a long time since I’ve had to be alone, and it will take a lot of getting used to.  Sooner or later, one-half of the partners in a loving, committed relationship will have to get used to being alone.  (I know, there will be a few lucky ones who die together in a plane crash or as their house burns around them, but, mostly. . .)  So, I get that, you're on your own again. . .it was so much easier when I was twenty years old.

Anne will be home from Dallas for a visit today—exquisite timing.

I know you want me to be strong and get on with life, Dear, and when Izzy called and thanked me for her belated birthday gift, I understood that being available and being grandpa/grandma who doesn't forget birthdays and anniversaries is so important. Also, I saw you  in Izzy; through her mother, our daughter. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN AND BARNEY Part 3, The Word Processor is Mightier Than the Sword.

After the trapping fiasco, Barney made one last attempt to make me into the kind of son-in-law he had hoped for. He invited me into the most sacrosanct corner of his life—on a Sunday early in November he informed me that I would spend the next weekend at deer camp. 

Now, given the choice between spending time with Barney and his cronies in a cold, snowy, miserable swamp somewhere west of Iron River or being entertained in the warmth of his home by his beautiful daughter and his wife, who had, like her daughter, become quite fond of me, it is obvious how that decision would be made by any sane person.  However, I was insanely in love with the daughter, so it behooved me to do what I could to try gain favor with her father, even if it meant taking part in what would in all likelihood be another failed attempt to measure up to Barney’s standards for manhood. 

When I arrived the next Friday night Barney and his son, my future brother-in-law, Ted, were packed and ready to head out to camp.  Gwen and I lived for these weekends together, but she understood the great significance of this event, and, with a smile and kiss goodbye, sent me on my way. 

It was quite late by time we arrived at camp, an old, 32 foot Air Stream camper, and, after introductions to Leo and Albert, Barney’s friends, we headed off to our bunks.  Morning would come early.  I was awakened at 5:00 the next morning and, after a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes, pancakes and bacon, Barney presented me with one of his old rifles and showed me how to use it.  Then, it was off to the woods.  In the middle of November, at the extreme western edge of the Eastern Time Zone, it is very dark at 6:00 in the morning.  Yet, Barney was totally at home in the woods, with or without light, and we set out by starlight into the swamp.  In a half hour or so we arrived on a ridge that overlooked a stream and open meadow.  Barney pointed out a stump near a giant white pine tree and told me that this would be my post.  He said that when a deer with horns walked through the meadow I was to shoot it.  “Yes sir”, I said.  Then he left me there alone.  I took solace in the fact that there was quite a bit of snow on the ground and I would be able to follow our trail back to the camp if Barney decided to solve his son-in-law problem by simply leaving me there in the middle of the wilderness.  He didn’t share a lot, so I never knew what he was thinking. 

It was a long day.  I had a thermos of coffee and some bologna sandwiches, but no books to read, and it was impossible to write with the heavy gloves I was wearing.  Although I had an unobstructed view of the meadow below, it had begun to snow, and it would not be possible for me to determine the species of any critter that might pass through, much less determine if there were horns on its head.   My feet were cold, my hands were cold and everything in between was cold, but I stuck it out for the day.  The gun was never fired.  Late in the afternoon Ted came by to bring me back to camp.  I slept well that night, and in the morning announced that I was going back to town.  No one tried to change my mind. 

Many years later Gwen and I moved to Marquette, where I worked at NMU for a few years as director of their school counselor training program, and Gwen was able to be near her parents and sister, who had recently divorced and was living with them.  It was during one of our visits with Gwen’s folks in Gaastra that I noticed Barney writing in a spiral notebook.  I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that he was writing his memoirs.  At last! I had an opportunity to prove myself.  I asked Barney whether I could take a look at what he had written, and he obliged by produced several spiral notebooks filled with his writing.  In it were several chapters (He called them articles.) describing events in his life beginning with early childhood. Like the man himself, what he wrote was mainly descriptive, not a lot of heart and soul in it; what you saw was pretty much what you got—but, charming nonetheless.  “Barney”, I said, “If you’d like, I can take some of these with me and type them up for you.”  He wasn’t anxious to let the books out of his sight, but reluctantly agreed to let me have them.

For the next several months Gwen and I devoted ourselves to typing up Barney’s memoirs.  The word processor on our computer soon contained many files with his name on them.  He, of course, assumed that we were typing them on a manual Remington typewriter, and, in fact, at one time asked whether we were using carbon paper to make copies of what we typed.  Each time we visited in Gaastra we would return his notebooks to him in exchange for new ones.  Eventually he was satisfied that he had remembered all that he was going to remember.

Gwen and I completed typing Barneys’ memoirs, in point of fact, it was Gwen who did most of the typing, and I began the task of editing the material into a book.  There would be chapters on his early life, education, working in the mines, and, of course, hunting, fishing, trapping and being a jack-of-all-trades.  Gwen did an amazing job of adding life to his words and correcting historical and family inaccuracies, and we were ready to print it all up.  I took what we had printed to a local shop that bound dissertations and had them make several hard-bound copies of it.  Of course, the title on the spine, in gold letters, was “Memoirs of a Hunter, Trapper, Fisherman and Jack-of-all-trades, by Casimir Arthur Bartczak.  We wrapped the box of books and presented it to Barney as a Christmas gift.  Barney was never without an opinion on anything, and I had never seen him speechless until he opened that box.  He took out one of the books, looked at it, smelled it, felt its weight, took out his reading glasses, and began thumbing through it with something that could only be described as reverence. He headed off to his bedroom where he spent the day reading his book. 

The next time we saw Barney he paid me the highest of compliments by saying that I had done a good job of making what had now become “his book;” but, here was list of some things that would have to be corrected and changed in the next edition.  He had already begun remembering a slew of other articles that should have been included and was busy writing them.  We eventually completed three editions of his memoirs, and a copy of it is contained in the Iron River Library.  During his later years Barney’s health began to fail and he was confined to a nursing home in Iron River.  The last time Gwen and I saw him before he died, I remember saying goodbye to him as we were preparing to leave, and he asked me where his book was.  He was blind at this time.  His book was on a shelf near his be; I picked it up and handed it to him.  He lovingly held his book in his hands. “Thank you, John,” he said. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Your beautiful handwriting
one of the many things
I loved about you.

I see it now
on envelopes addressed to me,
neatly in the corner

Box 558
Gaastra, Mich.

No MI or Zip Code
not then
just beautiful handwriting.

What a treasure
I hold in my hand,
trace with my finger,

All you left behind
all that awaits.

John A. Bayerl, February 26, 2011

Can it be 50 years, Dear, since you took a pen in your hand and wrote my name on this envelope?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Adventures of John and Barney, Part 2, The Trap

Although it wasn’t necessary for me to ask Barney a second time for permission to marry his daughter, Gwen and I did a have a long conversation with him and Bertha about our wedding plans.  Part of that conversation involved asking Barney whether he would be willing to help out with the wedding.  “Sure,” Barney replied, “I’ll hold the ladder when you elope.”  This wasn’t exactly the full-blown blessing for our proposed nuptials that we had hoped we might get, but, it was a start.

Over time Barney gradually accepted my presence in the life of his family, if for no other reason than I spent every weekend at his house beginning in July of 1962 and on into what seemed to Gwen and me an interminable time until the wedding date we had set as June 8, 1963.  I would arrive at his house on Friday evening and leave on Sunday evening.  

When I arrived on one of those weekends he had a surprise for me.

Barney was well aware of my deficiencies as far as being a hunter, trapper, fisherman and jack-of-all-trades was concerned.  And, nowhere was I more sorely lacking than in the trapping area.  He was not impressed when I told him about my success at trapping mice in the barn on the farm and setting snares for rabbits in the cedar swamp below our house.  He set about to correct this flaw in my resume by announcing on Sunday night, as I was leaving, that I should bring some old clothes next weekend—we were going coyote trapping. 

There was no longer a bounty on them, but Barney was not a fan of coyotes; he saw them as sly, cunning predators that did nothing other than prey on deer herds.  When he got on his soapbox about coyotes, as he would with only the slightest provocation, he would say that when all the people are gone from the face of the earth there will still be one coyote running around.

When I arrived on the next Friday night, Barney was already involved in some sort of pre-trapping ritual that involved a fire pit beneath a cast iron black cauldron filled with a foul-smelling elixir made of water, hemlock bark, and something called logwood powder.  To this day, I have no idea what logwood powder is other than that Barney got it from Herb Lenon, a trapping guru in Engadine.  The traps we were going to use the next day were immersed in the boiling liquid to remove their shine and any human scent. 

Before retiring for the night Barney had me help him pack a knapsack with several items including a canvas drop cloth, a wooden frame with a screen over it, rubber gloves, a garden trowel, a roll of waxed paper, and a small packet of something that Barney called scent.  Scent, also acquired from Herb Lenon, would be used as bait for the traps.  I asked what it was, and all I could deduce from Barney’s explanation was that it had something to do with dried reproductive glands of the animals we were going to trap.  I could hardly sleep that night, wondering whatever we were going to do with the contents of that knapsack on the next day, and, more importantly, would I be up to Barney’s standards for becoming a trapper?  Would I be able to someday say to Gwen: “Hon, let’s go for a ride over to Engadine; I have to get some scent and logwood powder from Herb Lenon?”

We arose at sunrise the next morning, ate the hearty breakfast that Gwen and Bertha prepared for us, and then loaded up Barney’s four-wheel drive Toyota pickup.  We didn’t have very far to drive, but there was time for conversation.  The topic of marriage never arose; instead we talked about the merits of fly-fishing with a muddler minnow as opposed to spin-casting with a Meppes Spinner as a preferred way to catch brook trout.  I could see what Barney was up to here; he was going for a twofer.  He was not only chipping away at my trapping deficiency, he was throwing in a little work on the fishing problem.  Hunting and jack-of-all-trading would have to wait for another day.

It wasn’t long before we were bumping down a two-track “Forestry Road”, as Barney called it.  We arrived at what looked like an abandoned gravel pit, and Barney announced that this was a good place to set a trap for a wily coyote.  He slung the knapsack over his shoulders and headed down a trail into the woods.  Now my serious training in trapping began.  Wherever there happened to be a bare spot of dirt on the trail I was instructed to avoid stepping there so that I wouldn’t leave a track.  “Geeze,” I thought to myself, “those coyotes must be awful smart to be able to see our tracks and know that we were carrying paraphernalia  that would be used to bring about their demise.”   Barney set me straight on this; he didn’t want any other trappers who might stumble upon our trail to discover where he was going to set the traps and come back later to steal whatever he had caught.

Apparently there is no honor among thieves.

Before too long, we stopped at what Barney determined was a spot where a coyote was likely to pass on its way to prey on a herd of deer.   Now my education really began.  First, he carefully spread the canvas drop cloth on the ground.  Barney knelt on it, put on the rubber gloves, took the trowel in his hands and began to dig a hole in the ground.  For reasons not clear to me, this couldn’t be just an ordinary hole in the ground; it had to be dug at a 45 degree angle and, of course, be large enough to accommodate the trap that Barney had carefully laid on the canvas.  As he dug the hole, Barney carefully took each trowel full of dirt and sifted it through the screen device.  He explained that the dirt would later be used to bury the trap, and care had to be taken to remove any pebbles or other objects that could jam the mechanism.  I noted that everything involved in this operation was done with extreme care so as to not leave any human scent for wily coyote to sniff.

When he judged that the hole was of proper pitch, depth and dimensions the trap was set and carefully placed in the hole.  He then sprinkled the mysterious scent powder over it, and covered it with waxed paper, another precaution taken so that dirt couldn’t jam the mechanism.  Still wearing the rubber glove, Barney used the trowel to carefully place the filtered dirt on the waxed paper covering the trap.  Last, he broke a limb from a nearby evergreen tree and used it as a broom to smooth the dirt over the trap.  We were done.  

Barney stood up and I helped him pack the equipment back into the knapsack.  Feeling every bit a fully chartered member of the society of those who set traps for coyotes, I cleared my throat, and, as is the custom of men when they have completed a manly task, I spit—on the ground—the freshly smoothed ground that covered the trap.

To his credit, Barney didn’t get a gun out of the pickup and shoot me on the spot.  He simply sighed, shrugged his shoulders, leaned over, dug out the trap, and loaded it in the truck.  “Time to go home,” he said.  We didn’t talk much on the way home.  I didn’t think it was a good time to try to impress him with my qualifications as a future son-in-law.  

Fortunately, his daughter Gwen, the love of my life, was an adamant foe of trapping; she and I were in agreement that it was cruel and unnecessary.  She didn’t think that I was a bad person for doing what I did; in fact, she got a good laugh out of it.  

It would be 30 years before Barney took me on another trapping excursion with him.  It would have none of the drama of my first episode with him, but would be far more poignant.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Adventures of John and Barney,; Part 1--The Engagement

A year ago I began writing this blog as a memorial to Gwen, my wife, who died on November 12, 2010.  Over the past year I have posted 353 blogs and written 152 poems.

During the past ten years I have also participated in a memoir-writing group here in Ann Arbor.  Soon after Gwen's death I wrote a series of memoirs about her parents, in particular, her father.  This is the first installment of that endeavor,   Parts of this have appeared in other of my posting.

Although Casimir Bartczak was his given name, no ever called him anything but Barney; except when his wife, Bertha, said “Casimir” in the way that only wives can do when their husband has committed some unpardonable offense, often associated with mud and other forms of dirt.  

To say that Barney and I did not hit it off at first would be an understatement of the highest order. 

Barney and Bertha lived with their family of one son and two daughters in a little town called Gaastra, near Iron River, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He was a second generation Polish-American, who, along with so many other immigrants, worked in the iron mines in and around Iron River.  His job, far underground, was to drill holes in deposits of iron ore and then blast it with dynamite.  When not at work he was a hunter, trapper, fisherman and self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades.

On October 22, 1961, I met Barney’s daughter, Gwendolyn, at a float-decorating party in conjunction with homecoming festivities at Northern Michigan College, where I was entering my senior year and she her sophomore year.  We dated, fell madly in love, and, in the spring of 1962, decided that we should get married.  This was not a lightly taken decision.  The mine where Barney worked had closed, and he was without a job.  My parents struggled to make a living on a farm near Menominee, on the Michigan/Wisconsin border.  If we were to marry, we would have to bear most of the cost on our own.  Gwen would have to drop out of college, not an easy decision for a scholarship student.  I would have to get a teaching job.  We decided that we would both work for a year, save what we could, and celebrate our love for each other by getting married at the end of that year, in spite of the challenges involved.  Our motto became “Love will find a way.”

Gwen discussed our plans with her parents; they weren’t in favor of them. They felt that at age 19 she was too young, and, besides, she would be throwing away all that scholarship money.  It was obvious that I would have to talk with them and declare my intentions. 

Bertha liked me, and told me that although Gwen would be my wife, I must always remember that she is her daughter first and foremost.  “Sure”, I said.

 Barney was in the front yard, sitting in a lawn chair, smoking his pipe and enjoying the early summer sun.  I pulled up a lawn chair next to him, cleared my throat, and said, in my most manly voice,  “Barney, I love Gwen very much and would like your permission to marry her.” 

Barney did not even do me the honor of pretending to ponder my request.  He took the pipe out of his mouth, looked at me with his icy blue eyes, and said, “No.”   

I knew what those iron ore deposits must have felt like when Barney appeared carrying his drill and sticks of dynamite.    

He then turned away, fiddled with his pipe, and pretended to be busy sharpening his skinning knife.  His tone of voice had told me that there was no point in trying to continue discussing my intentions with him.  I returned to the house to confer with the love of my life and my intended mother-in-law.  I’d like to say that we hatched some elaborate scheme to change Barney’s mind, but we didn’t.  Bertha simply said, “I’ll talk to him.”  She did, and soon Gwen and I resumed our wedding plans.  I have never heard the details of just how it came to be that Bertha was able to change Barney’s mind, suffice it to say that my respect for a pint-sized Italian-American woman named Bertha went up considerably after that. 

Gwen and I were married 47 years, five months and four days before she died.  I spent that time loving her with all my heart and soul and trying to gain the good graces of Barney—not an easy thing for a farm kid who didn’t know a lot about hunting, trapping, fishing and being jack-of-all -trades.  He once asked me: “John, is there anything at all that you’re any good at?”  “I think I’m a pretty good writer,” I said.   Those were not words that a hunter, trapper, fisherman and jack-of-all-trades hoped to hear from his future son-in-law.  Ironically, it was Barney’s writing that eventually became the basis for a bond between us.

 My next adventure with Barney involves his desire to teach me the skills of trapping.  Even had I been willing to learn, that was not going to be an easy task.  With my knack for instantly earning Barney’s displeasure, I made the task pretty much impossible.