Sunday, June 15, 2008

wish we could’ve stayed a few more days

So we’re back from Michigan. Our stay there was too short. It’s always too short. And I wish we could have stayed until at least tomorrow morning, but we had to get back to Connecticut for Ginger’s chemo on Friday.

I’ve been poking around Ancestry.com a bit—it always sucks me in. At any rate, I found the U.S. Census Record of 1930 for the inhabitants of 367 North Hawley [?] Avenue, Salem City, Ohio, a small town southwest of Youngstown. Living here in 1930 were John Fleming (32), his wife Mely [sic] H. (30), daughter Margaret (6), son John Jr. (4 1/2), son James (1 1/2), and brother Archie (35). My grandmother’s name was Mary, not Mely—I can only imagine that her Scot accent with its weird “r” sound came out as Mely to the census taker. James is my dad. Here is a portion of the entire page:

1930 US Census, John Fleming and family, snapshot

Here, if you click on the link, is the entire image, which is huge.

James Fleming, 1947

Dad was born in Washingtonville, Ohio in 1928. This town is even smaller than Salem, and due east of Salem. His father worked in the auto industry, and they moved to Detroit at some point, though I don’t know when (Dad, when did you move to Detroit?) Here is Dad’s graduation photo, from 1947. He lived at 7720 Vaughan Street, on the west side of Detroit, except for when he was in the Merchant Marines and later the U.S. Navy, with his parents and the above mentioned sister and brother plus Edwin, who was the baby of the family. Here are Dad and his siblings:

Edwin, James, Margaret, and John (Jack) Fleming
Edwin Fleming, James Fleming, Margaret Fleming, and John (Jack) Fleming Jr., c. 1949? (click to enlarge)

I love this photo, even though it’s pretty beaten up:

James and Edwin Fleming on the 'Flamingo'
Edwin and James Fleming aboard Dad’s boat, the ‘Flamingo’ (what else?) (click to enlarge)

Alice Elaine Dunn married James Fleming on November 6, 1954
Alice Elaine Dunn married James Fleming on November 6, 1954 (click to enlarge)

Dad was in the Merchant Marine, and later in the U.S. Navy (he served in Korea), and later a salesman. He was a salesman (selling sewing machines?) when he met my Mom at her workplace at a dry cleaner (?). They were married on November 6, 1954. They lived in Ann Arbor after they were first married, then moved to Wyandotte, then later to Trenton, Melvindale, then Southgate before retiring to Oscoda.

Dad worked as a salesman for Sherwin Williams, as a painter, and later had a couple of paint stores. But his most important job, the one he’s held for 52+ years now, is Dad. My Dad. Dad to Lee, Maureen, Jamie, Kelly, Scott, and Carolyn. Grandfather to Kristine, Aaron, Brian, James, Kate, Scott, Ben, and Leo.

Lee helping Dad paint, 1957
Dad and I argue over who gets the paintbrush, 1957 (click to enlarge)

image
James Fleming, 1968 (click to enlarge)

While working numerous jobs to support us all, Dad went to school at Eastern Michigan University to finish his degree and became a teacher in 1968. His first gig was as a science teacher at Davidson Junior High School in Southgate, Michigan, in 1968. I remember finding cow hearts and cow brains sitting in the kitchen sink—hands-on science project were never dull. He taught at the same schools I attended, first at Davidson and later at Southgate High School. It wasn’t too weird for me, except that he would bum lunch money off me in high school. He was a social studies teacher and the swimming coach at the high school, and was on the Southgate City Council for many years, until he retired.

Dad & Kristine in a campaign photo c. 1980
James Fleming holding granddaughter Kristine Mitroka (now Downey) for a City Council campaign photo, around 1980. (click to enlarge)

After Dad retired from teaching, he and Mom moved up to Oscoda, Michigan in 1993, to a big house surrounded by a golf course and very close to Lake Huron. Dad was the Zoning Administrator for Oscoda for a couple of years until the winters up there made the idea of spending winters in Panama City Beach, Florida, really attractive.

Here is another photo that I like a lot—there are more in a gallery I put up: go to the Gallery page and click on the category “Dad.” I haven’t had a chance to arrange them in any particular order yet, but I will. Please comment if you know more about the pictures that I do—I would love to get the dates and people straight!

Jim and Alice Fleming c 1980?
Jim and Alice, late 70s? Early 80s? (click to enlarge)

Maybe it makes me a rarity in this country, but I think I’m really lucky: I not only love my Dad, I like him. I love spending time with him and talking with him and even arguing with him, teasing him. He raised us to think, to question things, to learn. He always treats the females in his life like we have brains and deserve respect and he is a feminist, always has been (could be having a brilliant wife and five smart daughters had a lot of influence on this!)

Yep, I’m sure mistakes were made, slights went unforgiven by me for a while, but all of that was too long ago to matter now (I remember distinctly the moment I realized that I like my Dad and forgave him any mistakes—it was while dancing with him at my sister Jamie’s wedding way back in what, 1979? 1980?) Stanley and I look forward to going to Oscoda every chance we can because we just enjoy spending time with people we like. I admire my Dad, and respect him, and I’m in awe of his ability to handle taking care of Mom with such grace and such patience.

One more photo:

Jim Fleming, Oscoda, Michigan, taking a break on the porch
Dad, taking a break from caring for Mom to “read” on the porch, June 2008 (click to enlarge)

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

posted by lee on 06/15/08 at 11:32 AM

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