Fixing the Car

My grandfather often told of the times in the 1920s, when he was a young man and a good mechanic. Here’s a story of how his children helped him and he had to fix the car.1920 Chevy

In the 1920s we lived in Ingell’s Crossing, New York near Fulton and I had a Chevrolet. (similar to the one at left.)

I was going to take the children out for a ride (Marjorie, Bette, Robert, and Barbara) to where I was brought up one Sunday. It was the only day that we could go because I worked on the farm the rest of the week.

I thought I’d better change the oil in the car. Well, we had a couple of maple trees at the place, but they didn’t produce enough syrup so I bought some maple syrup. When the can was empty, I told the children to put it in the dump, so they did. Later I wanted to get the oil for the car, about four quarts, and I told the children to get me a gallon can. Well there were lots of cans there, but they picked the syrup can.

I went downtown and got the oil in it and put it in the car. Well, the next morning we started off. We had gotten as far a Sandy Creek when the children had to go to the bathroom. So I shut off the car and when they came back it wouldn’t start. I stepped on the switch, but it still wouldn’t start. I always carried tools in those days as I did all my own work on the car and I loosened the flywheel to the generator, it was loose, so I put it back and the car still wouldn’t start. So I got the crank out, but it wouldn’t budge.

The maple syrup left in the can had mixed with the oil and when I stopped it had gummed up the engine and set it up tight. I went to the neighbors, I was fortunate for there was a young lad nearby who did auto repair work. He came and tried it and said, “You’re set up, how come?” I said, “I don’t know.” It hadn’t come to me about the maple syrup yet. In those days it was easier to work on a car. We started at 8 a.m. and by 5 p.m. we had the whole engine apart. We took the head off and drained everything and took the base off with the oil in it and could see the maple syrup. We had to clean the whole engine with alcohol. When we finished there was a little squeak in it, but it would run. I said, “I’ll fix that.”

The next day I went down to the dealer and traded it for a new car.

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Tales and Tails of the Hospital

Graduation from nursing school, 1970

Graduation from nursing school, 1970

My sister, Linda,  near the end of her life spent a great deal of time in the hospital, and not because she was a nurse.

She was suffering from an auto-immune disease that relentlessly was wearing her body away.  It was not surprising, as she also suffered from psoriasis, which my maternal grandmother had and I do as well.   So those last few months, leading up to her death, were spent off and on in the hospital as her immune system faltered more and more.

My brother-in-law was a good husband.  There is no other way to put it.  He deeply cared for my sister and tried to make her last days comfortable, as she moved in and out of intensive care.    In the last six months of her life, she had virtually no immune system and any event might send her to the hospital.  Two stories illustrate how he cared for her in those last days.

Now those of you in health care out there, try not to be shocked or upset, as I guarantee these stories are not what you would expect.

We would often drive up on the weekends and she would ask us to go to the  local deli and get her a sandwich.  She loved reubens and I suspect that they weren’t often on the menu. One Sunday, we left to get her a sandwich and when we returned.  We noticed the oddest smell on the floor.  It smelled as if someone were frying french fries.   As we got closer to her room the odor got stronger and stronger.  When we looked in there was a deep fryer on the stand and he was cooking french fries for her.   We did not stay long, and I am not sure what the nursing staff said.   Perhaps they cut her some slack as they knew she was one of them and how ill she was at the end.

But it didn’t seem to phase either him or her.  He wanted so much to do something for her to ease her state and bring some happiness.

One one of our last visits, before she died, while we were there visiting her, he arrived late in the day.  We noticed something very odd as he came toward us.  There was a large bulge under his coat and sticking out the front was the very furry tail of her cat.    He had smuggled her cat into the hospital.   Now why the nurses didn’t see this is clearly beyond me, and why the cat allowed it, is also a mystery.  Perhaps the cat knew that she needed him at this moment.  We will never know, but it seemed to bring her great comfort, as she lay in her hospital bed to be soothed by the purr of her furry, good friend.

And so she left us in June 2002.  She had gone to the dentist as she had an abscessed tooth, the concurrent infection, coupled with her weakened system, brought on Septicemia.  She went into a coma, from which she never awakened.  She died at the age of 52; at peace at last.

When I think of her, which is quite often, I cannot help but think of french fries, cat tails — comfort food and comfort pets-and a man who went to great lengths for the one he loved.

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Close Encounters of the Deer Kind

Living in upstate New York, I have recently discovered, nearly every person has a story to tell of hitting a deer, or two or three.  (Actually numbers show that 80,262 people hit deer in recent years in New York.)Deer1

Now I realize some city folks only encounter with deer is watching “Bambi.”   The most dangerous part of that encounter is of course having to tell a small child what happened to Bambi’s mother.   That is not a fun thing, no matter how one deals with it, but it’s not the same thing as hitting a deer.

In our family my younger daughter holds the record of 4 deer [she didn’t actually hit them, they ran into the car].  So it is no surprise that having lived here now for nearly 25 years,  I have a story or stories to share as well.

Like UFOs there are three degrees of Deer encounters.

Deer Encounter One:   You see one or more deer along the road, they are clumped in groups. You eye them wearily and they pretend not to see you.  A variation on this is deer eye your landscaping greedily, and proceed to devastate it eating nearly everything in sight, but I digress.

Deer Encounter Two:  One or more deer bolt across the road.

For example, several years ago I was on the  New York State Thruway (yes that’s the way it’s spelled) and a deer came bounding down a hill ran across the 3 lanes of traffic and then discovered a barrier in the middle.   It turned around and headed back.   Now is this clear.  Deer.  Wall to wall cars going about 75 mph.  Nowhere to run; nowhere to hide.   So it came back as I approached it.  Luckily I saw it, hit the accelerator, and watched as it passed behind my car by inches. Then I stopped the car farther up the hill and checked to see if I was OK.  The van behind me wasn’t so lucky.

Deer Encounter Three:  You hit one or more deer, much to your dismay and your insurance company’s.

Two stories on this one.

2003:  My Oldest Daughter was on her way home Thanksgiving weekend driving north.  She thought, “I’ll drive in the inside lane so I have more room to maneuver if a deer comes on the road.”  Now you might think this is a good plan, unless of course you are a deer.  It came bounding across the interstate (see above for how this works) from the opposite side of the road, jumped a divider in the median,  and landed in front of her car.   As they say, “Deploy Air Bag.”  “Call Mom and Dad.”  “Tell them you are OK.”  “Rent a Car.”  Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.

2015:  My turn.  I was returning home from a church meeting in June.  It had just gotten dark and I was taking a back road which is not well lighted.  About half way home, suddenly I looked up and bang there was a deer right in front of me.  No time to react, I only got out “OH …..”   The car was still able to drive and I made it home.   So that was the end of that car. Deer Strike 001

The deer in our part of upstate New York have become a terrible problem.  They are over populated with no natural predators. While I know it dismays some folks to think that they are hunted and killed, hunters and automobiles now are the only way that these large herds are thinned each year.

I was lucky as were my daughters.

Unfortunately not all folks are.

Posted in American History, Deer accidents, deer strikes, Norvell Family History, NY, Social History | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Stevens Thompson Norvell (S) – A Michigan Legacy

Some families have names that seem to be handed down from one generation to the next , such was Stevens Thompson Norvell. Stevens rather than Steven or Stephen might seem to be an odd first name; well there is a reason for this.

Stevens Thompson Mason (born October 27, 1811 -died January 4, 1843) served as the first Governor of Michigan. He was born in Leesburg Virginia and in 1812 he moved to Kentucky where at one time his family lived at Henry Clay’s home “Ashland.” In 1830 his father John Mason was appointed Secretary of the Michigan Territory by President Jackson. In 1831 upon the resignation of his father he assumed the post. His appointment caused some indignation for he was only 19 at the time, but he was described as “modest, courteous, affable and spoke and wrote intelligently.” When John Norvell arrived in Michigan as the new postmaster of Detroit, he and Mason quickly became good friends and political allies. In a letter dated October 13, 1833, Mason wrote somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Mr. Norvell is improving rapidly in his Christianity he has purchased a pew and goes to Church once every Sunday.” Norvell took this kidding quite good-naturedly and the regard that he felt for Mason evidenced itself fully in the names of his sons: Stevens Thompson Norvell and John Mason Norvell.

There was only one John Mason Norvell, but the name Stevens Thompson Norvell lived on:

STEVENS THOMPSON NORVELL I    (born February 14, 1835 -died August 20, 1911, Colonel Stevens Thompson NorvellOgunquit, Maine of Bright’s Disease) enlisted in the army on January 23, 1858 as a private in Company A 5th Infantry. Duing the early part of the Civil War he served in Utah until 1860. As a first sergeant assigned to the 5th Infantry, he was engaged in battle with the Apache at Peralto, New Mexico in 1862. Later in the Civil War, he was assigned to the Military Division of Mississippi in 1865 and with the reorganization of the Army after the War was at Ft. Stevenson, Dakota Territory in 1868. After the War he was an officer with the Buffalo soldiers, U.S. Cavalry troopers who were African American. They fought in over 177 engagements. Their combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, and looks on the battlefield, inspired the Native Americans to call them Buffalo Soldiers. Many believe the name symbolized the Native American’s respect for the Buffalo Soldiers’ bravery and valor. He was the 10th at San Juan Hill during the Spanish Amerian War, supporting Thedore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.

Stevens T. Norvell II about 1875

Stevens T. Norvell II about 1875

STEVENS THOMPSON NORVELL II  (born October 7, 1865 in Virginia -died February 2, 1901) worked in the mining business.  He moved to Wisconsin in 1888 and was engaged in the construction of the Great Northern Railway’s eastern division into Superior and Duluth. He also was president of the Superior Improvement company, the Allouez Bay Land Company, and the Duluth and Superior Bridge and Steamship companies. He died while en route to New Orleans.

STEVENS THOMPSON NORVELL III  (born January 4, 1896 in East Aurora, New York -died June 14, 1965 in Lake Worth, Florida of Leukemia). During the First World War he served in the Rainbow Division, 3rd Engineers and after the war obtained degrees in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering at Tri-State College, Angola, Indiana. On May 27, 1921, he married Cora Uvon Kellam (born October 16, 1895 in Milton, Indiana -died April 20, 1986 in Lake Worth, Florida), the daughter of Oliver M. Kellam and Adaline Whisler.

Stevens T. Norvell III in WW I

Stevens T. Norvell III in WW I

They  had three children including:

STEVENS THOMPSON NORVELL IV (born February 11, 1923 in Hinsdale, Illinois-died February 2015). In 1961 be became Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University. From July 1984 – July 1988: Full Professor, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University; From July 1988 – July 1992: Full Professor (post-retirement appointment), Department of Surgery, Dalhousie University. He held the rank of Professor Emeritus and was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada by right of examination. He did extensive writing on various medical topics and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors in Canada. During the Second World War he served from 1942-1946.

Stevens T. Norvell IV

Stevens T. Norvell IV

Posted in American History, Detroit, Detroit History, Michigan History, Military history, Norvell Family History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Hardest Thing I Ever Did



Lord, guard and guide all those who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!

The Air Force Version of Eternal Father Strong to Save

It was an absolutely glorious day today as I walked by Canandaigua Lake. The sky was a clear azure blue, with just a touch of coolness.

A perfect fall day, and it reminded me so much of September 11, 2001, another seemingly at first perfect – yet not– fall day, we will never forget.

I had just arrived at work when the news spread that an airplane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. We moved to our common area and turned on the television and I was stunned to see the second plane hit, the second tower.  Stunned turned to horror, and rumors began to be spread of attacks in Washington, where my daughter worked one block from the White House. The next few hours were lost. I can say I remember nothing of that day, not a thing from work, only that I was finally able to reach my daughter, who like many had fled Washington abandoning her car, in the wake of gridlock.

September 11, 2001 fell on a Tuesday.

It did not dawn on me until later in the week, that I was scheduled to read a major prayer in church. In our church, there is a prayer led by a layperson called, “The Prayers of the People.” It generally is the same from week to week, but there is a section where clergy, various churches and dioceses, the departed, and others are remembered by name.

The prayer came in the mail two days later for me to read on Sunday, September 16. As I looked it over, it became clear to me that I would be praying for those lost not only in the Twin Towers, but also those on the aircraft that went down. Now it is easy to read something like this to oneself. Easy of course is not even close to the right word, given the raw emotions of those days. Still reading it privately is easy, reading it in front of a packed church of about 500 is not.

On that morning, I walked to the lectern and began the prayer with the standard phrases.

“I ask your prayers for God’s people throughout the world; for our Bishop; for this gathering; and for all ministers and people. Pray for the Church.”

Prayers were then given for peace, goodwill among nations, the sick, and others.

All this went well. But as my eyes moved down the page it became clear to me that what was to come would be the hardest thing I had ever done.

I began, “ I ask your prayers for the departed especially :

American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, that crashed into the North and South towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center

American Airlines Flight 77, that crashed into the Pentagon

United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

With each line, with each word, it became harder and harder to read, to speak, to face those people.

Yet I kept on, literally forcing out, in a voice barely audible, the words of healing and comfort I had been given to say.

When I finished I simply said, “Pray for those who have died.”

And there was Silence.

Posted in 2001, 9/11, American History, Episcopal Church History, Family History, New York, New York State History, September 11, World Trade Center | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Bladensburg Races

JNorvellAs the British marched on Washington during the War of 1812, John Norvell and his brother-in-law Spencer Cone joined the fight to defend the nation’s Capital.  At the time, Norvell, who with the outbreak of the War of 1812 had enlisted in 1813 in Captain Nicholson’s Company of the Maryland Militia, was away serving with his regiment.

Close to 4,500 British soldiers landed at Benedict, Maryland on August 19, 1814, and marched towards Washington, about 60 miles away. In the August heat, General Robert Ross didn’t push his men, who took five days to cover the roughly fifty miles to the town of Bladensburg.  On August 23, 1814, Ross received a message from the overall leader of the British campaign, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, advising him to turn back. But Rear Admiral George Cockburn thought they should continue. After much discussion, Ross agreed. The Americans, after all, didn’t appear inclined to defend their capital. The villages they passed through along the way were largely been abandoned. Even the bridges were still intact, and the only force they  encountered has ran away. The road to Washington appeared wide open.

At noon on August 24, before the British entered Bladensburg, they saw clouds of dust and realized that the Americans were marching out to meet them. Bladensburg itself was empty of American soldiers. This was good news for Ross’ soldiers who would rather not have engaged in street fighting. On the heights across the east branch of the Potomac River, they saw the enemy waiting. For some reason the Americans hadn’t bothered to destroy the bridge.

Colonel William Thornton and the 85th Regiment led the charge across the river. Without waiting for the rest of the British force, Thornton ordered his regiment forward. The 85th quickly drove off the American riflemen, but then found itself facing the main body of Maryland militia, which include Norvell and his brother in law. When the Americans counterattacked, the 85th was pushed back towards the river and most of the regiment’s officers were killed or wounded.

By now the main body of the British force was across the bridge. General Ross ordered the use of Congreve rockets. The rockets were extremely inaccurate, but they made a terrifying noise as they whistled over the heads of the terrified American militia who had never heard or seen anything like them. The militiamen dropped their weapons and ran. Now there was nothing blocking the path to the capital; the British reached Washington that night.

The disastrous Battle of Bladensburg was called the “Bladensburg Races’ because most of the American troops simply emptied their guns and then retreated as quickly as possible. The Army basically ran away leaving the route into Washington undefended.

Posted in American History, John Norvell, Maryland History, Michigan History, Military history, Norvell Family History, War of 1812 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Refueling over SEA

The F4, like most modern fighters, required frequent refueling during combat missions.  A fully loaded Phantom II could weigh in at more than 50, 000 pounds, with about 18,000 pounds of fuel in internal and external tanks.    If the afterburner were engaged, it slurped fuel at about 1,000 pounds a minute, which meant that the gas ran out pretty quickly.   Essentially there was a 15  minute “loiter” time to engage the enemy or drop bombs.   Then it was time to return to the Tanker before you reached “BINGO” fuel and returned to the base, if you made it, on fumes only.

In a typical 4 – 6 hour mission,  the Phantom might refuel three to four times.  If it were a close air support mission, it might mean formation flying off the taker for an hour or more cycling in and out taking on gas as needed, until the Forward Air Controller, FAC, called the flight in on target.   For an air to air mission which involved a “dog fight,” after the engagement, the F4 would almost immediately  head for a tank to get gas.

Therefore,  it was essential that Fighter Jocks be able to refuel in the air and take on gas from the KC-135.  Unfortunately not all men who flew fighters could refuel.udn35

This brings me to the story of Capt Don, I won’t use his last name.  We went through training at Luke Air Force Base to learn to fly the F4.  We were crewed together, which was the common practice.  One always flew with the same pilot, that way you both learned each others’ strengths, and also weaknesses.   This was crucial for combat missions.  Capt Don did well in training showing enough proficiency that he graduated, but once in SEA he was unable to refuel on the tanker.

Flying close formation off the tanker  was a skill he could not seem to master, it was hard to say why.   To say it is is very unsettling to some, is an understatement.  It requires intense concentration in a demanding situation.

View from the back seat of tanker

View from the back seat of tanker

You are tucked in tight below the tanker, which is a huge flying gasoline bomb carrying about 83,000 pounds of JP4 when fully loaded.  Any mistake would mean disaster to the crews of both aircraft.   In addition to the close proximity of the two aircraft, there is significant turbulence coming off the tanker to contend with.

Don’s background was not in fighters, as were many of the men who flew the F4.  He had previously been a C-130 pilot.   During the early 1970s, as more and more men were lost in SEA, the Air Force moved pilots from one aircraft to another.  It was unusual for someone to move from a C-130 transport to a fighter but not unheard of, as evidenced by Don.    13th TFS patch

When we got to SEA, he and I were first assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron, but as Don’s difficulty with refueling became apparent he seemed to disappear.  I don’t know what happened to him in the end, but it was clear that there was no place in combat for someone who could not refuel.   Most likely he was sent back to the States and returned to C-130s.

Not all men were cut out to fly the F4.

Posted in 13 TFS, Air Force, American History, F-4 Phantom II, F4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, SEA, U Dorn RTAFB, Udorn RTAFB, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment