Grab a cup of coffee. In the blogosphere, we call this background reading. The basics. When I heard nobody requesting it, I came to a realization: you are all afraid to ask. Don’t worry, your silence will be answered with the next 2,000 words or so. Here it is, a rough draft of the definitive growing up in Grand Haven post. Go Bucs.
I was born in Grand Haven on October 22, 1976. I was (and still am) the only Alguire actually born in Grand Haven. If Donald Trump runs for GH mayor, we would deport the rest of these immigrant Alguires to Spring Lake, or some other lesser community. There have been some six Grand Haven Ackermans and Springers, but I stand behind my technically true statement. My parents still live at 819, the only house I remember. Our first Grand Haven house partially burned down, so we packed up and moved up the hill. The story goes that my GH had one of its famed blizzards (‘the blizzard of 1977′), and it was too snowy for my grandparents to drive home. My grandfather Walt woke up to the smell smoke and got the rest of us out of the house. My room was apparently right above the source: the fireplace (hello, where were the fire alarms?).
My 819 bedroom was a converted walk in closet with an even much smaller closet for itself. Since I left, this has been remodeled a couple of times. A new area which is called my room just does not feel the same, especially with the closets full of knitting material. In that same remodeling process, my parents built an apartment for grandma Dorothy which serves as a great guest room to get away from the permanent occupants of 819. Goodbye closet, hello apartment. We even stayed there during this past summer while our Grand Rapids house was remodeled (can’t beat that rate for a summer place in GH, but that’s skipping ahead about 39 years).
At this point, Amy and Katie have lived in GH longer since they returned from earlier life and jobs. I just needed that big adventure, you know, the big city life of Grand Rapids :). Once I was on a career path to medicine, I envisioned returning to Grand Rapids and Butterworth Hospital. It was just where you sent people in West Michigan when they were sick. However, I took a third generation Grand Haven girl with me to show off my Buccaneer bona fides. Seriously, her grandfather, Don Constant, is a graduate of GHHS, taught History there, and coached multiple teams including the football team in the 1950s. Those are some deep roots to pull out, but I was holding on since 10th grade.
Figure: Left, Coach Don Constant talking to his quarterback, Jon Constant. Right, Great Grandpa Constant being silly with Allison.
Most older siblings think the third is spoiled. Not true. Rules are loosened since it just doesn’t seem worth it to enforce them anymore. Bed time? Just be quiet up there. Curfew? Not too late. Sure, have an extra cookie. And then we become solo kids after the older siblings leave us.
I was the third child, so I have very few pictures from that time. Wait, you say, I always see your dad carrying a camera. This was before my PCP took up photography as a hobby, documenting his favorite patient all through high school. I have 500 pictures from each high school swimming meet, but only five prior to 9th grade.
Where do I start? First memory? Vague memories of developmental kindergarten (DK), or the more politically correct Young 5’s. Well, I was a young 5. It was for the better, I needed the redshirt: I would’ve been pretty young for my grade. My story is that I was mentally and socially mature enough, but I did not know my colors, so I was placed in DK with Mrs. Sandy O’Neil. However, I would still probably fail the kindergarten test since I’m colorblind. Even now, I defer to Mia while naming colors in a book. I just learned to figure out colors from their context: grass is green, tree bark is brown, sky is blue (or gray for 6 months in Michigan). Got it. Move on to kindergarten with Mrs. Dorothy Klintworth and focus on the letter people: The letter A stands Miss A and ‘achoo.’ I’ll need to think about the others for a bit.
Figure: Left, Mrs. Klintworth and Mrs. O’Neil, my first two phenomenal teachers at M.A.W. Right, Miss A, the letter person.
Back then, kindergarten at Mary A. White (M.A.W.) was a half day. I frequently spent afternoons at Grandpa and Grandma’s house or the Grand Haven YMCA. A blog feels an inadequate way to capture those formative years. Instead of vague memories, I remember just a few things in great detail. Grandma would make the peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch, cutting it into four triangles, and insist I eat the crust so I could learn how to whistle. I’m still trying to figure out that logic, but I think of it every time my kids leave the crust on the plate. She was meticulous with details including lists, dates, and recipes. She reveled in these details. Grandpa would provide an aloof commentary with a gentle manner. He had long limbs and thin body (I only inherited the thin body of that combination, unfortunately for my swimming). He would dive head first into the shallow end, making it all the way across the 25 meter YMCA pool underwater. Oh, the lifeguards would not tolerate that dive nowadays. What can I say about my grandparents? I can now answer the question of “If you could have any dinner guests from history, who would it be?” First off, I could show Dorothy I can whistle reasonably well. Secondly, what did they really think about life? About Politics? Religion? My grandmother was a real believer in the Christian faith, a devout Methodist, and she worried about Walt’s quiet skepticism (I only recently learned this, but suspected it for years). This never seemed to cause any discord in their marriage, however. These two secretly eloped in 1938, and then returned to their respective homes without telling anybody (scandalous!). I only heard Walt raise his voice once with Grandma. She loved to quiz her grandkids on some secret ingredient in her recipes, especially pies. I didn’t even know what Rhubarb was, let alone some secret ingredient. After a series of guesses, Walt ended it with, “Jesus Dorothy, it is just a piece of pie.” That may have been the only time I heard him swear, so the shock value added to the humor. And that was that. It was more of a tease than a criticism.
I asked Walt about mortality as he was clearly approaching it. With his age, his experience, his illnesses (he was a walking medical textbook), he still would not wish to be younger, to repeat anything just to stay alive. Acceptance.
Figure: Left, Walt and Craig at a funeral or a wedding. Right, Dorothy and Walt in Key West, Florida.
They both went to the Methodist Church of the Dunes with our family (COTD). Several of my GH family members still attend, and we occasionally attend when back in town. Their ashes are buried in the remembrance garden behind the church. I do appreciate the social support network COTD this creates for my parents. I know many of the COTD members read this blog, and I am grateful for their ongoing support of my family and myself.
Figure: Oh, and Google is amazing. T is for Teeth. S is for Super Socks.
In addition to being color blind, I think I’m a bit tone deaf, too. You would never know by activity list: high school band, church and school choir, church bells, and piano. Let’s review that list. Piano was first to come and go. I was a conscientious objector to piano lessons. I would protest non-violently by laying on the piano bench instead of playing. Eventually, I broke my mother’s will (not a small feat) and piano lessons stopped. I can still sight read the melody of simple songs, and tell if I missed a key. Just like color blindness, tone deafness is not complete. Even at this stage, I have no regrets. Sorry MK.
What do you call a person that hangs out with musicians? A drummer. I was not very talented in that arena, either. I could do the math, I could hear 3/4 v 4/4 v 6/8 time and know when the drum should be hit, just not always coordinated enough to time it right. But I was a good kid, knew how to practice for try-outs, and had more talented older sisters, so I was always promoted to the better band, to the snare line, etc. My older sister, Amy, took the legendary GH band director Craig Flahive to the Top 10% senior banquet — I was totally in. Yet, I stood behind the Timpani in trepidation, trying to tune the instrument, playing quietly enough that nobody would notice if out of tune. And after years of choir, I received the 7th Grade Choir Award (I capitalize that to show it’s importance). The year was 1989. Check it out K or MV on the middle school wall if it is still there. Anyway, couldn’t Mrs. Gallas tell that I was lip syncing? I totally felt for Milli Vanilli when they were exposed. I was a good kid, a teacher pleaser for the most part, so I got the award despite total lack of talent. I also like to think I did a pretty good job dancing in the Junior High Spring Concert — the performance earned it. Nobody said I couldn’t dance. After my award, I quit choir due to difficulty scheduling. Also, I wanted to go out on top before anybody decided the choir award was the equivalent of Milli Vanilli’s grammy.
I was a pretty good student in elementary and early junior high, but not very self motivated. Studying would involve laying on a couch while my mom quizzed me enough until the answers became somewhat familiar. That is called a passive learning experience, and not recommended. A switch happened for me somewhere around 8th grade. Somehow, I channeled my competitiveness into school, and then just doing my personal best became a habit. Mr. Millard, a great 8th grade science teacher, told me he had an older sister who excelled, and eventually he learned to accept living in her shadow. I thought, was he trying to relate to my situation? That gave me a spark, but I am not sure he meant to. I wasn’t going to be in the shadows (although this illness taught me that I am only half the physician Katie is, and probably about two-thirds of my dad :).
I do not think I ever made school just about competition, because I do still love to learn. I just needed a kick start into what real effort felt like. I relied on the smarter girls a few times in my GH classes, but never really cheated (they may argue about that). I may have copied my sister’s work in physics a few times, or created experimental data that I figured was too painstaking to collect (wow, that sounds terrible as I write it). It is not easy to figure out what the data should look like and work my way backwards. For my 9th grade biology research project, I knew the bird feeder color did not matter, and I wasn’t about to stare at it for hours and count the birds that ate from each one. Still, I always made sure I understood the material, regardless of route to getting there. But as I matured through high school with no serious transgressions, my math teacher Mr. Andy Mouseau said something that would resonate with me through college and medical school: “Failure Before Dishonesty.” He would say this as he passed out our tests. Remembering his old students, or seeing them years later around town, he would only vaguely remember grades. He certainly would not remember if anybody failed a particular test. However, if someone cheated, that would always stick with him. And that stuck with me. Failing is not the worst thing you can do, and, in fact, it doesn’t even make the list of worst things. It can be a valuable learning experience (in hindsight, mostly). Failure Before Dishonesty.
Figure: Left, one of the many high school swimming photos. 200 Free Relay, 1995. The new swimming jammers for men are a major fashion improvement. Right, bald again with my last pembro infusion.