The story of a beautiful beach in Atwood, MI, involves author Rex Beach and developer Burt Farbman

1904 Olympic water polo team

GOING FOR THE GOLD—No, this isn’t a scene from Northern Michigan’s shoreline. This is from the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, where star athlete Rex Beach helped to lead the American team to a silver medal. Exactly where is he in this photo? The archives don’t record the names..

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A stunning, stone-strewn coastline (okay, maybe I overdid it with the alliteration) extends along Lake Michigan a few miles from Timber Ridge, our farm south of Charlevoix in NoMI.

Grandson Beau & Burt Farbman at Timber Ridge, our farm in Northern Michigan

Like Rex Beach, Burton enjoys a broad-brimmed cowboy hat as he sits in the son with grandson Beau at Timber Ridge, our farm in Northern Michigan.

The lake is reached by Rex Beach Road. Most drivers speeding to or from Traverse City on Highway 31 don’t know the origin of the road’s name.

Rex Beach was a novelist and playwright born in 1877 in tiny Atwood, MI (today’s population, @1500).  Nearby Charlevoix officially bills itself “Charlevoix the Beautiful.”  Atwood residents like calling their town “Atwood the Adorable.”

Burton discovered the pristine shoreline several years ago.  The property was about to be subdivided into home parcels.  Burton decided the 156 acres, including nearly a mile of Grand Traverse Bay shoreline, should be kept in their natural state, accessible to all.

My husband collaborated with local residents to ensure that future generations would be able to enjoy this lovely stretch of forest and beachfront. Burton knew state money was available for land conservation purposes, but that the bureaucratic process would take many months. He found a foundation to buy the property from the previous owners and, eventually, sell it to the county.

Rex Beach in Wikimedia Commons image

Rex Beach looking as stern as many of the characters in his Western romance novels.

Today the Antrim Creek Natural Area features signage explaining its history. It tells about the glacier that formed the Lake Michigan basin some 12,000 years ago, about the Anishinaabeck Native Americans and later European settlers who once lived here, and about modern efforts to preserve the land for all.

Of the latter, the sign reads: “The full story of the acquisition of ACNA is as complicated and multifaceted as the many individuals that played a part in the process.”

With Burton’s memory challenged by last year’s brain surgery, I’ve appointed myself family historian.  Burton’s too modest to claim any credit for saving this beautiful area for the public.  But for the record,  my husband is one reason that today I, and many others, can walk barefoot on warm, packed sand, enjoy waves lapping  at our feet, collect rocks worn smooth by eons and admire sparkling blue vistas.

As for Rex Beach, he deserves recognition, too.  Educated as a lawyer, he was attracted to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush.  After five years of unsuccessful prospecting, he found literary gold.  He wrote  over 30 adventure novels.

DVD cover The Spoilers with John Wayne.

Care to learn more? Click the image to visit the DVD’s Amazon page. It’s inexpensive.

His second, The Spoilers, was based on a true story of corrupt Alaskan government officials stealing gold mines from prospectors.  The book was a best seller in 1906, and was adapted into 5 movies, one starring Gary Cooper; another, Burton’s hero John Wayne.

As if his literary success weren’t accomplishment enough, Beach was also an athlete.  He played for the U.S. on the water polo team that won a silver medal in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis.

Burton’s philosophy these days: “You’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got.”  For now, the best he’s got involves a wheelchair.  He’s no longer able to hike the sandy shoreline of Rex Beach.  I hike it for both of us.   I take special joy in coming upon castles created by children, studded with flat black slate rocks, and in knowing my husband helped make these building projects possible.

In Latin, the word Rex means King.  Strikes me as appropriate.  Rex Beach, for whom the road was named, and Burt Farbman, who helped keep this lovely area forever open to all.  Both kings among men.

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Care to learn more?

ENJOY HIS NOVELSProject Gutenberg offers 17 of Beach’s novels in free-to-download editions.

GOT A KINDLE? One eBook vendor is offering a collection of his novels for Kindle, via Amazon, for only $1.99.

SEE THE MOVIE—Most of the early movies made from Beach’s novels are either “lost” or only available in grainy copies. However, Burton’s pick is the John Wayne version of The Spoilers, which is inexpensive on Amazon.

Rex Beach cabin Rampart Alaska

HE LIVED THE LIFE! This was Rex Beach’s cabin in Alaska, during the years he prospected there just after 1900.

Thanks to Burton’s efforts—what a beautiful stretch of Northern Michigan!

Share your wisdom with others, and make it as meaningful as Burton’s uncles did

“Write this down,” Uncle Max insisted.

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It’s not only what you say that matters.

It’s how and when you say it.

Burton and I learned that lesson on 2 different occasions.  Each involved one of Burton’s uncles.  Both times the set up made the message memorable.

Uncle Max dancing with his daughter Judie.

Some 40 years ago, Burton traveled to Florida for business.  Flying out of Palm Beach, he got to the airport early.  Remembering his uncle Max Schuster lived in Palm beach, he picked up a pay phone.

Max: “Burt, I hear you’re doing great.”

Burton: “Uncle Max, I’ve been lucky.”

Max: “I want to tell you something about luck.  Write this down.  Do you have a pen?”

“No.”

“Get one.  I’ll wait.”

Burton left the receiver hanging, sped to the gift shop, bought a pen and pad of paper, sped back to the phone.  The receiver still hung where he’d left it.

“Okay, Uncle Max.”

“Burt, write this down: Luck is on the side of the able navigator.”

It was Max’s version of the adage: Luck favors the prepared.  Because he framed the thought as he did, neither Burton nor I, when Burton told me the story, ever forgot it.  We’ve quoted Uncle Max umpteen times.  And now that Uncle Max’s daughter, Judie Koploy, has become our loyal and true companion during Burton’s health crisis, we quote her dad even more often.

Uncle Jack and Oosie Schlesinger.

The second piece of advice came earlier.

Burton and I had dinner at his Uncle Jack and Oosie Schlesinger’s home in Franklin, MI.  Burton was new to the real estate business.  Before dinner, Jack took him aside, said he had something important to tell him.

“I’ll tell you later,” Jack said.

Oosie was a fine cook.  We applied ourselves to her tender brisket.  At the head of the table, Jack caught Burton’s eye.  “After dinner,” he said.

By then I was curious, too.  After dessert, Jack led Burton into the den.  I followed.

“Okay, Burt.  Here’s what I want you to remember.”  Dramatic pause.  “Every hit can’t be a home run.”

The notion seemed obvious at the moment.   But as Burton fought to make his first deal, and over time when smaller deals came through, and even when they didn’t, Burton and I often recalled Uncle Jack’s advice.  And quoted him.

We’ve passed the story on to our sons.  Now that most of our grandchildren are athletes, and Hunter and Fischer play baseball, Uncle Jack’s words remain fresh in our minds.  I’m convinced it’s because of the lead up.

When I have a significant message to deliver, I tend to blurt it out lest I otherwise forget it.  (More and more senior moments these days.)  But words are not only how we communicate with others.  They’re how we remember them.  Uncle Max and Uncle Jack each gave Burton a great gift.  Both passed away years ago.  Their wisdom, and our affection for them, remains.

Whenever we quote Uncle Max or Jack, I’m convinced that somehow, somewhere their souls shimmer.  So take a lesson from them.  Share your wisdom with your loved ones.  Make the moment memorable.

May our wisdom be their legacy.

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PHOTO CREDIT for opening image: Thanks to Wikimedia Commons and Wellcome Library, London.  http://wellcomeimages.org 

Celebrating American Ingenuity and Self Reliance, Artist John Rowland Honors His Father

CREATIVE SELF RELIANCE—John Rowland writes, “I took this photo of my father, Paul, in the autumn of 2010 as we were using his air compressor to blow out his sprinkler system before the winter. He was peering out the window of his garage to see if his old machine was still humming along half a century after he toggled it together from spare parts. As you can see, the protective cover over the top is the lid from a plastic trash can. Other components he connected were a motor, an air tank and an air-conditioning compressor he salvaged from an old Ford. Even in 2019, nearly a decade later, his compressor still hums along! Oh, and I forgot to mention the garage! He built that himself in 1968.”

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By SUZY FARBMAN

John Rowland took the Fifth Commandment to a new level.

Paul Rowland and his artist son John.

He honored his father with a significant exhibition of his work.

John’s an artist who spends much of his time framing pictures for other artists and galleries at his workshop in Ferndale, MI. Though John often frames pieces by renowned artists, his dad wasn’t a renowned artist.

Paul Rowland was a talented mechanic in the experimental development garage of Ford Motor Co. He developed tools and parts for new models. The company held patents on many of them.

GENERATIONS OF CREATIVITY—John writes, “This photo was taken around 1975 as my father was in the process of building a guitar, the first of a number of these stringed instruments he made over the years. Then, as I was looking more closely at this photo, I was pleased that it also includes the violin that was made by Adonis Rowland—his father, my grandfather, who was a fiddle player. It’s the only one we have left that Adonis built by hand, probably in the 1940s. I can still remember the stories my father told about how few tools he had to finish his violins. For example, Adonis found that he could use cut glass to scrape and shape the wood.”

Paul was born in 1925. He grew up in Casey, IL, dropped out of high school, and married the girl next door. The youngest of 9 kids, Paul lived through the Great Depression. That experience, John says, taught his father values of thrift and self-reliance. Paul figured out what he and others needed and crafted it in his garage.

When Paul died last year, John wondered what on earth to do with all his dad’s handmade tools, instruments, jewelry, toys, etc.

Inspiration dawned.

John turned his workshop into a gallery and mounted an exhibit of his father’s creations. John’s friend and professional photographer Tim Thayer took images of Paul’s creations for a catalog John published, “Paul Rowland, American Artisan.  Objects from an American Garage.”

In a delightful essay that accompanies the catalog, John recalls stories of his dad’s history as a problem solver.

When Paul was a kid, his house sat across the street from a street light that shone into his room at night when he was trying to sleep. John writes, “It took him no time at all to figure out a way to run a wire from the light to his room so he could turn it off at night. Problem solved.”

Paul became a craftsman who epitomized a term that garners respect in Detroit. He was a “maker.”

STEPPING BACK IN TIME—“With this last photo, we’re going back even further into Dad’s long life of ingenuity,” John writes. “This photo was taken around 1952, when he worked at a gas station in Dearborn repairing cars. Many young adults today don’t remember when these local businesses were known as ‘service stations’ and always had a mechanic on duty. One day, a manager at Ford Motor needed service and was impressed at Dad’s skill. That encounter led to Dad’s long career as an employee at Ford.”

John writes that his father “lived in a world where problems were being solved by inventions and new contraptions, and early on he involved himself in that world of creativity and invention.” He observes that his dad’s life bridged almost a century, from the Great Depression years before World War II to the world of 21st century technology.

Paul taught himself to play guitar, then took apart a Gibson to see how it was made. He made 8 guitars by hand and over 31 dulcimers. John recalls being 10 years old when the family  camped in Mountain View, Arkansas, where mountain music played everywhere.

One Friday night the family went to the town square. Locals gathered on an outdoor stage to jam. John watched his dad get up on that stage, “picking and fingering his own hand-built dulcimer in his own special way.  I know that was not an easy thing for him to do: Dad loved playing music but he did not like performing.  He was never comfortable in front of an audience.“

John’s essay also reveals thoughtful insights about his own artistic practice and attitude.   For someone who  makes art and works with other artists, John writes about originality. “Being original is a very hard thing to accomplish. Being honest is fraught with temptations. I’m suspicious of most art I see in the world because it is usually neither original nor honest.

“Many people have talent, but few are original. The artist is concerned with conveying an idea through art; aesthetic questions are asked and aesthetic judgments are made. Then there is the craftsman, whose concern is producing a fine object, and here the questions and judgments are basically functional. Both the craftsman and the artist should be concerned with honesty and purity of expression in the work itself.  If they are in it for attention, or admiration, or financial gain, they are misguided…

“I’m not sure what to call dad. He was most definitely a maker of a diverse range of original, honest objects. And that in itself is a huge accomplishment of both creation and character. His objects represent both the quiet pride of Old World craftsmanship and the flair of American ingenuity. He is not interested in impressing anyone…

“So let me call him an artisan. A skilled, ingenious craftsman whose work expressed a powerful, intuitive aesthetic.”

John sent out Invitations to “Objects from an American Garage.” About 100 people came to the opening. No doubt, they were bowled over. For that matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Rowland made his own bowling pins.

And here’s a bonus …

CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to jump to the Henry Ford website to learn more about the exhibition.

THERE’S MORE! A curator from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, heard about the show and visited John’s studio. “The Henry” now has an exhibit on Detroit makers, “Break, Repair, Repeat.” It includes some of Paul Rowland’s pieces, among them 2 guitars, a paint sprayer and a sewing machine. The Henry Ford exhibit runs until September 15, 2019.

I can only imagine how Paul, a modest man who devoted his life as a mechanic for Ford Motor, is beaming down from some other dimension, having been chosen and displayed by the Henry Ford Museum.

Bravo, John, for recognizing your father’s talents and honoring him in such a special way!  It reminds all of us to remember and revere our own legacies.

After years of work, Ron Kagan and Burton revel in the wonders of a day at the zoo—even if you’re in a wheelchair.

ONE OF THE MANY WILD WONDERS AT THE DETROIT ZOO. This is the Detroit Zoo's giant anteater—also known as Myrmecophaga tridactyla or the ant bear—an insectivorous mammal native to Central and South America

ONE OF THE MANY WILD WONDERS AT THE DETROIT ZOO. This is the Detroit Zoo’s giant anteater—also known as Myrmecophaga tridactyla or the ant bear—an insectivorous mammal native to Central and South America

Thanks to a gorilla named Ivan, Detroit has one of the top zoos, and zoo directors, in the nation.

Ron Kagan sits comfortably with Burton in the Detroit Zoo’s new wheelchair-adapted cart.

In the 1990s, Ivan was a featured attraction at a shopping mall in Tacoma, WA.  Ron Kagan was an assistant director of the Dallas Zoo and an animal rights activist.  He spoke out on NPR against demeaning a gorilla in such a circus-like way.

In Detroit, our good friend, esteemed Judge Avern Cohn, was on the search committee for a new director of the Detroit Zoo.  Hearing Ron on NPR, he recommended his being considered.  He was told Ron had been asked, but had turned Detroit down because his children were in Dallas.

“I’lll handle it,” Avern said.  Avern’s not only brilliant, but convincing.

Burton and I hosted a dinner party welcoming Ron to Detroit.  We’ve since been close friends.  Burton has served for years and still serves  as the Zoo Commissioner of Detroit and a Zoological Society board member.

Here’s a full view of that new vehicle at the zoo.

Fast forward to a recent weekend.  The Detroit Zoo acquired a cart that accommodates a wheelchair.  Ron invited us for a visit.

The zoo features open air exhibits meant to recreate the environment in which animals live in the wild.  I watched a lion roll over and stretch,  zebras munching grass, an anteater lumber with searching snout.  Ron said the anteater has a long, sticky tongue that remains coiled until he finds his prey.  He darts out his tongue, and it’s Sayonara, stuck ants.

In the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery, we saw a sculpture of a lioness with 3 legs, part of a program called Snares to Wares.  The program encourages East Africans who trapped wild animals for food to instead create artworks out of metal from the snares.   The zoo shop has some of these sculptures for sale.

We visited the carousel on which dozens of happy children rode up and down to calliope music.  I sought out the camel Anne and I dedicated to our late mom a while back.  Ron said he’d long wanted a carousel but didn’t have the funds.  He preferred  artistic wood carved animals rather than fiberglass ones and found an Ohio company to create a carousel for $600K.

After talking about his dream for months, Ron received a call.  A stranger asked what the carousel would cost.  “About $1 million,” Ron said.  “It should be $600,000,” the stranger said.  Ron explained he’d included the cost to plan and prepare the site.

“In that case, it won’t cost you $1 million,” the stranger said,  “It will cost you $500,000.  I’m giving you half a million.  You’ll have it in 2 days.”  And he did.  The donor remains anonymous.

Burton waited in the shade in the wheelchair cart while Ron showed me the Polk Penguinarium, the largest in the world.  I watched children delight in being nose to nose with a penguin on the other side of a glass wall.  Ron escorted me down a ramp depicting Shackleton’s famous doomed voyage to  Antarctica, where penguins live.  British explorer E.H. Shackleton attempted to cross Antarctica in 1914.  His wooden ship Endurance became stuck in ice.  Ron said that when Shackleton  realized they’d been stopped, he told his men to find a big enough piece of ice and grab a football.  Stranded for almost 18 months in Antarctica, the 28 man crew returned safely after a stormy voyage of 720 nautical miles.

(US District Court Judge Avern and Lois Cohn brought us dinner soon after our zoo visit.  Turns out Avern’s read many books about Shackleton.  And he remembers what he reads.  Btw, Avern’s in his 90s.  Avern quoted the captain of Shackleton’s boat who warned, “What the ice takes, the ice keeps.”  Hence: Shackleton’s heroic rescue efforts.  The Endurance was eventually crushed by ice.)

But back to the zoo.  Burton was tiring.  Heading for the parking lot, my stoic husband didn’t complain about the discomfort of being wheelchair bound.  He didn’t lament his inability to get close enough to see the lion or stride in and out of the Penguinarium.

Over the years, Burton ran or was active on umpteen boards including Beaumont Hospital, the YMCA Southeast Region, the Economic Club, the Legal News and U of D Mercy College, all while raising 2 sons and building a company.  (Not to mention his tireless work for Special Olympics in Sarasota.)   Brain surgery has sidelined my husband now.  It hasn’t dimmed his appreciation for organizations like the zoo with which he was involved.

As we crossed the train tracks and approached the gate, here’s what my amazing husband said to me, “It’s been an honor to serve this community.”

Fred and Kathy Yaffe lived life with verve, nerve and humor

Fred and Kathy Yaffe enjoying their love of travel.

Another silver lining of my husband Burton’s (hence, my) current health crisis is a casual friend who’s become a good friend, Kathy Yaffe.  Her late husband Fred died of a stroke this past April.    Before, when Kathy heard about Burton’s post brain surgery complications, she reached out to me.

Kathy gave me a gift bag of things she found useful in dealing with Fred’s disability, including a doorbell he could ring if he needed her.  But it was her companionship and empathy that comforted me most.

And the stories!

Fred founded Detroit’s Yaffe, Stone & August in ‘69.  The ad agency produced terrific work for clients including Murray’s Auto Parts, WDIV, Little Caesars, the Michigan Lottery and more.  In the early ’70s, Fred hired me to consult on fashion account Gantos, from Grand Rapids, MI.

Kathy and Fred met in the ’60s, when Fred did public relations for Playboy.  Kathy was a Playboy bunny.  At first they were just friends.

Fred was fun, crazy, a charmer.  He was no sooner named one of Detroit’s most eligible bachelors than he fell for Kathy Fitzpatrick, who had brains as well as ears and a tail.   Kathy, whose father was a longtime state rep, ran for Detroit’s Common Council.  Fred managed her campaign, which featured shocking pink billboards.  At the time, a newspaper columnist wrote about Kathy, “She looks like a swinger, acts like a school marm and thinks like a politician.”

Kathy won the primary but lost the campaign.  She was then dating a man named Howard.  But, she says, she and her campaign manager “accidentally fell in love.”   Before kissing her for the first time, Fred said, “Sorry, Howard.”

In 1970, the late mega-star radio host JP McCarthy and his wife Judy threw an Irish/Jewish dinner party for Kathy and Fred.  They served green bagels shaped like shamrocks.  Fred wore a green yarmulke; Kathy, a St. Christopher medal with a Star of David on the back.  Fred gave Kathy a cocktail ring with small diamonds surrounding an emerald.  Kathy said it looked like a Christmas tree.

Kathy asked Fred if it was an engagement ring.  He said, “Whatever.’”

The couple planned a trip to Las Vegas.  Kathy’s friend and early AIDS activist Mary Fisher took her shopping for a wedding dress—in case she needed one.  Kathy packed the dress and flew to Vegas with Fred on a junket.  Alice and Sam Gruber, then co-owners of the legendary London Chop House, were on the trip, as were others Vegas hoped would prove “high rollers.”  Caviar and Dom Perignon lubricated the dice.

Kathy and Fred’s bags arrived at the Riviera Hotel 2 days late.  They had coffee in their travel clothes, “looking like 2 drunks off the street.”  They went to the Clark County court house for a wedding license.  There they noticed a Justice of the Peace sign: Marriages $4 before 6pm; $6 after.

They had planned to be married the next day.  But while sitting waiting for the license, they looked at each other and said, “Now?”  Fred had prepared for a bigger moment.  He handed Kathy a press release about their planned nuptials, scheduled for the next day at the Rivera Hotel where Burt Bachrach was performing.  Fred planned to get down on his knees while the famous singer sang “This Guy’s in Love with You.”

Kathy wasn’t deterred.  She and Fred were married that afternoon by the Justice of the Peace.  She says, “We got the early bird special.”

At the time, the book “The Sensuous Woman” by J was the rage.  The author advised bathing in Jello as an inducement to romance.  In their hotel room, Kathy called room service to order 100 boxes of Jello.  She was turned down.  So she went to a store and bought several boxes of Jello and bags of ice which she poured into the tub.  She “stirred and stirred” with a broom handle.

“All I can tell you is it never gels.  And it stains the tub.”

Fred was as creative with Kathy’s birthdays as he was with his ad accounts.  For his wife’s 42nd birthday, since Kathy was always losing hair combs, Fred gifted her with 42 combs.  For another, a card read “And together we’ll pop the cork.”  Fred flew her to New York for lunch at 21.  Still another card read, “If you’re able, we’ll buy you a sable.”  (He’d made an appointment with a furrier.)

For one birthday, Fred gave Kathy ten $100 gift certificates to Bloomingdales.  “It wasn’t my nature to spend $1000 on clothes,” she says.  She dashed from department to department figuring out the least expensive thing to buy, so she could get cash back.

For another birthday, Fred decided the couple should have Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  He set up a table in front of the legendary store in Somerset Mall.  Their handyman dressed in a tux and served them chocolate croissants and coffee.  When the store opened, Fred bought Kathy a watch.

Another birthday gift: a surprise trip to London to see “Phantom of the Opera.”  At the time Kathy was on dialysis for a kidney problem.  Fred had arranged for her to have dialysis abroad.  For yet another birthday, Fred planned a surprise trip to Ireland.  Kathy’s birthday’s in November.  She expected to accompany Fred to a convention in Maine and packed accordingly.  Instead they few to Ireland on Aer Lingus where Fred had tracked down and arranged for Kathy to meet her relatives.

Despite his stroke, Fred was determined to continue his birthday tradition.  He talked Kathy’s brother into taking him in his wheelchair to the Lexus dealership.  He was unshaven and wearing an old jogging suit.  “He didn’t have a dime on him and looked like he should be selling pencils on a street corner,” Kathy says.  Still he managed to seal the deal.   Red balloons floated from Kathy’s new car.

My favorite Fred story didn’t have to do with birthdays, but with a bet.  The couple had a running argument about whether it was faster to drive home by the expressway (Fred) or surface streets (Kathy).  A few years back, they were leaving the Traveler’s Tower in Southfield, MI, in separate cars.  They decided to race.  As Kathy drove, she spotted friends David & Doreen Hermelin.  (Legendary philanthropists and party hosts.  Among David’s many achievements, he was ambassador to Norway.)   Kathy stopped to invite them over for a drink.

Fred beat her home.  Kathy and the Hermelins pulled up a few minutes later.  To underscore his victory, Fred awaited Kathy in the driveway…stark naked.

At 9am the morning of Fred’s funeral, I read on FB that Fred’s service was an hour later.   As a fan of Fred, and grateful for Kathy’s support, I shed my PJs, threw on clothes and sped to the Ira Kaufman funeral home.  I made it in time to hug Kathy and attend the service.

Fred, 87, had endured a rough 3 years since a stroke destroyed his ability to pull off any more surprises or pranks.  But he left Kathy, 76, with a trove of memories.  As Kathy says, “We’ve had a wonderful life.”

RIP, buddy.  Veni, vidi, vici.  You came, you played, you conquered many hearts.

Despite brain surgery, Burt Farbman pursues life with love and resolve

Back in the 1970s, Burton and Suzy enjoyed a cookout on the beach in Northern Michigan.

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Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.”   I’ve witnessed such grace first hand for the past 6 months since an MRI showed cancer and treatment couldn’t eliminate all of it.

I‘ve witnessed patience, optimism, humor and determination to enjoy each day he’s given.  I haven’t seen Burton shed a tear.

I’ve cried enough to water a farm field.

Sons Andy (left) and David with Burton in Florida.

Memories flood back.
Our first date seeing “Dr. Zhivago.”
Our honeymoon in Acapulco—the sunburn, Montezuma’s Revenge.
The first year of marriage when we existed on my journalism salary while Burton found his footing in real estate.
The caramel-leather Eames chair I bought with the commission from a fashion consulting job.
The births of our sons, both during a move to a new home.
Burton’s first Cadillac at 29, despite my protests that he was too young for such a fancy car.
The terror of flying with Burton as a new pilot.
Trips to Europe, India, Thailand, South America and more.
Purchasing farmland up north. The farm became our favorite place on earth.
Campfires at Carpenter Lake.
Burton’s starting his own real estate firm.
His masterminding the Wayne County Building restoration—establishing Detroit’s first public/private partnership. (He was the first suburban developer to venture back into the D in many years.)
His developing the 3rd Riverfront Towers apartment building downtown and his crazy idea to have Detroit Tigers star Cecil Fielder hit baseballs off the roof to a target on the Detroit River.
Our sleepless nights during several Detroit downturns.
His devoted advocating for my cancer treatment.
Seven grandbabies.
Burton’s support of my writing.
Winters in Florida; golf games played.
Awards Burton won.
People we met.
Boards Burton chaired.

So much to be grateful for.

Farbman and Lazerson families celebrate Alexis Farbman’s bat Mitzvah in 2017

Burton said to me recently, “We’ve had our day in the sun.”

I said, “We’ve had lots of them.”

These days victory for my fearless warrior consists of standing, pivoting and moving from a wheelchair to a bed or an armchair. He works tirelessly in PT. Victory is also, for a left-handed athlete whose left side shut down, opening a Molson Canadian with his right hand.

Most amazing: he doesn’t complain. He says, “You do the best you can with what you’ve got.”

Grace under pressure. I’ll say.

This once real estate titan and civic leader is willing to be seen in all his vulnerability. He welcomes visits from old friends. He gladly accompanies me to the country club where his picture as a young man hangs on the wall—a reminder of the year when he, at 40, served as one of the youngest presidents ever.

The psychologist I’ve been seeing since this challenge began helped me recognize the extent to which Burton has made me, our whole family, feel protected. Burton/Dad/Grandpa has protected all of us. He’s also been our provider. Thanks to his hard work, and that of our sons and capable colleagues at Farbman Group—our second family—we now protect and provide for our patriarch. Our old Eames chair currently serves as a bed for our nighttime aide, Angela, aka Angel.

In his own way, Burton still protects and provides. He asks if I’ve gained weight. (I lost 10 lbs. at the start of this crisis.) He worries about how I sleep. He insists on keeping cash with him. At first I protested—sensibly objecting there were so many different people in and out of the house. He insisted. I gave in. It’s who and what he is—caring, loving, generous. A protector and provider.

Farbman family and Suzy’s sister Anne Towbes dine at Phoenicia in Birmingham to celebrate Suzy’s birthday this May.

I chalked up a significant birthday this May. Not feeling festive, I decided to ignore it. My sister Anne, my shrink and my husband all insisted otherwise. Burton and I, David and Andy, Amy and Nadine and Anne savored dinner at Phoenicia in Birmingham, MI. Burton, our sons and their wives presented me with a ring—actually 3 rings linked together, symbolizing the linking of our 3 generations. The ring first presented was a model of the ring to come, once the size was determined.

Burton presented me with my actual ring when it arrived a few days ago. With his right hand, he slipped it on my finger. Realizing the implications of this moment, possibilities too painful to mention, I started to sob. One of Burton’s more endearing qualities is that despite his hard shell, inside he’s a softie. There in David and Nadine’s kitchen, tears unshed for himself fell from Burton’s eyes as well.

When my first book came out, Burton graciously agreed to participate in some talks with me. We became sought-after experts on relationships, until Burton requested we stop speaking out on the subject. But as a once-sought-after expert, I share with you an observation I believe is incontestable: Relationships are complicated.

Dinosaurs in our musical taste, we’re fans of the late John Denver. Our kids and grandkids roll their eyes when we ask Eric, our longtime farm manager and talented musician, to sing a song like “Country Roads.”  We ask anyway.  Lately the soundtrack to the experience playing in our lives is a song John Denver wrote and sang with Placido Domingo, “Perhaps Love.”

Perhaps love is like the ocean
Full of conflict, full of pain
Like a fire when it’s cold outside
Or thunder when it rains
If I should live forever
And all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you. 

We’ve lived our joys and our sorrows out loud—as hundreds of friends, thousands of readers and millions of Oprah viewers know. But over 52 years there have been way more good times than bad. Plenty of days in the sun.

Thank you, my dear husband, for modeling grace under pressure.
For being an amazing protector, provider and partner.
My hero, my champion, my friend.

Thank you for showing me what love is.
You’re the love of my life.

Derek Black changes his mind about white nationalism

For several years, Burton and I spent winters in a congenial golf course community in Sarasota. I often ventured into town to stay a tad culturally connected. So  I was recently surprised to learn a significant social/humanitarian event had occurred almost under my nose and I’d known nothing about it.

Derek Black

Derek Black

Now in Detroit, I attended a program at the Holocaust Memorial Center.  News anchor Cynthia Canty interviewed Derek Black, a young man whose godfather is White Supremacist David Duke.  Derek grew up sold on the White Nationalist agenda.

As a youth, he started his own website for “proud white children.”  His dad, Don Black, founded the internet’s largest hate site, Stormfront.org.  His godfather was David Duke, a former KKK Grand Wizard.  Derek joined his dad on a radio program and organized his own White Supremacist conference.  He was deemed “the crown prince” of the movement.

In his 20s, Derek recanted his beliefs.  He now espouses diversity and inclusion.

Say what???

This bright, mild mannered young man wowed a mostly liberal audience of about 500.   I was so taken with him that I bought the book Rising Out of Hatred, by Washington Post journalist Eli Saslow.  It tells the story of Derek’s struggle and is a page turner. (Amazon currently sells the hardcover, but the paperback will be released by September.)

A good student from Palm Beach County on Florida’s east coast, Derek chose to attend Sarasota’s New College, Florida’s honors college, attended by 800 mostly liberal students.  His first friend on campus was Juan, a Puerto Rican.  His second was Matthew, a Jewish student who hosted Friday night Shabbat dinners in his dorm room.  His girlfriend, for a while, was Rose, also Jewish.

These relationships posed conflict for Derek.  Saslow writes that white nationalists were trying to save whites from “inevitable genocide by mass immigration and forced assimilation.”  In Derek’s words, before his change of heart: “We are Europeans.  We have a right to exist.  We will not be replaced in our own country.’”

At New College, Derek initially revealed none of his beliefs.  Among student friends, he’d excuse himself for a few minutes at a time to join his father on the radio.   Saslow describes Derek’s bifurcated life: “breakfast at New College with Rose and one of her transgender friends and then Thanksgiving dinner with Don, Chloe, and a few former skinheads in West Palm Beach.”

Leading a double life became increasingly uncomfortable.

Eventually, a New College grad student, Tom McKay was writing his senior thesis on U.S. paramilitary groups.  He came across Derek on the Internet and posted his findings on the school’s inter-student forum.   Word spread.  Most students ostracized Derek.  Matthew, the only Orthodox Jew on campus, thought his friend might someday change his mind.  He continued hosting Derek at Shabbat dinners.  His roommate, Allison, was so incensed she kept her door closed when Derek was around.

In time, Allison opened her door.  She and Derek began enjoying adventures together, kayaking in Sarasota Bay or strolling St. Armand’s Key.  They both avoided discussing Derek’s philosophy.  As they grew fonder of each other, Allison began asking him about, and later arguing against, his beliefs.

When Derek finally recognized the harm his opinions could cause people he cared about, he wrote a powerful apology.  He sent it to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization  critical of his former ideology.  He asked them to publish his apology in full.

Saslow writes of the anguish Derek felt in betraying his parents’ beliefs.  The author spent hours talking to Don Black.  Though impaired from a stroke, Derek’s dad has resumed a relationship with his son.  Derek’s mother and step sisters are less forgiving.

Interviewer Canty said there are at least 1000 identified hate groups in the US and that Michigan has the 4th highest number of hate crimes.  In light of recent attacks on synagogues, I was intrigued by Derek’s response to a question about anti-Semitism.  In 2008, Derek had written on Stormfront, “Jews are the cause of all the world’s strife and misery.”

Derek no longer sees Jews as behind a “conspiracy theory,” or what Saslow calls a “plot to weaken the white race by promoting multiculturalism.”

Derek is currently working toward a PhD in the history of the Middle Ages at the University of Chicago.  He received his master’s at Western Michigan University.

I can’t imagine how hard this young man’s journey has been.  The shame he’s felt; the courage he’s shown.  Thanks, Derek, for sharing your story.  And for blazing a trail of forgiveness.