Behind Pat’s house was the open woods where I mostly spent my time. I cleaned a small path thru the woods all the way to Turk Lake grade school two miles away. Then I could ride my bike thru the woods to school and beat the bus there. Michigan had two kinds of roads I could drive my bike on, dirt, and blacktop. Pat said more than once to me and others, “I built my house next to a blacktop road, so I could go down the road to work in the winter.”
I used to set in his front yard and the count cars as they went by. It was a game I played with myself. My bike was hard to peddle on the dead-end dirt road that ran next to the house. But I could fly on the smooth blacktop, sometimes even to a friend’s house. Even though it was harder peddling on the dirt road, the effort was worth it, just to see the trees that hung over the road and covered the way. Most of Michigan roads were like driving in a tunnel of trees. They had been left next to the road by the farmers clearing land. You could drive through a cooling green tunnel in the summer, and in the wintertime, the wind piled up the snow in the trees on both sides.
Pat’s house in the woods – off to school
Pat built Susie a doghouse that was big enough for me to play in. Susie and I played together for hours in and on top of it. Susie was my only companion and playmate. There was one other house in the woods, and they did not have children. The closes family with kids were over a mile away. So, Susie and I grew up together playing in the dirt piles around the house that Pat was building and fighting off the mosquitoes in the woods.
Susie and Ronnie
Pat was the father I never had in Raymond. He was a great stepfather and he taught me the love of, and how to use guns safely. He was an avid hunter and he took me shooting a lot just down the road to the Flat River rifle range. He loaded his own shells and he made special bullets for me to use in his 357 Magnum pistol, it was a rubber bullet that could be shot in the basement at a target made from a box with rug stuffed into it. This allowed me to practice shooting indoors during the winter months. I became a good shot.
Pat with a turkey
Pat had taught me how to safely use a BB gun around the house. He trusted me with it when I took it to my cousins Frank’s house. They lived on a farm with trees around their land on three sides. A big old Pear tree stood next to the house. And I used to tie my “flying kite” to the fence post next to the barn.
I was playing in their yard with my BB gun, trying to shoot birds as they flew by. I told Frank that I hadn’t ever shot and killed anything before. Then he took me to the shed where they fed the pigs. And when he opened the door, birds flew out trying to escape. Some did, and some did not. Frank told me to shoot one, and I did. I did not feel anything special. I did feel sorry for the Red-Winged Blackbird, but I did not feel sorry enough to walk through the pigs to get my trophy, so we shut the door and went back to playing.
Cousin Frank Jaquas at the Ostrander farm
Later that same week, I shot a Robbin with my BB gun in Pat’s backyard. He saw me do it. He took away my BB gun, and he made me go find the bird and bury it right away. Then Pat told me, “Only shoot what you are going to eat.” I thought of the bird I buried with the pigs and I was not very proud of myself. I knew then what it meant to kill something, and I was always more responsible after that with any gun.
One Saturday when Pat interrupted my cartoons, I thought it was time to clean up the dog messes again, but he came to me with tears in his eyes and handed me his pistol.
His voice was weak, and this would be the only time I ever saw his so crushed. As good as he could he said, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.”
I had no idea what he was so upset about and his loose handling of the gun scared me a little. This was not like him at all. Pat never showed emotions or expressed his feelings. He was usually just grumpy. Now this man was broken and then he finally told me, “you know what to do Ronnie and take the shovel with you.”
Then he took me to Susie who could not walk very well and was blind. She would nip at anything that came near her. I took her blanket and gently wrapped her in the familiar cloth. She did not flinch or try to bite me. Susie’s body became limp and she relaxed in my arms and I knew she trusted me. I tried to offer her a treat, but she would not even smell it. She was always great at the trick of, “roll over.”
Sometimes when she wanted one of these treats, she would come to us and just roll over expecting a goodie. But not this time.
The dog that had been my only companion in the woods was dying and I knew it. Pat was right, I also knew what had to be done. I went into the woods to a fort I built out of old pine stumps where we spent most our time. I laid her down and she did not move as I dug a hole in the fresh smelling, soft black Michigan dirt. Gently I put her at the bottom of the hole and shot her. She was buried where we played together spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Susie and Ronnie
I was 10 years old in the fifth grade and I became a man that day, that hour, at that moment. My life had changed course in the middle of a storm from a child to thinking like an adult. I fully grasped my ability to control a bad situation. And once again I was alone.
Pat taught me that, “anything worth putting your time into is worth doing the best job you can.” He went on to say, “even if you are just digging a ditch, make it the best ditch you can.”
Pat was a man’s that kept all feelings to himself but, he had a bad temper, and he had little fits of anger that made him swear.
Gerald “Pat” Patten
When Turk Lake School was out for the day I stayed at a girl’s home until Caroline was done working at the doctor’s office. One day after school I threw a stone and it accidentally broke a little pane of glass in their old chicken house. She told me not to worry about it, so we went on playing and forgot all about it. Later that night at supper, for some reason I mentioned the broken window to Pat.
He got up right then and took me back to her house and made me apologize for the damage. Her dad had no concern about replacing the broken glass. But he did enjoy my lesson of honesty from Pat, right along with me. By example, Pat instilled in me how important it was to always tell the truth. He said to me many times, “no liars or thieves can set at my table.”
One Halloween when I was in the 4th grade, I went trick-or-treating with the girl I stayed with after school and her friend. The two girls were from my class at the Turk Lake grade School. Her dad drove his car around the neighborhood, helping us collect our holiday candy. There were more houses in town, so he drove us to Cass Street in Greenville. It was one of the hottest streets in town for generous candy-giving-neighbors.
We walked up one side of the street and back down the hill on the other side. We got a total of two Meijer’s shopping bags full of a variety of candy. I also remember that I was dressed as a cowboy, Paladin, from the TV show Have Gun Will Travel. But, the night of sweet fun had a bitter ending.
Turk Lake School 4th grade 1962
On the way back to my house, we made one more stop at two homes that were across the road from each other. One house was on the west side of M-91a blacktop road, and the other was on the east side back in the trees. We parked the car in front of this house. I was so excited about the two bags of candy already in the car that I did not even go to the house next to the vehicle.
No, I ran across the road to the other house. When I looked through the frosty window, I could see an old man sitting close to a fuel oil stove trying to keep warm. He had a big fan blowing the heat around and he could not hear me knocking at his door.
When the girls were done trick-or-treating, they joined me, still knocking at the elderly gentleman’s door. I was getting cold and thinking of the warm car and the two bags of candy, so I took off running for the car. And I ran right out in front of an oncoming car from the north that almost hit me.
They honked their horn, trying to get my attention and screeched their breaks as they tried to stop from running me over with their car. I never saw any of this, my mind was still focused on the two bags of candy in the car.
When I came around her dad’s car on the passenger’s side to get in, he yelled at me, “Wow boy, weren’t you watching the traffic? You got to watch it when you cross the road!”
I could only tell him the truth, “I never saw a car.”
Then he continued yelling at me, “You have to look both ways, right and left, and down the road to see what’s coming……”
Before he finished his sentence, we heard screeching breaks, saw a big flash of light, and there was a loud crash. He knew what had just happened. I saw in his face that he thought I was to blame for what might have just happened to his daughter.
Charlene Nobles and Pamela Nelson
The driver of the second car told us he saw what happened. As the girls were crossing the road, they were watching me almost getting hit by a car from the north. They were not watching when they stepped out in front of a car coming from the south. The car hit both girls, and they were lying next to the road in the ditch very much in pain.
I don’t remember how, but I ended up back at my house, only ½ a mile away to the north. I woke up and realized that I was not a lucky boy but that I had been blessed by the Lord again. The girls recovered and returned to school after some time. Years later, I saw the father who was driving that night in the Meijer’s Store, and he still avoided looking at me.
During my senior year of High School, I use to ride to Langston Church on Sunday mornings with three boys from my class. Richard Tisdel was one of only two boys that lived close enough to my house that I could ride my bike there. Harold Jensen and I were the same size, small. We wrestled with each other in gym class in the 95-pound weight class. John Riojas was the nephew of Big Jess Riojas a great piano player who taught me how to play the “boogie woogie.”
Big Jess worked at the local post office and was the manager of the band I played organ in. The Soul Generation performed many times at collages with a band called The Pack. Later they would move to New York and change their name to The Grand Funk Railroad.
One of our first jobs was at playing at the Crystal Lake Palladium. It was built during the 1930s by the gangster Al Capone. It was his private ballroom in the trees of Michigan far away from Chicago. We had to carry all the equipment up these wide stairs that open up in the middle of this enormous ballroom.
One Sunday morning, I slept in after getting home late from playing in the band. It was a long drive back to my house after we got done playing for a fraternity party at the collage in Mt Pleasant.
The Soul Generation
To this day, I can still hear Caroline talking to Richard at the door, “Ronnie is not coming today. Nope, he was out too late with that band.”
These are the last words I heard Richard say, “OK, THANKS.”
After I had a little more sleep, I drove to band practice. We were allowed to rehearse at the Town Hall in Lakeview up the stairs above the fire trucks. On the way there I passed by a car accident. As I drove past the open door of the hospital ambulance, I saw someone hurt and a woman inside. When I got to rehearsal other kids were already there to watch the band practice. Shortly after I arrived, one of them told me that my mother was outside, and she wanted to see me right away.
Caroline did not approve of anything to do with the band. She disapproved of the boys in the group. Sometimes, I had someone that was not in the band come pick me up and take me to band practice, so I would not hurt her feelings. I knew how hard it was for her to come there. Something must be very wrong. I rushed down the long stairs leading from the second story to the ground floor.
And there was my mother on the sidewalk and in a panic mode as she told me, “I had to come and see if you are here.” I did not have to answer her because she knew that was where I told her I would be when I left. Then she said this, “There was an accident just now! We heard the crash! It was only about a ½ mile north from the house on M91!”
As she stopped to catch her breath, her sigh of relief upon seeing me, was easy to see in her eyes. Then Caroline told me the rest of her story before she hurried back to her home. “Richard and John have just been killed in a car crash after leaving the church.” She could only speak in shorts gasps of words, “Their car went off the road and broadsided a tree, they identified two of the boys, but they were not sure if the little guy was you or someone else.” She walked away, saying to herself, “1/2 mile from home.” As Caroline drove away, I knew the Lord had protected me in some very, unique way again.
This moment in time left a scar on my brain that I still feel today. I usually rode with these boys on the way to church. I knew that I could have easily been riding with them that day. There was a time I felt some resentment by just a few, “Why them and not you.”
Some people in the church did not approve of drums in music or me playing in a band. I had the emptiest feeling as I thought about the mothers and families of my friends. But the Lord has the power to heal all things, and He did.
No one knew at that time I was dyslexic and struggled with ADHD. Schools were unaware of learning disorders like that. I feel so sorry for Pat because he tried so hard to teach me how to spell and I never could. And I still can’t.
After failing another spelling test, he was so disturbed with me he scolded me saying, “how could you get so many wrong after all the time I put into your homework?”
He thought he had the solution and he instructed me, “I want you to write all your spelling words 50 times,” as he handed me pencil and paper.
My penmanship has always been poor, but I wrote each word, so it was legible. Many minutes later when I was done writing Pat looked at my work and then turned the paper over asked me to spell each word. He was in shock when I got so many of them wrong after writing each one so many times, he yelled at me saying, “I now think you are playing stupid on purpose and you are trying to play dumb.” I’m sure that Pat felt bad that day and so did I.
Lucky for me in the seventh grade my Spelling and English teacher, Mrs. Gunther, pulled me out in the hall one day after failing another spelling test. She knew what kind of reception I would get when I got home and she said, “Ronnie let me tell you something.”
She went on to say, “We have today in our society doctors and lawyers that we know are very smart people, and they cannot spell either. Maybe you are like one of these smart people and you will never be able to spell. So, do your best and thank anybody that tries to help you. And I believe in you.” I found out in later years why I could not spell but I’m sure Pat never did.
Mrs. Gunther changed my path in life when she used those four words, “I believe in you.” She taught me that even though all people are different there are some of us that are just alike. This was around the time I first got exposed to tobacco. She gave me self-confidence and I turned away from the fellows that smoked in the bathroom and I started hanging out with the kids that were good in the classroom.
Things between Pat and I always got better. He was a great stepfather and I know he loved me because he always said so. I have no memories of Caroline telling me that although I’m sure she must have when I was a baby sometime. She had one real problem with my father’s first born, I looked just like him and she hated my real dad with a passion.
When I was in Boy Scouts Pat volunteered to be a scout leader. I was so impressed with him. “My dad was the Boy Scout leader.” All the boys like him. He took us camping and showed us how to ruff-it in the woods. He talked Caroline into to sending me to Boy Scout’s camp one year and I think she must have loved getting rid of me for a week because she sent me there each year after.
Scout Master Pat
I never made Eagle Scout because could not past swimming test. The water in Michigan lakes were so cold I would turn blue before the test was over. But one year I was voted by Troop 133 to be the only boy that year to have the honor of attending the Order of the Arrow weekend ceremonies. This was a rite of passage to these young men. Once a year a secret ballot was taken in each troop to select one boy to attend the Indian like celebration.
First Class Scout card
The chosen few arrived at Boy Scout Camp over by Muskegon on Friday. At the campfire that night each boy had a small stick tied around his neck with a piece of binder’s twine. During the time of the initiation if you talked to someone or did something wrong a notch was carved into your stick. We all wondered what would happen if we got too many notches. We danced around the fire and one by one each boy was blindfolded then taken into the dark forest and dropped off alone.
Order of the Arrow card & patch
Each boy was given a small package by the leaders that were dressed as Indians. Inside the package was, some raw dough, one hot dog, and a wooded match that was stuck into the dough.
If you did not open your package right away and remove the match you had no way of starting a fire. I got my match out right away and built a fire in the dark. With my feet I moved the leaves and dug a little trench. I put down a layer of hot coals, covered them with the leaves and dirt. I kept very warm during that cold night and I slept well.
The next day all the boys were put to work doing chores around the scout camp getting it ready for winter. Later that night we were all given a white sash with a big red arrow on it. I still have mine today hanging on the wall.
I never got any notches carven into my stick and nothing was ever said about the ones that did. When I got home, Caroline did not have much to say but I’m sure Pat was proud of me even though he did not say so.
Boy Scout Order of the Arrow sash
My favoured prayer these days is to thank the Lord for my heritage that came during my youth from the Christian men and woman that raised me. The Lord was a real part of their daily lives. They taught me how to pray and worship HIM. I am sure that I did not live up to their expectations, and I appreciate their patience with me. The best I can do is to follow in their footsteps and seek HIS will for me, and witness to others.
“And the two shall be one flesh: so, then they are no more two, but one flesh.” Mark 10:8. I am the one flesh from two great families. The Knauss and Ostrander families were good role models. The Knauss family taught me how to love the Lord and have a personal relationship with HIM. Their daily walk with the Lord always put Him first in everything they did or said.
The Knauss family 1980’s
The Ostrander family showed me how good things only come from hard work. And they shared with me the pride of doing a good day’s work. The Ostranders taught me how to hunt for deer and other small game. They passed on to me the love of the out of doors and just walking through the woods. No one in either family smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol.
Charley, Willard, Virginia, Caroline, and Jim Ostrander
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