The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.lift
    MORENCI student Dalton McCowan puts everything into a dead lift attempt Saturday morning during the Wyseguy Push/Pull event. Lifters helped raise more than $1,600 for the family of the late Devin Wyse, a former Morenci power-lifter who graduated last year. Commemorative T-shirts are still available by contacting teacher Dan Hoffman.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.office
    NEW OFFICES—Fayette village administrator Steve Blue speaks with tax administrator Genna Biddix at the new front desk of the village office. Village council members voted to use budgeted renovation funds targeted for the old office and instead buy the vacant bank building on the corner of Main and Fayette streets. The old office was sold to Sherwood State Bank. When everything is put into place in the spacious new village office, an open house will be scheduled. Council member David Wheeler donated all of his time needed to make changes in the bank interior to fit the Village’s needs.

Steve Luxenberg: Secrets can have consequences 2010.05.19

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Each generation has its secrets, says Steve Luxenberg, and those secrets can have consequences.

Luxenberg, 57, an associate editor at the Washington Post, visits Stair Public Library at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss the secrets of his family—secrets kept when mental illness was a subject not to be discussed.

Luxenberg’s book, “Annie’s Ghosts,” was chosen a Michigan Notable Book for 2010 and his visit to Morenci marks the final stop in a series of speaking engagements at five Michigan libraries.

Family secret

Luxenberg never learned until after his mother’s death that she had a sister who lived for many years in Detroit mental institutions. His mother had said that her sibling died at a young age, but she kept secret the truth of the situation.

Luxenberg eventually learned his “invisible” aunt, Annie, was born with a deformed leg and suffered from behavioral problems. At the age of 21, she was committed to an asylum named Eloise and lived her final years at the state hospital in Northville.

The search for information about his aunt led to encounters with a few of the people who knew her. Along the way, he learned a lot about the time when his parents were young and much about mental health care in America.

Luxenberg started collecting information about his family long before he ever thought of writing a book.

“I had a busy day job and I sort of put it aside,” he said.

Actually, it was a literary agent who told him he had the makings of a book. She liked his writing and called to ask if he had considered writing a book.

“Funny you should say that,” he responded. “I have an idea for a book, but it’s not something you would expect from someone who’s editing a [newspaper] section about politics and commentary.”

They went to lunch and the initial half hour meeting stretched into a much longer session.

“My instincts as a journalist and editor told me it was a good story,” he said, but he didn’t know if it would stand the test of general interest.

He sees a newspaper as a smorgasbord with something for everyone, but a book is only an entrée for a more specific consumer.

“My goal was to write a universal story, a story about any family that confronted the situations that my family confronted, that any woman might decide to keep secret.”

Long after he decided to try writing the book, he encountered someone who had known his aunt and then he knew: “I’ve got a reality. I think I can do a real book out of this.”

He set a schedule for himself, with people at the top of the list. He knew he could always research facts later, but the people he needed to contact continued to age—in fact, two of them died before he made their acquaintance.

He learned a lot from the half dozen people who knew his aunt, but relying on memories always proves a challenge for a writer trying to go back in time.

“The book is partly about the vagaries of memory and how it changes stories and sometimes distorts them,” Luxenberg said.

Mental health care

Luxenberg was fascinated by the Detroit institution known as Eloise that once housed about 5,000 residents with mental problems and thousands more who were homeless. A farm furnished meat and produce for the community—an operation so successful that excess food was sold to the public.

The peak for institutionalized patients in the U.S. came in 1955 with about 550,000 in asylums. Since then the country’s population has doubled, yet the number of mental patients in institutions has fallen to fewer than 40,000.

Luxenberg doesn’t begin to suggest that he’s become an expert on the care of the mentally ill, but he’s learned a lot while researching his family’s history.

In years past, he said, there were people committed to institutions who shouldn’t have been. Today, with fewer public resources dedicated toward mental health, there are people walking the streets who could benefit from care.

“There’s a huge debate going on in the mental health field both about that population and the population in jails,” he said.

In some locations, those with mental health issues have been segregated into a specific area of a jail.

Ironically, Luxenberg said, putting those with mental problems behind bars marks a return to society’s response 150 years ago. That approach, he said, is not showing much progress in care.

With the decline of the public asylums, families took over a larger role in care-giving, where in the past people were giving up their family members to asylums.

Debates about personal freedom versus forced treatment continue.

“It’s a complicated world and the people in the field are not all in agreement,” he said.

The secrets

“I think every generation creates its own secrets,” Luxenberg said.

When his parents were growing up, mental health was the hidden issue. In the 1980s, the secret was AIDS. In the 1990s, homosexuality became an “official secret” with the military’s don’t ask-don’t tell policy.

“That’s got to have consequences and that’s kind of what my book is about—the consequences of secrecy. It’s a good story on the one hand, but I’m also interested in showing there are consequences, often unintended.

“My curiosity as a writer is to see how things play out that couldn’t have been anticipated.”

When Luxenberg was growing up, families didn’t look backward at the past. Attention was forward on the future. When he visits Morenci tomorrow, he’ll talk about how that practice played out in his family.

Remember, Luxenberg says, every family has its secrets.

• Steve Luxenberg’s talk will include time for questions. Refreshments will be served.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016