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Bits and pieces of this and that

First, consider the old cannon from the Battleship Maine of Spanish American War fame reposing on our city hall’s front lawn. In 1912, E. H. Furbush, Teamster, set the cannon there and, when he did, he positioned it dead-solid perfect due true north — not a degree, a minute or a second of a degree, to the right or to the left.

As is my custom, I recently stopped by the old cannon to reorient myself. While there, I noticed some deterioration: The cannon’s carriage paint was chipped — rust was evident, its base was covered with debris, its barrel’s paint had faded.

The cannon looked sad, which made me sad. So I wrote to the city’s director of public works, Sean McNamara, advising him of what I had observed.

Sean thanked me for writing — said he’d have a look. Days later, I noticed wire brushes and paint cans. Soon after, beheld the rehabilitation of a city landmark. The restoration of the old cannon was accomplished quietly, efficiently, with no need for a rededication speech.

Next time you pass that way, give the cannon a glance. Its carriage is a proud glossy back, its barrel a smooth length of battleship grey. And the rust is gone. The old cannon looks so fine, it makes our city shine.

While there, you may wish to check the orientation of your perspective. All you need do is sight down the barrel of an old cannon that can no longer fire.

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On Sept. 27, 1969, Mary K. Smith, a reporter for The News, wrote a lengthy column about nicknames. Many of the people she mentioned are no longer with us, but recognition of some of their nicknames survive. Here’s a few you may recall.

Franklin “Tanky” McKim was our longtime city fire chief. “Tanky” got that name because a childhood friend couldn’t pronounce Frankie.

My father played in Dolly Gray’s dance band. Dolly got his name while playing basketball for Alpena High. It was the nickname of a famous basketball player of the day.

My mother’s nickname was “Tiny” — she was tiny. There have been two “Toby” Masters — apparently, Donald Gillard was to blame for that. “Choker” Szymanski got his nickname from always yelling, “Choke her” when trying to get his 1931 Plymouth to start. “Perch” Schmanski, of Perch’s Grocery fame, got his nickname from a childhood fishing trip with his father, who put a perch on his line. I don’t know how “Tuffy” Cross got his nickname. I’ve always been afraid to ask.

Here’s a few more: the brothers “Cookie” and “Opp” DeRosia, “Dizzy” (Bob Jason), “Beggars” (Jim Kowalski). Beggars got his name by being the youngest of four brothers who he continuously bugged for one thing or another — so they started calling him “Beggars”.

I’m under the impression nicknames are not as common as they once were. My guess is that, with all the passwords and internet “handles” required these days, we eschew any additional labels.

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No nickname discussion would be complete without mentioning “Fibber” McGee of Fibber McGee and Molly radio show fame. Fibber commonly was “blowing smoke,” his “pants on fire.” Molly, Fibber’s long-suffering wife, responded to his outlandish claims with a truthful retort: “‘Tain’t so, McGee!”

We’ve all known people like McGee, folks whose problems with the truth are chronic. One such fellow was the brother of a friend of mine. To my friend, I once cautiously opined: “I think your brother exaggerates.”

“Tommy lies,” my friend replied, pulling no punches.

Likewise, one could characterize our current president as a fellow who tells self-aggrandizing stories. The unadulterated truth is the guy lies, even about the weather.

Isn’t the weather uncertain enough without being corrupted by someone whose pants are on fire?

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Did you know the Besser Co. once manufactured a farm tractor? Neither did I. Nor did a lot of people. Check it out on the Facebook page, “Alpena County Michigan History.” Search there for “Besser tractor.”

My thanks to Rick LaBonte and yet again to those special librarians of the Special Collections Library at Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.