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I Was Always Young:  The Doug Liedel Story

I Was Always Young: The Doug Liedel Story

I Was Always Young is a fine memoir told by a fine man and the members of the family he molded.  Born in Great Depression-era Michigan, Doug Liedel developed simple but unshakable values in education, hard work, thrift, responsibility, and most of all, self-sufficiency.  These values enabled him to not only earn his fortune, buy even more importantly, to build a family whose members are at once both close-knit and self-sufficient.  Though Doug's philosophy is easy to understand, the challenge came in living it, and he never wavered.

In many ways the All-American little boy, he learned to hunt, fish and survive outdoors from his father.  He learned to sew and save his money from his mother.   He learned about life from a large family that was all around him.  But most of all, he learned to work, often with his best-friend Leo at his side.  "We'd do anything for a nickel," Doug explains.

In I was Always Young, Doug and family recall wonderful Christmas, Easter, and birthday celebrations, years and years of school, sports, and scouting fun, and perhaps most of all, their incredible times together on Bois Blanc Island.  Through it all, Doug and his beloved wife Gerry teach their five children the philosophy of life he developed as a boy.  He teaches his kids to work, to save, and to take total responsibility for themselves.  That he succeeded in teaching them independence shines through in the pages of this memoir, and yet, they are as tightly knit a family as can be imagined.  As such, the legacy of this incredible life lives on in the children and grandchildren whom he loved and taught and the bedrock values they carry with him.

In this passage Doug speaks of learning the value of hard work.  Doug's mother was present at the time, and chimed in with recollections of her own:

Between what my mother taught me about money and my father taught me about survival, I learned to be self-sufficient.  That was so important during the Great Depression, and it served me well my entire life, and I have insisted on that trait in my own family, even as our financial situation has improved.  I think I was self-sufficient when I was nine or ten years old, and I've always taken pride in that fact.

As a kid, I had a lot of odd jobs, and I was always hustling for a buck, usually with my best friend Leo Gramlich.  Growing up, he lived in the next house down.  I remember we built a clubhouse, more or less.  It was probably five feet by five feet or maybe six by six. 

So we built this clubhouse, and we were all set to start using it, when a guy in the neighborhood was looking for a chicken coop.  Well, we had this all built, so we sold it to him for five dollars!  That was our first venture into the builder's business, but it wouldn't be our last.  We'd do anything for a nickel.

People back then on Saturdays would go out and set on the front porch and socialize.  Well, Leo and I would pop popcorn and sell them in these little bags to the people setting for two or three cents.  We were always making money.  Leo and I were always hustling.

Leo worked just as hard as I did.  I remember he delivered my Grandparents' paper.  They were Bernard and Nellie Liedel, and they lived above my Great Grandfather Sebastian's General Store, and it was something like 90 steps to get up there!  When Leo was the paperboy, he would walk up, deliver the paper, and come down.  Every day!

Another time there was a bounty on sparrows!  There were too many of them, so the town government wanted to get rid of some of them.  They offered a penny a head!  So Leo and I had a bee bee gun and we'd go out and get our bounty.

I remember that there was a lady, Mrs. Tuba, who owned the bar in the town.  We would shoot these sparrows and bring them to her.  Now their hind legs had some meat on them, and she would fry them up for us.

Mother:  His work ethic was natural.  You know, I come from an Amish family way back when.  My father's father was Amish, and he met my grandmother, who was not Amish.  He was over in Vermont working as a carpenter and he met Grandma and they fell in love.  Of course he married her, and that was out of the clannish so it was, "Out you go!" 

Didn't bother him a bit, and we were raised pretty much as if we were Amish anyway, because Grandma went right along with Grandpa.  We learned to cook, we learned to do all the good things that the Amish did, and there's where your savings come from.  You didn't waste a nickel. 

Doug was raised the same way.  And we always have lived that way, and I still do.  If we wanted something, we saved the money to buy it.  Sometimes by the time you'd saved enough, you didn't want it anymore, so you still had your savings.  That's the way we are.  No credit cards.  You work for things, and Doug didn't need any encouraging.

He was clever, too.  Let me give you an example.  You see, he peddled Free Press papers.  Around this time, the Cushman Motor Scooter, built in Lincoln,, Nebraska by the Cushman Motor Works, was quite popular.  Well, he saved enough money selling papers and doing odd jobs to buy a Cushman.  Cost him two hundred dollars.  Then he could peddle the papers easily, take on a bigger route, and make more money.

And he worked for the gas station Carl and Esther Rupp owned that was right at the end of our street, too.   Anything to make a buck.

He did trap muskrats, just like he said, though I remember one time somebody walked off with them.

It's all part of the game, Mom.

Mother:  It's part of the game, that's right.  So he pulled up the traps.  But like I say, every time he got a chance to make a dollar he was there. 

He even broke his nose twice or three times while working.  He worked for a guy named Chap that sold everything.  As I recall, one time he stepped on a roll of linoleum and broke his nose for the first time.

That's right.  Chap had a display shelf up there when they used to have linoleum that came on a big tube.  Hell, my nose was just like steel, but this one time, I got up there, started to slide on my legs - and I just had no control - POW!  I went right down! 

But there was another injury that had a more serious impact on me than just a broken nose.  You see, we were all farm boys and mechanically inclined.  We worked on cars.  We all could make a Model T run. 

Now as farm boys, we could get licenses at, I think it was, 12 years old.  When the War started, all the men were going to war, so the remaining businesses needed help. 

My Granddad had a mill called S. Liedel and Sons, and when I got my driver's license around 12, my Dad said, "Go and show Grandpa that."   

So I went over and he said, "Oh, you got your driver's license?  Would you like to try an old International?" 

I said, "Oh, yes!"   

He says, "Good." 

Then he said, "Do you want to go to work?  Do you want to shovel?"   

I said, "Oh, sure!" 

This was in August.  Anyway, he says, "There's the pickup.  Here's the shovel.  There's the gondola.  Just fill it with stoker coal.  There's a cart over there, and your job is to unload that cart.  You've got three days to do it in.  Then take it over to the basement full, for fuel for the winter." 

So I started working, and I'm paying for it to this day.  I have two vertebrae pressed on my spinal cord that pinch me, and it started with all this labor I did for my Granddad.  I went to work too early.  I was only about 12, and it was just too strenuous. 

For all of his work, both as child and adult, came many rewards.  Perhaps the greatest for Doug was the ability to spend much time with family and friends hunting, fishing, and relaxing at Bois Blanc Island.  Here, Doug and family recall his haven:

Bois Blanc Island, that's my heaven up there.  I've spent as much time as I can there.  I'm a deer hunter and an archer, and there was deer there.  Somebody said, "Let's go up there," and we went up there.  There was good hunting. 

We started out in 1950, my buddy Joe Schlund and myself, we got a small trailer, and that was our hunting cabin and our base.  We got it over on a barge.  It was just a bunch of buddies getting together doing their thing.

I was always a good shot.  If I can't kill an animal with one shot, I don't take it.  Normally, when I decide to shoot, it's down.  We had a saying, "If it's grounded, it's down."  But I'm not out there to waste meat.  It's got to be used.  I don't waste anything.

I was also a fisherman, and out on the lakes I would fish walleye and whatever else was biting.

At that time, I was feeding my kids.  We'd shoot enough meat for us to live by.  There was deer there, and I could put meat on the table for them, so it was that simple.  We'd freeze the meat and can it and it got us through some lean times.  That's what we fed to the kids.  That's what we lived on.  They ate anything.  We never wasted anything.

Gerry:  I don't like to cook game and I don't like to eat it either.  I didn't like to cook fish if I had a choice in it, and I did have a choice.  But I eat fish. 

I very definitely have a great respect for the animals.  There are meat hunters, which I have no objection to, if the meat is used.  But these guys go out and shoot an elk.  Great, but what does he do with the meat?  You've got to give it to the natives or use it in some way.  Don't waste it.

When I shot my moose, we ate the meat.  Sometimes it was awful expensive to get it butchered, but I've never wasted meat.

Eventually, Joe and I graduated from the trailer.  Joe decided to build a cabin.  So he built a cabin, and he sold the trailer.  He had that cabin for several years.  He owned it, but that was our headquarters.  Irregardless of who owned it, we all shared the expenses.

It was 1953, the year René was born, when I started buying land for myself up there.  I was a young guy.

By the way, I was always a young guy!

Anyway, I had an opportunity to buy this land, and it was just a good buy, so I took advantage of it.  It was lakefront property, and I loved it, and that's been a real big part of my life, and my family's life, ever since.

Gerry:  This was his goal, to buy that property for the family to really be able to enjoy.  And of course, he's loved it most of all.  While Doug was sick here at the house, we'd rotate pictures of the island house for him.  Everyday we'd rotate them a couple times.  That gives you just a little insight into how much that really is his Heaven.

Denise:  In my early teens we started making a few trips to the island. Dad would hunt there with Joe Schlund and enjoyed it so much he wanted us to experience it. 

Dad and the island were meant for each other. He was a different man up there. Very relaxed and in his element. You could almost see him change on the trip up. You could see the stress from work just leave him. Almost like when he exhaled all the worries just left him. He was so excited about everything. He always had a plan on what he wanted to do when he got there.

I remember this one trip over Thanksgiving that myself, Bryan and Danielle and a friend of Bryan's went up to the island for the four-day weekend. We had a wonderful weekend and on Saturday it started to snow. We had watched the weather report and saw it was going to be a lot. Dad always closed up the house for the winter on Thanksgiving weekend which meant putting antifreeze down the drains. We rushed around to get everything packed up and loaded and ready for the trip home Saturday night. Dad had taken the packed vehicle out to the road Saturday night.

We knew that because of the weather, the boat schedule was going to be limited on Sunday morning.

When we got up Sunday morning, we were shocked at the amount of snow. We finished closing up the house which included putting the antifreeze down the drains.

Dad had snow shoes on and led the way. We trudged along the driveway, and up the ridge in knee-high to hip-high snow. Mom was carrying her miniature poodle Pierre, and the rest of us our few belongings from the night before, plus the rest of the garbage.

Well, we managed to get to the vehicle and to the boat but they had made the decision that it was not safe to go across. We trudged back to the house. The kids were excited about being snowed in. Two days later we were able to get off. In the mean time we ate canned food and boxed foods we had carried out. Dad hauled up buckets of water from the basement to use in the toilets and to wash up with. We could not use the drains nor run the water, because he didn't have any more antifreeze.

It was a very memorable Thanksgiving!

René:  Bois Blanc Island was Dad's sanctuary.  The place he could renew, rejuvenate, restore his spirit.  He spoke often of how the daily grind of his job depleted him and it was only on the island that he could find his own self once more.  The mental effort, discipline, and long hours of the work week fell away as he would putter, hunt, or fish on the island.  It was a lighter, less serious approach to life.

This is what I see: Dad without his hair piece, ball cap on, wearing jeans with suspenders, a smudge of dirt on his cheek and  a great big grin, puttering in the Pole Barn or with one of his projects.

Jeff:  Bois Blanc Island was a refuge for my father.  Riding with him on the weekend trips you could see a calmness come over him the further north we would travel.  Once we got to the boat, he became so very relaxed.

He truly became a different man when he was there.  He became more approachable.  There was more depth in his responses to your questions or comments.  He felt more, shared more, was more reflective, and was simply a happier person. 

The depth of this calmness hit me hard one day on the island.  I went looking for my father who had gone for a walk in the woods.  I heard crying.  A hard crying. 

I walked up upon my father without him seeing me.  He was sitting on a stump, head in his hands, sobbing for his friend Joe, who had recently passed away.  He couldn't share that down state at the funeral, but he could there where he was more human. 

I loved that moment, he never knew I saw him. 

I also have many hunting and fishing moments that were shared with my Dad which I carry with me every time I enter the woods.

Kimberly:  The island is my father for me.  We each have a special relationship with each of our parents that is uniquely ours because of our personalities and how they mesh with each of our parents.  Early on, I fell in love with the island.  Nature speaks deeply to me.  Forests and water have a language I can understand.  The solitude that Bois Blanc offers is something my spirit needs.  These same things I believe my father found on the island.  It was his sanctuary.

This island sanctuary enabled him to get through his work week.  My father was a very driven man.  Security was important to him and he defined security in terms of financial security.  To have that driving energy to create financial security, he needed a place to release, to be himself, to be removed from expectations.  The island was his place.

My father spoke of a spot on Northbound I-75 that when he hit it, the cares of the week would drop away and a healing release would occur.

A final story, told by his son Chris, now the CFO of National Geographic, perhaps shows best of all the kind of life Doug Liedel led:


Chris:  I was first to move far away from Mom and Dad.  For all my adult life our relationship was based on phone conversations - Dad loved to help me think through my challenges at work. To make this point, I need to tell a story.

The night of my high school graduation my father was taken to the hospital for what he thought was a heart attack, so he never got to see me graduate. Eighteen years later, I was asked to give the commencement address to my high school. I agreed on one condition, that I too could graduate and that my Dad could finally see it. 

The principal was a longtime family friend and agreed. Dad enjoyed the whole evening of ceremony.  I had borrowed his computer earlier in the day to draft my speech.  Knowing what it was like to live there and grow up there, I framed a set of rules that were tangible to those kids and their families - it had been touched by God. It was so well received that the school had taped the ceremony and it ended up being played on the local television station all summer long and into the fall. 

From time to time, I would call Dad over the last 12 years. And when I needed advice or was worried about a decision, he would go on that computer and pull up my speech and start reading back to me what I had said. It was only until now that I realized he was showing me that the answers had always been inside me.