The Weekend Mike Became Popular…

1-Mike Staton
This Writing Wranglers & Warriors post written by Mike Staton.

In the 1980s, I called Central Florida my home. I lived on the outskirts of the city of Leesburg in Lake County. Back then, I’d get relatives who’d come down to Florida and give me a call to get together. Once my mother and sister, her husband Larry and their young’uns motored down from Ohio and we took in Disney World, Gatorland and Sea World. Another time the same bunch vacationed in a Daytona Beach condo and I took the jaunt over to the seacoast town and did some visiting. In 1985, mom and Jody brought along the grandparents, Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid, and we spent together time at Ormond Beach and even managed a short drive south to see a space shuttle launch from a public viewing area at KSC.


Living in Central Florida since late December 1981, I’d seen my share of space shuttle launches and landings, but this one was special… I’d get to share it with mom and Grandfather Frog. It launched in June 1985 with a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family aboard, Sultan Salman Al-Saud. Grandpa passed away in early January 1987, so the launch of STS-51G has remained a sweet memory for me as the decades passed.

Tom Kurtz at Hampton Inn Henderson May 2016
Here I am at the Henderson Hampton Inn and Suites with my cousin Tom Kurtz and his wife Lynn.

As an aside, I had everyone looking at the wrong launchpad, so when Discovery launched at 7:33 a.m. we didn’t see it – not until I swept my gaze to a nearby launch tower where the shuttle streaked up and away on a pillar of fire and smoke. I pointed to the actual launchpad and yelled as the roar of those solid rocket boosters and the three SSMEs reached us. They enjoyed teasing me about my miscue, since I self-styled myself an expert on space exploration.


I long ago moved away from Central Florida. I lived for almost twenty-five years in Southeast North Carolina, and in the winter of 2014 moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. Actually, to a Henderson neighborhood between Las Palmas Estrada Avenue and Paseo Verde Parkway near Gibson Road. I live on a ridge below Black Mountain that in some places provides impressive views of the Valley and the Vegas Strip.

Mike at Wolf Lake
Sometimes it takes a photo to jog a memory. The boy on the left… that’s me. My sister’s on Grandma Mid’s lap. The other women? Mom and Aunt Ethel. That’s Becky in the water beside me and Tom peeking behind Mom and Ethel. Fun times at Wolf Lake circa 1960.

Interestingly, though, in the twenty-seven months of living in this Mojave Desert oasis only once did I receive a Facebook message from a friend wanting to get with me for a visit. That was one of my Writing Wranglers and Warriors friends, Gayle Irwin from Casper, Wyoming. Sharon and I had lunch with Gayle at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. All that changed a week ago when I had back-to-back visits from relatives and friends. Things were so busy I almost thought I was back living in Central Florida.


My first visitors were Tom Kurtz and his wife Lynn, who were hiking among the desert splendors of Sedona, Arizona. They made the five-hour drive to Henderson and got with me for a meal at Sunset Station’s buffet. They reserved a room at the Hampton Inn Hotel and Suites a short hop away from Sunset Station. I’ve a yarn to go along with their visit, one that fits my oh-not-again personality.

The map says the Hampton is located on Astaire Drive. Hey, I’ve lived in Henderson for more than two years, and have driven the Sunset Station area countless times, right? Should be a cinch, right? The map says take Warm Springs and turn right onto Astaire. No problem. Except it was sundown and sunbeams warred with the shadows dancing on my windshield. I drove by twice, unable to find Astaire. Frustration gnawing my insides, I turned into a nursing home parking lot and phoned Lynn. We laughed some, then laughed some more, and then she provided the detail I needed… there was a Burger King on the corner of Warm Springs and Astaire. Presto! I turned onto Astaire and was soon parked in the Hampton’s parking lot. Tom and Lynn waited for me at the hotel entrance. He rushed over and gave me a hug.

Relaxing at Wolf Lake
Clarence’s sisters always took over the cooking and stuff when they’d come up to Wolf Lake for vacations. Aunt Pauline would get out of the way, Lynn says. These three relaxing on the deck are aunts Nellie and Hazel and Grandma Mid.

Tom’s a cousin, one of the Wolf Lake clan up in Michigan. You may have read a story or two about my childhood days vacationing at Wolf Lake. I hadn’t seen Tom since the mid-1960s. I was a bit nervous about what we’d talk about, especially since half a century had passed. No problem; both Tom and Lynn were chatterers wanting to hear about my life and eager to talk about theirs and look back at the idyllic times when all the Kurtz-related aunts, uncles and cousins gathered for cookouts, swimming and prayer time at Uncle Clarence’s house on Wolf Lake in Muskegon.


For me, the Wolf Lake story actually begins with the late 1880s marriage of Icie Belle Edwards and David Elmer Kurtz. Icie-Belle gave birth to thirteen children and raised them until her death in 1920 at age 48 from heart disease. Elmer died 12 days later, a victim of TB or consumption as it was once commonly called. In December a daughter, Helen, also passed away from TB. Left orphans, the couple’s youngest children, including my Grandmother Mid, were shuffled from relative to relative. Those years after the death of her parents were traumatic for my grandmother, and thankfully her older sister Ethel offered stability when she took her in.

Wolf Lake 1961 with Ethel, Juanita, John
Nice view of the Wolf Lake house circa 1961. That’s my cousin John Snyder floating on the water. On the dock are his mother Juanita and his Grandma Ethel.

More than three decades later, in the early 1950s, one of Grandma Mid’s brothers, Kenny, died from cancer, leaving behind a young wife and four children, David, Don, Tom and Becky. Once again, the extended Kurtz family faced a crisis. Like a story out of the Old Testament, an older brother, Clarence, a widower with children of his own, married Kenny’s widow, ensuring stability for Kenny’s young kids.


Over the course of several hours a week ago Sunday, Tom, Lynn and I reminisced about the children of Icie Belle and David Elmer, especially Grandma Mid and her sisters Ethel, Hazel, Nellie and Bernie. When the Sisters came up to Clarence’s for a visit, their own clans in tow, Aunt Pauline would movie out of the way. “They’d take over,” Lynn remembered, laughing. Space allowing, I’ll share some photos from those days.

Tom and Lynn wanted to know about my newspaper reporting days, especially in Florida. Tom’s siblings Don and Becky live in Florida. I learned Tom worked for the U.S. Forestry Service and Lynn had been a fourth-grade elementary teacher. They now live in Northern Michigan, not far from the Canadian border. They showed me photos of their home. Tom’s a couple of years older than me and in fantastic shape. He puts me to shame. We were walking out to their car, and I couldn’t keep up with his long steps. Staying at a hotel is unusual for them… normally, they’re sleeping in a tent.

Wolf Lake1
Beautiful view of Lake Wolf nowadays. Tom’s brother Dave owns the house now.

Visits like Sunday’s can sometimes be tinged with sadness along with joy. Such was the case with Tom and Lynn. Just days before we’d learned that one of Clarence’s grandchildren, Bob Kurtz, son of Malcolm and Barb, had passed away. Bob was just a few months older than me. On my family’s last vacation trip to Wolf Lake in the summer of 1967, Malcolm and Barb held a cookout for everyone at their home. I remember watching a Star Trek episode with a time-travel theme – and a guest actress was an extremely young Teri Garr. Later, Bob took me to a practice session of his rock band… fun times.


I bid Tom and Lynn farewell after midnight, and prepared for a 10 a.m. get-together with Duplin County, North Carolina, friends Gary and Debby Scott. Gary was my editor at the Duplin Times where I worked as a reporter covering Wallace, Rose Hill and Magnolia. After being out of the profession since 1990, I had to learn new technology, especially InDesign and Photoshop, and get comfortable covering everything possible from council meetings to festivals and eerie cats that frequent hospice rooms of dying patients. While at the Duplin Times, I learned I still had it in me, winning a North Carolina Associated Press second-place award for feature writing. In 2013 I interviewed a Warsaw, North Carolina, girl with a sweet voice and a strong drive that led to a major role in a Broadway revival of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Mike, Gary Scott, and Sharon Benson
Sharon and I met Gary and Debby Scott for coffee at Sunset Station. Gary was my editor at the Duplin Times in SE North Carolina. They vacationed in the rugged Southeast and took in the desert and mountain sights from Pike’s Peak to the Grand Canyon.

Sharon and I met Gary and Debby at the Starbucks inside Sunset Station. That’s right… Sunset Station again. It’s convenient. It’s the tallest building in Henderson, except for its sister casino, the Fiesta. For Tom and Lynn, it had been almost half a century. For Gary and Debbie, seven months… I’d visited my friend Jayne in Wilmington in October and made a jaunt up to the Kenansville office in Kenansville to visit Gary and the staff. There’s some breaking news to share. Gary’s going into semi-retirement, turning the reins of day-to-day operations to a new editor. Instead, he’ll do some editorial and column writing and helping out with deadline page layout. Debby’s now heading the North Carolina Muscadine Festival. I’ve always enjoyed the festival; it’s a fun way to imbibe wine and listen to live music.


I told them I’m continuing to crank out first-draft pages of Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep, my Civil War novel. About half the novel is set in Duplin County and Wilmington. Hopefully, that will entice some folks in Southeast North Carolina to buy the novel. The first draft should be done in a couple of weeks. Then the second draft rewrite gets underway.

SENC Winter 2016
The Duplin Times staff does some great work. Since I left they now publish a quarterly magazine about entertainment and cultural doings in SE North Carolina.

Later Monday, Gary and Debby headed south to tour Hoover Dam. I intended to accompany them, but my bum leg and hip acted up and I decided not to test them. So instead of traipsing around Hoover Dam, I parked out on my recliner and babied my right leg. They flew out of McCarran International Airport early Tuesday and by Tuesday evening were back home, their Facebook-shared trip through the rugged landscape of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada over.



In case you’re curious, I’m the author of a fantasy trilogy — Larenia’s Shadow. The trilogy’s three books are: The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin, and Assassins’ Lair, and can be purchased on the websites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m nearly finished with the first draft of a Civil War novel — Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep. I’m hoping to see it published late this year or early next year.



25 thoughts on “The Weekend Mike Became Popular…

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading about your together times with family and friends. The pictures are especially nice–you’re fortunate to have them. My crew didn’t take many photos when we gathered. Does it really matter how long you’ve lived in a place? I’ve been in the same place for thirteen years, and if there’s not a Burger King on the corner, I might as well stay home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny you should say Burger King, since that’s the way I found the Hampton hotel. I admit I am not a party animal like my younger days. Don’t go down to the Strip very often. Not the same for a 64 year old as for someone in their 30s or even 40s.


  2. i envy you your written and pictured histories of your family. I can feel the pride in family relationships you share with your relatives. In this age where people have trouble connecting on a personal level, you and yours are a treasure. thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks you, Neva. I regret that we’ve grown apart over the decades. Those thirteen children of Icie Belle and David Elmer Kurtz were so close. They were the glue that kept the extended family close for years and years.


  3. So happy you’ve been able to make connections with family and friends, Mike. I’m also very grateful we had opportunity to meet in person last year. I’ll be seeing Kari (the woman who was with me in Vegas) up in Montana in less than a month — she’ll be visiting her family and I’ll be visiting her and her family! Then, I meet up with my parents for three days in Yellowstone, with a book signing attached. 🙂 Later in the month, my husband and I will travel to visit his relatives in North Carolina (Charlotte area) and head down to Mississippi for me to see relatives I haven’t seen since I was 16 years old. Although the time may pass, the heart remains soft toward loved ones, both family and friends. Thanks for sharing yours with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And thank you for telling me about your travel plans. I like how you said “time may pass, but the heart remains soft ward loves ones.” I couldn’t think of Kari’s name, or I would have included her in my post when I mentioned meeting you in person.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike,
    What a gift to be able to spend time with people who were near and dear to you. I’m happy you had the opportunity and thank you for sharing it with us. It makes one feel part of the family. **Smile** Doris


  5. What’s odd is that most of the comments come from fellow bloggers. I use Facebook to link to my Writing Wranglers & Warriors posts. The ‘other’ comments usually appear with the Facebook post, not here. Oh well.


  6. Mike, I love your family and friends stories. You sure have a lot of both and we appreciate your sharing them here. I lived in Florida for 18 years (Clearwater-St. Pete) and I loved it. Like you, my family and friends often visited and we’d take in all the fun things to do. Don’t know how many times I’ve been to Busch Gardens, Disney World, and all the others and I loved them every time I visited. So nice you could get together with your previous editor. Sounds like Las Vegas is good for you!


    1. Enjoying Vegas indeed. Food’s good. Don’t like that the greedy casino owners down on the Strip are looking at charging locals to park in the parking decks. They’ve delayed implementation, maybe they’re having second thoughts.


  7. I love your family connectedness even after some 50 years- Mike. Your family recollections in print ( or ether net) are great way to keep them all ‘alive’. B.T. W. – I’ve a family weddng coming up in Pasadena in early September and just might have a couple of days in Las Vegas since I’ve never been there and I’ll be coming over with 4 of my family. 😉


    1. Hope you have time for coffee and a visit, Nancy. And yes, I agree about my printed recollections… I’ve been told all the cousins enjoy reading them. They make comments on FB, not here, though.


  8. Mike, have you considered doing a memoir, you have the most vivid memories. I love your family stories. Thanks for sharing and sharing the photos. I hope to get a load in that area one of these days and we can also meet in person, or if you come back to OH for a visit, we just may get to meet you. Until then, thanks Cher’ley


  9. Great post and side stories, Mike. I especially loved the one about your visit to the Discovery launch and you had everyone watching the wrong launchpad. That’s great! You’re lucky you stay connected with folks from so many different facets of your life.


  10. I managed to get way behind reading posts over the last several weeks as I spent time with family and friends I hadn’t seen in a while. It must be that time of year, everyone seems to be on the move. Glad you had a chance to enjoy your time with old friends. Thanks for sharing I always enjoy reading your posts.


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