Our Mother Crosses Her Final River

Editor’s Note: in the last entry I wrote that one of the reasons we have not been on the river yet this year is because our mother was ill. She died on June 13. 

Tom Writes . . . 

Cassie Verschoor Neely McNabb August 27, 1925 – June 13, 2018

On June 13, 2018 in Holland, Michigan, Catherine (Cassie) Nell Verschoor Neely McNabb followed her beloved parents, many dear life-long true friends, and her loving husbands Ralph Neely and Bill McNabb, straight up into Heaven. She was the final survivor from the Birthday Club, a group of loving friends who shared their lives, loves, adventures, and sorrows for over sixty-five years. She was ninety-two years old.

Cassie was born in the Roaring Twenties. She lived through the Great Depression, World War Two, and everything since. She graduated from Grand Rapids Central High School and the University of Michigan.

Cassie said, “You never know what may be around the next corner.” In fact, she published a book with that title. She lived, raised her family and worked in Grand Rapids, Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Sun Valley, and Holland. She was a prolific writer, a world-class typist, a B&B entrepreneur, an amazingly talented artisan, limerick expert, animal lover, collector, butterfly enthusiast, and much more. She welcomed all into her home, and always found room for more at her table.

Her children survive her: Thomas (Cynthia) Neely of Grand Rapids, Joseph (Linda) Neely of Ann Arbor, Amy (Brian) Wisner of Grand Haven, and God-Daughter Barbara Stuart (Sally Klokkert) of Meyers Lake. Cassie has six grandchildren: Sam (Laurie) Neely of Little Rock, Clare  (Bob)  Agra of Chicago, Maren (Mac) Dobson of Ann Arbor, Tom Neely of Los Angeles, Hank Wisner of Detroit, and Meryl (Brooke) Wilsner of Grand Rapids. Cassie has five great-grandchildren, two cousins with their families, eight step-children in Seattle, more than a dozen step-grand-children in Ann Arbor and Seattle and a number of step-great-grandchildren.

Cassie’s family plans a celebration service on Saturday, July 7 at 11:.00 am, at  the Klaasen Family Funeral Home, 1500 Robbins Road, Grand Haven. A luncheon will follow at Cassie’s former home on the beach. Cassie would have treasured contributions to the Humane Society, to any church that feeds the poor and does not discriminate against women or to any public library.

Years ago, Cassie wrote: “I wore a red dress to my father’s funeral because that was his favorite color. Recently, in the paper, I read an obituary that requested friends of the deceased wear bright colors to the funeral. Please do that for me.” Please wear bright happy colors if you come to Cassie’s celebration.


We all love a lady named Cassie.

To the end, she was loving and classy.

She put up with the toil.

She was smart; she was loyal…

How we’ll all miss this beautiful lassie!

mom at 92 birthdayCatherine (Cassie) Nell Verschoor Neely McNabb with her children at her 92nd birthday celebration in August, 2017. Back row, l to r: Joe Neely, Amy Wisner, Tom Neely.

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No Motorcycles In The Canoe


Tom Asks…

Joe, my Skipper, my Admiral, can you afford to buy a Harley? If you would just buy us a good motorcycle, we could put said motorcycle in the middle of our canoe, in front of your stern position, behind me

And then, when we reach our paddling destinations, we could cruise back in style, to pick up your truck and my car, back at the starting spots. Much simpler and easier transportation.

We might meet good-looking adventurous women if we had a Harley. And, in Michigan nowadays, we would not even have to wear helmets!

Please buy me a motorcycle.

Deckhand Tom

Joe Responds …

No. No motorcycle. Our parents were smart enough to say “No!” when I went through my motorcycle phase. By the time I could afford to buy and maintain a motorcycle on my own I had other, less dangerous passions.

So, where have we been . . . 

It was a cold Spring with lots of rain. We considered going out early – remember, we were on the river as late as December 1 –  but listened to more experienced paddlers who told us the river wasn’t safe. Then our mother began a rapid decline. Tom and our sister care for Mom almost daily, I get over to the west side of the state as often as I can. I don’t think we’ll get out again until Mom has crossed her final river. That will be soon and is not tragic. She would be 93 if she made it to her August birthday – she won’t – and has had a remarkable life. Go with God, Mom. We love you and are blessed to have been able to tell you that on countless occasions over the past year. The reason we take such good care of you is because you took such good care of us. And, should you regain your connection to this world for a day or two, please tell Tom he can’t have a motorcycle; ok?

I found a campground that looks pretty cool along the Maple River, a tributary of the Grand. I’m thinking it would be fun to rent a cabin – hell, we might even pitch a tent – at the Maple River Campground and then canoe from there down the Maple to where it empties into the Grand near the village of Muir and Lyons. Does anyone have any experience canoeing the Maple in this area? We’d love to hear from you.

Briefly Political . . . 

I often conclude a post by writing, “Always take the river’s side; Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends already.” If you think I am being overly-dramatic, consider this: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt attended a University of Kentucky basketball game in December, sitting in courtside seats provided by a coal industry magnate who was seeking to have Obama-era regulations on the coal industry reversed. That is not draining the swamp, that is importing the swamp. Of course the source I cite is the New York Times, so it’s likely to be fake news. Oy (as my brother would say)!

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Contact Us: 

Joe Neely, joe@lengthofthegrand.com

Tom Neely, tom@lengthofthegrand.com

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On Chasing Girls and Movie Stars

A Slice of Life Along the Grand in the Off-Season

(Hurray, Hurray: Paddling Begins Again Soon)

Joe Writes . . . 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

May God grant you

 a first love to chase ’round the playground,

a lifelong friend for inspiration,

and a true love to share the journey.

(I have had, or still have, all three.)

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One of our granddaughters is being chased by two boys at recess. She is seven years-old, in the first grade, and not complaining. She enjoys and encourages the chase. Not yet sure which boy she will marry, she chases them if they try to take a break.  Love is wonderfully uncomplicated in its early manifestations.

My granddaughter’s courtship rituals evoke my own memories of chasing a girl named Tina – Bird Legs, my father called her – around the playground in Cleveland when I was her age. Bombarded as we are by signs of an impending apocalypse, it is reassuring that some me things don’t change.

During the summer I moved to Michigan – 1967,  before I started seventh grade –  I was briefly infatuated with a girl in my new neighborhood named Sara and called her on the phone one afternoon to ask if we could “go together.”

“No thanks,” Sara said. Surprisingly, I wasn’t crushed even though she answered without the slightest hesitation. As I recall we made plans to meet up with the neighborhood gang later in the day and life went on just as it had. School started in September and I became intrigued by a girl named Theresa. Theresa liked me back and our romance, which consisted of talking together in the hallway between classes, lasted a couple of weeks.

I quickly lost track of Theresa but Sara and I remained in contact, to varying degrees, throughout our lives. Sara and her husband now live in the Pacific Northwest but she’s still got family in Michigan and I occasionally get together with Sara and whoever else is around when she comes back to visit.

Sara is an accomplished actress who has landed substantial roles in several independent films. I admire her because at our age it’s a hell of a lot easier to watch tv and eat ice cream. Sara came to her passion for acting later in life and in doing so provides an example as to how one can view the sunset without being mired in a web of disappointment and abandoned dreams.

Sara’s most recent film has been screened in the Northwest  but is not likely to be shown in Michigan any time soon. I told Sara how much I wanted to see the movie and a few days later a DVD arrived in the mail; she lent me her only copy. My wife, Linda, and I made plans to watch the movie on a Saturday night, which brings this story back full-circle to our granddaughter.

On that Saturday night we were torn when our granddaughter asked if she could sleep at our house. We told her that of course she was welcome but that she would have to entertain herself as we would be watching a movie. She wisely decided that wouldn’t be much fun and chose to stay home. Before we said goodbye I made arrangements to pick her up for Sunday School the next morning.

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“What was the movie about?” my granddaughter asked me as we drove to church.

“Well, it was kind of a grown-up story so I don’t think you would have liked it, but a friend of mine was in the movie and that made it fun,” I said.

“What’s your friend’s name?”

“Sara,” I said.

“Did you used to be in love with her?” Natalie asked. Where did that come from, I wondered. I chuckled.

“Yes, I guess I was. For a little while and a long time ago. But I suppose, in a way, I was in love with her,” I said.

“Did you chase her?”

I prepared an explanation of evolving courtship rituals but then figured, what the hell? Why confuse the issue?

“I sure did, Honey; I chased her all over the playground,” I said.

“Yup, that’s what you do,” she said, knowingly.

*            *            *

 Do you know the poem Jenny kiss’d Me? My mother recited it to us when we were young. It could be changed to Natalie chase’d Me.

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time, you thief, who love to get

Sweets into your list, put that in!

Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I’m growing old, but add

Jenny kiss’d me.

– Leigh Hunt, first published in 1838

leigh hunt

(James Henry) Leigh Hunt, 1784-1859. Portrait by Benjamin Robert Haydon.


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If you enjoy our blog please follow us here on WordPress, like us on Facebook and recommend us to your friends. Contact us by leaving a comment here or as follows:

Joe@lengthofthegrand.com (Joe Neely)

Tom@lengthofthegrand.com (Tom Neely)

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Snapping Turtles and Olive Loaf

February 9, 2018

Joe Writes . . . 

A belated Happy New Year. We are anxious to get on the river again, even to the extent of planning to paddle amidst the ice floes if we get a winter thaw. Right now, however, it’s just too cold. We may be kind of kooky, but we’re not certifiably insane. (At least I’m not; there’s room for debate where my brother is concerned.)

I crossed over the Grand and the Kalamazoo Rivers several times yesterday while making the Ann Arbor – Holland round-trip to visit my mom. The Grand was frozen bank-to-bank in a few places and half-open in others, whereas the Kalamazoo was pretty much clear of ice everywhere I looked. I’m not sure why that is; perhaps the current is swifter in the K’zoo? I worry that we will get out on the Grand easily enough but that the ice – while allowing a big path down the center – will prevent us from reaching the bank where we intend to take out. I am not aware of an ice-breaking attachment for the canoe.

It’s February in Michigan and everyone fights cabin fever in his or her own way. Lately Iolive loaf have been eating nostalgically to ward off the depth-of-winter-crazies. Nostalgic eating entails revisiting the foods of one’s youth. We had chipped beef on toast not long ago , a dish with a decidedly unappetizing nickname (think roofing material) which was a mid-week dinner  staple around our house in the 1960’s. I’ve also been lunching on olive loaf with American Processed Cheese-Like Food and mayo – Miracle Whip, not Hellman’s – served on soft inexpensive white bread. I can’t find Wonder Bread but there are plenty of close substitutes. Koegel makes the best olive loaf and it’s produced in Flint. Don’t beat yourself up for eating processed meats; congratulate yourself for eating locally!

Linda’s dad went through a nostalgic eating phase during the last several years of his life. He had me searching all over for turtle, which is available online at around $25 per pound. Bernie was not an extravagant man and would never let me pull the trigger on mail order turtle even though I was willing to do so. He was always hopeful that I would catch him a big snapping turtle when we were out on the river; thank goodness I’ve only seen smaller turtles. I was never particularly anxious to initiate combat with an armored foe who has long, sharp claws and would just as soon remove my fingers as swallow a tadpole.

Perhaps next time I’ll write about the ultimate in eating nostalgically; i.e., middle class American goulash served with an iceburg lettuce salad and a side dish of red Jello congealed around some sort of canned fruit. It’s a topic worthy of its own entry, so until then . . . listen to the river. Trust the river and take the river’s side (industry and big agriculture have plenty of friends already.

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The River Heals


December 23, 2017

Joe Writes . . . 

Happy Holidays to all who care about rivers, woods and water in Michigan and all over this land. Be vigilant; these are perilous times.

I was recently gobsmacked by the realization that I have lived longer than my father did. Ralph H Neely, Jr., lived for 62 years and 8 months. He died in 1988, a few days after Thanksgiving. I’m at 62 years, 11 months, and counting. Fully mindful that no one knows when their hour will come (Ecclesiastes 9:12), this voyage along the length of the Grand is one element of my attempt to embrace a lifestyle aimed at securing some degree of joyful longevity, something my father did not have.

The number one longevity-enhancing step I took was to quit drinking alcohol. I was never a moderate drinker, and for the better part of my 50’s I drank myself into isolated places where nothing could touch me, at least until the next morning. The next remorseful, hung-over morning. It’s damn near certain that I would not have followed through on this journey down the river were I still drinking. I just didn’t have the energy back then. (I have written previously about alcohol being a factor in my decision to begin this journey.)

How our father would have loved following our journey down the Grand! Come  to think of it, perhaps he is. I wish he could come with us for a day; three big guys in a canoe might present a problem but we’d find a way to make it work. Dad wasn’t really the outdoorsy type but neither were my brother nor I before we began this quest.

To everything there is a season. A time to retreat from the world, and a time to run its rivers. That’s from Ecclesiastes, too, although unchurched baby boomers are more likely to credit the Byrds. With this voyage I have found a new challenge and am having a great deal of fun. My life’s clock runs backwards.

What makes your rapids run?

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When in doubt, take the river’s side. Industry has plenty of friends.

If you enjoy our blog please follow us here on WordPress, like us on Facebook and recommend us to your friends. Contact us by leaving a comment here or as follows:

Joe@lengthofthegrand.com (Joe Neely, the mercurial one, think John)

Tom@lengthofthegrand.com (Tom Neely, the happy-go-lucky one, think Ringo)


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Startling Discovery Along the Grand

In the winter, when weekly outings are not possible, the mind roams more freely in search of a topic . . .

Joe Writes . . . 

Conspiracy Against American Masculinity?

While canoeing the Grand River I believe I uncovered proof of a conspiracy aimed at the emasculation of the American male.

The long underwear I bought at Costco – a set for my brother and a set for me – does not have a fly. Wrap your head around that and tell me there’s not something fishy going on here. Underwear purchased at America’s flagship retailer, underwear clearly labeled as being for men, does not have a fly.

I’m glad we had pulled off the river and were shielded from view while I fumbled and groped my way to the sad confirmation that my underwear was not on backwards. For just a moment I wondered if I had slipped into my wife’s unmentionables by mistake, an idea quickly-discarded by the certainty that I could hardly fit one leg into her delicates, let alone the whole package (so to speak).

This whole fly-less underwear thing would not be surprising if the offending product were being sold exclusively to men in Stockholm or Brussels, European men having been emasculated eons ago. But this is America and men here don’t pull their pants down to relieve themselves. This cultural norm has its roots in the Old West when the wise man kept one hand free and close to his six-shooter at all times. European men, on the other hand, generally kept both hands free for weaving tapestries or grooming small white dogs.

Please know I am not one who ordinarily gives credence to conspiracy theories. A black helicopter, more often than not, is just, well, a black helicopter. And despite what my friends on Facebook insisted to be true I never believed that Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton were personally coming to seize my guns. Not really.

So just certainly as there is a War on Christmas – “Happy Holidays” my red neck and thank you, Mr. President – American masculinity is under attack. And this attack is well-timed, for who can defend the norms when each day brings fresh revelations of American men at last being called to account for their boorish, degrading and sometimes criminal behavior?

So the times they are ‘a changing. And while the changes are mostly for the better, I hopeHenry 8 codpiece that men’s underwear-without-a-fly goes the way of the codpiece. The codpiece, as you may know, was worn over a man’s genitals and was all the rage among fashionable European men in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The word itself is derived from the Middle English “cod” meaning “scrotum,” and I did not make that up. I never wore a codpiece, but I’m sure it was no more convenient to tend to nature’s call while doing so than it was for me on the banks of the Grand River on a cold December’s day in 2017, not far downstream from Grand Ledge, Michigan.

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The river flows.

As for me and my house, we choose the river.



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