A familiar face for more than 20 years as a reporter for WNEM-TV5, Jay Brandow never imagined that one day he would be able to add a career as a writer to his impressive resume, which sometimes included adding guitar styling for Robert Lee Band.
But for Brandau, 50, his recently published first nonfiction book, The Captain’s Chair, was in many ways a life-changing experience, forming a cross between personal adventure and outside discovery. , these stories intertwine to tell the tale of Captain Walt Neil, the sole survivor of the Great Lakes steamship Myron, which sank to the bottom of Lake Superior near Whitefish Point in November 1919.
Traversing the vague memories of Neil’s only surviving niece, Alexandra “Sister” Johnston, the story begins when Brandau discovers and develops a hidden gem in a dilapidated Victorian house he bought in Bay City for renovation in 1990. Treasure, evolved into a combined detective story/memoir looking back at our ancestors and life in Bay City at the turn of the century. In doing so, this work sheds light on who we are today through the prisms that helped define the values and work of our ancestors today.
The idea for Brandow’s debut novel came about through an accidental and decisive discovery. “I bought this old old Victorian house in Bay City and was looking for a basement to attic spot where I could connect the phone line without tearing all the walls,” he recalls.
“So I took my crowbar and popped a section to see what I had to deal with, and found these pictures, taken at the turn of the century, of a man standing on the deck of a freighter with a little girl in front of it and three Individuals stand by.”
“I made myself a cup of tea and sat on the floor looking at the pictures and I thought, ‘Who are these people?’ The people in the picture. Are they happy and how do they smell?”
Jay took this photo for almost a year before he was able to recognize anyone. “For some reason it has something ‘familiar’ in it. I know it sounds weird, but one day when I was going to vote, a friend of mine sat at the table and said she knew someone who used to live here Someone in the house. I was told not to waste my time because she was getting older so I dialed this number and the woman on the phone was brief to me. I had a feeling she wasn’t very interested in the conversation. Honestly, I believe what made me pursue this story because it didn’t help me,”
Over the next few years, what happens between Jay and “sister” is similar to the beginning of the movie “Titanic” – an old woman opens up by looking at objects glittering on a canvas of living memory memory.
Although Jay bought his own house in 1990, it wasn’t until 1992 that his sister began to respond to his progress. “I asked her if she had a picture of the house, so she sent me an old postcard with a little note on it: ‘I thought you’d like this.’ I thought I got a treasure,” Jay said. Continue, “So I thought I’d write a few paragraphs under the photo, frame it, and put it in the foyer.”
After building trust in a few meetings, the sister came to life one day after Jay brought her a polished piece of junk from the house he was renovating. “I gave it to her through the crack in the door and she thanked me and closed the door. I brought her all kinds of things I found around the house for the next three years and we chatted. “