Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A VOICE FROM THE PAST

                                              

Over the fifty years I was together with my wife we accumulated a lot of things. The only difference was, most of my stuff was out in the garages and hers was in the house. But now the time has come to weed through all of it and decide what is worth keeping for posterity and what has to go. My wife’s family is all gone now so there is no interest there. My own children, some whom have been married for thirty years themselves, have no interest either. Most of it is old pictures and papers and tossing them away seems so cold. So that is my quandary and I’m a long way from done.

But this is really not about what I found in all of those boxes but about one thing in particular I came across the other day. It was a baby book. The kind your mother keeps for you. Notes about your development from a baby to a child, written by your mother. What was so mind blowing for me was, this wasn’t my wife’s baby book or our kid’s book but my baby book and I didn’t even know it existed.

You see my mother left my father and her family when I was four years old and my kid brother was two. Why this happened is not important to this essay. My father later remarried and I was blest with a wonderful stepmother and six more siblings. Over the years I was made aware of my mother but until I was a young man she made little effort to see me. She and all of my parents have long since passed away.

My father must have passed this box of pictures and papers on to my wife before he died and she either wasn’t aware that it was in there or knowing my past, thought it might be too painful for me to deal with, and didn’t show it to me. Either way right now I was looking at it for the first time. I was reading my mothers musings written seventy-five years ago. There were swatches of my baby hair and baby pictures I had never seen before. Her name scrawled on a birthday card was the only other time I had seen her writing. As I read through this I was getting to know more about her then I ever knew before, twenty some years after she died. I can’t share what she wrote but it made me cry. All I ever knew about her was all the wrong things she may have done and now here was a woman seemingly so in love with her infant son.


Over the years, family and friends who knew my past have asked me if I loved my mother? I have a hard time answering this because in my past there was another woman who was the only mother I ever knew. Someone who earned my love and respect. Do you love someone because of blood ties more then the one who took care of you when you were sick and sad. I don’t know and I don’t know if I will ever know. But I do know as I read what she wrote, that no matter if I loved her not, she loved me. To those of you out there who have split up a family for whatever reason, I ask that you make every effort to keep your kids front and center. To love them and be a part of their lives even if you can’t live in the same house. Don’t make them wonder years later if they really loved you or not. Love is such a beautiful thing and the more people you can love in your life, the better a person you will be for it. Someday when you are old like I am now, you will need that love from your children. Especially when you’re all alone in the world once more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

WINTER HIATUS

                                                

My life has been made up of many chapters. From my youth growing up in a small town, in a poor family; to marrying a young lady I always felt blessed to have as a wife and the mother of my children; to having a career that spanned four decades and brought with it a world of satisfaction and accomplishment. To retirement to the lake with my writings, grandkids, traveling both with my wife and now with my special friend Pat; and now new plans to spend my winters in a sunny warmer climate. Yes, I have been so blessed.

Is this the last chapter? No one knows that but God but I do know one thing. From a prince to a pauper you only go around once in life and as my father used to say. “Life is pretty much what you make of it.” For many of us life has thrown up roadblocks at us but what we did to get around those roadblocks and keep on, keeping on, was what defined us. We are each of us our very own person, as different as the snowflakes that fall in the winter and as different as each of our personalities are. All of us combining, in one-way or another, to make up this smorgasbord we call life. For without this mix and match, we would have a very bland world indeed.

I have learned one thing about life that has been proven to me over and over again and that is the fact that home is always home, no matter where you go. The essential parts to a house are boards and glass, nails and shingles but the essential parts to a home are you and your loved ones. These precious people who are always with you, because they live in your heart even when they don’t live in your shelter. As for the house, it lives in every lumberyard in the country. As a firefighter I watched so many people lose every tangible thing they owned. I tried to comfort these people-- often wrapped in blankets in the middle of the night sobbing and dazed. I tried to tell them. “Yes you have lost something precious here but the stuff you lost had no soul, no personality, no heart and the most precious thing you own has survived and this is one of those road blocks you have to knock down, because it is that resiliency that got you where you were before all of this happened and it is that same resiliency that will get it all back again. Bigger and better.”


So I will leave Minnesota for a few months this winter and do what so many other Minnesotans have done, go where the earth is not sleeping. Follow the birds of the air that figured it all out a long time ago. Those birds probably say to each other-- what so many of us say. “I wish we didn’t have such a long trip and God willing we will be back because this is the place where we raised our families. This is the place where a lot of our heart still lives.” Minnesota is a precious gem but its one of those places where God has said, “You need to hunker down for a while because Mother Nature needs to take a break but I promise you the 2017 summer model is going to be spectacular. In a way I will miss the wind howling around the house on a cold winter night. The house cracking and creaking with the cold. Pushing my snow blower down the driveway my mustache full of frozen snot. Yes, I will miss it but I won’t miss it much.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

IMAGINE A WORLD

                                              

Imagine a world where you had nothing to fear. A world where your house and car could remain unlocked, your family and possessions were always safe and you could walk through the dark with no threat of robbers or the boogieman. A world where complete strangers went out of their way, to get to know you. A world with no atom bombs and weapons of mass destruction and a place where all countries borders were sacred, and other countries only interest in your country, was to trade and socialize with you. A world where drugs were meant for the sick and not for recreation and a place where compassion for the poor and disenfranchised was commonplace. A world where respect and love for each other was not only prevalent, it was demanded.

Sound like a fairy tail doesn’t it. But the sad thing is, it has always been with-in our powers to be that way, but a couple of things got in the way. Power and greed come to mind. I look around me at the nations that are warring and you have to shake your head. In Syria, when it’s all said and done, what will Assad have? A country in ruins and half his population gone. In that half of the population that left his country were Doctors, Dentists, Engineers, Skilled labor of every kind. Religious leaders and Architects. What does he have left? Homeless people and those too sick and hurt to leave. His allies will quickly leave. They’re not interested in building up and restoring Syria. They’re only interested in blowing up and conquering and an airbase or a seaport to use. This is just one example of what I am talking about; there have been thousands of them over the centuries.

There are people who seek peacefulness in their religious beliefs. They base this on beliefs they have that God never intended for us to get along the way we do, or should I say don’t. That he wanted us to get along and be compassionate, sharing and loving each other. But he also knew that he gave us each a mind of our own and that mind could be for good or evil, it was up to us. He warned us we would be that way and he warned us too that we couldn’t have it both ways. We have a lot of people that want it both ways. We need to only look at the agendas of the political parties to see this. “No wait a minute,” you say. “You’re mixing religious beliefs with government and that’s not supposed to happen.” No I’m not. I’m just saying religious or not, living in peaceful co existence with each other would be a good thing. Just because God would condone it, doesn’t necessarily make it religious. I know a lot of people who are not religious who are good people. Maybe they didn’t need religion-- they just figured it out on their own.


There will never be peace on this earth because were not wired that way. But everyday so many good things do happen that never get noticed, never get reported. Things we should all emulate but never hear about. You see we’ve spent so much time on the bad things there seems to be no time for that. The media loves shock value because it sells papers. Acts of kindness don’t. There will always be people in this country that love war and conflict because they make a lot of money from it. And money is and always will be, the name of the game.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

ABOUT LIFE

                                                
Fiction writers, and I’m one of them, try to write stories of life that for the most part have happy endings. They hope that when you turn that last page and set the book down, you will think, “It’s not how I thought it would end—no it’s better.” Now that being said I admit that not every story I ever wrote, left you giddy and feeling all fuzzy but believe me that was my intent and if I failed you I’m sorry. Remember though, it was just a story and endings are not always what you perceived. You just have to be flexible and think it through. What would it have done to my story to finish it differently?

In a way that’s how real life is too. We all want happy endings and it’s not always in the cards and its not always conclusive either, unless as a writer that’s the way you choose to end it. There is a thing that comes into play here and its called perception and perception is reality.  But Albert Einstein said, “Reality is merely an illusion” It’s your first impression and your first impression doesn’t always need to be the one that sticks with you. You do have the power to change your perception to some degree, if you want to think it through. Sometimes we initially see and hear only what we want to see and hear and sometimes we look through narrow slits in the walls we build to hold the real world out and never see the big picture.

Fear is one of the things that drives us to be shooting from the hip and not make good decisions. Now I’m not knocking fear. Fear is good and it’s like our early warning system and we need to pay attention, but it’s not always right. Its just saying, “heads up here buddy.” In the end fear shouldn’t be making your decision for you. You see a bear in the woods and fear tells you to run but experts say that is the wrong thing to do. That action will only encourage the bear to pursue you. A while back I wrote about being in a fire filled hallway as a firefighter and fear telling me to turn and run but my training was telling me to stay low and fight the fire. Had I ran that day, I won’t be here writing this.

But back to writing. Every writer is different in their approach to story writing. They have an idea for a story and some may not act on it until they have the whole story in their head. Others like me have an idea and an ending so they start writing and let the story take them to the conclusion. When you write that way—making the story up as you go---you come to a lot of Y’s in the road and its those Y’s that can get you into trouble with the reader, because they come to those same Y’s reading it as you did writing it, but sometimes, given a choice, they may have taken the other road.

That’s the way life is too. Tough decisions just when you thought you had it all worked out. I’m at one of those places right now in my own life. I have lung problems that are not conducive to Minnesota winters. I’m faced with going someplace warmer to be more comfortable. I love Minnesota and have lived here all of my life. Do I, at my age, take on the expense and responsibility of buying a second home? Do I leave Minnesota permanently? Do I rent? I’ll keep you posted.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

DEER HUNTING

                                                            

I’m not deer hunting any longer but I thought I would write about it. I don’t hunt for two reasons. I lost that killer instinct you need to have and I can’t take sitting in the cold for hours on end anymore. I did hunt for over 60 years and every year I dreamed about shooting that big buck, that looked like a moving brush pile when he was running through the woods. Several years ago I was hunting with my son when dusk was coming. I had unloaded my rifle as I was giving up for the day when I heard something moving towards me. I reached in my pocket and found a shell, retracted the bolt and slipped it in. Just then a nice doe came out of the brush almost in front of me and I took her down. I heard another noise to my left and there was that buck I had always dreamed of, thirty yards away and looking at me. I, with an empty rifle. He gave me a few seconds to forever engrain on my memory what he looked like and then he slipped away. In a way I’m glad he got away.

It was right after that my hunting desire started to wane. Now day’s my son and grandsons still come up and hunt every year and I’m the head cook and bottle washer. On opening morning I get up and see them off and then I go back to my warm bed, pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. I have no regrets. Last year when the hunting was over my oldest grandson shot a nice buck using my old rifle. He had used the rifle for the last few years and always cleaned it up and put it back in my gun cabinet. Last year when he asked for the keys to the cabinet I handed him the rifle back. I told him it was his. I had planed on doing that for a long time but I just wanted him to prove to me he was serious about hunting and that day he had.

Each year we tell the same old tired stories about years gone by. My son who used to sit and listen because he hadn’t made those memories yet is now the old hunter in the group. He has a special stand where he has had a lot of luck over the years. He told me a while back that this year he is going to put his son-in-law in that stand this year so he has a better chance at getting his first deer. He knows now, that once Nick gets some shooting he will be hooked. I tried a while back to think of anything my family had done over all of these years that drew us together like hunting does. There was nothing. It was then that I realized as much as we use hunting for the reason to gather, the most important thing was not what we did or didn’t shoot. It was the love we had for each other that far out weighed the love for the sport.

Deer hunting gets you back to nature. It happens at a time when the world is all black and white. Most of the other animals are sleeping. The birds have left and the trees and brush are now naked. Yet there is a serenity out there in the woods that seems to surpass the understanding of those who haven’t been there. Those long hours in the stand—alone-- make a perfect setting to be one with nature and yourself. It’s often that right then and there you realize what a blessing it is to be living in this country and how much your loved ones mean to you. It’s also a time to iron out some problems and erase some regrets. You see you’re really never alone. Not as long as you have a conscience. Who knew deer hunting was about so much more then shooting a deer?





Wednesday, October 26, 2016

ABOUT LIFE

                                                          

A while back my wife’s cousin sent me a card she had found in her mothers things after she passed away. It was a birth announcement from seventy some years ago. It was the announcement that my wife’s mother sent out, shortly after the day my wife was born. I put it in a drawer with several other mementoes from her life but it and one other thing seemed to draw my attention back to the drawer. That other thing was her obituary. I had here in my hands the beginning and the end of a human life. The alpha and the omega if you will. I could only think how blessed I was to have been a witness to all of those years in between.

To those of you just starting out in married life and believing you’re so in love let me tell you something about love. Let me tell you how it really evolves between two people. True love can make you a better person because as James Baldwin said,” Love takes off masks we fear we can’t live without and know we can’t live within.” Yes true love can bring out the real you. 1st Corinthians tells us, “Love is patient. Love is kind, it does not envy. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” Think of any other emotion that can lay claim to that. Love always makes you a better person because it always comes via a barter system. You give it--you get it back,. It’s the one thing in life we seem to have an insatiable appetite for and we can’t get or give enough of it. Paul McCartney said, “ And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

When you truly love someone it will bring you happiness, yes, but it also can bring on fear, for you are afraid of getting hurt and get hurt you will, as I was when she died but its not that hurt that we need to fear. It’s the feeling that somehow now, we are incomplete without each other because believe it or not as the years went by you grew together as surely as trees in a clump. Not grew up together as in matured together, rather I am trying to say you just become one together.  In my life it was the fact that we were a team, a George and Gracie, who cracked each other up with laughter or a Ferranti and Tiecher who made such sweet music together. We finished each other’s sentences and always knew what the other was thinking. But you learned too that through living together you saw each other’s flaws also; even though you were seeing the world though rose colored glasses. You also learned that perfect people don’t exist, except in the movies but regardless, he or she became in real life the perfect one for you.


I found that even when the object of your affections dies, love never dies a natural death with it. For a while we just don’t know how to replenish it. But grief is like a scab in your heart that hides the wound you suffered, while underneath it all, blessed healing is taking place. And then one day that ugly scab falls off and there it is-- all good again. Love can’t exist in a scab but it’s patient and as 1st Corinthians said “it will persevere” and it will exist in your heart again if you let it with no fear of seeming fickle. Maybe you didn’t know what you were missing until it was gone but now you know what to look for the second time around. You also know that he or she is giving you something precious that you can break. Yes, love needs to be handled carefully for you have already found out how fragile it really is.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

YESTERDAY NOW AND THEN

                                               
Yesterday, October 3rd, my friend and I went out on Crosslake, in his pontoon for one last ride around the lake. It was a beautiful fall day with temps in the 70’s, and a soft breeze that seem to whisper in your ear. Add to that, a quiet lake that we seemingly had all to ourselves. The fall colors picture-framed the homes as we skirted the shorelines and yards that had been hidden in foliage last summer but were now exposed, showing shuttered cabins and outbuildings. Leaves floated like little sampans on the still surface, while docks and boatlifts that once seemed to be so uniformly placed in the water, now littered the shoreline, shoved helter skelter, wherever there was a place to accommodate them. It looked like a scattered picture puzzle, with random pieces here and there; all waiting for springtime to come and bring some semblance of order back to the lakeshore again, but at least for today, all of it was a reminder of a summer that once was.

To me yes, it was the beginning of the end, of another summer solstice here in the lake country. But the serenity of it all that day overshadowed the loss of the season.  A summer that here in the lake country we have lived and loved through so many times before. Oh, there have been other hints of change lately. Some subtle, some more profound. Last Sunday the boys of summer put their gloves, balls and bats away. Across the lake shotguns rang out and the hunt was on. The squirrels have never been busier. I cut down a hollow tree the other day and there must have been ten pounds of acorns stashed in side of some creature’s winter home. I hope they find other accommodations before it gets too cold. I left all of the acorns for them.

I couldn’t help but think as we trolled along how much life has changed for me and for this area. That whole trip that day was so much more enjoyable, because I was with my friend. A man I have known for over sixty-five years. That’s what we want out of life isn’t it? To be able to share our highs and lows with someone and especially a chance to share a wonderful fall day. I thought back to five years ago when I was so lonely and life looked bleak indeed and then I met another friend. A very special lady who took me from the dumps to the clouds. There’s been many new memories we’ve made together and hopefully more to come. She brought with her and into my life, a whole new entourage of people, family and friends. All of them special in one way or another and all of them making my life better.

But then I thought about the sad changes, not in my life but what has come to this wonderful corner of the world. When I came here in 1984 there were no Zebra mussels, no milfoil. No spiny water fleas or other invasive species that threaten to destroy this Eden. The words, “personal watercraft,” were not in my vocabulary and seventy-five horses was a big outboard.  Mom and pop resorts were still flourishing and no one was tearing down ninety thousand dollar homes to build million dollar ones. But despite all the many changes the town was-- and still is Crosslake and it’s synomonous with a summer playground. You can go to the far corners of this country and people all know where Crosslake Minnesota is. I’m proud of that and proud to live here. Thanks Marv for a great afternoon and thanks Crosslake.





Thursday, October 13, 2016

MISS MOLLY UPDATE

                                               

Molly is four 1/2 years old now and one would think that somewhere along the line, she would slow down and act like one of those old fat Labradors that lay in the corner of the room and sleep and fart. That’s what I have been waiting for but alas I don’t think Molly has heard about that stage of a dog’s life. She is still stuck in high gear and shows no sign of slowing down. Each day I take Molly for a walk and she likes to be off the leash. This works fine as she stays out of the road and stops and sits when cars go by. But there is an exception I can’t break her of. Meeting other people or other dogs. She thinks she’s Miss Congeniality and when she sees someone, or something else, well, in her mind at least, introductions are in order. Now, not everyone takes to a seventy-pound Lab barreling down on you with baited breath. So when we spot someone coming towards us, the leash has to go back on and she turns into a sled dog. I usually retreat to the side of the road and kick two divots into the ground to plant my heels in, otherwise we are both going to meet the new people like it or not. If you are a new acquaintance the fervor is a little more subdued then someone who is already in her friends and family book. But make no mistake about it she wants you in there too.

Outside of squirrels, which she detests, other animals are seen as playful companions too. Once, while off leash she spotted a skunk and she was off to make his acquaintance. Now the encounter was out of my eyesight but I saw her bounding towards him and I know she was saying, “Hey there cutie, lets run around together.” I really dig that stripe you having going down your back.  I know she didn’t attack the skunk because when she came back, her face dripping with that delectable juice, it was only her face that got sprayed. Being she likes to check out the rear quarters of all other animals first. I can only surmise that she found out the hard way, there is a weapon at the end of that stripe. Not that she will ever remember that.

She also likes to dig out pocket gophers and she’s quite good at it. She checks all of the mounds looking for the freshest one. Finds the back door and starts digging. I have spent fifteen minutes filling the hole back in when she is done. She might as well have a Bobcat decal on her butt once she starts the evacuation. She has caught one that she proudly brought up and put on my back porch. “Sorry God but that is the most butt ugly creature you ever created. I would have kept them underground most of the time too, if I looked like that.”

So people ask me. “What is there about this over exuberant, dimwitted dog that you like so much?” Maybe it’s just that she likes me so much. Maybe it’s because she is so non--judgmental to a man with way too many opinions. Maybe it’s because at the end of the day when she lays on the couch with her head in my lap, she knows, she has a friend who appreciates her, despite all of her many imperfections. Maybe its because she knows I always take too much ice cream in the evening and she has to do me the favor of finishing off the bowl. Maybe its because living by myself I need someone to talk to and she never disagrees with me.



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

THE FAMILY FARM

                                             

I have on my desk a picture of an old abandoned barn. Sandwiched between the side of the barn and the cement block silo, is the milk house. Its roof is sagging and on the verge of collapse. The door is open, hanging askew and if you could see inside you would probably see an old cream separator and several rusty pails in the corner. On a shelf is a cardboard box with some left over milk filters. On the wall is an old calendar from 30 years ago with notations of the times when certain cows were due to calve. I remember as a kid turning that long handle on a separator. It was geared very low, to make it spin fast enough to do the job of separating the cream from the milk and your arms would ache after just a few minutes of turning it. This room, now littered with dirt, debris and dust used to be the cleanest room on the farm

The barn in the picture still stands tall and proud but rows of shingles have fallen off and its just a matter of time until the rains rot out the roof boards, floors and the framework and it too will succumb to gravity and fall into ruins. The once brilliant red and white paint job is now a faded blotchy red with more gray then color. It once held rows of stanchions’ where the cows would almost magically march into the stall they were assigned, to be milked and fed. As a dairy farmer you held a certain kinship with each and every cow. They were your girls and you took good care of them. They in turn took care of you. The haymow doors now hang open like a big yawning mouth. One of them is dangling, by one rusty hinge. A rotten rope and an old block and tackle still hang in the peak. The huge loft is now empty but in better days it would have been packed with winter fodder for the girls downstairs. Now it is littered with beer cans and garbage from young people who come here to party.  

If there were a job description for a dairy farmer it would go like this. Wanted one dairy farmer. Hours are from sunup to sundown and on call after that. Seven days a week and fifty-two weeks a year. Duties will include but not be limited to caring for a herd of cattle and other farm animals. Planting, cultivating and harvesting food for the animals and your family. Milking the cows twice a day and seeing to their health and well being. Maintaining a fleet of equipment and assorted buildings. You will become out of necessity, a welder, a butcher, a carpenter and a businessman. Benefits are slim for you and your family. No health insurance, no dental insurance, no sick days, no holidays or vacation. No workmen’s comp, no maternity leaves and the retirement plan is what you can manage to put away. When you retire and if you retire, the farm will probably be sold because if you bequeath it to your children the taxes will put them in such a financial hole to start with, it will be economically unfeasible to stay in business. Most likely the farmland will be sold to a bigger conglomerate or rented out. The same family for a century or better has operated some of these farms but now it’s the end of the road.


Yes we are seeing the end of the family farm, as we knew it. Each year more and more of them call it quits. It’s sad and the end of an era but progress if you can call it that, is sometimes mean. At least we still have the memories of the family farm, even if they’re only in a picture of an old abandoned barn. Soon that too will be lost.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

ABOUT OUR WATER

                                                

There have been many examples of what mans greed has done to our way of life. Even when a bad outcome is for certain, we still press on, incredulous to the outcome.  We see it with the warming of the earth as it pertains to burning fossil fuels. We see it with the national debt, piling up to a point where it will become impossible not to avoid some kind of financial collapse. We see it with tobacco users who shun the statistics and say, “Not going to happen to me.” but all of these outcomes pale in comparison, to what is happening to our drinking water because well---we can’t live without it. We, who live in such abundance, when it comes to water, often forget about the others.

Deep beneath the earth lie reservoirs of clean clear water. They have been there for tens of thousands of years and longer but it has only been lately that we have had the ability to pump them dry like we are doing. You see three quarters of the earth is covered with water. The bad part of that is, most of it isn’t fit to drink. The water that is fit to drink is ether in these aquifers, or it comes from rivers that drain runoff from the land. Runoff from rain or snowmelt. The problem is a whole lot of people don’t live near a water source from runoff, so they pump and pump.

There are parts of Oklahoma and Kansas where they are going to have to turn back to dry farming. There is no more well water to be had. The aquifers have been depleted. These farms have huge investments in land, equipment and structures. Just not farming the land is not an option. They are turning their thirsty eyes to other sources like us. That’s the way greed works in America and it’s a weak point of capitalism. Worry about tomorrow when the time comes. For now, just make all of the money you can. There comes a time in everything when you just plain wear it out and some of that is not avoidable. Sad to say we are wearing out a part of the earth that could be avoidable. Depleting it of its natural resources. Poisoning the very air we breathe and the water we drink and all in the name of making money.

Parts of California are caving in due to the empty aquifers that are under the land. Bridges and highways are breaking apart. There is no fixing that. Some seaside communities in Florida fear seawater draining into their underground aquifers and poisoning the little fresh water they have. Yes, the oceans continue to rise from melting glaciers and encroach more on the land every day. The population of the United States has remained fairly stable. We grow far more food then we need but there is a world market for it. When the time comes that you sacrifice the country your kids have to live in, to make as much money as you can, well that’s just sad.


None of this is eminent but it is inevitable the way we are going. Old farts like me will have water to drink and food to eat for the rest of our lives. But the generations to come, which you would think we would care about, will not. Modern technology may help with things like desalination but you cannot produce enough water this way to irrigate half of Kansas. This once, bread bowl will turn back into a dust bowl and those waves of amber grain we once sang about, will be no more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

DEATH OF THE INNOCENTS

                                               

There are days that I can’t believe how cruel our world is. Days when I try to comprehend why adults kill children and days when I can’t begin to understand all of the hate that that goes on in this world. Days when my empathy is taxed, watching all of the suffering that goes on —yet at the same time there are days when I can’t understand those who can ignore it all and go on with their own happy carefree lives, as if it doesn’t matter or pertain to them. This inattentiveness is as much of the problem, as those who created the problem in the first place.

To those of you who think that the filth on the Internet, newsstands, movies, etc that you try to explain as your first amendment rights doesn’t play into this, think again. It not only fosters it, in some respects it encourages it. It is sad enough when a child dies from some disease or in an accident but for a child to die at the hands of some perverted, sadistic, criminal seems to defy all logic. This kind of behavior has always existed but it gets more prevalent each day in a society that seems to have less and less morals, with each generation. Almost, with out exception, the homes of these predators when they are caught are filled with porn.

We need changes in our mental health care for sure, but maybe a little bit of decency in the world these predators grow up in, would help them not get to this level in the first place and not be a predator and now that I have said this, I will sit back and listen to all of the people who will say, “preventing porn would never have stopped this.” I will listen to the defense attorneys that will beg for leniency for the person who did it because he had a rotten childhood. I will do all of this and wait for the next child to die while people tell me, “That’s life, get used to it.”

A while back, in the small town of Watkins Minnesota they buried the latest victim of this kind of perversion. No amount of words, no rationalization, no excuses can bring peace to her troubled family who has truly lost a part of their family they had big hopes for. There will be an empty desk in the school where this innocent child would have been starting her formal education. There is an empty bed in her parent’s house and an empty feeling in their hearts no one can fix. One can only shudder to think what this child went through before she was killed and thrown into a swamp. Events like this impact everyone, even those who didn’t know this child. Children today have to be brought up in fear of the world around them, much as a young fawn has to fear the wolves. To those in society who are good people, they get lumped into the category of not to be trusted either, no matter there good intentions and no one blames the parents for feeling that way.


There has to be a special place in heaven for this little angel and for Jacob Wetterling far away from the bad people and close to the heart of God. There are those who will ask us, “how God could let this happen?”  I say “God gives you a free will to live your life anyway you want to.” As my dad used to say. “He gives you enough rope to hang yourself, if that’s what you want.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD ROG

                                   

A couple of years ago I traveled to Brooklyn Park to say goodbye to an old friend. Rog had passed away the week before and I had another hole in my heart. Although we hadn’t seen much of each other lately, we packed a lifetime of memories into the years we were together. When we were both starting out in life we lived across the street from each other. Our kids played with each other and our wives became good friends. At that time I was stuck in a factory job I hated and one day Rog told me to put in an application where he worked with the city and the rest was history.

For the next thirty years we worked together, played together and enjoyed each other’s friendship. Trips to the boundary waters to fish, and trips to Sparta on the range to deer hunt. We fought many a fire together on the fire department. Trimmed trees and flooded skating rinks and plowed snow in twenty below weather. Rog always led by example. He was a soft-spoken man but if you didn’t pull your weight, he was quick to tell you and although small in stature he backed down from no one, if he thought he was right. I never knew a harder working man.

I got to know some of his siblings and family including his parents, steeped deep in their Finish culture. Rog was so proud of his family and their heritage. He liked to sprinkle a little Finnish into his conversations from time to time. Always in the morning it was hyvaa huomenta, when he first saw you and at night hyvaa yota. His pocketknife was a puukko and a match for his cigarette was a tulitikku. He would count, yksi, kaksi, kolme, nelja, and viisi when he counted up to five. He had that sly little smile when he spoke in Finnish because he knew that only a Finn could talk that sing songy language. He celebrated St. Urho’s day every year and he was an Iron ranger at heart. He said they called me “The Sparta flash,” in school where he played hockey.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” That was Roger’s mantra too. He led by example and with him it worked because you saw how much he loved life and people and you couldn’t help but want to emulate him. Sadly missed but never forgotten.


I have a drawer in a hutch, where I put all of the obituaries of my friends and family. For a long time it was maybe one or two a year. But lately the drawer is filling up because---well life-- or should I say death is catching up with all of us. Sometimes I look through the drawer and each obituary and I try to think of the good that I drew from that person. How they were special or different from the others in the drawer. How they made my life better and in some case completed me. We are all a work in progress from birth to death.  If we were smart, we took the lessons that were shown us by others and learned from them but it was the love we had for each other that meant the most. Love is unique because it is so personally tied to you and the giver and in the end it is the greatest gift you can ever give to anyone.

Friday, September 9, 2016

THE MAKINGS OF A FAMILY

                                              

This past weekend I was a guest at another family reunion. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Holst family reunion and now it was a chance go as an outsider to Pat’s family reunion. It was held in Door County Wisconsin and I know those of you who have been there; know the beauty of that place, nestled on the rocky shores of Lake Michigan. The flowers, cherry trees, the quaint little shops and inns that dot the rugged shoreline, only serve to accent the natural beauty of this place but I’m not here to talk about the scenery, I’m here to talk about some people.

Every time I make a new friend, and I made a few with this family, I want to get inside their heads and see the past as they saw it. For within those same minds lie the stories that need to be told and the secrets of why they were all there that weekend. Oh we don’t want to hear stories of failures-- we’ve all made mistakes and their best noted and forgotten, but instead stories of the successes and the undying love that still brings them together at times like this. You see, I don’t care how much money you make or what kind of car you drive or how many degrees you have. I care about the hearts you’ve touched along the way in this incredible journey called life and mine was touched by what happened next.

At this gathering was a ninety-year-old woman who is the family’s matriarch. Crippled and slowed by old age, her body definitely showing the signs and wear of a long lifetime of living. But yet at the same time, showing it all with grace, and carrying it with pride. For it’s in the eyes of a person that we find that inner fire that never dies until they do and her eyes glowed with so much pride that day, for all to see. As that last day wound down, and the last jokes had been told and the last meal had been consumed, her family saw to it that the focus of that day was changed from those people’s relationships with each other to her. Instead, now, there was a hush over the party and that spotlight was put on Mom and it was touching. All the day’s games were now over, the fire was now out and it was time to roll the credits and right there amongst all of them, was the appointed leader of that great family. What happened next was only fitting and proper. I’ll leave it at that.


There is a certain amount of responsibility that goes into the changing of the guard. Generations die out, only to be replaced by new ones, with new ideas and different values. But at the end of the day, we all have a sincere responsibility to see that we keep those things alive, that worked so well, for so long, for our ancestors. True, something’s in life can and will be replaced by new technology but nothing will ever replace the love and caring that can live in the human heart if we let it. If that doesn’t happen we will have all lived our lives in vain. You can emulate it all you want but only if you mean it and it’s here that actions speak louder then words. It’s also here that being a copycat isn’t wrong but the sincerest form of flattery.  This one’s for you Aunt Marilyn. God bless you and your family

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

LABOR DAY

                                                            
Labor Day. Wow already. What happened to Memorial Day and the Fourth of July and the summer family reunions? Where did those lazy evenings with spectacular sunsets and loons crying across the lake, slip off too? Where did all the summer celebrations around the lakes go, with endless craft shows, parades, picnics and fairs, so many you could scarce fit them all in. Quiet pontoon rides around the chain and days at the beach with those you love. Now, all of them, just another treasure trove of memories, entered in our book of our life.

Sometime in the next few weeks. The humming birds will steal away in the night for their winter trek and the feeder will swing empty on the hook. Already the birch trees are turning yellow, the apples are turning red and begging to be picked and the acorns are falling. The sumac is turning red and yellow school buses are making their rounds. Sometime soon those loons that played of the end of my dock all summer will be gone and the waters won’t be so inviting. Slowly one by one the docks and lifts will vanish and all the boats and toys will be put away. We will close the windows once again in the evening, as the nighttime breezes bring in a chill. Mornings are all ready darker and evenings are shorter and a fire in the fireplace seems comforting. Only a few stray Mums’ still show their summer blossoms.

They have a saying on the license plates in Florida, “Endless summer.” Seems inviting doesn’t it? But believe me there is something to be said for our theater of seasons. There is something to be said for the warm fall days, with no bugs, when the world is all colored in reds and yellows, as the leaves become our autumn flowers. The words heat index, and tornado watch have been put away for another year. There is something to be said about fishing without greasy sunscreen and for the hunters the fall season is here. It’s a time when farmers can take a breather with their crops tucked safely away in the granaries and bins and mom’s can relax too, with the kids safely back in school.

Years ago Johnny Mercer wrote the song ‘Autumn.’Those falling leaves drift by the window. The autumn leaves of red and gold. I see your lips, the summer kisses. The sunburned hands I used to hold.” For a few years those lyrics rang so poignant to me. I’m sure to anyone who said goodbye to a loved one this summer---you know what I mean.    Since you went away the days grow long. And soon I’ll hear old winters song. But I’ll miss you most of all my darling. When autumn leaves began to fall.  Yes how true it was  but there comes a time for all of us when grief is tempered. When you pull up the shades of sadness and face what’s left of your life with a new perspective on life.

I have always felt that autumn comes on to you like an old friend you haven’t seen for a long time. Its role is to let you down easy, before the rigors of winter. Cold today, warm tomorrow, colder the next and then less warm until you stop looking back at summer and start dreaming about the spring to come.





Thursday, August 25, 2016

REFLECTIONS FROM THE FAIR

                                                
Last week, Pat and I went to the Crow Wing County fair, as we have done many times in years past. Not a lot changes at the fair from year to year but you know what? Not a lot has to change because it’s still enjoyable. We had heard about the storm the night before and the damage it had done but you had to look hard to find any ill effects. So many people had worked hard to put things back in order, when it would have been so easy to quit because they knew the show had to go on.

It was fun for me to once more walk through the livestock barns and see all of the critters; I remembered so well as a kid but had lost touch with after so many years of city living. To see the old tractors and think how hard people worked back in those days when luxury on your tractor, was some foam rubber to sit on and not air conditioning, G.P.S. guidance systems and satellite radios. We sat on a wooden bench and listened to the music for a while. Old country tunes that have worn a notch in the airwaves but you never seem to tire of them. We ate roast beef brisket and rich ice cream and damn the calories because just for tonight-- no one was counting.

I saw some smiling kids on the pony rides and I remembered a time and a place when my three little kids did the same. Then I saw a tired mom who was trying to keep two kids and a baby happy, short on cash and energy and I wanted to say to her,”Hey let me buy them kids some ice cream and some ride tickets,” but I knew that in today’s society that’s a no, no. I think my empathy had been triggered by a long suppressed memory of a time in 1947 when our Mom, my kid brother, and I and our baby brother in a buggy had walked to a carnival on the outskirts of town. I remembered watching all the kids my age on the rides, squealing and laughing and having a great time. I remembered watching older people work the digger machines trying to get that elusive gold watch. I saw them throwing the rings around the pop bottles trying to win a stuffed animal. But we, as a family, could only watch because we had no money. Then on the way out we passed a cotton candy machine and for a moment we stopped and watched the man spinning the cotton around those pieces of cardboard. Then somebody saw us and gave mom a couple of coins and she bought two of them for my brother and I. On the way home mom tripped on a broken sidewalk and fell cutting both of her knees. She was bleeding and crying and we all cried because our mom was hurt but I know today, she cried mostly because we were so poor and she had wanted so badly to do more for us.


I think often about the things that were so instrumental in my life, growing up from those humble beginnings. Things that still set the standard for me today. You see those things that were so important back then, for building character and being a good person, are still important today. We haven’t found any shortcuts in life to accomplish this any better or faster. No magic potions, nothing you can download or upload or buy at the store of good intentions. It’s always been there in the hearts of people, just like the man giving mom those nickels. Love and caring is like taking a shoot from a plant and starting your own plant. All it needs is a place to grow.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

MY AUGUST LAMENT

                                               

Today I turned the calendar over, to the month of August and in some ways it felt like the last dance. Summer in Crosslake is mostly measured in three short months and August for many is the last hurrah. County fairs, ripening crops and kids trying to pack all the fun they can, into the last dog days of summer before they turn their attention back to school. Sometime soon the leaves will loose their green luster, wilt around the edges and drop. Those humming birds that drained my sugar canister this summer, will head south once more where the flowers are still blooming. Morning sunsets will now come later and evening sunsets earlier. The garden will be littered with rotting vegetables that didn’t make the cut and the apple trees, burdened down with their crop, will beg to be picked.

For me it will be remembered as the summer my loving friend and I stood on a deck at McKinley Lodge in Alaska, like kids waiting for Santa and waited patiently for the clouds to part, so we could see Denali. She knew my love for that Mountain and wanted so badly for me to see it but it was also the day when I realized in my heart that seeing the mountain would have been nice, but being there with her was the most important thing to me. It was another summer of reunions, pontoon rides, fishing and picnics. Concerts in the park, sail boating on Lake Michigan and evenings that we just sat with a gin & tonic and didn’t say anything because the evenings were made for just absorbing the world around us and not spoiling it with chatter. There will be time enough for that when the seasons done.

This will be remembered as the summer when I found out I have great grandbabies on the way and the start of whole new generation. The summer when friends I loved, went home to their just reward and left me with another hole in my heart. The summer when six inches of rain flooded the lake and strong winds took some of my oldest trees. The summer when Molly went nose to nose with a skunk and somehow came out smelling like---well still smelling like Molly, hallelujah. The summer when the kids next door came back to the lake another inch taller and I finally realized what happened to all of my grandkids. When some projects that needed doing, got done, and I found out that my old body needs better care, more rest and easier projects.

It sadly is also the year when people found out they could get some attention by killing other people and our politicians lost all of their self-respect in a never-ending scrum for power. The year more glaciers melted, the air got more polluted and the water too. The year our kids learned less in school but cost more to educate. But this essay started out to be what was right about this world and not what’s wrong with it, so let’s just end it at that.


For seventy-five years August has rolled around but never has it meant, what it means to me today. Maybe its because the coupon book of my life has fewer August coupons then it had before and I’m finally realizing it.