Thursday, May 24, 2018

A CONFESSION OF SORTS

                                                         

Just in case I might want to run for president someday, I am going to come clean right now on all of the bad things I have done in my life, so all of you know about them and I in turn, have no dirty secrets. So, pay attention people as you read this, because this will knock your socks off. One day, when I was about four years old and very mad at my mother, I went outside. On the sidewalk that ran in front of our house, for a whole block I stomped on every crack in that sidewalk. Now, my mother’s back still seemed to be fine after that, but she was not one to complain about such things. But Mrs. Klein, next door, turned out to be as hunchbacked as the guy who terrorized Notre Dame, so I might have had a hand in that. Mrs. Klein, I apologize, even though I know you can’t hear me because you’re dead, but I’m sorry that backfired. It was not my intention, but I am no clairvoyant.

I have, numerous times in my life, cut off those labels that say, “Do not remove under penalty of law,” on my pillows and mattresses. I am not proud of this, but I am weak sometimes, and that thing sticking out of my pillow got to be too much, and I just snapped. I have had to live with this on my conscience for a long time, and I must admit, it feels good to come clean on this one

I used to go to a barbershop that had Playboy magazines on the reading table. Now I want you to understand, I did not look at the pictures, I only read the stories, but sometimes it was very hard to not see a picture for a very brief time while turning the pages. My wife started cutting my hair shortly after that, because she said I got too frisky when I came home from the barbershop, and getting a haircut every week was getting way too expensive. Then, for some crazy reason, five years ago she suggested I go back to the barbershop. Women, I’ll never understand them.

I once pirated a movie that I wanted to keep. I have lived in fear of the F.B.I. coming after me for years now, and every time I see that warning on the videos I rent, I have to leave the room. I still have the movie, but it is well hidden in the woods. I have not been there for years because I know I am being followed wherever I go. I am thinking seriously about going into the witness protection program, but it makes it hard to run for office when you don’t exist.

In 1955, at age 14, I stole a pack of cigarettes from the Red Owl grocery in Staples. My buddy, Arnie, and I smoked them all in a junk car, and we both threw up. I did not inhale. I have checked, and the statute of limitations has passed on this petty crime and the Red Owl went out of business, so I consider this case closed.

So there you have it all—the secrets from my sordid past—my soul laid bare for all to see. Mea culpa, mea culpa. I have not yet announced my candidacy, but I am forming an exploratory committee—as soon as I can find someone to be on it. I know it’s late in the race, but what can I say. It’s for our country.---Mike.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

HERBERGERS

                                                         
A while back we were informed that Herbergers Department Store was closing in Brainerd. They’re just another victim in a fast changing world, when it comes to retail shopping. I can complain about it and I can write about it-- but there seems to be no stopping it. All over this nation big box stores are shutting their doors and often times taking down whole shopping Malls down with them.

I lived in a twin city suburb years ago next to a mall called Brookdale. It had stores like Dayton’s and Donaldson’s. J.C. Penny’s and Sears. It wasn’t just a shopping center it was a social center with all of its little specialties shops. I remember browsing for books at Barns and Nobles and getting my shoes repaired at a cobblers shop, all in the comfort of an indoor mall. There were always civic events going on in the mall and great restaurants to eat in. But they all existed, dependent on each other to bring in the people.  A few years back it was bulldozed and now in its place, sits a lonely Walmart with one huge parking lot.

Maybe it’s just the change I can’t accept. I’m old and it’s a whole new way of life for me. I’m not reluctant to change. I have an I-phone and a computer. But I still like to shop and try clothes on. Talk to a knowledgeable hardware man about repairs. I think the greatest thing we are losing; besides the jobs the store’s provided, is the interaction we had between friends and neighbors. Instead we choose to stay cloistered in our homes having a delivery service bring us our groceries and clicking away at some online site to buy everything. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Change is inevitable in this fast paced world. I remember as a boy watching the steam engines coming into Staples where I grew up. These steel behemoths belching steam and smoke, pulled over a hundred loaded boxcars and had been around for over a hundred years and they had a lot to do with the expansion of this country from east to west. I used to go over to the roundhouse where they garaged and serviced these giant machines of burden and stand in awe of them. Then one day in the late fifties I noticed many of them gone, parked on a siding idled and quiet. I asked my dad who was a railroader what was going on? He told me, “take a good look at them son, their days are numbered.” So was the railroad in Staples.

Staples, through innovation survived but it was never the same for me. Brainerd will survive too without Herbergers but the empty J. C Penny store a mile away is testament as to how hard it will be for someone to fill that space. Hopefully the mall will survive. Maybe Ascensus could use another location or maybe they can park discarded Volkswagens in the parking lot? I’m being facieses but sometimes that’s all you have left. Pat and I drive back from Arizona in the springtime on somewhat of a back road to avoid the freeways. We drive through a lot of small towns in Oklahoma and North Texas. The roadsides are bordered with hundreds of shuttered storefronts. What used to be small thriving downtowns is now a graveyard for mom and pop businesses. The town now gets by with a Circle K and a Walmart.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

FACEBOOK

                                                          

Last week, in the heights of a raging blizzard, my daughter-in-law let their six-year-old Labrador “Missy” out to take care of business. Something that took place everyday without incident. For whatever reason the dog bolted and took off running. A few hours later it was evident that she wasn’t coming back. The weather may have played a factor or maybe it was some critter but no one knows what was in that dogs mind at that time. The entire family spent the rest of that day looking for her. They live in a rural area with lots of open spaces. Nightfall came and no “Missy.” Just a broken hearted family

My granddaughter in the meantime had posted the dogs picture and a plea for help on a lost dog app and Facebook. Late the next day they received a phone call from a person many miles away who said she might have seen the dog. My son and his wife went over there and after a short search they found their scared and exhausted dog.

Last week Facebook and its leaders were taken to task by congressional leaders for the way they were running their business. Yes, there are some things that needed changing and the company has said it will take care of them. In the meantime our ‘real news’ starved media did its best to crucify Facebook. They were unrelenting in their negative coverage. No one, from the news industry ever said, “that I heard, if you don’t want something shared, don’t put it on Facebook.” It was just all Facebook’s fault.

The up side of Facebook is this. Without that app my family’s dog would be dead. With one click of a mouse you can share your pictures your thoughts, your fears and sadness with your entire social circle. But you have to realize that whatever you put on there may be up for public consumption. There are ways to speak privately on Facebook with someone, but you need to know how to use those and then do just that. If you have a filthy mouth and your mad at the world in general there are also ways to bump you off the page and we need to do that too.

My family is somewhat scattered around the country and yes we do talk on the phone but Facebook provides the means of sharing your messages and pictures with a lot of people at once. If you are a private person then most people who do Facebook would understand that you are private and yes, it’s not for everyone. Those who use Facebook and know that’s your wishes should respect that. Be careful when you try to talk for others.

With everything, there are those who abuse the privileges that come with this kind of media. Your political views, your inflammatory remarks are better served being kept to yourself. My mother used to say, “Sometimes what is left unsaid, is best said.” Facebook will survive and be better for what is has gone through lately but we the users need to help by using some discretion on what we say and do. In the meantime thanks to social media my son’s family has their dog back.

Friday, May 4, 2018

LIFE IS HARD

                                                           
As I get older, my life gets more complicated. Maybe its because in this world of I-phones and computers and car gadgets that I need to possess to survive, I am over whelmed with all of the technology and no longer have a twelve year old granddaughter readily available to fix things for me. My son-in-law who is a tech genius can fix most of what I mess up but not without scolding me for messing it up. I sometimes feel when I ask him for help, like a two year old who just pooped his pants. Today I did an up grade on my phone and I lost all of my contacts. Not to worry I had them in my computer and someplace called “I cloud,” which might as well be up in the clouds, for all I know how to access it. So I typed them all back in manually which was somewhat productive because there were people in there I don’t know anymore, or never knew and people who have been dead for three years. I called one number to see who it was and I got some life insurance salesman who assured me I had gotten the right number. He wouldn’t let me go until I told him I had leprosy and was in the witness protection program.

So with that in mind I have instituted some changes that will make it easier for me to stay on top of things. I have three children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren and remembering all of their birthdays and anniversaries is hard for me. So starting this year I have purchased fourteen belated birthday cards, which I intend to send out at the end of the year with a sincere letter of apology. They will get 1 check for their birthday and Christmas and they can decide on how to divvy it up. It is my belief that the child, whose birthday was in June, will be very happy to be able to celebrate the day twice. He probably got too much on his birthday anyway. I may just throw a happy New Year in the card too. Weddings I will do at the appropriate time. I’m not a total loser.

I sometimes misplace my keys. Someone I love, used to say, “they are always in the last place you used them, so look there.” As good as her intentions were with that statement and however oxymoronic it might sound, if I remembered the last place I left them, they wouldn’t be lost would they? Most often they are in the back door where I left them. Now if your coming over here tonight to check and see if my keys are in the door, and steal my junk, please put them back where you found them and don’t molest me. Bring a treat for Molly or she won’t leave you alone and don’t take her with you, no matter how much she begs.

My very inquisitive and loving friend Pat—and by the way I have to be very careful here, because I live in the same house with her in Arizona for four months in the winter and she does the cooking, is the queen of the question askers. Perry Mason, move on over. For some weird reason she rarely believes anything I say anyway when I answer her. I think asking me things is just a formality to me make me feel good, before she goes and Goggles it and proves me wrong. As a side note I was wrong once when I said I was wrong but I found out later I was right so it didn’t count. I plan on buying her one of those Google boxes someday where she can talk straight to Alexus and by pass the middleman-- mainly me-- Ask away honey.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

HOME AGAIN

                                                                              

I just wanted to say how good it is to be back in Crosslake. As nice as the warmth of the desert was for the duration of the winter, I never stopped thinking about my homeland. I wish my health were such that I didn’t have to run away when winter raises its frozen head. I think back to the times when my dog and I used to walk across the icy lake, trudging through deep snow to get our exercise. When it felt good to see your breath and have a little frost in your mustache. Those quiet days we spent in the fish house, waiting patiently for a Northern Pike to come in and hit that decoy. My little stove crackling and my dog lying on the floor watching with me, and how his tail would start thumping on the floor, when often he spotted the fish before I did. We would take walks in the woods after a fresh snowfall and it was a scene right out of Currier and Ives. It was so clean and so fresh and so quiet you hated to walk on it because your tracks would spoil it. I have lot of adjectives in my vocabulary, but right now none-- which would describe what I am trying to say.

Its not just the land that you leave behind when you depart, it’s the people, the town and the family and yes a whole way of life that you have lived all of your life. I am sure I speak for Pat too who was happy to be back in her home. Even Molly, who crawled in the back of the car dejected when our long journey back began, seemed to explode back to life when we turned that last corner.

I walked around the back yard this morning looking for signs of life and there was the rhubarb poking through. Some flowers, close to the house, poking out of the mulch, not even waiting to be uncovered. The lake is all gray and I know that ice out isn’t far away. Soon Andrea will be back next-door and we’ll sit on the back porch and talk away the afternoons. Two kindred neighbors with so much in common and so many memories of years gone by with the people we loved that won’t be back but are not forgotten. Even if it’s an adage “absence does make the heart grow fonder.”

There will be a long litany of firsts, just like there is every spring. The first loons to come back and the first fawns to walk in the yard. Apple blossoms and spring flowers everywhere. Before long it will be concerts in the park and campfires with the grandkids and great grandkids. Sometimes our conversations just live in the moment and sometimes we are seduced by memories. Pontoon rides around the lakes with Marv. Dinners on Horseshoe Lake, with Pat and the Graham family. Meat raffles, weddings, family reunions and coffee with the sunshine boys. Walks down the road with Molly; people stopping to say hi and welcome back. Talks with my church family that I missed so much. Yes, it’s life the way it was meant to be lived.

Then alas a time will come when the north wind will get cold again and the leaves will fall and it will be time to do that winter hiatus all over again. Arizona will be calling once more, but to put it into perspective, for me to say I will miss it as much as I miss Crosslake would be creating a false persona indeed.  But for now we’ll keep all that on the back burner where it belongs-- because summer is coming back to the lakes and this is exactly where I know I was meant to be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

THE AUCTIONEER

                                              

There is a song called the “Auctioneer,” and it was made popular by the country singer Leroy Van Dyke. He still performs it today, even though he is almost ninety years old. The song was often emulated but never sung better by others because you see-- Van Dyke was an auctioneer and to do that song justice, you had to be.

I went to my first auction when I was a young boy and I was amazed that anybody could talk like that. As I grew older and even after I was married, if there was an auction sign along the road, I stopped. The only reason I don’t go to auctions anymore is because at my age I have too much junk already and its time to get rid of some. When it is my time to move from my home in Crosslake I fully intend to have an auction and I’m going to enjoy every minutes of it.

My dearly beloved and now departed wife loved to go to auctions too. She was like a kid in a candy store and I had to be careful what I wished for out loud around the house because if that item came up in an auction it would likely find its way home. We never stood together at the auctions because she wanted no interference from me when it came to bidding. At one auction I was bidding on an item, when the auctioneer stopped the bidding and asked me if she came to the auction with me? I said, “she did.” He said,” Well, I saw you come in together and I want you to go home together and unless you don’t know it--- your bidding against each other.

We always wanted a pontoon boat and so one day at an auction on one of the area lakes, they had a nice clean one. We looked it over and she said; “What do you think its worth?” Oh maybe five thousand” I said. Never thinking for one minute she was going to bid on it. They sold that pontoon while I was in the biffy and you guessed who bought it? My wife. I asked her how much she paid for it and she said “six thousand.” I replied, “It wasn’t worth more then five.” It was to me”, she said. We had a quiet ride home, and then she went in the house and got into her private stash and gave me a thousand dollars. “Now were even,” she said. We spent more wonderful evenings and family outings on that pontoon together then I could ever list. She knew it was something that would bring us all together.

I had a dear friend who was an auctioneer and every once in a while he would give me a little bit of that auctioneers chant, just to tickle my spirits. He was member of the auctioneer’s hall of fame and he was one of the nicest men I ever was privileged to call my friend. There are days when I’m feeling out of sorts and ornery and I need only think of that wonderful man and all of his kindness, patience and friendship and I settle down in hurry. My biggest regret is he passed away before I had that last auction, I always wanted to have. It won’t be the same without you Gordy, but we’ll still have a good time my friend.

“Hey well, all right sir open the gate up and let em out and a welcome boys. Here we come, a lotta number nine and what you give for em? I’ve got a twenty-five dollar bid make it thirty dollar. Who’ll give me thirty------“ 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

DRUGS



I have written about this subject before, and I won’t stop writing about it until either it, or I, go away. A few months back I heard of another fatality from drugs in our community. I guess it doesn’t surprise me, as it is becoming almost commonplace. As a parent and grandfather, the fear of this subject leads my list. As far as I know, my family has not been involved in this terrible epidemic of drug-related incidents, yet my heart aches for those who have. I can’t think of anything more heart-wrenching. For the victims here are not only the users, but also everyone who loved him or her. For those left behind, the agony, the guilt, the anger, and the profound sadness will never go away. For them life may go on, but it will never be the same.

To those of you who are involved with drugs, or thinking about it, let me say this. The next time you leave the house for any reason, I want you to go and hug your mom. I want you to look deep into her eyes. The same eyes that filled with tears the first time she saw you after carrying you for nine long months. It was at that moment when she realized, for the first time, the job she had ahead of her, to mold you into someone she would be proud of. That she had been given a gift of life, but at the same time a great responsibility. I’m betting she has enough photos to paper the house. Your first tooth, your first step, the first time you said, “Mommy.” She hid behind a tree and cried that first day you got on the school bus because, for the first time in your life, she wouldn’t be there if you got hurt or sick. But it was the only way she knew how to let you grow up. I want you to look at her again because once the drugs take over your life; you will never see her in that same light again. She will become your adversary, not your guardian.

So, let’s say you did do drugs and now you’re addicted. That was the first step to where you are today, and you know what? Those who have seen you come so far - your mom, dad, grandparents, all your friends and family - are still there for you, and now they want you to make them proud. If you’re already an addict, nothing you could do, for the rest of your life, would make them prouder than to see you kick this thing. There is no shame in falling down, only in not getting back up. There is so much help for you with this and it’s only a phone call away. Those people you thought were your friends who got you to this point today? They used you, and if you want to get started on the path back to a normal life then the first thing you need to do is cut ties with them right now. Tell them to get lost or get clean.

This country has spent over a trillion dollars on the war on drugs, and they’re no closer today to getting rid of them than they were before they started. There are many reasons for this, and none of them good ones. Poverty, greed, and a government who wants to make everybody happy so they can have their votes by legalizing some of it. Our jails are bursting at the seams with drug-related prisoners. Rape, incest, robberies, murder; they are all by-products of drug use and we all pay the bill for it. But, all of that aside, the heartbreak of losing a child to drugs can never be healed. I realize that at some point writing this is a lesson in futility, because if you are on drugs you’re not reading anything, but I had to try.  Maybe, if it’s not to late, Mom will show it to you.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

MY PHONE

                                                          

I recently purchased a new phone. After my wife passed away I felt it was important to have a phone on me at all times. Not just for safety reasons but for reference reasons because I had relied on her so much to remember things we both needed. Addresses and phone numbers. Birthday and anniversaries or appointments, you name it she was my go to gal.  So when I bought the new phone my old one was crammed with all of this information but the phone was dead. Through the magic of I-Cloud I was able to retrieve all of that and now I had a new phone with all of my old information that I had accumulated over the years downloaded into it.

That brings me to this. What if we could take young people that are going out into the world right now and give them all of the things we have learned that worked for us and, didn’t work for us, and say, “Here let me save you a lot of the trouble of having to learn this the hard way.” But wait, aren’t we doing that now with school and books. Yes, to some extent we are and it’s called history but they still have to accept it and learn it and that doesn’t always happen and I’m not sure how much schools even teach history anymore.  No, what I’m talking about is a mass transfer of information in the flick of a switch. Just like my new phone was programmed, you wouldn’t have to start over; you would all ready have the basics. You could expand on it or ignore it but you never really had to learn it.

Now the young people are saying, “Get out of here. We’ll learn it the same way you did.” To that I say. “Some of the mistakes I made in life were downright painful. Ordinary mistakes we all make and you want to make them for yourselves? If there were a way to make a drug addict experience the pain, suffering and shame of withdrawal before they ever started, most wouldn’t make that choice. If there were a way to make a driver experience what he would be going through when he drove drunk and killed someone, he would call a cab. I could give you a hundred examples.”

We are the sum total of our life’s experiences. The problem with that is a lot of us are over the hill before we really are, who we were meant to be. I have always said, “I want to be fourteen and know what I know now.” You see life is one big learning experience but it’s hard to read the book and learn anything from it when the story isn’t finished. That, for so many years, you relied on your likes and prejudice’s to guide you, and now you’re relying on actual experience.



What if we could delete all the bad preconceived opinions we once had and what we would download in these young minds would be only based on facts. That just like the information I downloaded on my new phone from ‘I cloud,’ it was only after I had gotten rid of the bad stuff.

Friday, March 23, 2018

THE BOYS OF SUMMER ARE BACK

                                    
Sometime in the next few weeks, an umpire will stroll to home plate, reach in his back pocket, dust off home plate and yell “Play Ball.” Yes, the ‘Boys of summer’ are back. Also sometime this summer, I will point the nose of my car east and head to Cooperstown. It has been on my bucket list way to long. I probably will want to be alone as a wander through those hallowed halls touching the plaques of those who have immortalized the game. Remembering special moments, when many of them were suited up and playing America’s past time. I am sure it will be emotional for me. There is something special about baseball and its not just it’s storied history I talk about. No, it’s the fact that its one of the few sports that your physical size doesn’t hold you back. It’s a sport for everyone that truly wants to play.

While in Cooperstown I want to stand in front of Harman’s plaque and remember once more this easy going slugger, who hit balls that had upper deck labeled on them the moment the ball and bat collided. How he always laid his bat down gently and jogged around the bases, almost as if the roar of the crowd embarrassed him. I want to stand in front of Kirby’s plaque and hear Jack Buck say, “And well see you tomorrow night,” as Kirby celebrated with the crowd during the 6th game of the World Series with Atlanta. I want to remember the day Rod Carew toyed with the 400 mark and I was there. Then there are all of the other immortals. Babe, Ted, Stan, Joe, Willy, some of the heroes I grew up. Pitchers like Bob Feller and Herb Score with blazing fastballs and they could get them over the plate. Pitchers like Sandy Koufax that had hitters shaking their heads as they walked back to the dugout after watching a curve ball that came from somewhere outside of third base. Managers like Casey Stengel, John McGraw and Leo Durocher who studied the game, simply to outwit the other managers.

It was a time when ball clubs had farm teams, to cultivate their own athlete’s talent and players came up and played their entire careers for one club, one group of fans. It was a time when the ‘Knot Hole Gang’ got you into the old met for a few dollars and hot dogs cost a buck. You could wear your tee shirt with pride for twenty years, because that player wasn’t going anywhere. Then big money got in the way and it all changed. Unions and agents and owners in conflict all of the time and in the end, the fans were the big losers.

Grantland Rice, the great sports writer wrote and I quote. “For when the great scorer comes to call against your name, He’ll ask not if you won or lost but how you played the game.” I guess that’s the part I choose to remember and not what’s happened to the game. I’ll still be there in the stands, win or lose and cheer for my team and then go home and wistfully and quietly remember how it used to be. I leave you with this.“Oh somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright. The band is playing somewhere and somewhere hearts are light. And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout. But there is no joy in Mudville---mighty Casey has stuck out




Friday, March 16, 2018

THE GREATEST GENERATION

                                               

I used to think during all of these bye-gone years that I was part of the ‘Greater Generation’ but after doing some research I found out I was really part of the ‘Silent Generation.’ A lot of the people of the silent generation were born during the great depression. Although my parents did experience it, I did not, but I still grew up expecting and getting a hard life. I was born during World War II and although I remember only bits of the end of it, I do remember the pride that existed in this country afterwards. Our country had fought and won a huge battle against tyranny. In the aftermath the rest of the world looked us up to and we enjoyed our hard fought victory, wearing it proudly on our sleeve. Then generation-by-generation, we let it all the glory slip away.

 No one really remembers those times anymore that fondly because the generations of today seem to march to their own drummer. Our country has changed immensely and that’s not a criticism, it’s a fact. This isn’t a condemnation of today’s younger generation-- its just an effort to explain how vastly different we were. We lived in a country back then where love of country was high on the list. We started class in school each day by reciting the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. Our small town had thirteen churches and my own parents brought us up with a love of God and Country and that often translated into respect for our friends and family.

We had no cell phones or video games and in most case no televisions. The words “go outside and play” came right after your own words, complaining of being bored. There were no health clubs, yet people had far less problems with weight control. There also were no fast food places, and you ate together as a family. Then you burned a lot of calories with that “Going outside and playing” thing. Oh, they hadn’t yet proclaimed the evils of smoking and a lot of people did it and I don’t know whom to call more stupid-- the people back then who smoked or the people today who smoke, after seeing first hand what it did to their friends and family in the past.

Our cars had lead in the gas and that was bad but then we had mainly one auto to a family. For the most part we repaired them ourselves. We ate a lot of fat in our diets back then because that was before we knew words like cholesterol but most people worked hard at their jobs and today that is still a good remedy for that. Kids all carried knives to school but no one stabbed anyone. Our school therapist or counselor was called,” Mom and Dad.” Our historian was called “Grandpa and Grandma.” The town cop was everyone’s friend and the lawyers in town hadn’t learned yet how to be ambulance chasers. The politicians were more in tune with their constituents and not the lobbyists who today finance their campaigns.

I could go on but I won’t. For every action there is a reaction and that is as true today as it was then. So why the big difference? My theory is it has to do not so much with how we live today-- but with the death of common sense. It has to do also with our loss of personal responsibility and our tendencies now-- to blame others, and always have an excuse for our own stupid mistakes.

                                               

Monday, February 12, 2018

MOUNTAINS

                                                            

I grew up in a central Minnesota town that really had little geographical features to gaze at. Looking west, out of town, it was prairie as far as the eye could see. As a young man I always wondered what was beyond the prairie? I knew from books that for the most part the prairie continued across the vast stretches of the Dakotas, Montana and then slowly but surely the foothills of the Rockies’ to the majestic Rockies’ themselves. I knew there was life on the other side of the mountains but it didn’t matter then, my heart would not want to go any farther.

As life has gone on I have traveled extensively and especially in the west. But always my pulse quickened when I got to the mountains. I have crossed them in Colorado, Montana and Arizona. Watched the Canadian Rockies from a ship and traversed Alaska where you never run out of Mountains and always, I never tired of them. I have traveled through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee and Georgia and the Cascades of Washington State and flown over the Alps. I was once asked why didn’t you live in the Mountains? My answer was; if it had been up to only me I would have, but I had a family that didn’t share in my obsession.

My bookshelves are filled with Mountain stories and Mountain climbing stories. Had I grown up in the mountains I would have loved to climb but now just coming up the basement stairs leaves me short of breath. But I never tire of hearing of the exploits of climber’s the world over. I wrote a fictional book called the “Last Trip down the Mountain” that took place on Denali and it was so fun to write. When I think of my favorite Mountain it’s always been Rainer in Washington State and I have been there at its base. It is to our country what Mount Fugi is to Japan, a symbol that is revered.

I read once about a person who had climbed to the top of a high mountain-- in fact it was Rainer. He looked around and he saw valleys and ridges, glaciers and rivers all flowing out from the mountain like the spokes in a wheel. But what amazed him the most was he realized he was standing at the very spot where they all emanated from. He was in effect standing on creation. That mountain, for him that day, was the link between heaven and earth. Maybe that’s why people like me are so enamored with mountains. Here on this majestic piece of ground you are physically closer to God then you have ever been before. Even when the mountain is shrouded with clouds and you can’t even see the peak, you know that it’s there. Just like we feel the presence of God where ever we are, even though we can’t always see him.


I don’t mean to minimize the beauty of Minnesota and Arizona and other places I have lived. Beauty truly is everywhere you want it to be. But in Arizona at night Pat and I look down the street from our house and we say, “look how pretty the mountain is tonight.” Down there they talk too about the beauty of the valley but there would never be a valley without the mountains. Back in the seventies I used to like to listen to the music of John Denver and I cried when he was killed. “Yes John, I think we were both on a Rocky Mountain High.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

WAR

                                                            WAR

In a conversation I had with a Veteran about war in general, we talked about the Civil war and I commented how General Sherman, on his march to the sea had a scorched earth policy. I told him how I had read that he destroyed every house and hamlet, forcing women and children out into the streets with no food and shelter. The enemy was nowhere around them, fast retreating, defeated. He told me that is what you are taught in the military.” If you can’t kill them, then make them wish they never have to deal with you again.”

This same Civil war General is also famous for his Quote. “War is hell.” Apparently it is and apparently he wanted it to be that way for everyone. His partner in command, in that war, was a far more compassionate man. General Grant, who I am sure, saw all of the same carnage brought on his troops by the enemy that Sherman did, told Robert E Lee at the surrender that his men should take their horses and side arms and go home to their families. The war was over. I guess Grant missed the course on scorched earth policy.

This brings me to my question, and keep in mind I wasn’t in the military. Is a scorched earth policy really what our troops are taught? I see instances of the military doing there best to avoid collateral damage all of the time. I understand how the whole battle thing would be easier if you just killed them all and let the lord sort them out, but aren’t we really better then that? It is my own opinion that there are more General Grants in the service today, then General Sherman’s.

This brings up another serious question. If war is hell and I believe most of us do believe that, why do we continue to relive it? There is no end to the movies and miniseries’ on television about wars that we have fought. Video games are built around the premise of shooting and killing people. Kids grow up with toy guns and fake swords. Then we settle down in the family room with a bowl of popcorn and watch movies from the Vietnam War. Then some deranged person takes a gun and shoots up a church and we say. “How does this happen? I just don’t understand.”

All of my life we have pretty much been at war at one time or another. Right now we are fighting in several places in the world. Don’t get me wrong; I do believe a strong military is a necessity in today’s world. But the rational for using it is another story. In all of my years as a fireman, fire prevention was our number one goal. The fire that never happened, because of good preventive decisions, was the epitome of success. Why can’t we see that the conflict that never happened in the world, because cooler heads prevailed, is a success too? Or do our generals feel like the coach who’s football team practices everyday but never gets to play a game. Dwight Eisenhower, a battle hardened general and later our president said,  “Some day the people of this country are going to want peace so bad that their leaders are going to have to get out of the way and let them have it.” You were right about that Ike. It’s just not that time yet. Blessed are the peacemakers.



Thursday, January 25, 2018

SNOWBIRD

                                                         

Ann Murray sang a song about the ‘Snowbird’ many years ago. A different kind of snowbird then I’m talking about today. I’m one of the lucky one’s who goes south in the winter to escape the cold of a Minnesota winter. I want to rephrase that and say I’m one of the ones who has been blessed to be able to go where it’s warm; luck has nothing to do with it. One look at my phone tells me today what the temp is in Crosslake and what it is where I am residing. Today the swing is almost 90 degrees.

There was always a certain amount of pride living up north in the winter for me Pride that we were hearty enough to live and work in that climate. We were survivors and descendants of hearty Scandinavians who had been thumbing their frozen noses at the elements for years. We learned at an early age to walk like a duck on ice and snow, -- sometimes backwards--- because the north wind was blowing and making it even colder. We wore flannel shirts, Carhartt coveralls, Sorrel boots and parkas with fur-trimmed hoods. We learned at an early age it was mittens, not gloves, when it was cold outside We held our thumb to the side of our nose and pointed it away from the wind when we blew. We drilled holes in the ice and sat on a bucket fishing.  We slid on sleds and toboggans, down the big hill by the school and skated at the outdoor rink when the city flooded the hill and the ball field.

As a kid my dad burned wood to heat the house and we didn’t burn wood because it looked pretty and smelled nice, we burned it to stay warm. To those of you that remember those days you can recollect how the temperature in the house ranged from 85 to 60 and words like, “close the damper before you cook us out” or “go out and get some more wood son, the fire is dying out” were uttered over and over again. Come night time the fire did die out and you awoke to see your breath and ran for the kitchen where mom had the range going and was in the process of heating the house up again, albeit one room at a time. You dressed by the stove and ate oatmeal for breakfast-- no pop tarts for us.

Then old age came along, the blood thinned out, the bones got brittle and pride or not it just wasn’t fun anymore. So you went down south for a few weeks and then it was a couple of months and now it’s late fall to early spring. Down here in the desert it still gets chilly at night. But no one talks about wind chill. When you talk about twenty below zero to the natives they just give you a pained look and one man told me they should just put yellow crime tape around the whole state come winter. My grandfather immigrated to Minnesota from Norway and when I asked him why not Florida or Arizona, he told me “this is where the wagon broke down” and shrugged his shoulders. Not sure if it was an explanation or an apology. I told my dad about fighting a large fire one night when it was -30. He told me I was lucky it wasn’t back in the 20’s when he grew up. “-30 was a damn sight colder back then,” he said.


But when all is said and done and the grim reaper comes a calling against my name, I’ll be right back here in the land of rosy cheeks and snotty noses, because I still have some of that Minnesota pride left in me. I just hope its not January.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

SCENT,SENT FROM THE PAST

                                              

This isn’t meant to be sad, so don’t reach for the tissues. It’s just a little human-interest story that I would like to share with those who have lost someone special.

After my wife passed away, for a long time I didn’t change much about the house. By choice I had never played much of a part in the decorating or furnishings, so she pretty much had her signature on everything and she did a good job at it. I had some fears that as time went on everything in the house was just going to remind me of her at every turn and make me sad all of the time. But those fears were largely unfounded. I too had lived there the entire time and really the things I’m talking about weren’t hers or mine, they were ours. In the ensuing years I have changed a few things-- but not to get rid of her ideas, only to keep up with the times.

So the only things I gave away were the things that had no value to me such as her clothes and jewelry. In fact I emptied her dresser in the bedroom except for one thing. A small jar of perfume she had always used very sparingly. It was the only scent I had ever remembered her using. She had used it most of the time when we went out socially or at the times when she just wanted to make an evening special for me. I’ll leave that right there. Her dresser has remained empty except for that jar of perfume because I had my own dresser and really being a pretty simple man who lives in blue jeans and tee shirts I didn’t need the space. Then the other day I opened the drawer for some reason and saw that bottle again. I picked it up and looked at it and then opening the cap, I took a shallow breath. I had to sit down on the bed because my knees got weak. I didn’t break down crying or bury my head in the pillow. I just enjoyed the memories of a very special lady who had more to do with making me the man I am today, then I care to admit and all of this brought on that day simply by the scent of her perfume.

Our senses play such a big part in jogging our memories. When I was a kid there was a bakery in my hometown that made the best Bismarck’s or jelly doughnuts. I had a morning paper route so when my route was done, and before I went to school; I went to the bakery and maybe for nickel or a dime you could get one in those days, still warm and filled with raspberry jelly with white frosting on top. Even today going in a Bakery and smelling those aromas I still think of those winter mornings in that bakery.


Its not always smells either-- sometimes it’s a sound. Back to my hometown and an old house a block from the railroad tracks. At night you would hear that long mournful whistle on the steam engine coming into town from the west, and then, through our open bedroom window, you would hear the clickity clack of the steel wheels on the tracks and the boxcars cars lurching back and forth. It was a railroad town so this happened many times a night. Later in life while living in the cities I could hear the trains again, farther away across the river but always it brought me back to those nights in of my youth.

Monday, December 11, 2017

THEY CALL IT PROGRESS

                                               

In Man’s zeal to find bigger and better ways to accomplish things, there’re always casualties. Driven by the love of the almighty dollar and corporate profits, our way of life evolves each and every day in this capitalistic society. That’s not meant to be a criticism; it’s a fact of life here in America. It’s lead, follow or get out of the way.
At some point progress bumps heads with nostalgia and people who don’t want to change, get hurt in the process. There are thousands of coal miners in West Virginia who want nothing more then to pick up their dinner pails and go to the mine each day but no one wants their coal anymore. There are people in towns all across this nation who live just down the street from a shuttered factory and remember when they had two lives’ that they lived. One for their family and one for the company. Now a robot does their job in half the time. Abandoned farmhouses dot the prairies of the Midwest, sad reminders of a time when a family toiled to grow crops and tend their animals. Now huge pieces of machinery chew up in one bite, more soil then a legion of family farmers could turn over in a day, with their antiquated machinery.

Yes its sad. It’s sad because we were so happy living like that. Maybe we grew up on a family farm, four generations old, smelling sweet clover and fresh cut alfalfa fields not muddy feedlots spilling over with manure and cattle caked with it. We wore that farmers tan and those calluses’ in the summer like a badge of courage and in the evening one would sit on the porch with that good kind of tired, and hear nothing but the mourning doves, perched on the power line, cooing above us and the frogs croaking in the swamp. Or maybe some of us worked eight hours a day, punched the clock, then went home to our families in a quiet neighborhood, confident each week that paycheck would be there on Friday, always grateful for the job.

It was a time when merchants in small towns closed up their shops at five thirty p.m. on weekdays, except Friday nights, when they stayed open until nine for the farmers and then they went home to their families too. Sundays, they did like the good book asked us to do. It was a day of rest and you went and visited friends and relatives or watched the city team play baseball at Pine Grove Park and had a picnic in the park. No one complained that the liquor stores were closed. No one knew what Wall Mart was and when you went to the local hardware store, Phil would take the time to not only cut some screen for you but also show you how to fix it.

If I could go back for just one day it would be a summer day in June of 1957 and I would be sixteen, standing along the railroad tracks west of Staples. I would be pumping my arm in the air as a huge steam engine roared by me on that ribbon of steel pulling over a hundred boxcars and the engineer seeing me would blow the whistle, while leaning out the window and give me the highball. Grains in the fields would nod their heads from the rush of the wind from the train blowing by. The pockets on my tattered jeans would have only a pocketknife, no cell phone and no I-pod. My bicycle lying in the ditch would have my old baseball glove slipped over the handlebars and an old steel fishing rod tied to the bars. I would be on my way to Dower Lake. It’s hard to imagine living like that now but take my word for it. It beats what we have today.



Sunday, December 3, 2017

THE DREADED COLONOSCOPY

                                                
I call this “The Dreaded Colonoscopy II,” because I wrote a column a few years back on this same subject. A few months back my Doctor here in Crosslake, who shall remain nameless although we all love her, informed me that it was time for this procedure again. You know something distasteful is coming up when they almost apologize as they tell you about it. It’s as if you drew the short straw as to who was going to clean up the road-killed skunk out by the mailbox. It was April at the time she told me, so what the heck I thought, I’ll worry about that when the time comes in October. Well news flash, the time came.

This procedure has as its nemesis some thing called prep. I am not sure if anyone has succumbed to this prep procedure but I’m betting there have been some who really didn’t care if they did or didn’t. The combination of drugs and liquid mixes that make up this prep remind me of an old Eagles song called “Take it to the limit.” Not sure if I was just more sensitive then others to this brew but my bedroom is literally ten feet from the commode and when the urge hits, you have about a second less then it takes this old man to run that ten feet. I’ll spare you the details on that. The last time my derriere was this sore is when my father gave me a friendly spanking with a piece of wooden lathe with a nail in it. In his defense he didn’t know the nail was in it until I pointed it out to him, so to be nice about it, he turned the board around. But I’m getting off the subject here.

At the hospital, after they give you one of those peek a boo gowns that ties in the back and also unties in the back after you take two steps, they wheel you into the examination room. The good Doctor came in and introduced himself. He asked if this was my first colonoscopy and I told him no, it was the third and you did them all. I was thinking to myself right then and there. If he sits down on that little stool and says, “Oh now I recognize you,” I was coming right off of that gurney. After the procedure he told me everything looked very nice. Now I’ve never looked in there but if I was a Doctor and I had looked in there, I might have said “Everything looks in order.” Very nice Doc. is the sun going down over Crosslake on a summer evening.

Now comes the mea culpa. As much as I poke light of things like this, I thank the lord that there are good doctors and nurses available who look after our health and that when those nurses will wrap you up in a warm blanket, that makes you want to suck your thumb and hear your old Irish Grandma singing Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra, just when everything looks so bleak. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, even if its 64 ounces of prevention that you get two hours to drink and-- damn it Mike, get serious.


If you’re over sixty or have a family history of colon problems you need to do this. This disease can be managed with early prevention and did I tell you? —After the exam they feed you. Also if you play scrabble and you want to use the word colonoscopy in a sentence, you better have a lot of o’s.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

MOLLY

                                                         

It has been a while since I wrote about Molly. For those of you who are new to this column, Molly is my Labrador dog. When you look into race and genetics in the Minnesota dog world, it would be fair to say there are more labs and half labs in this state then there are Norwegians in Norway. I heard of a woman who put an add in the paper for her lost Lab. It read in part.” Lost Black lab with red collar. If found please bring to the address in this add for a generous reward.” She said they brought 4 of them before she got the right one.

Labs are known for having good dispositions and Molly is no exception. If another dog growls at her she looks over her shoulder at who is behind her, because they can’t possible be mad at her. They are natural hunters and I guess with careful training they can make a good hunting companion. Not sure how long that takes but in Molly’s case it would probably be most of her useful lifetime. She hunts all right; it’s just that she isn’t picky about her selection of prey. If it moves and runs away from her she’s right on it’s tail. In the case of a skunk she might be right under the tail and has been. Pew!

I told you she gets along with other people and other dogs. In Arizona I have to keep her leashed when I walk her. She has pulled me flat out on the ground three times, in a charge to make a new acquaintance. Her favorite charge is a 180-degree backwards thrust with the leash between my legs when I’m walking forward. You can imagine the logistics of that. Once I was picking up what she had just done in the grass; my hand was inches from the stinky pile, when she took off, which sent my hand into the middle of the pile of excrement, a mile from home. A half mile from home I met an acquaintance that always likes a hearty handshake and I managed to get my soiled hand in my pocket and extend the other hand upside down which brought a, “What the hell look,” from him and a short end to a clean pair of pants. I just sewed the pocket shut after that.


Every time I take her to the vet they tell me she needs to lose more weight. What I feed her would starve a Teacup Poodle-- I was going to say Mexican Chihuahua but I couldn’t spell it--Oh all right, for cripes sake I looked it up, okay. Anyway its what she finds to eat that gets her in trouble. Molly’s theory is just eat it and if it don’t set well, throw it up by the patio doors when he’s asleep and he will step in it in the morning when he lets me out. I have analyzed a lot of dog vomit and fifty percent of the time I don’t have a clue what she ate. Then there is the begging at the table and the dishes to lick afterwards. What? Do you realize how much water I save by not rinsing my dishes? Molly sleeps by herself at night. Her idea not mine, but I think for the better. The other night I got up during the night to—you know what I got up for—and she’s on the couch where she doesn’t belong. I took the lid off a tote and put it on the couch so she wouldn’t get back up there and went back to bed.  Then I got right back up and did what I was going to do in the first place, before I wet myself and she’s back on the couch. She threw the tote lid down the basement stairs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SUNSHINE BOYS

                                                         

We have long had this group of old men and sometimes even a couple of ladies that would get together for coffee in the mornings in town. I have written about them before under the label of ‘Sunshine boys.”  But Illness, death and moving away have thinned the ranks and now there are fewer left.  Oh, every fall, we always lost a few snowbirds for the winter but even then we seemed to have a quorum and guess what? I’m now a snowbird too. I’m not talking about a quorum in a legal sense but rather enough for us to have a meaningful conversation.

Sometimes groups like this exist for a while and then disappear because the reasons for meeting had a particular topic in mind. For instance a group that once worked together or alumnus. But this group is unique, never having a definite purpose or any ties that went beyond being old, living around Crosslake and just wanting to socialize. For many of us it is just a way to break up the day and share some old jokes and maybe a few experiences. Complain about the state of world affairs and that awful younger generation, all something old men seem to be drawn to.

There were a couple of topics that weren’t officially banned but topics we did stay clear of. Human nature and the experience of a lifetime of living, told most of us they could be sensitive and controversial. After all respect for each other had to come first. So religion and politics remained on the back burner. When the group first started getting together, or at least when I first started getting together with them, I was one of the younger ones. That has changed somewhat. I haven’t got any younger and they’re simply aren’t many younger ones and that’s the reason for this essay. 

When I was a young man I often thought that if I were to be happy in life maybe a log cabin on a mountainside far from the madding crowd would be my cup of tea. There would be no one to criticize me or no one to order me around. No one to fear or steal my stuff. No one, to be compared too. I would be my own boss. What I didn’t realize at the time, coming from a large family, was how lonely that kind of life can be and what were the ramifications of having no one to love. Ironically my Grandson who is just 21 once said the same thing to me. He’s getting married next summer and I’m betting he’s given up on that idea, just like I did.


But back to the sunshine boys and what has happened.  I’ve wracked my brain for some sort of reasoning for the declining ranks. Is having friends like that no longer cool anymore? Has the dynamics of people sharing their lives like that changed that much? Or are we way to busy for that sort of thing or is the reasoning-- what’s in it for me? Maybe we were all just in another time and place back then, where we just clicked. Then maybe it’s just me and I’m reading way too much into it—or perhaps writing too much into it, I don’t know. Anyway, years ago Bob Hope had a theme song called “Thanks for the Memories.” To Morrie, Rusty, Dick, Norm, and now Gordy, who have gone on to that big booth in the sky with the never-ending coffee cup, I too say, “Thanks for the memories.” To Lee we all say, “get well our friend. “To all of the others and especially you Fergie-- I’ll see you in the spring.