Wednesday, October 18, 2017

IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD

                                               
That say that when your passing away, your life and everything you accomplished during the trip flashes before your eyes.  I’m not sure who it was who died and came back to share that with us but I’ll take it for what its worth because I’ve been told, that’s there story and they’re sticking to it and who am I to refute it. I find it somewhat believable because even though I’m still on top of the grass I find myself having little flashbacks from time to time and I hope I’m not gearing up for something bigger and all of this ruminating is just that-- reminiscing that old people do. I do hope this however. That before that time comes, that somehow I will be able to edit this trip down memory lane because I do think it’s a brief one and there are a lot of things yours truly did in his life that he’s not really that proud of, so why bring that stuff back up. No sense getting to the pearly gates with a bad taste in your mouth. That is if the pearly gates are really where I’m heading but that’s a story for another column.

I always remember a song, by that old, beloved gravely voice singer Satchamo-- aka Louie Armstrong-- who sang, “It’s a wonderful world.” In it Louie sings about all of the things he see’s that makes this world such a wonderful world to live in.  He sees the trees of green, red roses, skies of blue and clouds of white. The colors of the rainbow and friends walking by.  Yes, friends shaking hands and saying, “I love you.” And that my friend is the point I’m getting to. That all of those things we witnessed and accomplished in this trip we call life, have little significance when we think about the friends we have made and the people we have loved.

Today as I write this two of my friends are seriously ill with cancer and both are in the fight of their lives’. It is for me another poignant moment in my life, knowing the fight they are in. I am at a point in my life where this happens a lot but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I have said before that I have a wonderful memory and I feel blessed to have it. I have found myself on occasion going back in time and thinking about all of the friends I have had, the places I have been and the things I have accomplished. Yes, you don’t need to be on the way out to take this trip through life. But I’m having second thoughts about maybe editing this trip, as I mentioned earlier as the right thing to do, for we need those wrongs for the bad example if nothing else and the resolve to not do them again.

As for the future I think Robert Frost said it best, in his poem, “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” when he said,
“The woods are lovely dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”



Friday, October 13, 2017

ME AND THE CRITTERS

                                               

I have a rather large Pileated Woodpecker that lives in the woods behind my house. Sometimes at night I can hear this big bird boring holes in an old dead tree. He has a rapid fire feature of about 100 hits per minute and Bushman Assault Rifles Company would do well to find a mechanism that works this fast. If the NFL could study this bird, maybe they could keep football players from scattering their brains. He’s been doing it all year and he still seems to have his wits about him. Talk about taking a hit. There is a rumor going around that the tree in California, which had a road bored through it, was really the work of two of these woodpeckers—although it did take them all winter. Keep in mind that this is no ordinary woodpecker, this is a flying jackhammer. All was well until he decided to ventilate my wood siding.

Not prone to shooting critters, to drive the varmint, who was lodged up in the highest eves of my house away, I had to resort to a high-pressure water hose. You don’t want to mess around with an old firefighter when it comes to accurately squirting water. This worked—however, this critter is an early riser so much of my water squirting took place in my P. J’s.,  and I was going on about four hours of sleep a night for the week of the conflict. I had nightmares, when I was asleep and he was hammering on the house, about being pinned down under a barbed wire fence somewhere on the western front of France, and that was not helpful. I think the bird is wearing on me because last night as he flew off, I swear he gave me the old Woody Woodpecker Song. Maybe this is where the phrase, “flipping you the bird” came from.

On another subject—I have apple trees, and being the benevolent person I am, I leave the lower apples for the deer when I pick them. They have been coming on a regular basis and you see them grazing in the morning. The other day I picked the apples, putting them in a few five-gallon pails, which I set on the back porch. Again, I left the lower apples on the tree for the deer. This morning, when I looked out the bedroom window at daybreak, there were no deer to be seen. That’s because they were all up at the house, eating the apples out of the pails. I think, somewhere along the line, they picked up on the mentality that you don’t have to work for your food if you don’t want to. Wonder where that came from?


A few years back I had a skunk under my porch. He didn’t stink, and he rarely bothered anyone, but with my dog Molly, who has been sprayed by skunks in the past—and I think enjoyed it—it was technically always an accident waiting to happen. The problem is, getting the skunk to leave is not always that easy. If you shoot it there, you might as well burn the house down, and being an old firefighter, I do know how to do that, but frown on it, and now having said that, hope I don’t have a fire because I will be in for a lengthy investigation. So instead, my neighbor who is an old Scandinavian, told me to put a bucket of Lutefisk under the porch and they will go away. It was hard to find Lutefisk out of season, but when it arrived I promptly got it under the porch, and sure enough, the skunk quickly moved out. But, I now have two Norwegians who have been casing the place the last few days.  I hope they stay away. Anybody want a bucket of Lutefisk?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

VIETNAM

                                                          

I have been watching Burn’s & Novick”s documentary of the Vietnam War. Although there were very few “aha” moments in it for me, simply because I am well versed in the history of it, I did find it compelling and well done. I was not an active participant in that war, however what I want to write about, is how it impacted my family. Before I say that however, I just want to say how proud and yet in a way how sorry I am for all of those who did serve over there. Proud of you because you followed orders and did what was asked of you, by your country. Sorry for the way you were deceived by the politicians who were running our country at that time.

My two younger brothers served in Vietnam. The one who is still alive is a proud veteran, as well he should be but as proud as I am of him, it is the other one I want to talk about. I have seen a replica of the “Wall” that was built to honor those who died in Vietnam. There are names on that wall of people I knew but my brother’s name is not there, even though his life was ruined and indirectly his death was caused by that war. It was his nemesis until his death and in effect, he never left Vietnam.

My brother came home a far different person then when he left for Vietnam and for forty some years the demons that followed him back home, ruled and haunted his life. At first he fought back, married, had a family and started a successful business. But the demons were always there just under the surface. Slowly but surely they resurfaced and he fought back with the only way he knew how. With booze. He truly drank to forget. I was with him many times when those personal battles were being fought. I watched his business fail, his marriage fail and then him fail. He was a talented man and he fought back to redeem himself whenever he got knocked down. He worked hard to bounce back, but always came up short and went back to the bottle. Was there help for him available? Oh I’m sure the answer was yes, but he wanted no part of help from the same people who had deceived him in the first place. In the end when his death was inevitable he asked to be buried between his parents back home. No National Cemetery for him even though he deserved it.

People drink for many reasons. I’m sure I don’t have to tell any of you the heartbreak that accompanies a lifetime of drinking and alcoholism. How it has taken talented hardworking people and turned them into liars, beggars and sometimes thieves. There are a lot of victims when it comes to this disease, most of them powerless to do much about it unless they get the help they need.

Maybe I would have been happier if our country would have looked at what happened in Vietnam and said, never again. That, that war was the example we needed to see how wrong it was to get involved in other countries affairs. But we didn’t and in the ensuing years we repeated it several more times in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and there will be more. And so my brother’s death couldn’t somehow be justified as an example of what can happen, but was left to be just another part of the spoils of a politician’s war. I can’t change history and I can’t bring my brother back but I can write about it so people know the truth and don’t forget.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ALL ABOUT LOVE

                                                          

I talked with a dear old friend the other night whose husband is suffering with dementia. It’s progressed to the point that he’s in a memory care unit and she has to leave her home to go visit him and she does this every a day. She told me that in one of her visits he told her, “I want to get up out of this chair and come over and wrap my arms around you.” I want all of you who are living with your spouse or significant other, who still have minds and bodies that work, to think about this. Think about a time when your body no longer works because your mind no longer works and you are locked out of the simplest tasks. You have nothing to offer anyone but love and right now even that is complicated by your inability to even hold your partner.

My grandparents lived into their eighties and their dream was when they couldn’t take care of themselves anymore to move to a facility where they could live out the rest of their lives together and be cared for. They made all of the arrangements and the day came and they seemed so happy even though they knew-- and we knew-- that this was the last stop. That didn’t matter to them; just being together was all they really wanted. They really had little to offer the world anymore and every fiber of their being was now dedicated to just making each other happy. I have a picture of them I treasure, sitting side by side in their room contented.

Then Grandma had a massive stroke and she had to go somewhere else because she was now a complete invalid. My grandfather was devastated as he had no car and very little money and no way to get to Grandma. He begged rides from relatives and spent what little money he did have on cabs. Then one night when I was in my early twenties this old but seemingly otherwise healthy man gave it all up and passed away. My father, his son, came down from up north for his dad’s funeral. It was the only time I ever saw my dad cry. I asked him what happened, why did grandpa die? “It’s was his heart,” he said. “I didn’t know he had a bad heart,” I answered. Dad looked at me his eyes flowing with tears and said. “It wasn’t bad-- it was broken.”

There is no other organ in our bodies that is so in tune with our minds like our hearts. No other organ that can be so adversely affected by the lack of love, the absence of love. Love is truly what makes the world go around. It’s what makes our lives go on and gives us purpose in life. Love is an intricate part of our life’s experience because we are by nature, nurturing people and because we know from experience that to get love you have to give love. People not capable of love, live empty lives indeed.


 Love can be your undoing too as what happened to my grandpa. As people grow old together, all too often they just plain grow together and become one. Become one body and spirit that is totally dependent on being together. It’s a beautiful thing to witness, as mean as it can seem to be when someone is lost. People leave but memories live on and at least for most of us we will have those to nurture until our life is done.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

MALLS

                                                          

I just read an article on the demise of shopping malls, as we once knew them. It is estimated that one quarter of all malls will close, or be in the process of closing in the next year. The culprit is reported to be on-line shoping. It is far more lucrative for stores to sell out of a few distribution points then having buildings and staff to maintain all over the map. Just one more example of how our newfound cyber lives, are eliminating a lot of jobs in retail but its not the whole story.

I’m going back to the 1960’s and a Mall called Brookdale in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. It had four anchor stores called Dayton’s, Donaldson’s, J.C. Penny’s and Sears. Three of them no longer exist and the fourth, Sears, is fading fast. It seems ironic that Sears first got in business, as a mail order catalog business. That’s snail male, not e-mail. There were maybe fifty other stores that filled out the Brookdale Mall back then. Book stores, specialty-clothing stores, sporting goods stores, drug stores etc. Weekends and holidays it was a busy place.

It wasn’t like you had to go out and shop for most things. You could still sit down with the Sears. Penny’s, Ward’s catalogue and do your shopping from the comfort of your home. Most people chose not to unless it was a hardship to get to the stores. The mall gave them a chance to compare merchandise from store to store. To try on and get properly fitting clothing and shoes. To ask questions about what you were buying. But for most people they just enjoyed shopping this way. So what changed?

When you think about it shopping on line is not that different then shopping from a catalogue was, so it’s not just the ease of shopping from home. Online, pricing seems to be better and the selection bigger so that’s a plus. But I think the real reason comes in taking the time to go shopping. Everybody is too busy now days. Keep in mind the word “Hockey Mom,” was nowhere to be found in those days. People were not working three jobs and overtime to make ends meet. Moms were more apt to stay home and be homemakers. People were just more social to each other. Back in those days, you did talk over the fence to your neighbors, maybe while you were hanging the clothes out on the line. You mowed your own lawn and shoveled your own driveway and didn’t go to the club because there wasn’t one.

Then life got easier in one sense and busier in another. You found ways to bet rid of those meaningless chores but someone had to pay for that. So more hours and more jobs and mom off to work. Now you needed another car, and sessions at the therapist’s office. The roads became more crowded and traveling anywhere was a nightmare. Another new word was coined and it was called “rush hour” and pretty soon you had a belly full of driving anywhere.


Brookdale was bulldozed a while back and Wall Mart moved in. Most of the other malls have had to resort to sideshows like theme parks and water attractions. But slowly and surely they too are losing the battle like Brookdale. My thought today is, what is going to replace Amazon someday?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A LETTER TO WILLY NELSON

                                    
So a while back, I planed a little motor trip to the cities to see some friends and family. As always my car radio was tuned to music and namely country western classics. Then I heard this. Willy Nelson, that old pony tailed, weed smoker we all have learned to love, singing his latest song, “I Woke Up Not Yet Dead Again Today.” I had to chuckle at the lyrics because maybe it was his answer to the rumors of his death that floated around for a while. And maybe Willy just ran out of topics for new country music songs to write. Maybe the last woman, who stole her lover’s pickup truck with his dog in it while he was in prison and got hit by a train, is finally history and there is no more to write about.

Willy, I ask you “whatever happened to having more of “Spanish Eyes” or that song I wanted to sing at my Granddaughters wedding but she wouldn’t let me, called,” Here’s To All The Girls I’ve loved Before.” How about “Blue Eyes crying in The Rain” or “Seven Spanish Angels.” But wait maybe its not just your songs Willy. I seem to remember Roger Miller singing about, “Roller Skating in a Buffalo Herd” and that no good “Lucille” leaving him with seven lonely kids and a Crop in the Field, and right after he just became the “King of the Road.” Talk about a let down. Maybe if he would have stayed home once in a while, huh?

Yes Willy, I have often wondered if Marty Robbins ever got out of “El Paso” in his White Sports Coat with that Pink Carnation, Or whatever happened to wicked Felina the girl that he loved, or if Rosa’s Cantina is even still in business? I knew things were getting bad when Ray Price started crooning “Burning Memories” and Jack Scott started singing “Burning Bridges” and the Platters, who aren’t country by the way, got all upset because “The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” But like Ronnie Milsap said, it was just “Too Late to worry” and “He was Just Too Blue to Cry.”

Maybe Willy as long as you’re still writing music and still on the right side of the grass you could write a new song for all of us country fans. How about a song that takes us back home again, down those country roads like John Denver used to sing about back there in West Virginia along those Blue Ridge Mountains. Maybe we could stop by Butcher Holler, its not that far away. Sit on that that hill where Loretta grew up and watch the coal trains going through. Maybe if we have time we could go see where Patsy grew up and where she “Fell to Pieces” so many times until it drove her “Crazy.”

Somewhere up in heaven there has to be a country music hall of fame. Jimmy Reeves, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and oh my how the list goes on. I’m betting there is no closing time up there and the encores go on forever. I can see Minnie Pearl opening the door and hollering “Howdy” to all who go there. Buck Owens with that big smile just standing there “Acting Naturally.” I’m betting there’s going to be a chair with your name on it too Willy but they are just going to have to wait a while--- because this morning you woke up ”Not Yet Dead Again Today.”


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

THE SINKING OF THE QUEEN MARY

                                  

My neighbors had an old rowboat that sat chained to a tree for years and was never used. At one time I actually thought it was holding up the tree. Then they sold the place and the old boat went with it. The new family promptly put it in the lake and put an equally old motor on it and christened it the “Queen Mary.” She sat there tied to the dock with the big boys, proud once more to be part of the fleet. When the family came up for the weekend you would see their teenage son Jack, take his fishing pole and fire up that smoky old Johnson and set a course for the prime fishing grounds. The queen never looked prouder.

Then a few weeks ago they took a vacation to California and the shoreline and dock were deserted, all except for the Queen tied to her moorings. On Thursday of that week we got three inches of rain and the Queen now filled to the gunnels with rainwater had a slight list to port but her bow still stood proud and beckoning to the fishing flats of Big Pine. An area rivaled only by the grand banks of the western Atlantic. I noticed all of this from my house high above the boat but felt the Queen had weathered worse things, so I paid scant attention to the predicament she was in. That put me somewhere in the company of those two guys that were in the crows-nest telling jokes and smoking English tobacco that fateful night when the Titanic kissed that iceberg with such tragic results. Never the less it was late, so I went to bed.

The next morning dawned damp and foggy with a mist that hung over the lake and you could scant see the shoreline. But as the sun came up and the mist burned off, the horror of it all came home. Sometime during the night, the Queen Mary had quietly sunk into the depths of Big Pine Lake. I walked to the dock with a heavy heart. She didn’t deserve this. The fog was still hugging the lake and somehow in the back of my mind, and coming out of the mist I could hear Celine Dion singing, “My heart will go on.” There was an image of a man standing on the end of that ghostly dock, shrouded in the mist that I swear looked just like Leonardo DiCaprio. Kate Winslet must have gone down with the boat I reasoned. I was horror struck.

The next morning the salvage crew-- namely me-- came and raised the queen once more. With a gurgling she came up, bow first. The debris field bubbling up out of the depths, with her once proud bow. Unlike the Titanic she had been found right away and the depths allowed for rapid recovery. Her fuel tank came first, upside down and a snicker wrapper followed. Then a wooden oar and a Styrofoam cup with the words, “night crawlers” written on the side of it. I could only think, “Oh if that old gal could talk, the stories she would tell.” Thankfully no Kate Winslet showed up.


Winched to shore and salvaged the Queen went to dry dock and was re -outfitted. Her holds and bilges were drained. Her fuel tank put back in place and her three horse Johnson dried out. Today she sits snuggly back in her berth, not a casualty like the Titanic but a proud survivor of a near tragedy in the notorious depths of Big Pine Lake. Ah yes my friends. May we all utter together-“ God save the Queen Mary.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

LABOR DAY

                                                          
Something happens after Labor Day in the lake country of central Minnesota. It’s the same feeling you got way back then, when you’ve had a grand party and the last guest had left and you and her sat on the couch, amid the spoils, all talked out, knowing the party was over. You just patted her hand and give her a small forced smile, like it was fun while it lasted. But instead of a cushy couch, today it’s an old weathered dock your sitting on, with a pair of discarded flippers and a broken plastic bucket impaled on one of the rusty pipes, hanging limply over the edge. An old fishing boat is still tied to the dock; it’s bow pointing upward and its rainwater-flooded stern barely peeking above the water line. A empty Styrofoam container, with the words, “Small leeches” on the cover floats in the water inside the boat, along with a cracked red seat cushion and a Snicker’s wrapper.

There was a fog over the lake that long ago Labor Day morning of which I write, shrouding the still waters like a wet blanket. The cool September air was bumping up against the still warmer lake waters. A bass surfaced long enough to take a water bug and then headed back down into the safety of the lily pads. A ring of small waves, evidence of the hungry fish coming and going, spread outward and finally dissipated and the lake was calm once more. From somewhere across the lake a boat motor coughed to life as an early morning fisherman went out to wet a line. It had been only a few weeks before that on a quiet summer evening when I had sat here at dusk with my arm around my wide-eyed ten-year-old grandson and told him about “Old Jingles,” the monster Northern Pike who prowls these shorelines. “At night he raises his head out of the water,” I said “and he shakes his jaw filled with rusty lures and broken fishing lines from battles he’s fought, hence the name, “Old Jingles.” The boy knew grandpa was spoofing but he just smiled politely.

It was always Memorial Day when it all began. The trees were just getting their new leaves and the lake was clear and deprived of weeds. It was foggy those mornings too but it was cold water and warm air that was the culprit this time. A pair of proud geese with ten little goslings bobbing in their wake had swum by the dock that morning. The lake was alive with fisherman trolling the shorelines in fancy boats. Screen doors banged as excited kids ran in and out of the houses. Someone was frying bacon and the coffee was rich, black and hot and the whole summer was lying ahead. It was summer at the lake and the fun was only beginning. We had a new paddleboat that year and Grandma fell in the lake the first time she tried it but she was an old hand at it now. The grandkids wanted grandpa to get a bigger motor because the pontoon didn’t pull them fast enough on the tube but he knew that all too soon they would tire of it and he’d be stuck with a gas hog that won’t troll down.

But that was then, and then is now and it was the midpoint of the summer-- the 4th of July this year- that I remembered watching the fireworks in town, from the dock all alone. This year there were few visitors or little kids and a lot of empty weekends for the old man at the lake. The flowers came and went, and all those toys I bought sat unused. The weeks peeled away and the trip from Memorial Day to Labor day was closing fast-- and now, here I am and where is all that jingling coming from?



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RANDOM THOUGHTS

                                             
It seems like only yesterday that it was April and we just got back from Arizona. I was full of enthusiasm for the Minnesota summer ahead and I had a lot of projects lined up. Some of them fun and some of them work. On this, the middle of August and the dog days of summer, I have safely put a check mark along side of most of them. Mission accomplished. This morning as I walked to the mailbox to get the newspaper there was a bite in the air. Fog and dew are now the norm. The nights are getting longer and the warmth of daylight comes later and later in the day. I noticed the hostas are done blooming and the daylilies are drying up too. Now, at least for my flower gardens, the blooms are all finished for the season.

Yes, the best part of summer has been spent and fall looms on the horizon. The lake has weeded over and the vegetables are being harvested. Fairs are over and kids are getting ready to return to school. A few errant leaves have already fallen-- giving up early it seems.  Am I rushing the seasons? I don’t set the pace, I just write about it. Oh the summer heat still comes back from time to time but it’s deceiving for summer has gone its way. Each month is also another chapter gone in this year of  our earth’s life. Each year, another page in our own personal book of life. We seniors’ grow tired and uneasy come autumn and soon we will head south once more looking for that elusive eternal summer but yet the pages still seem to turn and the parts of the book we still have left to experience grows ever thinner. Geography doesn’t help slow anything down and despite our efforts, someday there will be an ending ---we won’t get to write about it-- we just get to live it.

There was a family reunion last July. The seven surviving siblings of my family are trying to pass the torch and keep the tradition going. This year was the fortieth time we got together as a family. As the oldest I never dreamed that the day would come when I would have relatives I can no longer identify. Snuck in the back door they did. My siblings and I are showing serious signs of wear and that’s just a nice way of saying we’re getting old and wrinkled. To be truthful the second generation of this family is showing some effects of the trip too, but life goes on, it has too.


Like summer, we seniors too are fading. We used to go to the doctors when we were sick but now we find ourselves having all of these scheduled checkups. They’re just trying to find some hint that something isn’t working the way it should anymore. They have us drawing clocks and remembering words they just uttered to us a few minutes ago. They want to know if our kids are abusing us. Hell, I could take a little abuse if they’d just come and see me. Half the foods I used to eat are no longer good for me. Half of the other half doesn’t agree with me anyway. Most of what’s left isn’t edible, so I’m back to oatmeal and Melba toast. I got a recipe the other day for fried kale. I have found if you use lots of oil in the pan, it makes it easier to scrape into the trashcan. Just kidding Pat. Had a funny thing happen this morning.  My dog Molly was laying on the porch sleeping with one ear flopped over. A humming bird decided to see if there was anything worth eating in there. Never saw that dog get up that fast before. Until next time

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

COUNTY FAIR



A while back Pat and I went to the Crow Wing County Fair. We try to get down there almost every year and have found that not a lot changes. Same old cows and horses, just a year older, and I guess that goes two ways. But the smell of the barn brings back some farm memories to me that need refreshing from time to time. I have always said, if I had it to do all over again, it would have been on a farm of my own. Something about roosters crowing in the morning and a kinship with a bunch of animals, whose yearning eyes look like Labrador dogs at a rib fest. 

The rest of the exhibits are fun, too, but all of this is just part of the reason we go, and not the main one at that. It’s the people we meet and jabber with that makes it all worthwhile. Pat taught nursing at C.L.C. for a long time, and so she knows a lot of people in the Brainerd area. If not a student, another teacher. If not a teacher, then a patient she took care of somewhere. Then, surprise, surprise every now and then when, believe it not, we find someone who fesses up to knowing me, too. I often try to imagine what couples say about us after we leave. Probably goes something like this. “Wow, the years have been tough on him, haven’t they?  I wonder what she sees in him, anyway. She looked good. Bet he was looking for a nurse when he found her. Old farts get kind of needy in their old age, don’t they?”

All joking aside, the county fairs are the grass roots of the get-togethers that are called fairs. It’s a place where you can show off your canning, crafts, paintings, and photography skills. Where 4H’ers can display their animals and farming skills. For many of them, it’s a prelude to the state fair a few weeks later. It’s a place where farming equipment, from a time gone by, is dusted off and put on display. A place where the little ones get to spin around on the carnival rides until they throw up all the candy and ice cream they just ate. Ah yes, good times.

I remember talking to my father once about farmers and I told him, “They always look so tired.” He said, “Most of them are tired, but it’s that good kind of tired that comes from working at something you love so much that you don’t know when to stop.” It’s a job that is never finished. It’s a job when husbands, wives, and entire families come together to make it work, because it’s bigger than one person can ever handle, and move over prostitutes, because it’s older than your profession. Later, we went down to the grandstand, found a bench, and took in some Country Classics music. Somewhere between “The year that Clayton Delaney Died” and “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” my emotions got the best of me. I looked at Pat and said, “Damn Allergies.”


The Crow Wing County Fair has resisted change over the years. Efforts to serve alcohol, and charge for admission, have been rebuked. People love it for the way it is, and has been, and they know that once the progressive thinkers get their way and the nostalgia wears off, it will become just another beer party or money maker, and all of the wistful affection for the ways of the past will go away. “Yes, they’ll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree, as they lay me ‘neath the green, green grass of home.”

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

WHERE HAS IT ALL GONE?



It was 1984 when we first started looking for a lake place. We didn’t have a lot of money so we were looking for a “fixer upper.” We found an old trailer house, on a lot with a garage, on Big Pine Lake. I brought an ice auger with me when we met the realtor that day so I could drill through the ice to see if it was sand or muck out front, and bringing up sand, we both said together, “We’ll take it.” So much has happened in the last 33 years. We used the trailer for a while and then we built a new home and retired there. Built another garage and fixed up the old one for all of the toys.

Seasons sped by, filled with a never-ending litany of get-togethers. For me, it was the culmination of a dream I’d had for a long time. A place at the lake for us to retire and a place for the kids to come and visit. For many years it was the family entertainment center. Christmas, Memorial Day and 4th of July; deer hunting and opening of fishing. Visiting grandkids, swimming and water skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. It was Crosslake and why wouldn’t you be happy? Still, I used to take a boat ride around the chain and tell her, “Someday Babe, we’re going to be like the Jefferson’s and move on up to the east side.” She’d smile and say, “No, we’re not.”

Then something happened and it was subtle at first. The kid’s visits were farther and farther apart. Something was always going on with them. Johnny had softball or Susie had dance competition. Their friends and neighbors wanted them to go on trips with them. Work became more complicated for them and they couldn’t get away. Then graduations, college, and weddings, and all of the time Grandma and Grandpa sat and waited for another chance to entertain. The allure just didn’t seem to be there anymore. Then six years ago grandma took sick, and for a while they did their best to visit. Then she passed away, and now my world revolves around my companion Pat and I, my friends, my writing, and Molly, my dog. Oh my son comes when he can, but he works a lot so it isn’t much but I give him credit, he tries hard to be here for me. Last fall I bought a house in Arizona. I have lung disease now and need to avoid the winters. Pat and I enjoy our relationship and that part is wonderful but it’s all so different and I’m sure that’s true for both of us.

I have so many friends that had the same dream I had but have moved on, back to the cities or closer to family. Some of them widowed, some of them not able to take care of themselves any longer. I know my time for that is coming, but I don’t like to think about it. The house is cluttered now with thirty some years of pictures and mementos that I don’t have the energy or desire to go through and weed out.


So I take one day at a time, and try to find happiness wherever I can. I go to church and thank the good Lord for the good life I have had, and ask for a few more good years. I go to coffee and reminisce with the rest of the old farts who have the same problems I do. Pat doesn’t like me talking like this because she’s more of an optimist than I am. Maybe that’s why she’s so good for me. This summer just started and it’s already half over. Lord, where does the time go? Lord, where has my life gone?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

MOVING ON

                                                            

Parishioners of Immaculate Heart Church, here in Crosslake, said goodbye to Father Ryan Moravitz a few weeks back. There are a lot of accolades that I could use to describe the man but with respect for his successor, I will only say he will be missed and I’m sure that’s the way he wants it to be. I have a couple of good reasons to feel so thankful for knowing him. He was just new here when my wife passed away and her funeral was one of the first ones he officiated at. He was a comfort to me at a difficult time. Later on, I was blessed to go with him and others to Rome on a faith filled pilgrimage and got to know him as a man too-- and not just a Priest.

There is always some sadness when you have to say goodbyes to Priests, Pastors, anyone you have turned to for religious guidance and this happens a lot in the Catholic Church. Maybe Father Ryan said it best at his last Mass when he said, Priests are expected to mimic the Apostles to some extent and that’s how they preached and taught while they were here on this earth. They did their job and then they moved on. That being said it isn’t easy to say those goodbyes for either him or us, but its what’s expected of pastors and we his parishioners need to accept it.

I have said a lot of goodbyes in my lifetime besides teachers and pastors. At graduation you leave all your classmates behind. Anyone who has retired after working for years with friends and fellow workers, knows all of a sudden the feeling of not having much in common with people you worked with and for, all those years and soon you drift away.  Or you buy a new home and leave long loved neighbors behind or perhaps they move and leave you behind. You watch your kids grow up and go their separate ways in life, and yes you don’t say goodbye but you do have a degree of separation you’ve never experienced before. Then there is the end of life goodbyes and those are the toughest because there is a finality that eventually sinks in, that you will never see them again. At least not on this earth.

But as each door closes, another opens and new friends, new loves, new relationships and neighbors come into your life. None of them are meant to replace anyone who was part of our lives before but rather they are new friends and family you never knew existed or for that matter knew were coming. Its all part of this journey we call life. I have often said that as we reach our senior years, if we could somehow dissect our minds and personalities, you would find bits and pieces of everyone we ever came in contact with that we have let into our lives. For those of us that took the good bits and pieces and not the bad, we gained something we never could have found in any other place and out of that, we became a far better person and a more complete person.

As for the people of Immaculate Heart. Father Ryan’s leaving is not simply our loss and somebody else’s gain. It’s for us a new adventure, a new opportunity to get it right and yes, somewhere, someplace, where Father Blake our new Pastor just came from, I’m sure someone is feeling just like we do. 



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THE TREE

                                                           
I think for all of us that live up north, volunteer trees poke their heads up all over your property. Often times in gardens or flower plots and you are constantly pulling them out or cutting them down. Its just part of nature and my yard is no exception. But last year, down on the shoreline, in the rocks that I use to rip rap my shoreline, there was a surprise. A tree started growing amidst the rocks where seemingly there is no soil. At first I was going to go in there and pull it out but then thinking it wouldn’t survive the winter, I just let it be. This spring it was back and when it leafed out I was surprised to see it was a sugar maple and a nice tree. There are none of them around as far as I know. The seed must have washed in from somewhere else on the lake. I planed to let it grow.

I remember a bible verse that said, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.” My little great grandson was born this year and right now he and I are the Alpha and the Omega of my family. It seemed so ironic to me that his birth seemed to correlate with this tiny tree on my shoreline. For some elusive reason this baby boy and that little tree came into my life at the same time. I will never live to see either one of them grow up but it is my hope that as the years go by and they both grow in stature that I will be able to attach some significance to this and share my story with him or his parents.

At some point I will have to relinquish this home and move to something more accommodating. I try not to think about that but it’s always in the back of my mind. At that time, the tree and the house will belong to someone else and its significance will be lost. Maybe they’ll cut it down or maybe-- and hopefully by that time-- it will be too nice to cut down and it will be a beautiful shade tree. If that is the case I want my great grandson to know it’s there and to know why it’s there. If nothing else, for him to come to this lake, get into a boat, anchor out front and bond a little.

Joyce Kilmer wrote a poem about a tree that I learned in grade school a long, long, time ago. He wrote, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” The last verse said, “Poems are made by fools like me but only God can make a tree.” Maybe by that time he will be old enough to realize that both of them are a product of Gods creation. That a foolish old man wanted to leave him something that would grow and change with him. Something that he hoped would remind him of this special place and of that same old man, who by that time will only be a memory.

A few years ago I went back to my hometown and the place where I grew up. It’s now just a parking lot. The house was never much, even way back then, but love and companionship from a caring family made up for the rotting boards and windows. I stood in the middle of this gravel lot and tried to remember what it once looked like and then out of the corner of my eye I spotted a Lilac bush. It was all that remained but for me it was all I needed to bring the picture back. I stood by that bush and cried for a while. Cried sadly for what time had done to my family but also happily that the bush was still there. Maybe that’s what brought all of this on today.



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

CHANGING CLIMATE

                                              

This whole question of climate change intrigues me. We know it’s happening, we can document that. We know why it’s happening to some extent and we can document that. So the question is what can we do about it, and why is it so controversial.

As long as we choose to live on this earth we can’t help but do things that are detrimental to the earth. Even without burning fossil fuels, as long as we leave bodily wastes, inhale oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, we pollute the environment. There are things we can do to mitigate the effects of this but we can’t stop it from happening. The population of the earth in 1800 was 1 billion people. It is now7.5 billion and by the end of this century it will be 11.1 billion. I am not sure where the tipping point is, when the earth is two small to accommodate the population and all their waste, but I am sure there is one.

It seems to be a no brainer that in order to keeps this place inhabitable we should do what we can to slow down this self destructive process. There are natural processes where the earth can and will, heal itself but we have overwhelmed these processes to where they can no longer keep up. In Hamlet we read Shakespeare’s words “To be or not to be, that is the question.” I find that soliloquy to be a good question to ask ourselves when we talk about the long-term prognoses for the human race. At the same time if you’re old enough to read this and understand it, it’s probably not applicable to you. It’s a slow process, albeit one that feeds on itself and at some point will run away with itself. The question then becomes, not if we will survive but if our grandchildren will survive to see it. I guess it basically says if you don’t care about the next generation’s comfort, then no problem. If you do, it’s a big problem and most experts are pointing to the end of this century for the real trouble to start.

I want to talk about Emily. She is my 8-month-old great granddaughter. There is a very good chance Emily will be here at the turn of the next century to witness this. So if I choose to say what is happening is all a hoax, because economically it brings a hard ship on me right now to believe otherwise; then what I am saying is what is most important to me right now, is making money and Emily can just deal with it when it happens. It’s her and her generation’s problem, not mine. Maybe I did help cause it but right now its not impacting me and if what I have said is true, at some point its going to happen anyway, despite our best efforts, so why waste the time dealing with it. Don’t worry-- be happy.

Cancer patients are sometime told they have no chance of surviving their disease. At the same time they are told if they are willing to put up with the discomfort of treatments, maybe they could have another year or two. Surprisingly most of them want that year. It’s called hanging on to life. If we do what we can, to slow down this process of self-destruction, we give billions of people like Emily the chance to have this same life expiernce we had on this planet. The choice is ours. To be or not to be. 


            

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

UNDERSTANDING

                                                         

Jimmy Reeves once sang a song called, “I love you because.” It started out; “I love you because you understand dear, every little thing I say and do.” Yes it was just a love song and although it might be excessively sentimental for this application, it’s meaning can well be applied to everyday and everybody in our society. Maybe that’s what we all are looking for in life. Someone who doesn’t want to necessarily change us but loves us just the way we are, faults and all. To not always see us as right or wrong but yet be understanding of why we believe what we do and want nothing more then for us to be at peace. That was the original premise of this country for its people and yet we have many who aren’t going to buy into that. It gets in the way of their progressive or liberal views.

When the final chapter of history is written for this country, it will be noted that this once great country, which conquered half the world 75 years ago, could not conquer its own greedy nature. They will talk about a country that went from arms around each other’s shoulders, to hands around each other’s throats. Smart enough to invent things no one ever dreamed would exist but too dumb to read the proverbial handwriting on the wall of its greed. They will talk about drugs, alcohol abuse and how they abandoned their Christian roots, but even that will pale in the stories of greed, extortion and power that are tearing this country apart.

We have people in this nation who don’t care what anybody thinks and they prove it in the way they do business each and every day. Then we have the eternal optimists whose world is always glowing rainbows and can’t be bothered with the truth, because they left reality behind them years ago. Like Jack Nicolson said in a ‘Few Good Men,’ “They can’t handle the truth.” Then we have the realists who see what is happening but seem to be powerless to do anything about it.

It pains me to write like this and for many of you it pains you to read it because you are one of those who can’t believe it’s happening. “Leave me alone” you say. “I’m not the problem here, the problem is in Washington.” Yes, But if you’re not part of the solution-- then you are part of the problem. But yet, we are the people who could turn this all around because you don’t like those greedy politicians anymore then I do and really-- we could easily be the majority.

Like waves that tear at a sandy beach, until there is nothing left but ugly useless rocks and sharp crevices, so go’s the moral fabric this country was built on and in the end like a cancer that kills its host but slowly dies with them, we all lose. I once had a lady tell me,” I can’t read what you write anymore because it makes me so sad.” I took that as a positive. It makes her sad because she knows it’s true but doesn’t know how to change it and that helplessness in her, is what is truly sad.


The world will never be perfect. Human nature will always provide objectionable people in society.  It always has and they will always rock the boat, but the real problem isn’t that we allow them to rock the boat—it’s letting them steer the boat.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

ANGER

                                                           

I have often wondered why anger seems to be so prevalent in our society now days. I have also wondered why we seem to be coming more and more desensitized and accepting of anger, as an everyday occurrence in our lives. Indeed there are some in our society that seem to have a penchant for anger, wearing it like a big badge of courage. They see boisterous people as being in charge and quiet mellow people as being weak and timid. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Social media has played a big part in fostering anger. It gives some a bigger platform to spout off and incites others into behaving badly. It not only condones what they are talking about but also recruits some who are on the fringes to join in. Anger is often portrayed as strength, instead of the weakness it is. Many times it manifests with just a smattering of deceptive statements that have no factual legs to stand on. Anger fosters other bad reactions when trying to defend it, like lying and even physically threatening others with some kind of retaliation. It can turn you into something you never knew you could be. It is not conducive to rational thinking.

Society as a whole has been much more accepting of public anger displays and some even find it motivating. We just went through a presidential election and selected a man who is intolerant of those who differ with him. Calling people names and belittling them. He is on many fronts; having to learn how to behave, as that just wasn’t one of his virtues. For the sake of all of us and for our country, I hope he can change. At the same time we have news reporters that do all they can do to fan the flames over every controversial statement that is made. CNN and Fox could not be more different. It’s as if they want to belittle and belie those who don’t agree with them and not have a meaningful discussion of the issues.

When our children were young we tried to shield them from anger and disagreements. We didn’t want them to think or learn they had to resort to that to communicate with others. Now days its almost imposable to keep them out of the influence of angry people because it is so common place. I remember as a twelve-year-old, going up town in Staples to pick up my newspapers for my paper route and seeing two men spill out of a saloon and proceed to pummel each other in the street. I remember that I, a little kid, screamed at them to stop. I was crying and scared yes but more then that I wanted them to keep from hurting each other. They did stop and walked opposite ways with bloody faces. Sixty years later I haven’t forgotten that. Fights like that were rare in Staples but now-- well just read the paper.

I walk each day with my dog Molly. She lives in her own little world of chasing squirrels and exploring this world. Never angry, wanting to be everyone’s friend, totally subservient. She walks up to everyone with her head down and her tail wagging just wanting to be a friend. And we as humans think we’re the head of the food chain.