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.



Friday, July 7, 2017

4TH OF JULY MEMORIES

                                                

Somewhere in the middle of summer vacation, was the fourth of July and although it really wasn’t the middle of summer vacation, it seemed like it. The first half of summer break was always better then the last half because you had been waiting nine months for it to come. June had been packed with so many things to do, projects that I had saved up to accomplish as soon as school was out. But with most of them now done, summer was already boring me with my carefree life style and the fourth was a welcome break. Most days we hitchhiked out to the old swimming hole in the river north of town to beat the heat. The swimming hole was right across from the golf course and most golfers were more then happy to give us a ride. I think of today’s world and how many mom’s and dads would have let their teen age kids hitchhike with strangers and go to a place in the river five miles from home where there had been an old mill and the currents had washed out a hole ten feet deep around the end of a pier that still survived? No dressing rooms, no lifeguards, no toilets. You just left your things on the riverbank and no one every bothered them. To be truthful, I had nothing to steal anyway but an old pair of cut offs and my worn out tennis shoes with a peanut butter sandwich stuffed in the toe. But by the fourth of July, the river was usually running low and most of the fun that there was to be had was now over. So as always, I looked forward to the 4th of July celebration.

The year I remember and the year of which I now write was some kind of a anniversary for that little town I grew up in. One of the contests that would be held in conjunction with the celebration was who could grow the most unusual beard? My dad took the challenge and grew a beard on just the left side of his face and kept the other side clean-shaven. Dad didn’t win however because some old codger who lived in the woods north of town, and hadn’t shaved for forty years came to town with his beard woven into a braid that went to his knees. There was a huge parade on the 4th complete with a National Guard tank on rubber treads and the highlight was when they shot off the big cannon right in the middle of town. Now it was a blank charge but the concussion still took out the windows in the Red Owl store much to the amusement of all of us kids.

That night my now clean-shaven father took all of us kids to Pine Grove Park for the baseball game under the new outdoor lights and then came the fireworks to cap off the evening. The game was free and as much as I loved baseball it was my first chance to watch the local team play. The team kept the game close and they went into the last inning all tied up and then our left fielder hit one over the fence to win it. I was ecstatic. Then came the fireworks and for a while it was the usual rockets and exploding projectiles and the crowd owing and awing. Then suddenly it was dark and all of a sudden out in center field the fence came alive and a huge American Flag was burning, red white and blue. I was mesmerized and when the last embers fell to the ground I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if I had been there when the Marines hoisted our flag on Iwo Jima. I went home that night in a patriotic fervor, content that I lived in the greatest country on the face of the earth.


Postscript.---If you haven’t had a chance to preview my new book, stop into Reeds Country Market or the Frame Shop and take a look at it. I bet you’ll like it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A TORNADO



Last year, July 12th, the storms that ravaged Nisswa, and the Gull Lake area, spared my home from damage, but they made my mind flash back to 1965—the first year I was on the Fire Department—and the deadly tornados that tore through Fridley and Spring Lake Park. It was May 6th of 1965 and last year was the fiftieth anniversary of those storms. I was 24 years old, and not only just a rookie on the department, but an impressionable one at that.

There is s saying, “The calm before the storm.” It’s a calm that is filled with fear and trepidation, of not knowing what’s coming. But there is a “calm after the storm too” and it’s one filled with shock and disbelief, of what just took place. Often there is a feeling of hopelessness, confusion and not knowing, what to do next, except to be thankful you survived. When you are called to help and you look out over an entire neighborhood, absolutely flattened by the winds, and see people walking aimlessly on the debris-filled streets because they don’t know where to go, or what to do next, it’s heart wrenching. Your training tells you one thing, your heart tells you another. Even though you came to help, you’re not sure just what to do. You see an old lady sitting on her cement steps with just a basement hole behind her, where her house once stood. Her eyes fixed and wide open and her face expressionless, deep in shock, holding all she has left. Her cat. I wanted to go to her but you can’t because you’re too busy. You hear the gas lines still hissing, and somewhere in the rubble, a phone is ringing. You hear a scream and uncontrollable sobbing, and you know they found another victim. Before the night was over a second tornado would come through—an hour after the first one. There were 5 or 6 tornados in all, with thirteen fatalities and hundreds who were injured.

I went home late that night, not knowing what I would find—there were no cell phones in those days. My brand new home, on the other side of the river, was only on the outskirts of the storm but it had no siding left on it. It had been stripped by the wind, and there were very few shingles left on the roof. The hail had wrecked my car. My wife was sitting in the kitchen with the kids in the dark, scared and with tears in her eyes. One of the things about being called out in storms is, you often have to abandon your own family. I told her, “Dry those tears, everything will be fixed. I wish,” I said, “I could accurately convey to you what I saw and heard this night. We are the lucky ones, honey, believe me.” Over the next thirty years on the Department there would be many more storms and disasters, but nothing like that night. After that, when we would get called to help at storms, my thoughts would always go back to that May 6th night in Fridley.


We have come a long way since then. Sunday night the 12th, I tracked the storms on my phone. The media and the sirens gave us plenty of warning, and I knew we weren’t directly in its path. I prayed that those who were would be safe. It turned out that no one was hurt, and that is what counts. The people of Fridley, back then, were a resilient people. They rebuilt their homes, patched up their wounded, and sadly, buried their dead. A year later you would never know what happened to them that night. Not unless you were in the storm or were called to help.

Friday, June 16, 2017

IT''S SUMMER

                                                          

So today is the day we all live for, June 1st and although not the official start of summer it seems to be the day when we all start celebrating summer. May is always a fickle time as when Frost wrote, “The wind blows cold, when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” But June is the hump month; when at least in the Central Minnesota lake country, the tomatoes plants can finally go in the ground. The boat yards, where thousands of blue covered pontoons and boats sat out the winter are now mostly empty and the crafts are back in the lake where they belong. Docks with squeaky wheels got pushed out into the depths and fishing boats now putt along the shorelines trolling for the big one. Patio doors are opened and houses are being aired out. In a week or so school will be out and children’s voices, hard at play, will ring across the lake.

Noisy honkers paddle along the shore with goslings bobbing behind them looking for a lucrative lawn to gobble on. Fawns on wobbly legs scamper to keep up with mom and cautious motorists watch, not only for the does crossing the roads but what is behind them. Babies of every size and shape our coming out of nests and burrows. Alfred Tennyson wrote in his poem Locksley Hall and I quote, “In the spring a young mans fancy lightly turns to thought’s of love.” I maintain it goes way beyond those young men, if the birds, fish, and critters out here are any example of love and courtship.

I still love summer so much, even though I am in the autumn of my life and not as active anymore. As I write today, outside of my office window humming birds dart in and out of the feeder. If man could build a plane, that flew like they do, we would rule the skies. A Robin sits on a fence post a few feet away, half of an earthworm hanging out of her mouth. She built her nest over my back door so she gets interrupted a lot as I come and go but she has successfully hatched a brood and now she has to feed them. Their little bills point skyward waiting for a morsel.

By the time this gets printed June will be mostly over and it will all be old news. As much as June is so repetitive each year it never stops amazing me. There was a time in my life when the rigors of everyday life overshadowed anything Mother Nature had to offer me but old age and retirement now bring it all front and center. I look to Hemingway for a proper explanation of it all. He wrote, “When spring came, even the false spring there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.” I have stood and looked into the office window of where Earnest Hemmingway wrote. It is a secluded room over a garage behind the house in Key West and now I know why.


There will be June days long after we are all gone and even if people are successful at destroying all Mother Nature brings to us, she will fix it again and it will live on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

TO THE GRADUATES



So its graduation time again and thousands of young people will take the next step on their trip into adulthood. For some it will be more education, probably something specifically tailored to their life ambitions. For others it will be time to go to work and make their own way in life, free to pursue their dreams. For many, they don’t know what those dreams are yet but they are willing to search for one, instead of waiting for it to come to them and they will make a more educated decision later. For a few, sadly, they will spend a few years living in their parents basement, playing video games and drifting around, until they realize that life will go on without them, if they don’t want to be part of the process.

Knowing what I know now, most of what you learned in school was just the basics, including learning how to learn. It was a preparation time and now comes the curriculum that makes every day a learning day for the rest of your life. So much of our education comes from examples. Choices to make based on someone else’s past experiences. A cheap, but very good education if you pay attention. You see there are as many bad choices in life to make as good ones. Maybe even more. Great things will come to those who pay attention.

Our country greatly needs leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and make good choices. If you search the annals of history you will find good examples of people who filled those roles. If you look at Washington right now you will find a lot of those bad examples I talked about.  I guess it’s up to you to try and change the course of this country and not waste the lessons of those good choices.

One of the things I’ve learned about life is that when choices are to be made, there are always two sides. Getting on what you believe to be the right side of things can be unpopular sometimes but all you can do is try to educate people as to why you think your way is better and tell the truth. Then if your way is not the accepted way, you have to yield graciously to what was chosen by the masses and make the best of it. In life, as in sports there are winners and losers. Being a good winner is paramount only to being a good loser also. At the end of the civil war General Ulysses Grant said to the Confederate troops and I paraphrase, “Go home to your loved ones and lets quit this foolishness. It’s a time to heal.” This was the mark of a great leader filled with compassion for his fellow men that were once his enemy.

Society has evolved to a point where human lives, human suffering have lost much of the true meaning of what they should have represented to us. We give a lot of attention to our heroes who died in foreign conflicts to keep our country free. We owe it to them to take up their crosses and preserve what they fought so hard for. Growing up in a poor family from the wrong side of the tracks my father told me, “Remember that you’re just as good as everybody else--- but not one damn bit better. “ That goes for all of you that are going out into the world today. I wish you peace, happiness, and success-- but mostly always-- love for one another.



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HELLO WALLS

                                                
The year was 1960 and I lived in Minneapolis but my heart was still in my hometown of Staples. Every Friday evening when the whistle blew at the shop, where I worked, I would point my old 53 Mercury north and go home for the weekend. Home to my family and her. Her, being the girl I would later marry. I worked the evening shift and I didn’t get off until midnight so the trip was a long, lonely one of a hundred and fifty miles in the dark. She was only a senior in high school that year but she would wait up for me at home. Oh, her mother wouldn’t allow me in at that time of the night, so I would drive slowly by the house and toot the horn and she would shine her flashlight out her bedroom window in acknowledgment. Somehow I always felt better knowing I was back home with the ones I loved and she was still there waiting to see me too.

I was hooked on country music back in those days and on that long trip home my radio would be tuned to W.D.G.Y, which back then was the twin cities country music station. The farther I got from the cities, the fainter the radio would get and pretty soon it was nothing but static and I would twist the knobs trying to get just one more song but in vain. At last it would die out and so I would shut it off. The last forty miles were in silence. No 8 tracks or cassettes or disks in those days. I had a buddy who had a Chrysler product that had a turntable under the glove box and it played 45 records. Talk about distracted driving, flipping records while you drove.

I still like that old country music I used to enjoy and now with a satellite radio it’s always on in my car. Sometimes I have to humor Pat when were traveling and try something else but always when I’m alone the dial goes back to “Willy’s Road House” and those oldies but goodies. County Music for some reason isn’t always about the best of times. Back then though, times were good for me and I just enjoyed the music for what it was and not for what it said.

Fifty years later and shortly after my wife passed away, I was coming back from the cities one lonely night on that same old road, while I had been down there visiting my son’s family. The old country classics were on and a man by the name of Faron Young came on singing that timeless classic “Hello Walls.” It went something like this. “Hello Walls, how’d things go for you today. Don’t you miss her since she up and walked away? And I bet you dread to spend another lonely night with me. But lonely walls I’ll keep you company.” I switched the station.


For so many years it had been just a song about someone else’s bad luck but now fifty years later it was so relevant. She hadn’t walked away, she had just gone away but never the less the song still fit me like a glove. Time and old age have healed my heart now and I can listen to that song once more. My walls are not so lonely anymore. Pat, and my family see to that. But I write this for all the lonely people out there who have only the walls to talk too and no one to sit across the table from. It’s my hope that soon, you will have more then those walls to keep you company.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

MY PEAK

                                                         

Someone once asked me when I felt I’d hit my peak in life. At first I was taken back a little and became a little defensive because I felt they were implying that I was going down hill. And although that might be true, no one wants to hear about that but then I became more analytical about the statement they had made and I thought-- were they talking about physically or mentally? I admit physically there has definitely been a turn for the worse. One look in the mirror or one walk around the block will prove that out. But mentally I’m not so sure where or when my life’s peak was, or if I ever got there, or if I ever will. You see all of us are the sum total of our life’s experiences and although I’m not getting around the way I used too and I’m playing bocce ball instead of basketball, I am still putting one foot in front of the other and getting out and meeting people and learning things I never knew. For me at least, that’s what life is all about.

The people in the know say that physically most of us top out in our late twenties or early thirties. Now because I can no longer remember what my physical prowess was in my late twenties or early thirties I guess I’ll take their word for it. If you were to show our physical life’s journey on a graph and you live to be eighty-five it seems to me to be a short steep hill getting to the top and a long meandering one coming down. It also seems to me that when I analyze this graph and try to convert it to the mental side of life, I come up with the opposite. When I was in my late twenties and full of testosterone and energy and seemingly at the top of my game physically-- knowing what I know now—I was dumb as a post. Even people coming out of college in their middle to late twenties with PHD degrees have a lot to learn in their fields. Most of their knowledge will come later in life when they put into action, what they learned in school. At least what they learned in the classroom.

I once went to a medical doctor who was so fresh out of school he still smelled like the cadaver’s he’d been practicing on. This guy’s acne looked like an adolescents at thirteen and he couldn’t even cover it with a beard because he couldn’t grow one yet. His stethoscope still had the price tag on it and his white coat fit him like a sack. He examined me then left the room for a while—presumably to look something up or consult with another doctor—then came back and said, “I think what you have,” and that’s where my suspicious nature kicked in. I didn’t give a rip what he thought I had, I wanted to know what he knew I had. Now to play the devils advocate against myself, everybody needs to start someplace right, even if you’re a doctor. I’m not implying that doctors right out of college aren’t fit to practice medicine. I’m just saying that twenty years down the road they will be a far better doctor. Or an Engineer, Nurse, Firefighter or a Farmer or most anything except an athlete. But twenty years from now Dr. Jr. might have a few of the things eating at him that he’s been treating in others because mentally we keep growing but physically most of us are going down that long proverbial hill. Now there are places, where for a while you can make up with a lack of speed and agility-- both signs of aging by the way-- with cunning moves and not making so many dumb mistakes. A sign of having been there and done that and fool me once, shame on you but fool me twice shame on me.

                                                            
































Wednesday, May 3, 2017

BABIES

                                                                    

As I have gotten older I’ve turned into a far more sentimental person then I used to be. I used to just get misty eyed over patriotic displays and the death of friends and family. Two different kinds of tears I guess. But something happened to me in the last six months that hasn’t happened before in my lifetime. Three little great grand babies came into my family. “So what’s sad about that you ask? You should be giddy about it.” I am happy and proud beyond my wildest expectations about these babies but yet sad underneath when I look at the world these little ones will have to grow up in. Oh, not their immediate world, they come from good families where they will be loved and cared for. I’m talking about the world they will inherit beyond the nest.

There is a special sentiment for babies of all species and maybe it has to do with their vulnerability and helplessness as they enter into the world. Even the beasts of the forests will fight to the death to protect their young. I’m sure the parents and families of these little ones I’m talking about will go to great lengths to keep these babies safe too. At some point however the tide flows back out and they flow with it and they become part of a greater society and the parental safeguards that protected them go away. For you see, in this world of today, we as humans are turning a blind eye to the future of our young, when it pertains to the world we will leave them to live in. It’s not only the fact that we have poisoned the waters they have to drink and the air they have to breathe-- all seemingly in the name of progress. We also gave them a world laced with drugs and alcohol, cigarettes, greed and promiscuity. As much as decent people abhor this, those in charge, with some convoluted theory about peoples “rights” allow it and by their inability to control it—aid and abet it.

It is a frustrating job indeed to raise your young with high ideals and respect for the earth and those around them. To instill in them a love for God and country and a desire to be decent and a yearning to be a productive part of an ever greater society. Only to have them run head on into those who want to use them as pawns to farther their goals. These in effect brand everything you taught them about growing up the right way – to instead be wrong and inconsequential.

Parents today have an ever-increasing fear of what lies in wait for their kids as they go out into the world. Just the other day I read that deaths from opioids and illicit drugs are now the number one killer of our young people, surpassing automobile accidents for the first time. I look at these babies I talk about and know that as some point in their future they will be tempted by outside movements to join the drug crusade or the sex trade. That leaders of our country will call those fears of their parents fake news and the poisoning of our air and waters a hoax. Oh wait! That’s not just in the future it’s already happening. I grew up in a world largely void of the things I see today. But I fully realize that this scourge happened on my watch and the watch of every other older adult in this county. To my grandkids and great grandkids I can only say God be with you little ones and here’s hoping you can do what my generation couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Make this world a better place to live for your babies.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

EASTER

                                                        
I know Easter will have come and gone before this is ever published. But that’s all right because I want to talk about it anyway. As a Christian man I have always enjoyed Easter because to some extent it’s the one religious holiday we haven’t’ commercialized to death. Oh yes, Cadbury will sell a few eggs and there will be some chocolate bunnies around and some will show off their finest dress or their Easter bonnet, but for most Christians it will be the replaying of the death and passion of Jesus, the cornerstone of our religion. It will pretty much be just a solemn religious journey we take, to reacquaint us with what he did for us on Good Friday.

I find it so ironic that whenever tragedy strikes or things get tough, people who have never seemed to be religious, are heard uttering phases like “God help us,” or “Please pray for us.” Ironic yes, but yet comforting that they still remember that no matter how far we have strayed from the way we were taught to live our lives in the commandments, its never to late to get back on the train. In fact our lord has said, “There is more rejoicing over one sinner who returns, then the ninety-five righteous ones who didn’t need to repent.” What a great promise and you don’t even need an attorney to argue your case. Churches all over this great country are struggling to get Gods message out to sometimes empty pews. They don’t ask much, maybe just an hour of your time once a week. A few dollars to keep the lights on and pay the bills. Easter and when we are despondent shouldn’t be the only time we participate in our faith, but if it is, Jesus says, “Welcome back.”

The decline in the amount of people who practice their Christian faith is mirrored by the decline in some of the virtues we used to enjoy in society. We have gone from a family oriented social system that used to believe that the moral fabric of our children was as important as the clothes we put upon their backs. That the family that prayed together, stayed together. Instead we have embarked upon a journey in life filled with permissiveness and selfish greed and when that bumped heads with a faith that said that was wrong, we either tried to change the rules or abandoned it altogether. Look around you at the problems with drugs and alcohol in this country. Permissive sex and lying and cheating to get what we want.

Were not the first nation in history that has taken this course and we won’t be the last. History books are full of examples of countries that decayed like this. It’s been going on for centuries. So what is the recipe for a lasting peace in our lives? If you celebrated Easter in Church you might have heard about it. It’s still being taught and amazingly the curriculum hasn’t change much. Not in my lifetime anyway. Those rules God gave to Moses still exist the way they were handed down thousands of years ago. They are time tested and true. Oh, we have done our best to change them into something more comfortable to live with. Just as we have done with our countries laws that have been litigated to pieces and look where that has got us. The big difference is God is saying, now that you have tried and failed again, I still want you back. I have something for you that you won’t get from Uncle Sam and its called forgiveness and it all started with the miracle of Easter.







Wednesday, April 19, 2017

GRUDGES

                                                         

I once talked to a man who told me ‘He never wanted to get dementia because he couldn’t bear to forget all of his grudges.” As sad as dementia is, and I surely don’t want to make light of it, forgetting your grudges would in my estimation be a good thing. To have the God given ability to cleanse your mind and not walk around hating somebody or something the rest of your life-- well to me-- that is a blessing.

We once had a neighbor who was one of the most negative people I ever met. She found no good in almost everything and everybody and she would be the first to tell you so. I worked with, and was close friends with her husband, so socially we were somewhat drawn together, like it or not. My wife who was the polar opposite of her tried her best to help her form a better attitude but most of the times she left my wife in tears. To the point that I finally said, just quit associating with her. A natural inclination for most people, because as my father used to say, “When you hang out with skunks pretty soon you all smell like skunks.” To make a long story shorter her husband and my long time friend passed away, so I went to his funeral. They had been divorced for a long time and I hadn’t seen her for twenty years. She was there and I offered her my condolences but she turned on her heel and walked away from me. It’s hard for me to understand that level of hate.

I have on occasion been caught up in negative feelings for someone. It’s not a good feeling and even if you can’t mend fences I keep telling myself move on with it. Life is just too short to spend anymore time then you have to, being miserable. I have a good friend who I worked with for a long time and one of the things I so admired her for was her ability to be the bright spot in the room. Life hasn’t always been that kind to her but somehow she usually found a way to get beyond her troubles. Sometimes when I’m feeling sarcastic or negative about people or things, I have to say to myself. Be more like she is. If you admire her for that-- then be more like that. She doesn’t own it, she’s sharing it and intended or not it’s such a good example.

I think of the petty reasons people don’t get along sometimes, such as different political views or religious beliefs and it’s baffling how these people think their so called adversary’s are not entitled to their own beliefs or viewpoints. If that’s the only reason you don’t like an otherwise decent person, you are as they say, “Throwing the baby out with the bath water.” If the person is just not a good person, them so by all means move on with it.


If there is one thing about crabby people I have experienced, it is that most of the time if you leave them alone they will leave you alone. There just not out to win friends and influence people. They prefer to stew in their own juices. I for one would like that they not be that way but if after trying to be cordial and understanding you still can’t bridge the gap-- well the world is so full of good and happy people if you look for them so go find them.

Friday, April 14, 2017

TRUE LOVE OF SELF AND COUNTRY



My grandparents were married for over sixty years. I never met a couple that loved and respected each other more then they did. They had their share of troubles but never did it come between them. The whole family of eight kids-- and my grandparents-- contracted diphtheria back when it was an epidemic. Two of the children died. My grandfather was a veteran who had to leave his family for many years while he was off to war, fighting for a country he believed in back then. They lived through the great depression when Grandpa had to go stand in the soup lines. Yet all of this it just made their love and commitment stronger. They never became rich or famous but that was never their goal. Instead they raised a family anyone would have been proud of. But if they were alive today and could see what has happened to the country, they came to start a new life in, they would be appalled.

This whole story started when my Grandfather was eleven years old and immigrated from Norway with his older sister. I have no idea what Norway was like in the eighteen eighties but I know today it is one of the most happy places on earth. It’s that happy because the people in charge over there have as their foremost goal, the happiness of the Norwegian People. They have no desire to meddle in the rest of the world’s problems. They are very ecology minded and want to preserve their country for generations to come. They don’t want to be in charge of anything but themselves. Their standard of living is one of the highest in the world. I am sure today, if most people from Norway were offered a place in the United States, they would say, “Thanks but no thanks.”

I really think that the greatest obstacle any government has to conquer is greed. It’s the one thing that is destroying this nation, more the any other impediment. Not only personal greed to accumulate wealth and power but greed at the top of government, to control other nations too. Socrates said, “He who is not content with what he has, would not be content with what he would like to have.” Yes greed was recognized and existed way back then. Since the conclusion of World War II when we were looked at as the country that had freed the world of tyranny, we have been in a downward spiral ever since. Maybe we were able to free the world that one time but we weren’t able to save ourselves and it becomes more obvious everyday. Trump said he would like to drain the swamp and make America great again. That swamp gets bigger every day and he’s right in the middle of it and that part about making America great again—well I’ll give him credit there. The word ‘again’ says it all. It correctly implies we aren’t what we used to be.


Norway is a rich country and is able to give its people a lot of benefits that keep them happy. We are just as rich as they are but instead of using our money to make our country better we elect to spend trillions on failed war efforts that benefit only the greedy people who sell the hardware. We have a failed war on drug trafficking that is more of a problem now then it ever was. Doing nothing for the majority of the people of this country is the undoing of this country.-- God help us.-- Oh that’s right we got rid of him too.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

HI TOM

                                                         

Tonight as I look at the calendar, it is hard to realize that in two weeks we will be journeying back to Minnesota. Our homeland and our summer home. Our stay in Arizona this winter was more then I hoped it would be. Tonight as I think about having to leave here, my heart is full and I wish for many more winters like this. But the weather, the beauty of the desert, the mountains and all nature has to offer down here in the Southwest, pales in the new friendships Pat and I have made on this winter hiatus. We can’t wait to come back here and strengthen them. We left a lot of friends and family behind us in Minnesota last fall and now it’s time to play catch up.  But tonight I really don’t want to talk about any of that.

Instead I want to talk about a special man I met down here. I’ll call him Tom, but that’s not his real name. You see Tom has dementia or at least the start of it. He struggles to find the right words and he repeats a lot of things over and over but I for one feel blessed that I am able to share some thoughts with him from time to time. I know there will be a time when Tom won’t be able to talk to me. A time when all the knowledge this wonderful talented man possess, will be locked away where no one can get at it. A time when he probably will not know me or be able to operate out in this world on his own. I have always liked to talk to people-- and I guess I still do--- but maybe for somewhat selfish reasons because I wanted them to share things from their life that I could write or talk about. That’s what writers do, they take their exploits, their adventures and they talk about them and when they run out of their own stories to tell-- then they go talk to other people. You see the world is full of stories that need to be told. I always felt the more knowledgeable the people I talked to were-- or are-- the better. The worldlier they were the more I envied them because they had been somewhere I never will be. They knew something I didn’t know and I wanted to pick their brain and have them share it with me. At the same time when they were all out of their stories, I wanted to talk with them about my life and I hoped that they would let me share some of my stories with them too. But then I met a man who seemingly had so little to share. I met Tom.

Maybe it’s the way Tom’s eyes light up when he sees me. I don’t care how many times he asks me the same questions or tells me the same things. I want to hear them over and over again and hope that by so doing he clings onto some semblance of pride and self worth and a realization that he is such a special person, not only to his family but to me too. I want him to never forget and maybe just maybe if he continues to talk about things long enough, they just might not go away. Maybe its all foolishness to think like this but what do we have to lose.


I know that we won’t see each other for the next several months, as he doesn’t live in Minnesota and his wife and he go north to someplace else. But I’m hoping that next fall when I see Tom again he will smile that big smile again and say, “Hi Mike. It’s good to see you again.”

Monday, March 27, 2017

MY WAY

As I grow older I often think about my past life. The places I have been, the people I have met and the things I have accomplished. I guess if I were challenged to put it all in one word, I would say, “satisfied.” I look around me at the way my world has changed and although its still pretty damn good, I hoped for far more then this. I wished that someway, somehow, we would have managed to live in peace with each other better. I wished we wouldn’t have changed so many things in the name of personal freedom, and especially at the expense of the things that got us where we are, like morality and honesty. I wished for an end to the greedy and gullible way we defined success. But as Grandma said, “If wishes were horse’s beggars would ride.”

 Then I switched gears and zoomed in at what I could control—my own life. The late Frank Sinatra sang a song that’s lyrics spell out so well, how I feel today about my past life, in his song “My way.” I’m going to skip the first few lines because I don’t feel the end is near or anticipate the final curtain. But I do realize that realistically it is possible, so maybe writing this now is the prudent thing to do. I have lived a life that’s full and for so much of it, I did do it, “My way.” The fruits of my labors show not in any wealth I have accumulated, which by the way isn’t that much, but in the eyes, minds and bodies of the three children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren I call my own. No accomplishment in life could cast a shadow on me more then this does because I knew years ago that life was not infinite but my influence could be to some extent and that’s what kept me on the straight and narrow.

 Regrets, yes I have had a few. But unlike Frank they were not too few to mention. For you see if you want to bury your regrets someplace where you no longer go, then you’ve wasted their lessons. I’m not talking about living in the past, I’m talking about not repeating the mistakes of the past anymore then you have to and believe me if you think you can discount them as just some Freudian slip, then you will repeat them again, as sure as God made little green apples. The best men are born out of their faults. I, like Frank, did bite off more then I could chew on more then one occasion. Did I chew it up and spit it out? Maybe nothing quite that dramatic but I did face my problems and not run away from them and for the most part turned most of them into a learning experience.

 But it is in the last part of the song that I find the biggest message. Frank sang, “What is a man, what has he got? If not himself he has naught.” For years I have had on my desk, a poem by some anonymous person called the “Man in the Glass.” Look it up or Goggle it, because its message is something that should be every person’s mantra. In short it says to look in the mirror, because there you will meet the one person you can’t deceive.

This essay was too much about me and not about others far more worthy then I but in reality it rings true for every person who ever lived. My accomplishments, my victories in life pale in the context of many others but to me they were fulfilling and I truly feel that in the end, I will be able to say. I never cheated the Man in the glass.

Friday, March 24, 2017

THE SOUNDS OF LIFE AS WRITTEN IN THE FALL OF 2016

Once on a camping trip to the boundary waters, I remember sitting around a campfire in the evening and being mesmerized by the absolute quietness. It was almost an eerie feeling but it was then that I realized how important my hearing was to me. I lived in the cities at that time, in a place where there is no such thing as a quiet moment. From my bedroom window there was always the sound of constant traffic, if not from the street in front of my house, from the freeway three blocks away. Neighbors talking in their yards and cars starting up. Train whistles from the tracks two miles away and sirens from emergency vehicles, and the back up horns of garbage trucks and delivery vehicles. There was always a lawn mower or a snow blower going someplace and the constant spitz, spitz, spitz, of the neighbors sprinklers. Dogs barking and feral cats meowing. Then we moved to the lake and the sounds changed and our world changed. At least the way we heard it. As I sit at my desk this morning I hear three things. Raindrops on the roof, the hum of the refrigerator and the clicking of the keyboard as I type. Some other sounds I might hear from time to time are the loons celebrating, a passing boat motor and waves lapping on the shore but this morning, it’s pretty quiet. My son-in-law told me that after he and my daughter moved to Arizona the sounds he missed the most were birds singing and the wind in the trees. They have trees, but not the kind that make much noise and in the hot months the birds seem to disappear. Mostly all you hear is traffic. Incessant traffic in a busy, busy city and air conditioners running. As a kid growing up in Staples we had our share of noise pollution for a small town. We lived a block from a major highway and it was a busy railroad town during the age of the steam engines. But for the most part wherever you live you may hear a lot but you digest just what you want to hear and tune the rest out. It’s when you change environments that your ears get a work out, at least for a while. There are sounds I used to hear that I miss and I will probably never hear again. The church bells ringing on the Catholic Church in Staples calling people to worship on Sunday morning. The click of Moms knitting needles, as she sat in her chair in the evening knitting. Sitting in the train depot on a cold winter night, I would just close my eyes and listen to the telegraph keys clicking off a message from the clerk’s office. Cows mooing in a cattle truck, at a truck stop, a block from our house. Then there were the sounds of my three brothers breathing as we slept, four of us in the same cold room. We are constantly barraged with sounds and sometimes when we hear nothing, that’s when we get alarmed. It’s a feeling that something is wrong, something is not working. Something isn’t right. We don’t realize how important our ears are-- besides holding our glasses up-- until its totally quiet. I remember as a fire fighter working in a blackout environment, inside of a burning building, listening for the crackling of the flames and the sounds of my partners breathing apparatus. When our first baby was born, I remember standing in the bedroom doorway at night, listening to him breathing. I needed that reassurance he was all right. How different it must be not to hear.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

CHANGE IN FAMILY VALUES

As the oldest child of my parent’s family, I often think about my roots. How I would like to go back to that day and time once more, and sit around that table with my immediate family. There wasn’t anything tangible there to brag about, except our quality of life. Now I’m going to shock you by telling you the “quality of life” I talk about had nothing to do with the tangible things we equate with it today. Our house, back then, didn’t have much of that. Meals were always on time, but red meat was largely absent. There was no soda in the fridge, and no candy dish. Maybe a homemade cake for a birthday—and there were ten of us, so that was a plus. The house went cold at night when the fire went out. Clothes were mostly hand-me-downs. There was one TV and one phone. “So tell me,” you say, “where was this ‘quality of life?’” I measured quality of life in the love, and character, of my parents and siblings. This example must have stuck, at least with my generation, because the seven surviving siblings are all with the spouses they married, except me—and I am a widower who was married forty-nine years. My father never worried about handouts, he only prayed that someone would always give him a job and let him earn his way. He was one of the hardest working men I ever knew. My mother always made good meals out of little. In the eighteen years I was home, going out to eat never happened unless it was potluck at a church, or a relative’s home. Mom washed clothes for her family and hung them outside to dry—even in the winter. She baked all of our bread, grew a garden, and canned the vegetables. You get the picture. As the oldest, I have seen the births and lives of twenty of my parent’s grandkids and thirty-some great grandkids. I have also seen where that love and respect, our parents demanded from us, has been watered down. We were raised as a Christian family, and that, too, has been lost in some cases. It’s funny how love and respect seems to run off and hide when that leaves. I sometimes wonder what the fourth generation will be like, but I know time will run out for me before then. We’re no different than most families, and I daresay this story could be repeated by anyone of that same era. That the decline of love and respect for each other, the decline in morality and faith in God, the love of power and money, poor work ethic, and an attitude of entitlement was going to happen in this fast changing world. It was going to happen because many people today don’t know anything else. I still wish I could go back and sit with my family, at that table we had in the late 1950’s, knowing what I know today. That I could say to my parents, “You tried so hard to raise us right, and you showed us the right way. I would hope you wanted us all to have a better life than you were able to give us, and for the most part, that happened, but Mom and Dad, somewhere some of us made some trade-offs that ate away at your way of life, and we are living to regret it.”

Monday, March 6, 2017

RACE PROBLEMS

                                                
I have at times, written about the ethnic problems we are having in this country and I have often felt that people saw me as hypocrite when I write about them. I, living in a part of the country that is predominately white. It wasn’t always that way though as I lived in the Twin Cities for many years and in some very diverse neighborhoods. I once had a black man working for me for ten years or better. I would say African American for the politically correct people but I have no idea where his ancestors came from. It could have been Haiti for all I know. We became the best of friends and ate lunch together everyday. I cried the day he retired and we said goodbye.

He told me in our lunchtime conversations about growing up in Mississippi and the discrimination he faced as a child. Yes, he was still bitter and in a way I didn’t blame him a bit. But on the other hand he was driven to make good for himself and he was a good and faithful employee. It hurt him to talk about it and we didn’t do it often. He wasn’t one to complain a lot so he harbored a lot of hurt.  He was a single man with no family and I always thought he would have made a good mentor for some young black child. I guess as far as that goes he would have made a good mentor for any child. You see children are copycats. Mom’s a doctor they want to be a doctor. Dads a truck driver, they want to follow his lead. Good examples begat more good examples. But when dad is not even there, or worse yet, is there and sells drugs to make ends meet, then you have trouble. I don’t want to insinuate that this is just a black problem, it isn’t. It just seems to be more egregious in the black community and one only needs to look at Chicago and its gangs to prove that.

We’ve been a long time getting to this kind of unrest in our country and it’s going to take a long time to make it right. I think the cure for this kind of social unrest lies only in education. But for those who are nodding their heads yes and want to spend mega funds for changes in education you need to answer this question first. How do you motivate kids, who drop out of school in the ninth grade to sell drugs and join gangs, not to do that? Common sense says you can’t teach students who aren’t there. So were back to a problem that can only be solved with the cooperation of parents and guardians. That’s the only people kids will listen to. Were back to the family structure and hasn’t that always been where good seeds and bad seeds get sowed.


There is a widening education gap between whites and people of color. There is no appreciable difference in the learning ability of people that has to do with race. Only in the desire to learn. A desire that is not inherent but is instilled by the parents, guardians and peers, but how do you manage that? I know the schools are not equipped to do that, nor should they be. Caring about these kids is everybody’s responsibility because in the end, everyone is impacted. There has to be a way to put pressure on parents to quit looking the other way and get involved in their kids lives. Yes, poverty plays a big part in this. Poverty has always been a seedbed for crime and discontent but a lack of education also plays a big role in being in poverty.