Saturday, February 18, 2017

GOING WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE

                                   
Back in the early 20th century, the British Empire was still ruling a large portion of the world. It was a very expensive operation as British troops were needed in many places to keep the peace and World War I had been very costly. Yet even with all of the expense they were always up to a new challenge, mapping and exploring far away places and one of them was the countries of Tibet and Nepal. In the early part of the 1920’s they made several trips to this area, which remained mostly reclusive because of its vast geography of mountains and glaciers. It was here that Mt. Everest was a big part of the mystery. They had not seen or conquered it, so not only did they map and photograph it; they actually made plans to climb it. The Brits had long been interested and active in mountain climbing and had mastered most of the Alpine peaks in Europe over the years. But here was a mountain that was many thousands of feet higher then anything the Alps had, had to offer and it had remained a mystery and unclimbed. Something the British thought was a challenge they just couldn’t pass up. There were a lot of reasons not to climb to the top of this peak but they ignored them. They just couldn’t pass this up.

Some of the most obvious reasons, not to climb this mountain, were the unknown. How would people react to breathing air that was one-fourth the oxygen level of what they were used to breathing? How would they cope with the cold and winds that constantly swept the mountain? How would they react to the mental challenges of being one wrong step from death for weeks at a time? They were about to find out and a young man by the name of George Mallory would spearhead their efforts. Mallory climbed on Everest three times before he was killed in a fall along with his partner Sandy Irvine. So great were the risks that his death was a death, he felt was inevitable, if he kept climbing there. His mummified body was found in 1999 and it remains where it was found. After his death the Brits kept trying to climb Everest but it was not until 1953 that the mountain was first climbed to the summit, by a New Zealander, namely Sir Edmund Hillary. The Brits have long argued that there was no conclusive evidence that Mallory and his partner Irvine did not reach the top in 1924 and were killed on the way down but the fact remains, that to be successful you have to get down alive or at least have a photo of yourself, standing on the top.

So where am I going with this history lesson? Just to say that I so admire people who’s level of personal achievement in life means taking risks to get there. Sometime in the future, people will blast out into space to conquer what may be the only frontier left to explore. We have climbed the tallest Mountain on earth and been to the deepest part of the seas. There will always be risks associated with this kind of exploration and even to this day climbing Mt. Everest is not without its perils, although clipping into a rope and climbing up a well worn path today, just isn’t the same as having to find your way. No one can control the weather and that is and always will be the biggest problem. There wasn’t any pot of gold on top of Everest and there won’t be one in space either. The only reward will be in conquering the unknown. Sir Edmund Hillary said and I quote, “Its not the mountain we conquer, it is ourselves.”



Monday, February 13, 2017

A DAY IN THE SOUTHWEST

                                                   
I thought I would switch gears and just for craps and giggles write about our stay in Arizona. Since the 1st of the year, Pat and I and our two dogs have resided in Maricopa, which is south of Phoenix and fifteen miles from Casa Grande, if that means anything to you. Our house is in a retirement community so unless someone’s grandchildren are visiting it’s pretty much the haunt of the silver heads. Just like in the Army, lights out, is around 9.30 p.m and wakeup is around 6.30 a.m. although you don’t see too many people exiting their abodes before 8 a.m, unless it’s women in their housecoats to get the newspaper or old men in their---aw forget it.

One of our early morning activities is walking the dogs. I did walk Molly up north too but there are some changes. #1 is Molly has to be on a leash and this automatically turns this seventy-five pound Lab into a sled dog and I have worn the heels out of my shoes and probably will need roto-cuff surgery when I get back to Minnesota. #2 is up north, Molly poops in the woods and my theory is if it’s good enough for the bears, it’s good enough for Molly. Not down here. No woods and no bears and strict orders to pick up after your pet. Most people you meet with pets have a leash in one hand and a bag of excrement in the other. Blows my theory about not taking any crap from anyone. The place is clean so everybody for the most part participates. The contents of the bags go into the garbage, along with the plastic bag, which isn’t supposed to, but I draw the line at cleaning out the bags and recycling them.

We have lots of rabbits along the trails, which by the way are beautiful trails winding their way through ponds, and green meadows and along the backyards of beautiful homes. The ‘Sound of Music,’ could have been filmed here instead of traveling over to Bavaria or wherever they went, but back to the rabbits. Pats dog Bailey is very good at flushing rabbits out of the bushes so she-- Bailey not Pat-- dives in and Molly remains outside ready to pounce on the prey. This necessitates me into burying a deadhead to hold myself back when the rabbit runs out and Molly takes chase. I can tell by my shirtsleeve length that my right arm-- my leash holding arm-- is now an inch longer then the left.  The rabbits have no real enemies here, save for the occasional encounter with a Grand Cherokee driven by someone with 60 80 vision, who has trouble distinguishing anything beyond the hood ornament.

Needless to say dogs waste elimination, is not limited to solid wastes. The liquid waste you can’t pick up. Molly is some kind of self-proclaimed doggie urinalysis analyzer, so this necessitates many stops for her to really breathe in the aroma. It’s like pou- pouri for dogs. They say a dogs nose is hundreds of times more sensitive then humans so for us to really draw a parallel to this, it would be like sticking your head in a full diaper pail. Not really finding the attraction here.


Since I’m limited to about 6oo words in this column I have spent the whole allotment talking about the unsavory bathroom habits of dogs and I have no room left to tell you how nice it is here, but you’re in Minnesota and I’m down here and you don’t want to hear it about it anyway, so Ta Ta until next week.---Mike

Friday, February 10, 2017

LAUGHTER

                                                          

I remember so well my dad and his brothers and sisters getting together in what could only be described as a forever-ongoing family roast. Although they differed a lot in their religious views and political views, whenever the family got together all of that was pushed to the background by their humor. In short they loved to laugh and they didn’t mind being laughed at either. My father had the uncanny ability to keep somewhere in his frontal lobe, within easy recall, a list of jokes that would be the envy of Johnny Carson. I used to tell people, “Dad had a million jokes and I heard them all a million times.” The irony of it all was they seemed funnier every time he told them and he always laughed the hardest.

At the time I thought all of this family goofiness was my dads attempt to be an entertainer. But as the years went on and I became more in tuned with his wit, I noticed how so many times dad would use this humor to defuse situations that had gotten out of hand. In short he just wanted everyone to get along. As the years have gone by, I have noticed how some of dads humorous spirit in his descendants, has turned to rancor. Apparently it’s not something that stays in your D.N.A or if it is, it’s being bred out of it.

Years ago humor was appreciated much more then it is today. If you went to a movie you always got your spirits lifted by the Bowery Boys, The Three Stooges, The little Rascals, followed by a cartoon. Who could forget Tweety and Sylvester, the Roadrunner and the Fox or that swashbuckling Pepe le pew the romantic skunk? Television had its humor too. People like Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and a whole cast of characters that didn’t have to be filthy to be funny. Carol Brunette had one of the funniest casts anyone ever put together in a television show and even today it beats anything modern day television now has to offer. Was all of the good humor just used up? I don’t think so. I think they just quit trying.

We’ve lost our ability to laugh. We would rather engage in conflicting and often inflammatory views of what goes on in this troubled world to each other. We love to blame someone else for every bad thing that happens because for some reason in our seriously mixed up minds, that seems to make it all right. We no longer want to just correct someone-- we want to humiliate him or her. What is so troubling about this is, the more we live like this, the more depression and sadness there is in our world. And the more people are depressed and sad; the more they turn to alcohol and drugs to make them happy and we all know the consequences of that.


There is a man in our church who loves to laugh. I don’t know him that well but I do know life has not always been a bed of daises for him and his wife. Yet his group of friends seems to grow as he has had this Pied Piper effect on people with his humor. I have occasionally stayed on the sidelines and watched as he talks with people and noticed how he always leaves them laughing. Lately I’ve made an effort to know him better, simply because well-- he’s my kind of guy. I too like to be personable with people and especially with those who like a good laugh.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

WINTER THOUGHTS

                                                
If you can believe the weather forecasters, sometime today it will start to rain and then change to snow and that winter we all hoped would come later then sooner, will be here. I took a “once more” look around the yard this morning to see if there was anything I missed in my winter preparations. Put away the rakes and dumped the potted plants.  I moved the snow blower from storage to active duty, checked the oil and gassed it up. Put the plow on the 4-wheeler. Let the games began.

There is a certain amount of sadness that comes with the end of fall but then sadness might be to strong a word, but the brevity of the proper wording eludes me at this time. I guess it’s somewhere between sadness and acceptance. We had one of those autumn seasons that seemed to be a gift from the Weather Gods but there comes a time when the earth has tilted to far on its axis that even they can’t squeeze out another Indian summer day so they too capitulate and admit its time.

For Molly and I, it’s one last walk in the woods today. I used to walk all winter no matter the weather but old age brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty and slipping and falling far off the beaten path is not something I need. Some time after Christmas Pat and I will leave for a warmer gentler climate. Something that when I was young and brash I swore I would never do. That was before I saw the winter season through the eyes of the skeptic I have now become to be and not the eyes of that energetic young man who loved to ice fish, snowmobile and scoff at the elements. “Bring it on” was my mantra back then.

I close my eyes, sitting here at my desk and my mind wanders back to the early 1950’s in Staples where I grew up. Our house was heated with wood. We had one of those old forced air furnaces in the basement that looked like the arms of an octopus if you ventured down there to see it. It worked on the concept that warm air rises and it expelled its heat through a large register in the floor. Sad to say it only worked as long as you fed it, which was about every two hours. That meant at night the fire went out. Four of us boys wintered in an upstairs bedroom at night. I say wintered because the temperature in that unheated room frequently went below freezing at night. I submit as evidence of this the frozen enamel pot we took up with us for nature calls at night. We were told to empty it and clean it each morning and some mornings that only consisted of tossing a frozen urine ice cube into the commode.


My father walked everywhere he went in the winter because the car won’t start anyway. He wore long johns and two pair of pants to his work on the railroad. Six buckle overshoes with felt boots inside of them. Stocking caps and chopper mitts. But he never complained about the cold and he wouldn’t listen to us if we did. Mom told me that in one twenty-year stretch he never missed a day of work. He couldn’t, he needed the money that badly. Minnesotans are survivors and for many years I was proud to be one too. But I got spoiled as the years went by. So I’ll see you all in the spring but I’ll still be writing from Arizona.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

TIPS FOR TAKING A TRIP



A while back, my friend and I, and our two nemesis called dogs, crammed into my SUV and set our sights on Arizona. “What are you going to do down there,” you say. Same thing we do here—only it’s warmer. ­­Hey, that was pretty good logic. I think.

When you pack, keep in mind that, down here in Arizona, they have stores like we have in Minnesota. One credit card takes up far less room than two months of supplies. In 1846, the Donner party took less on their trip to California, than I have taken on some trips. The only advantage to having a car packed full, with dogs and supplies, is that no carjacker in their right mind is going to bother you. Also, remember that 12 oz. of coffee at seven in the morning, means 31 oz. of urine two hours later, squeezed into a 30 oz. bladder; and the urge will manifest itself, right after you have passed the last rest stop, for the next sixty miles. Doing the pee, pee dance while strapped into a bucket seat is no fun.

The trip involves two overnight stops. Because of the dogs we have to go to pet friendly motels which should be named, more appropriately, human friendly kennels. Do not be fooled by vets who say you can drug your dog. Most dogs do well while under the influence, but if anything, bark and growl even more. Its better if you can, drug yourself, so at least you get a couple of hours of sleep. Men—watch what you eat. You are in a closed-up car so forgo the burrito until you get there or, at least, stop to kick the tires once in a while.

Now, there are some games you can play to pass the time on the trip. Roadkill bingo is one of my favorites. But remember, there are very few porcupines in Arizona, and an equal shortage of armadillos in Iowa, so you might have to change the cards from time to time. Instead of a free space, just put a raccoon in there. It is my belief that no raccoon ever crossed the road safely; even though the chicken did it just to show the raccoon it could be done. Remember, you are not allowed to stop to identify any animal that has been repeatedly pulverized. A deer is counted as only one deer, even if it’s all over four lanes. You get double points for anything you run over yourself, but only if it’s still alive.

This is important. Your navigation system will take you on the shortest possible route. It does not know, and I might add, does not care, that getting on the Dan Ryan Express in Chicago, at four thirty on Friday afternoon, is not a good idea. It does not know that babies have been born, weaned, and have taken their first step while going through downtown Atlanta. It is all right to tell it to shut up, once in a while, and get out the old map and look for an escape route. Men do not argue with her about the route. Just do it, and if it’s wrong, it’s still your fault. I know it’s not fair, but as my old dad said, “A fair is where you go to get your pig judged.”  Bon voyage, and may the force be with you.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

A DEFEATED MINNESOTA MAN

                                
I wrote this six weeks ago but as I write this it is 25 below zero outside with a wind chill of God knows what. I know this-- I don’t want to know what it is. I opened the back door to let Molly out this morning and she looked at me as if to say, “I will drink my own urine and eat my own poop before I’m going out there.” I grew up the consummate Minnesota male.  I slept in an unheated bedroom with three brothers and lived in a house where we had to let the faucet run at night to keep the pipes from freezing. Most houses creak and groan all winter in the cold, ours just froze solid and let out one big bang in the spring. If we complained about the lack of heat in the house, dad just gave us a look that said he was ashamed of us for being such weak links in the family gene pool and told us to grow a set or we would never survive in this world. That was nonsensical to me when you’re just going to freeze them off anyway.

Once out in the world and on my own I found there were places that actually heated their house’s 24 hours a day. But yet my macho attitude had me taking a job outside in the winter flooding ice rinks and as a fireman fighting fires in subzero temperatures. One fire in particular was fought for over eight hours in 31 below zero temperatures. They had to bust the ice off my turn out gear buckles with a rubber mallet when we got back to the station so I could get out of it. But I lived and I wore it as a red badge of courage. When I recanted this story to my dad, who had worked outside most of his life, he just said, “Poor baby.”

As the years have peeled away I became more aware of how miserable it was sitting in my house in the winter. Wrapped in a blanket, even though it was seventy in the house. I took a few exploratory vacations to warmer parts of the United States. There had to be a reason I surmised why most creatures either left Minnesota or crawled into a hole in the ground to wait out the winter. When I got there, low and behold, some of them birds were there all warm and cheerful. I once told a hotel employee in the south how cold it was back in Minnesota. She had tears in her eyes and took my hand telling me, “ Honey it’s going to be alright now.” To all of you that still have to work and live in Minnesota in the winter. I say God bless and I hope your day in the sun will come. It could be worse-- you could live in Wisconsin.

I love Minnesota. It’s been my home for over seventy-five years. From the end of March to the end of November, it’s unequaled for beauty and quality of life and I’ll be back during that time. In the spring and fall the changes come at us every day, one of them heralding in the glorious summer and another ushering us back out We call it the theater of seasons. But after the 15th of December until the fifteenth of March, not much changes. At least for me it just stays cold and dark. I live on a lake with sixty-nine homes and come winter there are very few of them occupied. I know today my dad is looking down on me, sitting in this chair in the Arizona sun with a sarsaparilla in my hand and he is scowling at me. I can only say, ”I’m sorry Dad for failing you.” I’m a wimp-- but a warm wimp. I raise my glass. Here’s to you pop’s.




Tuesday, January 10, 2017

NEW YEARS LETTER

                                             
This morning as I write, there is a soft snow coming down outside of my window. There is a time in late autumn when the world seems washed out of all of its color. Things seem all grim and gray. It’s a time of the year when the days grow shorter and the world grows colder and this all add’s to my melancholy. Then the first snows come and clean everything up. All of the unattractive things get covered up and sealed away and our black and white world of winter takes on its own persona. 

Something else is happening this morning as I write. A few weeks back I wrote a column called, “So God made a baby.” The story of my first great grand child. Today my grandson’s wife is in labor with their first child and another great grandchild for me. My heart has never been fuller then it is right now, as I see my family growing. I thank God that I am still here on this earth to witness this and experience these children being born. When I look out the window at this winter wonderland today, I can only say, “What a beautiful day to have a baby.”

My columns are published weeks after I write them. So by the time you get this Pat and I will be in Arizona for the winter. Leaving Minnesota and my family here is never easy but I have a family in Arizona too, so for me it’s a chance to spend time with them also. In a perfect world-- would it be that we all live blocks from each other and spend Sunday afternoons with hot dishes and Jell-o with vegetables in it, and real whipped cream on top? That’s the world I grew up in, in Staples. No one ever moved far from the nest over there. But for some of us as we grew up and branched out, so did our boundaries and now-- even though many miles separate us, we just don’t seem that far away. I write from my heart and the biggest part of my heart will always be In Minnesota, so my columns will continue.

So it’s a New Year in a vastly troubled world, filled with mistrust, violence and threats around every corner. Drugs and immorality abound and we ask what kind a world, are we bringing these babies into? But is the answer not to have babies and give up on the world. Well that’s kind of like throwing in the towel. NO, I have a better idea. Lets just quit doing what we have been doing and get back to the ideas this country was founded on. The Democrats lost this last election because they were more concerned with culture and social issues that affected one percent, then they were with the real issues that affected most of us. I’m no big fan of the man who got in office and yes he scares the hell out of me but that’s what happens when you breed that much discontent. Lets hope cooler heads will prevail in Washington and they start thinking about where this country is heading and what kind of a world we are leaving for these babies that are just coming into it.

I want to wish Happy New Year to all of me readers. It’s such a pleasure for me to be able to talk to you like this. We need to look at 2017 as three hundred and sixty five pages in a new book. One more chance to get it right. Lets leave our flaws behind us and let’s dwell on all of the potential we do have, to get it right.




    

DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

                                               
I always remember the day after Christmas as one of those days when your feelings were all mixed up. As a kid maybe you received something special and you were elated and you couldn’t wait to try it out-- or on. Or maybe despite all of your hints, you were disappointed in it all because you weren’t old enough to realize what being selfish was all about. It was more of a time of you receiving then giving anything, so the joy that came from giving was largely absent. You did make your parents a gift in school but you were disappointed when you heard your father whispering to your mom as she opened it, “What in the hell is it?”

As a married adult with kids of your own you could only wonder how in a few short hours, all of your work-- and most likely all of her work-- in the preparation for the kid’s Christmas, had been reduced to a cardboard box full of torn wrapping paper, a sink full of dirty dishes and the dread of the bills coming in January. You remember how long after the kids had gone to bed, sitting on the couch with your arm around her and a drink in your hand, thinking how much she meant to you while she was thinking, “Who’s going to clean up all of this mess.” But in a way you were glad it was over for at least another year and you were most thankful that you still had each other.

As an old adult and a widower living alone you try to do what you can to get in the holiday spirit. You drag out some decorations and try to make the house look festive but the only one who sees them are you and the dog, which outside of peeing on the tree he wasn’t that interested.  You fill envelopes with money because you don’t know what to buy anyone. Your kids are grandparents now themselves, living three hours away and starting their own traditions, so at Christmas you go there and try to fit in. There are way too many places to go, so you just pick one. The excitement you used to have for getting gifts is ebbing. You have everything you could possibly want. But you do still have a family that cares for you, so who could ask for more.

25 years ago I used to go and pick up my father-in –law from the nursing home at Christmas and bring him out to our place for dinner and the evening. I would see the longing faces on those sitting in the day room in their wheelchairs who had no one--no place to go. I felt so bad for them and wanted to bring them all home for Christmas but somehow I realized my home was not the home they wanted to be at. I wanted to sneak my father-in–law out the back door just to avoid the longing faces. I tried to rationalize that maybe they were alone because there was nobody left for them, or maybe there was somebody but it wasn’t possible to bring them home for one reason or another. Or God forbid. No one cared.

My Christmas this year was fine. People I love tried their best to make me happy and that’s not always easy. I did enjoy going to Mass and singing carols even though I sound terrible. Not as bad as that woman in front of me though who I think got laced up too tight in that spangled dress. But all in all, its time to move on with life so happy New Year everyone.------Mike





Wednesday, December 21, 2016

GRANDMAS LAST CHRISTMAS

                                            

Six years ago this Christmas Eve our whole family gathered to celebrate Christmas at our house as we had done for years. But that year’s celebration had a problem in the room. Grandma had been diagnosed with cancer earlier that year and had only months to live. Christmas is always hard when someone is missing. But this one was especially egregious because she wasn’t missing and we all knew-- and yes even her-- that this would be the final one.

The gifts were there as she was an early shopper and most of them had been bought months before. She sat in her favorite recliner trying to mask the pain she was in. A frozen smile on her face. She made all the grandkids open their gifts one by one so she could enjoy that last giving moment with each of them. Then lastly the adults. In the meantime the gifts that had been given to her sat unopened. She said she would get to them later. She didn’t want this to be about her, it was her last time to make her grandkids happy. There in, laid her whole reason for Christmas giving.

Christmas had always been her forte. Each year she started shopping the day after Christmas for the next one. Every closet in the house was stuffed with bags by Thanksgiving time and then after the meal, she and her grandkids would decorate and then the wrapping started and the gifts piled up, until you scarce see the tree.

Christmas has been somewhat hollow for all of us since her passing. Oh, we put on our best faces and try not to let it spoil the celebration. But I’ve seen those wet eyes mirrored in the lights of the tree. Those wistful looks and I know what they’re thinking. There is no delete button in the human heart. What lives in there, is there, as long as the heart lives’ on. Oh we can try to override those precious memories and yes for the sake of the heart and for the sake of those who love us, over time it is probably a good idea. I know I have moved on. This year has brought a new great grandbaby. New memories with my special friend Pat and a winter home in a warmer place. My Christmas has been scaled back considerably because I think we, as a family all know, there is no forgetting what once was and there is no sense in trying to emulate it, even if we could.

I didn’t write this to be a sad letter, just a letter of a fond memory of days gone by. I am sure that in every home and heart there are similar stories and life tells us if they aren’t there now-- they will be someday. Rather we choose to live in the here and now and we can ruminate about the past but its not good to live there. This is the Christmas season 2016 and it will be, just what we make of it.

 So Merry Christmas my friends and in the words of Tiny Tim, “May God bless us every one.” It’s kind of fitting to say that, because after all he is the reason for the season. God that is-- not Tiny Tim.
                                                           

Mike

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

CHRISTMAS 1953

                                              

This year for Christmas I want you to come along with me as I set the scene for one of my most memorable Christmas’s. Our house back in Staples was what many would call a shack. A large boxy house that sat back from the street on a big lot surrounded by mature trees. We were the last house on Third Avenue before the end of town and the beginning of the woods and swamp. There was always peeling paint and cracked windows and a porch on the back that looked like someone started something they had never finished. A driveway full of chuckholes that had your car lurching from side to side as you drove in.  In the winter the smoke from our wood fired furnace would settle over the neighborhoods on the west end of town to the ire of our neighbors. I think we were the only ones in town, who still burned wood.

But as we all know perceptions can be deceiving and so it was then. For inside the house was a family that did care what others thought of them but didn’t get caught up in all of the hoop-la of keeping up with the Jones’s. Oh, I guess the Christmas I remember so well would have been in the early fifties. Dad had taken the family out on our annual tree hunt. It was right after Thanksgiving and we brought home a splendid spruce tree he’d, had his eye on for some time. Tied to the roof of the car he drove through town like a young man showing off his big buck deer at hunting time. Six little snot nosed kids with rosy cheeks rubbing the frost off the car windows with our mittens as we made our way home in that old thirty-six Plymouth. The tree decorations had been brought down from the attic by dad and were waiting for us and after supper we all went into the living room to trim the tree. The little ones got to decorate as far up the tree as they could reach, as mom carefully handed them each a bulb and then the older kids did there part and then at last dad crowned it all off with the angel on top. Then the final thing was dads magical bubble lights. He would handle those lights like they were the Crown Jewels of England. Each night we would get to watch them for few minutes and then he would shut them off; until Christmas Eve, when the lights would be allowed to burn until we went to bed. Over the ensuing weeks more and more packages would find their way under the tree. There were things we had made at school for our parents and a box from Grandpa and Grandma. But the gifts from mom and dad, to us kids, wouldn’t appear until Christmas Eve. It was their way of making us behave for a while. Like Smith Barney used to say, “We had to earn it.”


All of my life since those days, I have been so blessed with opulent Christmas Gifts, fabulous dinners and spectacular decorations. Happy Christmas holidays for sure, but yet those days, from those meager beginnings, still burn front and center in my heart and it baffles me why. For you see it is in our nature to want more and better things and here I am, hanging onto memories of that frugal Christmas. As I said it baffles me-- but then when I dwell on those long gone holidays looking for that elusive meaning. I find that there is something that was there then, that just isn’t here now and that is we never expected, anything more then we got.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

SO GOD MADE A BABY

                                               

This year my oldest granddaughter gave birth to the first, of the fourth generation in my family. I have yet to hold Emily because we are separated by nearly 2000 miles. But next week I am going there and I can’t wait to meet her. Her mom and dad have sent so many pictures and I feel like I already know so much about her.

What is there about a baby that just buoys every ones spirits? No other creature on earth can make you feel so humble, so mellow, and so caring. Only a baby can make you act like a goofball making funny faces and crawling around on the floor with them. Babies have a way of making a family, from a relationship that was once just two loving adults. “I saw a quote once from a new mother who said, “I never knew how much I loved your daddy, until I saw how much he loved you.” I have only seen pictures of Emily, that maybe involved minutes of my time but I already have so many ways to love her.

I remember so well when our first-born came along and one thing that was so new to me was to see my wife basking in her new found motherhood. A side of my wife that I had not seen until then. I call it motherly instinct but call it what you may, it is a bond that is unequaled in this world and now I will get to see it in my granddaughter. It is a built in love in moms and dads that passes all human understanding. There is an emotional side of all of this for me. Because I am going to see in Emily’s mom, something that started a long time ago in another mom who has gone on before us-- her great Grandma. I am sure today that she too, is so proud. My wish is that some day, Emily will lie down on a clear night and look at the stars twinkling in the heavens above and as Rick Bragg said, “See them as holes in the floor of heaven.”

If I could talk one on one to Emily today I would say this. “On my walls are pictures of all of my grandchildren Emily. Yes, I knew all of them when they were like you. Brand new and just entering into this world. I saw them grow up and be the young adults they are today. Your Mom was one of them but I can tell you the moment you were born, she was changed forever. For you see, you are her first-born and that brings love by a whole different name to all parents. Children have a way of doing that to you. My biggest worry about my grandchildren growing up was that they would succumb to some of the temptations, this world today can give you that steers you in the wrong direction. But they didn’t and my worries were unfounded. Their mom’s and dads like yours will too, showed the whole world and I, how to create goodness. I won’t be around for much of your life Emily but I ask you to make us all proud as your parents did for us. God bless you on this journey little one.”

Each day there is born into this world many babies. I think what I wrote above goes for all of the mom’s and dads and grandparents of the world. That was our hope, was it not? To be a part of something that will live on long after we are gone. Emily is for me the start of something good. Babies-- what a wonderful way to start out as human beings



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A VOICE FROM THE PAST

                                              

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

WINTER HIATUS

                                                

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

IMAGINE A WORLD

                                              

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

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

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


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

Thursday, November 10, 2016

ABOUT LIFE

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

DEER HUNTING

                                                            

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

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

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

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