Monday, February 12, 2018

MOUNTAINS

                                                            

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

WAR

                                                            WAR

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, January 25, 2018

SNOWBIRD

                                                         

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

SCENT,SENT FROM THE PAST

                                              

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, December 11, 2017

THEY CALL IT PROGRESS

                                               

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

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

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

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



Sunday, December 3, 2017

THE DREADED COLONOSCOPY

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

MOLLY

                                                         

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SUNSHINE BOYS

                                                         

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

GRACE

                                                          

I have on my dining room wall a painting called “Grace”. It’s a painting of a elderly man with his hands folded, saying a prayer over a small table, with a very simple meal on it. Its origins go back to a photography studio in Northern Minnesota and the year was 1918. Also on the table was a book that many felt represented the Bible. Whether it was a Bible or not, I don’t know, but the implication is there. But it’s the sheer humbleness and simplicity of the scene that took me in when I first saw it. It could have been turkey and all the trimmings, with a bottle of fine wine or cognac but instead it was this simple bowl of soup and a loaf of dry bread. It could have been a man in a three-piece suit with a gold watch fob but in all actuality history tells us, it was a simple peddler chosen for this photo.

Maybe its because I grew up in a house where we had plenty of simple meals that I was touched. I used to see the hurt in mothers eyes, when what she had to dish up, wasn’t much. Maybe it was because my father demanded we pray before we eat, no matter how meager the meal was that this picture hit home for me. I think of people in this world who go to bed hungry all the time and there are nights when I wish it were in my power to whisk my meal off to someone who needs it far more then me.
We are a somewhat benevolent nation with our soup kitchens and food shelves so maybe in a way I’m preaching to the choir. But I look at the rest of the world and it makes me cry sometimes. Why are bombs and rockets raining down on people instead of food? It simply makes no sense. The price of one cruise missile, 1.4 million dollars, could feed the hungry of a small country for quite some time. Who do you think would like you better? People who see you help them feed their starving children or people you shoot missiles at.

Being nice to others used to be second nature. It wasn’t something that needed to be taught. We have a man in the Whitehouse who doesn’t like being nice to others because he feels he will get better results if he threatens and bullies people. That in it self doesn’t bother me so much. The fact that he has followers that seem to endorse this behavior is what bothers the most. There seems to be no limit to what they will put up with from him because party victory cannot be accomplished any other way but through him. It shows us where our country has gone in the last century. It has happened in the past too but in the past it was largely stifled. People said “ouch. I can’t go that far.” The damage that is being done to our democratic system and to our shrinking fan base around the world may take decades to recover from-- if it all.

I had a grandfather who was the most humble honest man I ever knew. In all of the years I knew him, I never knew him to utter a harsh word about others. He led by a quiet example and as a man of the cloth he had a great following. I remember standing by his open casket with my father. My father sobbing and saying “Oh how I wish I could have been the man he was.” I tried to defend my father and told him “you are a good man.” Dad told me grandpa was more then a good man. He was a great man. “There lay’s your mentor my son.”


            

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

ANOTHER NATURE STUDY

                                             
I stood looking out the window this morning, watching the leaves fall from my birch clump. There wasn’t any breeze; it was a calm day, leaving the lake shimmering like a sheet of glass. The falling leaves from the tree seemed to be giving up and surrendering their grip on the tree they had lived on all summer. The leaves seemed to imply it was over-for now and they were telling the tree the time had come to let go. That the close family relationship they had enjoyed since spring had come to an inevitable end. For the leaves it was the end, but for the tree it is just a brief hiatus, for it knows that life will go on. That come spring it will replenish itself.

The tree and its leaves are codependent to some extent and one cannot live without the other. Except that the tree has within its powers the ability to go dormant without its leaves and then reincarnate itself come spring. It cannot remain dormant indefinitely. Yet it doesn’t have to wither and die and then reseed itself to propagate either. It must go through this process to live because of the waning sunlight and weather extremes that are outside of what it needs to sustain life.

Joyce Kilmer wrote in his poem  “Trees,”  “A tree whose hungry mouth is prest. Against the earth’s sweet breast.” It suggests that not only is the tree dependent on the leaves but it is also dependent on the earth that it stands rooted in. That same earth in turn is dependent to some degree on those same leaves that die and decay, providing nutrients to feed the tree in the next growing cycle. Kilmer goes on to talk about another facet-- the birds that live within its branches. “A tree that may in summer wear. A nest of robins in her hair.”

It seems so fascinating when we talk about the intricacies’ of nature. For when you don’t limit yourself to seeing just the tree-- but you see the whole picture and all the details that come into it.  It’s within this that we realize how nature can only exist when it lives in harmony with each other. Take away the tree and the leaves die. Sterilize or poison the earth and the trees die. Take away the tree and the habitat it provides and the birds and animals have no place to live, no place to shelter in.

We have no assurances that the tree will come back to life in the spring but nature is pretty resilient and it has been through this process more times then we care to study. So we hope yes-- but beyond that we leave it to a greater power. Back to Kilmer, “Poems are made by fools like me. But only God can make a tree.” We can help nature exist and in some ways we can even change it for the better but the whole master plan for nature seems to defy explanation, at least at our level.

In this sometimes-complicated world we live in, filled with so many plants and animals, we sometimes struggle to understand the complexity of nature and how in the grand picture, it all fits so nicely together. There are many people on this earth that wouldn’t for a minute be intrigued by the falling leaves like I was. They couldn’t care less about what lives and dies. Only their own selfish desires to accumulate wealth and power and often with no regard for nature.



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

MY DADS CARS

                                                       
My father never placed as much emphasis on his automobiles as I do-- or most of us do for that matter. They were a means to get you where you wanted to go and the more modern you got, the more it cost you to buy it and keep it running. As a young boy in the early 1950’s, my father drove a 1928 Model A Ford. I guess that would be akin today, to someone driving an early 1990’s car in 2017, although a lot of the early 90’s cars had most of the accessories you get in new cars today, minus the Bluetooth Technology.  In comparisons, there was a world of difference between a 1953 Ford back then and the Model A from 1928. The model A was the car that old Henry Ford built that revolutionized automobile manufacturing and made Henry a rich man. The one thing I do remember about them was the simplicity of the car. The gas tank sat high under the hood with a gravity feed system for fueling the car, negating a fuel pump. The engine was a four cylinder, which through the years in later model cars with Ford, changed to a six cylinder and then a flathead v eight and then even a ten-cylinder engine. Today on a lot of modern cars we are back to the four cylinder engines. Albeit a much peppier and more economical one.

 The car was pretty basic and if you were outside standing next to it while it was running or inside sitting in the drivers seat the noise level was about the same. In the winter heat was largely absent and before today’s driving-gloves-- we had driving-mittens. We had things called frost shields on the windows that kept your breath from freezing on the glass but visibility through them was still kind of like looking at someone through a fruit jar. The windshield wipers were vacuum operated, so when you stepped on the gas they quit working and then when you left off the gas, they went like crazy.

The Model A’s had no turn signals and if memory serves me right they had just one tail light on the left side. You used hand signals for signaling your turns, which necessitated rolling down the driver’s window to put your arm out, much to the chagrin of the kids in the back seat in the winter. By the way, that back seat and the front one were about 60% as wide as today’s car seats. At this time there were six kids in our family so you do the math.

The car rode very rough and being high and boxy the wind blew it around a lot, although 45 mph was pretty much the pedal to the metal. On longer trips, which thankfully weren’t many, things could occasionally boil over including the car radiator or the kids in the back seat. You usually carried extra water along for the car and a coffee can for the kids for whatever. My father was an avid cigar smoker so that added to the uncomforting level. The trip to grandpa and grandmas was about 200 miles, so roughly an eight-hour trip. About three and half hours today.


I sometimes talk about the good old days. I think when it comes to the way we treated people and how we acted back then, there is some merit for that kind of talk. But a long ride in a Model A Ford?---Good old days?—Ah not so much.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD

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

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

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

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



Friday, October 13, 2017

ME AND THE CRITTERS

                                               

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

VIETNAM

                                                          

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ALL ABOUT LOVE

                                                          

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

MALLS

                                                          

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

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

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

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

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


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