Tuesday, June 30, 2020

FOURTH OF JULY

                                                          

Well it’s the 4th of July once more and although the celebrations will be subdued this year, because of the virus, the 4th still is here and must be noted, There are times this year when I feel estranged from my friends and family because of the pandemic but always the loneliness that comes with it pales in comparison to the forced separations our veterans faced as they went off to keep our nation secure. Many of those who participated in World war II, Korea and Vietnam endured separations that stretched on for years. Their kids grew up without them, their spouses suffered great hardships of going it alone. So today we say a collective thank you to all of our veterans for their service and their families for their sacrifices.

What seems so egregious to me is the unappreciative way, we take all of the things, these people fought for, for granted. As a kid growing up there was a patriotic fervor in our society that had so much pride engrained in it. Our 4thof July celebrations were the highlight of the summer. But as the years have gone by and our governments leaders have used the military for ill gain instead of what it was intended for, that pride has crumbled. Many of you that traveled for the holiday passed the shuttered Legion and V.F.W clubs that no one wanted to support anymore. Left to face the scorn for these military actions are not the Politicians who initiated them but those they sent into harm’s way, for all of the wrong reasons.  Yet, we need to honor these brave people for their loyalty and courage, in spite of their leaders’ mistakes. They did what they were asked to do.

A while back I wrote about the sacrifice our armed forces have made and I asked this rhetorical question to our political leaders. “Were you worthy of that sacrifice?” Many of our leaders did serve themselves but then they came back and got caught up in the politics that rules this country, and it tends to desecrate their service. To them I say, “Your laurels only go so far.” It’s a shame when you let your true colors obliterate your past service. That’s one thing about setting the bar that high with your service, you need to live on or above that bar for the rest of your life and in the end, you will be rewarded by a greater power.

My father -in-law was a proud veteran who spilled his blood on the beaches of Okinawa and then came home to his family and lived his life proud of what he had accomplished. He was a good citizen and a hardworking man, a good father and husband. If I could go sit on the grass over his grave today in the National Cemetery, I would have tears. Not just tears for his loss, but tears for the sacrifices he made, that are being squandered by selfish people that never knew or cared about those sacrifices or him. They care only for politics money and power.

It’s a shame to have to write like this but you can only ignore the elephant in the room so long. That the pandemic has rained on our parade yes, but the pandemic will go away-- but the sins of the past initiated by our leaders in this govenment will not go away. To those of you who served so honorably I salute you my friends. For those who have been laid to rest may you rest in peace assured of a job well done. For those still struggling may you never be forgotten.




Tuesday, June 23, 2020

POOR WHITE TRASH



I have wanted to write about this for some time but never have I felt it to be more relevant then right now. The controversy over racial disparity in this country is at a boiling point and in a small way I thought I once knew how people of color feel right now, except I’m not black, so really, I don’t know how they feel-- but I do feel something. Their pain. I grew up in a small town in poverty so I knew what it was like to see people look down their noses at you. To be snubbed and left out. But yet when you think about it, I was only a new suit of clothes from fitting in. I didn’t have to change the color of my skin to be excepted

After I graduated from high school I moved to North Minneapolis. I had a decent job so I was able to buy that new suit of clothes. No one knew my past so the prejudices went away. I became one of the white middle class and moved to the suburbs. It was that easy. I wasn’t a champion for civil rights, don’t get me wrong. Live and let live was my mantra. I figured if the poor blacks didn’t like the way they were living they could do the same things as I had done. How little I knew about prejudices that were far more, than what a person had to wear.

A lot of things besides the color of their skin has beset communities of color. Drugs and a lack of a good education probably lead the list. So, you say, “No one made them make those bad choices.” When I was a poor kid growing up-- had the opportunity came along for me to get out of poverty by peddling drugs-- I am not so sure I wouldn’t have. It was a different time and different place. The town I grew up in was a railroad town and as a kid I used to go to the depot and watch the trains come in. The porters and conductors were mostly people of color. It was my first introduction to black people, although I never spoke to them. I did notice, none of them ever drove the train. 

About twelve years ago my wife and I took a trip to Biloxi Mississippi for a vacation. As we traveled the whole state from north to south, I was astonished to see the poverty that existed. Sure, we had poverty in Minnesota too, but ours was just neighborhoods, not miles upon miles of it. Biloxi was a resort town on the gulf. Kind of a gambling mecca and many of the poor blacks that lived in those rundown shacks worked in the casinos and hotels. A few years later hurricane Katrina was to devastate that area. I never felt sorry for the wrecked casinos and their rich owners. Just the loss of jobs and homes for the poor people that worked there. The newspaper accounts never talked much about the people who lost their jobs. Just the loss to the state treasuries who had lost their cash cows. 

Yes, there needs to be change. Change in the hearts and minds of everybody. Change in the police and here’s where the hackles go up. Change in the black communities too. Look at your kids and say “I want better for all of you.” Then tell them how important it is to stay in school and get a good education. Without that education, poverty will still exist and with that poverty will come that sense of hopelessness you have had to endure for centuries. Don’t let them keep you down. Without a good education no one can help you. With a good education you can control your own destiny and I for one will cheer you on. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

DAD AND I

                                                           

When I wake up in the morning, I find that’s the best time to stop and think. I’m retired so I have no job to rush out to, no reason to jump out of bed. The topics I think about, run the gamete from friends who are sick, to projects I might be working on, to the good old days. I seldom think about the troubles are country is going through. Those thoughts come later in the day when the newspaper and the media have unleashed their barrage of conflicting opinions e of what’s going right and wrong and who is to blame. They have every right to do that and if it’s unsettling, I don’t have to read or listen but somehow, it’s hard to escape it. No, the mornings are just a time to reminisce and try to have thoughts about things that once made me happy.

So often those thoughts go back decades because I tend to hang onto what made me happy and let go of what made me sad. This morning I thought about a trip I made to my home town decades ago to take my dad fishing. Dad loved to fish and so did I and even though neither of us had ever mastered the sport, we had the basics down and all that involved was a boat, some gear and making time to do it. That last part was the hardest part. Not for dad, who was retired and living by himself but for me who was working two jobs and raising a family. But every so often I would make the trip back to my hometown where dad still lived in a little apartment, leave the wife and kids at her mother’s place and Dad and I would go out to our favorite lake.

We always caught fish but that wasn’t important to this story. What was important, is the fact that dad and I were together in the middle of the lake in an aluminum shell of a boat and no one was around to interrupt us. In fact, as I reflected on it this morning lying in bed, I don’t remember how the fishing was on that particular day, all I remember was, I was with my dad. 

I have a son that I am proud of and I hope that someday he will think of me in the context of the love we had for each other and the good times we had and not the times we disagreed. I have always felt that I wanted my son to be as good of a man as I meant to be in my life. I have always hoped that I would be as good of a father to my son, as my dad was to me. My grandpa told me shortly after our son was born to always remember when you raise your son, you raise your sons, son. Grandpa died shortly after that but I never forgot his wisdom. It was the root of my own character 

Growing up, my father didn’t always have my hand, but he did always have my back. He was always content to let you find your own way in life but yet, he was always looking where you were going and what you were doing. He was never quick to judge, but in the end if you wanted his honest opinion you got it and it was sometimes unflattering. That could be a hard pill to swallow sometimes, because here was this ordinary man, who accomplished nothing that will ever be recorded into the annals of history, that I, by my love for him, had made my hero.

If I could have one wish in life it would be a chance to spend one more hour with those who shaped my life and have gone before me. Just a chance to say the things that never got said, that got lost in the moment and now seem to be so pertinent to me. But I’ll bet if dad and I got that one chance--- we’d just go fishing one more time.   

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

SUNSHINE BOYS

                                                          

I have written before about a group of elderly men and a couple of ladies who occasionally come by-- and I’m not going to comment on their ages-- who gathered together for coffee and conversation, a few times a week at one of the local cafes. We called ourselves the Sunshine Boys. This has been going on for the better part of twenty years. Over this period of time many of the original people have passed away, or moved on, so the group has evolved and there are just a few of the originals left. Yet, even with some new people, our core values seem to still be the same. Friendship and doing what we can to keep each other happy. When I first started taking part in this, I was one of the younger ones but now that has changed and although I’m not the oldest, I’m getting there. It always been my hope and the hope of the others that the group would remain together, although new blood has not been always easy to find.

During the winter months the group shrunk up because we had a few snowbirds and some who for weather reasons found it hard to attend. So, this spring when I came back from Arizona, I was looking forward to renewing some old relationships and then this Covid- 19 thing came along and the cafĂ© closed up. Even if it was open, it would be hard to keep the social distancing that would be required. A side problem was most of us, were the ones who were in the group, that had such high mortality rates with the disease. 

So, for a couple of months we all just kind of hunkered down at home not wanting to take risks or stir the pot when it came to socializing. We called each other occasionally but that didn’t begin to take the place of the conversations we had when we were all together. Then the idea came about to meet in a park, weather permitting. So, a couple of weeks back we gathered in the town square park across from the drug store. We each brought a lawn chair and our own drink and made a big circle trying to keep some semblance of social distancing. No hand shaking or hugs and those who wanted to use masks were encouraged to do so and most did.

Were there some risks to this? Of course. But there were risks involved when you went to the doctor or the grocery store or other errands. There were risks when you saw your family or neighbors. So, what were the benefits that outweighed those risks? I think I mentioned them earlier in this article. Friendship and caring for each other. There were people who were with us last year, who were not with us this year and there will be people in the group that met the other day, that might not be here next year. We want to enjoy each other while we can.

I have in my mind a list of all of the people whom I have met over the years in this group. My life has been made so much better because I knew those people. They all brought something to the table in their own way that makes me remember them today. In the end we are all bits and pieces of everyone we ever associated with. Oh yes, there were some not so good ones too but you tend to not remember those, because they had nothing useful for you to keep. But the majority did have something you could use and I for one am so thankful I knew them. So, to Norm, Morrie, Rusty, Darrell, Dick, Gordy, Wally, John, Charlie, and any one I missed that is gone-- as Carol Burnett use to sing. “I’m so glad we had these times together.” I hope the Sunshine boys will carry on.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

MOLLY REPORT



It occurred to me that with all of the political talk and talk about the virus and lack of food and medicines, that maybe I would lighten it up with a Molly report. For those who don’t know or are just tuning in, Molly is my dog. Molly turned 8 this January and people who know and love Labradors all say, that’s about the time in their life when they start behaving. No sign of that yet from Molly but one can only hope, can’t they.

Molly is a hunting breed although the only thing I know for sure that she hunts for, is food, mischief and a good place to sleep. That sleep can be on the couch that she is not allowed on, or in my bed with her head on the other pillow staring at me and emitting the breath of a buzzard. Sometimes when she is overcome with emotion, It’s in my lap, in my recliner. She doesn’t get in your lap gracefully but prefers to leap there when you least expect it. Like right through the newspaper and sending both of us over backwards with the recliner on top of us.

Molly had an itching problem and they thought---they the vet—it might be a food allergy. So, I put her on a fish-based food with sweet potatoes. I told you about her bad breath. This dog food when you open the bag smells like Milorganite. For those of you not familiar with it, Milorganite it is a fertilizer that is refined from human waste. It comes from Milwaukee and I am not sure that’s where they get the human waste from but it is the beer capital of the Midwest. The dog food is not that far removed, from the original scent of human waste. Maybe because dogs love to roll in human waste she thinks she is smelling pretty inside and out. I don’t know but she loves the food and by the way, she’s still scratching.

I told you she was a hunting breed and loves to chase squirrels. In eight years, she has never come close to catching one, although she did get a chipmunk. To be fair she was sleeping on the porch and the chipmunk thinking she was a fixture and not a dog tried to run over the top of her and practically ran into her mouth. It was not a good ending for the chipmunk. Her other selected prey is rabbits and in Arizona where I winter there is no shortage of rabbits. So last January, Pat and I took the dogs for a walk on leashes, which by the way she hates and she went after a rabbit that ran behind me, pulling me over backwards onto a rocky trail and breaking my hip. So, when you see me limping along, think of good old Molly. I know I do. 

Molly has a tattoo on her belly. It says “do not resuscitate.” I’m kidding of course. She means the world to me. I am an old man living by himself and lots of old people turn to pets for companionship. They’re not to replace the people that have left your life. They are companionship to you in a world that despite the amount of people in it, can be a lonely place for many of them. I will be 80 next year and Molly 9. We just might cross that rainbow bridge 
together. I look around me at all of the hate and dissension that is in this world. All of the people who seem to get up angry every morning and go to bed angry each night. I sometimes say to myself, “Why can’t we all have the demeaner of a Molly.” Molly gets up every day and says to herself, “Why am I so happy today? “Then she smiles and says, because it’s a big wide beautiful world I live in and today-- I’m going to make the most of it.” How many  people do you know like that?









Thursday, May 28, 2020

IT'S LIKE A WAR

                                                           

A while back the President compared our current situation with the pandemic to being at war. I felt at the time he was being a little overly dramatic but then again, maybe he has something there. I have often wondered what it was like in world war II, in London or the German cities, to be a civilian and hear the siren’s going off and wondering if this was the night a bomb found your house with you inside of it. You would hear the concussions all around you and wonder when your number was going to be up. On the upside you would never know what hit you but then maybe it would be a dud and you would just have to patch the hole in the roof.

Today in the midst of this pandemic we sit home trying to stay as far away as we can from everyone. But once or twice a week we sneak out to get some essentials and wonder if this is the day, you pick the loaf of bread that someone sneezed on. If that door handle to the grocery store was dripping with the virus or if when you punched accept on the key pad at the gas pump, there was a COVID- 19 germ just sitting there, waiting to go home with you. You ask yourself did I have my mask on properly?  So many questions for sure.

This weekend I’m going to see my family at my son’s house in the cities. I haven’t seen any of them since last October when I headed down south for the winter. There is a new baby now 2 months old I have never held. Three other great grandkids, now toddlers and moms and dads, my grandkids. But you can only stay away so long. There is no upside here if I get infected. Maybe weeks in the hospital and maybe just the sniffles. And maybe it’s the last chapter but not the way I dreamed about it. Alone.  All in all, it’s up to me to try and protect myself.

I’m not trying to make light of our situation. Too any people have been hurt already for that. Too many still left to be hurt. Food lines like we have never seen before. The richest country in the world and thousands of people going hungry. Yet farmers are euthanizing their livestock, plowing under their crops and dumping their milk, because there is no way to get them, to market. It seems like a bad dream. People are angry, revolting against the authorities, yet not many answers are forth coming. They say it will get worse before it gets better. That It’s not going away anytime soon. What’s going to happen when real desperation sets in? Will it be a few months or will it still be here next year and is the time coming when we just have to get back to business as usual and those who are most vulnerable and get sick become collateral damage and that’s sad if it comes to that-- but the sick may have to take one for the Gipper, because there is no other way. This thing is bigger than all of us right now.

Always in the past this country has found a way. I hope that is our mantra. I hope that at some point politics becomes a moot point. That we will find ways to help each other beyond banging pots and pans out the windows or Navy jets flying salutes overhead and someday when this is all over, we’ll have that more perfect union our forefathers talked about back when this country started and one that we could have had a long time ago but we got off track. It’s going to take some humble pie, far less greed, hate and selfishness and a whole new attitude from a lot of people. Let’s hope and pray for change. 


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

WAKE UP AMERICA


I had a conversation the other day with a friend about how the Corona-Virus was able to get so far out of control in this country before we got serious about doing something about it. We talked about South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and a few other countries that were able to keep it under control and how our response seemed to differ from theirs. Now for sure, the initial response from our leaders had a lot to do with it. From our president calling it a hoax-- something he doesn’t mention any more-- to the typical attitude of our government to be reactive instead of proactive on most problems our country faces. One only needs to Look at our neglected infrastructure for an example. But the most serious thing that seems to impede any logical response to this problem—and a lot of other problems in our country-- there is little discipline in this country for some people to follow the rules we have put in place and not much response from the law to enforce them. It seems it’s almost admirable nowadays to be a rebel. Those countries I did talk about-- that had good success in stopping this pandemic. They have no time for rebels in their society. Laws and rules without any enforcement, are simply advice and here they are treated as such.

When I was a young lad my father told me, it would be a good experience to go in the military. “At least you would learn about discipline” he said, “and from someone besides your parents.” I chose the fire service instead but actually they had that same militaristic approach. Not always popular with everyone, but basically things ran smoothly. Our original constitution was the foundation for a good government. A fair way to run the country and please most of the people. We then over the decades instead of improving on it, litigated it to pieces trying to please everyone who screamed about their rights. Rights that were never meant to be. 

The new norm in politics and politicking at election time, is not to talk about any achievements you might have had, although they are rare today, but instead to chastise your opponent by digging into his or her past and finding any kind of dirt you can, relevant or not. In effect you want to try and make yourself look good by making someone else look bad. How’s that for a prerequisite for an elected office. Really helps us as voters to understand how you as a candidate, are going to help this country doesn’t it?

Someday when the history of our country is written and the story is over, somebody will be able to look back and see what it was that destroyed this great country. At the end of World War II, we were the epitome of what sacrifice and freedom was all about. We had literally saved the world from the oppression of a few bad leaders. The country had come together in a way that had never been seen before. The sacrifices they made were great, and pride ruled the day, not wining and dis- ingenious political rhetoric. This Memorial Day we will once again honor those who sacrificed so much. There will be a lot of politicians out there making speeches on that day and a lot of them should have to ask themselves publicly, was I worth that sacrifice? I used to go to a lot of cowboy movies when I was a kid, and in the end the good guys always won. It’s not been a good time for the good guys anymore. I used to put a lot of faith in the good guys but somehow today---my faith in this government has been shattered. 



Monday, May 4, 2020

IT;S LIKE A WAR.

                                                         

A while back the President compared our current situation with the pandemic to being at war. I felt at the time he was being a little overly dramatic but then again, maybe he has something there. I have often wondered what it was like in world war II, in London or the German cities, to be a civilian and hear the siren’s going off and wondering if this was the night a bomb found your house with you inside of it. You would hear the concussions all around you and wonder when your number was going to be up. On the upside you would never know what hit you but then maybe it would be a dud and you would just have to patch the hole in the roof.

Today in the midst of this pandemic we sit home trying to stay as far away as we can from everyone. But once or twice a week we sneak out to get some essentials and wonder if this is the day, you pick the loaf of bread that someone sneezed on. If that door handle to the grocery store was dripping with the virus or if when you punched accept on the key pad at the gas pump, there was a COVID- 19 germ just sitting there, waiting to go home with you. You ask yourself did I have my mask on properly?  So many questions for sure.

This weekend I’m going to see my family at my son’s house in the cities. I haven’t seen any of them since last October when I headed down south for the winter. There is a new baby now 2 months old I have never held. Three other great grandkids, now toddlers and moms and dads, my grandkids. But you can only stay away so long. There is no upside here if I get infected. Maybe weeks in the hospital and maybe just the sniffles. And maybe it’s the last chapter but not the way I dreamed about it. Alone.  All in all, it’s up to me to try and protect myself.

I’m not trying to make light of our situation. Too any people have been hurt already for that. Too many still left to be hurt. Food lines like we have never seen before. The richest country in the world and thousands of people going hungry. Yet farmers are euthanizing their livestock, plowing under their crops and dumping their milk, because there is no way to get them, to market. It seems like a bad dream. People are angry, revolting against the authorities, yet not many answers are forth coming. They say it will get worse before it gets better. That It’s not going away anytime soon. What’s going to happen when real desperation sets in? Will it be a few months or will it still be here next year and is the time coming when we just have to get back to business as usual and those who are most vulnerable and get sick become collateral damage and that’s sad if it comes to that-- but the sick may have to take one for the Gipper, because there is no other way. This thing is bigger than all of us right now.

Always in the past this country has found a way. I hope that is our mantra. I hope that at some point politics becomes a moot point. That we will find ways to help each other beyond banging pots and pans out the windows or Navy jets flying salutes overhead and someday when this is all over, we’ll have that more perfect union our forefathers talked about back when this country started and one that we could have had a long time ago but we got off track. It’s going to take some humble pie, far less greed, hate and selfishness and a whole new attitude from a lot of people. Let’s hope and pray for change. 


Monday, April 27, 2020

STAPLES

                                                          
                                                
Someone started a face book memory trail of all of the graduates of Staples high School, of which I was one. It’s been so much fun to see the pictures and hear the stories. It’s Ironic that the very school I couldn’t wait to get out of, and the very town I wanted to leave in the rear-view mirror way back then, brings back such precious memories.

I did leave town, not because I wanted too so much, but more because Staples at that time had little opportunity for employment. The railroad was moving out and it wasn’t until a few years later that some other small companies started up in town. I guess I always envied the ones who did make it work in Staples although I had a good life where I did go. But always my thoughts and roots went back to Staples. I think this is inherent to people and where they grow up. “You can take the boy from the country but you can’t take the country from the boy.” Right. 

Call me crazy but somehow, I liked the smell of creosote from the railroad ties. It was later in life that I connected the dots and realized it wasn’t those wooden tie’s I smelled but the scent of my dad’s overhauls from working long hard days in the car shops. In 1959, the year I left there was a siding full of old steam engines relegated to the scrap yard. I remember going over there one night, when I knew my days in Staples were numbered and sitting in one of those big steam engines with my arm out the window, looking down the track like those engineers did as they traveled across the prairie for decades. At the time those engines too were leaving Staples forever and it was so sad. I can still hear those steam whistles when I close my eyes and see the smoke from their stacks. I remember pressing my ear to the track and feeling the vibrations of those huge steel wheels on those endless ribbons of steel track, even though the train was still out of sight. I made one last trip that spring of 59 to the round house where it was always warm on a cold winter night. Saw those behemoth beasts of burden sitting in their stalls warming up for the last time. I climbed the coal docks where you could see over the whole town and sat once more on the polished benches in the depot and thought of all of the trains and people that had stopped over the years. All while listening to the clicking of the telegraph operator.

I have traveled this life’s journey for the better part of eight decades. Lived in numerous towns, and in more than one state. Raised a family with my wife. Had grandkids and great grandkids. Had a career and retired and became a writer. But it seems to me if you could magickly convert memories into something tangible and put them in a box, my Staples box would be the fullest. They are my oldest memories, yet some of the most memorable.

Today we are in the middle of something that could have only been dreamed about back in 1959. Our world is going to change in ways we never thought possible. Hopefully for the better but there are so many unknowns and it is scary. I am thankful for the life I have had and I am thankful it started where it did. “In a lonely shack by the railroad track,” if I can paraphrase from an old song by Gogi Grant.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW


So today it’s been one month since Pat and I came home from Arizona and went into hiding, sequestered in our own homes. Oh, we’re cheated a few times and met to take our dogs for a walk, or made a grocery run but for the most part we have obeyed the rules. They say absence makes the heart grow founder and I wait for the day when I can be with my family again. I wait for the day Pat and I can walk hand in hand and say our goodbyes with a hug and a kiss not an elbow bump.

I celebrated my 79th birthday this year and one of my goals was to enjoy this last year in my seventies as a young seventy some-year-old, because looking ahead, at least for me, eighty is a whole new ball game. Then I fell and broke my hip and now my knee on the same leg is failing me, so what was physically normal for me has changed significantly. This with other health problems has dampened my spirits and put things into a whole new perspective. I used to see tomorrows as just a long line of now’s, as it seemed to me that the days flowed unimpeded, one into the other. Now, and here today, I find myself in a reversal, hoping tomorrow will be better than yesterday.

As an author I know how important it is to end your story with a proper finish. It’s usually at a point in your writing when there is no more story to tell. So many times, when I was writing my stories, I didn’t want them to end. Ending them was ending my characters and I felt they had much more to offer than I had put down on paper and I guess maybe that’s where I am now. There is more story in my life to be wrote, I just need to be patient and wait for it.

The New Christie Minstrels, a group in the sixties sang these lyrics from their song, “Today,” 
“I can’t be contented with yesterday’s glories; I can’t live on promises winter to spring. Today is my moment, and now is my story, I’ll laugh and I’ll dance and I’ll sing.” They didn’t live in the past and they didn’t beg for the future they just wanted the here and now. While we are quoting musical lyrics, Merle Haggard sang, “Lord for my sake, teach me to take one day at a time.” Yes, in these days of uncertainty we need to celebrate our yesterdays and never let them die, hope for our tomorrows with all of our hearts but live for today. That being said, now we need to take Merle’s advice and take, one day at a time.

As I lament in my self-imposed exile, feeling sorry for myself, my thoughts go back to my father-in-law who left his family to go fight for his country in World War II. He left behind a toddler son and a pregnant wife. When he finally got home his new born daughter was two and a half years old and his son was five. Think about your children and think about the first two and a half years of their lives and the memories you have of their birth, their first step, their first word, Their baptism and that first birthday party. The day you took the training wheels of your sons’ bike and the day you taught him how to throw a baseball. Then there was the two and a half years his wife had to go it alone, not knowing from one day to the next if he would come back alive or not. Crying in her pillow, in a half empty bed for the man she loved. Yes. My father-in-law missed all of that. It puts our plight right now into perspective doesn’t it.






Monday, April 13, 2020

AN EASTER STORY

                                                            A STORY FOR EASTER

Foreword. I wrote this for Easter but Easter has passed. Thought you would enjoy it anyway.

A few years back, on a trip to Rome with our parish Priest I had the privilege to visit many of the great cathedrals of Rome. As I stood in one of the immense doorways of St Peters Basilica, my breath was taken away, by not only the beauty of that place but the immense size of it. It is a memory that I visit quietly and often in my daily musings. Many of the world’s other great Cathedrals or Basilicas would actually fit inside of it. Many of the princes of the church are interred there, including St Peter himself. It is the heart of the Vatican. It is part of a vast complex of buildings including the Sistine chapel where the great Michelangelo showcased his artistic and architectural skills. In front of it is a vast public square with fountains and obelisks that showcase’s its beauty. It has existed since the sixteenth century and Catholic or not it is something you will never forget.

On the other side of the world back in Minnesota, there was a highway I used to travel in my many trips from my home town to the cities and off to the side of the road you could see a small white country church. It wasn’t made of granite blocks and it wasn’t set in a public square but rather a simple gravel parking lot. It was made of wood frame and white clapboard siding and a few small stain glassed windows. Two simple wooden doors at the top of about five wooden steps led to the inside. On one side of the church was a belfry with a steeple and although I never heard the bells ring, I can hear them in my mind, calling the faithful from the surrounding countryside to worship. Behind the church on a gentle hillside was the final resting place of the hard-working faithful that went there to refresh their faith and their souls. They now lay there in silent repose. I doubt the church is over a hundred years old and I doubt those who designed it and built it, will ever be remembered by more than a few, except their lord.

Two totally different places but yet both built to serve the same purpose. A place to worship our lord. One immense and majestic, the other simple and humble like. The prayers that were uttered in one of them were just as important in the eyes of the lord, as the other. There is something to be said for the magnificence of St Peters Basilica in all of its splendor, but the humbleness and the serenity of that little wooden church seems at times to me at least, to be more in tune with what Jesus asked of all of us. I am sure the lord hears all of the prayers of the faithful, wherever they come from. I make these comparisons, not to extoll one or the other but to showcase them both for what they are. Gods houses.

Its Easter Sunday and both of these places will be eerily quiet this year. Shuttered by a sickness that threatens our very way of life. No bells, no crowds in the square and no cars in the parking lot. We are left, each to our own, to celebrate the resurrection of our lord in our own humble way. They can’t take that away from us.

Happy Easter everybody and may God bless

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

LONELINESS



Many years ago, on a Christmas Eve, I went to the care center where my father in law was being cared for to pick him up and take him to our house for the holiday. As I wheeled him through the hallways to the entrance, I passed many other residents that weren’t going anywhere for Christmas. They had no place to go, no one to share Christmas with. I tried not to look at their sad faces, and muttered some halfhearted “Merry Christmas” to some of them. Selfishly I just wanted to get out of there.

I have written before about loneliness and not just with the elderly or shut-ins. I have tried to imagine what It must be like to not be needed anymore. This past week I have been home trying to keep my distance from everyone as this virus rages around our country. But in essence, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to true loneliness. I have at my disposal phones and computers. Televisions and music players. Book cases full of books and the daily newspaper. Yet I’m lonely.

There is no substitute for human interaction. All those lonely old people, in that rest home so many years ago, wanted nothing more from me then just too sit down and listen to them. A handshake, a hug, share a cup of coffee and just not be ignored. There is nothing that rips at the very essence of my being, more than being isolated from those I Love. Yet for me and most of us there is hope that this thing will run its course and we will once again find that happiness that we can only find in each other, face to face. Maybe this will help us appreciate it-- the way we should have.

We all need to be needed and not just during the most productive parts of our lives but for the rest of our lives. What greater education is there then the wisdom that comes from living a life well served. No one throws a switch and you become stupid when you retire from active life. Yet its hard to be relevant, even when the advice you give is free for the taking. I was blessed with a wonderful grandfather who gave me advice that still lives with me today. I stood with my father in front of his open casket when he passed and Dad said. “I wish I was half the man he was.” Not to sell dad short, he too was a good dad but he was right about grandpa. He’s been gone for fifty some years but his wisdom still resonates with me today. He told me “It’s not so much what you accomplish in life that defines you. It’s what you become along the way.” I am sure there is some of my grandparents in all of those who have lived life well.

Over the years I was blessed to have so many friends in our coffee group. The group is largely gone now. Old age is the poster child for attrition. All of them were special in their own way but some of them just seemed to have lived such interesting lives you could listen to them for hours. My friend Gordy was one of them. He was fifteen years older than me so he had a fifteen-year head start when it came to storytelling. I never tired of listening to Gordy and when he died part of the heart of that group died with him. Somethings are hard to replace. At his funeral there wasn’t an empty seat. I am sure God was saying well done my good and faithful servant. I know it was what I was thinking.  


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

MUSIC

                                                           

I once saw the results of a poll that had been taken, as to which song was the most popular song, ever sung and recorded in America. The result was Judy Garlands signature song “Over the Rainbow.” As a kid growing up in the fifties, I remember my mother singing that song as she went about her daily chores. I went and watched the movie “Judy,” a while back and it took me back down that yellow brick road and back to that song.

Music is so subjective and we all have our favorites and we all have opinions as to what we like and dislike. I think I loved, “Over the Rainbow,” because the lyrics tell us a story of hope for a better world in a better time and what a ‘Beautiful world’ we live in. In fact, Louie Armstrong sang about that very thing. But In a world of have’s and have nots, hope is all some people have left and here is someone singing about it and in words you can readily understand.

As the years have gone by my music tastes have changed too but there is a point when I can no longer buy into what some call music today. I watched the super bowl half time show and as much as the choreography and dancing was good , the music was hard to judge because I understood little of what was sung. It was more noise then anything. I have gone to dances where the music literally drove me out with its loudness. Where the dancing seemed to be more reminiscent of people in trances. Where you no longer touch your partner, or hold them or talk to them, you just try to avoid some catastrophic collision that would leave you both on the floor.

Enough about that. Sometimes when I am troubled, I ask Alexa to play music from my era and it always cheers me up and sometimes tears me up. For so many of the songs bring back a memory, that was at least for me, from a different time and what I would call a better place. They will be singing “Somewhere over the rainbow” a hundred years from now. Much of today’s music will be forgotten. There are impersonators who are very popular, singing songs from the last half of the last century. I have resisted most of the urgings to get with it and try to find the good in todays music. Maybe I’m stubborn and maybe I’m spoiled and maybe I just know good music when I hear it.

When I was in my thirties and forties my wife and I would go to dances a lot. We too had pressures and a lot of worries and stress in our lives and at least for a few hours we needed to go and get away from it all.  It was the music that was the elixir and when the night was over, we rode home, her snuggled under my arm, just as we did a decade before when we were courting. It was a booster shot from the daily grind and it did us wonders.

I am probably in the last decade of my life but I’m at peace with that. It’s been a wonderful life and so much has happened that made me proud and happy. But when it’s all over, somewhere in that list of credits that will play at the end, will be the music that made me so happy and continues to warm my heart and soul. The pictures of all of those memories that develop in my mind when the music returns, could not be any clearer if they were in 5g and high definition. No, as Nat King Cole sang--- they are just “Unforgettable.”



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A MEMORY FROM THE PAST

                                                        

Many years ago, and shortly after I was married, my wife asked me to take her to her Grandmas place for a visit. So, we made the long trip from the big city to a little town in south western Minnesota called Bellingham. A hamlet of maybe 500 people. Then out of town we traveled on a dusty country road until we came to a one lane road that led to a little shack, right next to a corn field. The road was muddy and rutted, so not wanting to get the car stuck we parked the car and walked up the road towards the house. The old lady had no idea we were coming and she had no phone to call her, so as my wife put it, “It was going to be a surprise.”  I asked her, “What if she isn’t home?” her answer was, “She’s always home.” She has no other place to go. 

As we got closer to the house the back-screen door opened and out came this diminutive little woman, arms wide open walking towards us dressed like a refugee from Europe in 1930. At the time I couldn’t help but think she reminded me so much of Mother Theresa the way she looked. A white apron wrapped around her tiny body and on her head was this babushka that contained most of her silver hair inside. But it was her face that I couldn’t help staring at. It was as wrinkled as skin could be and deep set in her face were the brightest blue eyes I had ever saw. She sported a toothless smile that went from ear to ear and she kept saying over and over. “Gott im Himmel, Gott im Himmel. Schau wer hier ist.” For those who don’t know German. Loosely translated she was saying “God in heaven. Look who’s here.”

She invited us into her one room house and gave us each a half a glass of warm beer and some bread she had baked. What I have a rough time putting into words, is how happy, how absolute giddy she was to see her granddaughter. I had come there that day only to make my wife happy. I could have listed a hundred things I would have rather been doing that day but I am here to tell you today. Had I done something else that I would have no memory of today, I would have lost a beautiful moment. But here I am 55 years later and that memory of that old lady lives on in my mind as if it was yesterday. I have since met politicians in high office, C.E.O.’s of large companies, celebrated sports figures and famous people from many walks of life. None of them ever stuck in my memory like this poor, almost destitute, old German Immigrant lady who just happened to be my wife’s grandma. And now, I ask myself why?

My only explanation is I was so touched by the love this old lady showed us. She had nothing of value but a decrepit shack on the prairie and lived in squalor, but the love she had for her granddaughter and the happiness it had brought her that day, It was simply love personified. It was so beautiful and so simple that even reduced to the lowest common denominator of a tearful hug on a muddy farm road, it defied words.There is something to be said about human emotions, that bring out happiness that all the money in the world cannot buy.

We never saw her again. A year later she died and we never found out until she was gone and buried. Gone but never forgotten.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A SAD FAREWELL

                                                           

Today as we leave Arizona for the summer, and to our home in the north it is with so many mixed emotions. We are in the troughs of the corona virus and no we are not leaving to hide from it, as it seems to be everywhere. We are going to where we are more comfortable with the medical community and family, if it should come to that. Each fall when we return to Arizona, we learn of people who have are no longer with us. It’s are hope, our prayer that this year, the virus will not be a part of that for those who stay here or for us who leave.

I once read a book by Steven King where a global pandemic was ravaging the world and people were wondering if this was the end of humanity. Now this is nowhere that serious but I caught my mind, drawing parallels between that story and current events. One wonders if the time will come when something far more serious than the Corona Virus will break out. Our country seems to have been complacent when it comes to being ready for things like this.

As a young boy I grew up during a polio epidemic. I had classmates who contracted the disease and I remember one of them dying from it. Others wearing steel braces on their legs and pictures of kids in iron lungs. I wasn’t overly worried about contracting it, because I was a kid and I left my worries at the kitchen door each morning when I went to school. Each day was a new adventure for me. There was no television or media to stoke our fears. What we knew was what our parents told us, or we witnessed with our own eyes. Then they found a vaccine.

Then we have the direct opposite from this country, in other places where the borders are closed and the media is largely absent. I thought the other day what if this virus gets into North Korea or sub Africa. Countries that have little ways to take care of the masses and it sometimes seems, have little empathy to go along with it. Places that struggle to feed their people, let along take care of the medical needs of their citizens. It could be happening as we speak because we will never know about it. What about the homeless people in this nation grouped together in makeshift shelters? As we leave, in the home behind us, lives an elderly couple that needed to be in assisted living a long time ago. He’s 93 and basically bed ridden and she is 89 and has cancer. For all practical purposes they are helpless. They need to sell their home and go into a care facility. We talked with her the other day and she says she can’t do that because she can’t part with her stuff. Their middle age kids don’t seem to care or live too far away to help. Hopefully social services will get involved and force their hand. I can’t imagine the sense of hopelessness that must exist inside that house.

So, for Pat and I, we will return to Minnesota and try to stay as cloistered as we can and minimize the risk as best we know how. I hope the leadership in this country can calm things down. Life will go on and hopefully we will have a nice summer and be able to go back to Arizona in the winter safe and well.


LOOKING FOR PEACE

                                             
I’m a restless soul and I have spent most of my life looking for peace. For the most part I have found it in my life but it’s not my life I now worry about. It’s those of my friends and family that are left to live out their lives in this chaotic world. To those of you with a way to the Internet I ask you to look up the late Paul Harvey’s recitation of, “If I were the Devil” on U tube. He did this in 1965 and you would be amazed at how prophetic this piece was and is today. Was Paul some kind of a clairvoyant? No, I believe he was a very smart man. But what he talks about here. Well the handwriting has been on the wall for a long, long time. Here is most of the text.

If I were the devil
If I were the Price of Darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in Darkness.
I would have a third of its real estate and four fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree. 
So, I should set about however necessary to take over the United States.
I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.”
To the young I would whisper, “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “Man created God,” instead of the other way around. I would confine that “what is bad is good and what is good is square.”
In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution then not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct.
And the old I would preach to pray—to say after me—Our father, which are in Washington.
Then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull uninteresting.
I‘d threaten T.V. with dirtier movies and vice versa.
I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing, less work. Idle hands usually work for me.
I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild.
I’d designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts and I’d get preachers to say she’s right. 
With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography.
Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science.
If I were Satin, I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and Christmas a bottle.
If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. Then my police state would force everybody back to work.
I were satin I’d just keep doing what I am doing and let the whole world go to hell as sure as the devil 

Saturday, March 7, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED TO US?

                                                

I have often wondered what this world would be like if we went back to the way it was in 1941.Why is 1941 significant? If for no other reason, it was the year I was born. Come back and imagine if you would, one black telephone in each house and you had to tell the operator the number of whom you were calling and she made the connection for you. Most homes were without a television set. Milk trucks coming to your house to deliver milk each morning. No microwave ovens and lots of people still heating their homes with fuel oil or coal, or as my father did, burning wood he cut the fall before. If it snowed you cleared the drive with a shovel and most lawn mowers had only push power to turn the blades. Some people still had a refrigerator that kept food cold by evaporating a block of ice delivered by the local ice man.

There were rural homes that still didn’t have electricity. They pumped their water with a hand pump and they milked the cows by hand. Many still used horses or mules. Tractors were a luxury. Cars were basic; an engine, a transmission you shifted by hand using a clutch and brakes, you practically had to stand on to stop. If you wanted music you sang as there was no radio. You pulled out the choke to get it started and, in the winter, when it was very cold, well you didn’t even try. The heater was a little box with a door you opened that fried your feet.

There were no fitness clubs just surviving kept you fit. No Mc Donald’s or Burger king or Dairy Queen. No drive up for anything. Stores were open 8 to 5 except Friday nights they stayed open late for the farmers. Everything was closed on Sunday. Most people went to church on Sunday and families spent a lot more time together. What else didn’t they have? Drug problems, mass shootings and a lot of less divorces. It wasn’t perfect; there were people who would still rob the bank and alcoholism was a problem, then like it is now but there was a whole lot more respect for the law. You didn’t buy your way out of trouble very often. Could we live like that again? Maybe people over sixty might be able too.

Change is inevitable and just for the comfort factor, a lot of this change was for good. But sometimes we throw the good out with the bad. Lawyers and judges have litigated the rules we lived by to make them worthless. We have such a drug problem we are choosing which ones to make legal because we can’t just keep locking people up. Morals went out the window a long time ago and if it feels good, it has to be good, by today’s standards. We fill the airwaves and the internet with filth and sex and then wonder were all the perverted behavior comes from. We quit caring about each other and now we advocate that the government needs to do that for us. The schools need to make our kids into good people and feed them and make sure they get proper medical care because we are way too busy for that.

Medically, we made some great advances and people that can afford the care are living longer. Those who can’t, can only hope that someday they will be able too. It seems ironic that some people can’t afford, or get their insurance to cover their insulin but others are only complaining about why their insurance won’t cover their Botox treatments. I have lived from one end of this era to the other and I thank the good lord for letting me be born during this time. If nothing else it taught me right from wrong. May God bless America. I can still say that right? 

  

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

MY RIGHTS

                                                         

Four years ago, I purchased a small winter home in Arizona. It had become apparent that I needed to find a warmer place in the winter to take care of my health. So, each late fall, Pat and I take the long trip down and make the return trip back to Minnesota in the spring. I feel blessed that we are able to do this. But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about.

My home is in a small-gated community and to live there you have to join and live by the rules of the association that governs the community. They tell you what color you can paint your house and when it needs to be painted. They ask that your car stay in the garage and every one has to maintain an outside light on the front of your house that comes on at dusk and shuts off a dawn. There are many other rules, but basically its order and uniformity that they are striving to maintain. They know that without the rules someone would paint his house purple, the garages would fill with clutter and driveways would become parking places for old abandoned vehicles.
In the three years that I have lived there I have heard very little complaints about this tight-fisted approach to keep the place looking nice. Most of us are seniors and long past the age of doing the Jones’s one better. We just want to live peacefully and quietly with each other. There was time in our lives when the word “no” crept into too many of the things we said and did. Now we accept it.

I have in the past lived where people had a complete disregard for their property and how it infringes on the neighborhood. They become defiant if they were asked by neighbors or local authorities to get with the game, and take care of their place. “My property and my rules they would scream” and “if you don’t like it move. I have my rights.”

When the constitution was written it was stated that we all had certain unalienable rights. In other words, there were certain things under the constitution that no one could take away from you. They even gave us examples of it. Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and back then you knew what that meant but in today’s litigious society that has come to mean almost anything. No one has the right to tell you no.

So many times, I have heard about young men and women who were living their lives somewhat out of control who joined the military service. It seemed to be the one place where someone else had complete control over your actions. A place where you couldn’t question authority or sue them. You did what you were told. This militaristic way of running a business was necessary to keep law and order and a well-oiled machine that has to be on the top of its game if we are going to survive. But beyond the ranks and out in the real world this kind of order does not exist in many places and everybody, right or wrong has their rights. The courts are full of examples. It’s this breakdown of society’s etiquette that will doom this society, not make it better.

MEA CULPA

                                                            

“When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Those words from the bible sometimes give me great pause, for now as an old man I realize that during those care free days of my childhood I sometimes was given a free pass from the realities and complexities of life. But then with adulthood, came responsibilities and with responsibilities came problems and then--- no Mom and Dad. The problems were mine to solve.

 As a child my world was like the old adage of, “Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” Often times it was only what I dreamed it up to be. I went to church with my parents and they taught me to love one another. To not steal or lie or speak ill of others. I Had no biases no preconceived convictions. I did what my parents asked me to do. Then as the years went by, I found that the world my parents brought me up to live in, didn’t really exist anymore and if I wanted to conform, I needed to get with the game. My days of innocence were over. But were they or was I looking for the easy way out?

I look around me today at the world that exists and it bears no resemblance to my world as a child. But be that as it may be, because my days in it are waning. So, this isn’t really about me is it? No, but it is about the family I will be leaving behind. I could list all of the things that have the propensity to change this country as we once knew it and what we seem to be doing to it, but it would be a long list and no one is really interested. If they were, I wouldn’t be writing this would I?

As I dig deeper into the “Who’s” and ‘Why’s” of all this happening, I keep coming back to 
one thing. That these people I am so concerned about having to live in this mess-- that 
seems to have been created in this world, had little to do with why we are, where we are 
today. That somewhere some form of personal responsibility has to be taken by my 
generation because we allowed it to happen. It is my hope, my prayer, that today’s 
generation will look back and say. You know what? They did have a better way of doing 
things on some of this and yes, they were asleep at the switch sometimes but now---well it’s 
up to us to fix this.

This is my way of taking some personal responsibility and it’s called contrition. It’s that same 
responsibility I talked about at the start of this, that came from leaving my childhood and
becoming an adult. I have always believed that much of the trouble today was never so 
much about our children failing us, as us failing our children. I want my sons and daughters 
to be better than I was and theirs to be better than they were. That’s the only way progress 
can be made. There are those from my generation that will say, “I have done nothing 
wrong.”I say come on. Look around you.

A new year is upon us and with it, is a perfect time to make some changes. Let’s make this 
good world for all of us but especially for the ones that will inherit it.

            .


Thursday, February 20, 2020

EVERYONE NEEDS A CHEERLEADER



I read often about the troubles the county is having with the growing numbers of children that are being placed in foster homes. Here at a time when these kids need nurturing the most, they are being abandoned. At a time when they are most vulnerable to outside influences that could take them down the wrong path to life altering experiences, the very people that created them are failing them. It shows the power that drugs, alcohol and outside influences can have over our lives. I look into the eyes of the innocents and I say to myself; how can this be? To be fair there are cases where illness and situations beyond their control have caused parents to give up their kids but that is the exception and it makes up just a small percentage of the cases. 

I grew up in a family that paid scant attention to each other. With eight kids it sometimes seemed there were many more things going on, than there was time to pay attention too, so why bother. My parents’ days were filled with their time spent just providing food and shelter and the necessities of life. If they had a goal in life it was, “Get these kids raised up and out the door. “Yet they did persevere. My father asked me to move out and make my own way the day I graduated from high school. My grandfather who was always my ‘go to guy’, Listened as I told him I thought dad was being mean. My grandfather then told me, “If he didn’t believe you were ready for this, your dad wouldn’t have said that. Now go show us what you got and know your dad is watching you. Were all watching you and cheering you on.”

I think for all of us as parents, seeing our kids off to a good start in life is our ultimate goal, the difference being though, that we need to enjoy the trip with them and the word I am looking for is--- encouragement. We all have our good days and bad days. A little praise on the good days and a little support on the bad days can go a long way to building that confidence a kid can need. If you have ever gone to a sporting event you have noticed the enthusiasm that comes from a crowd that is in support of their teams’ efforts. I am sure most people would agree that this has the power to turn that score into their favor many times. It is true in life also.

However, we seem to have become parents, we took on the job of being there for our kids as part of the deal. It isn’t a choice, its a prerequisite. It’s a contract that says. “You gave them life, now help them live it. Every step of the way.”

To those who are struggling with addictions and other things that are getting in the way with raising your kids. You need to ask yourself. Is where I am right now, where I want my kids to be when they are my age? Or is this where we break this chain and do what is right for them? Look into the eyes of your kids. All they are asking for is a chance to show the whole world they too have something to offer. You and them only get one chance at this and when that boy or girl becomes something to be proud of later in life, you can stand right there beside them and hold your head high because you made some tough choices but the right choices and the whole world will benefit from it, not just your kids. Those kids need their parents and guardians everyday of their lives and the world needs you to be there for them.