Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HELLO WALLS

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

MY PEAK

                                                         

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

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

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

                                                            
































Wednesday, May 3, 2017

BABIES

                                                                    

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

EASTER

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

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

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

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







Wednesday, April 19, 2017

GRUDGES

                                                         

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, April 14, 2017

TRUE LOVE OF SELF AND COUNTRY



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

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

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


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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

HI TOM

                                                         

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

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

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


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

Monday, March 27, 2017

MY WAY

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

THE SOUNDS OF LIFE AS WRITTEN IN THE FALL OF 2016

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

CHANGE IN FAMILY VALUES

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

RACE PROBLEMS

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

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

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


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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

CONCERT

                                                

Last night Pat and I went to a Fleetwood Mack concert down here in the retirement community we live in. It was quite a different experience because we do go to concerts back in Minnesota too but keep in mind back there, some people under age sixty-five attend too. I was drawn back to a concert fifty years ago that I attended in the twin cities when I was in my forties. I went home practically stoned because of the pot smoke cloud I was enveloped in and I wasn’t even a willing participant but I did enjoy the singing. The odor at the concert last night was far more subtle, being somewhere in between ‘Evening in Paris’ and ‘Ben Gay.’

For a time last night everybody just sat and enjoyed the band but then came a moment when we were all asked to standup and get with it, meaning the music. Now I remember a time when dancing was when you held your significant other and you tried to move with the music.  What was happening last night was more like---well let me put it this way. If you went out on the street and gyrated like that, I am sure someone would intervene and you would probably end up sitting on a couch someplace, talking to some bespectacled therapist with a clipboard in a white coat. At least anyway after all the usual physical ailments that could cause such jerking and twitching had been ruled out. Due to a sore back lately I could only do something that looked like I was thumbing a ride.

Music has changed dramatically over the ages and I’m not sure what really is music anymore. I used to like holding her, her head on my shoulder as we floated around the floor, she felt so good and smelled so nice. We could actually talk to each other in a normal voice. We could understand the words and hum along. Now in between the vocal outbursts and deep knee bends, pelvic thrusts and back bends the musicians do, they’re simultaneously physically assaulting a steel guitar or a set of drums. I do think they are more athletes then musicians and I applaud them for their dexterity and multi tasking.


Now to be fair there are people who can really sing, that still do sing and that is my cup of tea. People like Carrie Underwood and Josh Groban.  For me to pretend that I enjoy this other metallic mayhem that some people enjoy, would be disingenuous so I’m not going to go there. However I will state, that if some people do enjoy this, them more power to them and I believe that if you look hard enough you will find an amendment to the constitution that says to people like me, “butt out and go find something else to do”. Like writing an essay about how terrible our music is. I have tried hard during my life to listen to different forms of music saying maybe I would develop a taste for something other than the country western singers. True I did lose my wife, had a dog and a pickup truck, so I did once fit the mold. I tried once to listen to classical music like Mozart and Beethoven. I even bought some tapes but then one day on a long motor trip I feel asleep somewhere in Mozart’s sonata number 12 and ran of the road and hit a haystack so due to concerns for my well being, I quit that kick. Guess I’ll just watch for a while.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

GOING WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE

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

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

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



Monday, February 13, 2017

A DAY IN THE SOUTHWEST

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, February 10, 2017

LAUGHTER

                                                          

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

WINTER THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

TIPS FOR TAKING A TRIP



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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, January 15, 2017

A DEFEATED MINNESOTA MAN

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

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

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

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