Thursday, August 25, 2016

REFLECTIONS FROM THE FAIR

                                                
Last week, Pat and I went to the Crow Wing County fair, as we have done many times in years past. Not a lot changes at the fair from year to year but you know what? Not a lot has to change because it’s still enjoyable. We had heard about the storm the night before and the damage it had done but you had to look hard to find any ill effects. So many people had worked hard to put things back in order, when it would have been so easy to quit because they knew the show had to go on.

It was fun for me to once more walk through the livestock barns and see all of the critters; I remembered so well as a kid but had lost touch with after so many years of city living. To see the old tractors and think how hard people worked back in those days when luxury on your tractor, was some foam rubber to sit on and not air conditioning, G.P.S. guidance systems and satellite radios. We sat on a wooden bench and listened to the music for a while. Old country tunes that have worn a notch in the airwaves but you never seem to tire of them. We ate roast beef brisket and rich ice cream and damn the calories because just for tonight-- no one was counting.

I saw some smiling kids on the pony rides and I remembered a time and a place when my three little kids did the same. Then I saw a tired mom who was trying to keep two kids and a baby happy, short on cash and energy and I wanted to say to her,”Hey let me buy them kids some ice cream and some ride tickets,” but I knew that in today’s society that’s a no, no. I think my empathy had been triggered by a long suppressed memory of a time in 1947 when our Mom, my kid brother, and I and our baby brother in a buggy had walked to a carnival on the outskirts of town. I remembered watching all the kids my age on the rides, squealing and laughing and having a great time. I remembered watching older people work the digger machines trying to get that elusive gold watch. I saw them throwing the rings around the pop bottles trying to win a stuffed animal. But we, as a family, could only watch because we had no money. Then on the way out we passed a cotton candy machine and for a moment we stopped and watched the man spinning the cotton around those pieces of cardboard. Then somebody saw us and gave mom a couple of coins and she bought two of them for my brother and I. On the way home mom tripped on a broken sidewalk and fell cutting both of her knees. She was bleeding and crying and we all cried because our mom was hurt but I know today, she cried mostly because we were so poor and she had wanted so badly to do more for us.


I think often about the things that were so instrumental in my life, growing up from those humble beginnings. Things that still set the standard for me today. You see those things that were so important back then, for building character and being a good person, are still important today. We haven’t found any shortcuts in life to accomplish this any better or faster. No magic potions, nothing you can download or upload or buy at the store of good intentions. It’s always been there in the hearts of people, just like the man giving mom those nickels. Love and caring is like taking a shoot from a plant and starting your own plant. All it needs is a place to grow.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

MY AUGUST LAMENT

                                               

Today I turned the calendar over, to the month of August and in some ways it felt like the last dance. Summer in Crosslake is mostly measured in three short months and August for many is the last hurrah. County fairs, ripening crops and kids trying to pack all the fun they can, into the last dog days of summer before they turn their attention back to school. Sometime soon the leaves will loose their green luster, wilt around the edges and drop. Those humming birds that drained my sugar canister this summer, will head south once more where the flowers are still blooming. Morning sunsets will now come later and evening sunsets earlier. The garden will be littered with rotting vegetables that didn’t make the cut and the apple trees, burdened down with their crop, will beg to be picked.

For me it will be remembered as the summer my loving friend and I stood on a deck at McKinley Lodge in Alaska, like kids waiting for Santa and waited patiently for the clouds to part, so we could see Denali. She knew my love for that Mountain and wanted so badly for me to see it but it was also the day when I realized in my heart that seeing the mountain would have been nice, but being there with her was the most important thing to me. It was another summer of reunions, pontoon rides, fishing and picnics. Concerts in the park, sail boating on Lake Michigan and evenings that we just sat with a gin & tonic and didn’t say anything because the evenings were made for just absorbing the world around us and not spoiling it with chatter. There will be time enough for that when the seasons done.

This will be remembered as the summer when I found out I have great grandbabies on the way and the start of whole new generation. The summer when friends I loved, went home to their just reward and left me with another hole in my heart. The summer when six inches of rain flooded the lake and strong winds took some of my oldest trees. The summer when Molly went nose to nose with a skunk and somehow came out smelling like---well still smelling like Molly, hallelujah. The summer when the kids next door came back to the lake another inch taller and I finally realized what happened to all of my grandkids. When some projects that needed doing, got done, and I found out that my old body needs better care, more rest and easier projects.

It sadly is also the year when people found out they could get some attention by killing other people and our politicians lost all of their self-respect in a never-ending scrum for power. The year more glaciers melted, the air got more polluted and the water too. The year our kids learned less in school but cost more to educate. But this essay started out to be what was right about this world and not what’s wrong with it, so let’s just end it at that.


For seventy-five years August has rolled around but never has it meant, what it means to me today. Maybe its because the coupon book of my life has fewer August coupons then it had before and I’m finally realizing it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

REUNION

                                                           

I think when my parents started our 1st family reunion, some thirty-nine years ago; they knew that it would accomplish many good things. That at least for one weekend a year, their kids, grandkids and great grandkids would gather to renew old acquaintances’, reminisce and enjoy each other’s company once more. They knew they won’t be around forever but they hoped that this family would be here forever, for each other. They knew over time the family would grow and change with new faces and sadly some would leave the family. They also knew it was important that we never forgot where we came from, no matter how much time has passed. They also knew that somewhere in our D.N.A lies a common bond.

For the original siblings the gathering has become bitter sweet. We lost our parents, our little brother a couple of years ago, my beautiful wife and cousin Jim too and time has taken a toll on our bodies and minds. This becomes more obvious to each of us every year. We have learned that time shows no mercy and sometimes an hour can be like a day. But yet that hour is there and you have to live it, in the best way you know how. I think most of us feel that same time, ticking and pressing down on us and know that our turn will come someday and maybe sooner then later. But sometimes-good things fall apart to make room for better things to happen. New spouses and new partners, have been brought into the family and from those unions have come beautiful replacements to carry on in the coming generations for those who have fallen by the wayside. It’s our hope that all of this renewal overshadows the sad changing of the guard and keeps things up beat and growing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man is a quotation from his ancestors.” Another quote I have always liked is. “Like the branches of a tree, our lives may grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.” From the time of that first reunion, until today, our world has evolved from what we knew then, to what it is today. As with all changes, some of it can be a hard pill to swallow but I’m sure that was as true back then, as it is now. I remember at one of the first reunions coming dressed in some bell-bottom trousers that were in style back then and my dad shook his head and said. “What in the hell is the matter with you? I never dreamed I would raise a hippy. Go change your pants before anyone else sees you.”

For many years our reunions went from campground to campground. We went on the cheap and had storms and bugs and campgrounds that said they were booked up when we tried to come back. Funny how they can be filled up for the next year, the day after our reunion ends but oh well, we did have a good time. Back then a night sleeping on a tree root and a rock, in a leaky tent with three bawling kids got old in a hurry and evolved into fifth wheel campers and motor homes. We have now graduated to our brother’s hobby farm where he might want to kick us out but can’t and now it’s up to the younger generation to keep it going for the next one.











Wednesday, August 3, 2016

ALASKA

                                                       
I just returned from a vacation in Alaska and being the nature lover I am, you can guess how happy I was. For you see Alaska is nature on steroids. I went there hoping that it was going to match my expectations and came home to say, “It far exceeded my expectations.” There are no words to do justice to it. It is called the “Last surviving Frontier” and although that is fitting, that title smacks of cynicism, as if that is a temporary title, soon to be replaced by the words “It was the last surviving frontier.” The signs of its demise are starting to show, and how soon it will be called that, depends on how soon man can ruin it.

When I speak of man ruining the earth I acknowledge that much of what happens is inadvertent and that just by being here and contributing to the waste products that are the culprits for our demise, we bear responsibility even though for the most part this was not our intention. Once we get to this point instead of the attitude that many in our country have.-- The attitude that says, “Lie about it and say it isn’t so,” then at least we have something to work with. We may not be able to solve the problem completely but at least we can put it off so future generations can enjoy it also. Those who scoff at this need only to go to Alaska and see the evidence of melting glaciers and disappearing wildlife because you can only lie about it so long before reality bites you in the butt and then only a fool will believe the lies.

Discussions are being held all over this country about where to drill for oil and what to do with public lands. The money barons see the outcome only in their pocket books and not what’s good for the country they don’t see what John Muier saw when he founded our National Park system. Their greed is a parasitic action that in the end allows you neither the wilderness nor the wildlife. But they don’t care because its what is in the bottom line of their ledger book that counts and not what is done to this earth. In some cases, it is intrusive enough to just let the people in our national parks to look; the balance is that delicate but to be realistic that has to happen.


We as a society have done much to destroy our country because we can’t get along with each other. We have seemingly insurmountable drug problems in our country. We have a country teetering on the edge of financial ruin. We have a dysfunctional government that can’t get anything done and can’t give us a decent candidate to vote for. We have a country that once had common sense rules against much of this but in an effort to be everybody’s friend we threw out the rulebook and much of what we brought back as rules, is the reason for the animosity and leniency for those who won’t live by the rules. But even all of that is fixable. Even if it takes a new society to do it and it may well be. Destroying our environment however is a whole new ball game. Once a species is gone it’s gone. Once a glacier melts and the seas rise and not only destroy our environment but the homes of Gods creatures with it, there is no fix. Alaska may be our last chance to get it right.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

STAY IM SCHOOL

                                                                                          

A lot of the ongoing unrest between police and members of the black community is the end result of poverty problems facing our black communities. These are people that are frustrated with their place, in a society that seems to favor others over them. Although the problems are being portrayed as unfairness between the police and blacks, I am sure there would be far less problems, if the social standing of blacks was higher. This is something however that cannot happen, if you continue to not pursue an education. Not being educated breeds poverty. Poverty breeds a propensity to find other ways to make money, often in illegal ways. Hence, interaction with law enforcement. This is true no matter your ethnicity.

The preamble to the constitution states, “All men are born equal.” Black or white, we are born equal. From the day of your birth, when you were an equal, to the day of your death, what you do with your God given life is what defines you in society. Millions of black people have been successful in this country and they are overwhelmingly educated-- or born super talented such as singers and athletes. I do not believe for one minute that black people are inherently bad or not smart.

Education in turn becomes important to kids when parents make it an issue with them and work hard to encourage and foster an “education first attitude” in their lives. Our society has done a good job of providing the resources for all people to get a good education. The bolts and nuts are there, you only need to put them together. No one can be educated if they don’t want to participate in education and the results most often, will be a life filled with doing whatever you have to do to make a buck. Legal or not and it’s a hard way to make a living.

I grew up in poverty but I didn’t have to deal with racial biases on top of the poverty. For the black population I acknowledge this is a real and definite problem. But as a young boy in high school, if there was one thing I never wanted to be, it was poor again. I knew the only way around that was to get an education. Work hard and not hate those who had more then me. There are people all over this nation holding discussions on how to resolve the problems we have. They don’t seem to think that education is one of the answers or if they do, they’re not talking about it seriously. Instead they are talking about holding hands and love and caring. Yes we need some of that too but you can’t legislate it. It has to come from the hearts and minds of each of us and that’s a personal decision. You can’t legislate morality. Religion fosters morality but our government, that was formed, with religious values in mind, has done its best to sever that partnership, at a time when they need it the most.


We are a nation of immigrants’. Our differences have always existed when it comes to the color of our skins but most of the ethnicities have found their place in society by working hard and getting educated. It worked for them and it will work for all of the black community. As I stated there have been millions of successful black people who took the right path, so I know it will work for all people of that community.

Monday, July 18, 2016

DEFINE HAPPINESS

                                             
Kurt Vonnegut, the American Author once said and I quote, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” For most of us this is true but conflicting, because we feel in order to be happy we must have something to be happy about. And that something comes in so many different degrees for so many people.

I look at my dog and I think what a simple life you live and yet so often you are happy. I say,” lets go for a walk and you’re happy” or “how about a treat and you’re happy.” I go away for a while and you welcome me back and you’re happy and it doesn’t even have to be me. When anyone comes to our house you’re happy. You give everyone the benefit of the doubt and you’re going to be happy with him or her until they prove you wrong. Maybe happiness comes to you because you don’t micromanage your life and you just take things as they happen. Maybe its because you don’t care if you’re the leader of the pack or bringing up the rear, you’re happy to follow and almost to a fault. I know, I know, were not dogs but is there a lesson to be learned here? That being, don’t take life so seriously.

If my kids or close friends saw this they would say what a hypocrite. You’re not always happy. My answer is, “You’re right-- but I want to be.” Now there are things that make us sad that we have little control over. The death of a loved one for instance or the loss of your job or your health. But there are other things-- and I might say they are the majority of the things we run into-- that we can manage better by either avoiding them or just saying to ourselves, “Lets weather this storm and not let it rule us.” One of the things that old age does bring out, is the “been there and done that,” syndrome. For instance I have wronged people in my life and that is especially egregious, because the end result was, I made two people unhappy.

Life’s problems seem to be more manageable if we break them into more manageable pieces. I have learned to do this and believe me it helps. It also helps to not be afraid to ask for help. Not all of us are as inept as others at solving life’s problems and yes like it or not, we are our, brothers keepers. Life is this great journey we take and in all of the years I have lived in Crosslake, I have had the privilege of meeting so many wonderful people. Not only the privilege of meeting them but also worshiping with them, socializing and sharing some parts of our lives together. So much happiness comes from this interaction with others.


There comes a time for all of us when this journey ends and although it may mean the end of our physical life, it isn’t the end of our influence. It’s at this time when people really know if you lived your life in a meaningful way. Writers write stories and poems that live on after they are gone. Painters leave wonderful examples of how they saw this beautiful world and musicians leave their music. But the most wonderful and meaningful thing we can all leave, is a good and lasting impression and an example that others want to emulate. Let’s all live our lives in a manner that leaves a little bit of us to live on.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

ANOTHER DAY. ANOTHER TIME.

                                              

In the top of my storage garage is an attic space. There are stairs going up there and for many years my wife used it to tuck away all of those things she just couldn’t part with but actually had no use for any more. As I have gotten older, it has been my quest to get rid of stuff I no longer use. So the other day I went up there and started sorting through things. A long and tedious process because there are things up there nobody wants or needs, but on the other hand there are some things up there that might still be useful to someone. Then there are things up there I do need and I didn’t even know I had. There are things too that make you sit down and smile and things that bring tears to your eyes, remembering another time and another place.

I know from experience my kids, who are now in their middle age, don’t want or need any of it. They have more junk of their own then they know what to do with. So to start with I am making three piles. Stuff to continue keeping because I can’t part with it and it would be a sacrilege to throw it away. Stuff for the trip to the landfill and things that the Goodwill store can use. I thought about a garage sale but it’s just too much work. They say one mans junk is another mans treasure and years ago people were much more willing to use somebody else’s castaways until you could afford something better. But speaking for my own grandchildren, who in some cases are just starting out keeping house, not so much anymore.

As a kid growing up in a poor family, I had a rich aunt who would send her sons used clothing down to our house. He lived in another town so I never minded. Her son and I were the same age but he was bigger then me. So mom would cut things down and make them fit for me and my sibling brother or I would wait a couple of years until I grew into them but I was always happy to get them. Shoes were a problem because my feet stayed small and some times I would stuff the toes with paper just to fill them out. I did put my foot down—no pun intended--- and refuse to wear some of them because I suspected I looked like Emmet Kelly, the Ringling Brothers clown. There is pride and there is foolish pride and I had a little of both.

My father had an old two-wheel trailer he kept in back of the house and when things wore out, or broke, he would just throw them in the trailer. When it got full we would go out to the town dump which was always a treat because we would bring dads 22 rifle along and shoot rats. I can see some of you squirming in your seats right now with a sick look on your faces but you had to be there. The biggest problem was trying to keep dad from filling the trailer back up with somebody else’s junk. One other thing that today’s kids would have a rough time with, was mealtime at our house. There were always lots of veggies because mom grew her own and when it came to meat our mom invented the petite cut. Leftovers just got recycled into the next meal and I remember asking mom. What is this?  She would just smile and say “Oh a little of this and a little of that.” Dad would scowl at you and say, “Eat it and shut up.” Sometimes he would give you the old story about kids in India starving. I always wanted to say, “Send this over to India. I hate the thought of anyone starving.” My better judgment said, “Eat it and shut up.”




Monday, July 11, 2016

WHAT DOES THE FOURTH OF JULY MEAN TO US TODAY?

            

I ask myself this question every year at this time and every year it changes because every year our country changes. I go back a long ways in this countries history. Back to before the start of W.W. II in fact. Back far enough to remember the pride that was instilled in this country, at the end of that terrible war. Not just pride in our military but pride in our citizens too, for the way they banded together and went without, so we could win. It wasn’t just a military victory it was a whole country victory. You see back then people really understood what fighting for our freedoms, was all about and they were proud that they had won. It was indeed a team effort.

I remember watching the Super Bowl many years ago and seeing and listening to Whitney Houston singing the Star Spangled banner. You had to be there and see the way the song was choreographed, the planes flying overhead with red, white and blue contrails trailing behind them. The flag presented by the armed forces moving with the breeze as if it was alive. But it was how beautiful Whitney sung that anthem that really brought it to me and made me understand what this is all about. I remember how I unashamedly cried and my friend asked me “What’s wrong Mike, why are you so sad?”
“Nothing” I said, “just tears of pride.”
“Pride?” she said.
 “Yes pride” I said, “and if I have to explain that to you, then that is, what is, so sad.”

It’s been the loss of that pride for our country that worries me so. It’s the fact that our pride has indeed turned to prejudice. Prejudice against our fellow Americans and our leaders. Prejudice against foreigners and other countries. In the book of Proverbs 16-18 in the Holy Bible it says “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty sprit before the fall.” The ill-conceived prejudices we seem to have so many times are based more on arrogance then pride. Yes, they are a haughty spirit.

Today many things have watered down that pride. Politician’s wars that left our troops, with doubts about why they were fighting. A country tired of war and conflict. A country mired in debt from overseas spending while our own people suffer. I don’t like Donald Trump but I do like his slogan. “Make America Great Again.” Donald can’t do it. No one person can-- but together we can. We just need to regain that attitude that prevailed back in the early 1940’s. A time when we took insurmountable odds and turned them into victory.

So what does the 4th mean to me? It means we had it once and we can have it again. Maybe we’ve taken a step backwards lately but we need to get it back. No one can live on his or her laurels forever. We need our country to be whole again and respected. The world needs our country to be a leader again. It’s a scary time indeed but 1941 was an even scarier time and we proved equal to the task. The men and women from that great conflict are fast disappearing. What we can’t let disappear is the pride they brought this country.-------God Bless America on this 4th of July.
Submitted by Mike Holst 14042 Big Pine Trail Crosslake MN. 56442 218 692 2937



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

WHY I WRITE LIKE I DO

                                            

I’m not going to lie to you and say my E-mail box and mailbox are full of fan mail everyday. But occasionally I do get some mail that is encouraging and today was no exception. I received a letter from a lady that lives in another state who reads my column, because her niece sends it to her. Nothing encourages an old writer more then to know something he wrote, made someone’s day and today this ladies note made mine. I, in turn, want to thank her in this way.

When I first started writing this column way back then, I took pause because the thought that was first and foremost on my mind was, “How am I going to come up with something people want to read every week?” Now I’m going to stop myself for a moment because I fully realize that not everything I write is going to please you every week. There is just too much difference in our backgrounds and our loves and likes to be that lucky. But if I have learned anything about writing, it’s not always what you write about but how you write it that counts.

Many writers like to pound home their message, as if what they believe in is the only way to think and act. But I’ve lived enough life and changed my mind enough times, to know that a closed mind is a hostile place. So with that in mind I have often told people, who are polar opposite of what I have stated I do believe in, to convince me why I’m wrong. I want to be right as much as possible but not at the expense of being stubborn and short sighted. And if we can’t find common ground—well let’s part as friends with different views who still respect each other.

I have a dear friend in my life, who has a lot of different views on subjects that I find I just can’t compromise that much on. But as time has gone on, through listening, I have learned to respect her so much and in some cases I have found validity in some of her views and I believe in turn she has in some of mine. In effect, by listening to each other, we have helped each other; find that common ground, we both love to be at. Her agreeing with me or I agreeing with her is not a prerequisite for our relationship. But loving and respecting each other and our views is.

We have different political parties in this country and we have different religions in this world. In order to coexist peacefully we need to be tolerant of other people’s views. Notice I said tolerant and not necessarily accepting. What you believe in is what you believe in and the rules this country was set up with, allow you to do just that. But there comes a time when the path we have to trod is to narrow for both of us and it’s then that we need to seek compromise because it will be the only way forward for both of us. This may sound like a wishy, washy way of doing business but it beats “my way or the highway” every time. Because as long as there is pride and self respect. Egos and self worth then we have to have some way to make concessions that preserve all of the above. My grandparents were married for over sixty years and what made that marriage work so well, was this uncanny ability they had, to listen to each other through love and respect. I know this works and that is why I write about it all the time.-- Thank you Cozy.





Wednesday, June 15, 2016

WHY MOM CRIED

                                             

All over this nation, this time of the year, young men and women walk down the aisle to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. They call it the “walking graduation march.” It’s your last walk down the aisle of your Alma Mater and you will never forget it. The emotions it brings out in people are all over the board. You the graduate will celebrate it as the end of high school or college education. Your parents and grandparents will show mixed emotions. They wanted nothing more then for you to mature and make something out of yourself. Something that would make everyone proud. They just didn’t think it would happen, quite this fast.

Your mom remembers the day she put you on the kindergarten bus and then went home and cried but luckily you didn’t see that. It too was a graduation of sorts. You were no longer a toddler but still so immature, and it was so hard for her let go of the most precious thing she had ever been given and entrust you to a teacher she barely knew. There were so many firsts over those years. The refrigerator door was covered with your kindergarten artwork. You made a little plaster cast of your hand in second grade and painted it for them and gave it to your parents for Christmas. She still has it in the back of her sock drawer and just yesterday she took it out and sat on the edge of the bed and cried-- but again you weren’t there.

Then it was junior high and sports and band and choir and they used to argue over who was going to pick you up after school. Once at one of your band concerts you looked out at the crowd and you swore your father was napping until your mom gave him the elbow in the ribs and he sat up straight, grimaced and smiled at you. You hit your first home run in softball and never mind that three people booted the ball-- it won the game and your dad couldn’t stop talking about it. He thought just maybe you might get an athletic scholarship after high school.

Then came high school and things got more serious because all of a sudden you realized that there was an end in sight for high school and maybe you should think about what you wanted to do afterwards. For a while you changed your mind as often as you changed your clothes but them something stuck in your mind and for once in your life you had a goal and mom and dad thought it was good idea. You had a boy friend and then you didn’t and then you did and then you didn’t because at least for a while that wasn’t in your plans. You went to prom and dad let your boyfriend take his car because his Mom was a single mom and she didn’t have one. You looked so pretty and grownup in that dress and yes confusingly mom cried again, while dad worried and you weren’t sure if he worried about you-- or his car.


Then it was your turn for the march and you walked down the aisle at high school and later at college with your classmates, and this time they both cried. Then you had a job, a serious boyfriend, a husband and a child and now tonight twenty-five years later that child is taking his own “walking graduation march.” You sit quietly with your tissue in your hand and then you see him looking so regal and he smiles at you and winks with that goofy smile and yes now-- you understand why mom cried.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

THOUGHTS ALONG THE WAY

                                              

As my life winds down-- and no, I caution you, nothing bad is eminent—but with that being said, I am a realist and each day brings more proof to an increasingly foggy mind and creaky body that my best days are history and tomorrow is not so much a mystery anymore. I sometimes unconsciously slip into a whimsical, mood that looks backwards more then forward, although I harbor few regrets of days gone by. My life so far has been more then I ever dreamed it would be, but most of the credit lies in the people that helped shape my life and not in my own feeble efforts.

Each day when I wake up and slip out of the bed and through my own efforts dress and make my way down the lane to fetch my paper, I thank the lord for one more day. I find so much solace in my morning cup of coffee, sitting on the deck with Molly, looking out over the still waters of our lake. Listening to a loon far across the waters heralding springtime. So many of my friends and neighbors once too enjoyed what I embrace, but time has stilled their hearts or minds and I no longer can enjoy their smiles and lively banter. For now I am relegated to draw upon my memory for that old companionship. But I say this with all sincerity --that’s okay.

There was a time in my life when I never thought much about the past and maybe that’s really because I had no past and yesterdays were just used up days and tomorrows were the days that counted because they gave me a fresh start every time the sun came up. Tomorrows were days of hope and a chance to get it right but they were not without a risk because you weren’t totally in charge and you often had to pick and choose which fork in the road to take, because you were languishing there in somewhat confusing, uncharted territory. Yet you relished the choice, the chance, to make some history of your own, even if it was wrong.

Life is such a puzzle sometimes but unlike a picture puzzle we do get to reshape the pieces to make them fit. There are those who will never fit in where they belong because they don’t want to fit or change and life for them becomes a black hole in our grand picture and it never is really complete. This, for the rest of us is sadness personified because we want the picture to be complete, & perfect. Especially when its friends and family that are so much a part of it. People that we love so much.


Fast forward to today when this history of mine, brought about by trial and error, has drawn and painted the way for me to follow and it’s so much easier to pick and choose my actions now because along the way I have eaten the sour berries of life and spit them out, savored the sweet ones and gave them my blessing-- all in this never ending ritual of yes and no’s, rights and wrongs. Yes my friends, it is this winnowing process that may not be perfection but it’s as close as life allows me to get. Some day when the lights are finally dimmed and the curtain goes down for the last time I want my swan song to be “My way,” and not “Born to Lose.” Allison Blanchard said and I quote. “Life is beautifully tragic. Giving it up isn’t the hard part; it’s the living part that everyone struggles with.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

MEMORIAL DAY



Of all of the holidays our country celebrates, none has more meaning for me than Memorial Day. That’s because, except for the obvious being its meaning is to honor our war dead and those who survived, it’s also the start of another summer season. Here in the Midwest we tend to bookend the fairest of our four seasons with Memorial Day and Labor Day—the alpha and the omega of summer. But we need to keep that as a subliminal message lest we forget the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Not being a veteran, I have often wondered what it was like to leave your families and loved ones, and to go off to some far off place to defend our way of life. One thinks about our children and how we often have such a short time to live with them before they go out on their own. Many times, veterans give up a substantial part of that time to try to keep the peace this world so sorely needs; a time they will never get back; a time they wanted so much to share with their life’s partner and kids. But it goes far deeper than that when you have to take up arms because someone has taken up arms against you. It’s then that so many of our young protectors can be taken from us, and never get the chance to become a parent. Yes, they gave up far more than just their lives. Let’s not forget the survivors, too, as many of the survivors suffer immeasurably, having seen the horrors of war.

The world has long prayed for peace, asked for peace, and even begged for an end to aggression and hostilities. But there have always been those amongst us in this world that selfishly don’t want us to have that freedom and way of life. They want to dominate us and force their convoluted way of life on free people. Thank God we have had the will to stand up to them in the past, or this world would be hell on earth without their efforts. Thank God, also, that there are those who, in the words of Isaiah in the good book, took heed when it said, “They will bend their plowshares into swords. Their spears into pruning hooks against nations.” Our creator knew there would be threats, and knew all too well we had no decent choice but to respond against them, and fight back, or this world would get far uglier than we could possibly imagine.

As for that lasting peace we all want. That same chapter of the Bible talks about it as part and parcel of that same verse. To be sure it has, in our lifetimes, proved to be very elusive. I have the feeling that it will always be difficult to attain, and we will have to always remain vigilant. That is exactly what our brave service men and women are doing today for all of us. We lose our awareness of this way too easily in this world today. We must never forget their service to, not only our country, but also to all of us. I have in my mind today a picture I saw of a young widow lying face down sobbing on the green grass of a grave in a veterans cemetery, her toddler child looking on bewildered, way too young to realize what it, too, had lost. The father he/she will never remember. Let us not forget them, also.

So, this Memorial Day, let’s give credit where credit is due. Let’s not let Memorial Day be just the start of another summer season, and another four-day weekend.



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

HARD TIMES ON THE RANGE

                                               
I look at what is going on up on the Iron Range, with unemployment and it breaks my heart. It’s always been the dream of the American family to settle down someplace, have a family and not only make a mark for yourself but also to have the satisfaction that through your own hard efforts, you succeeded. All you needed was for someone to give you a chance. Just someone, to give you a job. Everyone needs a purpose in life and a job, besides giving you an income, gives you that purpose.

Growing up in Staples, a small town I remember coming home from school one day as a ten or twelve year old, to find my father, who was always working, sitting at the kitchen table in the early afternoon, talking with mom. He looked especially worried and concerned and that was just not dad, so I asked,” What’s wrong?” dad put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I have been laid off from the railroad.” Then he added, seeing my concern, “But it’s going to be alright.”

I look at what is going on, on the Iron Range and my heart goes out to those people. Thousands of them with no jobs. Thousands of them who want nothing more than to provide for their families and have purpose in life. Getting up each morning and not knowing if they should be angry or sad, but feeling so helpless. Some say,” Move away from there and go where there are jobs.” Let me set the stage. You’re forty-one years old and have lived on the range all of your life. Your dad was a miner and so was grandpa, your wife’s dad and three of your uncles. You have worked your way up the ladder at the plant to a supervisor and you’re proud of the place and all the people you work with. It’s been rewarding, a steady income. You have a modest home, a wife and three kids in school. That same school both of you graduated from. It’s a small town where everybody knows your name. So move away and do what? Start over in the middle of your life? You have a house you couldn’t sell if you wanted to. You’re a miner-- you have no other skills. All your friends and family live here.

Industries fail for many reasons but the number one reason is nobody wants your product anymore. It’s either to expensive or obsolete. In the case of the range, its product is not obsolete but it is too expensive. Replaced by cheap steel from other countries. The answer would be simple if we weren’t in a tit for tat deal with those countries. We buy their products and they buy ours. Yes, that’s what has changed. We are now in a world economy. As much as I hate government intervention into private industry, its time to diversify the range workers. Get some of those eggs that are now all in one basket, into something new. And with the proper incentives this could happen. This is where governments can help, without creating a welfare state. More benefits are a band-aid approach but that’s all right, if you have something better to replace them with in the near future that might be a solution.


My dad got his job back eventually but eventually too, the railroad left that town. But the people didn’t give up when it left and they brought in new industry and the town still thrives. It’s the same size today that it was when I left it fifty some years ago. That all happened a long time ago but it still works.

Friday, May 20, 2016

EARTH DAY

                                               
On April 22nd of this year, we celebrated earth day once more. A day dedicated to this wonderful planet we all live on. For all of my life, from the day of reasoning on, I have been in awe of it. I find more beauty in a field of wild weeds and flowers then in anything mankind has ever created. The creatures we share this planet with, never cease to amaze me with their resilience, to all we have done to them. Sadly not all of them were able to survive the onslaught but in some cases we woke up to what we were doing and helped them. Sadly again, we can’t seem to stop what we are doing to destroy them and their habitat and so it all might all be a moot point.

Just the fact that 7.1 billion of us exist on this planet makes for an untenable situation. We all have to eat, drink, breath and give off waste and at some point we will overwhelm the earths ability to cleanse itself. At some point we will use up all of the natural resources such as clean water and clean air and at that point our numbers will decline in what seems to be a heartless cycle of birth and early death. None of this is intentional; it’s just a by-product of our existence. The end is inevitable if we continue the way we are, but it’s not the end unless we want it to be.

The same mankind, who has poisoned the earth, can through modern technology unpoison it but right now the desire is not there. Something called greed and money has gotten in the way. I have walked across the Mississippi river at lake Itasca and saw the clear clean water that gives birth to this mighty river. I have crossed it also at the other end, where it is for all practical purposes an open sewer, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico creating a death zone, or hypoxic area of 6,500 square miles where little can live.

Many places in the U.S. are running out of fresh water. Aquifers have been pumped dry and in some places seawater is encroaching them, filling the void, ruining them forever. The earth is literally collapsing over some of them in places. Rivers are contaminated with chemicals and lead. Even the oceans are filling with debris. Glaciers that fed streams with fresh water are receding. In Oklahoma the ground shakes everyday from man made earthquakes from fracking but the beat goes on.

I have only touched on a few problems for our earth created by mankind. Believe me there are many more. I found out in the last month that I have two great grandchildren coming in the next year. Today I wonder what kind of water they will drink and what kind of air they will breathe. When I was born, three quarters of a century ago, none of this was a problem. Just think how insignificant 75 years is, in the millions of years this rock has been rotating around our star. But that’s all the time it took us to put this earth on the path to ruination. I want those great grand babies of mine to still celebrate earth day like I did. To stand and sing, “Oh beautiful, for spacious skies. For amber waves of grain. For purple mountain majesties across the fruited plain” and be able mean it. Mankind will never destroy the earth; we will only make it uninhabitable. And then long after we are gone Mother Nature will slowly repair it-- but by then, it will be too late for us.






Saturday, May 14, 2016

WHAT IS LOVE?


I read a letter in the paper a while back, written by a mother who’d just lost her three year old daughter. I was moved by her letter, but moved even more by her faith that is propping her up right now. Here was someone who understands what love and loss is really all about. For, in the midst of all her grief, she talked about the greatest love of all—the love that came to us all in the miracle of Easter.

I also read, online, of a woman who attended a Garth Brooks concert, back in Minneapolis, after having a round of chemo that very morning. She held up a sign during the concert that read, “Chemo this morning, Garth tonight, enjoy the dance.” He stopped the concert to have her brought right down in front where he could honor her. Yes, my friends, that is love.

There was an old man, down in Florida where we stayed, who walked his equally old dog every day. Their gait was slow and hesitant, but you could hear him talking to the dog and encouraging him along. I asked him how old the dog was, and he said “About sixteen.” Yes,” he said with a tired smile, “We’re both getting to the end of the road, aren’t we, Rocky? But that’s okay.” Again—more love.

I often reflect and remember when she was alive. I would be writing, and then looking up at her she would catch my eye, smile and wink at me, or touch my hair as she passed my chair, or sometimes, she just opened her arms and embraced me as if she never wanted to let go, and I never wanted her to let go. That, too, was love.

Why aren’t these the stories of every day instead of war and hate, and politicians smearing each other? Even our music has gone from Frankie singing “Yes you’re lovely. With your smile so warm and your cheeks so soft. There is nothing for me but to love you and the way you look tonight” to some rapper, spewing out profanity.

All too often, we have forgotten how to love. Love for many is now a new cell phone or a video game, shoved in your kid’s face, and “There, now leave me alone!” Love is not knowing what you like— but it’s knowing what your kids and spouse like—and acting accordingly. It’s playing catch with your son, in the backyard, when you’re so weary you can hardly throw the ball. It’s reading a story to your little girl, that you have read so many times you have it memorized, with a Raggedy Ann doll between you. It’s lying in bed, watching the love of your life sleeping, and feeling nothing but contentment and how lucky you are to be there, fifty years after you first met.


Everything I ever truly loved turned out to be something I never wanted to forget. Everything I truly hated only haunts me for the rest of my life. Dr Seuss said,” You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” In true love there is no ‘you or I,’ just a desire to laugh together when you make a fool of yourself, and cry together when you are hurting. Oh, how much better our lives would be-- if we only knew how to truly love each other.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

UNDERSTANDING OLD DRIVERS

                                   

Today I’m directing my article towards those of you who, at least to my line of thinking, have little patience for those of us who are in the twilight of our lives and still have to live in your world. There was time when I too, uttered an oath to my wife about the old fart in front of me on the highway who was going barely the speed limit. “They should give him a ticket for going this slow,” I muttered. To make things worse she didn’t always agree with me.” You see for some reason I was living in my world and didn’t care to know the reasons, this old fart was holding me up.

Most people drive the speed they are most comfortable at. For some that is barely the speed limit and for others that is at least ten to fifteen miles an hour over the limit. I’m not comfortable driving that fast, so I’m an impediment to those who wish me off the road. I can either make you “the speeder” happy and have an accident or I can make sure my partner and I get there in one piece. I have when travelling tried to stay out of others way, but that’s not always possible, as when you are on a two lane road. To be sure I don’t want to be the cause of an accident either, so I do try to go the legal limit, which I think in the eyes of the law, was supposed to be the fastest you should go anyway and not the slowest you should go, before the guy behind you has a melt down.

I tried once, as an experiment, to set my cruise control at the maximum speed limit on highway 25 from Brainerd to Foley. Every person who came up behind me passed me, including a patrol car. It’s not a safe road to pass on in most places so I finally relented and kicked it up a bit before I caused a wreck. I drove to Florida on Interstate 75, which is three lanes. I camped out in the middle lane and everyone passed me on both sides. Until there was a wreck and then we all sat still.

Now I know, I have all the time in the world, or at least some people think I have. I get no credit for judging the correct amount of time for my trip and leaving in plenty of time. I have noticed in my years of driving that the biggest problems for traffic jams are accidents. Accidents that would never have happened if people were driving safe for the conditions. Now we all sit and wait because you were in such a big hurry.


Modern navigation systems make planning your route a whole lot easier and have helped seniors a lot with their driving and especially when you are driving alone. But technology is still no substitute for being alert and aware of what is going on around you. Like the dimwit that is driving three feet off your back bumper weaving in and out looking for the slightest chance to pass you. He will be the one that will be right beside you at the next red light you stop at.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

BUCKET LIST



So the last five years and particularly since I have met Pat, I am working on my bucket list. My wife and I seldom talked about such things. She was very content with the status quo. But the older I get, and with time marching on, the more I feel pressed to work on it. Also the more I get behind on the list, because each time I accomplish something on the list, I am introduced to five other things that weren’t on the list because I didn’t even know they existed. In the end, if this keeps up the list will be unmanageable and when someone says to me “turn out the lights the parties over,” I going to look like a miserable failure. So I have revised the ground rules for my bucket list. Nothing is written in stone and the list will be reprioritized from time to time. There is no earthly way that I have the time and money to accomplish everything my gullible mind can conceive of. Again also, and this time because of Pat, things need to be mutually agreed upon, so that might make my #1 into a #8 and vise versa or not at all. It’s something more to complicate the process.

To be fair a true bucket list has to be feasible. Otherwise it’s just a wish list and my wife’s grandma said, “If wishes’ were horse’s beggars would ride.” I always wanted to climb a fourteen thousand foot mountain since I was a kid and although that desire somewhat preceded my bucket list, if I was younger it would still be there and if I were richer I would have done it then. Now, at my advancing age, if I was a multi millionaire and I’m not, I am sure I could find some strapping mountaineer who would push, pull and drag my old butt to the top. I would stand on the peak smiling into the setting sun, with a little frost in my mustache, pull out my list and my grease pencil and cross it off. Then come back down the conquering hero, pay of the people who got me to the top and live the lie. To be fair a true bucket list has to be honestly accomplished.

There are things that were on my bucket list that I have eliminated simply because the allure wore off. I always wanted to canoe down the Church Hill River in Canada until I hit Hudson Bay and see the Belugas and the Polar Bears. Then I read some first hand accounts of those who had did it. Covered in swarms of black flies and mosquitoes. A few of them killed by the bears they came to see. I do admire people that go exploring like that but I’m not sure that I’m cut from the same cloth as they are anymore. I talked to an old Irish Man a while back at an Irish festival and he told me how he and his wife crossed the ocean in a small sailboat mind you, sailed down the eastern coast, around the tip of Florida and parked at Fort Meyers. I have to admire that kind of attitude even though the man was a grouch. He complained to me that Americans are obsessed with dying of various diseases like cancer but the Irish fear only things like dementia. “A fate worse then death,” he said, “ Is losing all of me grudges.”


I think in the end, where you have gone and what you accomplished will not be a defining factor of a successful life. It will be the friends you have made along the way and the lives you have touched and then-- to die peacefully---with no grudges