You could be Joel, even if your name is Jenny. Or Julie, Jillian, Jim, Jane, Joe. You are working on a first draft and small wonder you're unhappy. If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer. If you say you see things differently and describe your efforts positively, if you tell people that you "just love to write," you may be delusional.
Thus writes John McPhee in the April 29th issue of The New Yorker, in a short piece entitled "Draft No. 4," second paragraph. If you perchance fit into the demographic described in this entry title, you should beg, borrow, or purloin a copy of this issue. The article does more than a little justice to the experience of someone who mangles words about, either to earn a dollar, or just takes on the challenge as a diversion of life. Or wants an unnecessary midlife crisis. Go get a copy; I double-dog-dare-ya'.
The Congress of the United States has acted today. In a rare display of bipartisanship, the House was able to able to override its former "we must all suffer the sequester equally" to "well, if you can afford to fly to your travel destinations, you must not be made to suffer unduly by waiting in a stuffy old plane while sitting on the tarmac at Midway." Also, this old airport wait was putting the hurt on that customary congressional "three-day work week, and then we're outta' here." However, those of you who depend on Meals on Wheels, and those of you taking experimental cancer fighting drugs, well you'll just have to suck it up, or if you're inclined to the Anglo method, keep a stiff upper lip. This will all continue to play out for another two years and then the voting public will have a chance to clearly voice their opinion. Won't it be fun to watch it all come tumbling down. In the meantime, contribute to your favorite charities. Keep your eyes on the sick, the poor, and the school children.
Dad was easy about dispensing wisdom. Usually, it would come in the form of an occasional comment, or running commentary if you deigned to venture into the basement on Mondays. For it was there he could be found doing the laundry, week, after week, after week. So what's up with this laundry business? His work week ran Tuesday through Saturday, so Monday was his Sunday. Still with me on this? And since Mom worked at Doc Gilsdorf's office, until his untimely death, and at the Bignall Lumber Yard until Russ's untimely death, and then at the record library at Mercy Hospital until the family moved to St. Paul in the early 60s, Dad felt it his obligation to do the laundry, to get that item off Mom's to-do list. It was there that anyone eager to learn might post themselves, could wait in anticipation for something to hold on to in later life. It was on one of these Mondays that Dad blurted out "Never trust a turncoat!" I forget what specific human behavior motivated that comment, but I probed it a bit, and he was equal to the explanation. It was fairly simple: if a person will turn on a dime and profess eagerly and loudly that which he/she has always opposed: beware the change-coat.
This brings Eddie Schultz to mind. An import to Moorhead State University for his football skills honed in Virginia, he became a media personality in the Fargo Moorhead community. Graduating from football play-by-play, he established himself as a talking head. For a long time he was the espouser of right-wing views. Whatever the conservative line was, Fast Eddie was there, in full support. And then suddenly he had an epiphany. He was a full-bore, knock 'em down liberal. It all happened so quickly. Soon he was on MSNBC agressively kickin' ass and takin' names, and occasionally speaking with seeming fondness at his attachments to the Fargo area. At times I thought he was a true beliver, an honest-to-God conversion. Truth be told, I truly appreciated, and am indebted to, the manner in which he took on Wisconsin's union-bustin' governor Scott Walker.
But then, all of a sudden, MSNBC decides to ditch Fast Eddie from the prime-time hour of 7-8 PM Central. Replaced him in a heart beat with Chris Hayes. Ed of course, insisted that HE had instigated the change. And in a few New York minutes, Ed was working on weekends. Do you know who watches MSNBC on weekends? Put simply, folks who like to watch shows about men and women in prison, and how they spend their time either lifting weights or tatooing each other with sharpened spoons. (All right, I took a peek one time.)
Well, it seems the time-slot switch for Eddie was more than he could bear. He began to crack up. A couple of weeks ago he proclaimed on his nation-wide radio show that the school children of Fargo were being used as slaves, filling sandbags that were soon to be used in what is now an almost annual flood fight to keep the entire city from going under. Eddie said that the reason the eighth grade students were enslaved was that the process was designed to keep rich people from having to pay for sandbags.
Well here is a simple truth. If the rich people in Fargo get their feet wet, so does every middle class and whatever class you can imagine family in the Fargo Moorhead area. The terrain is a pool table top; drop a quart of water in the middle of it and it will flow into all six pockets. The students serve the entire community, however you define it.
The story does have a relatively positive outcome. Ed's loss is our gain. If you have never watched Chris Hayes in a live TV situation, you owe the experience to yourself. He is by far one of the brightest lights working in the media today. He is the intellectual equivalent of Rachel Maddow, George Will, or William F. Buckley, you choose your political bent. Watch him early on and then you can say several years down the pike, when he is one of the leading news analysts in the country, "Well, I used to watch Chris religiously when he was on MSNBC."
The winter of 64-65 found Sue and me engaged in wedding planning. I had given Sue a diamond in mid December as an early Christmas surprise; it probably surprised her family as well when we arrived for the Holiday with Sue sporting her sparkling ring. The Haas family, of which there were three branches living in Lidgerwood, had a long standing tradition of going to Midnight Mass, then, in rotation, adjourning to the home of one of the families for drinks and a huge spread that competed with Thanksgiving in magnitude. The first year I was part of this post Mass assembly, the celebration took place at the home of Mike and Anne Haas, Susan’s dad’s brother and sister-in-law. Mike was the eldest of the Haas twelve siblings. It would be one of many good times enjoyed in Lidgerwood in our early years together. Sue’s mom, Regina, was the consummate hostess. Gregarious, she worked mightily to please, no effort left unmade. She loved setting her table for others. Sue’s dad, Pete, in contrast, was a quiet, understated and gentle man. Mostly he acquiesced to Regina’s requests, but behind the quiet façade was a strong-willed business man who cajoled and haggled with area farmers over the prices of big, red International Harvester farm equipment, new and used. I think it would be fair to say that he didn’t make very many bad bargains. It was for a trade of a piece of fire red equipment that he procured a horse for his not-yet-teen daughter in earlier years.
With Sue in her senior year at UND in Grand Forks, and taking mostly studio classes, she spent virtually all of her energy painting and drawing. She shouldered a heavy academic load in order to finish in four years, as she had few art credits at NDSU prior to the time of her transfer. I, similarly, was doubling graduate coursework in an effort to finish an MA by commencement in May of ‘65, motivated largely by salary lane movement on the Fargo Public Schools’ salary schedule for the advanced degree. I had few distractions from the coursework, with Sue busy with her own agenda 80 miles north. On some weekends she would take the train to Fargo; on others I would head north. My memories of that time period always feature the abysmal, frigid winter of Grand Forks, the snow piled high, and brain-freezing cold wind. If you have never been in wind so cold that it makes the forepart of your skull ache, you have never experienced the best that winter on the North Dakota plains has to offer.
And my loneliness for Sue: I felt totally incomplete and inadequate in social settings as other married couples mingled happily.
On a Thursday evening, July 15, under a nearly full moon, several of my closest friends, most of who would make up our groom’s party, headed out for an evening to celebrate my pending nuptials. The party consisted of Rich Wenstrom, Phil Roesch, Bob Maier, Gary Burau, Roger Young and Mike Jarvis. We were all Theta Chis with the exception of Phil, the lone TKE, and Mike, a fallen-away Sigma Chi. We pub-crawled Fargo until closing time and then returned to the Theta Chi house where several of us were bunking surreptitiously, the house being officially closed for summer, and spent the rest of the night talking about what lay ahead of us, all poised at the beginning of new careers. We could not have known that evening, but we would all have challenging and rewarding professional lives, some extraordinary.
As the rising sun banished the setting full moon from the sky, it was time to head out for cakes, eggs and sausage, a ritual honed to a sharp edge with repeated practice that spring. I later returned to the ϴχ House to see if I could catch a few winks, as I had a major mission to execute fail-safe that day; pick up the marriage license in Wahpeton, ND, the Richland County seat before the office closed. Those orders had been given in a no-nonsense tone of voice.
As I motored down Hwy 81 later that Friday, I reflected on the change my life would undergo that weekend. The next time I would be in Fargo, I would be a married man. No longer would I sleep on someone’s couch. A home and a wife to return to at the end of the day would indeed be mine. And, there would be the matter of bills to pay, starting with the $75 a month payment on the 1964 Dodge Dart two-door hardtop, our first new car. We would have to learn to live on the remaining $225 left in the checking account monthly, for rent, grub and accoutrements.
When I arrived in Lidgerwood later that afternoon things were going full bore. My first impression was “How am I going to fit into all of this?” Sue’s mom, Regina, was flying about the house tending to last minute details, having made sleeping arrangements with friends and relatives for as many of the wedding party as she was able, as local motel rooms were few, and some were a dozen miles away. Interesting, the sleeping arrangements carved out for me were unusual; I would be sleeping in the basement of the Walby Funeral Home, along with whoever happened to be in temporary residence awaiting more permanent digs in the local cemetery. (Did I really write that?) The funeral home would play a larger role in the affairs of the weekend. In that era, air-conditioned wedding reception venues in Lidgerwood were non-existent. Fans would be as much as we might hope for in the summer of ‘65 in a small farming community. The Walby Funeral home was an exception and quite spacious; perhaps room for a hundred people or so. Mildred and Shine Walby’s offer to host the reception, gracious as it was, was partly motivated by the fact that one of their daughters was being married the following summer. In the interest of perfection, Mil Walby wished a dry run. Sue and I happened to be that practice; we were delighted.
While the women were busy that afternoon with important matters, I sought to find a place where I could secrete the Dodge Dart, secure from the evil designs of her three brothers. With Sue’s advance groundwork, I was able to get the car into an old garage surrounded by bushes, vines growing over its walls and shingles. I walked back to the Haas household smug in the belief that it would take the FBI to find the car. As it turned out, my assumption was correct. In spite of extensive investigative efforts by the brothers, they came up empty. The dispirited older brothers, Peter and Tom, repaired to Butch’s Tavern on Wiley, and drowned their sorrows to such effect that they missed the wedding, but I get ahead of myself.
Family and guests began to arrive late Friday afternoon; Regina created prodigious amounts of a wild-rice shrimp casserole, Friday abstinence appropriate, and fed people as they arrived at the house. I was uneasy until my groomsmen materialized, knowing they would be able to keep me from harm. Mother’s brothers, sisters and my only grandparent, Pearl came from the western part of the state. Dad’s Irish twin Richard and his wife Marge had come from Wyoming. Sue’s family, many of whom lived in the community, was well represented. Following a brief evening rehearsal we adjourned back to the Haas home to get to know the respective families. Sue’s dad Pete had laid in an ample supply of Jim Beam, his stand-by, and an assortment of wine and beer such as could be purchased at the village off-sale. The Irish twins were not shy about cozying up to the Jim Beam. When Dad and brother Richard gathered to celebrate any occasion the die was cast in one direction, there would be stories and loud laughter.
In the shank of the evening, demands for music darted about the living spaces where people milled about. Not to miss an opportunity to make a bit of music, Wenstrom, Maier, Roesch and I all had strings in our cars, in fact we seldom went anywhere without a supply of guitars, banjos and ukes. The time was, after all, the nexus of the folk music era. We probably played for two hours or more before the guests had enough. Edgar Agnew, one of Mom’s four brothers who attended, and who was caretaker for Grandma Pearl, was listening quietly from a spot in the kitchen. Dad and Richard had joined him there, primarily to be closer to the Jim Beam, I would guess. At one point Edgar leaned his head into the overflowing dining room and called out, “Mick, can you guys play the Whiffenpoofs’ Song?” It was a song that we played frequently and one that I’d heard Edgar sing on more than one occasion. Dad later revealed that Edgar joined in the singing from his spot in the kitchen but after a verse or so began to falter, and then began to weep bitterly, silently, regaining his composure only after we had moved on to another song. Much in Edgar’s life had been complicated by his experience in World War II, but at my youthful 25, I couldn’t possibly perceive the sum of all complications.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
July 17, 1965 dawned glorious and sunny. I had slept little, waking frequently to see if there were specters floating about the funeral parlor basement. Additionally I had a headache and a growl in the pit of my stomach. Dad said I needed “a hair of the dog that bit ye,” an Irish cure-all...a shot of straight booze, any kind will do. Also, I wanted to take a quick peek at the safe-house where the Dart was hidden to see if I had been done in by the older Haas brothers. To assuage both needs Dad and I walked up town to the tavern, past the little green grotto where the car resided. To my satisfaction and relief it was undisturbed. I threw back a shot and a beer; Dad did the same.
The day began to heat up early. By noon it was 85, by the start of the wedding at 2 PM it was in the middle 90s; St. Boniface Church was without even a fan or primitive swamp cooler.
The details of the wedding are a bit of a blur...a mixture of friends and relatives that I loved dearly...the incredible amount of work Regina has put into making the affair memorable...the presence of so much of Mom’s Agnew family who supported me for my lifetime...and the beauty of Susan, Miss Susan, in her white bridal gown. She was entitled of course, eligible...we were of a time when a certain element of chivalry was still partially in vogue. We chose that route, for better or for worse. I have sometimes railed against that choice as we have aged; I could have loved her longer, for more days and nights. Would we choose to do it all differently? In truth I cannot tell.
Because the older brothers Haas, Peter and Tom, failed to make it to the wedding there was great alarm over who would assume their assigned duty, manning the punch bowl. Sometimes when fate collides with the best laid plans of mice and men, opportunity rears its snake eyes. The punch bowl, bereft of managers, presented an opportunity for the third and youngest brother, John. He performed admirably, keeping goblets and cups topped up in fine form. Rumor has it that he and his best friend, Rob Walby, son of the hosts, sampled the punch frequently to assess its quality, adding whatever was deemed essential to perfection.
About seven in the evening it was time for us collect our few things for the brief honeymoon journey, an overnight at the Moorhead Holiday Inn and then off to Detroit Lakes for Saturday and Sunday. We would be back in Fargo on Sunday evening as Sue would be starting summer school on Monday morning.
When we arrived at the Holiday Inn the air was still breath-takingly hot and dry. I was accosted at the check-in desk by someone I knew casually at NDSU. “Hey,” he says, “Did you ever catch that pretty blonde from Lidgerwood?” “Oh, yeah,” I replied casually, “Long time ago.” I would have died rather than reveal that we were to spend our wedding night on the second floor overlooking the swimming pool, having now been married a grand total of six hours. “So how’s it with you?”
We had reservations to stay at a resort in Detroit Lakes, the Pine to Palm for the next two nights. Why we chose it I cannot fathom; likely, it came with a modest price tag. In our day there was no credit card on which to run up charges that we could ill afford. The money was either in the bank or it was not, and in our case it was mostly not. I remember some conversation between Sue and Regina before the wedding that Sue was to have some minor dental work done before we married so that it would be on Pete’s tab rather than mine. A consideration I thought both remarkable and generous. The bride was delivered with her teeth all in good order, a dowry indeed.
When we got back to Fargo on Sunday evening, our life together truly began. Shopping for groceries (me wanting to buy Pop Tarts; Sue objecting to the total idiocy of Pop Tarts), disagreement #1 well in hand. The adjustments necessary to becoming soul mates had begun. We managed to find suitable living quarters in a two-story home owned by a school counselor with whom I worked, Les Pavek. Married with young children, they owned an adjacent two-story as a rental. We secured the second floor. One bedroom, small sun porch, kitchen and bath and a few sticks of furniture that came with the rental: the sum total of our palatial first home for $95 a month. From God-knows-where we acquired a 17” black and white TV that worked occasionally; at its own behest the normal picture would dissolve into a small speck of bright light in the upper right hand corner of the screen, and after several minutes the picture would restore. That, and a chess-set constituted our entertainment center. We put the TV onto the boulevard the following spring. Sue remembers a living room floor lamp which did not work so we removed the light fixtures and created candle holders with a spike on which the candles were impaled. A romantic touch to “my blue heaven,” as one of Mom’s favorite songs (1927) went.
During the ensuing year we began to collect old pieces of oak furniture that families were casting aside as unwanted relics of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Sue began to mine them at farm auctions, yard sales, nunneries, attics and basements. We learned how to strip the old finish and a few tricks acquired along the way enabled us to clean out the dark ugly varnish from filigreed carvings. We bought our first power tool, a Sears orbital sander, which we wore out after several years and fifteen or so finished pieces of solid oak. In the early part of this endeavor we sealed the refurbished wood with tung oil, discovering a few years later it was not a hard enough finish to protect the wood from our behaviors and moved to polyurethane finishes which had the clear advantage of being waterproof. Now as we head rapidly for the 50th anniversary of our small town wedding, we continue to be surrounded by the same oak that others cast off as being unstylish. And love it we do, with an additional half-century’s character on it, just as we continue to love each other. In fact, it is time for the refinishing, round two. Are you ready, Gramma Sue?
One of the first orders of business as we set up the new household was finding a few square feet that would serve Susan as studio space. The solitary bedroom was not negotiable, so we settled on the sun porch. It had the advantage of north lighting with east and west thrown in for good measure. Sue’s dad, Pete, and I had created a sturdy easel to hold canvases of a variety of shapes, and it became the principal piece of equipment in the studio. Sue began to paint in the new studio following her final classes at the University of North Dakota. It would be the first of many studios over the next half-century. She also needed to complete a couple of courses at Moorhead State, transferrable back to UND, in order to be eligible to graduate. In order to supplement the family treasury Sue started teaching some art course for Jim O’Rourke at his little gallery in Moorhead. Then also came the opportunity to teach art at the YMCA. Every little bit helped in those days. It was also the time of her first commission: a large wall-sized painting of a baccanalian orgy on butcher-paper, for a house party, painted on one of our walls, maybe above the bathtub.
In the next 24 months Sue would take all of the professional education course work necessary for her to obtain public school teacher certification, as well as complete student teaching. She would also begin work for an interior design business in Moorhead. During the ’63-64 school year I had formed a strong friendship with Fulbright Exchange Ian Bailley, the first Welshman I had ever met. It was a significant meeting, as Ian’s influence caused me to become an applicant for the Fulbright scholarship. It was in this fashion that we began our lives together.
The Forum’s Got This One Right
“It ‘s more than a game,” states the Forum editorial this past Sunday. Indeed it is. Those interested in seeing the resumption of the NDSU-UND football rivalry on an annual basis should take their case to no less a person than Governor Jack Dalrymple. Here’s why.
In the late 1970s we moved from Illinois to Kentucky for a new position at Fort Knox, about 25 minutes south of Louisville. As we settled in to the new culture we began to absorb all things Kentucky including salt-cured ham, red-eye gravy, okra, and having to travel good distances to have a cold beer (In those days nearly 80 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were dry). Included in the assimilation was an understanding of the madness that surrounds Kentucky basketball. As a newcomer to the state I found it fun to cheer for both UK and U of L except when they were playing the Hoosiers from IU, which I claim as an alma mater. As we made our way through the first basketball season I discovered “the chasm,” the extra wide gulf that separates fandom in Kentucky. I learned quickly that you were required to support one team or the other, but not both. That would make you just plain weird. And then I learned that you were expected to denigrate all manner of things relating to that “other” team including the coach, the recruiting, the schedule, the home court, IQ, et al.
At some time in earlier years the teams had met occasionally, but during the reign of Adolph Rupp those highly anticipated match-ups ceased to exist. Rupp’s excuse for not scheduling Denny Crum’s Cardinals was rather flimsy: well, if we schedule one state university we’ll be expected to schedule, Eastern, Western, and any other local comer. Rupp’s successor, Joe B. Hall was faithful to the party line. Crum wanted to be on the UK schedule to showcase his frequently dominant group of ball players, but his requests went unheard. And then the inevitable happened; thanks to NCAA schedulers, UK and U of L managed to find their way to a match-up during the NCAA tournament in March of 1983. Dubbed the “Dream Game,” fans across the state went nuts. After all these years it was finally going to happen. Joe B. Hall could avoid the Cardinals no more.
Enter Gov. John Y. Brown, Kentucky Fried Chicken mogul, former owner of the ABA Kentucky Colonels, and erstwhile husband of former Miss America, Phyllis George. An astute business man he understood the value of this game to the state; he attended the game dressed in a suit that was half red and the other half blue. Following that game, which lived up to the hype, John Y., as he was often called, took the side of basketball fans everywhere, including Cardinals followers. As chief executive officer of the Commonwealth, he put pressure on all stakeholders, including university presidents, regents, alumni, and coaches. In the end he prevailed and after a half century or more the annual rivalry resumed, much to the delight of Kentucky fans from Appalachia to Paducah and those scattered across the wider USA.
Do we in North Dakota deserve less? I think not. It’s time for Gov. Jack Dalrymple to rip a page out of John Y’s playbook. Let’s get ’er done, Governor. If for no other reason, it makes good business sense; hotels, motels, restaurants, gas retailers, and purveyors of all manner of sports associated materials all stand to profit. The more, the merrier. And the people of North Dakota, the same ones who pay the freight for our university system, my bet is that they’d appreciate your support.
Oh, yeah, that Dream Game? UK forced overtime with a last second shot and the Cards ran the first 14 points in the OT and managed to hang on for a win. (And they’ve both been losing to the IU Hoosiers for years...in my dreams.)
A princess came to my house on December 15, 2012. From felt stockings strewn upon the floor, before a fireplace she browses then names the best, when asked to choose. To make one immediately she agrees and we descend to a place where making-things reside.
A making-thing found that day… that time and in that place, was a bolt of canvas. She says…“I’ll trace the shape”… she did…and I cut. She says…“It should be pink” and I squeeze the tube. The magenta paint, she says, …“is yucky”… I add white. She says…‘red and white make pink, my daddy says”… I added red and she agrees.
“Here’s a brush”...I say and she strokes the shape with heaps of glowing paint; she says, …”you do the back “…I did.
She says…“I’ll make some marker dots on a picture…I say…“make some on the stocking”…she prints her name. “Do some more” I say…she prints the names of her family and her dog. She says, …make me a heart”… I say, …“you make one”…she says…“I can’t…I cannot”. “But you can”, says I…‘“like this…a number 3 tipped over on it’s face…below the middle put a dot… connect the number to the dot”. She did, then made some more on other things.
Puzzling over a join of front to back, needles fail…too dull…too thick. I try the drill…usually works for making holes…I’m relieved. She doesn’t like the holes, “the other doesn’t have holes… I do not like holes… I do not want holes”, she says. “We need the holes to lace the parts”, I say. She says, … you do not even have a Christmas tree” …I say, ...we have five”. She says, … you don’t have any inside your house”…I say, “two are inside, remember”.
Exit the princess; she ascends the stairs to have a snack and visit Grampa, watching the game. Below, I look for a lace to join the stocking parts; my lot of cords… gut…leather… twine…kite-string …none suitable, I need one of agreeable color, thin enough to thread the only just-rite needle I have.
But wait…the loss of that single needle amid the substantial snarled mound of material now changes everything. An opportunity to think in another direction is one I’m familiar with. Envisioning what another person would be looking to use, it becomes obvious…yarn.
Yarn… again I’m lamenting our move to Fargo, soon to be two years ago; it required the slash of my stash to just above impoverishment level. I face the fact that yarn may have been one of the things I was willing to let go.
I now too, need the relief of upstairs with the princess, the game, Grampa and whatever is transpiring. Upstairs, new exciting things are happening; the princess is engaged with an IPad scoop game and very adept at it. Not only can she score high with scoops and burgers, but is able to sort though all the applications picking suitable ones and suggesting new buys which require consent by password protected Grampa. Angry birds come up, she needs little time to precision lob those rocks or whatever it is she‘s hurling to crumble the structures. I think the missiles are more sinister than rock.
Snack offerings have not yet hit the mark; the princess likes small squares of chocolate wrapped in red foil but Grampa’s stash is gone. The dilemma becomes how to place my image of snack into the mind of the princess. I peel a tangelo and set the segments on the island. The princess doesn’t bite; she delivers them in a bowl to Grampa, always most appreciative. She then peels one for herself and favors it with grapes and a frozen corn muffin she finds in the freezer section of fridge. She says I should put a frozen muffin in the microwave. Usually the princess eats peanuts at our house but they too are gone; she settles in on some fried potatoes dressed with ketchup shortly before her daddy returns and says how hungry he is and the rest of the family will be by this time. The princess leaves with him.
I saw her last on December 16, 2012, line dancing in a recital at an urban high school; she was wearing a yellow gold costume, a trim of diamante’ with tutu and leggings.
While out and about yesterday, doing that which I like least of all human activities, shopping, I entered an antique store filled with remnants of people's lives, each of the thousands of items with its own tale of love, tragedy, financial desperation, betrayal or death, kept silently beneath its surface. Once inside an older fellow, about my age I guessed, hollered at me from where he was seated in a comfortable chair toward the back of the store. He was dressed casually in a jaunty Harris Tweed hat and a sweater. I guessed him to be there a bit reluctantly, maybe filling in for the wife.
As I nosed about the shop we started a dialogue common to old men who believe they are in the company of someone whom they do not immediately dislike. We chatted the "where ya froms, whadya do, ya a Bison? bits when I focused on a display case filled with intriguing shapes, forms and colors. The more we chatted, the more we seemed to be like a pair of divergent guided missiles homing in on the same moment in time. And eventually there came the explosion. He and I attended NDSU at the same moment in time, both English majors involved with the identical faculty. I thought I'd try a mutual good friend question.
Didya know Bob Maier? I asked.
Bob Maier? Yeah, he was a really good friend. We worked together a bunch in theatre. He, John Winklemann and I.
He was my best man, I said. Our wedding singer too. He died a few years back, tragically young in my estimation. Pulled off a freeway ramp in the Seattle area and parked in an adjacent area and succumbed to a heart attack. God he was so young, I said, one old man to another, and ambled toward the front door.
Full disclosure. I grew up quasi-rural. A fifteen-minute walk would take me to the hilly countryside west of Valley City. And I grew up a gun owner. My Uncle Bob purchased a .22 Marlin single shot for my third or fourth birthday. When I was about ten, Dad and I would walk into the hills where he began to teach me the fundamentals of gun safety. At the age of 17 I purchased a Ruger Mark I .22 caliber pistol with earnings from bagging groceries.
A Sense Not Understood
What possible inner homing device can cause a person to be drawn to a former residence that predates one’s ability to compile and catalog data? Why do geese, or wild turkeys, or monarch butterflies for that matter have the capability of traveling thousands of miles to former reproductive grounds? Perhaps humans have some of those same innate capacities but do not engage the evolution required to set them free....
If you are reading this you must be a relative. Or, you have broken into our home and found your way to my study. Why you might pick up this manuscript and begin reading is beyond the best efforts of my imagination. I have rendered this tale to paper only to satisfy my own needs. Perhaps to take stock of my life in some way. Or, possibly, so my children, and perhaps theirs, could have some sense of the journey traveled by their ancestors. Anyway, whatever compels people to write a bit of their family history now compels me. I can hold it back no longer.
My earliest recollection is of being on my dad’s shoulders in the yard behind the back of the house. It is a white house, squarish, with a dark gray wood shingle roof. There are no rain gutters. At the back there is a garage with a basketball hoop on a pole nearby. I can visualize myself up near the hoop but unable to grasp or touch it. Perhaps I am on my father’s shoulders. The season is either early spring or late fall; it is cold and I am wearing a fleece-like powder blue jacket and a matching cap with flaps. I think it is fun to be up in the air! The gentle breeze slips in between the flaps and my ears. I think they are hot, like a match just struck. The year is 1942, and I am two years old give or take a few months.
It's an annual thing for me. A lot like the annual physical, where one is weighed, measured, prodded, poked, and sometimes entered. I hate it. Always have. I've tried a variety of solutions, including giving away money, caroling, participating in concerts, going to care centers, serving meals, even tippling a bit. But I come up on empty.
I've tried to analyze it. Could it be the uncertainty that Dad would get home from the daily railroad run on Christmas Eve given the winter storms in days gone by? Was it childhood worry that I'd bought the correct meager gifts for family members? Was it that all relationships with girls but the last one were dead or dying at Christmas and purchasing the final Christmas gift felt like someone offering more mashed potatoes and gravy after you've already eaten the apple pie? Simply no taste for it. Period.
Maybe it's the noxious thought of going to the stores where teaming throngs mill about like cattle searching for a tuft of green grass among the Canadian thistle. And then beller when another cow gets in the way.
Oh well, time to go out and join the cattle...ho, ho, ho. Be sure to avoid the thistle.
Morrissey is a retired school superintendent who is now content to scribble, swim laps, make wine, and do genealogy. His wife calls it chasing dead people...he can almost keep up with them.