Friday, January 29, 2010

Drippy Nasal Post

I have a drippy nasal post. Yes, it's gross. Stop reading now if that upsets you.

What? You've never heard of one? Of course not. It's just how my mind plays with words sometimes. Perhaps you've heard of a post-nasal drip? That's really what it is, and I've only had it for a bit over a year. It's minor, really, and related to allergies, or mock-allergies, like dermatographism. In order to deal with that condition, I've been taking Claritin or its generic substitute for several years. Daily. Otherwise life is just so itchy that I can't stand it. With the medication it's only moderately itchy and only on occasion. Mostly.

Eventually the body fights back. Caffeine no longer keeps you awake, the painkiller doesn't stop the pain, and the dermatographism symptoms return. Those nice dry nasal passages that came as a side-effect of the Claritin find a new equilibrium as well. Drip. Drip. Drain. Tickle. Cough cough.

The cough started in October. Sixteen months back, that October. It came on like a cold with no other symptoms, and when I get a real cold, I go full-spectrum. I went to the doctor anyway, having managed to cough long and hard enough to pull a chest muscle. After about ten days on a cough suppressant and a muscle relaxer (that amazingly didn't make me sleepy and impair my driving) my chest felt better. I still was coughing, but eventually even that found its own equilibrium. And I learned mostly to ignore it.

Lately it's decided to tweak things just a bit more, so when I first get up in the morning, and just after I take my morning pills, it makes me cough to the point of nausea. If I'm lucky, and can hold very very still, I can manage to get through it without event. Sometimes I'm not so lucky.

No, I won't describe it. You'll thank me.

I recently switched to a different allergy medication, still OTC because I can't afford the really new ones that haven't come off patent. It's still too soon to really tell, but I haven't noticed any difference in any of the symptoms, the ones I take it for, or the ones that come along for the ride.

I do get to explain to folks that I'm not contagious, a statement met with many a dubious eye during the height of the H1N1 scare. I get to explain to my dad repeatedly that I'm not actually sick or coming down with something. (His memory is not what it was: I pretty much get to repeat that daily.) Mostly it's just an annoyance that I try to ignore, even as I think I should take out stock in my favorite cough drop company (Halls). The annoyance is kind of like a filter through which I live my life.

So with all this, perhaps you'll forgive my little twisting of the terms in referring to my drippy nasal post. There's got to be some humor in it somewhere.


Having read with interest the tale of a bruhaha in the blogosphere, I have come to the conclusion that it's time to put in my own disclaimers about the content of this blog.

First, any and all opinions not credited to anyone else are mine, and are only opinions. Treasured in the moment, perhaps, but only opinions.

Second, events as related on these pages are subject to the failings of memory. They are recorded as honestly as I can do so, but sometimes I'm wrong. Sometimes I'm really, mortifyingly, astoundingly wrong. For example, in the story about snapping turtle soup, Charlene wrote back to me and corrected one basic misconception:
"...anyway...we never had turtle always dredged it in flour that was seasoned with s&p, browned it in her cast iron dutch oven (wonder where that went, I could use it), then transferred it to the oven...baked till it fell off the bones. Also it had been soaked in a very heavy salt/water ahead of fishy flavor!"

Obviously I got that one wrong from the beginning. It's no wonder my attempt was so pathetic. But at least she remembered the snapping turtle head on Bobby's finger.

Anyway, my memories are what they are, and the way they got remembered is the way they informed the rest of my life, my attitudes, my feelings, and my sometimes bent sense of humor. So to any of you who read this, this is my presentation of who I think I am, where I think I've been, and how I relate to the rest of the world. It's the best I can do, and I'm still having a good time doing it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Sometimes it’s not what the sign says but where it’s placed. Location location location.

For months a Super America convenience store in Mendota Heights had a help wanted sign displayed. One would think in this sluggish economy that job positions would fill rapidly, but apparently not. It was worded perfectly clearly. There was no ambiguity. Clearly they had openings to fill. It was placed right at eye level, where you couldn’t help but see it, right on the door. It directed you to ”Apply Within,” seemingly a perfectly reasonable request, unless you happened to notice that the door it was prominently displayed on also said “Women”.

Replacement Cars

The trouble with replacement cars is that they are different. All your habits are wrong. Reaching for one thing gets you another. Radio settings are not yours, and so many systems exist for setting radios that you could take an hour to figure it out - if it was worth the bother , or even if you could. Mirrors need adjusting, turning radii are different, the seat needs adjusting and at its best is still different from what your muscles are used to. Trying all this after dark is enough to bring on swearing.

This is especially true when switching from a Korean Hyundai of recent manufacture to a '94 Buick. Even with one of my sons in the car- who drove the Buick all last summer- we couldn't figure out how to turn off the dome light for 5 minutes. He had figured out the radio resets last summer, but has forgotten them in the meantime. Lucky for me, one of them was KNOW, MPR's news station, because his musical tastes... well, let's settle for saying they're not mine.

He was, at least, helpful enough to dig the car out of the snow, chip off enough ice to get a door open and start it, clean out the ashtray and accumulated crap, and ride up with me to the nearest Wal Mart where we could replace wiper blades after 9PM. That was especially helpful because with them as awful as they were, and roads wet and salty as they were, it took two to see the road in the face of oncoming headlights, especially when from a semi. It was good we kept the jug with the remainder of the blue-juice from filling the reservoir in the back of the car, because the lines to the windshield were frozen solid. Nobody's driven the car since October, and what little was left was summer blend. Periodically yesterday I'd get out, pour blue juice over the windshield, and turn on the wipers full bore so I could see again. With brand new wipers, it worked well.

The biggest problem, however, was lack of heat. Or should I just say this car is mostly solar-powered in the heating department these days, and the sun only cooperated for a few hours midday. Back when my mom was driving this thing, after my dad got too blind to drive, it developed a tiny radiator leak. Most of you already know how this part of the story ends, but I'll tell it anyway. Being too cheap to go for an actual fix to the problem, a decision we all agreed with, by the way, considering their age and driving distances, a can of leak stopping stuff was put in the radiator. It worked beautifully, stopping up not only the radiator leak but most of the heater core as well. There's plenty of heat for mild October nights, but not for sub-zero January weather, even with extra layers of clothes and driving tucked in under a double-layer polar fleece lap blanket. The windows, at least, stayed frost-free.

I didn't.

This morning my youngest was still home when I got up. That only means he overslept or is sick. Sick it is, but he left me the keys to use his car today, which is a newer year model of my Hyundai Accent. (He bought it on my advice, having taken a number of them up near or over 400,000 miles.) I know how to tune in my radio stations, where all the signals and gadgets and buttons are, and best of all, that it has great heat!!!!

Now if only I hadn't filled the Buick with $30 gas last night, being unable to face freezing my tush off this morning with no way thaw it out all day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tranny Repair

The "check engine" light had been off and on - mostly off - for a couple months. No symptoms. Ignore it and it goes away, at least until the next time.

Finally a symptom. Klunk! up into 4th gear, or so I was informed, since I wasn't sure if it was 4th or 5th. All day it was snowy and slick, so the car never went all that fast until mid afternoon. It was mostly highway driving, steady in whatever gear for long periods. But the klunk! repeated often enough that I called my favorite mechanic and asked who they recommended, since I knew from years of doing business there that they didn't handle trannies. They gave me a recommendation. The tranny place could fit me in for diagnosis that afternoon.

By then I knew I had lost an upper gear, since my RPMs had risen from their usual steady 2.5 to 3.5-4 thousand. I kept it under 60 mph until I got it into the shop. By that time diagnosis took a bit, since there were around 40 codes from the check engine light going on and off, and each had to be cleared. Each told the same story.

The klunk! was due to (jargon jargon jargon) when the (jargon) slipped going up into 4th gear. The computer recognized it and finally started preventing it from staying in 4th gear, in order to protect the gear, or even going in in the first place. More engine wear, worse gas mileage.

Yep, I'd figured out that last part.

What seems odd is the rebuild that my tranny needs to protect that 4th gear is as costly as if 4th gear went and got destroyed anyway. Or at least I think the two grand is as expensive as if the damage occurred. I could be wrong. But since I plan to put another 200,000 miles on this car, it's necessary.

I waited after they closed for my son to get off work, get his cell messages, and come pick me up on his way home. This just had to be the night he didn't turn his phone on until he was almost home, so he had to come back down, pick me up, and head home all over again. Now I'm here, trying to figure out whether I should go straight to bed or fix something for supper first, meaning I have to stay up even later.

Oh, you noticed too that blogging just delays that decision?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Big Job's Daughters Secret

I could simply cut to the chase here and tell you that I never did find out what the secret was, but that just wouldn’t be like me. So I’ll start much earlier.

I grew up knowing my parents were members in a lodge. Daddy was an Odd Fellow, and Mom was a Rebecca. Hubbard, the small town closest to our resort on 2nd Crow Wing Lake, had a lodge where they attended meetings. We didn’t get to know anything else about it because it was “secret”. Being kids, we didn’t much care either. I did know that the lodge held entertainment that was open to the public, a kind of a talent exhibition in the guise of a minstrel show.

Today that would be a scandal. Back then, growing up in an area that had likely never seen a black person in the flesh, black-face was just kinda silly. Nobody could actually look like that, could they? No word of segregation or Jim Crow laws leaked into our serene protected little world, and we just sat back and enjoyed the show. Much of the rest of it was silly also, intended or not.

After moving to Park Rapids, my parents continued their lodge membership, although they still traveled to Hubbard to be with their old lodge friends. It was in the same county, and there wasn’t an Odd Fellow's lodge in Park Rapids. There were, however, Masons.

I never knew how it came about, but one day my mom asked me if I wanted to join Job’s Daughters. Job’s Daughters? What was that? Turns out it was a branch of the Masons for teenaged girls, and when we grew up we could become Eastern Stars. But at that time I'd never heard of it, or them, or whatever. It was some kind of lodge, and somebody unknown to me had put my name forward as a possible candidate to join. It didn’t seem important either way, but Mom encouraged me, so I showed up to be interviewed. The questions seemed both innocuous and pointless. I’d heard I could be blackballed by a single vote but I had no idea why somebody would unless they didn’t like me. These days I’m thinking it had more to do with race and religion and less to do with personalities, but I was clueless then. At any rate, I was accepted. I was to show up on a certain night to be initiated. My parents could come, but otherwise it was to be secret.

We who were to be initiated that night had to wait outside in an atrium while the meeting started, while a couple of the girls already in Job’s Daughters stayed with us and coached us in what was to be expected of us. Actually, they did a pretty good job of not letting us know what to do, other than to just do as were were told at each point. It was all secret until we were members. Just to tease us a little bit, they told us we had to “ride the goat”.

“Behold, behold, we are the daughters of Job.
Behold, behold, we are the daughters of Job,
The fairest, the fairest in all the land.”

I can still sing that at the drop of a hat. It was our processional for every meeting, sung while we entered and marched around to take our places, assigned according to what our particular “office” was at the time. I knew it was a lie when I sang it. I was chubby and awkward, my hair was a curly unruly mess, the robe made me look ugly, and I was anything but the fairest in all the land. But I sang it.

That night it was all new to me. Our escorts, and all the other members, wore white satin robes that came nearly to the floor, with big sleeves, and twisted satin ropes like very long drapery tiebacks that came down our shoulders, twisted together between our breasts, crossed behind our backs and around to the front at our waists where they were tied together in a knot and dropped the rest of their length. Every curve and bulge was outlined. The style looked great on the ectomorphs among us. I wasn’t one of them. While we were waiting to go in, we donned them as well and were shown how to tie them.

When the doors opened, we marched around to different positions in the room, listened to different pieces of the ritual, and moved to new places. Eventually we were lined up in the front of the room, facing what we later learned were the officers, seated up on the front dais. While this presentation was going on, I found myself starting to black out. I had been strictly enjoined over and over to do nothing but what we were told at every step of the way, so I was frozen there, up in front of everybody, unable to sit, put my head down, anything but hope the whole thing got over quickly so I didn’t disgrace myself and my family. We finally were told to turn to our right and proceed, following our leader. At last! By then I was completely blind and wondering if I would be able to go in the right direction and turn at the right time just by following the sounds in front of me. Nothing to do but try. I distinctly remember making 4 steps... and waking up on the floor with a whole lot of very excited people gathered around me, suddenly relieved that I was OK.

And Mother, of course, demanding to know why hadn’t I sat down and put my head between my knees? The very same mother who had spent most of my life telling me to do exactly as I was told. The very same mother who should have been proud of me for following my directions despite adverse circumstances. Figures.

Initiation was over, though I’m not sure that was exactly when that part of the program had been planned for. For a long time I was the butt of jokes about falling off the goat at my initiation, but managed not to be disqualified from membership despite having fainted. I learned the songs and the speeches, voted on new girls joining without ever finding a reason to blackball anybody, went to all the meetings. About twice a year we did something called a service project, which as far as I could tell meant singing at a nursing home or preparing decorations for somebody else’s event.

We were sworn to secrecy about every bit of it, which I never understood then, and still don’t now. When our family moved to St. Paul, I didn't bother to look up a new lodge, and when grown, never bothered to join Eastern Star. I never saw the point.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Snapping Turtle Soup

I: The 50’s

Our family moved into Park Rapids in 1957. My best friend there, Charlene Hensel, lived across the street. Her family was Catholic. This was back when Masses were in Latin, ecumenism as a movement hadn’t started, and all good Catholics didn’t touch meat on Fridays. As a Protestant, I just didn’t understand that. Fish was OK, and didn’t that mean there were eating the “meat” of the fish? Eggs were OK, and wasn’t that just embryonic meat? But they didn’t question - at least not where I could hear - they just followed. And that provided our sleepy neighborhood with some of its best summer entertainment.

Turtles were on the OK list for Friday, and Charlene’s dad had a skill for bringing them home. It was always the biggest, surliest, dare-I-say-it? meatiest snapping turtle he could find. When he did, they were butchered outside in the back yard. Since TV wouldn’t hit our small town until 1960 with an NBC antenna on the water tower, carrying a limited-distance signal, any event was cause for entertainment. Somehow word would go out that Mr. Hensel had a snapper, and we kids would gather to watch.

He had a butchering station all set up. There was a large post set in the ground, probably a 4x4. It was topped with a large wood board at his perfect working height. From the center of that board a large spike rose straight up. It was one of the biggest nails I had seen, and for a time I wondered how it came up from the middle of the post and through the board, but I eventually figured that out. The nail was sharp at the point, and he always started by slamming the turtle belly-up onto the nail, impaling and immobilizing it. Nasty as snappers are, it also kept him safe during the butchering process. We would come to learn how important that was.

I would learn to be impressed by how sharp his knives were, and how tough the skin on a snapper was. At the time, we just took it all for granted. First he removed the shell protecting the belly. Then he carefully scooped out the inedible parts. All this time the legs and head were moving, and we wondered aloud that he hadn’t killed the turtle. He insisted that in fact he had, that the nail spike directly through the spine had killed it instantly. But just like chickens flopped around after their heads were cut off ( we had all seen this), the turtle’s nerves kept it moving long after it was dead. As a way of demonstrating this, he cut out the turtle’s heart and gave it to us. It was still beating, but the turtle was now demonstrably dead - it had to be - though pieces were still moving. We became believers. When I got one heart, I took it home and set it in a bowl of salty water, as instructed. It kept beating until the next day! Of course the bowl, salt and water were to be found in our kitchen, so that’s where I left the heart when I got bored watching it. Mom was not thrilled.

Another thing he removed, when the turtle was female, was eggs. Chances are the turtle was caught trying to cross the road to lay them. They were lifted out in a long string-like tube, like an intestine, but filled with single-file eggs, moist soft shells, perfectly round to the eye, slightly cream colored, and just over an inch in diameter. At least one year my brother Steve took a batch home and “planted” them, digging them a sandy hole and covering them over again, to wait the 100 days it would take for them to hatch. In order to keep raccoons and other predators away from the eggs, he put them in the ground under the fenced cage of the pigeon coop. His pigeon coop, actually, where he raised and trained homing pigeons. Being older and a boy, he got to do cool things like that. I got to watch.

I did manage to let myself into the coop a few weeks later without letting any of the pigeons out, and very carefully dug up one of the eggs to look at. The shell was now dry and leathery, and when I held it up to the sun, something like candling eggs to see if they’d been fertilized, there was a dark blob inside. We were gonna have turtles! I carefully reburied the egg and smoothed the dirt back over like I’d never been there at all, grateful at not having been caught. Sure enough, something like 100 days after they were buried, little snappers began to appear in the yard. They were small enough to crawl through the openings in the fencing as they frantically tried to find water. Being black, they were easy enough to find in the well-mown grass, so we gathered up the ones that had escaped, and then Steve carefully unearthed the rest of the baby turtles that were hatching and struggling to the surface so that he’d have all of them. Many still had shriveled yolk sacs attached, so I got an appreciation of a yolk’s true function. (Somehow I’d had the idea that it was the yolk that developed into the animal It was, after all, the most interesting part of the egg) The river was only a few blocks away, so they were transported there to fend for themselves. Their shells were about the size of a quarter and they were absolutely adorable! Well, except for the thing about them being ugly snapping turtles. Even then you had to be careful to avoid their mouths.

As I said earlier, being a boy meant my brother got to do all kinds of cool things, not just raising homing pigeons. He had a flying squirrel in a large outdoor cage, which I tried to feed once, but it climbed on my hand, sniffed the nut, and bit my hand! Steve collected and mounted insects after killing them in a jar with carbon tetrachloride, still available back then for home dry-cleaning. I guess the fact that it quickly killed insects didn’t carry over to the idea of any danger to kids. He also had a bike. At the very old age of 12, I not only didn’t have one, but worse, I had no clue how to ride one.

A family trip to visit relatives in Minneapolis started to correct that lack in my education. Neighborhood kids let me try to ride one of theirs, and after some instruction and one of them holding the back up while I started, I managed to complete a terrifying ride all the way around the block to my starting place. Terrifying, yes, but exhilarating as well. When I got back home I told Charlene about it, and she let me use her bike out in the street in front of her house. Cars were rare, and sidewalks nonexistent, so it was safe enough, or so we thought.

We didn’t count on her cousins, living in the house of the other end of her block. They watched me wobble by, and after I turned around- a triumph in itself - and was coming back, they were ready for me, charging out into the street with a big stick. To them it was a great lark to shove it into the spokes of the front wheel. To me, not so much. The bike stopped immediately, of course. I didn’t. I’m not sure what I hit on my way down, but it cut completely through my lower lip and into the flesh under my front teeth. I bled all the way home, ruining whatever I had been wearing. Mom blamed me, of course. Surely I had teased those nasty boys and “made” them do that? No, I hadn’t. It made no difference. So nothing was ever said by my parents to theirs. However, at some point Charlene had to explain to her parents how it happened that her bike wheel was ruined, and the boys did get some kind of punishment from their parents. Whatever it was, I wasn’t a witness to it, so for me it may as well have not happened. The bike wheel was replaced. I still have the scar under my lip.

Some time shortly after the bike incident, we all were over in Charlene's yard watching another snapper get butchered. After the head was removed, one of the boys took a stick and inserted it in the turtle’s mouth, where it clamped shut over the stick. After waving it around like a flag to test the jaw's grip strength, he swung it up in the air and the turtle’s head flew up, up, and then down, down, right onto the kid’s finger, held up while he tried to catch the head. Instead, the head caught him. CLAMP! Hard!

He was, of course, yelling and crying,”Get it off! Get it off!” That took a while. And we, of course, were laughing uncontrollably at the sheer impossibility of it all. Well, that, and the fact for me, at least, that it couldn’t have happened to a better kid! Here, at long last, before my very eyes, justice was served!

Eventually, long after we kids had lost interest in the process, meat was obtained from the carcass and taken inside where soup was prepared. When I asked Charlene what snapping turtle soup tasted like, she informed me it was delicious. She at least had the sense not to insist it tasted like chicken, but did invite me over for a meal of it with the family. Mom wouldn’t let me. I don’t know if it was so that I wouldn’t be an imposition on the family, or so that the “Catholic” wouldn’t somehow rub off on me. Perhaps both.

II: The 70’s

Our family moved to St. Paul in 1964, and by the ‘70s I was married, living in the suburbs, and starting my own family. One day I was driving down some road when I spied a large snapping turtle on the road. I figured, “why not?” and got out to start my own batch of snapping turtle soup. Grabbing it by the tail was tricky. It always seemed to be able to turn around to face me faster than I could reach the tail, tentative as I was. Eventually stubbornness prevailed - the story of this whole sorry episode - and I loaded it in the back of my vehicle. I figured the seats would at least keep me protected from the turtle while I drove it home, and in this, at least, I was correct. Getting it out proved to be another logistical puzzle.

I had none of the right equipment. My experience in butchering rabbits didn’t quite provide the right skills either: rabbits were easy to kill and easy to skin. No butchering board was set up with a spike nail set in it in my back yard. A sharp knife in my kitchen would have been a miracle. And I had only a child’s memories and my stubbornness to guide me through the process. I had started, and I was going to finish.

I have absolutely no idea now just how I did it, but eventually there was soup in everybody's bowl on the table. I kept remembering how Charlene had assured me it was delicious. It only took one taste to convince anyone who didn’t know it already that this had been a disaster of an idea. The meat as I prepared it was tougher than a retired whore, and the flavor was nauseatingly fishy and muddy. Either Charlene’s mother had amazing culinary skills, or it was the fear of God that made that turtle soup tasted delicious to Charlene all those years ago. Perhaps both.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where Were You When...?

It must be a generational thing. We each have our version of the question, the one that is always answered, “I’ll never forget where I was when...” For some it’s “...when I watched the twin towers fall.” For others it might be “...when man first walked on the moon,” or “...when the shuttle exploded” or “...when Elvis died.” Whatever it is about, it really refers to that singular event that changed your view of the world forever . It is so shocking that everything about that moment engraves itself indelibly in your memory. For me, it’s “Where were you when JFK was shot?”

I was in tenth grade Biology class, at Park Rapids High School, when the Principal made the announcement over the P A system.

Had it been for anything else, it would have been a welcome break form the classroom routine. Actually, calling it a Biology class was a misnomer, I learned many years later. It was properly called a taxonomy class. We spend a whole year reading from the overhead projector, copying the outline down verbatim and learning it by rote - kingdom, class, phylum, family, genus, species, probably not in that order - while the teacher droned on, filling in a few details here and there in an attempt to make it more understandable. He was also the school coach, obviously hired for his coaching skills. We learned the difference between deciduous and coniferous trees, stamens and pistils, endo- and exoskeletons, and that spiders weren’t insects. Page after page was filled in our notebooks, while one plastic sheet replaced the last on the projector. I thought I hated Biology until I encountered a real class of it in college and found out it was fascinating.

The two highlights in class were the two dissections we were allowed/required to perform. In teams. Ick! Teams meant you likely didn’t actually get to do anything but watch, and had to put up with however incompetent and/or squeamish your lab partners were. The first dissection was on giant worms. Wait! What? Worms had parts? Now I realize just how stupid that reaction is, coming from an otherwise intelligent 10th grader, but I had been thoughtlessly tearing worms in bits for fishing since I was six, since more than a bit was wasteful, what with perch expertly nibbling the worm off the hook without actually getting caught. In all those years I hadn’t noticed any “parts”. And truth be told, there wasn’t much to see in class either, having to look over and between shoulders. Just another disappointment.

The second dissection was on frogs, way more interesting than worms. These definitely had parts, although the limitations of working in teams still held. The only thing that bothered me with these was that they were not killed before we started wielding our scalpels, but the coach spouted a bit of nonsense which basically boiled down to “I know best. I’m the teacher. Get on with it.” So we did. I do hope someday we’ll all be forgiven.

But that day, all we were doing was copying down another page of outline. I have no idea what it was, and care even less. I still can clearly see the projector, the screen at the front of the room it was shown on, the desks where we sat, the grill over the PA box up in the corner of the room that we stared at as though we might learn more that way. A Presidential assassination meant Lincoln, or McKinley, something so impossibly far back in history as to be unreal. It couldn’t be part of our lives! Yet here it was. Life had just changed for all of us.

I recently became annoyed at some talking head who was blithely yammering on about how we all had these indelible memories of where we were when we heard... followed by a whole string of events which I of course remember, but have no clue about where I was at the time. After JFK, after all, Bobby and Martin, tragic as they were, simply were additional tragedies. Assassination wasn’t earth-shattering any more. It had already been done. The first steps on the moon were just the culmination of a long series of launches with that as the end goal. It was expected. Widely celebrated, yes, but expected.

A few events did stand out. When Challenger blew up in '86, I was in my car approaching the IDS Tower in Minneapolis, getting ready to park. We were still on dispatch radio then, so had to listen to that instead of a standard car radio with music and news. Phil, or #316, better known as all drivers were by his number, came over the air with the announcement during a moment when the dispatcher was on break. He was a bit of a blowhard at times, so I hoped for a while it wasn’t true, but found out it was. The pictures of that crazy corkscrew smoke plume, seen later on TV, are also etched on my mind. The Columbia disaster, however, leaves me no picture of my where and when. It had been done already. Nothing changed in my personal world.

9/11 also stands out. While Oklahoma City was history, this was a story that started hesitantly and became more horrific as the day progressed. This was an attack, not home grown, not over in a single blast, but seemingly endless, and after the first cautious reports, definitely terrorism. So I know it was a beautiful sunny day, clear blue sky, and what company lobby in Stillwater I was in making a pick up when the news broke, and which church in Wayzata I was delivering to where I first saw a TV monitor and stood riveted while floor after floor pancaked down onto the next onto the next until all disappeared behind clouds of dust and smoke. About this too, I will always be able to say, “I will never forget where I was when....”

Where were you?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Memory Care

Towards the end of her life, my mother-in-law had to be placed in a memory care unit. She was lucky that one had just opened in the town she lived just outside of. At the time, these were quite a new concept. Previously such patients had just been warehoused with the rest of the general population of senile and elderly infirm in a standard nursing home. She was far from infirm, however, despite a long-broken collarbone that never quite healed right, and far from senile. There was just very little of her short term memory left.

I saw this as a double tragedy for her. She never wanted to be put into any kind of a facility. She had spent her life as a strong, competent, intelligent, independent woman, proud of her accomplishments, including many years as a teacher in Home economics, math, and finally as the school librarian. She couldn't remember that she finally agreed that this was the best place for her, and by far the safest.

But the second and real tragedy for her was that she could never remember when people visited her. Her son and daughter-in-law, living in the same town, visited her at least daily if not twice daily. Her memory told her that she had been abandoned. Living four hours away, it was much harder for me to visit, though I did manage to drag the whole family down to see her for one nice visit while she was still there. It was a good visit, though I think the kids were upset when she occasionally didn't know who we all were, or mixed up details of people's lives. Confused as she was, she relished having visitors. I don't know how soon she forgot we were there, but we had, after all, made the time and that was what counted.

Her feelings of abandonment led to her starting to call 911 for no reason but loneliness. It did work, as she got flurries of attention after each call. However, after the third one, her phone was removed from her room. This had happened just before our visit, and we heard about it from her son John, whom we visited after seeing her.

Several weeks later, she rapidly succumbed to the flu and died. Down we went again for the funeral. My ex, Paul, actually showed up for the service, surprising many of us since he hadn't bothered to do so for his father's funeral several years before. It was the second time we had seen him since 1981, the first being Steph's wedding. He stuck around to chat a few minutes after the service, but left before the family gathered at his brother's house in town for food and conversation. He claimed he needed to get back to the cities to catch a plane back home, but nobody had seen a car and speculation was that he'd actually arrived by bus and was unwilling to admit his true economic circumstances.

At John and Pam's house the conversation naturally turned to Paul for a while, and what was seen as his strange behavior. His brother had his own story to contribute. He'd had to call my ex to make the notification, and apparently old habits of being hard-to-find die hard. The contact number was his attorney's office, who promptly notified him that Paul was dead. Unfazed, having been through the same thing before, John told the receptionist that that was fine, but have Paul call him so he could tell him their mother had died and give him funeral details, etc.

When Paul returned the call, they chatted for a bit. Paul made a point of mentioning to his brother that he'd had a nice long friendly chat on the phone with their mother just a few days before she died. That would have made it more than a month after her phone had been pulled for making those 911 calls! John actually checked with the staff to find out if any calls had come through to his mother, which would have required her being called up to the front office to take it. None had. So far as anyone knew, he'd not contacted his mother for years. And nobody, nobody, suggested that it was any kind of memory problem on Paul's part that led him to claim that he had.

Monday, January 18, 2010


There was a stab at a reconciliation after the divorce was final. I learned that it takes two to change a bad relationship. Unfortunately, he thought I should be both of them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rainbow Raven

When Baby was old enough to be put in her very own bed, she cried. It wasn’t as warm as Momma, and Baby was lonely. Where was the heartbeat that sang Baby to sleep? Where were the hands that held and soothed? Where was the voice that murmured and cooed?

Baby cried for a while, even though she was tired. Then she heard a soft voice whisper in her ear, “Baby, hush and close your eyes. Come find me.” When Baby did, instead of the dark she expected, she saw a bird flying toward her, covered in swirling bright colors, every color there could possibly be.

All those colors, swirling without stopping, would have made a grown-up dizzy and look away from the bird. But Baby found them fascinating and watched as the bird flew ever closer until it landed on her bed.

“You found me,” said the bird. “I am Rainbow Raven.”

Baby smiled and eagerly reached out to touch the bird. Instead of flying away like an ordinary bird would, Rainbow Raven simply whispered, “Come”. He stretch out his very large wings and Baby was suddenly on his back. When he started to flap them up and down, they started to fly away together. Baby was startled, but when Rainbow Raven turned his head around and winked at Baby, she suddenly knew they were going to have fun together.

And they did. Rainbow Raven took Baby up into the fluffy clouds, which turned into cooling mists of white and gray. Rainbow Raven flew low over fields and forests, stopping to introduce Baby to some of the animals that lived there. Rainbow Raven and Baby soared out over the ocean and watched waves grow and tumble as they reached the shore.

Then long before Baby was ready for the ride to end, Rainbow Raven flew back to Baby’s bed, just in time for Momma to reach down and pick Baby up. Baby was happy to see Momma again, and as Rainbow Raven vanished, she didn’t notice that where her hands had touched him his colors began to fade and turn black.

The next time Baby was put in her very own bed, she didn’t cry for nearly as long before she closed her eyes to look for Rainbow Raven. And there he was again, just like before, ready to fly off with Baby on a new adventure. Again, he brought her back just before Momma came to pick her up. And again, a little bit of his color faded away to black.

Baby no longer cried when she was put in her own bed, but quickly closed her eyes and found Rainbow Raven. They went on many adventures together, visiting all kinds of wonderful new places and sometimes familiar favorite places.

One day she almost couldn’t see Rainbow Raven as he flew up to land on her bed. He was nearly all black, with just a tiny patch of swirling colors left. Baby had been having so much fun, she hadn’t really noticed the change, like you and I would. After all, she was just a little baby.

But when Raven asked her, “Are you ready for our last ride?” she started to cry. She never wanted their rides to end. Instead of eagerly reaching towards him, she asked, “Where are all your pretty colors? What happened to you?”

Raven hopped toward her and hugged her with his black wings. “My colors have all gone to you, Baby. Every time we have gone for a ride, I have given a little of them to you. They are all still inside you. They are called ‘dreams’ and you will still have them after I am gone, every time you close your eyes and sleep.”

Cheered a little by this, Baby stopped crying. “I will?’ she asked Raven.

“Yes, you will,” answered Raven. “I promise.”

“Forever?” asked Baby.

“Forever,” agreed Raven. “Now, are you ready for our last ride?”

Baby reached for Raven one last time, and off they flew. It was their best ride ever. When they got back to Baby’s bed, Raven was so black that Baby couldn’t even see him as he flew away. But when she opened her eyes, there was Momma, smiling, reaching for her.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Meat Hash

Fifth grade was a tough year for me, both socially and academically. Getting in trouble at school is a double blow that way. We lived in Park Rapids then, having moved into town a bit over a year before. Partly it was my own big mouth that did it, but partly it was also the way the teacher handled it, leaving me no recourse but the unexplained truth, which, being unexplained, simply wasn’t believed.

It started with my brother. In one of the rare conversations we had which wasn’t a fight back then, he asked me who I had for a teacher that year. I informed him it was Mrs. Tidrick. He laughed and repeated it back to me as Mrs. Tit Rack. This in turn both delighted and scandalized me, and I couldn’t wait to share this information back at school, anticipating similar results from my classmates. I waited until lunchtime in the cafeteria to announce conspiratorially, “Hey, do you know what my brother calls our teacher?” It turned out they were scandalized but, possibly from being well-socialized girls, not nearly as delighted as I thought they should be with the information. Oh, well, another attempt at being the center of attention down the drain. I gave it up and finished my lunch.

When class resumed after lunch, Mrs. Tidrick started off on a long speech, saying something had come to her attention which both disturbed and mystified her, and she wanted to get to the bottom of it. It seems some anonymous student had called her a puzzling name over lunch and she wanted an explanation, right there in front of the whole class. Oh-oh, could I be in trouble? I started to relax when she announced that the name in question was “Meat Hash”.

Oh, whew! It wasn’t me, then. Somebody else was in trouble. She kept going on and on about it, and we were all looking around the class, wondering who it could be she was talking about. But I started noticing that more and more eyes were turning in my direction, sitting way back in the corner of the room. That included Mrs. Tidrick’s eyes, as she began to stare more and more directly at me. Finally calling me by name, she directly asked me what I had meant by calling her “Meat Hash”?

I couldn't tell her what it meant because I had never said that and hadn’t a clue what it meant, much less how someone had transformed “tit rack” into “meat hash”. And I couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, right there in front of the whole class, correct her misinformation. All I could say was that I had never called her “meat hash”. It was the plain truth. It just wasn’t the complete truth. With an anonymous witness to the contrary, the truth simply wasn’t believed.

Convinced I added dishonesty to my list of crimes, I first got to sit facing the corner of the room for a while. When that didn’t elicit any more information from me, I got sent to the office. Again, all I could do was protest that I had never said it. Their level of belief matched my teacher’s, and I got to sit out in the hall by myself for a while, the ultimate sign of disgrace to anyone passing by.

As weeks and months passed, on the playground and lining up for the bus, fellow students would taunt me with “meat hash”. Sometimes I defended myself, and sometimes I tried my best to ignore them, hoping they’d eventually get tired of it and find somebody else to pick on or something better to do. I was a pariah, not one friend in the whole school.

Part of what kept me going was the righteous indignation of knowing I was unjustly accused. Paradoxically, the knowledge of my real crime and of how much more trouble I would be in if it came out, kept my mouth glued shut against those who taunted me. I was fair enough to think sometimes it was the right punishment for the wrong reason.

A couple months after this started my mother took me aside and asked me why I seemed to be so miserable. Was something going on at school that she needed to know about? She thought perhaps it was something about the brand new elementary school which had opened up that year just a couple of blocks from out house which was causing my unhappiness. No way was I about to escalate this issue to a whole new level. I’d be in so much trouble both from my parents and from my brother if his part in it came to their attention. They were the good old fashioned sort who would punish both of us for what had happened, and he’d find a way to get back at his pesky kid sister. “Tit” just wasn’t proper language except on the farm in the proper context, and even then it might be questionable. If you needed to say it, you’d better pronounce it like it was spelled, t-e-a-t, long “e”, so everybody knew how you meant it. We certainly had no excuse. Not only would they back the teacher in this one, as always, but it would only get worse, with punishment at home too. So I finally did lie, and told my mother that she must be mistaken, that nothing was going on at school.

Eventually it all did die down. I presume everyone involved forgot all about it. Except me.

It comes back sometimes, in the dark of night, stirring up the hurt and anger all over again The adult in me wants to rewrite the event, wishing that Mrs. Tidrick had chosen to take me aside privately and ask me what I had been talking about. Then maybe, just maybe, I could have told her and taken my proper punishment.

But the angry child that remains, now with adult communication skills, wants to confront her in class, throwing in her face her bad decision to make the whole thing public, but lay that choice on her, and then inform everybody that their teacher was “Mrs. Tit Rack!”

Friday, January 15, 2010


I was prepared to be irate with the Talk of the Nation replacement yesterday when she brought up Pat Robertson's statement about the Haiti earthquake being a curse caused by God as punishment for the Haitians making a pact with the devil to drive out the French two hundred years ago and gain their freedom. I listen to them for serious news, not the rantings of crazy folk.

However, I was somewhat mollified when the guest took the time to speak up clearly and call the statement "despicable" and explain the harm caused by such comments to the long term recovery efforts, and the next speaker used the term "irrational".

It wasn't Robertson's first time to label a disaster as punishment from God and a cause to raise money. Katrina and 9/11 got the same treatment. What I'm now waiting for, if this is really how God works, is for something to happen to Robertson, so we can all know it's God's way of telling him, "SHUT UP!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Confidentiality Agreements

Confidentiality agreements are peculiar things, not in what they say abut you, but in what they say about the world of business.

A few years ago, one of my sons applied for a job at a company in my field, but which competes with the one for which both I work now and he worked a few years before. They liked his application and his experience, but insisted that he bring me to the interview. When they interviewed me, I found out that they would not hire him without also hiring me.

Now the fellow - I'll call him Jim - doing the interviewing had worked at our company years before, and I hadn't cared for him then. I did so even less after that interview. This company had already hired several of our company's employees and contractors, and suddenly started taking our customers away from us as well. It seemed apparent to everyone that the new hires were bringing over client lists, either physically or mentally, and some of the transferees knew enough about our pricing to assist the new company in underbidding us. They assumed that my son and I would provide the same information, or would share that information back and forth to undercut them if only one of us worked at each company.

I told Jim I'd think about transferring over to his company, even though he informed me that his company would pay me as a new inexperienced person and not even try to match my current pay level. He tried to sweeten the deal my threatening me with the idea that my company was getting rid of all its experienced staff so it could cut salaries. After all, it was already happening - and he named names.

I was frankly offended by the thought that my son and I would share that kind of information to undercut one company or the other. I didn't trust Jim from previous experience, and went to someone I did trust in our company to try to find out why those named individuals had been let go and whether my position was in jeopardy. I found out there were good reasons for the firings and my position and salary were secure, so long as I continued to perform as I had been. Still, I struggled with the job offer a bit more, knowing I would be hurting my son's chances for a job. Ultimately I decided I couldn't work for that company, and explained to my son why he wasn't getting that job. Luckily for the family dynamic, he understood.

A couple years ago at contract renewal time, our company instituted a confidentiality clause. I had no problem with signing it. A bit later, one of our clients also insisted on its very own confidentiality clause which everyone of us who worked for them had to sign. Again, no problem.

But it is kinda weird, because now, 3 to 5 days a week, I have a regular timecall for this company I can't name, with a customer of theirs I can't name, so the first can perform a service for the second that I can't describe for you. I can tell you it is both a legal and a vital service. If I could tell you what it was, you'd agree. I enjoy the timecall because it takes me out into rural Wisconsin first thing on those mornings and I love the scenery and lack of rush hour traffic. Now it has the added benefit of letting me start about an hour later than usual, which gives me time to see to my dad's needs early in the morning. People along my morning route are getting familiar with me, because I stop the same places for restroom breaks and occasionally breakfast at a MacDonalds, and after over a year, are starting to ask what brings me out their way.

Then I have to regretfully explain about confidentially agreements.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

So Harry Reid made some comments about whether Obama could win election based on his speech and skin color. Big deal! He was absolutely right, for one thing, and wasn't saying anything everyone else wasn't already saying or thinking at the time.

Obama, if successful, would be the first President with any known African ancestry. Considering this country's history with slavery, this was more than a pretty big deal, it would be monumental. It had been tried before and those other potential presidents failed. What the white voters needed was some reassurance that this person wasn't some scary guy from the hood, so the more he resembled them, the better. Reid just said it out loud. And we are forgetting the context.

If Reid said it, so did all the political pundits at the time, as well as the common folk who call in to talk radio shows. I listened to that stuff constantly, from MPR to liberal political talk station shows. Even the African American callers were speculating as to whether Obama was black enough or too black to win the highest office in the land. Very little conversation at first was about his being president of the Harvard Law Review or a community organizer or a non-philanderer with a lovely family, or liberal enough or too liberal on whatever issue under discussion. It was all, "He's black. Can he win? How black is he?"

All those in an uproar today seem to forget that there was another parallel discussion going on in this country at the same time. Hillary Clinton if successful would be our first woman President. Was she feminine/masculine enough? Or too much? After all, we were at war, and a significant segment of our population didn't believe a woman could lead a war. She needed to out-macho the good-ol'-boys, and when she looked like she was going to be successful at that, suddenly she was being called a lesbian!

Our country badly needed to grow up, but that process involved months of discussing racial issues and hinting at racial issues and tiptoeing around racial issues. Ditto for gender issues, though without so much tiptoeing.

So what if Harry used the word "negro"? Yes, it's badly outdated, but for his generation it was the legal usage and term of respect. Much worse were common. OK, Reid's a dinosaur. Big deal, move on. Remember Senator Stevens talking about the internet as a series of tubes? Dinosaurs abound in the political arena. They also abound in our communities and families, if we are lucky. Of course he could do well for himself in updating his PC language, but what he said was nothing more or less than the truth, making the political calculation that the whole country was making at the time. This particular black man, with his particular traits, might be able to win the highest office in the land!

A final word here, not about Obama or Reid, but going back to the late 60's and some of the best, most biting satire at the time. The Chad Mitchell Trio did a short skit that I still love, that points out an earlier struggle by a politician trying to be PC. You heard two voices, one coaching the other until the pronunciation gradually changed from "nigra" in a very southern (Texas) accent, to "neee-grow". Once successful, the coaching voice called out, "OK, Dr. King, the President will see you now." It seems Lyndon Johnson had his own learning curve.

Monday, January 11, 2010



You knock on my door again
Letting yourself in
Before I bid you enter.
You are not a stranger to me
But hang there in my corners
Like a dusty cobweb
Long after the spider who bit me
Has gone.
I’ll throw open my shutters
Reach up my broom
And sweep you out again.
But not just yet today.
No, not just yet today.

When I first wrote this, it was part of the process of dealing with the pain of breaking up, of a bad marriage, of unsuccessfully trying to find a new special someone. It wasn’t long before it took on a new meaning.

Part of running a dry cleaners is making sure the chemical “perc” or perchloroethylene stays clean. Otherwise it simply redeposits everyone else’s dirt on your clothes in wide, dirty streaks. The process was called “cooking”, and is done by dumping a certain amount of perc into a large drum, redirecting the heat from the boiler which is already there at the machine to dry the clothes to also heat up this drum so the perc will evaporate and the gunk will stay behind. Eventually you go in and scrape out the gunk. In other words, it’s a still, just a different product than corn whiskey. With the busiest store in the chain, we needed to do this daily, distilling part of the perc while leaving some of it in the system to keep cleaning without shutting down the work. It was a tricky process, since overheating meant the gunk boiled back up out of the drum and coated whatever you were cleaning, and underheating meant no boil at all. I had that mastered.

Just like a car, however, changing the oil alone wasn’t enough. The filters had to be changed every so many thousand miles (hours) as well. These were big heavy cylinders on the top of this machine. Changing them meant full shutdown, draining everything out of the filters, and then climbing the big cradle of shock absorbers that this machine rested in. Best drained overnight, changed before morning start-up. One late spring day in ‘85, I was in this process when a customer came in, and the distraction caused me to lose my balance. I landed on my feet - hard! - right on the concrete floor. I felt a sharp pain on the bottom of my foot, so intense I couldn’t walk or stand on it for a few seconds. But the customer always came first, and as soon as possible I made my way up to the front counter to take care of business. Task oriented, that’s me. By the time the customer left, I hardly felt the pain, or remembered it.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. I had torn a tendon in the arch of my foot, and the foot tried to heal itself by sending a spur of bone back in the direction of the tendon. It’s otherwise known as a heel spur. It feels like there’s a rock in your shoe, except it’s inside, not outside your foot. The technical term is plantar faciitis. The worst part is that the cleaners had literally no chair on which to sit. After all, we were supposed to be working, not goofing off, right? By the end of each 9-hour day I was nearly in tears. It was enough to send me to the doctor, finally. Which led me to a workers comp claim, doing my job from a wheelchair (it actually worked), getting demoted to a much smaller branch, and finally being laid off. (It seems they thought it didn’t look good to the customers to have a lady in a wheel chair waiting on them, no matter how successfully.) It also led to a prescription that caused depression, a cortisone injection which was worse than the spur, and eventually the discovery of 1) Motrin and 2) arch supports. Two years later and a new, mostly sit-down job, spurs gone.


Pain, I found out, like poverty, is not ennobling, contrary to popular conception. I figure that the only folks who actually think so are the ones who have not experienced either. I believe the only reason that idiocy continues to be touted is because it is a self-righteous excuse for lack of empathy. It enters political thought as a justification for not reaching out to help the less fortunate. The real experience grinds you down, steals your energy, erodes your hope, draws the line for you between “survive” and “thrive”. Without that experience, even the best-intentioned person only imagines that they “get it”. You can try for empathy, but never really get past sympathy.

I owe my daughter an apology. I had a failure of empathy, a complete lack of real understanding of what she was experiencing, until I came to experience it myself. I am truly sorry.

As a child she had juvenile rhumatoid arthritis. First, it shattered my deeply cherished belief that she, my firstborn, was perfect in every way. (Yes, mothers can get these funny ideas.) Second, she didn’t act like she was in pain, conveniently letting me forget what I’d learned. If she wasn’t limping, wincing, crying, how bad could it be? I had a lot of other things to deal with that demanded much more of my attention than she did. Third, I had no idea what it felt like myself. Complete failure of empathy.

Perhaps there is some kind of cosmic justice after all - or karma, if you will - that decrees when you can’t find empathy, it’ll put you in a position where it forces itself on you. Many years later, I've got arthritis. Not just in the knees either, though those are the worst and most constant. The finger joints come and go. The most “interesting” times are when you can both hear and feel the bones grinding against each other. Then it’s not just the pain, it’s that there’s something particularly nauseating in the idea of what’s happening. But really, it’s the pain.

The “best” knee simply has osteoarthritis. Glucosamine Chondroitin actually helps that one. The other one also has tears and spurs. It seems that every time I fall, I land instinctively on two hands and that one knee. Four of six falls in the last few years have been due to ice - yet another reason I want to retire to Arizona. The other two were caused by tripping over things I knew were there, at least until I turned suddenly to go somewhere and momentarily forgot.

They reminded me.

This is the knee that earned me my handicap parking sticker. (The day I asked my doctor about that, I got a look at the x-rays. Disturbing!) This is the one that hurts not only deep inside, like somebody magically inserted the sharp end of an icepick behind the kneecap and broke it off, but radiates pain up and down the front outside with each movement, even the non-weightbearing kind. Just the slightest torque, such as from rolling over in bed, is enough to get my attention, even waking me from otherwise sound sleep.

Ibuprofin is my friend.

Of course, it also raises my blood pressure, so that’s being treated and monitored. And the Ibuprofin only brings the inflamation and pain down to manageable levels so long as I don’t actually DO anything much, like walking or standing. But it’s time to head off to work now, so I’ll save the diatribe for why I no longer have health insurance, and thus expensive treatment options, for another post.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I. for one, am not going to panic in the event we get hit again. It's not just that many have tried and failed since 9/11. Eventually someone will get through. But I heard on the radio that this guy knows someone in the Secret Service and has it on good authority that they're all prepared in case something happens. They have a brand-spanking-new copy of "My Pet Goat" to hand the President!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

One WW II Soldier's Story

As I grew up, I never heard my father, John D. Maxson, talk about he war. The most we could ever get from him was a list of countries he'd served in: England, Ireland, Wales, Belgium, France, Germany. The silence on the subject ended when Mom was in the hospital with her stroke. I had taken him home late in the day, after he'd spent hours at her bedside. The staff were still offering hope for her improvement, but he was pessimistic and I kept him company at home for a while. What follows is the story I heard that night.

His story starts before the war, with their marriage. He’d met Mom in church, Simpson Methodist in Minneapolis, while she was still in high school, and they hit it off right away. But they didn’t marry until 1941. He couldn’t afford a wife. Earlier he’d started attending Hamline University, but when his father died suddenly in 1934 from a urinary infection, my dad had to quit. He was one of the younger of 10 children, and had to go to work to help support his mother and younger siblings.

His first job was with Piper Jaffrey in Minneapolis, where he earned $65 a month in the mailroom, not enough to get married on. After they let him know he was a fool for asking for a promotion, he let his future father-in-law use his connections to get my dad a job with Butler Manufacturing, where he started at the princely sum of $105 a week! My Grandparents threw a double wedding for both their daughters, Gladys and Nina Brogren, at Simpson Methodist on May 4, 1941. After finding a three-room house on south 4th avenue in Richfield, my parents put in a garden and settled down.

When Pearl Harbor happened, my dad tried to get his job at Butler classified as essential to the war effort. Unfortunately, nobody bought it, including Butler. After being inducted at Fort Snelling, they found out he could read and write (and tested him at an IQ of 139), so appointed him to a clerical position there, keeping track of where other soldiers were being deployed and when. This was walking distance from home, so he spend the first six months of the war coming home to Mom every night, even keeping some of his uniforms and supplies at home. One morning he was reading the list of soldiers shipping out that day and saw his own name, heading for Texas. He said he was lucky that it took so long for the army to transport him that far. The box of his military equipment Mom had to ship down to him when he’d had no opportunity to return home for it arrived just as he did.

Fort Bliss did not live up to its name. Texas didn’t last long, nor did California or Missouri, but he was finally sent to Richmond, Virginia and informed he’d be there for a while. He told Mom, “Come”, and she did, staying for six weeks while he was trained as an anti-aircraft gunner until he was shipped to Boston in preparation for heading overseas. He didn’t see her again until the war was over.

After landing in Liverpool, he was sent to Wales in an anti-aircraft unit. He was still there until 6 weeks after D-Day, when he was sent to France, awaiting assignment. That landed him in Liege, Belgium, where he was made a 1st sergeant and given command over between 120 and 180 soldiers. (It was unclear whether the numbers changed on the ground, or just in his recollection.) The unit as a whole had a bad reputation for morale, and he was one of many sent to deal with this. Two of the men under him tried to kill him on occasion, but were unsuccessful, and he never had enough proof to have them charged.

When he first arrived, his CO ordered him to find himself a spot in a 4-story apartment building that had been taken over for a barracks. He dropped part of his gear in a nice attic room and headed down for the rest. While he was back at the truck talking for a moment to his CO, a German V-1 Buzz bomb took off the top of the building he’d just been in and was just about to return to. Daddy and the CO dove under the truck and were uninjured. Most of his equipment had to be replaced, of course, and he found other lodgings in the building. Those were fine until it rained, when water leaked all the way down into the basement.

In early 1945 their unit was at the airstrip. The Germans put together every plane they could still coax to fly for an attack. Somehow, our guys got a 30-minute advance warning, enough to launch every plane on the ground and send them up to 10,000 feet, out of harm’s way and in perfect attack position when the German planes arrived, 80 strong. The A-A gunners took out 13 of the planes, and our waiting planes took out all but one. It was the last major German air-raid of the war.

From Liege he was sent to Munich to the occupied zone. The war was ending, and deep behind the front lines where they were, there wasn’t much action. They got bored enough that one day out on patrol, they started using the transformers on the poles for target practice. Upon returning to their headquarters, they found the camp in an uproar. Somehow the Germans had mounted a resistance and were sabotaging communication lines!


Knowing very well who these “German resistance” fighters actually were, their unit volunteered to go out and hunt for them. It would certainly be safe enough, and they could eliminate any damaging evidence left behind. Apparently they never were found out.

At the end of the war, he was sent to Spain to ship back to New York. As he started down the gangplank for home, one of the men who’d been trying for him finally got another chance, and hit him hard enough on the head that he lost consciousness and fell. His next memory is waking up lying on a bunk in sick bay, with someone asking him whether he wanted to press charges. He gave it some thought for a long moment. It would mean another month in the army while the court martial was held. He opted for his own discharge instead.

It was 11:50 PM, New Years Eve, when he stood on his own front step, knocking on the door. After 4 times, Mom answered. Then, he related to me with a gleam in his eye, they started a very long celebration. It must have been a good one. Ten months later my brother was born.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Lottery

Hey, somebody won the Gopher 5 last night. It could even have been me. I have a ticket.

The reason I know is that the lighted number signs in the convenience store windows changed from $375 thousand to the base of $100 thousand. If you consider that about a third of that win is taken for taxes, that leaves something close to $240 thousand. That's not quite enough for me to retire on, yet, but it would certainly change how that retirement is spent.

For example, I could purchase a house down in Arizona using just a portion of the net, rather than selling this one when I retire and moving down. That way I'd have this one to return to up here for the summers, which is good because I love my yard, with blueberry and raspberry bushes, fish ponds, a fire ring for evening entertainment and cooking. Heck, I could even head down there now for a few months each winter with this place to return to, kind of a semi-retirement. Days like today make that very tempting.

On the other hand, I could peel off a few thousand for each of the kids, mine and my boyfriend's, sort of an early inheritance, and sock the rest away for a few years of additional interest, then sell here and move, etc., etc. That credit card balance and the car payment could be eliminated first, of course, and that would take a lot of the stress away. Some of the vehicle maintenance I've been putting off could be taken care of, like replacing the other three engine coils instead of just the bad one I took care of last year. There is quite an expensive amount of dental work ahead, or a new solar-shingle roof for the house, or a few nice vacations I'd love to take.

Now if it had been the Powerball which had won last night, my dreams would be so much grander. The bigger the jackpot, the more people I'd share it with, the more charities I'd cut in for shares, and the more my own personal dreams could grow. A house becomes lakeshore property with my own dream home design. Add a windmill to those solar shingles, make diverse and interesting investments....

The point is, until I know for sure that I haven't won, my imagination can entertain me for hours with all the possibilities built into that amount of money. That's why I consider buying a lottery ticket as an entertainment tax. My imagination can be amazingly and frustratingly literal-minded, and refuses to really take flight without some possibility it could happen. Enjoying my fantasies as I am, I won't even check my ticket until this weekend.

My daughter insists that lottery tickets are only for the mathematically challenged. I disagree. Heck, I know the odds, practically zero. Just not completely zero. Occasionally somebody does win, like last night.

And until I check that ticket, it could even be me! Dream on!

A "Hypothetical" Run-in

There is a hospital in St. Paul where the dock area is smack up against where they cut the freeway, leaving pretty much no room for anything. I needed to stop there earlier this week, noticing on my way in that the access road, narrow at the best of times, was narrowed further by snow banks and made worse yet by trucks and dumpsters sitting along one side. Most places it was a single lane, and no place to cram in even as tiny a car as mine.

But the dock itself was clear. I parked my car by the steps and proceeded in when an already grumpy fellow insisted I had to move my car. The docks had to be kept open for trucks. When I asked where I was supposed to park it, he snapped that it wasn’t his problem, but I had to move.

After carefully assessing the situation, I relocated my car to the other end of that same dock area, off the other set of steps, but where I was not blocking any part of any access to a truck backing straight in. (If it could, under those tight conditions. But I am in awe of the skill the drivers display in really ugly situations.) As I again left my car, the same grumpy guy lifted up the dock door nearest where I had been parked and gave me a stare, most likely making sure I'd moved. I simply announced to him that I believed I had left room for any hypothetical truck to get in. There were at this time none in the actual dock area. He slammed down the door, after a long look at my car.

I knew part of where I needed to go to make my pick-up, but stopped to ask the woman in the dock office how many floors down I had to go in the freight elevator. I wasn’t sure how many sub-basements this building had. Grumpy was tucked around a corner in this same office, but poked his head out to yell at me, after my smart-assed “hypothetical” comment, why on earth should I expect them to give me any assistance?


I could have said any number of things. “Because it’s your job?” “Sorry you’re having such a tough day/life/whatever.” “Oh, so you actually understood that big word, eh?” “Control freak, much?” But remembering I wore a company’s uniform, I restrained my actions to a cocked eyebrow, a cool stare, and turning to walk towards the freight elevator. I’d figure it out.

About two minutes later, package in hand, I emerged back into daylight to note, once again, that there were no trucks of any kind backed up to any of the dock doors.

Hypothetical indeed!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Today's best radio line:
It's so cold out there that when the flashers come up to you, they just describe themselves.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


1: Best lines heard over the radio:
- - - - - Where do terrorists buy their underwear? From Fruit of Kaboom.

- - - - - Rush Limbaugh was rushed to the hospital with chest pains. Doctors tried to examine his heart but couldn't find one.

2: My current favorite fast food joint has a branch with a sign advertising they're hiring a smiling face. I have to wonder: Is it yellow? and drawn in a circle?

A Father's Day Query

Four simple words, simply stated, and two of my most cherished illusions were gone. Dust. I needed to back up, rethink, reassess.

My first illusion was that I was an effective communicator. I had asked a question, knowing what my preconceptions were, not realizing I needed to spell out the terms of the question more clearly. I knew what I meant, after all, so why wouldn’t he?

My second illusion was that I had been a very careful parent, successfully walking a very fine line in how I dealt with one particular topic with my kids. I thought I had followed my ideals with comparable deeds. I obviously hadn’t.

It was Father’s Day weekend, and I’d been watching TV in my living room with my youngest, Paul. He was still in high school, so this was way back before TIVO or DVRs allowed you to skip commercials. We had been bombarded for days with ads for tools, lawnmowers, cars, men’s fine clothing stores... in short, all the stereotypical presents one might buy for That Special Dad.

Paul didn’t have one in his life. In fact, the family hadn’t heard from Paul Sr. for quite a few years. I’d tried to honor the principle of not denigrating the other parent, who was not, after all, present to defend himself. Never mind that he had only himself to blame for that. The kids needed to decide for themselves just what and how they thought of their father. It was possible that once grown they’d want to reach out and connect with him. If nothing else, they’d have questions for him, and whatever came of that would be theirs to resolve. On the other hand, I also needed very much for them to know that it was no fault of their own that their father stayed away from them. There was nothing wrong with them. They were not bad kids. Quite the contrary, in fact. Mostly.

But with our family situation, the question had never come up as to what he might choose, of all the possible presents, to give a father for Father’s day. A tool? A shirt? A car gadget? Something completely creative? I had absolutely no idea, and thinking it was a completely generic question, that it was an if-there-were-a-father kind of question, a the-kind-of-person-you’d-want-to-give-something-special kind of question, I asked him, “What would you give your father for Father’s Day?”

“Oh, probably some disease.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Wedding Notes

So much for El Nino! It's supposed to give us Minnesotans a warmer winter than usual. We arrived in Fairmont to find out they started the day at -31. It certainly wasn't much better at the time of the wedding, although the icicles descending from the roofs of all the improperly insulated houses we drove past to get to the church were absolutely spectacular! Paul got out of the car to stretch his legs a bit after the drive, and pronounced the cold air was actually OK, as long as you didn't have to breathe or anything.

The first new extended family members we met were a pair of absolutely adorable 7-month-old twin girls. Lucky John! He was becoming an instant grandfather today! Oh, and here were three or four other new grandchildren, some of whom found it their duty to fill in the silences in the service so nobody'd be lonely. Especially them.

This is John's 3rd wedding. The first was brief, ending in divorce. The second lasted many years, ending with death. Considering the first, however, the question that nobody could answer (we tactfully didn't ask the priest, just in case) was how did he get a Catholic Church wedding? Did church policies change? Didn't it count because he was/is Protestant? Or was he also tactfully silent?

The wedding was small and cozy, held in a chapel off the main sanctuary. This was good, as we just filled it, and that helped warm the room up by the end of the service. Everybody dressed warmly for it, sensibility trumping glamour, except for the bride, Susan. Her lovely dress would have been very comfortable in July, with its tiny cap sleeves. I would have been shivering in it, and would personally have turned into the "something blue", but she did look quite comfortable - no visible goosebumps, anyway.

At the reception in a local restaurant, we finally got to meet the next-most-recent newest family member, my niece's husband of about 15 months. Yes, of course we attended that wedding, held on a lovely September day in a local lakeside park, but as groom he was awful busy that day. Now we actually had a chance for conversation. He favorably impressed everybody on my side of the family, and to top it off, he and my niece just announced they are becoming parents! August!

Hooray! I get to be a Great Aunt!!!!

This raised another question, which the other great-aunt-to-be and I discussed. If the direct line goes parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, why does aunt-hood jump from aunt to great aunt? Why no grand aunt? Not that it really matters, because hey, Hooray! I get to be a great aunt!!!!!!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shadenfreude II

Woe to any man when his two ex-wives get together and compare notes! I would not wish that on anybody... well, except perhaps for MY ex. I learned so-o-o-o-o much!

We were all in the middle of a lawsuit, and it turns out that Marian and I were on the same side, combining forces at the suggestion of our lawyers. No sense reinventing the legal wheel each step of the way. But this all needs a context.

Back at the end of 1981, Paul came up from where he lived in Pawhuska, OK for a post-divorce conjugal visit. A see-the-kids-for-X-mas kind of visit. A last-ever kind of visit, though he never breathed a word of that at the time. The day after he returned home he married Marian, getting it in before the tax deadline. He called a few days later to let me know, one of those don’t-bother-me-anymore calls. He hadn’t bothered to tell me during his visit what he was planning, and yes, it was something that was planned. (I’m just guessing here that he also didn’t bother to tell her just where he slept on that visit.) No more communication, no visits, nothing. Child support got paid for a while after, and then nada there too.

While we were married, the family made it known that a large inheritance was expected. For generations back it was a very small family, single child of a single child, etc. The one exception was Great Uncle Irvin Rosa, (a? the?) founder and president of Jostens, the place where you get your class rings. Every year end the bank handling his trust send out an annual report, and it was passed around and discussed, noting whether its value went up or down, how much was paid out for Paul’s grandmother Annis while she lived, and how much was kept inviolate for Irvin’s widow Phyllis. Paul always said that half his share would go to his kids, evenly split. He even insisted it got written up in the divorce papers.

Several years after the divorce, I had a friend who was an attorney, and he suggested that I (pay him to) write a letter to the bank, requesting to be notified when Phyllis died and the trust was to be paid out. It was done and forgotten for years, until out of the blue Bill called to inform me that bank notified him that not only had Phyllis died, but my ex had as well, and my children were due to inherit! We had no idea Paul had died, or when or how. I felt it my duty as their mother to tell the children, and we went through several emotional days. I had also called his brother John, asking him what had happened and how had I never been informed? Strangely, he also had no clue, but promised to look into it for me.

A couple days later, the answer came back: Paul wasn’t dead, just hiding from his creditors. Nobody ever owned up to sending the “he’s dead” letter to the bank. Also in this information was the fact that the trust was now worth nearly 2 1/2 million dollars, and under its terms, each brother got half. Their mother still was alive and healthy, but as a widow of a direct relative of Irvin’s, she did not inherit. Nor did Paul’s children, at least not directly.

Paul, being the upstanding citizen that he is, immediately did two things: he filed for federal bankruptcy, and had his attorney contact the trustees and say in legal terms, “you haven’t found him yet.” If they didn’t officially “find” him within six months of his filing for bankruptcy, his $1.2 million would not be considered among his assets, and thus not tapped to settle his debts.

My attorney friend told me to find myself a properly qualified attorney in the field to fight for both my years of back child support and a share of the inheritance that he’d promised his kids in the divorce decree. The fellow he recommended passed me on to another fellow even better qualified. The only glitch was that this kind of case was not taken on a contingency basis, and I had nearly no money, raising three kids without support on a very modest income. After consulting with his partners, my attorney got back to me saying he’d take the case on a contingency basis after all, noting that it had been a long time since he’d had such an “interesting” case. He even thanked me.

The fight began.

Now Marian comes into the picture, though I didn’t know it at the time. Paul had adopted her two children just after he married her. He now lived in North Carolina, having divorced her. (Or maybe it was more like she divorced him, after finding out abut his two fiancees in two other states. But that was a later story.) This again was news, although I had started calling myself “his first ex-wife” about a year after we lost contact, just from spite. Paul owed Marian both alimony, which I had never claimed, and child support. She had connections, and even though it was a protracted fight for her, with the entrenched good-ol'-boys network working against any woman who had the gall to hound a father for child support of his abandoned children, she finally got the Governor’s ear for an extradition order. It was a felony for a father to leave the state of Oklahoma to avoid paying child support. So they found Paul, brought him back, and let him sit in jail until the money was paid.

That was what gave me a break, because in order to get out of jail, Paul had to contact the trustees and beg for an early partial pay-out. He had been officially “found”. Now that we knew about Marian’s case we decided to combine forces. The attorneys contacted a judge in Owatonna, where the trust was set up, informing him of Paul’s inheritance and persuading him that not including it in the bankruptcy as an asset was equivalent to perpetrating a fraud on the government. It got ruled in two days before the six-month deadline!

Now came months of waiting, letter-writing by the attorneys, consultations, locating and organizing documents. Shortly before we both had a final settlement, I received a completely unexpected call from Marian. She had some interesting tales to tell.

She had decided not to dislike me, even after what Paul had told her about what kind of a terrible person I was. It seems she got enough of a taste of what he was like while married to him that she chose to disbelieve his wild tale about coming home too early from an over-the-road trucking gig and finding me in bed with the football team or some such. I think her first clue might have been that he was never a trucker in his life, but rather a computer programmer/systems analyst. But that came to her later.

Another indication of his veracity happened during a neighborhood get-together, sort of a block party, with all the families getting together over food and fun. This was back after we’d (USA) been involved in a lot of risky flights over Cuba, perhaps rescue missions though I’m very hazy on the details. It was very hush-hush, top secret in real life. When conversation turned to those events, Paul started spinning a tale about having been in the CIA and being involved as a pilot and hero. While he might have been taken with a grain of salt by ordinary neighbors, he happened to do his yarn-spinning in front of someone who was the real deal, a been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt kind of guy, who called Paul out on it in front of everybody. Unfortunately, this wasn’t just reflected back on Paul. The kids were harassed and ostracized in school, called liars just like their dad, and were made generally miserable through no action of their own.

That alone wasn’t what caused their divorce. Paul’s job was as an independent contractor, and sometimes his contracts were with companies needing him to troubleshoot their systems out-of-state. One night Marian got a phone call from a North Carolina hospital asking for insurance information. Being a proper good wife, she flew out to comfort her poor injured husband. This is where she found out the circumstances of his injury.

There had been a party, with a lot of drinking going on, at least on Paul’s part, busy having a good time with what turned out to be one of his two fiancees. (The other fiancĂ© was in Tennessee, though presumably he didn’t see too much of her since there was a bench warrant out on him there for failure to appear on a multiple count drug charge. He would be arrested if caught crossing the state line.) Location was the key here: the party was at a private home located along a lake. Or rather, what had been a lake, created by damming across a small river and waiting for it to back up and fill in. For some reason it was currently drained, but the dock still stood. Paul, in the dark and being drunk, decided to take a swim by jumping off the end of the dock. The result was one ankle broken, the other shattered. I’m told he fought going to the hospital, knowing what the outcome with his wife would be.

While I ate up these stories eagerly, having had no contact or information for years, it was the last one Marian told me that gave me particular satisfaction: definitely a case of schadenfreude.

I had known about the extradition for several months. I just hadn’t known the details.

My mental image of extradition came from TV and movie scenes of a deputy leading a handcuffed prisoner onto a plane, there cuffing him to the armrest for the duration of the flight.

Not hardly!

For one thing, I guess he just wasn’t dangerous enough. And even though he was being returned on a felony warrant, a guy who didn’t pay child support just wasn’t taken seriously. As a result, once he was picked up, he was locked in the back of the local squad car, dumped in the local jail, forced to wait until somebody found the time to transport him in the same fashion to the next county’s jail. And on, and on. He didn’t get his phone call to fix his problem until the end. From North Carolina to Oklahoma took two weeks! TWO WHOLE WEEKS!

It’s still satisfying.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years Greetings

Happy New Year!

It's time to rest for a bit, home after our biggest auction of the year, and getting ready to head down to Martin County for a family wedding tomorrow. Technically, I guess, for me it's an ex-family wedding, since the groom's brother and I got divorced back in 1981. But of course his kids are my niece and nephew, and my kids are his, so there's not really so much "ex-" in the family after all.

I don't expect my ex to be there, though I haven't bothered to ask. Since 1981 ended, we've seen him twice, including our daughter's wedding. Through the years there have been three funerals and two weddings down there, three counting tomorrow, and I've been there with the kids for all of them. My ex showed up once, for his mother's funeral, and didn't stay to socialize afterward. He did actually converse with two of his children on that occasion. The third declined the opportunity. When my niece made a critical comment to me about this behavior, I simply let her know that my son had his reasons. (He has.)

The combination of the upcoming wedding and having this blog for a sounding board have led to my taking lots of time for reflection about family history. I anticipate a number of upcoming postings on some of those topics. The total list grows daily, while opportunity to write is much more limited. Right now, it's time for supper, some TV R&R, and rest before a 4-hour drive each way.

And I'm greatly looking forward to meeting my new sister-in-law-in-law. Or is there a better term for my brother-in-law's wife-to-be? John's last wife, Pam, died a few years ago after a long battle with liver cancer. I just hope for Susan's sake that he can take Pam off her (proper) pedestal and truly make room for somebody new. Or at the very least, tuck that pedestal away in a closet and only look in on it in private moments.

Oh, for anyone who's wondering what arrangements I've made for taking care of my father while the rest of us tromp gaily down for the wedding, my boyfriend Steve will be spending the day with him. I'd be delighted to introduce him to my "ex-family", but for some reason he prefers to remain here. I get that.