Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

A Date Forever Wrapped In Sorrow

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

As I wrote eight years ago when I ran this piece for the second time, just seeing today’s date has made me feel old and weary and sad. Here’s a piece I wrote this week in 2007:

Blank stares. That’s the thing I remember most about November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was killed.

I was ten and in fifth grade that November, and for some reason, I’d had lunch at school that Friday. I usually walked the five blocks home for lunch, but Mom must have been away from home that day for some reason, a church women’s event or something like that. So I was in the classroom during the brief after-lunch free time when Mr. Lydeen came into the room with an odd look on his face.

He told us the news from Dallas, and we stared at him. I think some of the girls cried. And we spent the rest of the day milling around the room, gathering in small groups, the ten or so fifth-graders and ten or so sixth-graders of our combination classroom. We boys talked darkly of what should be done to the culprit, were he found. We were angry. And sad. And confused.

At recess, we bundled up and went out onto the asphalt and concrete playground, but all we did was huddle around Mr. Lydeen, our backs to the northwest wind. I don’t recall what we said, but I think we were all looking for reassurance, for explanation. Mr. Lydeen had neither for us; I remember seeing him stare across the playground and past the railroad tracks, looking at something beyond the reach of his gaze. The blank look on his face made me – and the other kids, too, I think – uneasy.

Mom was listening to the old brown radio on the kitchen counter when I got home from school that day – a rarity, as the radio was generally on only in the morning as we prepared for the day. And it stayed on through dinnertime, bringing us news bulletins from Dallas and Washington and long lists of weekend events cancelled or postponed. Not much was said at the table, as I recall, and I saw that same blank look on my parents’ faces that I had seen on Mr. Lydeen’s face that afternoon.

That evening, I sought solace in my box of comic books and MAD magazines. By chance, the first magazine I pulled out of the box had a parody of a musical film, one of MAD’s specialties. But the parody poked gentle fun at the president and his cabinet, and if it seemed wrong to laugh that evening – as it did – it seemed especially wrong to laugh at that. I threw the magazine back into the box and went in search of my dad, who was doing something at his workbench in the basement.

I watched him for a few minutes as he worked on something he had clamped in the vise, and then I just asked, “Why?”

He turned to me and shook his head and said he didn’t know. And I realized for the first time that the people I looked to for explanations – my parents and my teacher – were unable to understand and explain everything. That was a scary thought, and – being slightly precocious – I pondered its implications for a few days as we watched the unfolding events on television with the rest of the nation.

Sometime in the late 1990s, about five years before Dad died, I was up in St. Cloud for a weekend, and he and I were drinking beers on the back porch. For some reason, I asked him what he remembered of that day. He’d been at work at the college (not yet a university), and he remembered young women crying and young men talking intensely in small groups. And, he said, he remembered not being able to give them any answers at a time when they so needed them.

I nodded and sipped my beer. I thought of the cascade of events that followed John Kennedy’s death, the twelve or so years that we now call the Sixties: The civil rights movement and the concurrent violence, the long anguish in Vietnam, the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots and police riots, the National Guard and the police opening fire and killing students at Kent State and Jackson State. I thought about draft cards, protest marches and paranoia and about the distrust and anger between black and white, between young and old, between government and governed.

And I looked at my dad and said, “Yeah, John Kennedy’s death is when it all started.”

Dad was a veteran of World War II, part of the generation that came to adulthood during the Great Depression. His generation, after it won its war, came home and lived through a hard-earned era of prosperity that will likely never be matched anywhere in the world ever again, a time of Father Knows Best and the New York Yankees. From that perspective, my father looked back at November of 1963 and then he looked at me.

“No,” he said, “that’s when it all ended.”

“Crucifixion” by Glenn Yarbrough.
From For Emily Whenever I May Find Her (1967).

Revised slightly from earlier postings.

Saturday Single No. 663

Saturday, October 26th, 2019

As of today, we’ve been married twelve years now, the Texas Gal and I. She’s been a Minnesota (or at least a Texan in exile) for nineteen years this month. And in just a few months, we’ll mark twenty years since our avatars popped up on the same day in the listings of a Lycos chat room devoted either to social issues or music. (We think it was the former, but we frequented both, so we’re not entirely sure.)

We thought about those tales of years the other day as we sat on the couch ignoring something on TV, and we agreed that it doesn’t feel like twelve years since we walked out of the Stearns County Courthouse as married folks; nor does it feel like nearly twenty years since we met. That, I guess, proves two truisms: My dad’s long-ago warning that time would go faster and faster the older I got, and the universal warning that time flies when you’re having fun.

Conversely, it seems as if we’ve been in each other’s lives forever (and karmically, we think that’s so for this life and others that have gone on elsewhen).

Here’s what I posted here twelve years ago, as we reached one of those markers noted in today’s first paragraph:

Sometimes the Texas Gal and I look at each other and marvel that we ever met, that our lives took the turns they did to bring us together, first in a small corner of the Internet and then – in a leap that took courage and faith for both of us – in a small corner of Minnesota.

Other times, we smile and acknowledge that, well, where else could we have ended up? As I’ve written before, we find the places and the people we are meant to find, no matter how crooked our paths might have been. And she and I are where we belong.

We’re not young, but there were reasons – ones we’ll never know – that our meeting was delayed until midlife. We find solace in knowing that the lives we led before we met are what made us each who we are. Those lives – we hope – have provided us with some level of wisdom that has guided us during the seven years we’ve known each other and will continue to guide us.

If this sounds solemn, it is. This afternoon, we’re going to go down to the courthouse, where we’ll formalize the marriage that took place long ago in our hearts. It’s something we’ve been planning to do for a while, and it’s time.

So here are some of the songs that have been important to us during the past seven years (with one ringer that I threw in). This is a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal, who from today on will be my wife.

“Loving Arms” by Darden Smith from Little Victories, 1993
“Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer from Sixpence None the Richer, 1998
“Rest of My Days” by Indigenous from Circle, 2000
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5614, 1988
“I Knew I Loved You” by Savage Garden from Affirmation, 1999
“If I Should Fall Behind” by Bruce Springsteen from Lucky Town, 1992
“Precious and Few” by Climax, Carousel single 30055, 1971
“Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden from Savage Garden, 1997
“This Kiss” by Faith Hill from Faith, 1998
“Levee Song” by Darden Smith from Little Victories, 1993
“Two of Us” by the Beatles from Let It Be…Naked (recorded 1969)
“Wedding Song” by Tracy Chapman from Telling Stories, 2000
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison from Moondance, 1970

All of those still matter to us, though we hear some of them much less frequently than the others. But it’s Saturday, and we must choose one. It comes down, then, to either the first of that list or the last, perhaps the first two recordings we chose as ours. (I think I introduced her to Darden Smith and “Loving Arms,” and I know she pointed us toward Van Morrison and “Into the Mystic.”)

I think I know what her choice would be, so I’ll defer to that. Here’s Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic,” today’s Saturday Single.

One Hundred Years Ago

Friday, October 18th, 2019

In October 1919:

President Woodrow Wilson sustained a serious stroke on October 2. He was an invalid until his death in 1924.

The Dutch airline KLM was formed. As of this year, it is the oldest airline flying under its original name.

The Cincinnati Reds won the World Series, five games to three, over the Chicago White Sox. In 1920, it was discovered – confirming long-standing rumors – that eight of the White Sox either took part in or knew of a conspiracy to throw the series. The eight were permanently banned from baseball.

Estonia adopted a radical land reform, nationalizing 97 percent of agrarian lands, most of which belonged to Baltic Germans.

Adolf Hitler gave his first speech for the German Workers’ Party.

The Coronado Vanderbilt Hotel was opened in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

An election took place in the duchy of Luxembourg; due to constitutional amendments earlier in the year, women were allowed to vote for the first time.

Over President Wilson’s veto, the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act, which set out the enforcement terms of Prohibition as called for by the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And on October 18, in North Branch Township of Minnesota’s Isanti County, George Otto Erickson was born. He’s shown here in a 1964 picture taken at Gull Lake, near Nisswa, Minnesota.

George Erickson, Gull Lake near Nisswa, Minnesota, June 13, 1964

Here’s the record that was No. 1 on the day my dad was born: “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” by John Steel:

(Historical data from Wikipedia.)

Gloves

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Walking through the garage as I returned from an errand this morning, I noticed a pair of battered leather gloves on one of the shelves. Gray and dark blue, they have small holes on a couple of fingers, and they fold neatly along creases left by about ten years of yard work.

They’re the gloves I bought not long after we moved into the house on the East Side in September 2008, gloves that I wore for outdoor chores there: raking, clearing snow from the sidewalk, putting in and taking down garden fences, cleaning the gutters, and changing two storm windows for screens during ten springs and reversing the process during ten autumns.

The gloves came along with us when we moved from the house to the condo a little more than a year-and-a-half ago, but I’ve had little need to use them. They went over my everyday gloves a few times in our first few months here when I cleared snow from the front steps, and did so again in the early portions of last winter for the same reason.

After my back surgery in January, the Texas Gal took over the shoveling duties for the rest of the winter, and my blue and gray gloves sat unused on the shelf. When I saw them this morning, the part of my brain that occasionally mixes up time thought, “Oh, yes, I need to change out the windows.”

And then I realized that we’re no longer at the East Side house. We have all-season windows here, and I no longer need to switch one kitchen window and one dining room window as I did for our decade-plus there. (We had central air in the house, but on temperate days, we liked to be able to open the windows for the comfort of natural breezes.)

It’s just as well that I don’t have to mess with any of the windows, as all of them save one – the one nearest my desk in the lower level of the condo – are on the second floor and would require riskier ladder work than the half-story extension required on the East Side. But there was an odd sense that came along with the realization, a recognition that I kind of miss doing the outside work required at the house, a recognition combined with relief that – being eleven years older now than I was when we moved into the house – I no longer have to mess with most of that stuff.

They’re just gloves, tattered and probably due for disposal. But sometimes things are more than just things. Sometimes they are also reminders of the work they’ve done as well as the times during which that work was accomplished. So it is with the blue and gray gloves on the shelf in the garage. When the snow falls in the coming months, I may buy a new pair, but I doubt I’ll truly be able to replace them.

Here’s a song with an apt title: “Workin’,” by Junior Parker and Jimmy McGriff. It’s from their 1971 album Good Things Don’t Happen Every Day.

Finding Granny’s Intentions

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

I’m trying this week to finish up three projects: Scanning old photos and burning them to disc for my sister and our cousins, writing a song for our church, and catching up on stats for my tabletop baseball league.

That sadly leaves this space in fourth place this week.

And the weather’s not helping: The second week of autumn is cloudy and damp. The leaves are still generally green, though those on our flowering crab and linden have begun turning yellow. But it’s gray outside.

But back to fourth place: A search for “fourth” on the digital shelves brought up a a track titled “Fourthskin Blues” by a group with the intriguing name of Granny’s Intentions. The band came out of Limerick, Ireland, in the mid-1960s and in a few years was making a good living in the club scene in Dublin.

The band’s only album, according to discogs, was Honest Injun, released on Deram in 1970. “Fourthskin Blues” was one of that album’s tracks.

‘Adventure Fridays’

Friday, September 27th, 2019

Since the Texas Gal retired at the end of August, we’ve decided to designate the fifth day of the former work week “Adventure Friday.” Our first adventure took us pretty much straight east from St. Cloud to St. Croix Falls, the little town just on the other side of the Wisconsin line. We had lunch, checked some historic sites, found a painted rock left by a member of the Facebook group called “Painted Rocks – Minnesota” (see their page here), and wandered north in Wisconsin to the little town of Grantsburg before heading for home.

Something last week kept us from adventuring – I don’t recall what it was – and it looks as if our adventure for today may be postponed: We had planned to head northwest a little ways to the small town of Freeport and the Hemker Zoo. We’ve seen television commercials for the zoo recently, and if the weather was nice, we thought, we could check it out and maybe even feed the otters. (We both are fond of the sleek and furry aquatic mammals.)

But it’s damp outside with puddles of water along the alley, and the forecast calls for light rain into the afternoon, long past otter-feeding time. So if we want to have an adventure today, it will need to be something we can do indoors. We’ll talk about that in a bit. But in the meantime, here’s a (perhaps predictable) tune for our zoo adventure that we’ll have to postpone. It’s Simon & Garfunkel’s “At The Zoo.” It’s from their 1968 album Bookends.

‘Work It Out”

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

The Texas Gal and I are now card-carrying senior citizens.

The other day, we joined the Whitney Senior Center about six blocks away from our place, got our cards and learned a bit about the center’s extensive programming. Some of it we’ve already begun using, some will wait until we figure out exactly what it is we want to do over there.

What drew us (besides the fact that we are, of course, on the far side of sixty)?

The exercise room, actually. For the past eight weeks or so, I’ve been heading to the medical building where our doctor has her practice, working with a couple of physical therapists to improve the functions of my back muscles, the ones disrupted in January by my spinal fusion. And as I’ve worked on that, my therapists have been adding to my routine various simple bits of a workout.

It’s been good for me, I can tell. Not only is my back feeling better, but I’ve found that I enjoy the activity (and that coming from someone who has rarely sought physical activity), and I feel better. So the Texas Gal and I began to wonder how to continue the workouts at what we hoped would be a lower cost. We knew the Whitney Recreation Center adjacent to the senior center had a workout room as well as a walking track (which intrigued the Texas Gal), so we checked that out and pondered its cost, which was something like $150 yearly for me to access the workout room and for her to access the track.

And then, as we signed up to join the senior center, the volunteer at the counter noted that the senior center had its own exercise room and that some Medicare supplementals would cover the entire cost. And it turns out that my supplemental is one of those. So we filled out applications, paid the Texas Gal’s fee, and yesterday, one of my physical therapists met me there to check out the senior center’s exercise room and put me through a workout.

(The Texas Gal walked on a treadmill and kept an eye on what I was doing, hoping to use some of my routines in her own workouts.)

This isn’t our first attempt as getting in better shape. Some years ago, we tried to become more active, joining in turn two commercial gyms. The first had limited facilities for changing clothes, and the second, well, I just never felt comfortable there, being a portly older man among younger and sleeker folks. Neither of those should be a problem now.

Here’s an aptly titled tune from sax player Jim Horn. “Work It Out” is the title track to an album he released in 1990.

Saturday Single No. 659

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

The sky is close with clouds this morning. As we ate breakfast, a spattering of rain rattled down onto the deck; with the door open about a foot for the cats to take the morning air, it was loud. I poked my head out, checking on the cats. The only one there was Little Gus, bread-loafing in a lawn chair under the overhang, seemingly unconcerned about the rain.

“If the wind comes up and he gets wet, he’ll come in,” said the Texas Gal.

True enough. And from the looks of the forecast, that might happen as I write: The weather radar shows a band of green approaching us from the west, a band that stretches from near Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the north to the Iowa border in the south. And the Texas Gal suggested that I look this morning for records about rain.

I have likely done so before, but I’d guess it’s been a while, so here goes.

The RealPlayer offers up more than 1,700 tracks with the word “rain” in either the title, the album title, the performers’ name, or somewhere in the notes. We’ll have to do some sorting to get “rain” in the title, and I think we’ll start by sorting those 1,700-some tracks chronologically.

The earliest stuff that comes up tagged with a release or recording year is from the mid-1920s, most of it blues by Ma Rainey. Stuck in the middle of those is “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’,” a track recorded in July 1925 by Wendell Hall. I recall singing the song – a series of nonsense verses followed by the chorus with the title – at Boy Scout camp and hearing it in vintage cartoons on early 1960s Saturday mornings. It’s intriguing.

But there are no more recent versions of the song in the digital stacks, so on we go, jumping ahead to the 1950s on a whim. And wandering around aimlessly through the listed results, we come upon a tune by one of my favorites, Big Maybelle: “Rain Down Rain.”

The track was recorded on October 29, 1952, and was released as Okeh 6931. It did not make the Billboard R&B Top 40, but it’s good enough for us to be today’s Saturday Single.

Full Moon Omens

Friday, September 13th, 2019

All week – perhaps a little longer – my news feed at Facebook and commentary at a few other places have been filled with folks’ anxieties about the confluence today of a full moon and Friday the 13th.

It’s an accepted part of modern folklore – and perhaps there are some studies out there validating that folklore, but I’m not going to go hunting for them this morning – that things get weird out there on the nights of full moons. Some folks swear that even if they didn’t know there was a full moon by the calendar, they’d recognize its existence by either the behavior of others or the workings of their own bodies.

I won’t gainsay those folks, as I don’t know. In my working life – as a reporter/editor and as an educator – I came across plenty of weirdness, but I never cross-checked its timing against the phases of the moon. I guess I just assumed that there was weirdness in the world.

And Friday the 13th has never meant much to me. Its notoriety as a day of bad luck is simply folklore. Here’s the history of it as presented by Wikipedia:

The irrational fear of the number 13 has been given a scientific name: “triskaidekaphobia”; and on [sic] analogy to this the fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή, meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς, meaning “thirteen”).

The superstition surrounding this day may have arisen in the Middle Ages, “originating from the story of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion” in which there were 13 individuals present in the Upper Room on the 13th of Nisan Maundy Thursday, the night before his death on Good Friday.While there is evidence of both Friday and the number 13 being considered unlucky, there is no record of the two items being referred to as especially unlucky in conjunction before the 19th century.

An early documented reference in English occurs in Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini, who died on a Friday 13th:
“He [Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday 13th of November he passed away.”

It is possible that the publication in 1907 of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth, contributed to disseminating the superstition. In the novel, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th. A suggested origin of the superstition – Friday, 13 October 1307, the date Philip IV of France arrested hundreds of the Knights Templar – may not have been formulated until the 20th century. It is mentioned in the 1955 Maurice Druon historical novel The Iron King (Le Roi de fer), John J. Robinson’s 1989 work Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry, Dan Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code and Steve Berry’s The Templar Legacy (2006).

Interesting stuff, I guess. We need some music to match it, but as I wander through the digital stacks, I come up empty on both sides. A number of tracks have the word “moon” in their titles, but none of them seem to hit the mark today. And a fair number of tracks have the word “Friday” in their titles, but none hit the date or the mood.

So let’s go with the word “superstition.” Here’s Jeff Beck, Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, recording as Beck, Bogert & Appice, taking on Stevie Wonder’s tune for their self-titled 1973 album.

Off-Kilter

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Not enough sleep. Woken up four times, twice by unidentified noises in the night and twice by cats.

No desire to look at much news today. I know what happened on September 11, 2001. I have no need to replay it.

I am grumpy, a generally infrequent condition here. And I am sad, which is a relatively rare but not unknown state for me.

And beyond all that, it seems that I have nothing to say, so it’s time to turn the music on and listen to the tenth track that comes up in iTunes.

Well, it turns out that Crystal Gayle is having trouble sleeping, too, but for an entirely different reason. Here’s “Talking In Your Sleep” from 1978. It went to No. 18 in the Billboard Hot 100, to No. 3 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, and to No. 1 – for two weeks – on the country chart.