Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Worst Winter Ever

It was the worst of winters. It was the best of winters.

The worst winter I ever experienced turned out to be one I have the fondest memories of and best stories about. It was 1977 in Pennsylvania. I lived in Boston, or at least the rest of my family did, and that was the address on my driver’s license—27 Dartmouth, Boston, Mass.

I was on the road that year all but seven weeks. The blizzard hit Pennsylvania like a fast freight train roaring by in the middle of the night. Only it stopped and dropped 3 feet of snow before moving on. I was snowed in for 2 weeks in Harrisburg. I couldn’t even get a train out to be home for Christmas. My host, one of our organization’s volunteers, put 10 of us up for 2 weeks.

The most “fun” that winter was a trip I made from Pittsburgh when I thought the storm had passed. I was on I-80 on the way to Snow Shoe, PA, when I began to snow again. The borrowed Nash had windshield wipers that didn’t work. I spent the next two hours reaching out the driver’s side window to grab the wiper blade to keep the snow off. I made it to Snow Shoe to find a group of townspeople waiting for the scheduled meeting I had arranged. The mayor let me know that a little dusting of snow like this would never stop them from meeting.

But it was the Harrisburg Christmas that taught me it was possible to bond with a dozen strangers, many of whom I’ve not seen again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Tradition Today

Christmas Eve is always at our house, at least for the past decade or so. We didn’t plan it so, but since no one else ever makes the offer, my wife and I have concluded that it is now a tradition, and our “gang” just assumes it as a given.

On Christmas morning we all go out for breakfast at IHOP. Or occasionally our friend Leslie T. makes sourdough waffles at his apartment. But that is only when he takes a notion, or one of us says “Why don’t we go to LT’s for waffles this year.”

ChristmasMorn2007 010

In the afternoon we always troop over to the Krikorian for a Christmas day movie. Then in the evening we may take my mother and son for a drive around Redlands to see the lights, or if we feel adventurous, the Mission Inn in Riverside.

This year we may vary the schedule slightly.  We have a flexible tradition but the essentials will hold:  Friends and family together to share the spirit of the season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our (almost) Brand New Bathroom

Our bathroom is almost brand new. You would not believe what a small, 4’ X 8’ room would take to remodel it: Contractors for tearing out shower and floor tiles right down to the 2 X 4s; a counter-top company for the 24 by 18 inch sink cabinet; a mirror company to install the big wall mirror we had to buy when the tile contractor nicked the current one; and Ric the plumber/handyman who my wife worships for correcting all the mishaps made by contractor and husband. I am no longer allowed to install towel bars, hooks, door hinges, or anything that requires drilling holes in doors or walls. “Let’s call Ric” has become an oft heard mantra of Linda’s.

New Sony Camera Photos 008

But in spite of the minor inconvenience of having to walk (or run) a quarter block to the pool bathroom and shower (we only have one bathroom) for a few days, and the few nicks and gouges in our bathtub (which Ric repaired), the tile looks beautiful, the new shower doors shine, the corean counter and sink is classy, the brown colors actually go with the light tan textured tiles, the chrome fixtures gleam, and even the new toilet stool seems proud to be in its place. I now understand why it is called the “throne.”

Bathroom finished 002

The mirror was delivered on time and Ric was there to see that it was properly installed and that the finishing touches were added. Just in time for Christmas Eve. I wonder if all of our guests can get in our 4 X 8 bathroom at the same time. It is the most elegant room in our home.

Bathroom finished 004

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Mysterious Patio Cat

It began to appear a couple of years ago. It would come two or three days a week and explore our patio. Then it began to settle on our chaise lounge. One summer evening when the patio door was open it stuck its nose in and then gingerly stepped into the living room and proceeded to explore every room in our 900 sq. ft. apartment. It disappeared for a few weeks or maybe a couple of months and then re-appeared on our patio. One thing we became aware of was that it was missing one important detail. In fact it was “de tail.” Was this the same cat? It must be, we concluded. Its actions were too much like the cat-with-tail that used to frequent the patio.

We had also been puzzled by a mysterious call from across the street that we noticed occurred each evening around 8 p.m., a high-pitched woman’s voice that sounded a little like a siren song. On one visit the cat was wearing a collar and we noticed a name engraved on it. The mystery was partially solved. Our patio cat’s name was Norma Jean and the strange sounding high-pitched call was a woman across the street calling her to come in for the night.

But we still had not solved the mystery of the missing tail. Until this week, that is. Norma Jean had been sleeping on our patio every day for several days and then going home at night. A couple of nights ago, the “Norma Jean call” came when we were watching the cat stir from her comfortable bed on the lounge. Linda called to the woman that Norma Jean was on our patio. The lady came across the street, surprised to learn what her cat had been doing every day. It was then that we learned that Norma Jean had been crossing Center Street a year ago and was hit by a car. Her injuries required the “amputation” of her tail.

I just looked out on our patio and Norma Jean is in her favorite spot on the lounge. So I took a few shots on my trusty Sony to show you Norma Jean, formerly known as the “mysterious patio cat.” We are pleased with her having adopted us because our apartment complex has a ‘no-pets’ policy.

Norma Jean

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Our Gang Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a major production; at least it has been for the last few years. We celebrate holidays, birthdays, and other such occasions with our “gang.” This is a collection of about six individuals whose family ties extend throughout several states. My wife and I are the only couple among our gang. We decided to call ourselves a gang after watching a TV interview between Bill Moyers and Kurt Vonnegut, the author, now deceased. Kurt said everybody should have a gang. By this he meant a group of friends who play the role of support, accountability, extended family, and all-around caring people. So we are now a gang. But I digress.


Thanksgiving, as I mentioned, has turned into a major production in recent years. Partly this is due to the spaces we live in. Two members of our gang occupy 8-900 sq. ft. apartments. A third has a town house that is only slightly larger. None of us has space to accommodate 17 people at a sit down Thanksgiving meal. So we have become very creative. We usually begin with our gang of six talking about who will host the dinner this year and who is coming. By the time we finish the discussion, we find that somehow between 12 and 18 people have already been invited and/or have expressed a desire to join us for dinner.



Linda and I always count on my mother, Opal, and my son, Robb. Then our friends the Butchers from LA have an open invitation and sometimes show up. Frank now has his son and daughter-in-law, Kyle and Jackie, who have somehow doubled in the last few years, with Ronin and Roxanne, three and 15 months, respectively. Tomi invited her sister and brother-in-law from Santa Fe and they in turn asked if their son Keith could join us. Two days before the big day one year our friend Paul, from Colorado, showed up, un-announced, to stay with Frank.  And this year my cousin Jan from Iowa, now a "California Snow Bird,”  is with us.


Every year we come up with plans A and B. Plan A is to have dinner by our community pool. Of course it is always too cool by Thanksgiving Day. So plan B is executed: hors d’oeuvres at someone’s place at 1:30 p.m., followed by dinner at another’s at 3, then dessert at a third house, whenever. We arrange to borrow tables from my Mom’s church and chairs from the Redlands Art Association, where Tomi is past president. A living room is transformed into the “Great Hall” by moving every piece of furniture. The setting is just enough space for seating the 17-19 of us, but with no room to move around otherwise. Hence the decision to have a “progressive” Thanksgiving, dividing up all the ingredients among the participants. Frank’s son, Kyle, sometimes cooks the turkey and dressing. This year Tomi’s sister and brother-in-law did the deed on their Weber. Amazingly, it all works and comes together without a hitch.


Our gang is amazing. We are still friends after many years and several Thanksgivings and even bigger productions for milestone birthdays. I heartily concur with our late friend, Kurt Vonnegut. Everyone should have a gang. If you don’t have one, get one.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

First Times

I used to eat meat. In fact, I was known in the family for eating hamburgers. My mother delights in telling the story of how upset my dad got, and continued to get on the occasions, not at all that often, when he took us out to eat at a “real” restaurant. One where you could get a thick juicy steak. “And Milan would ask for—a hamburger.”

There were other firsts when I disappointed my step-father. Like the time he took me fishing with him. In a boat. On Medicine Lake. His favorite escape (besides drinking). Like the time he took off from work to come to a football game and I never got off the bench. He never let on about being disappointed. But deep down I knew.

Floyd H2-1

My Dad did love to fish!

The real disappointment was that we never developed a father-son bond. He tried. But an alcoholic has a hard road. I remember another first. He lay on his death bed in a nursing home. He was only in his late fifties and had never recovered from a botched surgery where they damaged the nervous system somehow. We had been estranged for the past year or so. He grabbed my hand with his shaking one and said in his feeble voice, that sounded like he was a little drunk, “You’re a good boy, Milan.” I still couldn’t respond.

A few days later he died. It was 1976—in the spring. I remember because Linda and I were married that spring.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Still Don’t Understand Why . . . . . .

. . . . . .the American people elect a President every four years or Congressional Representatives every two. It’s OK with me that Senators run every six years: their old boys club, punctuated by a few females to keep a semblance of sanity, is largely an obstructionist bunch and we might as well deposit them all in the Smithsonian.

My main issue is with the incessant amount of time, energy and money it takes to crank up the campaign machines with such repetitive regularity. No sooner are they sworn in than they have to start the next campaign.

Why not just elect a President every eight years, give him or her the charge to get something done and that’s it? They get only one term to lift us up or drive us to ruin. And Congress—I don’t know what to do with them. How about staggering elections across the country so that not all of them are taking office at the same time? And then let’s have performance reviews by panels of regular citizens. Two bad ones and they are out!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cluttered Desk—Cluttered Mind?

My office desk is a mess.  Receipts of all shapes and sizes, paper with unintelligible markings, a tall yellow-and-black battery operated pencil sharpener, computer flat screen LCD 15 or 17 inch monitor with my grand-daughter’s photo as wallpaper, old chrome stapler, pink piggy bank, little Zen garden from a birthday past, blinking mouse, camera cord, organizer cord, clutter my desk and therefore my life.

Is this my desktop
Littered with droppings
Of a cluttered mind?
There—I see you
Where I left you
Under receipts and assorted CDs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Journey of Awakening—Part 3

After my two years in Charles City, Iowa and my return to North Minneapolis, I found myself in the midst of a baptism experience with both of my parents. I knew my dad was a drunk, but didn’t know much about the disease as yet. While I was “away” my dad had encountered Forrest Richeson, pastor of Portland Avenue Christian Church, who was “Mr. 5th Step” in the Twin Cities, this being the “confessor” step in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, usually completed with a clergyman. This spiritual encounter of my dad’s led to the three of us being immersed in this baptistery, an oversize bath tub at the front of the sanctuary of this old downtown big red brick church. I didn’t really appreciate the spiritual part but certainly was impressed with “Dr. Richeson,” whose square jaw and shoulders exuded ministerial authority, and who with great confidence took my confession of faith in “Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God and do you accept him as your personal Lord and Savior for life?” I answered yes and then was immediately dunked under the waters of baptism by this man of God in hip-waders.

This led to my being a regular attendee with my folks at this downtown church. It was a couple of years later that I became involved in the Christian Youth Fellowship (CYF) following my near encounter with the justice system after borrowing my employer’s panel truck to take my friends for rides. I was given the “choice” and wisely chose to get involved in the youth program. I was immediately welcomed by the group’s leaders, Bruce Rolstad, Ginny Donohoo, Sylvia Brown and adult sponsors, the Jenkins and the Donohoos. Not long after, I discovered Ev Hall and Denny Neill who became my close friends for many years. They were, like me, children of alcoholics. I was “home.” This was to be my family through high school and college years, which is likely the reason I have the many gaps in my memory of North High and old neighborhood friends. I spent most of my time with my new family. I would travel by streetcar and later with friends whose parents let them take the family car to church and youth group events. This was truly a metropolitan church with kids coming from most of the 11 high schools and even from what were becoming the suburbs.

But it was the summers at Tipi Wakan, the church denomination’s camp on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, where the next “awakening” occurred. At the end of a week of swimming, games, living in dorms in this big old hotel-like building, there was always a ceremony of “commissioning.” I had no idea what the commissioning was for but remember being impressed with the missionary couples on furlough from the “field” who were always on staff. Hearing their stories of working in Africa or South America with native peoples must have inspired me more than I was aware. I found myself walking up to the “altar” with the handful of other commissionees, having heard “the call.” This was a surprise, not only to the camp staff and all of my friends, but to me as well. I went on to become a leader in the youth group, was elected co-president of the church camp the next summer, and became one of Forrest Richeson’s “Timothys-to-be.” This was heady stuff for a teenager and put not a little pressure on. Especially since I had not yet finished my “wild days.” But that will have to be part of the next phase of the story of the Journey of Awakening.

Tipi Wakan to Frank copy

That’s me in the middle second row with Barb Harden

Tipi Wakan Lodge Tipi Wakan Girls

The summer “haunted house” lodge and the girls of summer

Tipi Wakan Connie

And that is Connie McAdams on the left

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Aunt Mattie Died Today


I’m really glad that I wrote that tribute to my Aunt Mattie a few weeks ago.  My mother informed me a couple of hours ago that she received a phone call from my cousin Sharon, that her mother had died this morning after a night’s sleep in her own bed.  Mattie had called my Mom just last week and asked her to thank me for what I had written about her.  Linda, another daughter, and Sharon had printed my blog and read it to her.  How often we wish we had told someone what they meant to us before they were gone.  I’m glad my Aunt Mattie was able to hear and appreciate the sentiment I wanted to express.  That in itself made my decision to write a blog worth the effort.  Every week I tell the members of my writing class that they need to have a blog.  Everyone has something important to say—important to someone.  I know my cousins, Mattie’s 5 kids, Robert, Linda, Betty, Sharon and Dennis are gathering for comfort and memories.  I wish I could be with them, but I trust they know my spirit is reaching out to them as they send their mother on her final journey.

Ralph Wms Kids 63-1

Ralph Williams Family 001-1

Cedar Rapids 2005 009 

Life goes on in generation after generation—Thanks Aunt Mattie

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Winter Stopped at the Window . . .

. . .and I was imprisoned in my room, nay in my bed, by a flu bug. This was doubly, yea triply confining because I had just had my burst appendix removed, followed by a bad case of chicken pox (under a 6-inch wide bandage), and another trip to the hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids ripped out, leaving my throat so sore that all I could “eat” was vanilla shakes, the only compensating factor in the whole deal.

But there it was, a giant snowfall, right up to my bedroom window. I could hear some of my friends out in it already, making snow forts in preparation for the big snowball war, thrashing out angels in the snow banks, and playing touch football in the thick powdery stuff.

I was eleven. It was agony.


      This winter scene at Los Rios in Oak Glen is representative.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Was I There?

I’d been looking for it everywhere. Unpacking every box of books in the storage shed, the patio cupboards, the carport cabinets, not once but three times. There are huge gaps plaguing me since I embarked on this journey of “blogging” my memoirs, which requires “jogging” my memory. I knew that if I could just find that high school annual, the Polaris, Class of ’55, it would help me recover some of the gaping holes left by years of neglect, moves, leaving behind stuff and people, repression, detours, adventures, successes, failures, and downright dumb decisions, as well as a few smart ones that have punctuated my living.

NH 55 Ann Cover-1

Could I have possibly thrown it out accidentally, or worse, intentionally? I never cared much for my past, or didn’t think so, until Marilyn and a couple of classmates tracked me down before our 40th class reunion. Then I discovered Sheldon, another grade-school-to-high-school buddy, who lives a little more than an hour away in Orange County. We’ve been having lunch together every month or two. Sheldon keeps in touch with people and has been a big part of my “memory jogging” community of friends over the past few years. Fortunately I was able to borrow Sheldon’s Polaris (the name derived from our school name and mascot, North High Polar Bears) and began going through it page-by-page, thinking I would scan a selection of photos. This was a strange, humbling and less-than-satisfying experience, a little eerie in fact. Faces of teachers and friends looked familiar, but no experiences of actually “being there” were coming up.

NH 55 Ann FB1-1

My memories of high school years, where were they? There I was in the football team photo, number 35, last row, second from the left. There too in a Hi-Y club picture. And my senior class photo appeared in its place. But I was on the wrestling team until I cracked that rib. And the track team. Also on the AV Projection crew—I helped produce a movie about good old North High.

NH 55 Ann Hi Y-1 NH 55 Ann Srs3-1

I went through it again. This was incredible. “I know I was there! But I’m not there!” Just like the movie about Bob Dylan with all the various actors. “I’m not there!” “Did I drop out of high school in the second half of my senior year?” No, I still have my diploma. I must have graduated. I have a degree from the U. of Minnesota. I couldn’t have got into college without that diploma, could I? I wasn’t the smartest kid in my class, but I did get good grades—top 10%.

Sheldon always says what a painful experience high school was for him. I always nod and let it slide off. But he may be right. All those notes we wrote in one another’s Polarises about how much fun we had in _____ or _____, and what a great ____ you are and I’ll never forget _____.

Maybe we were just covering it up. In my case, perhaps I just kept telling myself I was there when I wasn’t. Where the hell was I? To be continued . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

Small Compulsions

I am compulsive about very small and insignificant things. I re-arrange the dishes in the dishwasher if anyone else has loaded it. I wash the dishes before I allow them to go into the dishwasher. Each pocket in the silverware holder has its assigned items: forks in one; teaspoons in one; soup and larger spoons in one; knives in another; and serving utensils in the largest pocket.

Furthermore, I am extremely perturbed at those who just willy-nilly throw dishes in the dishwasher, and with food clinging to the dishes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why I Am Not A Farmer


“If you squeeze it just so and at just the right spot with just enough pressure she won’t kick and you can get a good stream going.” I watched as the white tomcat and the grey puss, quickly joined by the half dozen kittens living in the barn, lined up with open mouths as the warm stream hit one mouth, then another. Tongues shot out, licking from one side to the other as my grandfather’s deft touch squeezed out arching lines of the white elixir, all the more amazing because of two partially missing fingers on the skilled milking hand, the result of a hand caught in a whirling pulley and belt on a corn grinder years before.

“Now you try it. But remember, it’s all in the right amount of pressure in the squeeze and the slight downward pull.” Sitting down on the one-legged milking stool I contemplated what I was about to do. Brownie, the Brown Swiss cow, looked around from her temporary stockade. Just for a moment our eyes met and I knew that she knew I was no master milker. But when I grabbed on to one teat with my little soft child’s hand, not at all like the rough-hewn-years-of-toil-grinding-out-a-living-from-the-soil hands of my farm-hand turned homesteader turned farmer grandfather, no hind foot lifted, no more looking back at this upstart wannabe occurred.

Apparently Brownie had decided it was inevitable. If this kid was going to learn milking, now was as good a time as any and she was just the one to be my guinea pig, or cow. I did eventually get a few streams heading in the cats’ direction, even though they had to keep jumping to get to the spot where the milk was heading.

I was just getting the hang of this milking profession when one day this shiny can with four suction cups appeared. I watched with fascination but some regret as the new milking machine was hooked up to Brownie and the others. I was out of a job! Automation had come to replace me! Probably just as well. I don’t think I was cut out for a farming career.

And when I watched my grandfather and Uncle Ralph struggle to make it on the land over the next couple of decades, finally having to give up their life-long livelihood to move to town, I realized that that milking machine was the harbinger of doom for the family farm.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reasons to Survive November


Smell of falling leaves

Crisp mornings

Corn stalks

Roaring fires


Cold rains



That’s it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

86,400 Seconds to Live

And each second is a “now” preceded by a past second and succeeded by a future second.  Living in the Now and being present is a most difficult endeavor, but it is actually the only way to live. I’ve spent most of my life living in the past to know that’s a dead end. And even though I have a dream I know that it is another dead end way of living to try to live in it.

So tomorrow I will get up and greet the day, shave and know I am shaving, shower and know the freshness of clean and the hotness of the water. Then, if I have survived and thrived my way through that experience, I will walk, just walk, maybe ending at the coffee shop to smell the coffee, and read, yes, if my eyesight holds out until tomorrow, I will read. And then maybe I will write.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Horse King

Joel Miller's House

He lived just a few doors down from 1410 Oliver Avenue North where I lived in my early high school years. He had a basketball hoop and backboard attached to the garage in back of his house. I could go out my back door and down the alley to play “horse” with Joel Miller, who was a basketball star. He later played center on the North High basketball team, but now he was my friend and mentor. We would play “horse” after school nearly every afternoon, even in winter. On weekends there were always a bunch of guys there and we would divide up for “two-on-two” games. I was usually chosen last. But I didn’t care.  I was learning. Not well enough to try out for the high school team, but well enough to be a “walk-on” in my second year at the University of Minnesota. I just walked into the freshman coach, Glen Reed’s office and said I wanted to try out. I really worked hard. Made it to the final cut. But I at least proved something to myself. I always thought I should have been taller. So I reconciled myself to playing the game for fun and played on our church basketball team during the remainder of my college years. I did get some satisfaction when we had a pickup game with the “Benny Leonard” young men’s team, a Jewish team made up of some of the North High players and outscored them by a comfortable margin. My friend Joel Miller signed my high school annual “The Horse King,” indicating that I had never beaten him at the game in his back yard. I re-connected with him at our 40th high school reunion. He is now a doctor in Denver and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. I guess he taught me more than the art of playing basketball.

         Joel Miller the psychiatrist

Joel Miller and Me


      First Christian Church Mpls Young Men’s BB Team 1957-8

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gary and Me

Milan 915 Morgan-2

I met Gary Lundquist almost the first day we moved into 915 Morgan Avenue North Minneapolis. I was about to start 1st grade. Gary was three years older but we became fast friends. He lived in a 4-plex about five houses from our 4-plex. We were back and forth to each other’s houses constantly. He took me to the Lutheran church in the neighborhood where I attended all the way through 7th grade confirmation class. Gary was legally blind from birth and had a glass eye, which always fascinated me, watching him take it out and put it in a glass of water before he went to bed. When we were in 9th grade Gary got me involved in a weightlifting studio run by Alan Stephan, a former Mr. America. I was an usher at his wedding and got to go along on many adventures with him and his older cousin and friends. We lost touch except through my mother who liked Gary and always remembered his birthday and sent Christmas greetings. We did reconnect briefly in 1995. Gary was in a special education program at Marshall High which had many of the sight-impaired kids. He graduated and took a course to become a baker at a vocational tech. college in the city, after which he worked as a baker at the North Side Bakery on Plymouth Avenue for many years. I was amazed when I saw him after so long when he told me that he had actually been able with his one good eye to pass the test for his driver’s license when he was in his thirties or early forties. He’s living near his kids in southern Minnesota now. I’m thinking of phoning him up just to say “Hi.”

Gary Lundquist-1995

Friday, October 23, 2009

Patsy’s Surprise!


“Mom! Patsy had her puppies! Today while I was at school!”

“What? How many? Where are they?” My mother had just come home from work. We had been anxiously awaiting the new arrivals for days.

“You aren’t going to be happy with where she had them,” I informed her hesitatingly. Motioning her to follow I led her to her bedroom door, expecting a scream. Instead my mother burst out laughing at the sight of Patsy, our little black and white Boston Terrier, in the middle of my parents double-bed, licking and nursing her three tiny, still wet and gooey babies.

We of course had to take all the bedding to the laundry and get the mattress cleaned as well.

Patsy&Puppies1954-4 Patsy&Puppies1954-3

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Summer ‘07 Wake-up Call

“If this e-mail gets to you, please contact me. I have some information I believe you will want.”

I hadn’t heard from Denny for several years—not since our last get-together with the First Christian CYF/TNT ‘remnant’ gatherings. I quickly hit “reply” and typed a response: “Thanks for tracking me down. Please let me know the information.” Of course, I anticipated receiving news of someone dying. When I didn’t get an e-mail back the next day, impatience got the better of me. I looked up Denny Neill’s latest phone number from my address book and placed the call.

“Hi Mi! Sorry to tell you Ron Morehouse died of lung cancer this past May and Ev Hall had a heart attack and died in July.” After a shocked silence, I waited. He went on: “Yeah, they both had just passed their 70th birthdays.” Silence—lengthy silence as it sank in—then acknowledgement of the obvious. “We both just passed our 70th birthdays!” “Yeah!”

After I hung up, memories began to arrive, with random regularity, some warm, some painful. Ev, Denny, and I had been our high school youth group’s version of a combination of The Three Musketeers, The Three Stooges, and “wild and crazy guys,” always together and always ready with a prank or a bad joke. Ron had joined us when he and Ev returned from their two-year tour in the US Navy.

I recalled the canoe trip Ev, Denny, and I took up the Gunflint River into Canada before our last year of high school, and the stories they never tired of telling of their having to carry all of my gear for the last 3 days due to my having a sunburn so bad I could barely move, let alone paddle the canoe. Then, before I picked up the phone to call Bobby, Ev’s widow, there came the memory of nearly flunking out my sophomore year at the U. of Minnesota after she dumped me that summer. Ev, true friend that he was, came home from the service, dated Bobby briefly, and then married her. (Best thing that ever happened to me—I’m not sure I thanked Ev for that). The three of us stood up at one another’s weddings.

Then there were the weekend poker parties, the cutting class drinking beer parties, trips to Roosevelt Lake, water-skiing, scrapes with the Law, surviving driving with one another at the wheel, and through it all the feeling of belonging that makes me look back on those years with gratitude mixed with relief. Gratitude for the realization that some things outlive us, and relief that we outlive some things.

Thanks Ev, Ron, and Denny for reminding me of the richness and fullness that is life.

MH Bobbie Hall 95-1

             This is me and Bobby in 1995

                                    1st Xn Men95-1

  Denny is the tall guy in the middle, then Ev, me and Ron in 1995

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oak Glen Snowfall

Below is the digital photo I entered in the Redlands Camera Club Winter Digital Competition last month.  It received a 1st place award in the Apprentice Class, Open/Miscellaneous category.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poet’s Bench at Oak Glen Los Rios

This photo was awarded 3rd place in the Redlands Camera Club miscellaneous category, Apprentice Class Winter Digital Competition.  I wrote the poem a couple of years ago.


Poet’s Bench

I wonder if I’ll ever be a poet

And can sit with those greats

Who gave us leaves of grass

To ponder and trees and lakes

And oh yes mountains.

I think I’ll just sit down here

At my own Walden pond and

See what happens.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Place I Know


Los Rios at Oak Glen in the fall is a special place for my wife and me. We love to stroll along the nature trail, especially down by the lake. Our favorite bench nestled in a little clearing where we can watch the shadows in the water and the mallard babies with their vivid colors, and even drab ones. There are always sounds from red-winged blackbirds and grackles and jays, and the coots with their familiar calls. We’ve both made a pledge to have our ashes scattered around the lake.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What Was Different About Junior High?

It was like going from the warm little world someone had created for you to kindergarten for the first day. It was like being yanked from a room full of friends and dropped off at a busy intersection of a large city and having no clue what any of the signs meant. We had heard that this would be difficult from kids who had older brothers and sisters at Lincoln Junior High. The building itself was right next door to our old familiar John Hay. Viewed from our vantage point it looked like a three-story prison, a big rectangular structure that covered much of a city block and surrounded a central court-yard (we guessed that court-yard was where they let the prisoners out for exercise).


Nothing, however, prepared us for what lay ahead of us. The fact that we all had “home rooms” did nothing to ease our discomfort. That was where they gathered you to take attendance, listen to the “orders of the day” from the home room teacher, salute the flag and exit to your schedule of classes. That was one big difference. Instead of staying in the same room with the same teacher and the same classmates for a whole day we had to go from classroom to classroom, remembering each of them, and it was not always the same schedule each day. Another difference was the regimentation. The hallways were “one-way” thoroughfares, so if your next class was one room to the left as you exited you had to go to the right and all the way around this big rectangle to get back to the room which was 10 feet from where you started. In addition, all the stairways were “one-way” stairways, either “UP” or “DOWN” and yes, they had hall and stairway “police” (they were never just hall monitors in our minds).

Another significant difference was the “required” classes. We got to choose between “Wood Shop” and “Metal Shop.” I chose Wood Shop in which the only thing I remember learning was how to use a wood lathe and turn a block of wood into a table leg or something. I guess someone thought we needed to learn a trade in case we didn’t make it to college.

The most shocking and humiliating difference was PE. We were all expected to “climb the rope” in order to make our grade. I struggled with that and never did make it more than a couple of feet off the floor. Worse than that was “swimming” day. The girls all got to wear tank suits, but the boys had to swim NAKED. For kids at various stages of dealing with their physical development this had to be the one most embarrassing thing that could be required of them.

Then there was the day that the PE warden, I mean teacher, blew the whistle and yelled “Everybody out!” Someone had done his business in the pool, which required that it had to be totally drained, cleaned, and refilled before anyone was allowed back in. As I remember, it was a couple of weeks before we had swimming period again. A brief respite!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The School Patrol


“Hey kid! You wanna get reported?” boomed the voice of the dreaded “school patrol.” No matter which route you took they were always there in their yellow and white belts that went around the waist and over one shoulder, and that big red and white octagonal hand-held sign that said “STOP!” You could not cross the street without them. Drivers respected them. I never heard of one of them getting run down by a motorist. Of course, this was Minneapolis in the 1940s and not California in the present day.

Today they have “crossing guards.” They are usually retired individuals. They still have the hand held STOP signs, but not those cool belts with shoulder straps. Our “patrols” were kids like us, only a little older. I never got to be one of the elite, although I did achieve the status of “hall monitor,” which I mentioned yesterday. The school patrols from all the Minneapolis schools were treated to an annual outing at Como Park. I don’t remember a hall monitors picnic but I do remember an all-city-schools event at that same park, lots of hot dogs and little ice cream Dixie cups, three-legged races, gunny-sack races, etc. It must have been in honor of us having made it through the 6th grade (we didn’t have “graduation” ceremonies for everything in those days), celebrating our last year of freedom before going on to the 7th grade prison known as “Lincoln Junior High School,” but that is another story.

I never got reported for crossing without permission, although I did receive a few warnings: “Hey kid! You wanna get reported?”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Young Love

It was fate. We were thrown together for a whole year in 6th grade as “hall monitors” at John Hay Elementary. Twyla Holznagle and me. She was the smartest girl in my class and I was, well, pretty smart. But she acted interested in me. I don’t remember any of our conversations during that year. I think we were both pretty shy. But I remember the feeling sitting in those hall monitor school desks, of just enjoying being close to her. She had long wavy hair and smelled good to boot.

It took me the whole school year to get up the courage, but in the spring, just before summer vacation I popped the question: “D’you wanna to go to a movie Saturday?” “Sounds good?” Did she say yes? She did! She said yes!

It was only Monday and by Saturday I was a nervous wreck. What theatre? What movie? Do I have enough money? Am I supposed to pay for both of us or do we go Dutch? By Thursday it was all decided, during hall monitor period. We would meet at Plymouth and Penn Avenue, take the streetcar downtown to the Orpheum and go to Bridgeman’s for ice cream sundaes after the movie. Fortunately my dad handed me a ten dollar bill on Friday, so I was now flush enough to treat for the whole date. My first date, her first date. Our first date!

The date went off great, except for holding hands with sweaty palms in the theatre. I have no idea what movie was playing, but I am sure it wasn’t the usual “Hopalong Cassidy” flick we often got at the Homewood. Bridgeman’s was the place to go for ice cream sundaes or sodas so I know that impressed Twyla.

We finished the school year, went into summer vacation, and for some reason, did not keep in touch all summer or through the rest of junior high and high school. Perhaps it was partly due to my moving four times before high school graduation with two of the moves being to a different city and then to Iowa for two years. But it was more likely that we were just too young to know how to handle feelings. I know I was. And that didn’t change through high school. I had many friends who were girls but no girl friends. Also, I found most of my friends in the downtown church I became active in for high school and college years.

Twyla remained one of the smartest girls in her class and was senior class Salutatorian, which means her GPA just missed Tom Morehouse’s, the Valedictorian. She did not go to college, she told me at our 40th high school reunion, because of finances. But she did continue being smart, a self-educated woman who served a couple of terms in the Minnesota State Senate. And she married a very nice man who she started dating in high school. At our 50th reunion he greeted me at the entrance with “Twyla’s been looking for you” and made sure we were seated at the same dinner table. At the 40th reunion she gave me a big hug and kiss while telling my wife, Linda, that she would just have to live with my being her first love. It is great having a woman pump up your ego and having a wife who keeps it from over-inflating.


Can you be both pumped and humble?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Journey of Awakening—Part 2

Sometimes I wish I could remember my life more accurately. I have been encountering blank spots, whole years or clusters of years in my growing up. It just occurred to me as I was writing my new blog posts that the years from 9th grade through my junior year in high school are almost non-existent in memory. Almost, but not quite. I have a few quick remembrances of incidents in 9th grade, such as the 9th grade English class and Miss Johnson and Charles Smith in the “slapping,” which I have written about, Charles Few holding a knife at my throat, which I have not written about, the fight in art class which I also wrote about. But my friend Sheldon spoke of the “9th grade talent show” which I had lodged in 7th grade, but now I think he may be right.

I have a photocopy of the North High Annual of my sophomore year and there I am in the football team photo, in uniform, and my only memory of that fall is in August before starting high school practicing 40 yard dashes with a bunch of guys.

North High 53 FB

For some reason I did not go out for the team in my junior year, but vaguely recall being on the audio-visual crew, in which we made a movie of life at North High. My junior year was an especially difficult one because of what was going on at home, mainly with my dad’s drinking. I got several jobs during that period and ran around with some Plymouth Avenue “hoods,” had a ducktail and denim jacket with studs, and black “engineer boots.” The summer and fall of that year culminated in my “borrowing” the pickup truck from the back of the catering service where I was working, in order to impress my friends and a couple of girls with joy-riding.

This resulted in my dad, in one of his sober moments, giving me the option of “going to jail or going to church.” I was not stupid so I chose church. This was my second major awakening and it literally changed the direction of my life. I became active in the church youth group and met some really caring adults who became my second family. It probably helped me feel at home that a number of boys in the group were sons of alcoholics.

North High 54 HI-Y

At the same time I did make some good friends through the high school clubs I belonged to, especially Hi-Y. Doug Ewald, son of a prominent dairy owner, Dave Johnson, Chuck Haight, now deceased, and Tom Moen, who went on to be a Lutheran pastor, were great friends of that year. Joel Miller, now a physician in Denver, lived just a couple of doors down and had a basketball “court” attached to his garage, where I learned all my skills playing after school. And Irv Rein on the next corner was part of the neighborhood group.

All of these connections kept me feeling that I belonged to something or someone, although I could not have articulated it at the time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It was the first day at John Hay School. I was a new first-grader. Stanley Garfinkle, “Garf,” was a big kid who, like me, struggled with his weight all his life. I did not know that I was in a Jewish neighborhood, nor did the word “Jew” carry any connotations for me. I only knew that he had a funny sounding name, “Garfinkle,” so as unthinking and uncompassionate little kids sometimes do, I began playing with his name. “Gar-tinkle” had a nice ring to it. How about “Fart-inkle?”

“You’d better cut that out, kid. That is my family name and I’m proud of it. It has a long history and I’m not going to let anyone make fun of it.”

Of course this just got my mind going. I was getting more creative even as he grabbed me by my coat collar and slammed me to the ground and proceeded to sit on top of me while thumping my chest with his knuckle. “Are you going to stop?” Thump—thump—thump—“Are you ever going to make fun of my name again?” Thump—thump—thump—this went on for some time. I was stubborn and he was persistent. It was becoming obvious, however, that I was less interested in carrying on with this game than he was in extracting a “binding” agreement that this thumping should never happen again.

“OK, OK, OK, I give up?” as he continued thumping my chest, which was by now feeling a bit sore.

“You promise?” Thump—thump—thump.

“OK, I promise!” Thump—thump—thump. He wanted to make sure I wouldn’t forget so he gave me several more for good measure.

I never made fun of his name, or anyone else’s, again, that I recall. Stanley and I became good friends, went through the remainder of grade school, junior high, and high school together, and because our last names were close in the alphabet, were often in the same home room and regimented seating arrangements we had in those days. We were on the high school football team, wrestling team, and track team together. We were both “heavyweight” wrestlers and my one “pay-back” moment came during a wrestle-off for who would represent the team in an upcoming match when I pinned him during the first 2 minutes. Shortly after I cracked a rib trying an “arm-rollover” move on Paul Casperson, a 250 pounder on the team, and Stan went on to represent the school in matches the rest of the year. In track practice everyone had to run the half-mile and the coach used to say “Get the calendars out. Garfinkle and Hamilton are running.”

As I mentioned, both Stan and I had a life-long battle with our weight. I eventually came to terms with mine. Stanley must have been over 400 pounds when he passed away a few years ago. I had trimmed down to 180. I saw him at our 40th high school reunion at North High. It was a bit of a shock. He never went to college and I understand he became a plumber. Stan had a heart of gold and would literally give you the shirt off of his back.

Stan Garfinkle-2

“Garf,” I’m glad I knew ya. And thanks for the thumping. I needed it.