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.